Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sends us the Spirit as an advocate. Amen.
“The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.”
It has certainly felt that way for the past fourteen months – groaning under the weight of our eager expectation for things to return to something that might resemble what we used to call normal. Groaning for relief, for community, for financial relief, for a vaccine. Groaning for family and friends and coworkers and neighbors who have been separated from us, for loved ones who have been on ventilators in the ICU, groaning for relief and healing and hope of life after death. Groaning for three and a half million fellow humans killed by this wretched pandemic. Groaning for deliverance.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, who has ascended into heaven and sends us out as apostles. Amen.
“In those days,” our reading from Acts begins.
What days? The days immediately after the Ascension. On Thursday, we read the tail end of Saint Luke’s Gospel – forty days after the Resurrection, Christ leads the disciples out to Bethany where he blesses them as he ascends to the right hand of the Father. The disciples go back to Jerusalem where, as Luke tells us, “they were continually in the temple blessing God.” And Luke begins his sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, with the same scene – Jesus ascending and the disciples staring up in amazement – as if to say, “Well now what?”
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, who abides with us. Amen.
It’s not an ideal situation, that’s for sure. If I were to sit down and plot it out, for maximum impact, it’s not how I would draft it. (Probably why nobody’s asked me to add to the canon yet.) But here it is: the first conversion of a Gentile to the Christian faith recorded in Acts. To be certain, Christ’s ministry attracted Gentile attention (the Syrophoenician woman in Mark and Matthew, and in Luke the Gerasene demoniac and the Roman centurion). But today, we see the Church for the first time open its arms to someone born outside the heirs of Abraham.
That’s a controversial enough proposition – it raises quite a few arguments in chapter 10 and again in chapter 15. But add to that the setting – outside of Jerusalem, with just a few people, the Ethiopian eunuch, and Philip – and it becomes downright odd. Up to this point, the Church’s ministry has been dominated by stirring speeches to large crowds (like Peter on Pentecost or Stephen as he’s martyred). It’s just a normal day on a road in the wilderness.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will reveal all things. Amen.
Our Lord descended into the waters of the Jordan where he was baptized by John, and as he came out of the water, “the heavens were torn apart.”
Saint Mark, usually so direct and terse, here is very descriptive. The heavens are not merely opened, as in Matthew or Luke’s telling, but rent asunder. In this moment, the glory of God is revealed, the barrier between the sacred and profane ruptures, the Holy Spirit descends, and the voice of the Father declares Christ’s true identity: the Son, the Beloved One, with whom his Father is well-pleased.
In his baptism at the Jordan, we see the Epiphany of our Lord, the manifestation of his glory and his divine nature as the Son of God.
And at the Font, we see a little epiphany – the line between death in the waters and new life in Christ is torn apart when our Heavenly Father claims us as adopted children, anointing us with the Holy Spirit and oil.
Oh, that all such epiphanies were so glorious. But too often, when things are torn apart, we see only the sinful and violent chaos of this world.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus, the Risen Lord, who ascended into heaven and will return again on the last day. Alleluia. Amen.
Forty days after the Resurrection, after having walked the earth – an assurance that the Resurrection is a physical, bodily event, that we too shall be raised not just as disembodied spirits floating in the air but in a real, fleshy way – our Lord ascended. And this too was a physical event; just as he stepped down from heaven and became Incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Virgin Mary, taking on humanity in its fullness, so too did he ascend in his incarnate body.
It must have been quite a sight to behold, the Son of Man taken away on the clouds.
If this were a movie, the music would swell. We’d get tight shots of the apostles’ faces as they watch. John would have a serene look of contentment, Peter would cry a little, Thomas would look on in wonder. And then, just as the score reached its crescendo, Christ would disappear into the clouds and we would have a hard cut to black, a title card, and the credits.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sends the Holy Spirit upon us that we may be one. Amen.
Confession time: I’m not good with languages. My pronunciation is terrible, I have no ear for accents, and, worst of all, I don’t devote the time to studying them that proficiency demands. It’s a shame, too, because I’ve always actually really liked languages, especially the history of how they evolve and borrow from one another. Over the past twenty years, I’ve studied French in middle school, Spanish in high school, German in college, and Greek and Hebrew in seminary.
In fact, I took a full two years of German in college. When my parents were stationed there my senior year, I excitedly went to visit them in Heidelberg, and I was confident that my semesters of anguish would producing stunning results. First night in country, we went out to eat at a local restaurant; I placed my order in my most polished Deutsch:
Ich moechte einmal Radler und ein Jaegerschnitzel bitte.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has sent us faithful witnesses to proclaim the Gospel. Amen.
Question: How many of you attended a church with a woman serving as pastor before you were 18? Show of hands.
If you grew up in the old LCA or ALC, you wouldn’t have seen a female pastors until after 1970. Even in the theologically diverse realm of “General Protestant” military chapels during the 1990s and early 2000s, while I met the occasional female chaplain, they were far and few between. It wasn’t until I got to college that I joined a ministry with women serving as fully ordained pastors. In fact, when I started seminary in 2010, even though some predecessors of the United Methodist Church began ordaining women in the late 19th century, my class was the first at Candler to be majority-women.
And if we look around the world, we see that women in ministry are the exception, not the rule. Given that half of the world’s Christians are Catholics and that a wide variety of Protestant denominations actively bar women from ordained ministry, the reality is that the majority of Christians have never heard a woman preach in the pulpit.
In other circles of the Church, women are not only kept out of the pulpit but kept off of congregational councils and committees, prohibited from teaching men in Sunday school, confined to “women’s ministries” like wedding planning, and relegated to a “second-class” status. Continue reading “Saint Lydia, Prevail Upon Us”→
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, who has given us a new commandment. Amen.
“Love one another.” Such a simple, straightforward commandment. And yet like all of God’s Law, this one convicts us of our own sinful shortcomings, revealing how rarely we live into the life that our Lord intends for us. It seems odd that the lectionary should place this passage on Maundy Thursday and then, this year, bring it back around so quickly. It’s been, what, a month since we read it last?
But perhaps there’s some wisdom in this: to keep this perfect Law ever before us, a reminder of our need for God’s forgiving grace and a guide of how Christ intends for us to live in response to our redemption. As if to say, “On Maundy Thursday, you were forgiven your sin, given the new commandment, and fed with the Bread of Life. Let’s check back in. How have y’all done living into the gracious new life of Christ?” Continue reading “Revelation, as Told by Saints Peter and Flannery”→