Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Third Sunday after Easter             The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Year A + 30, April 2017
Acts 2:14a,36-41                                                                                                      Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17
1 Peter 1:17-23                                                                                                                 Luke 24:13-35

Perhaps you’ve had a moment of “enlightenment”–a moment of incredible clarity and understanding.  In some circles it is called a “Damascus road experience” after the experience of St. Paul.  One of my preaching mentors called it, “the shock of recognition.” I like to call it an “ah ha” moment.   Today we have another profound experience we know as the Road to Emmaus, an Emmaus Road Experience.  Jesus had a pattern of seeking to bring about just such moments of clarity and recognition.  Each week, as we read the Words of God and look into the texts placed before us is it God we are looking for?  Jesus in these written words: yes, but more are looking for God to be working in us.

The text begins that first Easter afternoon. We are told that these two unknown men are moving from Jerusalem to Emmaus. While they proceed a stranger joins them as they walk. It is Jesus, although like Mary Magdalene in the garden that morning, they do not recognize him.
They are discussing their brokenness and their disillusionment and this stranger innocently almost humorously asks:  “What things are you talking about?”  Jesus loves to ask questions, in fact, Jesus asks more questions than anyone in the Bible.
They are so grieved that their personal angst pours out to this stranger. I think the two on the road were kept from recognizing him so that he could explain it to them first..

Notice how he does it.  He goes back to what they already know–what they already know and believe. What they have already experienced about God and of God is the foundation for what they are about to encounter in the risen Christ.

Jesus said: “Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’  Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”  (Lk. 24)

He returns to the Bible and explored Messiah prophesied from Moses and all of the prophets.  It was a moment of enlightenment.  Familiar texts that they had seen and memorized in Sabbath School suddenly are understood in a completely new way!

Does not God do the same to us?  When in a moment did something about God, Christ or the Bible itself give you an “ah ha” moment? The Bible is God’s Word to us–a love-letter yes but more–a message to be investigated.  When someone writes a letter to us, we look for how it speaks about that which will affect us. Theologian Walter Brueggemann says that God’s word to us is “endlessly ‘strange and new’.” I have found it so.  It is the living word of the living God inexhaustible in its message. 
What Jesus was doing on this road is to show that the whole of the scriptures from Genesis through Malachi spoke of him, over and over again. Why would Jesus “keep them” from recognizing him?  They were unprepared to recognize the person who was among them while He was alive. 

Remember the interaction with the disciples, his words and theirs, when he calmed the raging sea? “He replied, “‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’” (Mt. 8:26 & 27) 

These disciples had already decided what God was like.  What the Messiah would be like and do and of course the Messiah would never have a shameful death at  the hands of the Roman dogs.  Would they be ready to accept a Risen from the dead Messiah?  Jesus had to show them!

Aren’t we also a bit that way?  I know I am.  If there is a problem I get so focused on the problem, that I can’t even begin to imagine that God has a solution in the works, or a purpose in allowing things to come out of us that need fixing. 

If Jesus as God crucified had to go through what he went through to fix us,  should we not also, even living under the forgiveness of his blood also find a way to greater God-likeness through the circumstances of our lives? 
Hebrews chapter 5 says: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Don’t we do the same? When has God been behind the scenes, in a circumstance or another person, trying to teach us, to change, shape and mold us?
The climax of the chapter then comes as they press Jesus to stay with them and there is no Sheraton Inn nearby. They sit down at table and notice, it is Jesus who is orchestrating this scene not the home owner as was tradition. 
We read: When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Why the breaking of the bread?  Over and over it is in broken-ness that the shock of recognition comes to be. Broken expectations litter the landscape of the post-resurrection stories. 
Brokeness litters the expectations of our lives!  But in the broken-ness of the hopes, dreams, even the body of Jesus the insecurity of disappointment opened them to receive the good news and a new hope. It is in the broken-ness, the times of uncertainty and disillusionment in our lives that God can come in and make a difference in us.  

Notice what they said “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”  They were hearing with their ears, but not their hearts.  It is in the experience of the breaking of the bread that the revelation comes. So IMAGINE... William Blake said “imagination is Evidence of the Divine” Peter Gomes of Harvard Divinity School said: “imagination is the way that liberates us from the tyranny of that journey , which is essentially a retrospective: looking at what happened, how sad it is and how woebegone we are.  Eucharist is the meal that breaks the power of that paradigm. “ Imagine a new paradigm as Jesus gave those disciples and us by the new life the Resurrection provides.  Don’t you know that God in Christ imagined what would be before it was?   So my brothers and sisters may we free our minds so that God may work his imagination in our lives changing by the Resurrected Jesus.  AMEN

Saturday, April 22, 2017

He is Risen!

The Feast of the Resurrection + A           The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
16, April 2017                                                   All Saints’ Hampton Parish, SC
Acts 10:34-43                                                                                                                                        Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4                                                                                                                                    John 20:1-18

Christos Anesti the orthodox say to one another on this day. Alithos anesti  is the reply given by the other person.  The >79 Prayerbook gives us an English translation.  
Alleluia, Christ is Risen and the reply The Lord is risen INDEED Alleluia !  Lets practice the Easter greeting this morning. Alleluia, Christ is Risen@ AThe Lord is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!

Good news.  We all LIKE good news. But do we understand how good this news is?  Even the disciples, Jesus= closest friends Peter and John says that Athey did not believe for as yet they did not know the scripture that he would rise from the dead.@ (Jn. 20:9)

Sure our culture sees Easter as commercially B and not the Feast of the Resurrection!  But it is still difficult even with bunnies and baskets, bonnets and bow, baby chicks and chocolate, to divorce ourselves completely from the events that the Christian Church has proclaimed for two millennia.  Those events have transformed human history and the world.

Easter: a pagan word, yet it connotes a profound mystery, an earthly transformation, a metamorphosis from what was, frail weak and limited to another mode of being: power, transformation and Resurrection!  Former Franciscan Priest, Brennan Manning once said that God didn’t redeem humanity to make “nicer men with better morals, but brand new creations. “  That is what the resurrection from the dead accomplished.

The cross is the meeting place between God and humanity. However it is profoundly more. At the foot of that cross is a level playing field.  No earthly riches, no important earthly family, no position or fame is of any import.  The cross of Christ was and is the grand equalizer and what is the point of that equality?  Forgiveness…forgiveness.  Coupled with that fundamental principle is the other and the two go hand in hand: recreation.  Resurrection makes these two principles necessary to Gods salvation of humanity possible. It takes us the heart with this immortal verse about the heart of our God.  Perhaps you’ve heard it?  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)  This verse so moves everything that is perhaps the best known Bible verse in the world.  At St Paul’s in Savannah, where I assist, below the great crucifix, the carved figures of Jesus on that cross and Mary and St John at its feet staring up at their dying son and friend, and below the figures in large gold letters we read: for God so loved the world.  The world is filled with so much pain and suffering that people are filled with fear and despair.  That has not changed, however when the disciples and Mary Magdalene went to the tomb that morning and found it empty, the remaking of the world was initiated. Jesus did not rise from the dead to make new life possible, as was said by  The Rev. Tullian Tchividjian, Jesus was raised from the dead to make new life actual for those who believe. 

Through this resurrection all of God=s salvific strains of grace have gone into motion.  We say in the creed and in the Baptismal Covenant, Awe believe in the resurrection of the body.@  That is no small statement.  How many religious faiths around the world believe in the Aresurrection of the dead.@ It is a bold claim of the Christian faith.  But it is not a rejoinder of that faith, but rather it is the core of that faith.  In the Nicene Creed, the creed normally used in the Mass, we say Awe look for the resurrection of the dead@.  Are we nuts?  Or do we know something that many in the world do not?   Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have testimony and the experience of two millennia of people who claim that the receiving of this man=s free offering into their personal lives and histories has changed their lives forever.

What do we claim about this man Jesus of Nazareth who we have the temerity to call God=s Messiah for the whole world?   We are not saying that God reanimated the cells in the body of the dead Jesus.  We are not saying that Christ was raised as in the stories of Lazarus being raised.  Christ is raised to die no more.  We are not saying that our immortal souls live on forever.  That pales in comparison to the resurrection.  We say we believe in the resurrection of the BODY!
Resurrection is a statement about the character of God.  It states that He does not and will never stop loving God=s creation.   It says that Jesus Christ is the victorious one who has conquered death.  The disciples did not believe in the resurrection because they believed in Jesus@ says theologian Martin Marty, Athey believed in Jesus because they believed in the RESURRECTION! A If you take the Christian faith seriously, it will inevitably lead you to Easter. 

Without Easter Christianity falls.  Paul said Aif there is no resurrection your faith is vain.@   There are many good proofs as to why one would believe in it, but this is not the time for such proofs. Many seeking Aproofs@ are more seeking information than faith.  Many who seek information, even if convinced would not believe in Christ. And this Christ demands an answer to His claims.

In a new motion picture, award winning Chicago Tribune journalist has a life jolting experience.  He and his pregnant wife and their daughter are out at a restaurant when his daughter begins to choke on something. The film opens with him receiving a promotion and his family of three (soon to be four) seemingly enjoying all that life has to offer a young upwardly mobile family. However, a crisis in a restaurant leads to an encounter with a follower of Christ and the course of Lee’s life forever changes. He and his wife are both professed atheists, however the encounter with the nurse who saves their daughter shakes her to the core.  The woman said, “I wanted to go somewhere else for dinner, but something told me to come here”.  As an addendum she says that God told her to be there.  This begins the wife’s search.  

Lee is determined to disprove the resurrection of Jesus. He exerts great effort and talks to a number of experts in different disciplines. He talks to skeptics and believers. Meanwhile, his wife is drawing closer to Christ and embracing her new Christian faith. This isn’t what Lee bargained for and he’s angry and tortured. What is displayed in the film is sometimes ugly and for good reason, this all happened. Furthermore, to go from atheism to belief is not something that will or should happen cleanly. Lee is conducting an investigation and it is not going as he thought and that ticks him off, especially at his wife, who now has a relationship with someone else…Jesus.  In a dramatic scene at the office one of Lee’s colleagues, responds to his sarcastic despondency saying: “at some point you have got to ask yourself, how much evidence do you have to have?” In the basement workshop, where he has charts and chalkboards and interviews and questions as well as evidence he had gathered over approximately two years, in exasperation he says: “ok God, you win!” and the story of his redemption begins which would eventually take him to a status of a world class proponent of the Christian faith.  I have been through that same struggle in my own teen years and finally gave up and chose what seemed the most authentic and genuine thing: Jesus.  

Today and every day we are confronted with the same choice and the same evidence.  Will this Jesus be the center of our lives for this life and the next, or will we protest and refuse.  But for those who know him and celebrate him, today is the day that changed the world. Alleluia, Christ is risen: the Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

In the Name of the Father and of the glorious and risen Son

and of the Holy Spirit.  AMEN