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God is Love

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Reading

Customarily, when I preach, I focus on the appointed Gospel reading. But for some reason, I just didn’t feel like preaching on grapevines this Sunday, so I’m not going to do it! Likewise, it would make good sense to preach on the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch; after all, Eastertide is traditionally a time to explore the Christian sacraments. But I’m not going to do that either! Instead, I am going to focus on the Epistle and talk about love.

If there is a single key to understanding our God, it is that simple sentence: God is love. That statement explains why God created the earth and all its creatures, including our good selves. It explains why God repeatedly sent prophets to guide his children when they had strayed like sheep. And as St. John points out today, it explains why God became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, lived among us as one of us, and died on a cross for our sake. It was all because God is love.

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Now, we need to be a little careful about that statement. For the converse statement, love is God, is just not true. We do not worship love per se. We worship the God who is characterized by love. And out of love for him, we try our best to imitate that love. We respect all our brothers and sisters, without exception. We wish them well. We pray for their wellbeing. We help them when they are in need. And we are patient with them. Now, that doesn’t mean that we will always agree with our brothers and sisters. It doesn’t even mean that we will necessarily like our brothers and sisters. But love demands that we respect them as fellow children of God and treat them accordingly. I will admit that this is not always easy to do. To be honest, some folks make it pretty hard to love them!

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But if we would be faithful followers of Jesus Christ, if we would be dutiful children of our God, we really don’t have any other choice than to love. St. John warns that “those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” In a real sense, our ability to love is a test of our faith. You can believe every statement in the Nicene Creed and every word written in the Holy Bible, but if you do not love, you are not a faithful Christian.

Now, if we were on our own, without any help, we all might fail the test of love. But we are not, in fact, on our own. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, given to us at Baptism and renewed at every Eucharist, God lives in us, and among us. And with God’s help, his divine love can be perfected in us. In the Eastern Church, this growth in divine love is called theosis, often translated as “divinization.” The idea is that as we grow more perfect in love and conform ourselves ever more closely to the God who is love, we will share more and more in his divine energies and come to experience eternal life in the here and now. That, my friends, is the proverbial carrot!

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Now for the proverbial stick! If we stubbornly refuse to participate in God’s love, if we put our own well-being above the well-being of all others, there will be a price to pay. St. John mentions the fateful Day of Judgment. Likewise, Jesus makes a rather scary reference to unfruitful branches being lopped off and burned in a fire.

Beloved brothers and sisters, each and every one of us has a choice to make this very day. We can choose to live for ourselves alone, always fearing the fateful day when our selfishness will be judged. Or we can choose to love our brothers and sisters as God has loved us, casting aside all fear of judgment and living in complete freedom. For “perfect love casts out fear.”

And as a first effort toward loving your brothers and sisters, I would ask you today to carefully consider what you are doing when you share the Peace. That moment of the liturgy is as sacred as any other, though we rarely treat it that way. We tend to think of it as an informal break in the worship that allows us to have a quick conversation about the upcoming book sale, or to catch up with someone we haven’t seen in a while. But the Peace is not, in fact, a break in the worship; rather, it is an integral part of it. It is the time in the liturgy when we are asked to demonstrate our love for one another by word and gesture, and more importantly, to reconcile with anyone in the room with whom we have had a disagreement. So when you share the Peace today, please remember to share some love! For “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”

© 2018 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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An Empty Tomb and the Angel’s Easter Orders

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading (Mark 16:1-8)

You may have noticed that I did not read the last two sentences of the Gospel reading, as printed in the lectionary insert. It was not an accident due to Holy Week exhaustion; I omitted them because they are not, in fact, part of the canonical Bible. The original version of Mark’s Gospel ended with the words, “They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” The end! Now, the early Church didn’t like this abrupt cliffhanger of an ending, and two different appendices were proposed in order to give the Gospel a more satisfying ending: the so-called “shorter ending,” consisting of the two sentences in the insert that I didn’t read; and the “longer ending,” consisting of verses 9 through 20, as found in modern printed Bibles. Very early on, you see, the Church had decided to go with the longer ending, and those two sentences tacked on to the end of verse 8 were scrapped. Unfortunately, an editor at Church Publishing Incorporated seems not to have gotten the memo!

With that out of the way, let’s look a little closer at the eight verses that I did read. We are told that three women got up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday to ready Jesus’ body for burial. He had been so hastily entombed that his body had not been washed and anointed with perfume, as was the custom. According to Jewish belief, the soul of the departed lingered for three days after death. So, they would have believed that Jesus’ spirit would have been aware of the fact that they were lovingly fulfilling their duty as members of his unofficial extended family.

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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, 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 faith?

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Receive the Holy Spirit and Mend My World

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Today is the Day of Pentecost, one of seven principal feasts in the Episcopal Church’s liturgical calendar. It has been called the “birthday of the Church,” but this title is hotly disputed. In any case, all agree that it is a day to “pull out all the stops.” And so we will have incense at the Offertory.

The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us the story of that 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 do not 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 spiritual gifts.

As St. Paul tells us in his First Letter to the Corinthians, the Church has at divers times received a variety of gifts: the utterance of wisdom, the utterance of knowledge, the proclamation of prophecy, the gift of healing, the discernment of spirits, and the working of all kinds of miracles. All of these have been useful to the building up of the Church, but later in that same letter Paul reminds us that the most important spiritual gifts are faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these three is love.

Since the Day of Pentecost completes the fifty days of Eastertide, we quite fittingly return to Easter Day in the Gospel reading from John, which takes place on the evening of the Resurrection.

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Storm-Stiller

A sermon preached by Christopher L. Webber on June 21, 2015, at the Church of the Incarnation, San Francisco. 

Gospel Reading

I said last week that I did not choose the readings for these last two weeks but I couldn’t have chosen much better.  Last week we had some thoughts about choosing leadership. This week, more on a very similar subject.  I looked up the readings for today weeks ago and when I came back to work on them it turned out that I had misremembered what the gospel was about and thought it was about Jesus walking on water. So I’d been thinking what a great opportunity that made to talk about what you should look for in a priest. It’s actually a pretty standard thing to say when parishes start thinking about what they want in a priest and walking on water is a pretty good summary.

But, in fact, that is not today’s Gospel: today’s Gospel is a simpler matter of stilling the storm – but it may be even more relevant. I mean, is it useful to have a priest who can walk on water? Under what circumstances would it be helpful? Maybe if you were in Texas or Oklahoma this last week it would be a useful skill.  But not here. Here’s there’s not enough water to walk on even if somebody could.  But stilling storms . . . that I can see would have value. We can pray that our next President can do it; he or she will need to. And most parishes also will find themselves needing a good storm-stiller from time to time. And maybe we have our own storms to face and need to remember the Lord who asked the storm-tossed disciples, “Why are you afraid?

So let’s think about what’s going on here and what relevance it has for us.  I think the first question a lot of people want to ask about stories like these – stilling a storm, walking on water, whatever – the question we ask in the scientific age is what are the facts? What really happened? And the problem we have is that there’s no one who can answer that question. Well, there are people out there who will say, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”  But Episcopalians aren’t usually that easily satisfied.  We like to talk about “Scripture, tradition, and reason” as our sources of authority, how we settle things.

It’s easy for Roman Catholics: they have the pope to settle things or maybe unsettle things when he starts to talk about climate change. And it’s easy for fundamentalists: they can look it up in the Bible. But we’re Anglicans and we’re not satisfied with just the pope and not just the Bible, and not just tradition, and not just reason, but “Scripture, and tradition, and reason.”  Is it in the Bible is always the first question.  That counts for a lot, but for us it’s not the whole story.  There’s also tradition: is it something that comes from long tradition like worshiping on Sunday?  That’s not in the Bible, but it’s a pretty strong tradition. We should pay attention to such traditions. But there’s still a third question: is it reasonable?  Most churches ask only one of these questions: if it’s in the Bible, that’s all that matters, or if the Pope said so, that’s all that matters, or if it’s reasonable, that’s all that matters. But we want it all: Scripture, and tradition, and reason.

So when we come to a story of Jesus walking on water or stilling a storm, the fact that it’s in the Bible counts for a lot but we still need to weigh in with reason. Is it really likely that this happened? Is it reasonable? Part of our problem then is that they didn’t ask those questions in the first century when they were writing these stories down. It was what we call a “pre-scientific world.”  Some events were more unusual than others, but there was no dividing line between natural and supernatural. So the idea that Jesus could walk on water or still a storm didn’t particularly surprise them.  Yes, it was unusual, but unusual things happened all the time.  Lightening flashed and thunder rolled and the stable earth quaked and no one knew why so they blamed it on God and if God created storms, God could certainly still storms. So they told this story because it showed Jesus doing one of the things that God does.  In particular, it showed Jesus fulfilling scripture which spoke of God stilling storms.

Take Psalm 107, for example, a hymn of praise for a God revealed in nature. That psalm talks about a storm at sea and the fears of those involved, and it says:

28 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.

29 He stilled the storm to a whisper * and quieted the waves of the sea.

30 Then were they glad because of the calm, * and he brought them to the harbor they were bound for.

31 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his mercy * and the wonders he does for his children.

God can still storms. Rembrandt_Christ_in_the_Storm_on_the_Lake_of_GalileeThe Jews were a desert people and a storm at sea was a fearful display of God’s power. What could be more wonderful than the quieting of such a storm?  And, you see, that’s exactly what the story shows Jesus doing: doing what God does, ruling over nature. So if Jesus was doing what God does, what does that tell you about Jesus? That’s the point of the story. That’s what interested people in the first century – and, actually, most centuries until we got scientific.

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