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Palm Sunday

April 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Jesus Christ is Lord!  Can you say it with me?  Jesus Christ is Lord!  These four words formed the first Christian Creed.  In the first few centuries of Christianity there was no need to create lengthy statements of faith such as the ones we have today.  We have the Creeds of the Apostles, Nicaea and St. Athanasius and we have more loosely subjective statement-like creeds from Councils such as those of Chalcedon. The Apostle’s Creed is used in the prayer book in short liturgies and services such as Morning Prayer.  We are all more than familiar with the Nicene Creed we will recite immediately after waking up from this homily.  And maybe a few of the brave souls who venture deep into the back pages of the prayer book will know the extremely long creed of St. Athanasius.  People fought fiercely in trying to convince others what was to be included in the Creeds.  The words used were deliberate in one thing; trying to define the Trinity and the natures of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

In the nursery years of this new born religion called Christianity, as I said when I began, the creed was as simple as you could get – four words – Jesus Christ is Lord.  It was in hymns, it was in letters written between Christians, it was a central theme of Paul’s epistles like the one we read today, and how much better off might we be with avoiding splits and factions between our sisters and brothers in Christ in other denominations if we used nothing more than those four words?  Some of the best mission statements of organizations in the world aren’t ten sentence paragraphs that make you pull out the dictionary after every five words.  They are simple and direct.  I overheard a conversation one day last week that I’ve forgotten where or who said it, but they were commenting on a very successful business that recited their mission statement every day.  It was short and sweet and something like “The people come first.”  The people come first; no wonder they are successful.  Forget about focusing on profits, or on shareholders, or on who sits in the corner office, they focus on the people and how they treat and handle them and the rest falls into place.  This is exactly what the first Christians did.  They knew that by focusing on Christ as Lord, all things will fall into place.

Now don’t get me wrong on one thing.  I’m not saying that no work is involved in either case.  Simply making the statement “Jesus Christ is Lord” over and over won’t guarantee you a seat next to St. Peter in heaven.  That’s reserved for me.  By claiming that Jesus Christ is Lord, we then understand that it’s our duty and responsibility to put his teachings and directions into action.  We must be what He has asked us to become; faithful followers of the Word.  With this congregation we shouldn’t have to ask “what is there to do?”  There are plenty of opportunities to feed the hungry, clothe the homeless, cure the sick and visit those in prison.  What Paul is telling us here in this short, beautiful hymn, is that there is no need to come up with complex theologies for a world that hurts as much as it does.  All we have to do is turn on our TVs – or these days look at our cell phones – to see how much that’s true.  But when you know that what matters is our reaction to them, and we move to help bring about comfort, caring and hope for them, then we are living into what we were made to be.

In a commentary of this epistle by the renowned theologian William Barclay, he states the same thing about this creedal statement by saying, “… Christianity consists less in the mind’s understanding than it does in the heart’s love.”  When you consider this and Paul’s continuing accounts of how love is the greatest gift, and our love is for God and our love for others comes through Christ, we should have to go no further in developing another creed that says all we need to know.  And when we say “Jesus Christ is Lord” we place ourselves among the very souls who surrounded Jesus on the road to Jerusalem shouting “Hosanna to the son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” We wave our palm branches in the air and lay them and our coats on the road to keep the dust and dirt from raising up and dirtying the one riding on the donkey.  At least for now we’re claiming he is our king.  He will ride into the Holy City and be the one who prophets spoke of.  We at least have a chance to look back and see what was to happen next.  His teachings and directions weren’t followed except by a handful of the faithful.

I’ll leave the rest of this week’s readings for the sermons on their respective days.  The reading of the passion on Palm Sunday was added because in short:  not many people were attending the entire Holy Week Services, especially on Good Friday so it wasn’t being heard.  What is Easter without Maundy Thursday and Good Friday?  If we’re going to celebrate something we should understand the reasons.  And so the reading of the passion was added to today’s service.  For those who immerse themselves into the transformative power of lent, today is a day to feast and a day to look with hope and high expectations on the future.  Our king is nearing His journey’s end and we will all be saved, just not in the way we would expect.  So now as we near the time where we proclaim the Nicene Creed let us remind ourselves that this started out with the simplest of statements.  Four words were all that were needed in the time when Paul was trying to fix parts of churches that were broken.  Jesus Christ is Lord.  Yet those four words said today are still as strong as any four paragraph letter of understanding.  In a short while we’ll be reciting a part of the Eucharistic Prayer with the response, “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest” As you can see these words were used by both the prophets of the Old Testament and the Gospel writers of the New Testament.  As we say these words, I ask you to take your palms and hold them lovingly.  Let them be your testament and creed to what this day, Palm Sunday, is all about.  The confirmation that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Amen.    

Peace and Blessings

Deacon Pete

All Things New Again

April 27, 2013 1 comment

“I am making all things new again.” With these words from Revelation, the Lord has reaffirmed that creation is an ongoing event. He didn’t say, “I’ll go ahead and make some changes now” or “after this you’re on your own,” but He says “I am making…all things new…again” What comes out of the old, out of the used, out of the unwanted and yes, even out of things destroyed, something new is emerging and we need to take notice. In our times these events might not be as magnificent as rebuilding a temple or raising someone from the dead, but God is constantly at work renewing everything around us. Life goes on whether we pay attention to it or not. And just as in our day, in the times these books were written there was a great deal to pay attention to. Christianity was new and there were small sects forming everywhere the apostles went. And of course there was Paul who had just begun converting the Greeks to Christianity. Rome was keeping an eye and ear out for challenges to their dynasty. Many of those people who believed that Jesus was the Messiah were in disbelief that He even died the way He did, and could barely comprehend Him rising from the dead. And not only were they struggling with the idea that it could even happen, Luke tells us in his narrative in the Acts of the Apostles that even those who did believe, struggled with the thought of the Good News being intended for people outside of their own faith and culture. Because when someone who is different from you claims to have received and benefitted by the same blessings – without going through the customary rituals and trials that you have; well, we think something has to be very wrong with this. Still we find one of the most important events that helped make Christianity universal and indistinctive to cultures or countries right here in this text.
What had started out with one small group of Jews was now being made new and was spreading throughout the region. The stories of Jesus were being heard. The Holy Spirit was moving through the land. So it was only a matter of time before word reached out on the country roads apart from the villages and cities to these outsiders. I’m sure it was a tough decision for Peter who was given the vision and tasked with going to meet the Gentiles – and let’s be reminded that the word Gentile means “people living in the country” – that they were just as worthy as those who celebrated the customs and lived by the laws of Moses. I know this Peter; right here would have been a bit more confused with the issue at hand in the vision. After seeing everything on the sheet that came down from heaven and being told “eat”, I might have said, “finally! Pass the bacon and shrimp, please?” But as we know, the symbolism of the dietary restrictions being lifted meant those who didn’t abide by these laws were also worthy, and so Peter makes the visit and sees first-hand what the power of the Holy Spirit can do. He knows at that moment what was being made new again and saw that the old covenant was no longer: a new one had been made in and through Christ. Who was Peter, to oppose what God had ordained and make his own determination as to who was worthy or not? This displayed the faith that Peter was noted for but it goes deeper than faith. It takes great courage as well. To see beyond our self-imposed boundaries and the boundaries established by governments, religions, and corporations, and see that others are truly worthy of these same gifts of the Spirit – and that we are all created by the same God – is a gift. It was this gift that allowed him to see how God was “making all things new.”
This gift was also special because it carried with it hope that they were accepting these changes for the good, because there is always the chance that along with change come challenges and confrontations can escalate quickly in times of stress and trouble. Sudden change can create fear and for some, fear may be a constant factor in never dealing with new things.
So which direction do we turn when confronted with change? Do we walk in faith or turn away in fear? Do we condemn others and ignite violence? Or do we turn and face the situation head on? Can we honestly search out what we can to find the hope within the situation and seek out what God can make new again? In events such as the bombing at the Boston marathon we observed similar responses and types of thought. One response was to begin searching for reasons and profiling subjects that weren’t even known, planning out retribution and how to get even. Yet another response showed the compassion of bystanders – rushing into the blast area, even before the smoke had cleared, to see what help they could provide to the injured. They assessed the situation, and used all their available resources to save lives. Peter’s situation wasn’t a bomb exploding, but it held the same tensions and contained similar attitudes when he returned from meeting with the Gentiles. New territory had been reached in communicating the work and words of Jesus with people outside of their group. Not only were they Gentiles, not only did he meet with them; but he ate with them as well. If you know anything about the care taken not to contaminate a kosher meal, you can understand how much of a shock this was to the disciples who had just heard the story. A meal was sacred and all Jewish faithful did what they could to follow the laws. There was finger pointing and probably some name calling. But Peter calms them with his explanation and they are beyond satisfied; they are silenced and awed by the result.
As the apostles and other disciples slowly began to accept others into their fold, we can begin to see the words of Jesus in John’s gospel take shape within them. Something was being made new again. Jesus was gone from their sight, but His words were still fresh in the minds of His followers. “I give you a new commandment.” He wasn’t parting with the ways of Torah, but rather refreshing it. He wasn’t destroying something old and useless, He was re-enforcing it. He wasn’t denying anyone the love of God, He was multiplying it. And to this end, we have the answer to everything we need to know about how to handle every change we face. “Love one another.” There’s a story that the apostle John, who had lived longer than any of the others was in his final days, being cared for in Ephesus. As was the custom, when it came time for the sermon, John would be carried in on a mat where he would preach to the crowd. He always ended his sermon with the words “Love one another.” As he became weaker and his strength began to fail the last several times they carried him out, all he said was “Love one another.” After a few times of doing this, someone asked him, “John, why do you no longer speak the way you used to? Why do you keep reciting the same words over and over?” John replied, “Because I’ve come to realize that those are the only words that matter. Love one another.”
And so as we leave here today and begin to think about the changes in our lives and around us – let us pray we understand that by being presented with changes, God is making all things new again. And may we also have the faith and courage to react and respond to God’s actions with the only words that matter; “Love one another.”
ref: 5th Sunday of Easter, RCL year C. Acts 11:1-18; Rev 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

Deacon Pete Gdula

The Great Fifty Days of Easter

April 7, 2013 6 comments

Throughout the history of the church the Great Fifty Days of Easter has been a time for the newly baptized to find their place in the church as they begin their ministries and start putting their spiritual gifts to use. This can be a time of great reward or a time of great struggle. After the anticipation of being named as Christ’s own forever has been actualized, one might be so overwhelmed with desire and ambition that they fail to notice a call or nudge in the direction they are being led. When one hears stories of how the Holy Spirit descends as a dove or in tongues of flames, followed by people speaking in foreign languages, we might just be disappointed when there is no big lightning bolt to clear the path for us. This is where those of us who have witnessed and promised to do what we can to help the new members mature do it “with God’s help.” Our task is to make sure they don’t fade into the crowd and get lost.
But it’s not just the newly baptized we’ve promised to stand behind and support. We renew the commitment time and time again, not just for the newcomers, but for every member of the Body of Christ. Whether they are Christened as a child, confirmed as a teen, or were baptized as an adult; we need to show them we care and make sure they have the tools to grow. Let’s ask them if we are meeting their spiritual needs and welcome their input. Give them responsibility in the community. Show them they are needed and that they have much to contribute. No, we won’t solve everyone’s problems or heal everyone’s ills. What we can do is take a pulse of the spiritual health of our people and keep checking it to ensure our body is strong and able to carry out our mission. We are fresh from the joy of the resurrection and now in the perfect time to review our status. Should we revive old programs or start new ones? What has the Holy Spirit been telling us? Are we being nudged in a particular direction? Before we move on in the usual fashion let’s step back, take a breath, know that the rest of the Body of Christ is with us, and above all pray that we may see clearly where we are to go. We can do this “with God’s help.”
Deacon Pete

Rejoice! The Light Shines On!

April 3, 2013 2 comments

Easter Vigil Homily Rev. Peter M. Gdula
Rejoice! Rejoice! Heavenly hosts and choirs of angels!
Rejoice! All the round earth!
Rejoice! Mother Church!
Rejoice! And let the trumpets shout – and the people sing praises – for darkness has been vanquished –and the proof is right here in this very church!
It may have been difficult at times to see reason for rejoicing as of late. For we’ve encountered a few challenges of our own. The penitential season of Lent can be draining enough for us. Not only have we travelled with Jesus during these 40 days through various services and programs here at St. Luke’s, mulling over the scriptures with the Prophet’s gloomy visions and the Gospel’s tales of a coming sacrifice; we’ve met in book studies on the seven last words of Christ, and meditated on the Stations of the Cross – wrestling with the meaning of Jesus’s death by putting ourselves in the shoes of those who witnessed the crucifixion.
This time has seen other challenges that might have us wondering why we should rejoice. For not only had our prayer and worship life shifted to one of penance and deepened reflection on making internal shifts of awareness, we as a church and community found ourselves meeting the demands of real life events that further challenge us to rise up from a perceived darkness in every way we can.
We might have been asking…”what more could there be?” Yet while we think we may not have a reason to rejoice, others in the world outside of this corner lot are crying out themselves, in their own darkness, in their own changes that have put them in their own sorrow and pain.
Now we could just ignore everything and try to live in a world of superficial denial. But when we ignore something, we lose the ability to react and we fail. We would fail to meet the needs of those around us who are troubled. We would fail in the baptismal covenant we just renewed to tend to the “least of these” and we would fail to discover any reason to rejoice. The darkness may be there … but it is up to us to show the light: The light that is here ready for us; the light that even death could not keep from shining. In one of the shortest Paschal Mystery homilies ever written, St. John Chrysostom proclaimed: “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? Christ is risen and life is freed.”
Yes, we have reasons to be concerned and reasons to mourn and reasons to be sorrowful, and we must react to these situations. It is especially important during these times, to always help each other to remember the light that wishes to give us hope and to comfort us in our troubles. For just as the light is eternal and dwells on earth as well as in heaven, this light is also here, within us, within our hearts. And it is here where we find the ability to rejoice.
So I ask you to reflect on this glorious night – where Christ restored us to grace and holiness of life: That while it is wrong that we have brothers and sisters hungry and homeless; rejoice because there are people sitting among us right here in this sanctuary along with other people, organizations and churches in the world, tirelessly seeking to provide for the poor, and honoring the holiness of those lives with as much grace as possible.
I ask you to reflect on this night – where innocence is restored: That while we as a community work through the challenges we face; rejoice that we are blessed with leadership that is wise and capable, friends that comfort our souls, and a common love that unites our hearts.
I ask you to reflect on this night – where we reaffirmed our baptismal covenant; That while it seems more people are turning away from belonging to a church in order to seek God through other paths; rejoice for we have been witness to the fact that there ARE families that bring their babies like precious Isabella into our midst to be baptized, asking for our commitment to share in the responsibility of accepting their child into the body of Christ.
And I ask you to reflect on this night – where Christ rose victorious from the grave: That even as we encounter dark times in our lives and the lives of others; rejoice! Rejoice that we HAVE the light that enables us to see clearly in all situations. Rejoice that we HAVE the light that guides our compassion and care to those who need it. And rejoice that this Light – Christ – the Morning Star that knows no setting – is eternally present, eternally burning, and eternally giving His light and life to ALL creation. May the good Lord bless us and keep us in His eternal light as he lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.