Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 6, Year A)

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on June 18, 2017 (Proper 6A)

“The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.” Well, that’s pretty timely considering we’re entering summer at St. John’s. A time when things heat up temperature-wise but cool down program-wise. A time of vacations and family gatherings and warm-weather activities. A time of beaches and boats and backyard barbecues. A time when the harvest may well be plentiful but the parishioners are increasingly few.

But that’s okay! Because the mission of the church carries on with or without air-conditioning; with or without a full church; with or without choir pews bursting at the seams or a bevy of acolytes tripping over themselves. And there’s something comforting in the knowledge that the worshipping community gathers week after week regardless of who is here, who is on vacation, who is recovering from surgery (that would be Buffy), or who is out on paternity leave (that would be Noah).

And anyway, you can’t go full tilt all year long; you can’t keep your foot on the gas for twelve months out of the year. Even God rested after creating the world in six dizzying days. Whether personally or professionally or ecclesiastically, we all need some down time. What the army calls R & R — rest and relaxation. In more theological terms we might call this sabbath time; a designated period to recharge and refresh and renew and relax.

This takes different forms for different people. For some it’s fishing alone on an isolated lake in Maine; for others it’s spending time lingering over coffee with a friend. For some it’s sleeping in on a rainy morning; for others it’s heading out to Fenway to sit in the bleachers and soak in the sunshine. We are all renewed in different ways.

Now what renewal doesn’t mean is taking the summer off from God. With the change in routine, we may well find God in places beyond the four walls of the church — in nature or in family reunions or in a simple change of scenery. And I’m all for that. It’s always good to be reminded that even though we refer to the church as “God’s House,” God isn’t under house arrest. God doesn’t exclusively reside inside a building. God transcends stone walls and stained glass and even Prayer Books and Bibles.

And yet the other side of that is that our need for the love and example of Jesus, our need for one another, our need to praise God in word and deed, doesn’t take a vacation. And anyway, you can’t take time off from God because God never takes time off from you. That’s not how it works. And that is good news.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me. The point of this sermon is not to tell people who are in church in the summer to come to church in the summer. I’m glad you’re here! Truly. But it is a reminder that renewal doesn’t mean ignoring or taking a break from your spiritual life; it means embracing it. Hopefully time spent in prayer and worship is a form of renewal for you. Being here after a tough week should feel like sipping from a refreshing spring on a hot day. It should replenish your spiritual reserves and help you prepare for the challenges and opportunities of the week ahead. If being here only feels like a chore or an obligation, we have some work to do. You and me both.

Yes, the spiritual life should be challenging and at times it should signal a call to action or the overturning of pre-conceived notions or the questioning of privilege and complacency. It should move us out of our comfort zones and bring us into contact with people and ideas that open our hearts and minds.

But church must also be a place of deep refreshment. A place where you can fully be yourself. A place of solace and strength and comfort. A place where you are nurtured and loved and celebrated simply for being who you are as a child of God. A place to rest and recharge and renew from the challenges and complexities of life. And so, as things slow down and we take some time to renew this summer, make sure that spiritual renewal is part of the equation. Go for a hike, but also praise God for the wonder and beauty of creation. Have a fantastic meal with family and friends, but also offer thanks for the many blessings of this life. Renewal and gratitude pair beautifully together.

But back to this “harvest field” Jesus mentions this morning. What is it? “The harvest isAgriculture_in_Volgograd_Oblast_002 plentiful but the laborers are few.” Jesus is obviously speaking metaphorically — he’s not bemoaning the fact that there aren’t enough farmhands to plow his soy bean fields. He’s talking about the many people in his midst who have not heard the Good News of the Gospel. That’s the harvest; that’s the mission field Jesus sent the original 12 disciples out into. To preach and teach and share the peace of Christ that people so desperately needed and still need to hear. Just before Jesus talks to the twelve about the harvest and the laborers we hear that he had just returned from a whirlwind tour of preaching and teaching and healing — in other words he had just been out and about among the people. He had listened to them and spoken with them and interacted with them. And we hear that as he gazed upon the crowds he “had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless.” And that they were like “sheep without a shepherd.”

That’s a tough image of people who were spiritually isolated and lonely and feeling unloved. And it broke Jesus’ heart. It’s also a feeling I think we can very much relate to. At least some of the time. I know I have similar thoughts to Jesus when I’m out in what we might think of as today’s harvest field: the streets, the soccer fields, the cubicles, the coffee shops. Places where people aren’t thinking about spiritual things but are involved with and distracted by everything else. Like life. And children. And jobs. And money. People today, just as they were in Jesus’ time, do indeed seem to be “harassed and helpless.” We are imprisoned by our technology and debt and unhealthy relationships; shackled by our obsession with the 24-hour news cycle and celebrity gossip and dearth of silence; chained to addictions in various forms; held captive by our lack of sabbath time and renewal.

Here’s the thing: the harvest field isn’t just “out there.” The harvest field is also right here at St. John’s. We are the harvest field. We so desperately need to hear Jesus’ message of compassion and hope in the midst of a turbulent world. And we are also the laborers. Because we also need to share this with one another. To be generous in the ways we interact, to look beyond our own self interest, to offer comfort and consolation. Take heart, friends. We are not in this field alone. Yes, there is much work to be done. But we are in this together. And we are sheep who do indeed have a shepherd in Jesus Christ.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2017

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Trinity Sunday

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on June 11, 2017 (Trinity Sunday)

Trinity Sunday is generally known among rectors as “Curate Sunday.” It’s a day that often gives preachers pause since the whole mystery of Trinitarian theology is…complex and mysterious and difficult to explain and fraught with the potential to preach heresy. One wrong step and you enter the realm of Adoptionism or Arianism or Docetism or, God forbid, Modalism. All debunked Trinitarian heresies that arose before the final version of the Nicene Creed was established in 381.

Thus it often gets foisted upon the junior member of the clergy staff. Their seminary imagestraining is a bit fresher, or so the thinking goes, and thus better suited to explaining the doctrinal mysteries of the Trinity. Also, some rectors like to cop out and avoid the whole thing, figuring it’s their ecclesiastical right to throw the curate to the proverbial lions.

However, in light of a certain impending birth, we’ve been massaging the preaching schedule a bit these past weeks. With Melinda’s due date rapidly approaching, we had Noah preach last Sunday and I’m preaching this morning. Just in case.

It is difficult to wrap our heads around the fullness of God, which is what the Trinity expresses. The fullness of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Preachers certainly get themselves into a lot of trouble when attempting to explain the unexplainable. And the whole concept of ‘one plus one plus one equals one’ leads to some pretty fuzzy math and a whole lot of head scratching.

Fortunately, the Trinity isn’t ultimately about archaic formulas or inscrutable theorems; it’s about love. I think that’s what our readings point us towards this morning. And it all starts at the beginning. “In the beginning,’ actually. There are few things that display God’s love in such a tangible way than the very creation of the world. This familiar — and rather long — passage from Genesis that sets the stage for all that is to come, is an act of love.

Let’s face it. It would have been a lot less trouble for God to just forget about creating the world and all those troublesome human beings that go with it. Why not save yourself a whole bunch of heartache and make something much less high maintenance. Like a paper airplane. Or a new hat. Why bother creating an entire world that will be taken for granted and polluted and plundered? Why create a humanity that will turn away from you and reject you and hurt one another over and over again? Where’s the satisfaction in that? Where’s the pride of authorship in the creation of a vexing, frustrating, ungrateful world? Why go to all that trouble? Why bother?

But here’s the thing: God creates the world not for himself, not as an act of divine vanity, but for us. It is a generous act of self-giving, hope-filled devotion. And that in itself is an incredible display of divine love. One we are hardly worthy of but one that gets at the very compassionate, loving, abundant nature of God. Which is precisely what we celebrate on Trinity Sunday.

And as Christians who experience the fullness of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, this relates to that other great display of divine love, of God giving his son Jesus to this broken and sinful world in order to redeem and save the world. That’s love. That’s saying, yes, they’ve made kind of a mess of this, so let me go down there and show them how it’s done. Of course, there will be misunderstanding and rejection and even crucifixion but they will be given a living example of what it means to live a life in perfect harmony with God. And through faith in Jesus Christ they will be forgiven and made new. That’s love.

As we come to the final Sunday of the September-to-June program year and celebrate the last day of our full Sunday School program and the last day with the entire choir — and, yes, for the record, church does continue all summer long — it’s perhaps appropriate that we read the final sentences of Matthew’s gospel and hear of Jesus’s last words to his disciples as he gives them what we know as the Great Commission.

And it’s interesting how it begins: “When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.” This line could well apply to any congregation in the history of worshipping congregations. It is not inauthentic to worship God even as some doubts about God’s very existence persist. It’s called having an authentic faith. And Jesus understood this even as he stood for this final time in-between heaven and earth, between doubt and belief. We may not fully comprehend the fullness of God — and that’s okay. All will be revealed in the fullness of time; perhaps not in this world but surely in the world to come. And Jesus doesn’t simply ignore the seeds of doubt or the possibility of misunderstanding. He leans into them and tells us that despite the tension between worship and doubt our role is to go. To go out into the world and spread this good news of Jesus that drives out fear and imbues those who follow him with a passion for justice. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

The comedian Steven Wright, in his inimitable deadpan style, used to talk about wanting to name his dog, “Stay.” That way he could basically engage in psychological torture every time he called him. “Come here, Stay. Come here, Stay.”

At first glance, that’s what the Christian life can feel like. At the start of Jesus’ ministry, we hear Jesus say to the disciples, “Follow.” And here at the end he says to many of these same disciples, “Go.” To live in the fullness of God is to both follow Jesus and be sent by him. These aren’t contradictory but complementary; both equally critical sides of the faith coin. When we come to church we are here to follow Jesus. We are fed by God’s word and nurtured in the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. But it doesn’t end there. At the end of our time together we are collectively told to go — to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

Follow and Go don’t keep us paralyzed like that poor dog named “Stay” but empowered by the dual call to follow Jesus and to go serve Jesus in the world. The Christian faith lives on this continuum of contemplation and action. We follow Jesus and then we go forth and share the good news of Jesus.

Our faith lives compel us to “follow” and propel us to “go.” And when we do, we return God’s love with love. We become partners with God, co-creators, co-missioners; working with God to change the world.

So the Trinity is not some dusty doctrine but a dynamic driver of devotion. The Trinity is not some static theory but a stunning window into the fullness of God. And that is worthy of our utmost thanks and praise. So, follow. And go. And in so doing you will know everything you could ever possibly need to know about the mysterious and holy and life-giving Trinity that is the fullness of God.

© 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

Easter Day 2017

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 16, 2017 (Easter Day)

You gotta hand it to them. When it came to rubbing out rebellion, the Romans were the gold standard of the ancient world. They did not tolerate dissent and were experts at squashing it the moment it reared its insurgent head.

In the case of this rabble rouser from Nazareth who kept stirring things up with his crazyIMG_3646 notion of justice in the face of imperial power, everything was going according to plan. They certainly made an example out of this Jesus with his very public and brutal execution and his frightened followers had all fled. Chalk up another victory for Pax Romana and rest secure in the knowledge that this whole Jesus thing would now just die down and go away. An aberration, surely, but ultimately just more evidence that when you fought the establishment, you lost. Every single time.

The Romans were so good at this because they meticulously followed certain protocols. In such high profile cases, in addition to crucifixion — which was itself a pretty powerful deterrent to dissent — they were diligent about securing the tomb, which they did in several ways.

First, a large stone was rolled against the entrance. Second, the tomb was sealed. And finally, guards were posted outside. Those are some pretty serious security measures.

But let’s look at this for a moment. First the large stone that was rolled across the entrance — that in itself was a major stumbling block. And it shows just how silly the women were who went to Jesus’ tomb on that first Easter morning. After all the men had fled (sorry, guys, that’s our Easter legacy), Mary Magdalene and the other women went to Jesus’ tomb not expecting a miracle but simply to honor him in death by properly and ritually anointing his body. They figured it was the least they could do for this man who had so transformed their lives.

And they weren’t engaged in any wishful thinking about this. In Mark’s gospel account of the Resurrection, they spend much of the journey wondering among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” A valid question.

But this wasn’t the only problem. We hear that the tomb was “sealed.” This doesn’t refer to some industrial-grade caulk. It was a sign of authentication that the tomb was occupied and the power and authority of Rome stood behind the seal. Anyone found breaking or tampering with the Roman seal would be put to death.

But even that wasn’t all. No, if the large stone and seal weren’t enough, there were also guards stationed at the entrance to the tomb. In fact, there may have been more than a few Roman soldiers. A “Roman Guard” referred to a 16-member unit governed by very strict rules. The guard members could not sit down or lean against anything while they were on duty. If a guard member fell asleep, he was beaten and burned. Needless to say, they were a vigilant bunch.

So to review: dead, giant boulder, sealed, soldiers. No way in, no way out. The end. But there’s a slight problem. Because we’re still here, over 2,000 years later, gathered to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Something rolled away the stone, something broke the seal, something stunned the soldiers. We hear about an earthquake but however things went down, Jesus was not inside the tomb. And suddenly everything changes.

And we start to realize that the stone, the seal, and the soldiers, weren’t breached on that first Easter morning to let Jesus out. Nothing could have stopped that. But it was to let us in. To let us in to the miracle of Christ’s resurrection; to let us in to a vision of humanity where peace, joy, and love abide; to let us in to a life where death is not the end; to let us in to a new worldview that drives out fear and ushers in hope.

And we need that hope now more than ever. Because in a world where chemical weapons are used to destroy innocent children in Syria, we need the hope of Jesus. In a world where faithful Christians in Egypt are slaughtered in their own churches on Palm Sunday, we need the hope of Jesus. In a world where the poorest among us are left to drink contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, we need the hope of Jesus.

You know, so often we act just like the Roman authorities. Trying to control every situation; trying to contain that which can never be contained; giving in to fear at the expense of spiritual freedom. The miracle of this day happens when we let go of our need to control everything in our midst. Try as we might to take every precaution, we inevitably come up short. And that’s okay. Because Jesus always helps us find a way out; Jesus breaks the seal of our captivity and shows us the way to faith, hope, and love. Every single time.

With all their precautions and protocols, the authorities had indeed made an example of Jesus. It just wasn’t the example they had envisioned. Through his glorious resurrection, Jesus became an example not of foolishness or misguided passion, but an example of peace in the face of violence; an example of mercy in the face of injustice; an example of love in the face of hate; an example of life in the face of death; an example of hope in the face of despair.

May you be inspired by the living example of Jesus Christ as you find your way into the empty tomb this Easter. And in so doing be reminded that even in the darkest moments of life, even when the world feels like it’s on the verge of destruction, hope is alive, love conquers fear, and life vanquishes even the power of death. Alleluia and Amen.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck

Maundy Thursday 2017

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 13, 2017 (Maundy Thursday)

If I had to title my sermons, and I’m always so thankful this is not a practice in the Episcopal Church, this one would be called, “God loves us, warts and all. No, literally.” Because when it comes to Maundy Thursday, the focus is so often on our feet. And that’s not necessarily something we’re comfortable with. Yet God does indeed love us warts, callouses, blisters, corns, hang nails, and all.

That’s what Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper reminds us of in a verywashing-feet-web tangible way. Now, it would be easy enough to just leave the act of foot washing in the realm of the theoretical or the spiritual. After all, this story is really about love, not clean feet. But tonight we are actually going to wash one another’s feet. Why? Because Jesus is pretty clear when he says, “just as I have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

I realize this isn’t a natural act. Taking off your shoes in a public place other than the beach or a pool can make us supremely uncomfortable. It breaks all our cultural norms and notions of social decorum. And there’s a vulnerability inherent in submitting to such an intimate act with someone you may hardly even know.

But we’re not alone in this discomfort. The foot washing that took place on the night before Jesus’ crucifixion also violated societal norms and pushed against the disciples’ very notion of propriety. Though for slightly different reasons. It was customary for feet to be washed when entering someone’s home. Wearing sandals and living in a hot, sweaty, sandy climate made this a practical gesture of hospitality. So it wasn’t that the disciples were shy about the act of having their feet washed. Rather, their discomfort stemmed from who was washing their feet. This was something done by a servant, not a master. And in their teacher-student relationship with Jesus, one who had been further identified as their “lord,” they should have been the ones washing Jesus’ feet, not the other way around. And so the gesture was seen as wildly unconventional and even offensive.

There’s a reason Peter so strongly resists when Jesus bends to wash his feet. He’s shocked and perhaps even embarrassed for the one he’s identified as the “anointed one of God.” It’s beneath the dignity of so lofty a figure. Peter cries out, ‘You will never wash my feet!” But Jesus encourages him saying, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” And Peter consents.

This very much reminds me of the encounter with John the Baptist when Jesus shows up at the Jordan River and asks John to baptize him. John basically says, “What are you nuts? You’ve come here to be baptized by me, but you’re the one who should be baptizing me!” But Jesus encourages him saying that it is proper in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” And John consents.

And so from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry we see him overturning conventional wisdom and flipping cultural norms. And in both cases he uses water — the most basic element on the planet, a symbol of purity and new life — to make his broader point.

Jesus often does things that push against our natural inclinations. Love tends to bring us into such places. And for us, that’s what the foot washing represents. Following Jesus is not always comfortable. And this evening we encounter that face-to-face.

In a few moments we will invite you to come forward and have your feet washed and then stay and wash the feet of the next person in line. Some of you will choose to stay safely in your pews, with your laces doubled-knotted. And I understand that. No one is compelled to participate. It personally took me years of attending Maundy Thursday services before I mustered the courage to take off my shoes and join in. I still remember walking down the cold, stone floor at my home parish in Baltimore feeling quite awkward and out of place. But finally doing so unlocked such trust and evoked a letting go of control that served me well throughout a moving Holy Week experience. And I do wish for you the same this evening and throughout the next few days. Even if, or especially if, it takes you way out of your comfort zone.

So, will you do as Jesus commanded and allow your feet to be washed? Will you embody Jesus’ call to love one another as he loved us and wash another’s feet? That’s the invitation of this night.

And while foot washing may be optional, remember that in the Christian faith, love is not optional. Jesus gives us a new commandment to love one another as he himself loved us. A commandment to love, not a suggestion to love. And there’s a difference. The very word “commandment” is so identified with the Law of Moses, the 10 Commandments. How audacious, then, for Jesus to present a new commandment.

But the foot washing, the institution of the eucharist, the entire Last Supper is all about lovingly doing this “in remembrance of me.” It is rooted in love. May this night be an entrance into the ever-unfolding drama of God’s love for you — warts and all.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck

Palm Sunday 2017

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 9, 2017 (Palm Sunday)

Well, that all turned rather abruptly. From Hosanna to Crucify in the blink of an eye. This crowd that had greeted Jesus with such enthusiasm, now calls for his very life.

And while we often skip over the parade of palms that marks Jesus’ triumphal entry into1999_10208680678005109_7187044833214358620_n Jerusalem, it’s worth pausing for just a moment to reflect upon the euphoria of that day. The sheer joy and jubilation of those welcoming Jesus. There were high hopes for this man, hailed as a savior, welcomed as a king. People had heard the stories, they had witnessed his acts, his words of wisdom were well-known.

And the palms spread along his path were symbols of admiration and adulation. There’s something we love about this image because we think, “Finally, they get it. Finally, Jesus is getting his due. Finally, they recognize Jesus for who he is.” We equate large enthusiastic crowds with validation for his message. And that pleases us.

But here’s the problem with this model: Jesus didn’t come into the world to attract admirers. He didn’t seek to build up his base by drawing large crowds. He wasn’t concerned with the optics of success.

No, Jesus didn’t seek admirers but followers. He sought people who would follow him not just when things were going well, but when things didn’t go according to plan; not just when things were joyful and euphoric but when things turned dark and tragic. And they do.

This coming week we must ask ourselves whether we will be admirers of Jesus or followers of Jesus. Holy Week brings us face-to-face with the question of whether we are content to call ourselves people of faith when it’s on our terms or whether we are disciples of Jesus willing to follow him when it’s inconvenient or difficult or painful. Are we fair-weather Christians who love to wave palms around and proclaim “Hosanna” or are we disciples of Jesus who recognize our complicity by crying, “Crucify?”

It’s easy enough to follow Jesus when things are going well. When life is smooth. When the parade is heading down the street and we’re surrounded and buoyed by the support of others. It’s harder when life takes a turn. And there’s a health crisis or a relationship fades or we’re confronted with conflict at work or home. Jesus knew full well about life taking a turn. That’s what this day is all about as we move from Hosanna to Crucify.

Yes, we can and should admire Jesus. But if we stop there, we’re missing the invitation to truly transform our lives. Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th century Danish philosopher, writes about the difference between being an admirer and a follower of Jesus: “A follower strives to be what he admires. An admirer, however, keeps himself personally detached. He fails to see that what is admired involves a claim upon him, and thus he fails to be or strive to be what he admires.”

The Christian life is not an intellectual pursuit. It is about the entirety of our souls. We can’t follow Jesus at a safe, emotionally-detached distance. We can surely admire him that way and that’s a good first step. But Jesus wants all of us, not just part of us. To follow Jesus takes heart and soul and mind and full immersion.

So, the invitation has been extended. How will you respond? That’s the question we live with every single moment of our lives. Will you keep your distance or fully engage with Jesus? Will you be willing to make sacrifices or will you play it safe? The possibility of radical transformation awaits as we prepare to walk the way of the cross. As we prepare to follow Jesus.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2017