Bill Hattendorf, Lay Preacher
Prelude: An aside before we start with the biblical lessons at hand: Tomorrow is Memorial Day. We don’t say Happy Memorial Day, because it honors the dead who gave their lives for their country. Come November, you can say Happy Veteran’s Day to all the living veterans who served.
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day, as a day to decorate the graves of the fallen veterans. Observance started in remembrance of those who died in the Civil war, known in some Southern circles as the “War Between the States,” or the “Recent Unpleasantness.” Those who sacrificed their lives in the service of our nation in any war were added after their wars, and since 9/11, there has been more mention of those who died in the line of duty in emergency services.
I’ve been fortunate, not losing anyone in my recent ancestry, although every generation has served in some war up through Vietnam. My great-grandfather, John Pender McLeod, served in Gettysburg and elsewhere, belonged to a Vermont Regiment he joined in Brattleboro.
Tonight I will be up in Keene, New Hampshire, on the town square, helping fellow veterans light candles that we put out in red Solo cups all around the square, more than two thousand of them. (cleaning up whatever is left at dawn.) Each candle represents someone who died in the service of his or her country, mostly from New England, but some from beyond as well. We read the name of each person as we take the flame out to a place in the square. One of the candles will represent Fred Hopson, my best buddy in the Army: we trained side by side through Basic and Advanced training, sat next to each other on the plane to Vietnam, served in country together, but he was killed during the Cambodian campaign. I still miss him, and I will honor him and others this Memorial Day who gave their last full measure for God and Country.
Now on to today’s lessons:
Just prior to the beginning of today’s first reading from Acts, Paul and his companions seem to be at a loss for where to go next with the preaching of the gospel. They stumble around the region running into one barrier after another, blocked, we’re told, by the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of Jesus. In today’s reading from Acts, Paul receives a vision in the night, a vision requiring interpretation; requiring a community of faith. The early church faced a tough question as it worked to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission – the spread of the Gospel to all the world.
Some evangelists in the early church understood this Great Commissionas a call to require Gentiles to convert to Judaism, specifically through circumcision – a move that caused many to reject the Gospel. The Council of Jerusalem was called to consider the question, and in the end, this Council of apostles and elders decided that Christ had sent them not to convert the world to Judaism as such, but to bring salvation and the forgiveness of sins to all people, where they were and as whom they were. They were required to transfigure their hearts, not their physical appearance in any way, and accept Christ not as the messiah of the Hebrews but as the savior of the whole world. The invitation is to share the divine Trinitarian life, as it’s
imagined in our second reading today from Revelation 21.
In today’s Gospel of John, it is the last evening that Jesus spends with the disciples before his death. Here, Jesus tries to show them two elements of reality that are difficult to hold
together: he is going away, yet he will not leave them orphaned.
Jesus says, “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me / because I live, you also will live.”
The disciples have questions, of course, like: “How is it
that you’ll reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” maybe expectating Jesus to reveal secrets.
But Jesus isn’t interested in hiding knowledge from anyone. While the world will not see him any longer, it will see his followers. To keep the word of Jesus means to keep his commandments. It is to wash one another's feet, to love one another. As the disciples keep the word of Jesus, they will be a community characterized by mutual regard, love and service.
Throughout Jesus’ farewell message, he makes it clear that followers love him by serving others. Jesus' love language here is “acts of service.” Although we might distinguish between loving Jesus and keeping his word, and imagine that we can do one but not the other, Jesus doesn’t recognize that distinction. The clause here in John is a condition of fact: “Those who love me will keep my word” ... Love for Jesus is love in action.
Whether the disciples know it or not, to live that kind of love, they will need the constant presence of God in their midst. Jesus offers that presence with three different promises.
First, he says of himself and the Father about those who love him: “We will come and make our home with them.” From the first chapter of this gospel, we’re told that prior to anyone's love for Jesus, “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” It’s saying that no one would be able to love Jesus if the Father had not first loved the world enough to send his Son into it.
The “cohabitation” that Jesus speaks of is not a reward for good behavior. It is simply a statement of where God likes to spend time. It hearkens back to the first chapter of the gospel as well as forward to the future imagined in Revelation where it says: “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.” So Jesus speaks of the home that the Father will make with those who love him. He promises the guidance of the Holy Spirit as his followers remember him.
Second, Jesus announces the advent of the Spirit among the believers. During the time between his leave-taking and life in the new Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit “will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit was to guide the disciples and the church about their experiences of Jesus, and it guides us as we seek to let our love for him show up in the ways we relate to others. The Spirit helps all of us disciples understand Jesus and his word and to love Jesus by keeping his word on behalf of the world.
Finally, Jesus gives his own peace to those he is about to leave. The gospel of John includes no mention of peace until Jesus speaks it here, on the eve of his death. He describes the peace he offers as his own and says that he gives it “not as the world gives.” He will offer it again and again as he appears to the disciples after the resurrection. While he doesn’t describe the peace he offers, from his words here in John, we may conclude that his peace offers the disciples both comfort for troubled hearts and courage in the midst of fear. Throughout the events of his arrest, trial, and crucifixion, as well as in the resurrection, Jesus will embody the peace he offers here.
So why tell the disciples all this now? Recall the disciple’s question: “How is it that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” It tells us that there are three ways those who love Jesus will continue to see and know him after he goes away:
• In the home that the Father and the Son make with them,
• In the work of the Spirit to call to mind what Jesus taught, and
• In their ongoing experience of peace that comes from him and not from the world.
Jesus tells them ahead of time so that they may believe.
As the events of the immediate – and distant – future unfold, Jesus' followers will be able to trust that God – the One who loved them enough to send the Son – still loves them and still seeks to dwell with them. They will know they are not orphaned.
Maybe the most profound moment in this passage – and probably the most familiar – comes in verse 27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Peace is a commodity we sorely need in our world and is absent for far too many. But into this talk about his upcoming absence, Jesus reassures the disciples, who were fearful about his
departure, that they won’t be left alone, and he bestows peace on them.
He doesn’t just gently wish them peaceful lives – he gives them peace. This is not a wish. This is a gift. It is a gift of
profound importance at this moment in that journey of Jesus and the disciples. Surely he could foresee the turmoil they’d face when he was gone, and he does all he can to prepare them for the next part of the journey. Peace is such an important element of John’s gospel. And, like love, peace is a mark of true
discipleship that is required of disciples – both then and now.
This is not a passive peace. It is an active working toward peace in multiple situations. This Spirit and peace will propel the disciples and the church into active discipleship and mission. It is with the presence of this peace, given by God in Jesus, which enables the disciples and us to live lives of faithfulness.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid,” he said. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”
Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm
Psalm 23 is undoubtedly the most well-know and most beloved psalm in the Bible. It is written by an unknown ancient poet to remind us that in our hardest times we are not alone.
It has been a particularly difficult week in this community. After months and years of observing the epidemic of gun violence that has reached into schools, public gatherings and places of worship, as well as in the privacy of homes, where anger bubbles up and overflows, this week the violence has come close, with the shooting death of Meaghan Burns, a member of this parish.
Some of you knew Meaghan. Many of you know Carolyn. Regardless, the news of this senseless act of violence has impacted all of us. It is for times like these that Psalm 23 was written. Its text speaks to the deepest places in us.
I’ve seen the depth to which this psalm speaks to us in an experience I’ve had more than once, and I know Heather, Ann, and Jane have, as well. Sometimes when visiting a person who is gravely ill - even near death - who has been unresponsive, when I have begun praying Psalm 23, their lips move in silent accompaniment. They know those words, and the words matter, and they join me from somewhere far away, praying those words.
Psalm 23’s words and images are deeply reassuring in their promise of G’s presence & guidance in our time of need.
4th Sunday of Easter known as “Good Shepherd Sunday – a tradition that originally came from Roman Catholic tradition, that has been adopted by the Episcopal Church with our adoption of the Revised Common Lectionary.
It always includes Jesus’ discourse from the 10th chapter of John’s gospel, in which he asserts that he is the good shepherd:
-whose sheep know his name and follow him
-who are given eternal life
On 4th Easter, the “Good Shepherd Gospel” always accompanied by Ps 23. We are accustomed to reading Ps 23 on its own, but in its placement in Book of Psalms, it is a partner and companion-piece to the preceding - Ps 22. Ps 22 is Psalm of lament, even of anguish – we read it in 2 Lent, after the stripping of the altar on Maundy Thursday, and again on Good Friday.
Its themes are of great suffering and hopelessness.
Ps 22 opens with words that are particularly familiar to us because Jesus spoke them on the cross. He was reciting a psalm that was very real to him.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me,
from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
Ps 22 comes from times of deep despair in history of Hebrew people, when hope did seem to be gone but they cried out to God for relief and redemption.
Ps 23, then, is not just a random expression of appreciation of God’s guiding presence, but it is the answer to Ps 22 – an acknowledgement of having been saved from deepest pain and despair by the Lord who is my Shepherd.
The image of God as Shepherd runs throughout the Hebrew scriptures; when J spoke of himself as shepherd, he was building on an established metaphor in the tradition of his faith. Here are some examples:
Ps 95 : We are the people of G’s pasture and the sheep of his hand
Prophet Ezekiel writes: thus says the Lord God: As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.
And from the Prophet Isaiah: He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
These passages must have resonated with the people of Israel, including Jesus’ contemporaries because they knew about the work of herding of sheep and goats as a major form of livelihood: sheep were source of food, a necessity for Temple sacrifice, and their wool was a staple for clothing and blankets
Because sheep were important in their world, both contemporaries of Psalmist and hearers of Jesus and John knew the importance of Shepherds.
It may not be flattering to our sensibilities to be likened to sheep, but whether we like it or not, there is truth in the analogy.
Sheep are vulnerable – vulnerable because they are not very bright. They need a leader: without one, will wander, including walking into danger.
Sheep are prone to get lost, to get caught in brambles. They need to be led to water; they can’t find it on their own. Further, sheep will only drink from still water, not from briskly running stream.
The rod and staff referred to in the psalm are essential tools: the staff (or shepherd’s crook, a replica of which carried by our Bishops,) has hook for grabbing the neck or leg to rescue a sheep caught in thicket or to capture fleeing sheep.
The rod is heavy straight pole to used to prod sheep when driving them from behind OR to ward off predators.
God our Shepherd cares for us, as Jesus says at end of today’s Gospel, that we may have eternal life.
God provides those green pastures and still waters that we need, and allows us rest in the midst of violence and discord that fill our world:
-God allows our souls to be restored when we are exhausted and worn out by the cares, the sorrows and difficulties of life.
-The Lord our Shepherd does not remove from our lives the things that terrify and trouble us: we still walk through the Valley of the shadow of death.
-We still live in the presence of those who would harm us
But God the Shepherd is by our side, allowing us to live and thrive DESPITE the presence of those things that threaten and sometimes destroy our peace.
God’s care for us is such that God’s goodness and mercy follow us –
In Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message, he says it this way: God’s beauty and love chase after us
All the days of our lives.
Today you may hear Psalm 23 in a place of knowing God’s loving presence. I encourage you to pray your gratitude.
You may encounter the psalm today while walking in the shadow of death – from a burden you carry or sorrow you bear. Pray that sorrow – offering it to God, that God will help you in bearing it.
You may hear the Psalm, today, from a place of uncertainty or confusion. That uncertainty can be offered in prayer, as well, that the strong hand and guiding staff of the Shepherd will bring you rest.
For the love, the guidance and comfort of the Holy One, the Shepherd, thanks be to God, today and always.Amen.
Rev. Deacon Ann Wood
Before I begin, I’d just like to share a bit of trivia, written by Bishop Michael Curry in his book “The Power of Love”. It’s related to our Gospel reading this morning from the 21st chapter of John:
. . . some scholars say chapter 20 ends the gospel. But if you look in your Bible, you’ll see there’s another chapter. And scholars have all sorts of theories about whether 21 is an addition, an extension or an appendix. I’m not a scholar. I’m a country preacher, and I know preachers, and you do too. I’ve got a feeling John finished his sermon in chapter 20, the plane was landing and he remembered something else, and he took off and came around again. That’s what happened.” What’s your theory?
Jesus said “Remember I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt.28:20)
“Remember I am with you always, even to the end of the age” – a promise that Jesus made to the disciples 2,000 years ago, that is also true for us today.
How do you experience that promise from God the Father/Mother, Jesus, the Son or God the Holy Spirit? “Remember, I am with you always.” Do you hear words of comfort, of healing or get a sensation of peace and tranquility? Perhaps you receive “marching orders” like Peter in the Gospel story and Paul in our first reading this morning. I suspect that most of us don’t experience God in quite such dramatic ways. We might receive words of wisdom when we pray, read scripture, sit in silence or meditate. We might hear God’s message to us through the words of someone else. Often messages are unexpected and quite often not recognized immediately for what they are.
In our Gospel story this morning, the disciples didn’t immediately recognize Jesus when he called to them. It was that time just before dawn, when the light is gray, misty and hazy. They’d been out fishing all night without a resulting catch, were tired and disheartened. Then Jesus called to them from the shore. “Children you have no fish, have you?” . . . “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” They followed Jesus’ directions and were successful. John, one of the disciples, then realized that it was Jesus calling to them, (He’d addressed them as children after all), and he told the rest of the crew. Simon Peter became so excited that he threw on his tunic and jumped into the sea, so that he could be the first to greet Jesus.
He did indeed reach the shore first, while the rest of the disciples hauled in their catch. What greeted them was Jesus preparing breakfast for them – Jesus is always practical; he knew that the men had had a tiring night and needed food, so he took care of their bodily needs first. When they were done, he addressed Simon Peter, asking him if he loved Jesus. Three times, Jesus asked the question – giving Peter the opportunity to affirm his love and redress the three denials he’d given, following Jesus’ capture and interrogation by Pilate. Once he affirmed his love, then Jesus gave Simon Peter his “marching orders” – “Feed my lambs” . . . “Tend my sheep” and finally “Feed my sheep”. Thus, Peter became a great shepherd of Christ’s people. Peter was transformed. His shame at having denied Jesus three times was lifted. He listened, heard Jesus’ words and was willing to learn. Peter’s experience of Jesus was a gentle time of healing and encouragement.
Paul’s experience of God occurred somewhat more dramatically. According to the story in the Acts of the Apostles, Paul was doing the business of the Pharisees, having one goal in mind, which was to scatter and murder the early followers of Jesus. He’d gone to the High Priest, asking for arrest warrants to take with him to the meeting places in Damascus. On the road to Damascus, a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground. A voice asked “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? He asked, “Who are you Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” When Paul got up, he was blind. His companions had to lead him by the hand into Damascus. He neither ate nor drank for three days. In the meantime, Ananias, the person who was called to help in Paul’s conversion, had his own experience of God in a vision. Initially Ananias questioned the directions Jesus gave him to enable Paul to see again. He’d heard of Paul’s hatred for the followers of Jesus and really questioned if Jesus knew what he was doing! Jesus’ response was simple: “Go”. Ananias went. Paul subsequently received his sight back. It was through Ananias that Paul received his “marching orders”. “The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will”, Ananias says, “to see the Righteous One and to hear his own voice, for you will be his witness to all the world of what you have seen and heard. And now, why do you delay? Get up, be baptized and have your sins washed away”. (I like this sense of ‘hurry up and get on with it; what are you waiting for’ attitude.) Paul thus became God’s chosen personal representative to the Gentiles, to kings and to the Jews. Sometimes, like Ananias, we do need to question the words we hear. Is this you, Lord? Is this really what you want? Are my thoughts and wishes getting in the way - but then what happens if we don’t pay attention or obey God’s directives?
I think of the story of Jonah and his mis-adventures, when he didn’t follow God’s orders to go to Ninevah. Jonah didn’t want to go to Ninevah – his own ego and nationalistic feelings got in the way. Because he disobeyed, Jonah ended up in the belly of a large fish and was nearly responsible for the deaths of the folk he was sailing with in the boat. If you haven’t read the Book of Jonah recently, do – it’s only 4 chapters. God can and does transform our mistakes, but we often suffer first before God sets us on the right path, or before we come to our senses and decide to follow God’s will. Sometimes, as in Jonah’s and Paul’s cases, it takes something dramatic to get us to change direction. Sometimes, we’re led where we don’t particularly want to go and we rebel.
My son-in-law, Bill, comes to mind. He’s a pastor in the Presbyterian Church. He was told that he needed to leave the parish where he’d spent the last ten years, but he didn’t want to have to move house. His youngest child had two more years to go to finish high school – the high school he’d been attending from middle school on; the high school from which his two older siblings had graduated. An opening occurred in a parish close to home, which would not have involved a house move. He applied, and became the church’s first choice, but there were numerous complications. At the same time, he heard via a colleague, of another opening in a parish further from home. Bill paid no attention. The first church fell through, much to his disappointment. He’s now following through on the second church and things are looking much more positive. Had he paid attention to the words of his colleague, he would have saved himself and his family some suffering and disappointment. Like many of us tend to do, he ignored the message from his colleague.
Paying attention to God’s words that come to you via others is important. I suspect that I’ve mentioned this example before, but it bears telling again in this context. I’d been “let go” from my paralegal position and was wondering about my future. What did God want me to do next? How could I serve God? I went to a meeting, where I sat next to a woman I barely knew, but who was a member of my parish. I told her of my predicament. She asked a couple of questions and then suggested that I visit Fr. Bolton in Springfield. Fr. Bolton headed a group studying clinical pastoral education. I listened to my fellow parishioner, followed through on her suggestion and felt like I’d found my true ministry at last. Jesus has plans for each one of us and will let us know what they are, if we but listen to Him.
Sometimes, Jesus comes to us when we’re most in need, as he did to the disciples on their unsuccessful fishing trip – when we’re feeling tired out, sad, overwhelmed or worried. Feeling tired and worried, I experienced God’s presence driving down I91 at 2 o’clock in the morning. I’d just received a phone call telling me that my husband had been involved in an automobile accident in Connecticut and had been taken to BayState Hospital in Springfield. On that occasion, as I drove down the highway and prayed, I felt a sense of peace come over me and a sureness that he would be alright. He was!
My brother-in-law, Jonathan, experienced God in a dream when he was feeling distraught about his daughter’s safety. She’d recently been married, realized what a terrible mistake she’d made and left her new husband without telling anyone where she was going or with whom she might be staying. Needless to say, my sister and brother-in-law were frantic with worry while they tried to find out where she’d gone. None of her friends could shed any light on the situation. Her new husband was very angry and believed that her parents must know where she was. One night, a week or so later, my brother-in-law was woken by a felt presence in the room. He thought it was his deceased father-in-law. Jonathan heard a voice reassuring him that his daughter was safe, that everything would work out eventually, but that he, Jonathan, had to take the lead and be the responsible father during the unpleasantness that was to follow. This was not a role he would’ve undertaken without having had this prompting. Jonathan and my sister were reassured and thankful for this experience of God’s loving care.
Last week, we heard about another post-Easter appearance by Jesus to the disciples as he had promised them before he died. They were hiding in a locked room for fear of being arrested. They also were feeling sad and distraught. Things with their leader hadn’t worked out as they’d hoped or thought they would. Jesus came to them where they were, as they were – just as he did to Bill, to Jonathan and to me – just as he does to each one of us here and now. Perhaps you’ll experience Him when you receive communion this morning, listen to the readings from scripture or hear the music. Perhaps you experience God when you walk the labyrinth, when you walk in the woods or stand on the sea shore and marvel at the beauty around you. Perhaps you’re in need of an experience of God right now – to comfort, heal, or strengthen you, or just to receive a sense of uplifting joy. If so, I pray that you will have that experience. Remember, Jesus has promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age. We know that Jesus keeps his promises. AMEN.
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