Easter VII – May 28, 2017
Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
Standing in Honor
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.
On this glorious Sunday in May, we celebrate the unofficial beginning of summer. More important than warm weather, clear skies and fresh food on the grill, is the profound meaning of this holiday weekend. This is a time to pause and remember the great sacrifices made by men and women who have fought, and died, for a purpose greater than themselves… for the ideals of peace, and freedom and democracy. As we remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, we must remember, too, the families and loved ones who have suffered the grievous wounds of loss, some of whom might well be here today. Our caring, our love and our deepest gratitude overflows this day.
To our sisters and brothers in Manchester, England… we lament the unthinkable violence that has caused the loss of innocent lives and we admire the strength you have shown in the wake of this deep trauma. We send our love and our prayers.
Here at home we have been witness to the heroism of three men in Portland who stood up to hatred in coming to the aid of two Muslim women of color who were being threatened because they seemed foreign, “other”… one wearing a hijab, Muslim. Two of the men… who stood up for the women… lost their lives in an act of modern day martyrdom. They died standing up for deeply held values and principles that honor the worth and dignity of both neighbor and stranger. We honor these dead for their witness as we grieve with their loved ones… and we reaffirm our own commitment to live into our baptismal promises.
As most of you know, this past winter your vestry worked to put together an “Affirmation Statement.” I want to emphasize that “the work” of thoughtful and respectful dialogue, was required to come to a consensus about the wording of a statement that reflected where we, as the leadership of St. Paul’s, would “stand” in the face of any acts of aggression towards our neighbors. This work asked us prayerfully to consider the ground of faith upon which we stand as witnesses and servants of our living Christ. Beyond respecting human dignity, striving for justice and peace, and seeking to serve Christ in every human being… we promised to “honor the peaceful expression of free speech… expressing our differences while respecting the dignity and good intentions of all those across the political spectrum.” The statement concludes: “ In that spirit, we stand together with anyone within our community who may be the target of bullying, shaming, harassing, belittling, or any other hate crime in body or spirit because of their faith, ethnicity, gender, political or sexual orientation or membership in any marginalized or vulnerable group.” Your vestry did some important work on behalf of this congregation, and we have been strengthened in our resolve, through the work and process of our reflection and dialogue with one another.
On this day when we honor those who have given their lives for the greater good… it is for us to plumb the depths of our own commitments… to one another, and to our God who desires us to live in peace and harmony and to stand-up and care for one another… friend and stranger alike. This is a day to strengthen our bonds of fellowship and to ask for God’s assistance in further opening our hearts and our minds to the majesty of love in which, in Christ, we share the gift of life.
On this glorious Sunday in May we celebrate with graduates… who are taking their next steps out into the world. This is a threshold moment in which bittersweet tears are shed… in which joy is mixed with fond farewells and possible jitters about next big steps in life… the next chapter… the journey into an, as yet, unknown future… unknown even if plans are in place and a job is in hand. At this time of year commencement speakers seek to give their sage advice to those who will now need to draw on deposits of learning and character development that have been building up through the years of childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. This is a time when gems of wisdom are imparted concerning using one’s gifts for the greater good… the importance of taking risks… of learning from failure… and of daring to live life to the fullest. Here are some commencement speech gems:
The actor Denzel Washington shared a rather obvious observation:
“You will never see a U-Haul behind a hearse… because you can’t take it with you.”
The English author Neil Gaiman, who is also famous for reading a Cheesecake Factory Menu for charity, said to graduates:
“And now go, make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here”
The author J.K. Rowling’s sage message was well rooted in her own life story of failure:
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”
Or words of encouragement and resilience from the actress Meryl Streep:
“This is your time and it feels normal to you but really there is no normal. There’s only change, and resistance to [change] and then more change.”
What words of wisdom would each of you, each of us… want to impart to the next generation at this moment in time as we draw from the full tapestry of our own life experiences?… the highs, the hurts, the challenges, the gifts of grace…. What might we want to say to our younger selves? … and what would our younger selves want to say to us now? This is a season of reflection, transitions, and new tomorrows.
And so it is In today’s lessons. In his first letter we hear Peter warning about the fiery ordeal that is to test the very young church. Watch out… there will be trials… be steadfast.. you are blessed… the Spirit of God is resting on you. “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time…” Cast your anxiety on Christ. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. There will be suffering. Be steadfast. “Christ will himself restore, support, strengthen and establish you.” To Christ be the power forever and ever. Amen.
In our Gospel lesson from John, Jesus is concluding his final discourse and prayer for the disciples before he leaves the upper room where he has shared a last meal with his friends. After the prayer Jesus will to head out into the garden where he will know a night of prayerful agony that will be a prelude to his arrest. Still with the disciples, Jesus prays: “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
… and jumping forward to the story of Jesus’ ascension into heaven… that comes after a season of resurrection appearances in which Jesus made his risen presence known to the stunned, the grieving, the doubting, and to a crowd of five hundred, and now at the moment of his ascension…
In their final moments with the risen Christ the apostles ask an urgent question: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus does not give them a clear answer. In fact, he tells them that it is not for them to know God’s plan. The work, for the followers of Christ, is to use and share all they have learned and been given. The promise is that the Holy Spirit will come and the instruction is… simply… that they are to witness to the ends of the earth. After Jesus had said this, Jesus was lifted up and out of their sight. For a time, the stunned disciples stood frozen, gazing heavenward. Fortunately, two men broke the trance and said to them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” In other words… return, be of the earth, be bold, be faithful, care for one another. Step into your new future. Your time has come.
And so it is with us in this new moment as we prepare to be strengthened by Christ’s holy meal, and then to go forth from this place, back out into the world, to share God’s Good News as witnesses to the truth of God’s abiding love and dream of peace and abundance for all the world.
Let us pray:
God, stir up in us the remnants of your goodness in us so that together we might proclaim, “Another world is possible – indeed, it is already here in Christ Jesus.”
 Affirmation Statement: We the Vestry of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church of Port Townsend reaffirm that, as Christian people of faith, we are called to respect the dignity of every human being, strive for justice and peace among all people, and seek and serve Christ in all persons. We honor the peaceful expression of free speech expressing our differences while respecting the dignity and good intentions of all those across the political spectrum. In that spirit, we stand together with anyone within our community who may be the target of bullying, shaming, harassing, belittling, or any other hate crime in body or spirit because of their faith, ethnicity, gender, political or sexual orientation or membership in any marginalized or vulnerable group.
Approved by the Vestry of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA – January 17, 2017