Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, May 14, 2017, Easter 5, Year A, John 14:1-14
“if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
In the name of God the Father and Mother, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit… Amen…
Alleluia… The Lord is Risen… The Lord is Risen Indeed
Happy Easter. I trust you have been appropriately feasting. Don’t give up now… No diets… no fasting… you can do it… Keep that champagne flowing… keep your glasses filled with that sparkling grape juice. Buy an extra box of chocolate…. Sleep in a little longer than normal… Take a nap. We only have three more weeks until Pentecost. Lamb and Ham aren’t just for Easter Sunday… So get to Honor meats or your local butcher and get cracking. Feast… feast… feast…
When National or Sentimental Holidays coexist within the liturgical calendar, our task as preachers become a bit of a sticky situation. If we say too much about the particular holiday we may catch flack, if we say too little, we may catch flack. Either way, on Mother’s Day, I’ve come prepared with my flack-jacket.
I remember my preaching professor really drilling it home that Mother’s day is not a part of the lectionary calendar… “Don’t you dare let your sermon be about Mother’s day,” he said… “But don’t you dare leave it out either…” With this being my first Mother’s Day among you, I hope to use this day as a lens through which we see the lessons from this morning, within their proper context of The Holy Eucharist… through the lens of Thanksgiving.
So I find it fitting that our gospel this morning came from the Johannine community, where it is believed that Jesus’ mother, Mary, was most likely living. Mary, the mother of Jesus, the Theotokos, or Mother of God…A mother who found herself in a socially-compromising position and yet was called to the task of caring for God until he could accept his own calling as the Son of God…
And so I think it is pretty fascinating to think about Mary and where she lived out her days after Jesus was gone. Also fittingly, the Gospel of John was written to comfort that community that was feeling abandoned, a people who had lost and suffered much.
It was written as a reminder to the people that the Divine had not abandoned them but that they were, in fact, God’s people and that Jesus would soon be sending the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
And as I slow down and contemplate the Mother of Jesus, I can’t help but think about my own mom. Her name is Nancy and she was most definitely not the mother of God. I think she is here today, somewhere. Having raised me, I am planning on presenting her to the appropriate Church Council, to consider making her a living Saint.
Some of my fondest memories of my childhood are memories of my mother or of other moms from my neighborhood feeding me. For the record, the dads did this too, but in my context, there was something special about the way that the moms did lunch.
This was especially true in the summertime or on Saturdays. As a child, it seemed like wherever I was in the neighborhood when lunchtime came, a group of children would find their way into a house or on a porch for some kind of sustenance. But my mom’s lunches were always the best and everybody in the neighborhood knew it.
I think 95% of the time, my mom served grilled cheese. It always had a side of carrots or apple slices or canned pears immersed in sugary syrup. Occasionally she would make a mistake and put celery on our plates but would make up for it by putting some peanut butter next to it… We would eat quickly… and then go back to the task of play that was before us. They are good memories…
Moms, or at least the Moms in my neighborhood, know that children need to eat. Moms know that they have a unique role in the beginning of life to carry the God-given image-bearer in their wombs until it is time for them to meet the world. They know that they will likely be the primary caregiver of these little humans. That they are charged with creating an atmosphere where their children can learn and play and grow into the men and women, God is calling them to be.
I imagine that is likely how Mary thought about her role as Jesus’ mother. And so the pain that she likely felt at his death was probably overwhelming, to say the least.
But after the resurrection, at some point the disciples, including Mary, in the midst of their shock and joy, began to try to wrap their minds around this Paschal mystery that theologians have been writing about for 2000 years.
The gospel of John is definitely a particular theological work with its own theological slants. The other three gospels were so similar they call them the synoptic gospels. They most likely drew from one or two other sources, written down for their own specific communities. But the author of John had a very specific way that he wanted the reader to think about the meaning of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. A particular way to try to talk about the saving acts of God through Jesus.
In fact, the lectionary now has us going back in time… We are transported back to the portion in John called “the farewell discourse.” It is kind of smushed between the last supper and Jesus’ arrest in the garden of Gethsemane.
The Resurrection definitely needs theological context. That’s why we have this reading in Easter. I suppose that’s what happens when a human being was dead and then is somehow, mysteriously, alive again. The disciples would have gone over and over again in their minds and in their conversations about things that Jesus had said and things he had done to try to grasp even a sliver of what it could possibly mean.
Remember the sermon from last week and the stories about Philip raising people from the dead. Resurrection is mind-blowing. It is not natural… Humans need to make meaning of this sort of thing because it is the opposite of natural. We don’t know what to do with Resurrection.
And the author of John, definitely wants the reader to know that Jesus was connected to God. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you why that would be. There would have been plenty of folks who would have been quick to report this news differently. Plenty of people who genuinely and honestly could not believe in the resurrection.
Most scholars believe that John was written or completed around the year 90. It was written much later than the actual events being written about. Most of the readers, would not have ever met Jesus nor would they have even been alive for the resurrection.
And remember, each of the four canonical gospels had their own influence and audience. Communities would most likely have had one of the gospels or portions of gospels that would influence their theology and the lens through which they viewed and re-remembered the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.
And, as you can imagine, there was a lot of conversation about the death of Jesus. Was Jesus just another martyred prophet? A failed teacher who was guilty of treason and insurrection? A rallying cry for those who opposed the Romans and hoped to overthrow the Roman oppression?
Well, for the Johannine community… the community that had John’s account… John’s gospel… they were definitely grappling with their place in history and in the life of God.
Remember that as you read John, that the community still very much considered themselves Jewish. They are a Jewish community who has been displaced after the destruction of the Temple, by the Romans, in the year 70.
Because Jews who followed Jesus had been kicked out of the Temple and the synagogue by the Jewish majority… by those in power, which left them with no place to practice Judaism… no place to worship… no place to fit…
They must have been hoping that at some point they would be let back into the Temple.
God’s very dwelling place.
The only place that God lived.
But when the Romans destroyed the Temple… the only Temple… they would have felt desperate… would have felt crushed. And after that destruction, the Johannine Community would have been thinking, we need a written account of what we remember… what we believe…
So why did the Johannine community feel compelled to write this down? Most scholars believe it was written in order to com-fort
a specific Jewish community who followed Jesus… Christian Jews.
Now I give all of this background because, I think, it is essential to understand this history if we want to avoid an anti-semitic or supersessionist interpretation.
In recent history, the Western world certainly has been guilty of this. Western Christians have often lumped ourselves in with the Johannine Community and “cast stones”… at the Jewish people as a whole. Which is NOT helpful and certainly not the way of the Jewish Jesus.
As we read John, we are invited to see God in the person of Jesus. To experience the indwelling of God made mortal.
The gospel, as you recall, begins with John’s prolog… in the beginning was the word… and the word was with God… and the Word was God…
As Episcopalians the theology of the Incarnation is essential… We see Jesus as the human manifestation of the Divine… and as followers of Jesus, you and I, we, are therefore called to also offer our bodies… our Temples… as dwelling places for the Divine… We are to offer space for the Divine to fill us and to overflow through us.
And, fittingly, we come to the story of the stoning of Stephen in the Acts of the Apostles, the Protomartyr… the first of all martyrs. He was a deacon… placed in charge of distribution of donations to those in need. In carrying on the Kingdom of God which Jesus declared and died for. It is a part of our lessons for today because Stephen is an example of what it looks like for a follower of Jesus to be filled with the Divine. To really embrace the Kingdom of God. He is an example of a true disciple. Two weeks in a row now, we have stories of martyrs, two stories of what happens when you not only experience the resurrection but embrace it.
This is a scary proposition to me.
It is scary because if I’m honest, I have a hard time seeing similarities between my life and the life of Stephen the Martyr and it makes me wonder, “what aspects of my life still need to be resurrected?” “What must I do to fully embrace the resurrection?”
But the beauty of this story is that it is a testimony to Resurrection in the life of Stephen.
Because of his faith, Stephen knew that death was not the last word. Death was not the end. Not even death could get in the way of the coming of the Kingdom of God.
I am not endorsing martyrdom… though I think the case can be made… but what I am advocating is that you and I… when we are at our best… as Christians… as Disciples of Jesus… as Episcopalians… we will live lives that will not compromise until Justice abounds in the lives of all of those around us… will not compromise until justice abounds specifically in the lives of the poor and the marginalized.
When we are at our best… that those around us will at times, feel like they need to put their hands over their ears because they are tired of hearing about a Kingdom that refuses to marginalize… about a kingdom that refuses to leave people behind…
And our hope is that they won’t stone us like Stephen… but that they too will pick up the torch which Jesus left behind… that they will also live into a reality where there is plenty.
Where there is more than plenty…
Because in God’s Kingdom, there is more than enough. There is more than enough and there is room for all to embrace that reality.
And so now, I invite you this week to examine your own lives.
As a testament to the Resurrection of Jesus, look for people in your circles, your own neighborhoods, that need to be fed.
And as an act of Revolution and Resistance and Resurrection… offer them… something to eat.
I mean that literally and figuratively…
Find an organization today that you can either physically feed hungry people… or an organization that you can pay for meals to be provided…
Go online and offer micro-loans to moms on Kiva. K-I-V-A.
Make a donation to Episcopal Relief and Development…
write a check to the Deacon’s Discretionary fund….
There are people who need the comfort of mother’s milk… and you and I can offer that, with our wallets, “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
And… or… identify someone that finds themselves in a place in life where they feel isolated and marginalized… someone who questions their own worth… that wonders where they fit in this world… a modern day member of the Johannine Community that needs to be reassured that they are loved and belong to the Creator of the Universe.
Those folks need mother’s milk too. They too, need to be comforted and need to be embraced by the reality of the radical inclusion of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And you and I can offer that milk to them around our dinner tables.
All of these actions can be resistance to all kingdoms that oppose the Kingdom of God. These actions will be actions of restoration and healing…
of reconciliation, between God and humanity…
Your response to your own taste of God’s goodness…
And these actions, will literally and metaphorically, usher those who need it most, from death into life.
St. Philip’s, may we continue our legacy of advocating for the margins in the community and around the world…
Alleluia the Lord is Risen..