Easter 2017

Easter Sunday :: Fr John 20170416

You know, there is a legend that the famous Marco Polo, the man who traveled the silk road and went deep in China, actually met a great and fearsome warlord by the name of Genghis Khan. And standing before this great and powerful warlord, he was commanded to give an accounting of the man he knew to be the greatest who had ever lived, for was there was greater than the Khan himself? Had he heard of him?

So Marco Polo began to tell the story of Jesus. How He was sent by God, how He walked on water, quieted storms with a wave of His hand, fed great hordes of people with a few loaves of bread. And, to the delight of Khan, how He always confounded and befuddled those who opposed Him with just a few words. But then, Marco got to Gethsemane. Where Judas betrayed Him, His disciples abandoned Him, the people arrested Him and Pilate crucified Him. And he paused. And the great Khan leaned forward in his chair totally enraptured with the story and said “And surely this is the part where God sends out his armies of angels and slays every last one of them? Right?”

But as we know that is not what happened. And when Marco told the Khan what did happen, it baffled him. Because what happened on Easter Sunday was fundamentally different than what the expectation of humanity would be, that it would end in a story of revenge. Everyone loves a good revenge story: the Iliad, Hamlet, the Count of Monte Cristo, the Last of the Mohicans, the Revenant, even the Princess Bride. The most memorable quote from that movie is “My name is Inogo Montoea, you killed my father, prepare to die!” The hero, in these stories, after suffering and defeat, arises again and tracks down and defeats those who had brought about a great injustice on them, and order and justice thus restored.

But this is not what happened. Yes, the people of this world had grabbed their Messiah and viciously put Him to suffering and death, but when He arose, He arose not to extract vengeance, but to loving call all people to Himself, to invite them into His great victory He won on that day, including those who had turned their backs on Him. And so He defeated sin and death not with power, though it was within His ability, but with love.

So when the tomb rolled open, and Christ stepped out into the light of day and back into the world, with the wounds still visible on His hands, and on His feet, and in His side, He was saying “Yes” to His Creation, even when it had given Him with a resounding “NO”. But His “Yes” was greater.

In His purposes for us, we say no all of the time, believe me, I would know. “God told me, you will be a priest, and I was like ‘You sure about that?’” It is so easy to say “No,” But even with our “No’s”, through Jesus, God has looked on us and said “Yes!” In every sense of the word! Yes as in He takes joy in us, Yes as in our we His????…….. And how can we be sure of this? Because the first thing He does, when He appears in the room to the disciples, is to say “Peace be with you.” When He sees Doubting Thomas He says “Come see, touch, and believe. These men had said “No never, we will never betray you!” But they did. But despite their “No”, despite the “NO” the world had given Him, He responded with a “Yes”, and called them to Himself.

And through that Yes, that ever persisting Yes that chases us and reaches out to us from that empty tomb, were are sought after until we say Yes, until we say Yes to Him, Yes to the victory over sin and death He freely offers us, say yes to the love He uses to overcome hate, and then follow in the footsteps of those disciples and to go and do likewise.

When I was in Myanmar, I may have shared with some of you the story of how I met a young man from the countryside who told me about how his village had been under attack multiple times from the military there, because they were a village that practiced a foreign religion, a foreign belief, and so they might join over with some Christian and Muslim tribes that were rebelling against the government. And mines were placed around his village by soldiers, so that they could not leave to go spread this message throughout the region. And I asked him “How…what do you do? How do, how do you deal with that?” He smiled at me and he simply said “It made me want to share the Gospel with those soldiers…”

And now, according to Archbishop Steven, now that the government has begun to relinquish its domineering control and loosen its policies…. The church in that village, and others like it that followed their example, have found the soldiers walking in their doors, to celebrate and to worship with them, side by side with those whom they were oppressing. If the people of that village had done what others had, and risen in rebellion and fought back, I don’t think that would have happened. But they answered the “No” thrown at them with a “Yes” as they walked into the minefields to speak with those soldiers who were laying them.

And we are called to do likewise. We are to respond to the “Yes” that God gives us out of that empty tomb, and to turn and take it into the world, following Mary Magdalene. To proclaim and show that the tomb is empty, that the Lord is risen, and that sin, Satan, and even death itself have been defeated and could not keep Him down. And to live lives that are a living witness to that fact. That we are not afraid of death, because Jesus rose and broke the bonds of death, and will do the same with us. That we do not hold the sins of others against them because He did not hold them against us. That we are not afraid of the great powers and forces of this world, because they tried their best to put down the King of Kings and they could not.

And when we struggle to live this way, and when fear, doubt, and worry cloud our way, and we find that we too have become doubting Thomases… may we remember that our victory was already won for us, and His inviting hands are always outstretched to us just as they were to Thoams… and that His “Yes” does not waver, even when we do. For the tomb, stands eternally empty.  Amen.

The Triumphal Entry

The Triumphal Entry :: Fr John 20170409

What if Jesus held his triumphal entry into Bellingham today? Well, according to Warren W. Wiersbe, he wouldn’t get to far before being detained by police for the numerous complaints filed by the following:

The FDA for turning water into wine without a license, the EPA for killing fig trees, the AMA for practicing medicine without a license, the Dept. of Health for asking people to open graves so He could raise the dead the NEA for teaching without a certificate, OSHA for walking on water without a lifejacket the SPCA for driving hogs into the sea, the NATIONAL BOARD of PSYCHIATRISTS for giving advice on how to live a guilt-free life, and by the ZONING DEPT for building mansions without a permit.

The point is that it would be very likely that if Christ were to walk into one of our modern day communities today, He would likely not be entirely understood. And this actually was the case 2,000 years ago when He rode in on the back of a donkey. The people held up their palm branches crying out Hossanah!!! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! But why? Because a few centuries earlier, Jewish crowds had done the same thing as the Maccabean heroes had ridden into Jerusalem victoriously after driving out the pagan Greeks who had desecrated the Temple! They were heroes! They were victorious, they had restored the honor of the people and, it seemed the honor of God! So here, the people gathered around Christ have this imagery in their heads, and they are prepared to celebrate His victory over the pagan Romans, and the restoration of the peoples honor and, dare we say it, even God’s. This is why they cry Hosannah!! A shortened Aramaic form of the Hebrew for “Save us.”

But…that is not what happened as we know. And we know that those who waved the branches so joyfully and victoriously on Palm Sunday, would soon be weeping, crying, or completely silent as a far angrier crowd would soon lead a broken, ripped and bleeding Jesus out of the city, to kill Him in one of the most horrific ways possible. And those who shortly before had proclaimed Hosannah!!! Would remain silent, or turn away, or deny Him, or even betray Him…. For their understanding of what His mission was and what He was doing was different from the reality. And we have no right to judge them. For in a sense, when we who stand here today and hold the palm branches turn away from our God, whether that be in denial or our own false expectations we place on Him, or in the sins we commit despite knowing what He has done…… we too are like those people of Jerusalem so long ago, who went from crying out in victory to turning away when that victory did not materialize for them.

But nevertheless, in both cases, Christ would answer the cry of Hosannah “Save us!”, even if those who were calling it out were not fully able to perceive Him or what his purpose was. Despite the silence of those who looked on and did nothing in His time of trail, He still suffered on their behalf. And His victory was far more glorious than any could have been anticipated, and the cries of Hosannah, SAVE US, far more closer to home and reality than anyone could have imagined.

And so this week, Holy Week, we remember the story of how this happened. This great victory that looked like such a horrific defeat. And we well to do so, because it is just as much our story in so many ways. For we, who have gathered together to remember it and give our own cries of “Hosanna”, are participants in this story just as much today, and perhaps in ways that may surprise us.

A dear friend of mine, called to do ministry in the inner city of London was once was given a dream, a vision, from our God. He saw crowds of Englishmen running from all across London. They were ripping branches off of the few trees along the street as they did, with smiles on their faces, their eyes bright with hope and excitement. They were saying, “He’s here. He is here!” And they ran down the street, and as he made is way to the crowd he could hear shouts of “Hosannah, hosannah, save us Lord, save us!” And when the crowds parted, there was Jesus, riding into the midst of London. But He was not being carried by a donkey….He was being carried on the back of my friend. And he carried our Lord into the city of London.

And so the story goes on, the story of redemption and our Lord’s ever pursuing love to rescue and redeem His children from sin and death. And this is our story, for it was our fate, our souls and our redemption that were at stake during that fateful week so long ago when Jesus rose into Jerusalem. And despite the silence and betrayal that Jesus was destined to meet from those who should have kept on crying Hosannah, He still continued on, past the city gates, and to all that awaited Him. And this Holy Week, we are called not only to remember and give thanks for that, But to also remember that the story goes on, and our participation in it. In sense we are called to be the donkeys carrying our Lord further to those who, whether they understand it or not, cry out Save us, Lord save us… Because He will. Because He is Emmanuel. Because He is God with us. And this is His story, and it is ours. And it is the greatest story ever told.

Almighty and everliving God, in Your tender love for the human race, You sent Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ to take our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of His great humility, Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of His suffering, and also share in His resurrection, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, Who in His great mercy has promised forgivness of sins to all those who sincerely repent and with true faith turn to Him, have mercy upon you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins, confirm and strengthen you in all goodness and keep you in eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

As we now approach the time where we are to offer our gifts unto God, it is worth remembering that the gifts of God’s people are not just the bread and wine that will be consecrated and given to you as a remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice; they are also our offerings and tithes. Here at New Hope, our offerings and tithes are left in the plate at the back of

the sanctuary. They will be carried forward for blessing after the passing of the

peace. If you feel so called to give today, you may do so during the peace.

Because You gave Your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to redeem mankind from the power of darkness; Who having finished the work You gave Him to do, was lifted high upon the cross that He might draw the whole world to Himself, and, being made perfect through suffering, might become the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.

The Raising of Lararus

The Raising of Lazarus :: Fr John 20170402

Three friends were discussing death and one of them asked: “What would you like people to say about you at your funeral?”

The first of the friends said: I would like them to say, he was a great humanitarian, who cared about his community.

The second said: He was a great husband and father, who was an example for many to follow,” said another.

The third friend said, I would like them to say, “Look, he’s moving!!”

A humorous take on a rather grim subject. It has often been remarked that our culture has a rather acute fear of death, and often tries to deal with it by either ignoring it, or making light of it, like the example I just gave. Because death is not an easy subject, and it is one that is ultimately unavoidable.

Which is perhaps why our Old Testament lesson, from the prophet Ezekiel, is so famous and such a beloved scene dearly loved scene, where of God breathes life into the dried up bones in the valley, occurred at a very difficult time for the people of Israel. Jerusalem had been destroyed, its armies routed and the people and been expelled into exile across Mesopotamia, all because of their rebellion and refusal to listen to God. And now they are paying the price. But God, gives Ezekiel this vision, this awe inspiring vision of Him breathing life into dead dried up bones, giving them flesh and sinew, promising that this will be Israel, that He will breath life into and resurrect the nation of His own people, an outpouring of His Spirit and grace. This was a powerful and profound promise, one the Jewish people would cling to throughout their suffering and hardship, because what could be more inspiring or freeing than an image of death being reversed?

So imagine what it must have been like for the crowd gathered before the tomb to see Christ call out to the dead and bring the dead back to life. Suddenly, the imagery of the vision given to Ezekiel is no longer just an inspiring and symbolic one, because it has literally just occurred right in front of them!! They looked up and cried out “Look, he moved” and it is no laughing matter, death was reversed right in front of their eyes…… As Jesus Himself said, “I AM the resurrection and the life…” And John displays this FACT powerfully in this scene. Where God has not only fulfilled the prophetic vision of Ezekiel figuratively, but literally as well, as Lazerus, walks out of his own tomb, alive once again.

But the question is…why this particular story? Though it is the only recorded instance in John’s Gospel of Jesus raising someone from death, it is not the only one that we know of. The other synoptic Gospels record multiple other instances of Jesus doing what is impossible, raising the dead. So from that perspective, this was nothing new, it was once again Jesus doing what Jesus does best, the impossible. But there is one thing unique about this time: in this instance, in this scenario, Jesus has a personal and intimate connection with the dead. He knew Lazerus and loved Him. He knew Mary and Martha and cared for them. And so, when Jesus arrives at this scene, John goes out of his way to detail all of the emotions that He goes through. Though most English translations say that Jesus was “greatly troubled in His spirit”, a more literal translation of the Greek is that He was angry….. But angry at what? At the mourning of the people, at this lack of belief in His ability to solve the problem? Well I don’t think so because, to be honest if that were the case, then Jesus would have been perpetually angry at His disciples at all hours of the day.

No the answer lies with the next detail that John includes, and that is that Jesus, the God Incarnate… wept. The shortest verse in all Holy Scripture. Jesus wept, and wept even though He knew that in a few short seconds, He would solve the problem. He could have simply said “Do not weep, I am about to do something miraculous”, but He didn’t…and John, took note of that… Now, I don’t believe that this is all to indicate not that Jesus was emotionally all over the place, but that He is revealing what the reaction of the heart of God is to death itself AND the suffering and grief it brings upon us: a reaction of anger and sorrow.

And furthermore, it shows something else…. That God is fundamentally with us in the midst of our suffering, sorrow and hardships. EVEN when He knows that the outcome will be more glorious than we can imagine. And that….. THAT is just as much the purpose of His coming in the first place. He did not come only to win victory over sin and death, but also in order to be there with us in midst of our struggles to endure them….. as He too endured them with us…and as He too wept with us. That is an important thing that we must not miss.

When I was in Pittsburgh, there was a lady who was part of the church I was serving at who passed away. Now, she came from a very very large African American Pentecostal family, so at her funeral, they actually outnumbered us Anglicans attending by at least 10 to 1. And one of her nieces, who was a preacher and evangelist, was invited by our church to give the homily, and I have to say, it was one of the most profound and awe inspiring homilies that I have ever heard. She spoke powerfully about the hope we have in Christ and how death is not the end because Jesus won. And the congregation stood and applauded and raised their hands and shouted out “Amen.” And then we came to the Eucharist, and it was rather awkward because this mixing of liturgical and non-liturgical worship sort of came craishing together and people were lining up to recive the bread and wine and we were only at the confession.

But when we got to the actually Eucharist itself, it was as if a dam broke. Because all of the family and friends didn’t began weeping and wailing and the grief in the air was palpable. And for a moment, it was almost as if all of that hope, in victory after death and of resurrection had been forgotten. And I was stunned and the service just sort of ground to a halt and I ended up simply walking over with a tissue box and standing there not really knowing what to do…. But… in a sense… a liturgical beauty came out of this because all the weeping and mourning family… gathered around the altar… laying their hands upon it as they grieved and turning their tear stained faces towards the cross upon it. And they kept saying thank you Jesus…thank you Jesus

And what I realized in that moment was that, there was no forgetfulness of the victory over death in that moment, it was still remembered… but with IN THAT MOMENT THEY were ALSO embracing of the fact that all their anger and sorrow over their loved ones death wasn’t being pushed aside by that Christ’s victory… but was being shared fully by their God, fully in that moment. Because just as they wept, Jesus once wept as well….And that is worth giving thanks for.

It has often been remarked that when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, God’s reaction seems extremely harsh and almost uncaring. But John reminds us throughout his Gospel time after time that Jesus and the Father are One. That when you saw and knew Jesus, you saw and knew the Father as well. And so when John saw Jesus’ reaction at Lazerus’ tomb, He saw a glimpse of what the heart of God was since the very second that sin and death were first introduced into our reality. And for God it was no laughing matter for Him, it was nothing to joke about, or to uncomfortably ignore, but something that filled Him with anger and sorrow…and ultimately led Him to take action…. Which we, in just a few short weeks, will remember with joy and thankfulness. That Christ did indeed win over sin and death. And that one day we too, like Lazerus, will awaken to the sound of God calling our names. But until that day comes, we have the knowledge of a God who shares in our sorrow, and shares in our anger, and who invites us to come to Him in the times when it is too much to bear, because He bears them with us. For He is not only the God who wipes away our tears, but He is also the God who weeps with us. And for that, I give thanks…for that I say Amen, until I hear Him call my name into eternity.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

The Woman at the Well

The Woman at the Well : Fr John Allen 19 March 2017

There is an Orthodox Jewish comedian who offers his interpretations of how he imagines scenes played out throughout the Old Testament. In one rendition, Moses is walking with the Israelites through the desert and they say “Oi, Moses! It’s great that you brought us out of slavery, but the sun is beating down on our heads and we are still covered in muck from crossing the Red Sea, and we have nothing to eat!”

Moses sighed and said he would talk to the Lord about it. Sure enough, manna fell down from heaven, enough for everyone to eat. Moses said, “Are you happy now?”

They responded, “This isn’t really a full square meal Moses, and some of us are gluten free!” Moses sighed and said he would talk to the Lord about it.

Sure enough, quail flew down out of the sky, enough for everyone to catch and have some meat. Moses said, “Now are you happy?” The Israelites responded, “Well we got all of this food, but now we don’t have anything to drink it with, we will die of thirst!”

Moses grit his teeth and ran over to a rock, struck it and water immediately gushed out! He turned to the Israelites and shouted “There, NOW are you happy?” They all looked up from the water pooling at their feet, shrugged and said “What, no cups?”

The story of Moses striking a rock on the middle of the desert to
provide water for the people of Israel is one that resonates with us for
very obvious reasons. The symbolism of the story that Moses leads the people through a desert called “Sin,” and they cry out and complain bitterly about their thirst. And then God miraculously provides water for them to drink, by having Moses strike a stone, and water pours forth for all to have and to drink, thus God graciously quenches the thirst of a people who before were complaining and bitterly challenging Him only moments before. The parallels to our spiritual journeys with God are undeniable: we who are thirsty in the desert of sin are given life-giving water by a gracious God, even though we did not deserve it as well. But, there is a deeper symbolic level to this story than this.

When God gives Moses the instructions of what he should do in
order to bring the water to his people, listen to the words He uses:
“Behold, I will stand before you on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.”

Now, take note that when God says this, He specifically says that His very own presence will be upon the rock, when He simply could have said, strike the rock I show you…but this way, in order for the people to have their thirst quenched, God Himself must be struck, and struck by the very people whom He is saving.

A powerful foreshadowing of what would happen when Jesus
would be struck by His own people, so that salvation could be poured out for all of us. And this was not a fact lost on the first Jews that came to understand Jesus as their Messiah, for Paul blatantly states in Corinthians: “for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” John the Gospel writer, who was there in person at the crucifixion, took special note of the fact that when the Roman soldiers pierced the side of Christ, not just blood poured out, but water as well.

Which makes John’s telling of the story of Jesus at the well with
the Samaritan woman more interesting. That famous story where Jesus reveals that He is the source of Living Water. And it is a conversation that Jesus, the God Incarnate, starts by saying “I am thirsty,” like the grumbling Israelites did so long before. Who is to say God does not enjoy a bit of irony?

But like the story of the ungrateful Israelites in the desert, Jesus
finds Himself speaking with someone who is in practically every way not deserving of what He is offering. This woman is the living definition of nearly everything that the Mosaic Laws condemn: A member of a religion that skewed God’s word, a person of multiple divorces and an adulterer. By the standards of the culture of the day, a honorable Jewish teacher like himself shouldn’t even be near her.

And yet, Christ not only initiates a conversation with her, to her own surprise, but shows respect and kindness to her, despite knowing everything about her. And beyond even that, He offers her this Living Water, the water that will satisfy the thirst of our hearts and souls, that comes from Him alone. And unlike the Israelites, who continued to complain, her response was quite different…. She was overjoyed, excited, and runs home to her village. She cannot wait to share about this man, this man who offered her this “living water.”

And, through this story, John the Gospel writer calls us, his readers
to remember that this life-giving water came via our God being struck on our behalf “The Rock of ages, cleft for me” as the song says, and we are called to life not of grumbling, complaint and doubt, but like the Samaritan woman, a life of thankfulness, that moves us to action.

But this can be hard… in our daily lives, our day to day activities with long work hours, chores, responsibilities. I have to confess, that while reading these passages, I felt convicted about the fact that I am addicted to complaining. Work is stressful, my house keeps breaking on me, etc, etc. But in reality if I step back, I should be thanking God for all His many blessings. In more ways than one, I am sitting there looking at the water cascading around my feet, and saying “What, no cup?”

You know, I felt so tired and stressed this week that I didn’t even
really stop to notice that St. Patrick’s Day came and went a few days ago. I only just remembered in time to throw on green shirt while walking out the door so my coworkers didn’t pinch me. And that really is too bad because the story of that man really has a lot to say about remembering to be thankful for the life giving water that Christ has poured out for us.

The St Patrick’s Day holiday, unfortunately, has become a day of drinking, pinching, wearing green and joking about how God invented whisky to keep the Irish from conquering the world. But in reality, it is a day celebrating a quite remarkable man of God. He grew up in Great Britain, and though he came from a very devout family, he himself never bothered with the church as a young man. One day Irish raiders crossed the sea and captured him, brought him back to Ireland, forcing him into slavery. Now if anyone had the right to complain, to feel bitter, and frustrated, it was him. But during that time of slavery, he found turned to something better: Faith.

In his own recounting, St Patrick wrote: After I arrived in Ireland, I
tended sheep every day, and I prayed frequently during the day. More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so that in one day I would pray up to one hundred times, and at night perhaps the same. I even remained in the woods and on the mountain, and I would rise to pray before dawn in snow and ice and rain. I never felt the worse for it, and I never felt lazy – as I realize now, the spirit was burning in me at that time.

Patrick, in the midst of the most complaint-worthy situation,
learned to give thanks and praise to the One who was with him in it. And
this thankful, lively faith inspired him, like the Samaritan woman to action. For as we all know, Patrick would one day go back to the very people who enslaved him, and share the life giving water that he himself had found there.

We all live in the midst of hectic and sometimes frustrating lives. I
know that each one of us face unique challenges that consume our time. There are a million articles out there talking about the stresses that have been heaped on us by modern day life.

But God extends His hand to each and every one of us, each and every day, with new mercies. He bids us to come and drink. For He loved us so much that He was willing to be struck for our sake so that we could. This fact excited and moved the Samaritan woman to action, and Patrick as well, and so too should it for us. For if we can turn to others around us with that in a world drowning in business, perhaps they will pause and realize that they are thirsting too. So my brothers and sisters, let us remember what God has done for us…and to give thanks instead of complaining.

I know for certain, that before I was humbled I was like a stone
lying in deep mire, and He that is mighty came and in His mercy raised me up and, indeed, lifted me high up and placed me on top of the wall. And from there I ought to shout out in gratitude to the Lord for His great favors in this world and for ever, that the mind of man cannot
measure.  Amen.