Parables of Planting

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Today we hear two agricultural parables about seeds. The first parable is often called “The Parable of the Growing Seed.” But I prefer to call it “The Parable of the Growing Seed and the Lazy Farmer.” For in this parable, the farmer scatters the seed, and seemingly, just sits back and waits for the seeds to germinate and grow. There is no mention of watering or fertilizing or weeding. After the scattering of the seed, the farmer takes no action until it is time to harvest. Not what one would expect of a farmer! And yet Jesus says that this is what the Kingdom of God is like. How are we to interpret this odd little story?

According to the standard interpretation, the disciples sow the Word and then leave the rest to God. When the time is right, Jesus harvests the faithful on the Last Day. The moral of the story is then: to trust in God and not to worry about church growth. Here is the problem with that interpretation: the farmer starts out symbolizing the disciples and ends up symbolizing Jesus!

I think there is a more plausible and consistent interpretation: The farmer is Jesus—at the beginning and at the end. The seed is the Word of God. The earth represents us, the hearers of the Word. And the harvest represents the Day of Judgment, when the Kingdom of God arrives in its fullness. The moral of the parable is then this: Be good soil! Be receptive to God’s Word, and let it grow in you. And then be patient. When the time is right, God’s Kingdom will come.

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The second parable that we heard today is the familiar Parable of the Mustard Seed. The moral of the story is that big things can come from small beginnings. In other words, a tiny community of faith consisting of just a handful of disciples can eventually result in a great Kingdom.

But there is more going on here than just that! We can learn something valuable from how Jesus tells this parable. Jesus is being a bit playful; he is riffing on the oracle from Ezekiel that we heard in today’s first reading. There, the House of David is represented as a great stately cedar that grows from a tiny twig. By God’s grace, it thrives, while the “trees of the field,” which represent the surrounding Gentile nations, are dried up and brought low. But in contrast, in Jesus’ rather homey parable, the coming Kingdom of God is not a great towering cedar, but rather an overgrown shrub! From this, we can derive a second moral to the story: you need a sense of humor to understand the Kingdom of God.

Now, all too often Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of God are applied to the Church, as if the Church were the Kingdom. Well, it isn’t—at least not yet! Even so, there is a clearly a message or two to the Church in today’s parables.

The first parable calls us to be the soil that grows the Good News, to be the matrix for the spread of the Gospel. The harvest will grow and flourish because it has been nourished and sustained among us and within us. Now, it is not so unusual to be asked to pitch in and to “get our hands dirty.” We hear phrases like that thrown around every year when getting ready for the annual book sale or the holiday bazaar. But Jesus is asking something different—he isn’t asking us to “get our hands dirty,” he is asking us to be dirt—potting soil—if you will! And that requires a degree of humility.

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The second parable, the one about the mustard seed, invites us to allow ourselves to be imaginative, even playful, in how we go about things, just as Jesus was playful with the oracle from Ezekiel. The Church is invited to see itself as a humble mustard bush, instead of a towering cedar. And the purpose of the Church, we can infer, is not to grow just for the sake of growing, but so that it can provide shade to creatures who need shade. One point of the Church, surely, is to provide respite and succor to the poor, the sick, the elderly, the refugee—to everyone who cannot fend for him- or herself. We should invite them here to nest in our branches and to find shade from the harsh noonday sun.

No, the Church is not yet the Kingdom of God, but it is meant to model the Kingdom and to help build it up. And these two parables about seeds give us some hints as to how to go about that daunting task—namely, with the humility and fruitfulness of plain old dirt and with the absurdity and usefulness of a big scraggly bush!

Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Family Values

Gospel Reading

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Previously in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had begun a ministry of teaching and healing and proclaiming God’s love. The crowds quickly became so large that he couldn’t tend to them all. So he appointed twelve apostles to assist him. Exhausted and hungry, Jesus returned home longing for a meal and some rest. But the desperate crowds followed him home and wouldn’t give him the time or the space to eat that meal.

That is where today’s Gospel reading begins. Even before the advent of Facebook and Twitter, word traveled fast. And Jesus’ family had heard that he was claiming to be on a mission from God and was drawing unwanted attention to himself. Neighborhood gossips spread the rumor that Jesus was out of his mind, and his family decided that they needed to intervene. So they headed out to put a stop to all this nonsense. We don’t know their motivations. Were they afraid for Jesus’ safety? Were they concerned that Jesus might be mentally ill? Or were they merely ashamed of the unwanted attention that Jesus was attracting? We just don’t know.

Evidently, rumors of Jesus’ miraculous healings had spread all the way to the capital. And religious officials were sent to check out the situation. In reaction to Jesus’ miracles, these officials accuse Jesus of being in league with Beelzebul, another name for Satan. They claim that he casts out demons by the power granted him by Satan himself. Jesus responds by demonstrating the faulty logic of their reasoning. For “if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.” Jesus proceeds to tell a short parable that I would like to call the “Parable of the Home Invasion.” In this parable, a robber invades the home of a strong man, binds him, and then robs his house. Surprisingly, Jesus is the robber in this parable! And Satan is the victimized homeowner. One can infer that the robber’s plunder represents the people whom Satan has tormented in body, mind, and spirit and whom Jesus has set free. Satan may be a strong man, but Jesus is the stronger man, it would seem.

Jesus senses that the religious officials are not convinced. And he warns them that all their sins and blasphemies can be forgivenwith one exception: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. For that, he says, is an eternal sin. More specifically, the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit would seem to be a form of spiritual perversity in which a person witnesses God’s love in action but then proceeds to condemn it as the work of Satan.

Jesus’ family finally arrives to put an end to his ministry. The problem is there are so many people crowded in and around the house that the family can’t get to him. So they ask someone to work his way through the crowd and inform Jesus that his family is outside and insists on seeing him pronto. Jesus’ response is unexpected, to say the least. Recall that Jesus came from a culture that highly valued family. In theory, a child could be put to death for showing disrespect to a parent. And seemingly, that is just what Jesus does.

He asks the rhetorical question: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” He then goes on to answer his own question: “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” It would seem that Jesus has renounced his biological family and replaced them with his followers. But if so, he has left the door open for his family to be received back into his good graces. All they have to do is to submit to God’s will. And eventually they do. We know that by the time of Jesus’ death, both his mother and his brother James were active in the Christian community.

Today, many conservative Christians go on and on about so-called “family values.” Clearly, they have never read the Gospel according to Mark! Jesus couldn’t care less about the kind of family values that concern these conservative Evangelicals. What Jesus was concerned with was godly values, such as proclaiming God’s love and forgiveness to sinners, healing the sick, and feeding the hungry. Jesus undoubtedly loved his mother and his brothers and his sisters. But he loved those who did the will of God even more and named them his true family.

I have to wonder what the world would look like if every person who self-identified as Christian acknowledged every other faithful child of God as a beloved brother or sister. I suspect the world would be a better place. So, maybe we should give it a shot. What do you say?

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Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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The Holy and Undivided Trinity, One God

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Today is Trinity Sunday. And on this day, preachers have two options: either they preach on the difficult doctrine of the Trinity, or they take the easy way out and preach on the Gospel. I have decided to rise to the occasion and say a few words about the central dogma of the Christian faith.

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Before you get too anxious, let me reassure you that you are not expected to understand this doctrine fully. The mystery of God is beyond our limited understanding. Even so, there are two reasons why it behooves us to make the effort. One reason is that we are expected to love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind. The second reason is to better understand ourselves. More on that in a bit!

As many have noted, the Bible never uses the word Trinity. But the New Testament does talk about God as Father, God as Son, and God as Holy Spirit. For the early Church experienced God in three different ways. And yet, at the same time, the Church firmly believed in the oneness of the Godhead, as expressed throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and as summarized in the Shema, the Jewish pledge of allegiance. Some early theologians dismissed the threeness as appearance only and not as reality. But most theologians firmly believed that both the threeness and the oneness that God had revealed to the Church reflected the inner reality of the Godhead. They refused to believe that God in any way dissembled.

It took over three centuries of heated debate to iron out an understanding that we might charitably call “the least wrong.” Many approaches were eventually condemned as heresy, because they either overemphasized the threeness or they overemphasized the oneness. At this juncture, let me summarize what the Church Fathers finally agreed on—and it isn’t all that much!

There is one divine essence, one divine being, whose source is the Father and which unites the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit into a single Godhead. There is one divine will shared by the three persons of the Trinity. And yet each person is a distinct center of conscious selfhood. Each person is active in every act of God, and yet each person has a function that, from the human perspective, may appropriately be associated with one particular person of the Trinity. For example, when we speak of Creation, we think of the Father. When we speak of Redemption, we think of the Son. And when we speak of Sanctification, we think of the Holy Spirit. Yet the full Trinity takes part in Creation, Redemption, and Sanctification.

All three persons of the Trinity are co-eternal. In other words, there never was a time when they did not all exist. We say in the Nicene Creed that the Son is begotten, not made. But this is an eternal begetting from before time. Of the Spirit, we say that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. The distinct terminology—“begotten” for the relationship of the Son to the Father and “proceeding from” for the relationship of the Spirit to the Father—is deliberate. The Church Fathers wanted to make clear that these relationships are distinct modes of origination.

Finally, let me say a little something about what the Greek Fathers called perichóresis. This is a technical term for the dynamic circulation of the divine life. The doctrine implies a divine relationship among the three persons of the Trinity that is not fixed and static, but in constant motion. Each of the three persons of the Trinity is ever moving in and out and through the other two persons in a never-ending relationship of intimate interpenetration and dynamic indwelling.

Now I claimed at the start of this sermon that understanding the nature of God would help us understand our nature. Why would that be the case? Because we are made in the image and likeness of this God who is Three in One—and this fact has profound implications.

Our God is a community of persons sharing a common will. Likewise, humanity is intended to be a community of persons sharing a common will. We are called to love God, to love one another, and to work for the building up of God’s Kingdom. Our Triune God is a unity in diversity. Like our God, we are meant to live in unity, but not uniformity. We are meant to be diverse, but not divided. Finally, the doctrine of perichóresis, the mutual indwelling of the persons of the Trinity, points us to a destiny of mutual love, mutual fellowship, and mutual intimacy.

Despite what most people may think, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is an eminently practical doctrine. It teaches us how to model our community, how to interact with one another, and how to become our true selves. And just as importantly, it helps us to better know, and to better love, the One God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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The Holy Spirit, Advocate and Guide

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Today is the Day of Pentecost, and it’s an important day in the Episcopal Church. For one thing, today is one of only seven “principal feasts” in the liturgical calendar, feasts that outrank all other celebrations or commemorations. For another, today is widely considered to be the “birthday of the Church.” (That being said, it’s a bit of a misnomer; one can make a pretty good case that the Church was born when Jesus called his first disciple.) But perhaps the most important aspect of this great feast day is that it is an occasion to focus on the Holy Spirit, that mysterious third person of the Holy Trinity.

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So, let’s review the three appointed readings, to see what we can learn about the Spirit of God. The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, recounts the story of the first Pentecost, when the disciples encounter wind and fire and the gift of the Holy Spirit. They miraculously find themselves able to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in languages that they don’t even know. The heart of their message to the crowd is found in the very last line of the reading: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” So far as we know, this miraculous gift of tongues did not remain with the disciples, but even so, they were not left bereft of the Spirit.

In St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he reminds the Christians in Rome that the Spirit of God is still very much active in the world. On a universal scale, the Spirit is birthing a new creation, a world that is fit to be called the Kingdom of God. On an individual scale, the Holy Spirit is guiding each and everyone of us into a life of true prayer. Now, prayer takes many forms. It can be the common prayer we share together on Sundays. It can be the personal prayer we offer daily for our loved ones in need. It can even be the wordless work we do out in the world for the children of God. Finally, as St. Paul teaches us, prayer can be the groans of agony and the tears of sorrow that we shed when we cannot even find the words to express our pain to our Heavenly Father. And the mystery of each and every form of true prayer is that it is the Holy Spirit, breathed into us at baptism, who enables and sustains that prayer. It is the Holy Spirit who urges us, sometimes gently and sometimes not so gently, to keep reaching out to God.

Finally, we come to the reading from John’s Gospel, which somewhat confusingly takes us back in time to the Last Supper, before the disciples had even received the gift of the Holy Spirit. There, Jesus promises his disciples that he will ask his Heavenly Father to send them an Advocate.

Now, the English word “advocate” is a bit problematic. Every time I hear it, I think of a trial lawyer. But that is not the kind of advocate that Jesus is speaking of. This advocate will not be a lawyer who will stand by his disciples in court to keep them out of jail, but the Holy Spirit, who will stand by them throughout the trials and tribulations of this world, to save them from the Evil One. Jesus goes on to promise that this same Spirit of God will continue to teach the disciples long after Jesus has returned to his Father and will guide them further and further into Divine Truth.

Jesus’ promise to the disciples at the Last Supper applies to us modern-day disciples as well. Yes, Christ has ascended and returned to his Father, but we are not left orphaned. When each of us was baptized, we received the Holy Spirit; a spiritual ember was implanted in our soul. When we were confirmed, we received additional strength from the Holy Spirit to endure the trials of this life. But being only human, we need more than these two infusions of the Spirit. And that is where the Holy Eucharist comes into play. And God willing, soon we will again be able to celebrate the Eucharist together and to partake of Holy Communion.

Like the first disciples of Jesus, we too have been empowered by the Spirit: empowered to pray to the Father, empowered to testify to the Truth, empowered to share the Good News, empowered to endure this horrid pandemic. It is all too easy to forget just what we have been given at Baptism, what we have had reinforced at Confirmation, what we have had renewed at Holy Eucharist. Well, folks, don’t let yourselves ever forget. You have the Holy Spirit within you even now! And when two or three of us gather in Christ’s Name, that same Spirit is among us working wonders.

Let us pray.

O Holy Spirit, by whose breath life rises vibrant out of death; come to create, renew, inspire; come, kindle in our hearts your fire. Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Jesus Prayed for His Disciples and Jesus Prays for Us


Gospel Reading

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Last Thursday was Ascension Day. And next Sunday is the feast of Pentecost. So you might very well expect today’s Gospel reading to take place during the ten-day period between the Ascension and Pentecost. But surprisingly it doesn’t. Instead, we go back in time, and we get a snippet of a lengthy prayer that Jesus offered at the Last Supper.

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In a sense, we are eavesdroppers. Jesus’ prayer is addressed to God—not us—and it is offered on behalf of the original disciples—not us. (Or so it would seem!) So why does the lectionary have us listen in? Well, I can think of two reasons. The first is that, as baptized Christians, we are meant to continue the ministry of the original disciples, and we can expect to encounter some of the same struggles that they did. The second reason has to do with a tradition of the Early Church to expound on the sacraments at every sermon during the 50 days of Eastertide. And, though it isn’t obvious, Jesus’ prayer does have profound implications concerning Baptism and the mission of the baptized.

But there is a problem! As we eavesdrop on Jesus’ prayer, we find that he is speaking in code. One of those code words is the word world. We get a sense that something cryptic is intended when we hear Jesus say, “I am not asking on behalf of the world.” Why would Jesus refuse to pray for the world? The answer is that, in John’s Gospel, the word world almost always refers to those who willfully defy God’s will and actively oppose Jesus’ ministry. Given this understanding of the “world,” it is not so surprising that Jesus doesn’t pray on its behalf.

Jesus differentiates between a world that opposes God’s will and his disciples, who obey it. He states that his disciples are in the world, but not of the world. They act in the midst of sinful humanity, but they do not belong to sinful humanity. And to the extent that we live into our baptism, the same can be said about us! For at our baptism, we, just like Jesus’ original disciples, were sanctified in the Truth. We were consecrated as a priestly people. We were set apart for God’s express use. At our baptism, we were separated from the world of sinful humanity, even as we continue to live our lives in the midst of a world that is profoundly alienated from God.

Jesus warns the original disciples that, when the world realizes that they do not belong to the world, they will be hated for it. And they will be persecuted. In some parts of the world today, Jesus’ prophecy is quite literally true. Here in the United States, however, Christians rarely suffer real persecution on account of their faith. The situation here is usually more subtle. Instead of hate, we are more likely to encounter ridicule. But on occasion, you just might run into someone who hates you because you are a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Yes, indeed, the world we live in can be confusing. It can be hurtful. And it can be exhausting—especially during this pandemic! Consequently, we are tempted to run away and hide. Now, it’s OK to take a vacation—hey, I just took one! It’s OK to find respite in a good book. It’s even OK to binge-watch a TV series on Netflix. And of course, it’s expected that Christians will take refuge in the church—even if church is no more than a weekly conference call! These little escapes are all well and good—so long as we remember to return to the real world to do the Lord’s work! Jesus reminds us in his prayer that, just as the Father sent him into the world, so he is sending his disciples. This world of fallen and sinful humanity is where we have been sent to serve. It is the locus of our mission. The world desperately needs to hear the message of Jesus Christ, so that it can cease to be the “world” and instead become the Kingdom.

This mission to bring Good News to a world that doesn’t always accept the message, or welcome the messenger, can be daunting. But we are not without means. And we are not on our own. Two thousand years ago, Jesus revealed God’s Name to his disciples. (And that Name was Love.) He prayed that his disciples might be sanctified in the Truth of the Divine Word. And he prayed that they might be protected from the Evil One, as they went about their mission. Well, that prayer for his disciples, first offered at the Last Supper, has never ceased. Our Risen and Ascended Lord is praying that very same prayer for us even now. So take heart!

Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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The Life-Saving Voice of the Noble Shepherd


By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

We have spent the last three Sundays going over every detail of a single day, the Day of Resurrection. And having learned all that we can possibly learn from that world-changing event, we are now ready to move on—and learn about shepherds and sheep! Go figure!

As you may know, today is commonly referred to as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” For me, this day brings to mind the many paintings and stained-glass windows of Jesus’ cradling a snow-white lamb in his arms or carrying a poor little stray on his shoulders. These images were all I knew about sheep until I was well into my 20s. Imagine my shock when I first encountered real sheep up close and in person. They weren’t snow-white at all! In fact, they were filthy and smelly beasts. And I am told that they aren’t terribly bright! So, why on earth does Jesus compare his followers to sheep and himself to a shepherd?

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I suspect that Jesus compares his followers to sheep, not because of our stupidity or our lack of hygiene, but because, like sheep, we have a tendency to stray. Jesus, as our shepherd, is there to gather us back into the fold when we stray. And he will go before us to lead us to the green pastures and still waters mentioned in Psalm 23. Note that I said “he will go before us.” In the Middle East, the shepherd goes ahead of the flock, and the sheep are trained to recognize the shepherd’s voice and to follow his lead. Likewise, Jesus, as our shepherd, is one who has gone ahead of us, and we are expected to follow in his footsteps.

Moreover, like sheep, we are at times defenseless and vulnerable. Not only do we have to deal with bodies and minds that slow down as we age, we also have to deal with people who would prey on our weaknesses. Have you ever gotten a phone call purporting to be from Microsoft or Apple and offering to help you with your computer problems? How about a message on your answering machine claiming to be from the IRS and threatening to put you in jail unless you pay up? And then there are those e-mails from a “Nigerian prince” offering you millions of dollars if only you will send him money first. Lastly, let’s not forget those TV pundits who make a very good living by trying to instill fear and hate in people like us. Well, if you have encountered any of these situations, then you know something of the wolves of this world.

Fortunately, we have someone trustworthy we can turn to, Jesus the Good Shepherd. Now, the English word “good” does not even begin to cover the range of meanings of the original Greek word kalós. In a physical sense, it means “handsome.” And many early representations of Jesus portrayed him as a handsome young man carrying a shepherd’s crook. But in a moral sense, it means something akin to our word “noble.” So, perhaps we should call today “Noble Shepherd Sunday.”

Now, when Jesus states that he is the noble shepherd, he is insinuating that others are not. This is more evident in the Greek, where the emphasis is on “I.” “I am the noble shepherd!” By implication, all other shepherds are pale imitations at best. At worst, they are wolves in shepherd’s clothing!

Admittedly, the Christian Church has long referred to its leaders as shepherds. The very word “pastor” is Latin for “shepherd.” But such terminology is misleading and downright unbiblical. As today’s Gospel makes perfectly clear, there is only one shepherd of the sheep, and that is Jesus Christ.

As evidence that he is the one and only Noble Shepherd, Jesus offers to lay down his life for his sheep. Then, in the very same breath, he makes an oblique reference to the Resurrection that will ensue. He says, “I lay down my life in order to take it up again.” I suspect that this Resurrection reference is the reason we hear this particular Gospel reading during Eastertide. It reminds us not only that Jesus died for our sake, but also that he was resurrected for our sake.

To sum up, Jesus likens himself to a noble shepherd who is willing to die for his flock, and he likens us, his followers, to sheep who are vulnerable to attack and likely to stray. While the focus of today’s Gospel reading is undoubtedly Jesus and his relationship to us, there is a moral imperative that is implicit in today’s Gospel and that will be more explicitly touched upon in the Collect of the Day; namely, we sheep are expected to listen attentively for the voice of the Noble Shepherd, to recognize it when we hear it, and to follow wherever he may lead. Admittedly, in times like these, when wolves are howling all around us, it can be hard to filter out all the howling and to discern the life-saving voice of the Noble Shepherd. But I assure you, my fellow sheep, if we but listen carefully, we can hear him calling out our names even now, bidding us to follow him to safe pastures.

Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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You Are Witnesses of These Things

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Today is the third Sunday of Easter. And yes, even though you might have a hard time finding any chocolate bunnies for sale, it’s still Easter! And it will continue to be Easter till we reach the feast of Pentecost on May 23. As you may have noticed, there are various ways that we mark this joyous season in our worship. The invitatory psalm at the start of Morning Prayer is replaced with a special Easter anthem. The Acts of the Apostles are read in place of the Hebrew Scriptures at the first reading. And Alleluias are inserted at the dismissal. During this joyous season, we pause for 50 days to ponder a single day, the Day of Resurrection, and to consider its consequences for us as disciples of Jesus.

That explains why, for the third Sunday in a row, we hear a story from that first Easter Day. It’s kind of like the movie Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray’s character experiences the same day over and over again till he learns his lesson. Likewise, we will move on from Easter Day only when we have learned all that we need to learn from that eventful day.

The Gospel story we just heard from Luke takes place late in the evening of the Day of Resurrection. The tomb has been found empty. The women have conversed with angels. Two disciples on the road to Emmaus have met the Risen Lord and broken bread with him. And Saint Peter has had an encounter with the Lord (although, for some reason, Luke doesn’t give any details). The two men who encountered Jesus in Emmaus have just returned to Jerusalem to report to the disciples that the Lord is risen. And at that very moment, the Risen Lord makes yet another appearance, this time to all eleven of the disciples at once. (For obvious reasons, Judas Iscariot is absent from the gathering.)

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Luke’s account is basically the same story we heard last week from John’s Gospel, but with some noticeable differences in detail. For example, Luke spares Thomas the embarrassment of being the only doubting disciple. In today’s account, all the disciples display doubt (as well as joy) at Jesus’ appearance in their midst. And so Jesus invites them all to touch him, so as to verify that he is not a ghost. Then, as the final proof of his physicality, he asks for some food, something no ghost would do.

Now as both a vegetarian and a preacher, I wish that the disciples had given Jesus a chunk of bread, instead of a piece of broiled fish. Then, I could expound at great length on the eucharistic symbolism of the shared bread. As it stands, I am at a loss to explain the spiritual significance of the broiled fish. So I won’t even try!

Jesus proceeds to teach the disciples, opening their minds to the full meaning of the scriptures, with a particular focus on the prophesied fate of the Messiah. Jesus ends the lecture with a homework assignment of sorts, saying, “…repentance and forgiveness of sins are to be proclaimed in the Messiah’s name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

And what exactly is expected of a witness? To testify! And clearly the disciples did testify to what they had experienced during their time with Jesus of Nazareth, from the day that he called them to leave their old life behind to the day that he rose from the dead and commissioned them to proclaim the Good News to the whole world. They passed on their stories of Jesus to later generations, lest they be forgotten.

But what about now? Who is there to witness to the world that God walked among us as a man, died on a cross, and rose from the dead, so that our sins might be forgiven and we might know eternal life? The eleven disciples commissioned by Jesus in that room in Jerusalem are long gone. Who is there to give testimony then? I’m hoping you already know the answer. But just in case you don’t, I’ll answer my own question. You are! You were commissioned at your baptism to testify to the Truth of Jesus Christ.

So when the final Alleluias are shouted out at the end of today’s service and the concluding Grace has been said, I expect you, and the Risen Lord expects you, to do your bounden duty: to share your experiences of Jesus Christ and of his life-saving Truth with your family, with your friends, and even with the occasional stranger. For like those eleven disciples, “you are witnesses of these things.”

Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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From Fear to Faith, From Resurrection to Reconciliation

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Today’s Gospel reading begins on the evening of the Resurrection. Earlier that same day, you may recall, Mary Magdalene had encountered the resurrected Jesus standing outside the empty tomb. Sometime later, she reported what she had seen to the other disciples.

Now, just a few hours later, we find the disheartened disciples in hiding. The predominant emotion is not wonder and joy at their Lord’s Resurrection, but fear. We are told that the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jewish authorities. And the specific fear that casts such a pall on their gathering is the fear of death. They fear that soon they too will be arrested and put to death on a cross.

Now, we shouldn’t judge the disciples too harshly. Everyone here, I suspect, has experienced the crippling effect of fear sometime in his or her life. And there are oh, so many things that we fear—this damned pandemic being one of them! And each and every one of our fears impedes us in some way, keeping us from living life fully. But the one primal fear that underlies all others is the fear of death. What we all ultimately fear is a death that utterly annihilates, a death that renders life meaningless. For, if death wins in the end, what is the point of life? Fortunately for us, this existential crisis was resolved at the Resurrection.

In today’s account, Jesus appears in the midst of the disciples, locked doors notwithstanding. He greets them. And then he verifies his identity by displaying the wounds of his crucifixion. This Resurrection appearance, in and of itself, serves as a sign to the original disciples, and to us today, that death does not win and that life is not meaningless.

Jesus comes back to give new life and new purpose to his disciples. He breathes into them. Just as God breathed the breath of life into Adam’s nostrils in the story of Creation, so Jesus breathes new life into his fearful disciples, saying: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” The disciples, and the Church that follows in their footsteps, have been empowered for mission by the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that mission is the reconciliation of the world.

Now, back to the story…. Thomas was absent when the Risen Lord had appeared to the other disciples. And he adamantly refuses to believe their account of the event. Literally translated, he says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and poke my finger into the mark of the nails and stick my hand into his side, I will never believe!”

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A week later, the disciples again are holed up in the house with the doors locked. This Sunday, however, Thomas manages to make it to church. Again, Jesus appears to the assembled disciples and greets them. He openly invites Thomas to follow through with his grotesque demand to probe Christ’s wounds. And then he admonishes Thomas, saying, “Stop being untrusting; rather, be trusting.”

Does Thomas then go ahead and poke Christ’s wounds? No, despite the misleading testimony of over a thousand years of Christian art, he does not. Instead, he proclaims Jesus as his Lord and God. Thomas has what can only be called a conversion experience, and in the blink of an eye, he enters into a more profound state of faith.

Now, let me end by saying a word or two about the nature of faith. First, it is not the same thing as belief. Yes, as Christians, there are some foundational truths that we are asked to believe, the Resurrection of Jesus being one of them. Even so, the core of Christian faith is not belief, but trust. Now, we may have doubts from time to time, especially during a trying time like this pandemic. That’s to be expected. But what is crucial, I think, is to hold on tight to a fundamental trust in a loving God—a God who loves us so much that he gave us his only Son, so that we might have eternal life; a God who then raised Jesus from the dead, so that we might come to believe. For if, with God’s grace, we can abide in trust and believe in the hope of the Resurrection, we can let go of every crippling fear and get on with the joyful work that God has given us to do: to share God’s love and forgiveness with the world and to reconcile the world to God.

May God grant us that grace, now and always. Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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The Angel’s Easter Command

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

The resurrection account we heard read today comes from the Gospel of Mark, the earliest of the four Gospels. The evangelist tells us that three women disciples of Jesus got up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. You see, he had been so hastily entombed that his body had not been washed and anointed with perfume, as was the custom.

Now, the women clearly put some thought into what they would need. The story mentions how they went out and bought aromatic spices in order to perfume the body. But they forgot one rather important fact: the tomb was sealed with a very large and very heavy stone. It is only as they are walking to the tomb that they remember this little detail. They don’t have a team of strong men with them. They don’t even have a crow bar. And the chances of success are pretty minimal. Now, most reasonable people would have turned back at this point and rounded up a work crew. But the three women do not, in fact, turn back. They just keep going. Were they being foolish? Or did they just have great faith? I suspect it was the latter.

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When the three women get to the site of the tomb, they find that their worries had been for naught. The stone had already been rolled back. Now, at this point, you have to give them due credit for extreme valor, for they march right into the gaping maw of the tomb to find out what on earth is going on. What they find is a young man dressed in a white robe. We can only surmise that he is an angel. And he tells the women pretty much what all angels say when they first encounter a human, “Don’t be alarmed.” (Yeah, right!) He goes on to inform them that the tomb is empty, because God has raised Jesus from the dead. He commands them to tell Peter and the other disciples that the Risen Lord will wait for them in Galilee. Presumably, the point is to start the next phase of Christian mission in the very place where the first phase all began.

Now, here is where things get complicated. The women flee from the tomb in terror. The Greek text says that they flee trembling uncontrollably and out of their minds with fear. So much for the angel’s command, “Don’t be alarmed”! The last verse of the Gospel, as Mark originally wrote it, ends with “And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (You see, the last twelve verses of Mark’s Gospel were added years later, in order to give the Gospel a more fitting conclusion.)

Well, obviously, the women said something to someone at some point in time, or we wouldn’t know the story at all! But the disturbing fact remains that Mark’s original version ends with the three women disobeying the explicit command of the angel. They do not, in fact, carry the message to Peter and the other disciples…at least not immediately. How long, I wonder, did it take for them to go tell this improbable tale to Peter and the others? Hours? Days? Even longer?

Now, St. Mark tells us that they delayed because of fear. OK, but fear of what? If they were afraid of the angel, you would think that they would be quick to obey him. So it must have been something else. Perhaps they were afraid of being disbelieved, and even mocked, by those to whom they were sent to proclaim the Good News. It isn’t hard to imagine first-century men initially dismissing the women’s account of the angel and the empty tomb. (Frankly, it isn’t hard to imagine twenty-first-century men, and women, initially dismissing the Easter message.)

So, here we are on this Sunday of the Resurrection with a resurrection story that has no resurrection appearance of Jesus. Unlike John’s Gospel, we do not get a story about Mary Magdalene encountering the Risen Lord and mistaking him for a gardener. Instead, what we are given is the story of three women disciples who gave into fear, at least for a while. Even so, we know that they eventually must have overcome their fear and shared the Good News. And for that testimony (albeit somewhat delayed), these three women will be remembered as long as the Church endures.

Brothers and sisters, I would urge you to follow the example of Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, who in the fullness of time did, in fact, obey the angel’s Easter command. Be like them. Overcome your fear, even it takes some time. And proclaim to all the doubters of this world the Good News of Easter, that:

Christ is risen, and death is overthrown!

Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!

Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!

Christ is risen, and life is set free!

Christ is risen, and the tombs are all empty!

To him be the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

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© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Incarnation Radio Hour presents Lewis Carroll’s ‘The Nursery Alice.’

Published in 1890, ‘The Nursery Alice,’ is a shortened version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll, adapted by the author himself for children “from nought to five”. It includes 20 of John Tenniel’s illustrations from the original book, redrawn, enlarged, colored – and, in some cases, revised – by Tenniel himself. The book was published by Macmillan a quarter-century after the original Alice.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (commonly shortened to Alice in Wonderland) is an 1865 novel by English author Lewis Carroll. It tells of a young girl named Alice, who falls through a rabbit hole into a subterranean fantasy world populated by peculiar, anthropomorphic creatures. The tale plays with logic, giving the story lasting popularity with adults as well as with children.

The Radio Hour will share a reading of ‘The Nursery Alice’ along with John Tenniel’s illustrations.

Date & Time: Wednesday April 14, 4 p.m. PDT
Free admission. Donations gratefully accepted. Click here for details.
Register here for zoom call details.

LEWIS CARROLL (1832–1898)

Renowned Victorian author Lewis Carroll was born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson on January 27, 1832, in Daresbury, Cheshire, England. The son of a clergyman, Carroll was the third child born to a family of eleven children. From a very early age he entertained himself and his family by performing magic tricks and marionette shows, and by writing poetry for his homemade newspapers. In 1846 he entered Rugby School, and in 1854 he graduated from Christ Church College, Oxford. He was successful in his study of mathematics and writing, and remained at the college after graduation to teach. His mathematical writings include An Elementary Treatise on Determinants (1867), Euclid and His Modern Rivals (1879), and Curiosa Mathematica (1888). While teaching, Carroll was ordained as a deacon; however, he never preached.

Many of Carroll’s philosophies were based on games. His interest in logic came purely from the playful nature of its principle rather than its uses as a tool. He primarily wrote comic fantasies and humorous verse that was often very childlike. Carroll published his novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, followed by Through the Looking Glass in 1872. Alice’s story began as a piece of extemporaneous whimsy meant to entertain three little girls on a boating trip in 1862. Both of these works were considered children’s novels that were satirical in nature and in exemplification of Carroll’s wit. Also famous is Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky,” in which he created nonsensical words from word combinations. Carroll died in Guildford, Surrey, on January 14, 1898.

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