April 26, 2020

Third Sunday of Easter - Year A

 

You'll find a video of the entire service at

https://www.facebook.com/StStephensSLO/videos/540170956640662/

 

If you'd like to follow along, click for the Service Booklet and Hymns & Psalter


2020 April26_FrIan

Third Sunday of Easter - Year A

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

The First Letter of Peter – which wasn’t written by Peter the Apostle, even though its first words state that is was – is addressed to:


…the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood…


In the portion of the letter we read today, the author again refers to the “time of exile”. The recipients weren’t actually exiled, and the way the term is used doesn’t align with the concept of Christians on earth not yet being in their Heavenly Home, which was often referred to as an exile. The use of the notion of exile is a literary tool to indicate the “apartness” of being a Christian, being this new type of person who is neither Jew nor pagan, and the social experience of identifying with this new faith. So, they were feeling exiled while they remained in their own communities. Sounds way too familiar, doesn’t it!?

 

While in this exile, the Petrean
Christians were called to a
Holy Living.

 

Both the notion of “exile” and being called to a Holy Living imply that they are being set apart. V15, which is left out of this reading, is about being holy. The implication is that being holy is being separate, and the readers of the letter are to be a people separate from the surrounding culture and set apart for God.

 

The term “holy” has long been
 defined as being “set apart”.

 

True, the church is described as holy because the Holy Spirit dwells in it, consecrating the members of the church and guiding them to do God’s work. But within that longer definition, and in order to do God’s work, we are set apart in order to do so.


In this time of being physically set apart, separated from the community while still in it, you can ‘live in fear and reverence’, or more accurately, ‘conduct yourself with awe and reverence’. You can use this time to pray and to contemplate your relationship with Jesus. You have more time and space to pray and meditate, more time and space to listen to what Jesus is telling you in that prayer and meditation.


Jump forward to the Gospel story of the Journey to Emmaus. The time that these 2 followers spent with Jesus changed them forever. After Jesus interpreted to them the things about Himself in all the scriptures, they understood and knew Jesus in a different and deeper way, and He opened their eyes. That is what regular reading and study of scripture, prayer, meditation, corporate worship, and trying to live a life worthy of God’s love is helping us do: understanding and knowing Jesus in a different and deeper way, and having our eyes opened to not only the Love of God, but to be God’s love in the world. This reflects back to 1 Peter. Spending this time of exile in prayer and meditation will help you listen for God and understand God in a different way, through Jesus. In the letter, it is written:


You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.


So, basically, what I’m saying is: if you do what you are instructed to do in 1 Peter, you will accomplish what the 2 unnamed disciples on the Road to Emmaus did: a deeper understanding of and relationship with Jesus.


It’s hard work for some of us! The act of listening, truly listening, is very hard. Listening to what God is speaking to us is even harder. But that is what study of scripture, prayer, meditation, and corporate worship help you do. We don’t have the benefit of the physical Jesus joining us on our daily walk. Our attention spans are shorter, and we are too interested in the first article that pops up on google or the first few posts on social media – humorous or not. We need to spend more time listening, and now many of you have the gift of more time.

 

Church leaders spend a lot of their spirituality development time focused on communal worship, our gathering on Sunday Morning and other special services throughout the year. Most of us are not as focused on helping you develop your own spiritual practices. I must give a shout out to the Tuesday Centering Prayer Group; they organized themselves to continue meeting over Zoom. I’m not overly worried about your personal spiritual lives, because I think most of you have fairly robust spiritual lives. Many of you pray daily. Many of you read the Forward Day-by-Day (which is available and we can mail to you, by the way). Though, I should be encouraging you all year round to work on your spiritual lives so at a time like this – which is extraordinary and unprecedented – you can avoid spiritual distress and continue to nurture your relationship with God through Jesus, and stay emotionally and psychologically strong. Studies show that people who pray more get through a crisis better. So, keep on praying and reading your Bibles.

 

Our inordinate focus on communal worship is balanced by today’s Psalm. The other readings involve some sort of community action: Acts is an addressed to a large crowd; 1 Peter is written to a large community, though, not all in one place; the Gospel involves not only the 2 companions, but their witness to Jesus’ Disciples. By contrast, the Psalm is in the first person singular. It is what “I” will do, what you will do:

 

  • You will call upon the Name of the Lord
  • You will lift up the cup of salvation
  • You will fulfill your vows to the Lord
  • You are the Lord’s servant
  • You offer the Lord the sacrifice of thanksgiving

 

The Psalm...like all the Psalms...can help us nurture our faith and spirituality whatever situation our lives are in. Today’s Psalm is in the category of a Thanksgiving Psalm, if that wasn’t obvious. The writer loves God because he was saved, probably from serious illness. One commentary writes of the Psalmist:


“…he feels that he had almost entered into Sheol, its cords had gripped him and he felt he would be swept away to destruction.” (Oxford Bible Commentary)


That feeling is all around us right now! So, in your private prayer, mediation and study of scripture, you can use this Psalm as a mantra to help center yourself on God, God’s goodness and listening for God’s voice in this time of exile within your own community, this time of endeavoring toward holy living, this time of being set apart.


I would bet that at least 9 out of every 10 sermons preached on this story of the Road to Emmaus focuses on the last few words:


“how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”


Most if not all of you have a deep connection with Jesus through the Eucharist – Jesus is made known to you in the breaking of the bread. But now, you are called to engage with Jesus in a different way.


Jesus did indeed break bread with the 2 disciples on the road. But He also shared scripture with them and


“beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”


We aren’t breaking bread together in the same way that we are accustomed to. But that’s not all that Jesus did in this story. The first epiphany of the 2 companions was:


“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”


So, open your Bibles in this time that we are set apart, and feel your hearts burning within you as you get to know Jesus through scripture.

 

Another way that 1 Peter speaks to this time we’re in is in how he directed the community. He was writing to a dispersed community over the large geographic region of Asia Minor, or modern-day Turkey. There is a definite tone of “set apart” throughout the chapter, yet here at the end of our reading, the writer encourages the community to be close and intimate:


“that [they] have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.”

 

The St Stephen’s Family is set
apart: we are holy, set apart for
God’s work in this community,
and physically set apart from
one another – while still in the
community. Yet we are still a
cohesive family who love one
another deeply from the heart.
This is us, because like each of
the communities in all of our
readings, we

 

“have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring Word of God”


...who is the resurrected Jesus Christ.

 

Alleluia! The Lord is Risen!


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