Tag Archives: faith

The Journey to the Meal

Gospel Reading

By the Rev. Darren Miner

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Two years ago, I had the privilege of celebrating Eucharist with a group of Episcopal pilgrims at Emmaus, and I was asked to give an impromptu sermon. The temptation was to focus solely on the obvious eucharistic symbolism of the Gospel story. But I warned the congregation that if I did that, they would miss out on so much that can be learned from what preceded that illuminating meal.

For before the breaking of the bread that brought about the disciples’ epiphany, there was a journey, a seven-mile walk, in which, unbeknownst to the disciples, Jesus accompanies them on the way and proceeds to break open the scriptures. And there was a test. When they arrive at the disciples’ final destination, Jesus pretends to continue on his way; he is testing their hospitality, it would seem. The disciples pass the test with flying colors. Not only do they invite Jesus to dinner, but they ask him to bless and break the bread, an honor customarily reserved for the host. Having passed this little test, their eyes are finally opened, and they recognize Jesus.

Like those two disciples, we too are on a journey with Jesus. But there are some differences. We are not journeying to our home. We are journeying through a pandemic to an Emmaus that is uncharted and unknown. Like those two disciples, we too are being tested. But again there are some differences. For it is not our hospitality that is being tested, but our endurance and our very faith.

In normal times, we would be gathered together in church right now, and soon we would draw close to Jesus in the sacrament of Holy Communion, in the sharing of bread and wine made holy by our common prayer. But for a time, we cannot sup with the Risen Lord, and we are forced to journey on.

Even so, we are not bereft of Jesus’ presence. For just as Jesus accompanied his despairing disciples on their journey, so he accompanies us, even though we may not recognize his presence. And just as those disciples encountered the Risen Lord in the proclamation of Holy Scripture, so too do we encounter Jesus whenever the Good News is proclaimed, whether at a festal Easter Eucharist or at Morning Prayer by conference call.

And when at last our journey is over and we have arrived at our Emmaus, when we have passed the test of faith that has been given us, then we will once again offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving; then we will once again share in the sacred meal of bread and wine; then we will once again know the Risen Lord in the breaking of the bread. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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From Fear to Faith

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Today’s Gospel story begins on a Sunday evening, the evening of the Resurrection. Earlier that same day, you may recall, Mary Magdalene had encountered the resurrected Jesus and had reported what she had seen to the disciples.

Now, just a few hours later, we find the disheartened disciples in hiding, with the doors locked tight. The predominant emotion is not wonder and joy at their Lord’s Resurrection, but fear of the Judean authorities. And they are crippled by that fear.

(I must say that I have more sympathy for the disciples these days than I used to. In this time of pandemic, I have a better understanding of how hiding in fear can cripple a person, how it can drain away one’s energy and one’s joy.)

Fortunately, there is Good News for the disciples, and for us: Christ is risen! In today’s account, Jesus appears in the midst of the disciples, unhindered by such physical barriers as locked doors. His appearance serves as a sign to the original disciples, and to us today, that death does not have the final say. For God’s love for us is more powerful than death. And if we hold on to that saving truth, then we can still experience joy, even as we wait in our homes for the end of the pandemic.

But Jesus comes to his disciples to do more than alleviate their fear. He comes to empower them with new hope, new life, and a new mission. 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.” This is John’s version of the miracle of Pentecost. 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.

But not all of the disciples received this gift on that Easter evening. Saint Thomas, it seems, missed church that Sunday and so misses out on seeing the Risen Lord and receiving the Spirit. And when told about the event, he stubbornly refuses to believe.

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But true to form, Jesus gives this disciple a second chance. A week later, the disciples again are holed up in the house, with the doors locked. But this Sunday, 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 urges Thomas to stop doubting.

Thomas responds by proclaiming Jesus as his Lord and his God. Thomas has what can only be called a conversion experience, and he enters into an even deeper level of faith.

John’s Gospel tells us about this incident, so that we too may have such faith. And the very core of our Easter faith is trust: trust that this world is basically good, trust that God loves us, and trust that God’s love is more powerful than death and disease. Brothers and sisters, hold tight to that faith, even in the midst of disease, even in the face of death. For Christ is risen! Alleluia!

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Faith, Hope, and Love

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Today we get part 2 of the story of Jesus’ visit to the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. You may recall from last week’s Gospel reading that Jesus read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. What he read was a mission statement for the Messiah of God: to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim the release of captives, to give sight to the blind, to free the oppressed, and finally, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (also known as the Year of Jubilee). After finishing the reading, Jesus began his sermon with the words, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Now, I warned you last week that the story doesn’t end well. I wasn’t exaggerating, was I? At first, the reaction of the congregation is one of amazement. They are astonished that the son of the town carpenter could preach so eloquently. Seemingly, Jesus had his audience right in the palm of his hands. But then, almost inexplicably, Jesus verbally attacks his audience, accusing them of lack of faith, of needing to see miracles before they will believe. Why would he do that? Since we aren’t told why, we just have to guess. My best guess is that, being a prophet, Jesus knew what was in their hearts, maybe even before they knew it themselves. And he does what every prophet of God does when confronting faithlessness, he denounces it.

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The congregation couldn’t have enjoyed having their hardness of heart brought to light. But Jesus might have got away with it if only he had stopped there. But he didn’t. He went on to quote two Bible stories about how God had singled out unbelieving Gentiles for his favor. The implication of these two references to Scripture was that he would have more success with unbelieving pagans than with the folks in his home synagogue. Evidently, being unfavorably compared with Gentiles was just too much to take, and the congregation drove Jesus out of the synagogue and tried to push him off a nearby cliff. But Jesus escaped, passing right through the angry mob unscathed.

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Put Your Trust Where It Rightly Belongs

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

If the headlines are to be believed, many Americans today seem to think that our current situation is somehow unique. It is not! The authors of our prayer book, and more importantly, the authors of the Holy Bible describe a world, that in many ways, looks very familiar. And we would be wise to listen to their counsel.

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The Collect of the Day reminds us that ours is a God who “always resist[s] the proud who confide in their own strength.” The psalmist advises us not to put our trust “in rulers, nor in any child of earth, for there is no help in them.” And St. James marvels at how we honor the rich and despise the poor, when, in fact, it is the rich who oppress the poor, who drag their opponents into court in order to extract the last penny from them. In contrast, we are told, the poor in the world have been chosen by God himself to be “rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom.”

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Glory and Exaltation, Suffering and Death

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Next Sunday is commonly called Palm Sunday, but it has another name: the Sunday of the Passion. Now, that word passion in modern English means desire, but it used to mean something quite different, namely, suffering. So in plain, ordinary English, next Sunday is the Sunday of the Suffering. It bears that title because the Gospel reading is the story of Jesus’ suffering on the cross. Paradoxically, the first hymn of the Sunday of the Suffering is entitled “All glory, laud, and honor.” It is a song about Christ’s glory. Now, why sing a song about the glory of Christ on the day when you hear the story of his shameful torture and execution? Well, the answer to that question is given to us today in the reading from John’s Gospel.

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Up till the events recounted today, Jesus had repeatedly downplayed the dangers he faced, defying death with equanimity. Again and again, he would say to this disciples, “My hour has not yet come,” meaning “My enemies cannot harm me, for the time appointed for my death has not yet arrived.” But in today’s Gospel story, Jesus says something quite different, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Now, that doesn’t sound too ominous, till you realize that the means of his glorification will be crucifixion on a wooden cross.

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Repent, and Believe in the Good News!

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Today is the first Sunday in Lent, a period of 40 days of self-examination and self-discipline in preparation for Easter. Those few who were able to attend the Ash Wednesday service heard a lengthy address concerning the origins of Lent. For those here today who missed that, I will read just a brief excerpt: “This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church.”

This explains why all three of today’s Bible readings deal in some way or other with the sacrament of Baptism. The first reading from Genesis gives us God’s covenant with the remnants of humankind, those who were saved from the Great Flood. As you may recall, God was disgusted with the sinfulness of his people, and he decided to “reboot the system.” He drowned all the creatures on Earth, with the exception of eight members of one family and the animals that they had collected into the ark. God then made a covenant with those eight survivors, and with their descendants, never to do such a thing again.

Now, if we take the story literally, it is horrific. Millions of people must have been drowned. But our ancestors in the faith, including St. Peter, sought a deeper, more spiritual meaning in this tale of mass destruction. And they accomplished this by reading the story of the Flood as a kind of allegory. The waters of the Flood were understood as symbolic of the waters of Baptism. In their understanding, the drowning of the Earth’s many sinners symbolically represented the drowning of our sins in the holy font. Noah’s ark of wood was understood as a symbol of either the wooden Cross of Christ or his salvific Church. Lastly, the covenant of the rainbow that we heard about in the first reading was seen as a prefigurement of the baptismal covenant.

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A Divine Guide to Watching Cable News

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible  Readings

The readings today are a problem for any preacher. We have an Old Testament reading about prophets and false prophets, a letter from St. Paul about food offered to idols, and a Gospel story about an exorcism. There would seem to be no discernible common theme. So how should a preacher proceed? Well, the best this preacher can do is to say a few words about each of the readings and then try to persuade you that each reading is, in fact, a divine guide to watching cable news!

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Let’s Finish Mending the Nets—It’s Time to Go Fishing!

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Last week, we heard the story of Jesus’ call to Philip and Nathanael, as recounted in the Gospel of John. This week we get yet another story of a call to ministry, this time from Mark’s Gospel. It takes place immediately following Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness being tested by Satan. The news of John the Baptist’s arrest signals the end of Jesus’ testing and the beginning of his active ministry in the world. And so, he leaves the wilderness behind and heads for the Sea of Galilee.

The message that he proclaims at first is one of repentance: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Nowadays, after having heard so many hypocritical televangelists tell us that we need to repent of our sins, we have a hard time hearing Jesus’ message of repentance with fresh ears. And so we get it wrong. We take the word “repent” to mean “to be sorry for our sins.” But that’s not the core meaning of the original Greek term. A more literal translation is “to change one’s way of thinking.” In other words, Jesus was telling those who were willing to listen that the world was on the brink of a radical transformation and they would need to change their outlook. Yes, this would undoubtedly have included being sorry for one’s sins. But the call to change one’s way of thinking includes so much more than that.

Next, we are told, Jesus begins to call a group of disciples to help him in his work, starting with the two brothers Simon Peter and Andrew. Jesus calls these fishermen to follow him and become fishers of people. And they do just that—without a moment’s hesitation! They abandon their livelihood and their families to accept the invitation of this itinerant rabbi. Likewise, the brothers James and John drop what they are doing to follow Jesus. Now, Jesus must have been an incredibly charismatic man and his invitation to join him must have been incredibly persuasive. Even so, these fishermen displayed tremendous courage, and we should give them due credit.

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Rejoice, Pray, Give Thanks

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

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Today is the third Sunday of Advent. It is traditionally called “Gaudete Sunday.” Gaudete is Latin for rejoice. This Sunday’s readings are noticeably less gloomy than the readings for the other Sundays of Advent—not a single mention of hellfire or the gnashing of teeth in the Outer Darkness. You will notice that the candle for today on the Advent wreath is rose-colored, not violet. And some parishes mark the semi-festive tone of the day by using rose-colored vestments and paraments. In my humble opinion, rose is just a fancy way of saying pink, and I don’t wear pink! But as you are probably not interested in my color preferences, let’s just move on and take a look-see at these “less gloomy” readings.

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The first reading from Isaiah has virtually no hints of gloom at all—just one brief reference to “the day of vengeance of our God”! This oracle is from the third section of the book of Isaiah and dates to the time of the restoration of Jerusalem, after the Israelites had returned from exile in Babylon. If you read in between the lines of this prophecy, you see that things were not as they should be. The prophet is commissioned by God to announce “good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” In other words, the people were suffering. But this situation, we are told, will not last forever! “The Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up.” And on that day, the prophet will “greatly rejoice in the Lord.”

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Fractured Fairy Tales of the Kingdom

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Four days ago, June Foray died at the age of 99. You probably don’t recognize her name, but you just might recognize her voice—at least if you are of a certain age! You see, she was the voice of a whole host of cartoon characters in “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” which was popular when I was a child. I bring this up for a couple of reasons. First, I was particularly fond of that cartoon. And second, “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show” gives us some insight into today’s Gospel. You see, a regular feature of that cartoon was a segment called “Fractured Fairy Tales.” In it, they would retell a well-known fairy tale, but then give it an unexpected twist. You just never knew how the “fractured fairy tale” was going to end. I think that Jesus’ parables are like the fractured fairy tales of “Rocky and Bullwinkle.” They all have some kind of twist to them.

Consider the well-known parable of the mustard seed. We are told that someone planted a mustard seed in his field, which according to the parable is the smallest of all seeds. But in reality, the orchid seed is smaller than the mustard seed. Next, we are told that the mustard seed grows into a tree and the birds of the air nest in its branches. This is even more problematic than the error about the mustard seed’s size. For mustard bushes simply don’t grow to the size of trees, and the branches are too flimsy to support bird nests. So what are we to make of this impossible parable? Here’s what I think: Jesus knew very well that mustard bushes weren’t trees, but he wanted his audience to suspend their disbelief for a moment…to imagine the impossible. For if we can imagine that the mustard seed is the smallest of seeds and then imagine that it can grow into a large tree and provide nesting for birds, then and only then are we ready to imagine what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.

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