Iran Moves American Christian Into Solitary Confinement Over Prayer Protest

Outrageous. Our prayers are desperately needed for this man and his family.

From Fox News.

saeed 4The American pastor jailed in Iran for his faith has been placed in solitary confinement and may now be suffering organ failure, according to family members in Iran who are increasingly alarmed at his deteriorating health.

Saeed Abedini, the 32-year-old Christian and American citizen who is serving an eight-year prison term in Iran, was put in solitary confinement following a “peaceful, silent protest” in an outside courtyard at Iran’s notoriously brutal Evin prison, according to family members. Conditions at the prison prompted Abedini and other prisoners to sign a petition decrying the lack of medical care and the threats and harsh treatment facing family members who come to visit.

The protest angered prison officials who retaliated by placing Abedini and nine others in solitary confinement.

Read it all. Pray and speak out against this kind of stuff.

The New Creation’s Coming. What Are You Doing in the Interim?

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Easter 5C, April 28, 2013, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts: Acts 11.1-18; Psalm 148.1-14; Revelation 21.1-6; John 13.31-35.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

In this morning epistle lesson, John the Evangelist lays out for us one of the most spectacular and breathtaking scenes in the whole Bible—the wedding of the new heavens and earth. It is the culmination of God’s promised rescue plan for his good but fallen world and its creatures, a story that makes up the entire biblical narrative from Genesis 3 onward. In other words, the scene in Revelation 21.1-6 is about the promised new creation that was partially launched at Jesus’ resurrection and it is the only real antidote to fear, doubt, and despair. Try as we do to find the antidote to our doubts and fears in money, sex, power, security, and booze (or whatever else happens to be your favorite elixir), none of these will suffice in the end because none of them have the power to give life to the dead or call into existence things that are not. But the hope and promise of new creation is the real antidote to our fears and doubts precisely because it reminds us in powerful and poignant ways of God’s great love for his creation and creatures—a love that was poured out for us on Calvary—and God’s intention to rescue ultimately his people from our slavery to evil, sin, and death. And we know God does have the power to give life to the dead and to call into existence things that are not (Romans 4.17) because he spoke his creation into existence and raised Jesus from the dead.

New creation and all that accompanies it is why I have encouraged you to celebrate the fifty days of Easter wildly (how are you doing with that, BTW?) and it is worth our careful examination. But we must also remind ourselves that the consummation of God’s new creation is in the future and none of us knows when the Lord will return in great power and glory to finish the work he started in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. So what do we do in the meantime? This question is also worth our careful examination this morning because if the gospel is to make any real difference in our lives, it must also address our current situation, not just our hope and future, important as that is. But before we look at our present situation, I want us to look carefully at our future.

As we have seen in the resurrection narratives in the gospels, when God raised Jesus from the dead, he raised more than Jesus’ spirit or soul. God also raised Jesus’ body. And if at this point your eyes are rolling up in the back of your head and you are muttering to yourself how brilliantly I state the obvious, it is only because I am persuaded that the mainline churches have for years ignored the obvious or denied it altogether because bodily resurrection is just so hard for us to wrap our minds around. We have no other frame of reference except for Jesus. But God did raise Jesus’ body from the dead and the gospel writers and Paul are very clear about this. It is as if Jesus, after bearing the weight of our sin and the world’s evil himself on the cross, went through death and emerged on the other side, but with a transformed body that used the material of his mortal body as its basis but which was also something quite new. It could apparently function equally well in heaven (God’s space) and on earth (human space).

We see this illustrated in the fact that the gospel writers, especially Luke and John, tell us that after he was raised, Jesus ate and drank with his disciples and let them handle his resurrected body. But the gospel writers also tell us that Jesus could mask his appearance from his followers so that they didn’t recognize him immediately and that he could appear suddenly behind locked doors. All of this testifies quite powerfully to the fact that Jesus’ disciples were seeing no ghost. They were seeing how their future bodies would be patterned and it is absolutely essential for us to understand this if we are to ever understand how and why Jesus’ resurrection was a preview of God’s promised new creation that we read about in our epistle lesson this morning. Paul takes us to school about the nature of our future resurrection bodies in 1 Corinthians 15.35-57 and I encourage you this week to read and reflect on those verses.

Why? Because as John reminds us, when the new creation comes in full, the heavens and earth will not be destroyed but recreated. We notice first that the new Jerusalem (NT code for God’s dwelling place) will come down to earth, we won’t be taken up to heaven like some of the Rapture folks would have us believe. In other words, when God consummates his new creation, God’s space and human space (heaven and earth) will be merged into one and the clause in our Lord’s Prayer that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven will be fully answered. This means God’s people will get to live directly in God’s presence and because of this there can be no evil because God is implacably opposed to evil of any kind. That is where our resurrection bodies come into play because as Paul tells us, when our mortal bodies die we will finally be free of sin (cf. Romans 6.6-7; 2 Corinthians 2.11-13) and this also helps us understand why Paul tells us that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15.50). Whatever our resurrection bodies look like, we know they will be animated by God’s Spirit who gives life and our bodies will be equipped to live in the new heavens and earth.

Not only that, because our transformation will be so complete, all the hurts and wrongs and sorrows and brokenness we have to endure presently will somehow be transformed and healed so that they will never again bedevil us. We will be reunited with our loved ones who have died in Christ, never again to be separated from them. This is what John means when he tells us that God will wipe every tear from our eyes and death will be no more. And of course we earn none of this glorious promise. It is God’s gift given to us freely and graciously in and through the Lamb, Jesus himself. Resurrection and new creation are therefore not theoretical concepts. Instead, resurrection is a person and Jesus is his name (cf. John 11.25-26). We are offered these gifts because of God’s great love for us and his desire to rescue us from all that bedevils and dehumanizes us, thanks be to God! It is quite a vision and a hope!

But the new creation is our future. What about us and our lives with all of our problems right now? How does the promise of new creation speak to us right now? The answer is found, in part, in our gospel and NT lessons. Jesus tells his fearful disciples (and us) that in his death and resurrection, God will actually glorify him and as we have just seen, that’s good news for all his disciples. In the interim, Jesus commands them (and us) to love each other as he has loved them. The command to love was not new to Jesus. What was new is the fact that Jesus tells us that we must love each other as he has loved us. And what does that look like? It is a love that looks like the cross, a radical, self-giving love for others that has their best interest at heart. It is a love that is manifested in obedience to Jesus and his commands as seen in our NT lesson. Peter, being the good Jew he was, risked the scorn of his Jewish brothers and sisters in Jesus when he sat down and ate with Gentile Christians, something that was quite scandalous to any self-respecting Jew of Peter’s day. Peter did not do this to make a statement or to be “cutting edge.” Peter did it because his Lord commanded him to and Peter finally got it right. If we are not willing to be radical, cross-bearing lovers to the world, to love the least and the lost, the poor and the destitute, and especially the most unlovable among us (and you know who you are), we will never help build God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven nor will we be equipped to live in the new creation. As John reminds us in Revelation, when Jesus tells us he is making all thing new, he is implying there is going to be new work that needs to be done and without love, that work will be impossible because without love we cannot know God. And if we do not know God, how can we ever live directly in God’s presence? I am not talking here about following a bunch of rules to get our tickets punched into the new creation. I am talking about knowing God the way we know our loved ones, and that can only happen if we become cross-bearing lovers of one another in the manner Jesus commanded us and loved us.

Of course, we cannot be cross-bearing lovers on our own. We are too selfish and self-centered for that to happen. But God being the gracious Father and generous giver that he is, promises to equip us to follow his command to us to love one another as Jesus loves us, and we find out how he does that in today’s NT lesson as well. God gives us his Spirit to heal, transform, and guide us so that we gradually become more and more like Jesus in our ability to love God and each other. God promises us a glorious future in his new creation and in the interim, he lives with us and equips us to do the work he calls us to do and to be the people he calls us to be. That is why we need not fear. Do you believe this?

So what do we do with all this so that it really will make a difference for us this week in particular and our lives in general? First, if we are going to be the radical, cross-bearing lovers that Jesus commands us to be, we had better do the things that open ourselves up to the Spirit’s power so that he can do his work in us and transform us to become like Jesus. As baptized Christians we are part of God’s family in Jesus and that means we need to know our family’s story and be willing to talk to our Father regularly. Think about it. Who among us, if we care at all about our family name and history, would ignore the head of our family and other family members or refuse to listen to family stories so that we can have our identities shaped by them? It is a ludicrous idea! Likewise with our membership in God’s family. Simply put, without immersing ourselves in Word and prayer daily, we cheapen our identity as Jesus’ people and rob ourselves of the power to fight the enemy, and the enemy will pick us off. And if we don’t know what our future and hope is, how can that possibly sustain us now, let alone help motivate us to be cross-bearing lovers?

Likewise, we need to worship regularly and come to the Lord’s Table to feed on his body and blood or the same thing will happen–the enemy will pick us off. We must worship regularly because we are created to worship the one true and living God, not the gods of our own creation. And when we come to table regularly, we get a foretaste of the new creation by eating and drinking at Jesus’ future Table right here and now. There is no more tangible way to bring Jesus into our whole being—body, mind, and soul—than to feed on him literally each week.

So this week as you go about your business and are buffeted by the inevitable distractions and bad news that are part and parcel of living in a fallen world, do this. I have already encouraged you to read Paul’s writings from 1 Corinthians 15 about our future resurrection body. What I want you to do in addition is to commit 1 Corinthians 15.58 to memory because if you take Jesus’ command to love others as he loves you, and if you are like me, you will find this to be a great challenge and you will be tempted to lose heart. When you see that happening, recall 1 Corinthians 15.58 to remind yourself that your work in the Lord is not in vain, a work that must be driven by the love and power of Jesus in the Spirit. Then go and read our epistle lesson this morning to remind yourself of your future so that you will know that sin, evil, and death do not have the final say, that because Jesus has loved and claimed you from all eternity, you have a real future and a hope. Let that encourage and sustain you.

There’s more, but if you can do this regularly this week so that it starts to become a holy habit, you will have made great headway. And if you do these things, next Sunday I’d like to hear about how it went for you this week. Consider giving a quick report to us as to whether you were able to tap into a power that is not your own so that the world really can see you are one of Jesus’ people and not its own. There’s good and bad news in that because not everybody wants you to be a Christian or to bear Jesus’ light to them. But whatever happens in that regard, remember Whose you are and what you are working for because it will surely remind you in the power of the Spirit that you have Good News, now and for all eternity.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Why Christian Hope? Further Reflections on the Boston Bombings

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. (Revelation 21.1-6)

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15.58)

Yesterday I posted some reflections on the Boston bombings. Today an old friend called and told me I had missed the bigger picture, that while I said we Christians are called to be Jesus’ light and beacons of hope in his dark and fallen world, I hadn’t explicitly said why we should do and be this. What is the basis of our hope? What was the basis for what I had said?

And you know what? My friend is absolutely right (much as I hate to admit it). There were a lot of assumptions on my part as well as a lot of questions we all have in the wake of the Boston bombings and I will attempt to address some of them briefly here.

The most obvious question on our minds is why does God allow evil like this to operate in his world? The short answer is that nobody knows for sure (and beware of those who claim otherwise). Scripture is remarkably reticent in explaining why a good and gracious God allows evil to exist as it currently does. Genesis 3.1-24 tells us that when humans sinned, it opened the door for evil to operate freely in God’s world and much of what we experience is the result of God’s curse on that sin and the evil it unleashed. Simply put, we live in a fallen world that was created good but which has become ruined to a large degree by sin and the evil that was allowed to enter as a result. Having said this, we are still reminded that Scripture does not tell us why God allows evil to operate.

But Scripture does tell us what God is doing about the problem of evil, sin, and death. God called a people Israel through Abraham to be his agents of healing and redemption to his hurting and broken world. This is what the story of the OT is about and it explains the often stormy relationship between God and his called-out (that’s what holy means) people because Israel was as much a part of the problem as it was the solution. It is important for us to remember that God is eternal and despite his call to Israel and its subsequent failure to be his holy people who would bring healing to his world, none of this caught God by surprise. There is no Plan B in God’s plan to rescue humans from evil, sin, and death. God is in charge and God knows what he is doing.

That is why God entered our history as the man Jesus and on the cross defeated evil (cf. Colossians 2.13-15, which Paul wrote from prison, no less). But if God defeated evil and the powers and principalities on the cross, why is evil still in our world? Again, our answer must be that we do not know. Instead, what we do know is that God raised Jesus from the dead and in doing so, ushered in his promised new creation that will come in full when Jesus returns and which we read about in the passage from Revelation above. So we are living in the period of time in which God has acted decisively to defeat evil and the time when his victory will be fully consummated when Jesus reappears to finish God’s plan to heal and rescue his creation and creatures from evil, sin, and death.

As we read the gracious words above from Revelation, we are reminded that when the new creation comes (and notice that the New Jerusalem comes down to earth, we don’t go up to heaven), evil and evildoers will be banished forever and God will wipe away all our tears, implying that our hurts will be fully healed so that we won’t feel the need to ask all the questions that currently vex us about evil and how God operates in his world to respond to it. Our mortal bodies will be raised from the dead and will be equipped to live in the new creation. Whatever that looks like, because God is good beyond our comprehension, we can be sure that the new creation will likewise be good beyond our ability to comprehend it now. You can read about our promised resurrection bodies in 1 Corinthians 15.35-57.

And here I must emphasize that the hope of new creation, God’s rescue plan to deal with the problem of evil, is more than wishful thinking. It is based on the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the NT’s consistent promise that when God consummates his victory over evil, sin, and death that was won by Jesus’ death and resurrection, we will be with our Lord and be just like him in his risen glory.

Not only that, but in a few weeks we will be celebrating Jesus’ ascension into heaven (God’s space that is currently invisible to our human eyes but which is not very far from us, much like an adjoining room that is veiled by a curtain) where he sits at God’s right hand. This is all NT code that reminds us Jesus is Lord, not the powers and principalities and the evil they unleash. If Jesus is Lord, evil’s day cannot and will not last forever.

All this is why we Christians should have real hope, even in the face of unspeakable evil that was unleashed on us yesterday in Boston (and elsewhere in this world). But while our hope is based on historical knowledge, it also requires faith on our part, an informed faith, that says to evil and evildoers, “You may win some of the battles now but we worship a God who raised Jesus from the dead (and will raise us as well) and who calls into existence things that are not. Death is vanquished, and Jesus is Lord. That is why you must lose the war you wage now and your destruction is assured.”

That is also why our response as Christians must be ones of prayer, fasting, and compassionate outreach to those who are hurting in the midst of evil. We don’t have the answer as to why God allows evil to operate in his world, but we know the mind, character, and power of God (cf. Ephesians 1.15-23) and we see how God has responded to defeat evil on the cross. We can therefore imitate God’s love for us and his world by embodying Jesus’ love and compassion and offering it to his broken and hurting world and its people. All this will engender hope because this is how God operates primarily in his world.

God didn’t send in the tanks to defeat evil nor did God use shock and awe. God sent his own son, who was the very embodiment of God himself, to suffer and die on a cross, to bear the entire weight of the world’s sin and evil himself so as to defeat evil decisively. And God raised Jesus from the dead to demonstrate to the world that the cross is no symbol of defeat and weakness. It is a symbol of God’s love and power (cf. 1 Corinthians 1.18-30) and it is a powerful reminder that God is not indifferent to evil and suffering nor has God checked out on us. This is the basis for Christian hope and why Christians must always be people of hope.

For those who demand answers, none of this will likely be satisfactory. But we must meet God on his terms, not ours. The fact is, we are simply not capable of plumbing the depths of God’s knowledge, wisdom, and plans and I suspect that God doesn’t explain to us why he currently allows evil to operate in his world because we would be incapable of understanding God’s answer or reasoning behind it. This will surely offend some but it is not unlike why parents don’t explain why they operate the way they do to their 1 year old baby. The latter simply cannot understand adult reasoning. Part of our faithful response to the enigma of evil must therefore be humility, but an informed humility.

But if we focus on the why questions and ignore what God has revealed to us about what he has done and is doing about the problem of evil, we will lose hope and surely be defeated by evil. That is why we must keep in mind the prize that awaits us in the new creation. God will not be mocked and has acted decisively to defeat evil, sin, and death. If we believe this, really believe this, we will have hope and act accordingly by embodying Jesus’ love and compassion to his broken world and its people, thereby becoming his light and resurrection people to the world.

As Paul reminds us in the passage above from 1 Corinthians 15.58, because we are resurrection people, we know our labor and hope in the Lord’s name is not in vain because Jesus is risen and evil and death have been conquered, which as we have seen requires a living faith on our part. But because we also have God’s promised Spirit who lives in and through us, we have confidence that we can be imitators of Jesus, albeit imperfectly, and therefore be his light to the world, bringing hope, healing, and Good News to others, even in the midst of murderous evil.

Jesus is risen. Evil and death are conquered. This is the challenge of the Christian faith in response to the evil that wants to destroy us. Is this your faith?

Bishop Roger Ames: A Pastoral Response to Today’s Bombings

Bishop Ames has written an excellent pastoral response to today’s bombings in Boston. I wholeheartedly agree with what he says and I encourage you to read and reflect on it because he goes to the source of this evil–Satan himself, the Father of Lies, who hates us and wants to rob us of our hope that is in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Here is the bishop’s response:

My Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Christ is Risen! Alleluia! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!

We find ourselves in the midst of of our 50 day celebration of the great and glorious Easter season. The reality of resurrection permeates us all with hope and new life. In the midst of this joyous season, we were struck today with the tragic news of the bombings in Boston. It is hard to wrap our minds around such senseless violence against innocent people. Our thougths and prayers go out to those who have died, the injured, and their famiiles. I ask that each parish include the victims of these bombings in the Prayers of the People this Sunday during the celebrations of the Holy Eucharist.

Whenever violence like this happens, it affects not only Boston, but all of as a nation. The Enemy wants us to be afaid and to take our sight off the risen Lord and His plan for us as individuals and communities.

Remember the words of St. Paul in Romans 8: 31-39:

“Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, suffering, and hard times, or hunger and nakedness, or danger and death?  For you we face death all day long. We are like sheep on their way to be butchered. In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us.  I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future,  and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

Let us pray:

Loving God,

Welcome into your arms the victims of violence and terrorism. Comfort their families and all who grieve for them. Help us in our fear and uncertainty, And bless us with the knowledge that we are secure in your love. Strengthen all those who work for peace, And may the peace the world cannot give reign in our hearts. Amen.

Peace and All Good,

I Remain,

Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes

On a personal level, as Christians we are also called to forgive our enemies and pray for them, and make no mistake: whoever perpetrated this terrible act is an enemy. If you are like me, however, I am having a very difficult time praying for the perpetrator(s) at this time because this act is sheer evil and it is too fresh. Our righteous outrage is wholly justified.

So I take my cue from our Canon to the Ordinary, Fr. John Jorden, who once presciently reminded me that on the cross Jesus did not say, “I forgive you who crucified me.” Rather as they were nailing him to the tree Jesus simply said, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23.32-34). If you cannot bring yourself to pray for the perpetrator(s) at this time, then simply cry out the prayer that Jesus prayed on the cross.

Of course we need to pray to God that his justice will be done. But we must also let God sort out how God’s justice is delivered and by whom. Especially at this time we must remember that we are called to be people of hope and beacons of new life and new creation. Praying for the enemy is a powerful way to be Jesus’ light to his dark and broken world, distasteful as that might personally be to us. Despite this, let us bring glory to God by praying for the evildoer(s), difficult as it is in the wake of this terrible tragedy.

Of course, we must also pray for the victims and their families. But prayer isn’t an either/or proposition. It is our heartfelt cry, a cry issued forth in faith, to the God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that are not (Romans 4.17). Let us not forget this truth, especially in this dark hour. It is what helps us persevere.

Carolyn Arends: The Trouble with Cussing Christians

From Christianity Today online.

Contempt is a mixture of anger and disgust, expressed from a position of superiority. It denigrates, devalues, and dismisses. It’s not hard to understand why even subtle levels of contempt are damaging—not only in marriages but in all human interaction.

If profane language has a privileged place in the lexicon of contempt, then Christians have a unique mandate to avoid profanity. It’s not that abstaining from pejorative language outfits us with some holier-than-thou halo. It’s that we are called to live with a servant’s heart, affirming the dignity of every human and the sacredness of existence.

Read it all. What do you think?

Agnieszka Tennant: Ragamuffin

Sadly, noted Christian author and former RC priest, Brennan Manning died last week. Here is an interesting look at him and his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel. If you have never read this book and are at all interested in your relationship with God in Jesus, this is a must read for you.

From Christianity Today online.

The first time the late singer-songwriter Rich Mullins heard former Franciscan priest Brennan Manning on tape as he drove through the edge of the Flint Hills in Kansas, his eyes filled with tears. He steered the truck to the side of the road. There, as he later wrote, the message “broke the power of mere ‘moralistic religiosity’ in my life, and revived a deeper acceptance that had long ago withered in me.”

Dallas Willard, who penned The Divine Conspiracy and Renovation of the Heart, once wrote that Manning’s writing “throws firebrands into your soul.”

Singer and writer Michael Card calls Manning when he’s “in a bad place” and has named his oldest son after him. The priest’s book Lion and Lamb: The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus “healed my image of God,” Card told Christianity Today.

Psychotherapist and spiritual director Larry Crabb turns to Manning for advice.

Eugene Peterson, who wrote The Message, describes Manning’s Reflections for Ragamuffins as a “zestful and accurate portrayal that tells us unmistakably that the gospel is good, dazzlingly good.”

Members of U2 read Manning’s books.

Singer Michael W. Smith “can’t even remember” how many copies of The Ragamuffin Gospel he has given away. Author Philip Yancey considers Manning a good friend.

What is it that the shapers of evangelical consciousness find so enchanting about the 70-year-old Catholic who confesses in his writings to “boasting, the inflating of the truth, the pretense of being an intellectual, the impatience with people, and all the times I drank to excess”?

Check out the whole article and see what you think.

Fr. Philip Sang: Recognizing the Risen Lord in Our Day to Day Living

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Easter 3C, April 14, 2013, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts: Acts 9.1-20; Psalm 30.1-12; Revelation 5.11-15; John 21.1-19.

In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Most of us are very much like the first disciples of Jesus, which is to say that not only do we share their virtues, we also share their limitations. Most of us are like them in an area that for professed Christians, one would think we ought not to be in, we like them, have difficulty in recognizing the risen Lord.

It seems that we – like Peter and James and all the rest are all too often caught flat footed by the presence of Christ in our midst, we have a hard time catching on to the fact that he is among us, and then once we do get it figured out, we like they, have a hard time convincing our brothers and sisters in the faith that he is really here with us, that he has appeared and spoken to us.

Think of some of the resurrection appearances for a minute. Think about how the followers of Jesus failed to recognize him for the longest time and about how when they did finally grasped, how difficult it was for them to get others to believe that they had met him and at long last recognized him.

For example, the disciples refused to believe Mary Magdalene when she told them that Jesus had appeared to her in the garden outside the tomb he was buried in, in fact she herself for a period of time thought she had only met the gardener;

Then again there was the two disciples who took the road to Emmaeus and during that long walk from Jerusalem spent the better part of the day talking with Jesus without recognizing him, by the way it wasn’t till the supper hour, when he blessed and broke the bread, that they finally realized who they were with.

And then of course there is the story from today’s gospel reading about how, after Jesus had already been with his disciples on two separate occasions in the upper room, they end up failing to recognize him, at least right away, when they are fishing on the Sea of Tiberius and he comes to the shore and calls at them to let their nets down on the other side of the boat.

Why is it that the disciples do not seem to recognize Jesus right away? And why is it that they refuse to believe other people when they claim to have met the risen Christ? I don’t think it is good enough to say that the disciples were thick headed, although the evidence might tempt us to say so, nor do I suggest that disciples were dumb because, as I suggested at the beginning, we are like them.

I think that the answer lies elsewhere. I think that the reason that the disciples don’t recognize Jesus in their midst and the reason that we ourselves don’t recognize Jesus in our lives is that we don’t expect to see him, or  if we do expect to see him, we expect to see him only in certain kinds of places, and not in others.

I have met many people who feel that God is to be found and that Christ is to be found, only in special places; in places like this where there are people worshiping or prayer mountains, still quiet  places. As an individual where do you find the risen Christ? Where do you sense that God is? Where do you go to hear his voice speaking inside you and to feel his presence comforting you and giving you renewed strength for the mission that he calls you to?

We all need special places to go, places of quiet and of peace, where we can meditate and pray and think about what it is that God is asking of us, places where we find, without too much difficulty, our God present with us. We need this – but if we settle only for this, or think that we can only meet God in these places, we will end up missing the presence of Christ in all those other places where he is.

And that is sad – it is sad – because if we miss Christ in the ordinary  places of our lives then we also miss all that he can teach us there and all that he can do in us and through us there. Where do you find God?  Where do you encounter Christ? Let’s think of where Jesus was found after the resurrection,

  • He was found in a cemetery garden
  • He was found in a room that was locked and shuttered up a room, in which a group of men and women hid in fear for their lives…
  • He was discovered on a dusty road outside the city
  • And by the seashore cooking and serving a meal of bread and fish.

Some of these locations were special places we might think, but it is really only our thinking that makes them so, or rather  it is the presence of Christ there in those places that makes them special.

Consider too where Jesus was to be found before the resurrection. At a wedding, out in a fishing boat , in the village market place, at the temple teaching, at a well  talking with a Samaritan woman , and in many other places and with many types of people. Just to mention a few.

Jesus went everywhere and avoided no one.  Because of this fact some people said, before he was crucified that he could not be the Messiah, he could not be the Holy One of God because he was to be found in places where holy people would not go.

They missed recognizing Jesus and they missed the salvation that he offered them because they did not expect the Savior to be found in any places other than the special places they had identified in their own minds as the right kind of places.

How strange it would be if we, who now believe in him as the risen Lord,  end up missing his presence because we too think that he is only to be found in special places – in places like church, or our “favorite spots”.

God is everywhere, and our risen Lord is everywhere, his spirit is all around us, and if we pay special attention, we can see him and talk with him and serve him and be served by him  in all those places. The ordinary becomes sacred, it becomes sacramental when we are willing and able to see God dwelling in it when we are willing and able to allow God to transform it.

When you think about it for a moment, that is what a church building is all about, to those without faith it is nothing but bricks and a building, built in a strange way, an ordinary building.

But for us here today this ordinary building is a sacred place, a sacramental place, not only do we meet and serve God here, but in it, as well, God meets us and serves us, making us stronger and more at peace than the world that is around us. The ordinary becomes sacred because we meet Christ in it.

The disciples you know were only slow in recognizing Jesus.  Ultimately they identified him in and through all the things he did in their presence. He showed them where to catch fish, he helped them to get their living, and they recognized him and thanked him. He broke bread with them and they recognized him and were strengthened by him. He healed the sick and gave sight to the blind, and they identified him and confessed him as Lord. He taught with authority and commanded evil to depart and they perceived that God was working among them. He loved the unlovable and forgave those who sinned and they saw that God was working salvation in their midst.

Christ is here today in this place, and Christ will be with you when you leave, and Christ will appear before you as you go about and talk and work with the people around you. The test of our faith is this, will you see him wherever you go? Will you hear him calling to you in the words of the hungry and the lonely and see him working in the actions of the healers and teachers? Will you be in touch with him as you make your living each day and break your bread at each evening meal? Or will most of Christ’s ministering and loving presence be lost to you just because to you those people are ordinary people, those events are ordinary events, and those activities are ordinary activities?

The disciples were slow in recognizing the risen Christ. They did not think he would appear to them, and we are like them, in our limitations, but we are also like them in our virtues, and our virtues can, like those of the disciples increase day by day, if we, like they, remember to seek the risen Christ and to serve him in all the things we do, and all the places we go, in both those things we regard as ordinary and in those we regard as special.

We have been changed by God to make a difference for Him in this world. In the name of God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy spirit. Amen