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

Sermon, July 8, 2018, Proper 9, Year B[1]

May we be devoted to you with our whole heart and united to one another with pure affection through the grace of your holy spirit. Amen

 

In our readings for today we have three different events, with three different people using different leadership styles which represent who they are and where they come from. Let’s look at each leader and study the different leadership styles. We will look at the person his life, his spiritual life, and how the leader reacted in his role.

Let’s start with David who is the subject of the reading from II Samuel. It is believed that David was born in Bethlehem and was the youngest son of Jesse his father. It is said of David “The Lord his God was with him.” We all know the story of David slaying Goliath. David became friends with Saul who was the first king of the Israelites. God, who had forbidden a kingship for the Israelites, insisted that He, God would serve that function for them. But the people objected and insisted on a king. Saul was a troubled man, but David was able to calm him with sweet melodies played upon a lyre and beautiful psalms which David wrote. Saul sinned against the Lord and eventually descended into madness and killed himself following a defeat in battle. David is selected king and anointed by the leaders of the Israelites. “God told David “You will shepherd my people Israel and you’ll be the prince.” David’s leadership is primarily military and he leads the army to conquest after conquest as he unites Israel into one nation (Freedman, David. Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible).

David wants to build a temple to honor God and to house the ark of the Covenant which he has brought to Jerusalem, but God tells him no, because he has too much blood on his hands. David ruled Israel for 40 years and established the house of David out of which Jesus will be born as the Messiah. “the Lord his God was with him” (ibid).

David demonstrated how we are all able to do great deeds through the power of the Holy spirit. It is a good reminder that as we seek a new rector, we need to ask many times for the Spirit’s leading and wisdom as David did in his life.

David’s spirituality is deeply imbedded in the Psalms that he wrote. In reviewing the first 75 Psalms for themes, we find David asked for God’s protection because of his enemies 15 times. Eight times he sang God’s praises, In seven Psalms he asked God to punish the ungodly. In other themes he writes about what God expects of us, and he acknowledges his own sins and failures. One of his most beautiful Psalms is Psalm eight where he proclaims: “O Lord our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” In Psalm 19 he writes “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”

David’s spiritual life can be characterized by a deep, meaningful and obedient relationship with God. His leadership was mostly military as he sought to unite the Kingdom of Israel. He was beloved by his people though not without his enemies. He was king over Israel for 40 years and established a dynasty out of which the Messiah would be born.

 

Paul, the author of our second reading was born in Tarsus and raised a Jew; a member of the tribe of Benjamin, and an observant Jew. We all know his story, how he persecuted the new cult of Christianity; he was standing by the stoning of Stephen encouraging the event. He experienced a dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus when Jesus appeared to him and asked him why are you persecuting me. Paul became a disciple of Jesus and began to preach about him over most of the known world during his three missionary journeys. When I was in college I had to memorize all the stops on these journeys. Today I think I’m lucky to remember that there were three of them, let alone where he went!

He established churches wherever he went and maintained his leadership through letters and visits. Much of what he wrote about were discussions of the problems which arose in each of the churches. His letters contained warm greetings, practical advice or household rules, corrections about heresies, and a reminder to live the Christian life of love of one another.

Paul had no official role with the churches he founded; he was not a bishop, presbyter or deacon (had to get deacon in there). His leadership depended on his relationships with the churches and was strong, pastoral, intellectually sound, and personal. Paul was not a systematic theologian; he developed a theological perspective throughout his life; a life deeply rooted in the belief of a Messiah, one God, Creator, and Redeemer; all basic concepts of Judaism. His writings included references to the Holy Spirit as the source of strength for the Christian life.

His spirituality can be characterized by the putting on of Christ, being baptized in Christ, being one in Christ. His faith was a mystical acceptance of Christ as the Son of God who came to redeem us. He had a thorn in his flesh which is never known for what it really was. Three times he asked God to take it away, but God said no. God said to him: “My Grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness (II Cor. 12. The Message). Paul says: …It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness…I just let Christ take over! And so, the weaker I get, the stronger I become (ibid).

To me this is one of the greatest truths of the Christian life, our strength comes from our relationship with Christ. It’s so easy to forget this when we are in the middle of a crisis. The comfort in knowing that God is always present, always available, always the one who cares the most for us is our greatest gift.

Now we come to our beloved leader, Savior, giver of eternal life, the fully human and fully divine Jesus. His birth had been predicted throughout the Old Testament. But what the Old Testament said about him and what the people expected which was a military leader who would free the people from Roman rule, were two very different kinds of leaders. Instead he came to teach us about who God is because if we could see who Jesus is, we would know about the Father, too. He came to sacrifice his life for our salvation, being the perfect sacrifice because he was without sin.

What was his leadership style? He used words and deeds, knowledge and authority. He preached and taught using parables, metaphors which could be understood by his listeners; and performed miracles out of his compassion for the people. He was precocious even as a child; addressing learned scholars of the law. He had authority, healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead. Baptized by John the Baptist, he was an itinerant preacher who gathered disciples and followers throughout his short life. His mission was one of inclusion instead of exclusion, love rather than obedience to the 613 laws that characterized the Jewish faith of the time. He delegated when he sent his disciples two by two to do what he did in the surrounding towns as we learned in today’s reading.

He is the personification of the spiritual leader.

His spiritual life is the finest model for a faithful life in God. He called us to repentance and to live lives that are in obedience to God’s commands. He stayed in constant contact with His Father. He spoke the truth and stayed focused on his goal of helping people to know who God is. He called upon people to give up everything and to follow him and to give our possessions to the poor. The last will be first and the first last, upsetting the natural order. We are to stay focused on the Kingdom and not on material possessions.

We have taken a very fast trip through the leadership styles of three prominent leaders from our readings today. In truth, there is so much here that it could be the basis of a series of sermons. Their spiritual relationships with the Lord is the most powerful part of each story.

 May the Lord enlighten our hearts as we all pursue our service in his name and lead with the love of Christ in our hearts.

AMEN


[1] 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

   Psalm 48

   2 Corinthians 12:2-10

   Mark 6:1-13