Sermon by The Reverend Jodi Baron, Co-Rector, Easter 4 Patronal Feast Day of St. Philip, Year A, May 7, 2017, John 14:6-14
Good morning… Please be seated…
I want to preface today’s sermon with the prayer that my mentor, Fr. Mike Fedewa, prays before every sermon. It served and continues to serve as a framework for how I read the Gospel, how I read the news, how I shape the reason why I do what I do.
Let us pray.
Gracious God, help me to preach in a way that is good news to the poor, the weak the widow, the orphan and those who are most vulnerable. Help me to preach in a way that honors and respects those who will suffer and die today for your gospel. Help me to preach in a way that seeks not my glory, but yours, not the growth of this church, but the growth of your kingdom. Amen.
One of the things I love the most about humans is our insatiable appetite to make meaning out of life. No matter what part of life it may be, we seek to answer the question, “why does this matter?” We have prayers and rituals to mark important journeys we’ve made, moments to mark significance and mark life, from one point to another. Some of us get tattoos or buy new things. We remember our first bicycle and our first kiss. Maybe we received a gold watch at our retirement party… We save relics from things like our baptism and our confirmation… from our graduations and weddings. Every year, we mark the time with a birthday.
I have a friend from seminary that would add on, to one of her existing tattoos, each time one of her babies was born. Some kids get a used car when they get their driver’s license, or get their ears pierced when they turn a certain age. The point isn’t the object or the life-event but the pattern of marking the time that humans are drawn to. Humans seek out ways, over and over, to find it.
Some people find meaning in the peace that coming to church on a regular basis brings their lives, especially when their life becomes chaotic; a new diagnosis or a chronic illness, the loss of a loved one…times when the temptation may arise to seclude oneself…but in the sacraments, in Christian Community, in the liturgy…we find patterns that calm our soul, that cover us like a balm.
All of these are the moments of grace that give us pause to contemplate how far, how deep, is the love of God for all of creation! But more than that, they are moments that build our courage to ask ourselves, “why does this matter?”
One of the most powerful meaning-making rituals that we have, as Episcopalians, is our liturgy for the burial of the dead. The whole theology behind the language and prayers and movements are to point us to the resurrection. The BCP says,
The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all meaning in the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we too shall be Raised. The liturgy, therefore, is characterized by joy, in the certainty that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This joy, however, does not make human grief unchristian. The very love we have for each other in Christ brings deep sorrow when we are parted by death. Jesus himself wept at the grave of his friend. So, while we rejoice that one we love has entered into the nearer presence of our Lord, we sorrow in sympathy with those who mourn.
Death is messy. It causes us, who mourn, physical pain at the loss of joy their death has brought but also puts boundaries around our sorrow. It holds before us the reality that God will stop at nothing, even death, to hold us in his loving embrace.
Funerals, in our tradition, have a way of equalizing everyone. The sanctuary is transformed into an Easter celebration, the season, no matter what time of year death meets us, is suspended and we recognize resurrection in the midst of the messiness and unpredictability but a certain reality that none of us will get out of this life, alive.
And it’s remarkable how the world recognizes the importance of marking a loved one’s death. At processions to the cemetery, the line of cars stream through intersections and busy bystanders pause and offer condolences with their break in traffic. Friends and family rearrange their schedules, take time off work, fly or drive incredible distances, to come and grieve, and celebrate in a messy paradox of love and life and death and resurrection.
Today, we remember the life of our Patron Saint, Philip. Today we suspend Easter and don our red, martyr, vestments. The colors for Easter are white but you’ll notice the stoles and chasuble (and dalmatic) we wear today are red.
Red symbolizes the Holy Spirit and it also symbolizes the blood of martyrs.
Not much supersedes Easter, does it? And this doesn’t really supersede it, rather, we have the inconvenient reality that people die during Easter.
Other times that get precedent over the current season are when the Bishop visits. If he or she is on their official episcopate visitation around their diocese, whether it’s Advent, or the Season after Pentecost, or Lent…it is most appropriate to have baptisms and baptisms are an Easter liturgy, so we suspend the color of the season and don white to mark the change, to help the people notice that something is different about today.
So today we have suspended the Easter 4 readings from the lectionary and read the lessons attributed to Philip. We have layered the colors of the martyrs to help us remember why any of this matters.
Today we ask:
“What do the lives of Saints, teach us today about the Gospel?
How does grace come through the life of St. Philip?
How might Grace be encountered in the struggles, joys, and sorrows of everyday existence?
What were the gifts bestowed upon St. Philip?
What revelations did he encounter in unlikely places?”
You see, remembering the Saints is not about a prescribed set of rules to follow. Rather, as author and priest David Schlafer wrote in the book about special occasions, called, “What makes this Day Different”, the reason that we celebrate Red Letter Days, or Saint Days, is that they “give us clues…[to] expand our horizons and sharpen our peripheral vision. [They] position us to recognize and trust our own surprises of grace when they come to us.”
“Position us to recognize and trust our own surprises of grace.”
Which I think is beautiful.
Even when death seems present we live in the midst of a constant, consuming, and surprising resurrection.
To trust that experience of grace… seems to suggest… we first possess a deep sense of our own worthiness of love and belonging.
Some people believe that love and belonging are essential to the human experience…
That only when we are able to let go of what other people think…. and embrace own our story…
Can we gain access to our worthiness– “the feeling that we are “enough” just as we are and that we are worthy of love and belonging.” (Brene Brown)
Think about it. To be martyred is to be intentionally killed for your religious beliefs, your faith, your story…in how you believe God moves in our lives. A martyr needs to have figured out a way to let go of what people tried to tell them or show them and embrace their own story and believe that they are worthy of this love and belonging that God invites us into through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
In Philip’s unique reality, he had to stay focused on the gospel.
Because of what he had witnessed and experienced, he felt compelled to tell the world about the upside down Kingdom that Jesus had ushered in. To him, there was NO OTHER WAY!
Pretty amazing… I say “pretty amazing” because I can’t actually imagine that in my own life. I have a hard time putting myself into a context where my thoughts and actions could land me in prison or to death on an upside down cross like our Patron Saint did so long ago.
St. Philip reportedly traveled with Nathaniel (a.k.a. Bartholomew) & Miriamme and healed many. Reportedly thousands were added to the kingdom because of these three evangelists message of love and belonging!
One was a man who had been blind for 40 years. In another story, he raised a man from the dead.
He shows up in all four gospels, but most prominently in John’s. He is remembered for the questions he asked… the seeking after God that he never stopped… right up to the point of his martyrdom.
He was one of the first to be called by Jesus to “follow me.”
And one of the first things he did was tell his friend Nathanael (Bartholomew) who also came to believe. Philip is listed among the seventy who were considered Christ’s Disciples. Philip was an evangelist…he shared the good news of God in Jesus.
The most interesting story I read about our patron saint was that these Apostles were evangelizing a town with many idols, and healing many, and were labeled (by the government) as “magicians.” Because of this, they were crucified.
Really all of the first-century Christians, who were a religious minority in the ancient world of the Mediterranean, were convicted of God’s presence in their lives because of the Incarnation…Jesus changed everything for them. God was now tangible. God now broke bread with them and taught them how to love others. Jesus was more than a teacher, more than a friend…he gently showed them what mattered most.
Philip had a vision as he was dying was God’s ultimate acts of forgiveness and the lengths to which God would go to be sure her children could be in glory with God.
Apparently, Philip was so enraged that the people wouldn’t believe in Jesus that he cursed them!
For the record… Philip, this is not the way of Jesus…
And so the story goes, that God met Philip… while he was hanging upside down on the cross, and reminded him, how much God loves all of creation.
Even the people who were bent on putting him to death.
And the story says that Philip would indeed go to heaven, but first, he’d have to circle heaven for 40 days while he witnessed those whom he had cursed enter through the gates of heaven before him.
And when he told this to the onlookers, the ones who had nailed him upside down to a cross, they were overcome with sorrow at what they had done.
They screamed for the guards to take Philip down to save him.
But Philip had peace in his heart.
He was reminded that in Jesus’ final moments he didn’t become enraged at the people’s inability to believe…he forgave them.
So Philip, heeding the vision of his Lord, forgave the people and died as a witness to the truth and power of reconciliation. That his whole ministry pointed to this moment. This is the saint we get our name from. This is the life that is supposed to help us recognize and trust our own surprises of grace when they come to us.
In this morning’s gospel, we hear Jesus speaking to his disciples in John. This passage is during the same discourse where he tells them to not let their hearts be troubled…for he was going to prepare a place for them…
And then answering Thomas about how they can know the way to where Jesus was going, says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life…”
“The WAY,” here is an expression of the faithful person’s unity with God. Jesus is revealing himself to be simultaneously the access to and the embodiment of life with God.
Philip, seeking to understand this, asks Jesus… “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” and Jesus answers him.
Jesus goes on to teach them about all the works they will do if they do them in his name…
We as St. Philipites are living out the Gospel and proclaiming the faith he shared in his ministry, through our involvement with BACN, and Reading Camp, in the services, we provide through the Baby Pantry and Order of Naucratius.
The advocacy we provide for the vulnerable, the neglected, the margins…we are doing the work of loving our neighbor in Jesus’ name.
My prayer for us this week is that each of us will we be surprised by grace in our lives this week.
In the people we meet, the conversations we have, the coffee moments we share, the bread we break.
That God will show up in this week during Eastertide, even when death seems present… Because we also live in the midst of a constant, consuming, and surprising resurrection.
Be on the lookout for the buds of resurrection. Write it down when you notice its blossoms. Expect to be surprised by new life.