The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents 

Second Sunday of Easter, April 8, 2018, Year B[1]

The New Covenant of Reconciliation

 

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

The readings for today are a rich source of sermons. Any reading by itself would make a nice sermon. It’s tempting to preach on every idea here but maybe I’ll save some of my thoughts for another time. I know I just heard a collective sigh of relief. 

First, some background on the readings from the Johns. The Gospel reading is from the fourth Gospel. Three of the Gospels are called the Synoptic Gospels because they all tell many of the same events in Jesus’ life in essentially the same order, although there are differences. The Gospel according to John, is different from the other three Gospels. It does not include a birth narrative, and its beginning verses are a poetic and heavenly description of Jesus. Many scholars believe the authorship of John is anonymous; but many others believe that it is the beloved disciple John, to whom Jesus gave his mother for her protection upon his death, who wrote the fourth Gospel. 

The three Johannian epistles, we heard a reading from I John this morning, are also believed to have been written by John the Apostle because of stylistic and vocabulary similarities. But there is controversy about the authorship. The debates have gone on for a long time, at least 1,500 years, so let’s face it, we are not going to solve it today. Wouldn’t it be fun if we could, though? 

There is another book in the New Testament, Revelation, which is sometimes attributed to the same John but, in general it is not believed to have been written by the beloved disciple for several reasons: it was written at a later date when John would not have been alive, the vocabulary and linguistic style are quite different from the other books attributed to John the Apostle. It is believed to have been written on Patmos, one of the Greek Islands by someone called a Christian prophet (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. p.1594ff). OK! Enough of this sort of scholarship, now let’s address the question of what does this mean? 

We have had a grand and glorious Easter, haven’t we, with fabulous flowers, (thank you flower guild), marvelous music (thank you Ellen, choir, and Lighthouse Brass), beautiful silver and hangings by the Altar Guild (than you Jackie and Altar Guild) and a church full of people. What a beautiful experience to worship with so many families, friends, and neighbors, don’t you agree? 

In our 50 days of Easter, and the ensuing seasons, we are heading into Jesus’ life and ministry, looking for a deeper understanding of what it means, entering the ephemeral clouds of theology. There’s so much here that explains our Christian faith, you might think you are sitting in a course in Christian Theology. And present with us is a New Testament theology scholar, Father Hartt, do you want to change places with me. Oh, you don’t? I guess you are stuck with me. 

Let’s start with the phrase “a new Covenant of reconciliation” found in our Collect for today. A covenant means “a solemn agreement between two or more parties, made binding by some sort of oath. What is mutually agreed upon is the future conduct of one or both of the parties concerned” (op.cit. p. 288). The Old Testament has several covenants which God made with his people, the ancient Israelites; one covenant, the Noahic covenant, applies to all people, where God promises not to send another flood like the one Noah experienced. The other covenants include Abrahamic, Mosaic, Priestly, and Davidic. They make an interesting study to see how God’s relationship with his people changed over time. 

 What Jesus is talking about at the Last supper with his disciples is a new covenant. Jesus, at the Last Supper in Luke 22:20 says: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” and in Mark 14:24 he says: ‘this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many.’’ And in Matthew 26:27 it is written: “Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them saying: ‘Drink from it all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” 

Reconciliation is a key word in this phrase: the new covenant of reconciliation. It is the end of the estrangement from God (caused by the acts of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden when they disobeyed God by eating of the fruit forbidden to them by God. 

Through Christ we are eternally reconciled to God and commanded to live our lives according to God’s description of what life in Christ is all about. What life in Christ is all about is what is contained in the new commandment Jesus gave us as found in Matthew 22:38. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind” and all your strength” as added by Mark 12:30. “And you are to love your neighbor as yourself.” So, what are the implications of being reconciled to Christ through his blood? 

Psalm 113 tells us that it is good and pleasant when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity for there the Lord has ordained his blessing for ever more. Here is one of the signs that we are loving our neighbors as ourselves. It’s applicable in other ways as well. Every time we serve the families of Family Promise we are loving our neighbors as ourselves. Visiting congregants in the hospital, taking communion to those who can not come to church, caring for those who were devastated by Sandy, caring for the beautiful gardens in the columbarium, knitting dementia friendly objects that can be manipulated by nervous hands, making beautiful jewelry and selling it to support Family Promise, and many, many other individual acts of kindness that you have performed for others are all signs of loving others as we love ourselves. All these acts make a deacon’s heart sing. I hope they make yours sing, too because they represent how we take the new covenant seriously: to love our neighbors as our selves. 

Now we come to the Epistle of First John with its beautiful language that describes what we can also experience in Jesus Christ because of the new covenant. After we suffer with him on Good Friday and experience his death; though we are not on the cross with him, many of us feel his agony in our hearts. And so, it is also true that we can feel resurrection, too. “The infinite love of God Himself took shape before us” (ch.1: v2). “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all…but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, his Son cleanses us from all unrighteousness.”  We are filled with the joy of victory over death, the mortal enemy finally vanquished. Every year we can relive this cycle of life into death into life again; and know the victory Jesus gave us over death. We walk in his light. 

All the time I am writing this sermon there is a gospel hymn that is occupying a part of my mind (not that I have that much left to share any more). The hymn is O Happy Day. How many of you know it? Its words are meant to be sung thus it’s not readable. When you go home today, Google has productions of the song that you can play, and it will make your heart sing. Just Google O Happy Day and listen to the happiness in the song and see if it matches what you feel when we truly understand the great gift of Jesus, the price he paid for it and the true freedom and joy which ours because of what he did for us.  AMEN

 


[1] Acts 4:32-35

  I John 1:1-2:2

  John 20:19-31

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B, February 4, 2018[1]

 

May we always live in close relationship with you, Blessed Savior. AMEN

 

The world runs on relationships, a lot of them are good, some of them are bad, or not good for us. Do you agree with that statement?

Relationships with parents and children begin even before birth and by birth they are often well established. Facebook, for all its faults, occasionally, will have a photograph of a baby/parent interaction that is stunning in its beauty, depth and portrayal of an intense relationship between the child and the parent.

Relationships continue through life and are usually important to us, not only with people, although they are the most important to us but also with pets. As I write this sermon, asleep next to me is Cookie, a rescue cat I picked up at the Southern Ocean County Animal Shelter. She is snoring, and the rhythmic quality of her gentle snores reminds me of her presence. She is one of the most relationship-oriented cats I have ever owned. If you just look at her, she purrs.

Even at the end of our lives, our relationships are our comfort as we transition from one stage of life into another.  What I see in our readings today is a series of writings about relationships. Let’s see if you can see what I am seeing in these readings.

 Isaiah tells us: “Have you not been paying attention? Have you not been listening” (Isaiah 40:21-22)? God is telling us that He wants a relationship with us. He goes on to tell us who he is and what he has done for us and we had better pay attention to his magnificence!

How many times have we heard our own parents or guardians say that to us when we were kids? You’re not listening to me!

Part of what a relationship is, is based on communication and in this case…listening to God the Father. Listening to what God is telling us about who He is, how he sits high about the earth and we look like ants. He stretches out the sky like a tent canvas for us to live under.

“Who is like me? Who can hold a candle to me? says the Holy One. Look at the night skies: Who do you think made all of this? Who marches this army of stars out each night?” Sounds like the Lord is feeling ignored and he is reminding us of who he is and what he does; just in case we have lost touch with his magnificent power and glory, and creative power. God also reminds us of his love for us because he knows how tough life is. So, he energizes those who get tired, gives strength to dropouts. For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime, stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, they run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind” (Op.cit. 40:28-31). Not only does he want us to know Him, but he also wants us to know we can depend on him, he will give us the strength we need to do his work in this world. God’s relationship with us is full of his promises of his care for us. God’s relationship with us provides for our needs and our relationship with Him is to love him and do what He wants us to do.

When we turn to our reading from Mark, we are looking at several relationships which involve Jesus. This is at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. Earlier in this first chapter of Mark, we have Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist and John’s acknowledgement of Jesus as more powerful than he. John says: “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John is Jesus’ cousin and they have a relationship.

His relationship with his Father is represented by a voice from heaven declaring, ‘you are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” (Mark 1:11). We catch glimpses of Jesus’s relationship with his cousin John and with his heavenly Father. After his baptism he goes out into the wilderness for forty days and the angels wait on him. Again, we see his relationship with God the Father and the heavenly host. What did he do when he went out into the wilderness, we don’t know because Mark doesn’t tell us. From other readings in Scripture, we can imagine he spent a lot of time in prayer, and in preparation for his upcoming ministry.

 In Mark 1, He calls disciples, teaches in the synagogue, casts out a demon who confronts him in the synagogue, and this brings us to Jesus entering the house of Simon and Andrew where he finds Simon’s mother in law in bed with a fever. He took her by the hand and lifted her up. The fever left her, and she began serving them” (Op. cit. v.39-41). “The power of touch, of intimacy, of nearness, to make whole: Jesus understood this as part of relationships, love expressed, love felt, our human need for nearness, all part of who Jesus is. For some people, we are the only Jesus they will ever meet (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol I).

“That same evening, after the sun was down, they brought sick and evil afflicted people to him, the whole city lined up at his door! He cured their sick bodies and tormented spirits.” (op. cit. v32-34). After the events of this evening, “way before dawn, he got up and went out to a secluded spot and prayed.” There is no explanation of this action on Jesus’s part; but it shows us how he continued to do what his father expected of him by renewing his strength in God his Father. Despite grueling days and nights, he was able to continue because of his relationship with his father. He was sustained by the loving relationship they had, and this is a model for us. We, too will be renewed in our strength and mount up with wings like eagles. We shall run and not be weary, we shall walk and not be faint. Maintaining a consistent contact with God strengths us, keeps us refreshed and guides us in our daily walk with Him.

What does it mean to have a relationship with God? “The possibility of ourselves being in a posture of openness to God’s very life in us.

The openness to the living, breathing, growing, changing, learning, experimenting, exploring life in the One who is Life” is how the Brothers of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, in Cambridge, Massachusetts explain it. (Brother Give Me a Word, February 2, 2018).

There are other ways of describing what life in Christ is all about, although living our lives in Christ is not a simple matter. There are people for whom the idea of having a relationship with Jesus Christ would be a strange notion but for us as believers it is not a strange notion. Jesus is our Savior, God’s Son who gave his life for us that we might dwell eternally with Him, and his Father and the Holy Spirit, Three in One. Our lives are in constant development of this sacred relationship; a sacred, holy, loving, supportive, living, relationship which grows every day into a more beautiful experience with God and his community to which we are so fortunate to belong.

Thank you Lord that we can love you, be in a relationship with you and love one another through the love we share of you and each other.

AMEN


[1] Isaiah 40:21-31

2 I Corinthians 9:16-23

3 Mark 1:29-30