A sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 29, 2022
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
In some places in the church, today, the seventh Sunday of Easter, is known as Ascension Sunday, so called because it is the Sunday following the Feast of the Ascension. Forty days after the Resurrection and ten days before Pentecost, Jesus ascends into heaven. He tells his disciples to wait for the promised Holy Spirit, and to teach and baptize all nations. Jesus promises he will come back at the end of the age, when eternity eclipses time. Our gospel reading today does not come from the Ascension, but from the Last Supper. Even so, the sentiment is the same. Jesus is praying to the Father, asking that the disciples (and us) will be strengthened to continue, even in his physical absence.
Jesus’s prayer for the disciples and for the Church is that we would be one, united in him and with one another. It didn’t take long for us to get off track. For example, in Galatians, one of the earliest books in the New Testament, St. Paul is criticizing rival preachers, those who are carrying a different gospel. Already there are divisions among those who follow Jesus. In the Book of Acts, we see similar divisions as those early followers of Jesus wrestle with how Gentiles should be accepted into the community of faith. We see the same thing in first, second, and third John. In these brief letters, we see a church already fracturing, already falling apart because of internal divisions.
The Church, the Body of Christ, is still fractured–indeed, fracturing at this present moment. How many churches are meeting now across this town? Churches divided by history, by theology, by any number of things? We Christians are quick to divide into tribes, into our own teams. We are quick to make the Church into something else. We make it into our group, made for people who think and smell and look and sing and pray and vote like us, instead of striving to be one, united Body of Christ across our many differences.
The Body of Christ, the Church, is diverse. If you can’t be around Christians who look different or sing different or smell different or think different or vote different than you, I have some bad news about heaven. Christians are different. We are diverse. We have different gifts and different points of emphasis, but we are all called to be united in and through and by Christ. We are called to keep Christ at the center. No matter how different we may be; no matter how much we might disagree; we pray together, we sing together, and we follow Christ together.
Our reading from Revelation takes us to the very end of the book, the very end of the Bible. And there we have this ancient prayer of the church: Maranatha. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. It’s a prayer for Christ’s return, for the second coming and the establishing of the Kingdom of God. But we don’t only mean the Last Day. We pray for Christ to show up at every moment, even now. Come, Lord Jesus, right here and right now. Come among our divisions, among our disagreements. Come when we are tempted to make the Church more about us and our differences than about you and our unity in you. Come, Lord Jesus, and heal our divisions, the way we have fractured ourselves into a million pieces. Come, Lord Jesus, and reconcile us, reconnect us, to your heart of love. Come quickly, Lord Jesus; come with your power, your grace, your peace, your joy, your love, your way, and help us to love and serve you first and best and most of all. Maranatha. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
I wrote this sermon before I left for vacation this past week. I wrote it before Uvalde, Texas. I wrote it before those events that can only be described as demonic: An 18-year old, bullied from day one in school, purchases weapons, easily, with the intent to inflict mass harm on innocents. After shooting his own grandmother, he walks into a classroom of fourth graders. He looks the teacher in the face, says “goodnight,” and shoots her point blank. He turns his attention to the fourth graders in the room, ten and eleven year olds. He repeats this in an adjoining classroom. In the end two teachers dead, nineteen students dead. I wrote this sermon before I heard the first-hand accounts of those students who survived by smearing the blood of their classmates on themselves and playing dead. Before I read accounts of children calling the police begging for help, parents outside begging for help, while the police waited one hour to take action.
And in light of these evil events, I must ask: Do we really want Jesus to come back? For when Christ comes again, he will come to judge the living and the dead. He will judge hearts and nations. We will stand before him and we must give an account of our lives, as individuals and as a nation. Of things done and left undone. And I believe every American will have to stand before him and answer why we let shooting after shooting after shooting happen. Why we have let this issue become so polarized that we cannot even talk about it and compromise is impossible.
Maranatha. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. But we better get our answers ready. For while this event in Texas is so sad, and heart wrenching, and despairing, and evil, and demonic, it is not shocking. Not after Sandy Hook. Not after the whole litany of school shootings. Not after Columbine on April 20, 1999.
In 1999 I was finishing the second grade. My teacher, Mrs. Clyne, prepared us for something new: a Code Red. I know now this was all in response to Columbine, although I didn’t know that then. As a second grader, 8 years old, I was taught to hide. “Code Red, Code Red,” the intercom said. Mrs. Clyne locked the door to the hallway, which had a huge glass window in it. We turned out the lights as if no one was home. We hid in a closet. Since then we have changed our strategies. Second graders are now taught to be defensive, to throw books and barricade doors, to run if they can, to smear blood on themselves and play dead.
This doesn’t happen elsewhere and it doesn’t have to happen here. I do not pretend to have the answers. I think we all need to be humble enough to admit that none of us has all the answers. I am not going to advocate for a solution or a policy. That is not my job from this pulpit. But it is my job to tell us that this is a moral outrage to God. To tell us that while God holds those poor children and teachers in his arms of mercy, he is fuming in anger at us. Because we as a nation have chosen to do nothing. For 23 years. And that’s a sin.
God fumed in anger when Pharaoh threw babies into the Nile; he fumes now. God fumed in anger when Canaanites sacrificed their children in fire to the false god Molech; he fumes now. God fumed in anger as Herod, desperate to find the baby Jesus, slaughtered the children of Bethlehem; he fumes now.
When God fumes, judgment will come. The Scriptures testify that we will not be able to stand against it. For we, all, are guilty of the sin of doing nothing, of hardening our hearts on this issue, of turning away and ignoring the problem because it’s too difficult and divisive politically, all while our children are slaughtered on the altars of false gods. So on the Day of Judgment, it will be better for us if a millstone were tied around our necks and we were thrown into the sea.
Before we pray Maranatha, come quickly, Lord Jesus, perhaps we need to pray, Kyrie Eleison, Lord have mercy. We need to pray for forgiveness, wisdom, courage. And for strength to do something, anything, even just a small something, at last.
Today we have candles at the front of the nave. Candles represent the prayers within us, rising up to God and going out into the chaos of the world. In a moment, I will come down and light a candle. I invite you to come down and light one, as well. Light a candle with me, and pray with me. Pray for the dead and pray for their families. Pray for our nation and pray for ourselves. Pray for our schools and all of our children. Pray for mercy, forgiveness, wisdom, courage, and strength. And ask God for help, for grace to let our light shine in this world that needs the love and healing and reconciling power of God now more than ever.
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