Monday, April 30, 2018

Bullies and Name Calling

Of Bullies and Name Calling

When I was in grade five at the old Charlton School in Somerville, a schoolyard bully used to call me names. I tried to avoid him. His name was Brian. He followed me home from school at lunchtime, and picked on me. He walked behind me, pushing me around, and stepping on my shoe heels forcing me to stop and put my shoes back on.

I complained to my grandmother about all this and she tried to comfort me and encouraged me to avoid Brian. No use, the bullying continued. I came home crying one day not knowing what to do. My grandmother, brandishing her wooden spoon, finally said; “Buddy Bresnahan!” When your elders use your last name you know you’d better listen up. “The next time Brian picks on you, I want you to tell him to stop and if he doesn’t, I want you to haul off and hit him as hard as you can.” Geez, that didn’t sound like Ma. But then she said; “If you don’t stand up for yourself, you’re not getting lunch.” 

That got my attention! Sure enough next day, Brian pushed me around and stepped on my shoes and called me names one last time. I warned him. He laughed at me and kept it up. I wheeled around and unleashed a left hook that caught him square on his right chin and sent him flying. I don’t think he was expecting that and I surprised myself at my pugilistic skill. Brian never picked on me again. More importantly, I had lunch that day.

We live in a time of bullying and name calling. We call each other conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, black and white, foreigners and much, much more. We do so as if we were enemies to one another; a divided nation.

Speaking of names, In today’s lesson from Acts we have someone called an “Ethiopian Eunuch”. Imagine! Here the church in Jerusalem is trying to settle the question of whether you had to be a practicing Jew before you could be a Christian, and Philip comes back to HQ with the news. I can imagine Peter and Paul saying; “You baptized a what?” Here’s a man who is neither Jew nor Greek. Not only is he very black, he is also from Africa, and his gender identity? That certainly must have raised a few eyebrows. We don’t know his name, but we do know we was “An Ethiopian Eunuch”. That fact challenged the church to think about the inclusion/exclusion question right then and there. Thank God the church settled on the idea that no matter who you are; Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female or eunuch or whatever…we are all one in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~para. Galatians 3:28

There is name calling in the church too. Think of it; the Episcopal Church. We use terms like the following to describe each other’s theological predispositions, we are; 
Anglo Catholics
Social Activists
These terms can divide us as individuals or as congregations. But what if we look behind our labels? Perhaps we can see something that unites rather than divides. Perhaps if we look at Jesus; the way, the truth and the life…

Alow me to point to the reality that lives behind these names we call each other. I believe that each label represents an integral component of the personhood of Jesus. If we believe that Jesus is the “way, the truth, and the life” as our collect says he is, and further if we believe that Jesus is the way to eternal life, it behooves us to look behind our labels and see if Jesus is there with us. And if Jesus is there, so too is God.

For instance, Jesus was a traditionalist. He was a practicing Jew. He lived the Law and said so in the Sermon on the Mount; “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill the law.” ~Matthew 5:17. He recited the Psalms every day of his life. He often found himself in the synagogue and loved to debate matters of the law and the prophets with the Scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees. Often those debates also generated controversy. That’s just the way things are among rabbis and clergy. Having just returned from our annual Clergy Conference, I can attest to this!

Jesus was an intellectual. He thought critically about the Law and the Prophets. He was the Teacher, a Rabbi. His sermon on the Mount in Matthew or the Sermon on the Plain in Luke, are creative, brilliant, and tersely stated principles of enduring theological principle. His parables compel us to search our souls with questions that plumb the depths of who we are with each other and with God. He makes us think!

Jesus was an Evangelical. He called us to repent and to be born anew to a living hope. He expected us to live into a metamorphosis from an old way of living in sin and self will, to a new life loving God, neighbor and self.

Jesus was an Anglo Catholic.. On the hillsides of Galilee he fed them with the Bread of heaven. At supper with his friends he took bread, said the blessing, he broke the bread and gave it to them saying; Take, eat, this is my Body. Likewise after supper, he took the cup. The mystery of the Presence of Jesus continues to this very day as we replicate and rehearse this sacred sacrament!

Jesus was a Charismatic. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and filled others likewise. At his Baptism in the River Jordan, in his Temptation in the Wilderness, at his Transfiguration, at his trial, Death and Resurrection the Holy Spirit moved within him and we beheld his Glory. And finally on Pentecost, he breathed upon us and filled us with the Spirit that enables us to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth and in all languages.

And finally Jesus was a Social Activist. He healed the sick, fed the poor, ate with prostitutes, and reached out to the rejected; lepers and outcasts alike. He expects us to do likewise. He said: “Peter do you love me? When Jesus asked the question the third time, Peter was hurt. Then Jesus said; Peter, feed my lambs! ~para John 21. 

Take a comprehensive look at Jesus. If we look behind the labels we use; if we look behind the names we call each other, we will see one another as created in the image of God. This is because we see God through Jesus. If we are Traditionalists we honor what has been handed down to us from the ancients. If we are Intellectuals we dare to Reason and think critically. If we are Evangelicals we will realize that we need to change fundamentally from the old self of willful disobedience to a whole new self of renewal. If we are Anglo Catholics we recognize that life is a Mystery and we honor Jesus and one another in our sacramental life. If we are Charismatics the Holy Spirit is alive and well within us, and brings us peace, equips us with gifts for ministry in the world, and grants us the Wisdom from on High to use those gifts skillfully. And finally if we are Social Activists we search diligently for Justice. We are relentless when we see suffering or injustice. We organize our lives and our congregations around suffering and injustice until we see the social order comply with God’s will; namely to “Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God”. ~Micah 6:8

This is what it means to abide in Christ as Jesus abides in us. This is what it means for us to bear much fruit as today’s Gospel requires. He is the Vine, we are the branches. 

Therefore my friends, my dear friends when we call out the name “Jesus” we are not playing a game of theological triumphalism or exclusive bullying as if Jesus is the only way to God and everyone else is doomed. Not at all! We proclaim that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life because we believe in justice, spirituality, the mystery of life, the need to change our violent ways, the need to think and recognize that truth is truth, and finally we honor all human traditions that  point to God.

As Christians we love one another because God is love. We are not bullies or name callers. Unfortunately history is marred with dreadful religious and racial violence. Someday I hope to go to Montgomery, Alabama to see the recently opened National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Our history is marred not only by slavery and oppression, but by lynchings. God help us! Whether we are Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists or Christian, Atheists, Agnostics, Black or White, we are all capable of excusing violence in the Name of what we believe in. This only leads to violence and violence begets violence. 

Years after my famous punch, my friend Brian said that we needed to finish our “fight”. I told him there was no fight. He had put me in a position where I had to defend myself. I did that. Whatever conflict there had been was now over. He grudgingly admitted that. Ultimately Brian and I became very good friends for a very long time. That’s how things should be among us, my dear friends, since “God is Love.”

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. The way to God. We believe that Jesus is the example, par excellence, of the Love of God made flesh and blood. “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” ~lesson from 1 John.

In the Name of God; the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.

Fr Paul

Monday, April 23, 2018

Red Heads and Whiskey

Red Headed Women and Whiskey!

Imagine this: there is someone willing to give their life for you! Mother bears are known to be fierce if someone were to come between her and the cubs. Mothers and fathers will often set themselves in harm’s way when their children are at risk. 

But what about you? Me? What about the vulnerable in our midst? Or the rejected and sinful? The lonesome, the elderly, the poor, the sick, the foreign born? The unloved of the social order? Is there someone who will give their life for them? For you? Whoever you are?

Today’s Gospel gives us an unequivocal answer to that question. Jesus did. This is why we have Good Shepherd Sunday. We proclaim that whoever you are and whatever you’ve done, whatever your status, whether upright and righteous, or a miserable sinner, there is Someone who will give their life for you.

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. And again; “I am the good shepherd…And I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Ever wonder, as I do, who those “other sheep” are? It seems Jesus continues to gather us in ever widening circles of God’s inclusive love.

And yes, the Good Shepherd knows the sheep each by name. I’m still working on that and your name tags and the photos I’m taking at coffee hour are helping enormously. Thank you. 

I once met a real shepherd from Greece years ago. I was involved in community organizing efforts in Hyde Park during the Busing Crisis. I met this fellow at a meeting then, and discovered that he had been a shepherd boy as a youth, I asked him what it takes to be a “good” shepherd. He was a grizzled, short, stocky fella. He was well worn in years and attire. He responded to me in an instant;
“Tree tings; First, you gotta know de sheep’s namzz. Dey don’ trus you ‘cept you know dey namzz. Two; dogs…you gotta have dogs. Trained dogs. Dey keeps de sheeps togeddah. Tree, every once ‘en a while you gotta whacken de sheeps upside de hed when dey steps outta line.”
That last one reminded me of my family elders. They taught me to keep a low profile. And they taught me to mind. 

Jesus is our Good Shepherd. And he gives his life for us. Think about that. You. Your life is worth the Savior’s life. God’s only son! Period. Full stop. Each and every one of you. The constitution says we are equal to one another. But in God’s Kingdom, your citizenship confers much more than mere equality. Each one of you is infinitely precious to God. You are not just equal but infinitely and unconditionally beloved of God. Got that? Not up here intellectually, but in here in your heart of hearts!

Jesus is your Good Shepherd. He knows you each by Name. He loves YOU so much he will lay his life down for you. Say that, pray that every day of your life until you believe that!

Likewise John tells us in today’s Epistle; “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us-- and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” Now, as a parish priest, I am certainly willing to take some reasonable risks, but I have a wife and family and giving up my life for the likes of you? (A shrug of the shoulder here.)

In point of fact, my life has been threatened twice during my professional priesthood.  The first time, I was in Hyde Park, Boston during Phase Two of the Busing Crisis. On the eve of my first Sunday on the job, I received a phone call and the woman on the other end of the line said; “You say one word about busing and we will kill you.” It was a very hot summer’s night, and the next day was hot and humid as I began my first service at Christ Church. There was but a handful in church. I will admit to you, I was downright terrified.

The second time was different. Allow me to tell this story.

When I was at St. Mark’s Church in West Virginia, I found myself in the hotbed of controversy over the building of a homeless shelter. Our church operated what was called Christ’s Kitchen, a free breakfast and lunch program for the poor in our midst. There were a number of homeless folks who ate there and who lived along the riverbank and under a bridge. One especially stormy night a small band of homeless folk put together a makeshift shelter of cardboard boxes. They set a fire to keep warm. Things got out of control and when the smoke cleared three people had died. 

The press came by to investigate. We went over to the site of the fire and in what was one of the most shameful things I’ve ever seen, I watched as a garbage truck from the department of Public Works cleared the scene of all the worldly possessions of the homeless and the police gave tickets to them for littering and vagrancy. Not only had they lost their friends in the fire, all their worldly possessions were gone and they were facing court action and fines for the crime of being homeless. The reporter and I documented and published the sequence of events.

We went back to Christ’s Kitchen to collect ourselves in the aftermath the trauma. And then in a moment of inspiration, I said to the remaining band of homeless folk; “Give me your tickets!”. The reporter and I went out to the front steps of the church and I brandished the tickets in front of a camera and announced that the police had harassed the homeless at the direction of city authorities, and that I had taken the tickets into my possession and if the courts wanted to collect fines they’d have to get the money out of me. The story hit the front page of the Charleston Gazette.

The response from the city was predictable. The next morning I arrived at my office to find my secretary in tears and she told me that the President of the City Council had called and and was in a state of outrage. He said to her and I quote; “Those Irish, the only thing they brought to this country was red headed women and whiskey”. The press were there waiting for a quote from me. I was ready;
“I’ll have one of each!” 

The conflict in the early stages was palpable. Nobody wanted a homeless shelter in their neighborhood. I faced the fury of the NIMBY syndrome and even a lawsuit. One night Cindy received a phone call from an especially hostile person, and the voice said; “We’re going to kill your husband.” Cindy being Cindy, replied as only Cindy can; “Yeah, take a numbah, I want to kill him too sometimes!” We both laughed heartily if also somewhat nervously. She did seem to take some of the steam out of the threat. 
Thus began a sequence of events that led to the building of a homeless shelter. I shall never forget all the parishioners, community leaders, lawyers, police, civic leaders and so on who became a part of a collaborative effort to build that shelter. What had begun in controversy and confrontation, eventually became a galvanizing rally point for constructive cooperative ministry.

Folks, we hope it doesn’t always come to the “last full measure of our devotion”, but truth be told we may have to put our lives on the line for our neighbors, our families, and especially the vulnerable in our midst, and God knows there are plenty of those these days.

Salvation come to us in the willingness to love one another as Jesus loves us. So lets be careful when today’s lesson from Acts tell us; “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved, but the Name of Jesus.” Let’s be clear, we are not talking about two syllables; “Je-sus” that is to say the name alone, we are talking about what that Holy Name stands for, namely, the Holy One who lays down his life for us. And so too we are called to lay down our lives for one another if in fact it comes to that. Salvation then, is living the life Jesus lived as the Good Shepherd of his people, willing to put ourselves on the line for the God’s flock.

There are those times when we face the fury of those who feel threatened by our willingness to love the unlovable. Whether it is in a busing crisis, or the homeless, or the many more who find themselves outcast in our contemporary social order. We are not alone either in these moments of personal risk or even in the long last road of our suffering. The Good Shepherd is always with us. When Barbara Bush faced her long last hours she did so with grace, humor and above all, faith. 

For as the magnificent and stirring words of the Psalter say; 
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me…Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”

In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen. 

Fr Paul

Monday, April 16, 2018

Is that You Jesus?

Is that You Jesus?

This Sunday in the Church Year we often read “On the Road to Emmaus”; the story of Jesus walking with yet unbeknownst to his disciples. He asks what they are talking about. They hasten to tell him the story; “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what’s been going on?”  They tell the stranger their amazing story. When they stop for supper Jesus gives thanks, breaks bread and then they realize, this is Jesus. Suddenly he vanishes. In the fullness of time an even fuller recognition dawns upon them that Christ often appears in a stranger’s presence.

Look around you, day in day out, here in this sacred space, or out there in that sacred space; at work, at school, at home and out and about running errands. If you take a moment you may recognize that Christ is present in friend and stranger alike in some extraordinary and in some very ordinary moments. 

“Be known to us in the breaking of the bread. Jesus, open the eyes of our faith!” today’s Collect invites us to pray. So too in in today’s Gospel Jesus is known to his disciples in the eating of a piece of broiled fish. Then he opened their minds to understand. 

There is symbolism in sharing a meal, as sociologists tell us. A study at UCLA shows; “In every society, food is highly symbolic, in the sense that members imbue particular kinds and qualities of food with sentimental, moral, religious, and health-related meanings.” This and other studies show that sharing a meal changes relationships qualitatively. Go to dinner with somebody you care about and the bond between you changes, deepens. Jesus knew this obviously, when he broke bread with us. 

The Eucharist then is essentially missional in nature to Jesus. As the Gospel says as they eat the Body and Blood; “Go forward and tell the whole world the good news about repentance and forgiveness, beginning right here” in Haverhill and then to all nations. The word liturgy in the ancient Graeco-Roman world means “public service” like road building or bridge building. We’ve got work to do to proclaim the Gospel right here, right now! This is our Liturgy; our Public Service.

And since the Lectionary does not tell the Emmaus story today, I’d like to tell you another story. It has a contemporary ring to it because it deals with a very current reality; the epidemic of depression. Depression is what my Spiritual Director calls; “The common cold; or the influenza outbreak of the Modern World.”

St. Francis and Brother Leo; I love the story and it goes like this;

One day Saint Francis and brother Leo were walking down the road. Noticing Leo was depressed, Francis turned and asked, “Leo, do you know what it means to be pure of heart?”
“Of course. It means to have no sins, faults or weaknesses to reproach myself for.”
“Ah,” said Francis, “now I understand why you're sad. We will always have something to reproach ourselves for.”
“Right,” said Leo. “That's why I despair of ever arriving at purity of heart.”
“Leo, listen carefully to me. Don't be so preoccupied with the purity of your heart. Turn and look at Jesus. Admire Him. Rejoice that He is who He is—your Brother, your Friend, your Lord and Savior. That, dear brother, is what it means to be pure of heart. And once you've turned to Jesus, don't turn back and look at yourself. Don't wonder where you stand with Jesus.”
“The sadness of not being perfect, the discovery that you really are sinful, is a feeling much too human, even borders on idolatry. Focus your vision outside yourself, on the beauty, graciousness and compassion of Jesus Christ. The pure of heart praise Him from sunrise to sundown.”
“Even when they feel broken, feeble, distracted, insecure and uncertain, they are able to release it into His peace. A heart like that is stripped and filled-stripped of self and filled with the fullness of God. It is enough that Jesus is Lord.”
After a long pause, Leo said, “Still, Francis, the Lord demands our effort and fidelity.”
"No doubt about that,” replied Francis. “But holiness is not a personal achievement. It's an emptiness you discover in yourself. Instead of resenting it, you accept it and it becomes the free space where Jesus can create anew. To cry out, ‘You alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord,' that is what it means to be pure of heart. And it doesn't come by your Herculean efforts and threadbare resolutions.”
“Then how?” asked Leo.
“Simply hoard nothing to yourself; sweep the house clean. Sweep out even the attic, even the nagging, painful consciousness of your past. Accept being shipwrecked. Renounce everything that is heavy, even the weight of your sins. See only the compassion, the infinite patience and the tender love of Christ. Jesus is Lord. That suffices. Your guilt and reproach disappear into the nothingness of non-attention. You are no longer aware of yourself, like the sparrow aloft and free in the azure sky. Even the desire for holiness is transformed into a pure and simple desire for Jesus.”
Leo listened gravely as he walked along beside Francis. Step by step he felt his heart grow lighter as a profound peace flooded his soul ( a story from Brennan Manning).

Yes. Exactly. Peace. 

This is what Jesus said to us in his Risen power; “Peace be with you.” Peace, the Peace that passes all understanding. It is no further away than turning to him in every fear, anxiety, and preoccupation of your life.

I will confess to you a certain agitation of spirit whenever we launch airstrikes in a foreign land. Naturally, the risk of military escalation is always present. Naturally, I am anxious and preoccupied with the prospect of further conflict. Likewise in our political life. The failure of civil discourse and loss of the art of conversation concerns me. 

I feel much like the Psalmist in today’s Psalm; 
“On that we might see better times!” 
Still, notice how the Psalmist deals with this universal lamentation as the prayer continues into the very next verse?
“Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O Lord.
7 You have put gladness in my heart, *
more than when grain and wine and oil increase.
8 I lie down in peace; at once I fall asleep; *
for only you, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” ~Psalm 4

You see, turn to this Mighty God and find rest for your souls, “for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (From Matthew 11:28-30)

Thankfully we have one another to share our hearts concerns and love, and more thankfully still we can turn to Jesus and come to this altar rail and receive him into our eucharistic family life. Here Jesus becomes known to us in the breaking of the bread. Here we become one in our diversity of life; whoever you are, wherever and whenever you are from. Here we meet and we become one with each other and one with Jesus at this altar rail. 

Look at the extraordinary claims John makes in today’s Epistle. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are… Beloved, we are God's children now” This is what Leo was just coming to understand. Sin is lifted away the more we live into the life that is Jesus the Risen Christ. John explains the reality of redemption in this way; “Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins”.

The sin is wiped away and so is all the guilt…but remember this is not your doing or your achievement. Jesus did all that. The love of God does all that. Live your lives there and you will be freed from the power of sin’s merciless, depressing, grasp. Like Leo…you will come to discover this deep and abiding joy; 

“Leo listened gravely as he walked along beside Francis. Step by step he felt his heart grow lighter as a profound peace flooded his soul.”

And so may it be for us all, Amen.

In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.

Fr Paul.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Holy Doubt

Holy Doubt

Allow me to introduce you to The Rt. Rev. Alexander Stewart, Bishop of Western Massachusetts from 1970-1984. He was always in a hurry, like I imagine the Apostle Paul might have been. There wasn’t a moment to loose. There are churches to visit, clergy and laity to train, conflicts to be resolved, and sermons to be preached. He always brought something for his listeners to read; homework, if you will. I first met him at a meeting of the Clerical Club of Boston. I was still “wet behind the ears” just breaking into my life as a parish priest. But I was impressed with our guest from the “other diocese” in the Commonwealth. He rose up to speak to us. He began with conviction and confidence.

His question; “What is the holiest moment of the Eucharist?
There were various answers.
Most of us ventured; “The moment at the altar rail when we receive the sacrament” That seemed reasonable, but Alex gave us a curt and corrective reply; “No!”
Someone else said; “Perhaps when we sing; Holy, Holy, Holy?” “No!”
Another proposed; “When we read the Gospel of Jesus?” NO!”
“When we offer the gifts of God for the people of God at the Altar of God?” “Absolutely not!!!”
Others ventured reasonable answers, but because he said “No” to all of them, we were reduced to guesswork.
We were puzzled and perplexed, at least I was.

Alex paused, and when he was sure he had our full attention he said; “The holiest moment of the Eucharist is the moment you leave the church. That’s when we find out what difference it makes for us to have been in touch with the Holy. For it is in the lives we live when we leave the church that the Gospel really comes to light!” 

Of course, you want to walk as a child of the light. And so do I. That’s what brings us together week by week. Like campers by a campfire, we sing our songs, we tell our stories, we bask in the warmth and glow of the fires of God. Then we set out for another week to our appointed rounds, we are confronted once again by reality, bruised by the rough and tumble of it, and then return to the warm, loving ring of fire: the Gospel of Jesus. Our spirits restored, we venture forth to life, to live it once more. We live the rhythm of it breathing in and breathing out the Breath of God in our lives.

The Collect of the Day prays us to be the ones who bear the “new covenant of reconciliation” in this world because “we have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body.” This is precisely what the Church is called to be, something born anew to the living hope of reconciliation. 

Still you and I know that the work and ministry of reconciliation can wear you down. Just try to negotiate peace in a family torn apart by feuds and hard feelings, try to be one who mediates a community of any sort in the midst of controversy or conflict. Is conversation even possible between Republicans and Democrats nowadays? Liberals and Conservatives? The two Koreas? Israel and Palestine? And so on and so on...

It is no wonder we come back together as we do today, to hear the words of Jesus; “Peace be with you.” Quiet your hearts. Quiet the raging seas; hush, peace, be still. Be like Jesus asleep astern in the boat. Or as the Psalmist says; “It is God who makes wars to cease in all the world. God breaks the bow and shatters the spear. Be still and know that I am God.” ~Psalm 46, and again, “For God alone my soul in silence waits.” ~Psalm 62 

I believe that if Jesus were to stand at a joint session of Congress, he might begin with what the Psalmist says today.  “Oh, how good and pleasant it is, * when the people live together in unity!”

As good an idea as that might be, how can it really be that way? It didn’t last long in the church did it? Remember how it was in the beginning? We are told in the in today's reading from the Acts of the Apostles that “the whole group … was of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership … but everything they owned was held in common… There was not a needy person among them, for everything they had was laid it at the apostles' feet, and…was distributed to each as any had need.” Sadly, that didn’t last long.

Thomas hadn’t even gotten that far according to today’s Gospel, did he? How could he? He wasn’t there? He had not experienced what the others experienced. To his eternal credit, he was an honest man. He stated his doubt in a flat footed manner; "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 

Likewise Jesus was equally direct with Thomas, just like the time he knocked Paul off his high horse. He came and stood in their midst and showed him his hands and his feet…and to confront the doubt straight on he said; "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

That’s when it came to Thomas in the experience of the Risen One; "My Lord and my God!”

As it was for Thomas, so it is for many of us. “How can this be?” My stepfather allowed as to how there probably was a God, nice of him to allow that.  He just could not bring himself to believe in the Resurrection.  Nor could my mother. She was a difficult and feisty woman and we loved her even though there were times it was difficult to do so. More than once I told my stepfather; “For living with my mother, you’re going to heaven whether you want to or not!”

Neither of them understood why I wanted to go into the church. What’s to understand? Nothing satisfies me more than to stand in your midst and proclaim the Gospel of the Risen Jesus or to be at the Altar of God and be in your midst as Christ becomes present to us in this Sacrament. All of which is incomprehensible to so many. 

What makes faith possible for me, is not so much the intellect, it is the heart. It is because I loved them and love them still that I can entrust them to the keeping of God…all of them; my mom, my dad, my stepfather and all my ancestors. This is what makes faith possible it seems to me, and I believe that this is why Jesus told us to love one another on that last night when we ate together. When we love one another, then faith becomes possible and belief follows.

As important as all this faith and believing is to me nothing is as important, nothing so holy as what happens as we go forth from this sacred space into that sacred space. It is when we leave here and go forth from this fellowship to live the life Jesus commands us to live. In the magnificent words of John’s First Letter which we read today; “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands…This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all…if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.”

This is what keeps us together as we go forth from this place into the Holy of Holies! The World! It is for the sake of the World that Jesus came into our midst, and it is for the sake of the World that Jesus sends us out to do the work we have been given to do. 

What it boils down to these days is Soup kitchens, homeless shelters, day care, music enrichment, recovery programs; these are the the efforts that find their home in many an Episcopal Church these days. We are finding our way to the mission Jesus commanded of us; on behalf  of those in need and the vulnerable in our midst. It is in the broken lives of those we know and love when we share our faith in the stories we tell. Perhaps then there will be faith and belief. Show them your wounds and your faith and then they may believe!

For me, Holy Week and Easter at Trinity Church was a time of heightened awareness of God. Never before in my ministry have I appreciated music, prayer, ritual, reading of scripture in the same way as I have here with you. Thank you.

Still when we roll up our sleeves after we’ve done all Alex Stewart is when we leave this place that we discover what holiness of life is, come nine o’clock on Monday morning!

In the Name of God the Most Holy, Undivided, and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.

Fr Paul