Fourth Sunday in Easter (Year A)

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on May 3, 2020 (Easter 4A)

Like many of you, I’ve always loved the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Especially in times of trouble, there’s something deeply comforting about knowing, at the very core of your being, that Jesus cares for and tends to your very soul. That he protects and revives, watches over and consoles. 

But I’ve always been a bit wary of the idea of the pastor as the shepherd of his or her own flock. I mean, we are all of us together a flock, and clergy may play a unique role in the community, but Jesus is the real shepherd here. The only shepherd here. Not me. Not any pastor. And sometimes the lines get blurred, which can cause great spiritual damage. 

I think my hesitation over this imagery, if I’m honest, goes back to the 1983 film Porky’s II. Now, I never thought I’d reference Porky’s II in a sermon. And I certainly don’t recommend this as an appropriate family bonding quarantine movie. In fact, I don’t recommend it at all. It’s trashy and misogynistic and full of stereotypes. Two thumbs down! But there’s a scene that I can never get out of my head on Good Shepherd Sunday. 

Because when the students of the Angel Beach High drama club decide to stage “An DRcvwEpUQAA3GO_Evening With Shakespeare,” a group of fanatically religious citizens object on the grounds that the works of Shakespeare are both obscene and profane. Reverend Bubba Flavel brings his flock to meet with the beleaguered principle to pressure the school into shutting down the production. And the call and response used by Reverend Bubba whenever he makes a point is, “So sayeth the shepherd” and his followers all reply, “So sayeth the flock!”

And even though this is a cartoonish caricature of conservative religion, this is not a particularly helpful model of ministry. And certainly not what Jesus had in mind when he said, “I am the Good Shepherd.”

Because Reverend Bubba makes this all about his voice, rather than Jesus’ voice. Jesus says, “He calls his own sheep by name…and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” Jesus’ voice is not full of bluster, but invitation. Jesus’ voice is not full of judgment, but forgiveness. Jesus’ voice is not full of division, but love. The voice of Jesus gathers and builds up, rather than scatters and destroys. 

During these times, it’s hard not to think of us as anything but a scattered flock. We have all wandered away — not on purpose — but because of circumstance. Our life right now is not a parable of lost sheep, but of sheep temporarily distanced from one another. 

But this community remains connected. Through the marvels of technology, yes, but primarily through our faith. The voice of Jesus is the connective tissue that binds us together and keeps us together and holds us together. We stay connected by listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd who calls us each by name, wherever we may be. And by hanging on every word of the one who guides us through turbulent times, whatever that looks like for each one of us. 

So it is the voice of the Good Shepherd that keeps us bound to one another; that keeps us safe as we collectively walk through the valley of the shadow of death; that keeps us connected as one flock. But this voice doesn’t just soothe, it also challenges.

I read an article this week in a British church publication with a pretty damning headline: “YouTube sermons will not feed the hungry.” Now, the context was different, as it was written by the Vicar of a small, impoverished, mostly elderly parish in London, many of whose members are unable or unwilling to watch online services. But she wrote, “Staying at home is wonderful — when you have a home, with electricity, and food, and a job, and access to the internet, and are computer literate.” And that streaming worship, while important, assumes “that everybody is in a safe and comfortable home setting, and, therefore, the only need to be met is a spiritual one.”

Now, I’d argue that physical needs are spiritual needs. But one of the great needs to emerge out of this pandemic, here on the South Shore and all over the world, is the issue of food scarcity. People are going hungry. People who have never had to use food pantries before are lining up for groceries. And the voice of the Good Shepherd says, “feed my sheep.” 

And that’s what I am now inviting you to do. I spent time this week working with our Outreach Ministry to turn St. John’s into a community food drop-off center. We have bins outside the door leading to the Memorial Garden where people can drop off groceries. We’ll be publicizing a list of the most needed items and recruiting volunteers to drive food to one of three local pantries we support. This is holy work and I encourage your participation.

Of course, the streaming of online services and the feeding of the hungry cannot and should not be mutually exclusive. When we listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, the one who invites us to both love God and love neighbor, we can’t help but be comforted even while offering comfort to others. That’s what it means to listen to and respond to the voice of the Good Shepherd. 

The article I read ends with the author saying she cannot dream of putting a notice on the church door that says “No food here, but Morning Prayer online.” We can offer both. And with your help, we will offer both. 

This flock abides only because we listen to the voice of the one, true shepherd who calls us each by name, who cares for us, who loves us. Like sheep, our only path to survival is to put our complete trust in the shepherd. When we place our lives in Jesus’ protective custody he will keep us safe. Because authentic relationship with the risen Christ draws us into safety even when life’s challenges arise; even when we walk through that dark valley. 

Although it doesn’t always feel like it these days, we don’t remain locked up in the safety of the sheepfold. We live most of our lives out in the world, amid the dangers, and snares, and temptations that lurk at every turn. But when we listen to the gentle voice of the Good Shepherd, we can walk boldly in sure and certain hope of God’s love for each one of us; the God who calls us each by name and walks alongside us at every step of the journey.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2020


Second Sunday of Easter (Year A)

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 19, 2020 (Easter 2A)

The doors of the house where the disciples met were locked. They bolted the doors and IMG_3373pulled down the shades and turned off all the lights. They hid themselves away because they were terrified, fearful for their own lives and traumatized by the day’s events. 

It’s still Easter Day, by the way. At least according to this morning’s gospel passage that begins, “When it was evening on that day…” And what took place early in the morning on that day, was the resurrection itself. At daybreak, Jesus appeared to the women at the tomb, and charged Mary Magdalene with sharing this remarkable news that he was alive with the other disciples. The male disciples, who had all run away and locked themselves away. 

Now, I think we can all relate to days blurring together and the whole notion of losing track of time. Over the past month, time itself seems to be standing still, and many of the familiar markers of our days and weeks have seemingly evaporated overnight. Some of us — and I’m not naming names for fear of self-incrimination — have even resorted to using those nursing home-style white boards to keep us on track: “Today is Sunday.” So we can probably relate to the disciples and their experience of the longest day ever.

But they had gathered together and locked themselves away. Guilt by association, they assumed. The one they followed, this Jesus, was killed for his blasphemy, his revolutionary ideas, his challenge to the status quo. It figured that those who were his known associates would be next. Despite their denials, there were just too many witnesses. They would surely be rooted out and accused of being his most ardent followers. And so they gathered together and locked the doors on that very long and confusing first Easter Day. 

One typically human response to fear is to hide. It’s the “flight” part of the fight or flight response. To run away, to hide, to seek cover. And you can’t blame them. We would have probably all done the exact same thing. But even after the “unconfirmed” reports that Jesus was alive, the disciples remain hidden. Confused, fearful, doubtful. 

Mary Magdalene comes with life-changing, life-affirming news about the resurrection and the disciples’ response is to remain behind locked doors. She shares the news that would change everything, and the disciples burrow down even deeper. They batten down the hatches. That’s what fear does, after all. It causes us to look inward, to focus on self-interest and self-preservation. This manifests itself in some bizarre ways like the impulse to hoard toilet paper.

But it’s hard not to think about the disciples being locked away without reflecting on our own situation these days. The fear and anxiety that we lock away with us inside our homes. If you live with others, you know that the stress gets to everybody at some point. At our house, we tend to take turns, which is better than the alternative of everyone freaking out at the same time. I think. 

But you can imagine the disciples all in the same room. Huddled together in the days following Jesus’ crucifixion, under their own self-imposed stay-at-home order. Some nervously pacing, some peeking out the windows, some just sitting and staring blankly into space, some arguing about petty things. We all respond to fear in different ways, and the disciples were no different.

And it’s easy to turn inward and ignore the problems of the wider world since we’re all dealing with our own stuff, sometimes just trying to make it through the day. Sometimes just trying to figure out what’s for dinner. But eventually we have to look beyond ourselves. We have to unlock the doors and venture forth. Not literally in this case, or not without a mask, but emotionally and spiritually. To leave the safe confines of our homes and start reaching out to others in meaningful ways. 

As I sat with this passage in my post-Easter haze, I was taken with a small detail I hadn’t really noticed before. Of course, at the beginning we hear that the doors were locked. It’s important to note that fact not just because it highlights the disciples’ fear, but more importantly because it makes Jesus’ sudden appearance that much more miraculous. The doors are locked and yet the resurrected Jesus comes and stands among them. The locked doors emphasize the fact that something dramatic has taken place. 

But a week later, when they’re in the same house and Thomas had finally shown up, we hear that the doors are shut — but not locked. That’s an important detail. The fear is starting to lift. Not entirely, not completely, but there’s movement. In the coming days, Jesus appears to various disciples as they fish and walk and break bread together. Gradually, the locked doors are unlocked. Gradually, the unlocked doors are opened. Gradually, the open doors are walked through. So it is with our hearts, as we let Jesus in and allow him to accompany us on our journey of life. When we let go of the fear that restricts our compassion and generosity and love.

But in order to get to that point, we have to leave room for Jesus to suddenly appear among us. The resurrected Jesus can cut through our fears and isolation and anxiety just as easily as he can show up in a locked room. 

Let Jesus break into the disruption, let Jesus intrude into your life, let Jesus show up as an unexpected guest, let Jesus break the locks of disbelief and enter your heart. These post-resurrection appearances are powerful reminders that Jesus won’t let anything stand in his way to reach us. Not our doubts, not our fears, not locked doors, not even death itself can separate us from the love of God. 

Let Jesus in. And take to heart his very first words to the disciples: “Peace be with you.”

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2020

Easter Vigil 2020

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 11, 2020 (Easter Vigil)

Many of you know that this is by far my favorite service of the year. It brings to bear all 93313236_10221223917818265_3829236319620431872_nthe powerful symbols of the Christian faith: fire and water, Scripture and song, bread and wine (well, usually). The liturgy reflects the unfolding drama of salvation as told through the foundational stories of our faith, as we literally pass-over from death to resurrection, from darkness to light, from Lent to Easter. Plus there’s a compelling element of danger to the whole thing. Not just because the singing of the Exsultet could easily go off the rails, but because priests, playing in the dark, with fire — what could possibly go wrong?

I admit I wasn’t sure how it would feel to do the Easter Vigil this year. And I do miss looking out at a darkened church and seeing your faces illuminated by candlelight; I miss the ringing of bells during the singing of the Gloria; I miss hearing the full choir belting out alleluias; I miss smelling incense and watching it waft up into the rafters; I miss baptizing new Christians into the faith; I miss sharing the first eucharist of Easter; I miss our traditional post-service Champagne and Jelly Bean Reception; I miss being in the same room with all of you.

And yet, in many ways, with everyone worshiping from home, the Vigil feels particularly poignant this year. It feels like we’re channeling the early church and getting back to the basics of our faith. You know, the first followers of Jesus didn’t have beautiful buildings or fancy vestments. There were no pipe organs or vested choirs, no silver chalices or stained glass windows. On Easter Eve, they gathered in their homes or in secret places and prayed until sunrise; baptizing new converts, reading Scripture, remembering Jesus in bread and wine.

And so while we wouldn’t write it up this way, this moment does allow us an opportunity to get to the root of resurrection. The joy of the resurrection may stand in stark relief to global anguish and isolation, but it doesn’t stand apart from it. The resurrected Christ stands right in the midst of this moment. Standing in solidarity with us, weeping with us, grieving with us. The thing is, 

resurrection and grief are not mutually exclusive — they never have been. Even as the disciples realized and then reveled in the resurrection, they still grieved for Jesus. They still grieved for the old way of being with him, even as he was present with them in a new way.

Our celebration tonight serves as a powerful reminder that resurrection isn’t all chocolate bunnies and Peeps and Easter brunch. The road to resurrection is paved with heartache and heartbreak; we don’t erase the memory of Good Friday or forget its pain when we celebrate the resurrection. Indeed, the events of the past week are what heighten and deepen our joy. A celebration tinged with grief doesn’t make Easter any less joyful. But a side of reality with our resurrection feast makes it that much more meaningful. I think this is part of what the late Bishop Barbara Harris meant when she proclaimed that “we are an Easter people living in a Good Friday world.” Resurrection joy abounds even in a world where there is pain and loss.

Now, at one level, none of this being together while being apart thing is anything new. The resurrection has been celebrated secretly in ancient catacombs under the threat of persecution; it has been celebrated on battlefields; it has been celebrated amid plague and pestilence; it has been celebrated in prisons; it has been celebrated alone; it has been celebrated in fear; it has been celebrated whenever and wherever and however Christians have or have not been able to gather. 

The circumstances may be new for us, but Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And so, in the ways that truly matter, this Easter celebration is the same as the other 2,000 Easter celebrations that have preceded it. And I find comfort and solace and strength in this. And I hope you do as well.

Because no matter the circumstances, the power of Christ’s resurrection cannot be contained or constrained or restrained. New life came bursting through that tomb with such force that the world was forever changed. God’s people were forever transformed. That line between life and death was forever wiped away.

And to that we can say Alleluia and Amen.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2020

Seventh Sunday of Easter 2019

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on June 2, 2019 (Easter 7, Year C)

It’s not a bad business model. Certainly a lucrative one. Low overhead, high return on investment. The two business partners in our Acts reading had it all figured out. The unnamed slave girl with the gift for fortune telling was their cash cow. She did all the work and they reaped all the profit. And we hear that she brought her owners “a great deal of money.” 

For whatever reason, one day this woman, whose life was one of physical and spiritual shutterstock-146428322-390x285bondage, attached herself to Paul and Silas as they were preaching and teaching in Philippi. And for a number of days she followed them around crying out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” 

Now, at one level there’s nothing wrong with this. Paul refers to himself on multiple occasions as a slave to God. The Greek word doulos, which is sometimes erroneously translated as “servant,” means “bond-slave.” And Paul uses this word very intentionally to make the point that he does not belong to himself, but to Jesus Christ alone. There were conditions in the ancient world where a slave would be indebted for a specific term and then released from bondage. A bond-slave literally bonded himself to his master, ceding all rights and vowing to serve him even unto death. This would happen for various reasons — often because the master was kind and a certain loyalty developed. The slave didn’t want to serve another master and so, in a public ceremony, he would, of his own volition, offer himself as a bond-slave to his master. The decision was irreversible.

“These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” So being called a “slave of the Most High God” was an integral piece of Paul’s identity. All that he was and all that he did was in service of his master, Jesus. And Paul and Silas are indeed “proclaiming a way of salvation.” That’s the offer and promise of following Jesus Christ. Both sides of this woman’s assertion were accurate and true. And yet we hear that Paul was “very much annoyed” by her actions.  

Now, in one sense, I get it. Having someone yelling the same thing over and over again while you’re trying to work would get pretty old, pretty fast. In what feels more like a spontaneous move of irritation than a pastoral act of healing, Paul exorcises the spirit crying out within her. Which has two immediate effects: it gives him some peace and quiet and it cripples the profitability of her owners’ business. Because apparently her ability to tell fortunes was also swept away in the process of Paul’s action. 

In a way, this piece of the story — this woman’s story — is merely the hook on which the rest of this stirring narrative relies. Following Paul’s irritation and his driving out of the spirit, the two men whose business just collapsed, accuse Paul of stirring things up and introducing strange new customs which will disrupt the natural order of civic life. That’s the public charge that gets Paul and Silas flogged and thrown into prison. But really it’s all about their own self-interest and greed; their anger at these two followers of Jesus who have interrupted their cash flow. The action-packed story continues with prison and chains and earthquakes and the conversion and baptism of the jailer and his entire household.

But I want to pause and linger to reflect on this slave girl. She fades away from the narrative as quickly as she appears. We don’t know her name, her circumstances, or her fate. We hear nothing of how this encounter with Paul and Silas changed her life, or even whether it did. Did her owners cast her off? Or did they simply find another way to exploit her?

In her case, the use of the word “slave” was not being used metaphorically or as a form of spiritual identification. And I find it hard not to think about her situation in light of the human trafficking that exists in our own context. And, make no mistake, she was being trafficked. The lack of dignity in treating fellow human beings as commodities transcends time and history. Nameless, faceless people being bought, sold, and exploited for human pleasure or labor. 

While this is an issue all over the world, there’s a non-profit that operates in India called the Invisible Girl Project. Their mission is to combat the discrimination, killing, and trafficking of girls and women. Because of a massive gender gap, many females end up as child brides or forced into prostitution. I mention this because I think of the woman in this story as an “invisible girl.” She appears briefly and then fades away. She remains invisible and exploited. And while I’d like to think her owners cast her aside when she was no longer financially useful, and she found new life and purpose in a burgeoning community of Jesus followers, there’s absolutely no evidence of this. It’s more probable that her owners found other ways to use her to their advantage. And so, even 2,000 years later, she remains invisible.

These days, such slavery happens in much less overt ways, but it remains a condition into which many of our fellow human beings find themselves. And it’s not just about the famous uptick in human trafficking around major events like the Super Bowl or the Republican and Democratic Conventions. Nor is it mostly an international phenomenon or something that takes place in communities far from our own. Human trafficking takes place right here on the South Shore. This spring, the owners of a day spa in Norwell were charged with human trafficking in connection with a prostitution ring and arraigned right up the street at Hingham District Court.

A couple years ago, a human sex trafficking ring was busted in the Boston area and one of the keys to the entire operation was in Braintree. Last year another one was exposed and again, Braintree played a major role. This isn’t to pick on Braintree, but I started wondering why that town kept popping up. And I discovered that when it comes to human trafficking, Braintree is the perfect location. It’s convenient to highways — think Braintree split — and it’s in close proximity to a major city and other high population density areas. In addition, you need anonymous pick-up and drop-off locations and mall parking lots fit the bill perfectly. 

The point is, this sin of invisibility is happening right in our midst. Which is why it’s so important to shine the light of truth in hard to reach places. And we can’t do that unless we’re even aware that such degradation and abuse is taking place.

Yes, law enforcement is focusing on this issue. The Attorney General’s office is prosecuting those involved in trafficking. There are resources out there for survivors. But where are we in all of this? What can we do? Keep your eyes open. Share the stories of those who are, or who formerly were, invisible. And remember that complicity is often shrouded in the cloak of invisibility. 

Slavery isn’t something relegated to history books. It is alive and well and thriving in our own day. If we identify ourselves as slaves to Christ, we can’t help but do all we can to see those who remain invisible. 

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2019

Sixth Sunday of Easter 2019

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on May 26, 2019 (Easter 6, Year C)

You can picture the scene: Jesus approaches a pool outside of a gate in Jerusalem, a traditional spot for healing. But this was no calming, spa-like Turkish bath. It was a place of desperation. Filled with the poor and marginalized, the pitied and the hopeless. The pool was filthy and smelly, overcrowded with the destitute and infirm, the crippled and lame, the blind and the paralyzed. People were moaning and crying out; some in pain, some who had lost their minds.

In a sense this was a hospital of last resort. Medical care, such as it was, was often rooted in magic or the conjuring up of divine intervention. There was a legend at this particular pool that at certain times and seasons, an angel entered the pool to stir up the waters, and the first person who entered the pool would be cured. You can imagine the subsequent rush of desperation.

It is into this scene that Jesus very intentionally steps upon his arrival in Jerusalem. He doesn’t make a bee line to the Temple, the seat of religious power and authority. He first goes to the great city’s center of weakness and vulnerability.

And as he walks toward the pool, he approaches a man lying on the ground. Someone he knows has been there a long time; someone who has given up; someone who has lost hope. Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be made well?”

And the man never actually answers the question. It’s pretty simple really and the answer seems obvious. If you had strep throat or a broken leg and someone asked, “Do you want to be made well?” you’d likely answer, “Of course I do.” Instead, the man starts explaining why he can’t get into the pool: there’s no one to put me in, people keep pushing ahead of me. He has given up. And it’s understandable. 38 years is a long time, a lifetime really, to be ignored or vilified or pitied or used as a stepping stone. At a certain point you just fade into the background and become invisible to those who pass by; you become part of the landscape of misery.

In the past, the man has certainly tried to take advantage of the pool’s healing properties. But when he sought to enter the water, he tells Jesus, “Someone else steps down ahead of me.” His entire existence has been one of people stepping down ahead of him.

This morning, I want to reflect upon the ways in which we, either intentionally or not, admissions-office-college_600x315elbow others out of the way. The ways in which we step down ahead of others. Because we do this all the time by virtue of our wealth and privilege. And Exhibit A, in my mind, is the recent college admissions scandal. You’ve likely heard about this — it’s been all over the news of late. Celebrities and other wealthy parents using money and influence to buy their kid’s way into the college of their choice.

I have a good friend in town who has a graduating high school senior this year. His son’s going to a great school next fall, a competitive college, a place you’d be proud to share if the topic came up at a cocktail party, an institution that would reflect well upon any parent who mentioned it on Facebook. His son is smart and well-rounded; he’s worked hard and gotten good grades and been involved with all sorts of extracurricular activities at the private school he attends.

But this scandal made my friend rather reflective about the whole process. While he didn’t do anything illegal — his son actually took his own SATs and no money was exchanged with any college coaches — he became very aware of the advantages his son did have. Ones that were available to him because he comes from a family of means. He attended a pricey, highly regarded prep school with top teachers and the best facilities money could buy. There were expensive tutors and SAT prep classes and a devoted guidance counselor who took a vested interest in his future. My friend wasn’t apologizing for any of this; he and his wife did what they felt was best to set their son up for success.

But the unfolding scandal gave him pause, and made him suddenly aware of the built-in advantages in the system for a white, wealthy, child of privilege, even without crossing any legal lines. It took others getting caught crossing that line for him to see that there even was a line. And I appreciate his introspection and increased awareness of the inequalities of the system. People often joke about donating a library to increase their child’s chances of getting into an Ivy League school. And for most of us, that’s not an option. But there are much more subtle ways to tip the scales, to “step down ahead” of others.

You know, I also have friends who weren’t particularly bothered by the whole scandal. One father I know, who has a junior at Hingham High this year, has engaged a high-priced college consultant to help his kid, and their family, navigate the admissions process. There’s help writing the application essay and deciding which sports and activities and travel experiences will catch the eye of the admissions team. If he had the money to donate a library, he probably would. In his view, you use everything in your power to help your child advance. He’s worked hard, he’s earned a lot of money. And he would claim that gaming the system to the best of his ability is his way of showing love.

But what about the children that get elbowed aside in the process? What about those smart kids who don’t start with any of these advantages? Do we just sit back and allow others to step down ahead of them? As Christians, we can’t just ignore this inequality without naming it and addressing it. And the first step is acknowledging it.

Both of my friends are good people. In many ways, we are these people. Of course, we want the very best for our children, but do we pursue that at all costs and at the expense of those without all the built-in advantages that money can buy? It seems that we also have a responsibility to level the playing field. Or at least not to bully our way past the equally deserving.

Rick Singer, the mastermind behind the scandal, often spoke about creating a “side door” to help parents get their kids into elite colleges. The front door was the one for people who got in on their own merit. But the side door was the one that, for a hefty fee and a series of bribes, would guarantee admission, whether or not the applicant was qualified. We can start by shunning the side door. Or helping to nail it shut. But even the front door isn’t as accessible as it’s often portrayed. On top of the built-in advantages, colleges prefer students who can pay the full tuition. Many qualified students of color, studies have shown, don’t even bother applying to the most competitive schools because they know they can’t afford to attend.

The moral and ethical waters here are as murky as that pool outside the gate in Jerusalem. The system, whether it’s the college admissions process or the process of seeking a cure in an ancient pool, favors some and leaves others aside. We may be the ones it favors. And we can either accept this and enjoy all the benefits and ignore the spiritual consequences, or we can work to change the system.

In the end, Jesus tells this man to pick up his mat and walk. He is subverting the system. He is communicating by his actions that the system is full of inequities. And we need to think about ways to do the same. That’s the only possible authentically Christian response.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2019

Fourth Sunday of Easter 2019

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on May 12, 2019 (Easter 4, Year C)

Ah, Psalm 23. Like many of you, I’ve heard it a few times over the years. And I’m not gonna lie: I tend to tune it out. Or if not tune it out, at least hear it without really listening. The 23rd Psalm is to funerals what First Corinthians 13 is to weddings. It’s hard to know what’s better known to non-regular church goers: “The Lord is my Shepherd” or “Love is patient, love is kind.”

But in honor of the Fourth Sunday of Easter, what’s traditionally known as Good good shepherdShepherd Sunday, I tried to hear it anew this past week; I sought to really listen to it and enter into it and engage with it and rediscover it. Psalm 23 is beautiful and poetic, if overused. And for so many among us, hearing that first line, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” evokes strong memories of loved ones. The psalm speaks powerfully to those in the midst of raw grief – to those walking in the valley of the shadow of death. And the imagery of lying down in green pastures and dwelling in the house of the Lord forever is indeed comforting.

Bob Dylan famously said, or sang to be precise, “you’re gonna have to serve somebody. It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” And you can hear that familiar first line of the 23rd Psalm in a similar vein. You’re gonna have a shepherd. It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have a shepherd.

And it’s true, I think. There is a human desire to be shepherded and comforted and taken care of. And there are many potential shepherds out there other than the Lord, all competing for our attention. Our screens offer virtual comfort and relationship. Our politicians promise protection and hope. Our jobs hold out a sense of meaning and purpose. Closer to home, our friends and family members bestow love and companionship. More cynically, advertising executives offer products promising to meet our every need, want, and desire.

But all of these are, in the end, fleeting. At least in contrast to what is offered by the Good Shepherd. At least that’s how I heard this psalm as I sat with it this week — with the word Lord italicized. The Lord is my shepherd. Again, there are other shepherds out there competing for your attention. But the psalmist is stating unequivocally that the Lord is his shepherd. He has perhaps considered other shepherds, sought other ways to fulfill the deep yearning of the human heart. But with the confidence borne of a life fully, if not easily, lived, he is able to state that “the Lord is my shepherd.” And he invites us all to consider whether we will allow the Lord to truly be our shepherd.

And in order to do that, I’m going to ask you to do something very un-Episcopalian like. Don’t worry, this won’t involve hugging anyone. Or raising your hands in the air. I’m going to ask you to open up your Bibles to page…you all brought your Bibles, right? Oh, who am I kidding? Well, open up your Prayer Books to page 476 — that’s the red book — and we’ll take a look at the 23rd Psalm. And we’ll consider exactly what it is that a true shepherd offers. We may as well look at the King James Version, which is the one towards the bottom of the page, because that’s the one that rolls off the tongue; the version that more people than you’d think are convinced Jesus himself used.

So what is it that a true shepherd offers? The second verse gives us the first clue. He makes us lie down in green pastures. In others words, he offers sabbath time. He makes you stop and rest. He knows you’re weary. He doesn’t run you to the point of sheer exhaustion. He compels you to stop your racing around, because even when you yourself can’t see it, the shepherd knows that you need time for rest and renewal. And this is a gift.

And in the same vein, he leads us beside still waters. He bids us to drink deeply and slowly. To be filled up and to be nourished and nurtured and replenished. He knows our reserves have been depleted and that we need to have our energy restored.

And the shepherd restores not just our energy but, as we see in the third verse, our very souls. That transcends physical restoration and gets into the realm of the spiritual. The Good Shepherd restores us body and soul, recognizing that we are broken vessels in need of restorative healing and wholeness.

And then the shepherd leads us. Not aimlessly or in circles but in paths of righteousness. He guides rather than compels; invites rather than insists. But when we listen to his voice, when we tune out the noise and the competing demands that cry out for our attention, these paths of abundance and joy are cleared and made known to us.

Which doesn’t mean that they are always easy. The true and good shepherd knows that we will encounter things in this life which will terrify us and keep us awake at night. And so, in verse four, we hear of that valley of the shadow of death. And we are reminded that the shepherd walks with us through whatever fears and obstacles we endure. The shepherd abides with us and comforts us and stays near at hand.

And then in verse five, the shepherd prepares a table for us. He feeds us. He serves us. And he anoints us. In other words, he blesses us. He pours out such abundant blessings upon us to the point of overflowing. The vessels of our souls can’t contain such blessings and they spill out, running over, streaming down upon us. Until we are left with goodness and mercy and God’s sustaining presence until the very end of time.

So when we claim that the Lord is our shepherd, we are claiming that our shepherd will renew us and refresh us and restore us and replenish us and lead us and comfort us and bless us. That’s a tall order. And you begin to see that the only viable statement, the only one that makes any sense at all is that the Lord is our shepherd and that through him alone we will never be in want.

And so one of the things I personally discovered this week, is that I really need to stop complaining about hearing Psalm 23 all the time. There’s a circular, mantra-like rhythm to it that invites us to begin the psalm anew just as we finish that last line. The first and last lines seem to dance with one another in a way I never noticed before. “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” precisely because “The Lord is my shepherd.” And because “the Lord is my shepherd, I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

And so to end this sermon, let’s say this psalm together. Some of you may know it by heart. Some of you may want to turn back to page 476 of the Prayer Book…

The LORD is my shepherd; *
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; *
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul; *
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his Name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; *
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; *
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2019

Second Sunday of Easter 2019

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 28, 2019 (Easter 2, Year C)

Perhaps you’ve heard of the acronym FOMO, which stands for Fear of Missing Out. It’s fomothe idea, or the worry really, that others are having amazing experiences that you’re missing out on. It’s not entirely new — frankly, I think it’s hardwired into the human condition. Adam and Eve ate of the apple in the Garden of Eden because they were convinced by the serpent they were missing out on wisdom. And it’s basically the modern equivalent of “keeping up with the Joneses.” You know the story — your neighbor gets the latest Tesla sports car — in bright red no less — and suddenly your late model Volkswagen Jetta seems a bit…weak. 

Which brings us to Thomas. Thomas, the much maligned doubter, didn’t just experience the fear of missing out, he did miss out. For some reason, Thomas wasn’t with the other disciples when Jesus appeared to them. Scripture doesn’t tell us where Thomas was exactly. Maybe he had a dentist appointment or a hot date. Who knows? My guess is that he was so consumed with grief that he just couldn’t face being with his closest friends in those early days following the crucifixion. That Jesus’ death was so raw and so painful, that he just needed to be alone for awhile. But whatever the reason, Thomas missed Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance and had to rely on the eyewitness report of the other disciples. 

And even more than the fear of missing out, this must have broken Thomas’ heart; to have missed the risen Messiah; to have been the only one of Jesus’ inner circle not to have been there; to have been self-marginalized by his own absence. And as a result, Thomas is not quite as far along emotionally and spiritually as the rest of his friends. 

And this makes sense. Because as joyful as Easter is, there’s always a bit of emotional whiplash moving so quickly from the agony of the cross on Good Friday to the unfettered joy of the empty tomb on Easter Day. Thomas stands as a bridge for us between the grief of Good Friday and the joy of Easter. 

Karoline Lewis, a preaching professor at a Lutheran seminary in Minnesota, with whom I’m friends on Facebook says that Thomas “helps us to linger, just a little bit, just for a little while; to remember that the grief was real.” 

And I really think she’s on to something here. Because the story of Thomas does allow us to linger a bit longer in the grief, before racing off to the joy. To linger at the foot of the cross before encountering the lilies and egg hunts and chocolate bunnies. A reminder that grief is never linear, but acts more like an emotional spiral. With moments of laughter interspersed with tears; with moments of confusion mingled with clarity. 

On Thursday night, I gathered at the home of longtime parishioner Edie Earle, along with Fr. Robert and Edie’s five children. We sat around her deathbed in the house her children had all grown up in, and for the next couple of hours we prayed and laughed and cried and told stories about this amazing 96-year-old woman. And, truth be told, we also toasted her and drank a little bourbon in her honor. Edie died peacefully the next morning at 6:00 am, surrounded by her children, just as the sun arose.

But I mention this, because, this must have been something of what the disciples experienced — at least in the mix of emotions that accompany death. Because despite that incredibly dramatic moment at the Easter Vigil when all the lights come on and the Easter acclamation is proclaimed, the emotions surrounding the resurrection weren’t like a light switch suddenly being tripped. There was confusion and fear and elation and, yes, grief. Because even when it all sunk in, the relationship with Jesus, their Lord and friend and master, was indelibly and undeniably changed by the resurrection. Things would be different. The journey of faith would change directions. A new path would emerge. And change, as wonderful as it may be, does inevitably lead to grief. We mourn the loss of the way things used to be, even as we joyfully embrace the future.

And I find this sense of lingering in the midst of grief particularly poignant in light of the Easter Day massacre in Sri Lanka. The news that over 350 of our fellow siblings in Christ were murdered while celebrating the resurrection, the very same thing we were doing in safety here in Hingham, was both devastating and heartbreaking. And it couldn’t help but cast a pall over our own celebration. We are one body, one spirit in the risen Christ. And when one part of the body is broken, we are all affected. We are all aggrieved. 

Which brings us to doubt. Doubt is not a dirty word. It’s often treated as such in church circles. At least implicitly. Something no one dares talk about at coffee hour. Maybe in the quiet confines of their priest’s office. Maybe. But it just doesn’t really fit in with the whole happy ethos of sharing the peace. It certainly doesn’t pair well with Eastertide, this 50-day season full of joyful alleluias. 

And yet, year after year Thomas shows up on the very Sunday after Easter, expressing doubts about the resurrection. And this is such an important reminder that authentic faith, a faith truly rooted in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is not about plastered-on smiles, but about the full range of human emotions. Which most certainly includes doubt.

Because doubt, rather than something to be suppressed, plays a vital role in a healthy, vibrant, and living faith. And I think that’s so freeing to realize, because so often in church circles, we’re taught to crush our doubts rather than to embrace them; to deny our doubts rather than acknowledge them. 

Which is precisely why I love Thomas and the prominent role he plays in the midst of our Easter celebration. Because there is something comforting about the fact that even an apostle of Jesus, one of the twelve, had serious doubts about his faith. Words were nice, the testimony of his friends were fine but Thomas wanted proof. He didn’t just fall into line with the others and plaster a smile upon his face. He was true to himself, authentic in his skepticism, not afraid to raise his objections. Thomas speaks for all of us who, even as we belt out Easter hymns and affirm our faith in the ancient creeds, can’t help but say “wait a minute, I have a few questions.” And for that we can give thanks. 

Which brings us to baptism. In a few moments, we will baptize four children. Which, although we discourage flash photography, if any pictures end up on social media will surely cause some FOMO moments for all your friends and family not able to be here. But more importantly, don’t let these children miss out on knowing God. Model for them that, like Thomas, it’s okay to have doubts about your faith. But also model for them that Jesus never has doubts about them. That he is with them in all the moments of grief and in all the moments of joy. That’s the good news of the resurrection; that’s the good news of Thomas showing up seven days later. That’s the good news of our continuing Easter celebration.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2019

Easter Day 2019

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 21, 2019 (Easter Day)

Mon Dieu. My God. Those were the first words that came to my lips as I joined the rest of the world in watching Notre Dame go up in flames earlier this week. I was writing my Good Friday sermon when the news broke, and it did feel like a death of sorts was playing out before our very eyes. 

Yes, the Church transcends physical structures. Yes, Jesus came into the world to start a movement, not to create an institution. But still. This hurt. As human beings, we crave sacred space and holy ground. We seek encounter with the divine through art and architecture. We desire tangible evidence that something greater than ourselves is at work in the world. We strive to place ourselves in the context of history. 

And suddenly these deepest yearnings of the human soul were literally going up in smoke during the holiest week of the Christian year. And that hit us all at a mystical and deeply visceral level.

Two things, in particular, struck me about John’s account of the resurrection in light of the news out of Paris this week. There is a lot of running and there is a lot of weeping. After Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance, she ran to Peter and the beloved disciple. And then these two disciples ran to the tomb — raced really. We hear that the other disciple, John by tradition, outran Peter. And then after all this running, the weeping begins. Mary weeps outside the tomb. Two angels ask her why she’s weeping. Jesus asks her why she’s weeping. And then she receives news of the resurrection, which forever wipes away her tears. Running and weeping.

In Paris, as news broke of the fire at the iconic 13th century cathedral, that in many ways is the heart and soul of the nation, there was also much running and weeping. Firefighters and first responders running to the scene. Parisians running to simply be in the presence of their cathedral to pray and to sing. And then weeping over the uncertainty of the damage. Weeping over what was lost. Weeping over a structure that had, for generations, simply always been there. Running and weeping.

Now, running and weeping are often seen as unseemly acts. Or at least things not done in polite company. It’s one thing to see someone in jogging attire running down Main Street as part of the  Hingham Road Race on the Fourth of July. But it’s something else entirely to see someone in business attire running the same route on the Fifth of July. And it’s one thing to see a grieving soul weeping in the safe confines of a funeral home. But it’s something else entirely to see someone weeping uncontrollably in the middle of a coffee shop. When we see people running or weeping in unexpected places, it makes us nervous. It gives us pause.

And sometimes we treat the church in the same way. Like a place where decorum matters more than faith. Where social norms and rules matter more than relationships. Where running and weeping must be stifled in the name of etiquette. In a word, we treat the church like a museum. And when we do, when we value beauty over beatitude, we miss the point entirely. We miss the point of why Notre Dame matters. We miss the point of why Easter matters. We miss the point of why resurrection matters.

Because resurrection is ultimately about hope, not perfection. Resurrection is about a golden cross shining amid the rubble of a fire ravaged cathedral. About joy and light rising up from darkness and despair. About glory emerging from the the agony of an ignominious death. 1074165936

That’s why we gather today, with one another and with Christians throughout the world. To mark the miracle of life prevailing over death. This isn’t just a story we view from afar, like dispassionate observers gazing at a work of art from behind the safety of a velvet rope. This is our story. Like the women who first encountered the empty tomb, we are witnesses of and to these things.

We are the cross shining amid the burned out rubble, we are the light rising up out of the darkness, we are the resurrection glory emerging from the agony of the cross. 

The church must be a place to run and weep. It must be an oasis for our full selves. In all our awkwardness; in all our brokenness. Otherwise, what’s the point? If it’s simply a place of unvarnished beauty without allowing space for our unvarnished selves, then we’re getting it all wrong. 

Jesus says, “come to me all you who are carrying heavy burdens and I will refresh you.” He’s speaking not in general terms, but specifically to you and me. To each and every one of us. He wants us to run and weep on earth as it is in heaven. That’s the promise of the resurrection. That the barrier between life and death, between this world and the next is ripped away, revealing the very face of God.

May you forever run and weep in the sure and certain knowledge that the risen Christ is running and weeping right alongside you at every step of the journey. May the joy of this Easter Day draw you into ever-deepening relationship with the living God. And may Christ’s victory over death and the grave open up for you the very gates of heaven. Alleluia and amen.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck

Fifth Sunday of Easter 2017

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on May 14, 2017 (Easter 5, Year A)

As a society we have an endless fascination with pirates. Not actual, modern-day machine gun toting pirates — they’re scary — but the romanticized pirates of yore. Blackbeard and Captain Kidd and Long John Silver and Captain Hook. Okay, maybe not Captain Hook — he was kind of a doofus in Peter Pan.

But there’s something freeing about the whole notion of raising the Jolly Roger and 659aef03b6a626bc2eceee2000aede2c.jpgheading out for adventure on the high seas. Children are especially drawn to the idea of a life without rules, where no parent is around to make you brush your teeth or go to sleep at a reasonable hour and anyone who irritates you is simply made to “walk the plank.” Actually, there are days when that last part sounds pretty good…

And we all love the whole lexicon of piratey words and phrases like “shiver me timbers” and “scurvy dog” and “arrgh.” There’s something especially satisfying about saying “arrgh.”

But when it comes to pirates, ultimately it’s all about one thing: the treasure map. That rough drawing on parchment that remains the pirate’s most prized possession. Why? Because it points to the booty! Follow the directions to where “X marks the spot” and all that treasure is yours. The bounty of gold coins and jewels, all buried deep inside that wooden treasure chest.

In a sense, this is how we spend so much of the energy of our lives: seeking treasure. Now, when we get off track we tend to focus on the financial rewards; seeking happiness through material wealth. But I think the deepest yearnings of our hearts are really about finding meaning in this life. Searching for that often elusive sense of contentment. Yearning for authentic relationship with God. Seeking divine treasure. And we so desperately crave a map with a giant, impossible-to-miss “X.” We want a definite location where we can take out our metaphorical shovels and enthusiastically and with great expectations start digging.

This, I think, is at the heart of Thomas’ question to Jesus in this morning’s gospel passage: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Thomas literally wants a map! He wants directions to this place where Jesus is going. This place, he imagines, of deep serenity and profound peace; a place of answers and spiritual certainty. ‘It must be around here somewhere.’

And Jesus does hold out a vision of what this looks like in the afterlife — this passage is part of Jesus’ long Farewell Discourse as he prepares the disciples for his impending death. There’s a reason this is often read at funerals — though we tend to use the more familiar and majestic language of the King James Version. “In my Father’s house are many mansions” — rather than the more pedestrian “dwelling places.” But the concept remains the same — that Jesus goes ahead of us to “prepare a place for us.” Just as John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Jesus is the forerunner of our heavenly future. And this must have been of great comfort to the disciples, as it is to us during times of grief.

So in his blundering way, Thomas stumbles on the very crux of the spiritual life, the question at the heart of it all: “How can we know the way?” In other words, ‘Please, Jesus, just tell us where to go and what to do and how to get to this dwelling place of yours.’ We so desperately crave a map or some easy-to-follow directions. I think this is why so many Christians seek to turn the Bible, our sacred, nuanced, beautiful, heart-wrenching story of humanity’s relationship with God, into a map. Follow these steps, follow these laws, follow these directions, and you will know the way.

But that’s not how it works. Authentic relationship transcends step-by-step instructions. And so you can almost imagine Jesus grabbing Thomas by the lapels and getting in his face and saying, “Hello! Don’t you see? I am the way. And the truth. And the life. Stop searching. Stop looking. You don’t need a map. I am here. You have already arrived. You are home.”

But the stumbling around continues, as is often the case with the disciples, as Philip immediately pipes up and says, “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” Again, not getting it; again wanting a map. And Jesus must be at least slightly exasperated by now — I mean, Son of God or not, this lack of understanding has got to get frustrating after awhile. So you can almost hear him taking a deep breath before plaintively asking, “You’ve been with me all this time and still you don’t get it?” Remember, this interaction is all taking place at the Last Supper so both Thomas and Philip aren’t new here. They’ve been with Jesus from the beginning of his public ministry. They should know the way. At least by now.

And Jesus basically says the same thing to Philip, “Know me and you will know God. Pay attention to what I’ve been saying all along and you will see God.” And this points to so much of why Jesus came into the world in the first place: he came to reveal God. To be the face of God in the world. To incarnate God’s love. To show us the way.

And so this isn’t just a place accessible only off in the future in some distant way. It is open to those who believe in Jesus and follow him as Lord in the here and now. Because this “mansion” or “dwelling place” isn’t some sort of divine housing complex in the sky. It is about being in the presence of God. It is about being held in intimate relationship with our divine parent. One who holds us and nurtures us and forgives us and admonishes us and builds us up and loves us.

Jesus is pointing the disciples and us to a place that transcends death. He is preparing his disciples for the end of his earthly existence but he is also pointing beyond it — to that place he has prepared for each one of us. That’s the promise of the resurrection; that’s the promise of the Christian faith; that’s the promise of new life beyond the visible world. And it is because of this promise that we don’t need a treasure map to unearth spiritual riches. We just need to look toward Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

So we can say “arrgh” to our hearts content. But we don’t need a treasure map because we have Jesus. Jesus is the treasure. Jesus is the way, and the life, and the truth. X marks not the spot but Jesus himself. And we are invited to dwell with Jesus, to abide with Jesus, to follow Jesus.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck

Third Sunday after Easter 2017

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 30, 2017 (Easter 3, Year A)

Twenty-five years ago, I went out to California to work on a congressional race. This was back when I did this for a living so it wasn’t completely on a whim. But my dad had just died and I was looking for a change of scenery so when a campaign manager friend of mine called and asked if I’d come out to run the field operation, I said “why not?” Of course he wanted me there immediately, so I hopped in my Ford Bronco II and drove to California. By myself. In three days.

4.1.2Now this candidate was a pretty well-known and successful divorce lawyer in the East Bay area. It was also the first time he’d ever run for office so we had some educating to do. Like when you go to knock on doors in a rougher part of Alameda County and you’re trying to position yourself as a man of the people, you probably shouldn’t show up driving your sporty new Mercedes.

This wasn’t the only problem with this particular campaign or this particular candidate. When we would organize phone banks to call voters, his wife would invite a bunch of her friends…which was good. But she’d also bring cocktails…which was bad. So it started out fine but by the end of the night, they were basically drunk dialing potential voters. Let’s just say I was not entirely sorry when we lost a close primary and I hopped in the old Bronco and headed back East.

I mention this because when we’d be arguing with this guy about his choice of car — and he had a lot to choose from — he would always refer to his Mercedes as his “battle vehicle.” It was the car he’d take whenever he had to be in court. And that phrase — and more importantly that mentality — has always stuck with me.

So often we approach life as if we need to wear “battle armor” — which is actually what he called the expensive suits he’d wear to court. We want to project an image of strength or of power or of great confidence. We don’t want anyone to detect even a hint of insecurity or weakness. And so we go to great lengths to enter into situations on our own terms, with great bravado. Driving battle vehicles and wearing battle armor.

The problem is that this isn’t any way to go through life. We can only keep up such images for so long because they don’t reflect reality. We are not the images we project and eventually the walls do come a-tumblin’ down. Weakness and brokenness, rather than strength and wholeness, more often reflect the reality of our lives.

Which is one reason I so love the Resurrection story we hear this morning. The seminal moment is when this stranger whom the disciples meet on the Road to Emmaus breaks the bread and they immediately recognize him as the risen Christ. In an instant, all is revealed and the very heart of our faith is opened for all to see. And it’s all about relationship with Jesus. It’s not about keeping up appearances or projecting images; rather it’s about being broken open and being present with the God “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.”

In order to be our most authentic selves, we must allow ourselves to be broken open. And that means putting away our battle vehicles and our power suits and standing naked before God. Recognizing that not only are we unable to control every situation, we shouldn’t even bother to try. Because it doesn’t work. And the only thing we end up battling is our own integrity.

Now I realize a priest standing in a pulpit wearing the ecclesiastical version of body armor doesn’t, at first glance, project the image of vulnerability I’ve been talking about. Bad optics. But if you look beneath the vestments; if you look at the symbols underneath the fancy robes you see that this is precisely what is going on. Because this stole — the defining priestly garment — brings to mind the yoke. The priest is yoked to Christ in a way that demands humble discipleship. And the collar, recalls the dress of a slave. So it’s all there. The symbols of vulnerability and humility and weakness. Clergy — like everyone — would do well to be in better touch with the brokenness of our humanity. We all, like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, can more fully know Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

So for all of us, I see this morning as an invitation to brokenness; a call to authenticity. Allow yourself to be broken open. Allow yourself to embrace your vulnerability. Allow yourself to welcome your weakness. Allow the armor piercing love of Jesus to open your heart and mind and soul to the possibility of new relationship with the divine.

The “genuine mutual love” that Peter writes about must be exactly that: genuine. And the only way for it to be genuine on our side is to be in touch with and know and not be ashamed of our true selves. Like the bread that is broken, we too are broken. Despite our desire to project Christmas card perfection, our children aren’t perfect; our relationships aren’t perfect; our jobs aren’t perfect; we aren’t perfect.

But in the recognition of our brokenness, we are made whole by Jesus. Jesus fills the broken parts of our hearts and souls with the genuine love of God. A God who loves us despite our imperfections and weaknesses and desperate need for healing.

In our liturgy, it’s no surprise that the culmination of our worship, the peak of the eucharistic crescendo, is the moment when the bread is broken at the altar. It is evocative of Jesus’ breaking of the bread at the Last Supper and it recalls this moment of recognition in the bread Jesus broke with the disciples after walking with them along the Road to Emmaus. When we break the bread, something we do “in remembrance of” Jesus, we are made whole. A moment of brokenness becomes the fullest moment of wholeness.

Just at the moment the disciples recognize the risen Lord in the breaking of the bread, he both disappears from their sight and is most fully present with them. This is the paradox of faith. That Christ’s power is made perfect in weakness; that out of grief there is hope; that out of death there is life; that out of brokenness, there is wholeness.

On the cross, Jesus has been broken open for you. On his resurrected throne of glory, we can, then, be broken open for him. Broken open and made whole by his never failing love. That’s the great gift of this Easter season. That through the agony of Good Friday and into the joy of the empty tomb we know for certain that “By his blood he reconciled us.” And that “By his wounds we are healed.”

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2017