May 10, 2020

Fifth Sunday of Easter - Year A

 

You'll find a video of the entire service at

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

 

If you'd like to follow along, click for the Service Booklethttps://www.facebook.com/StStephensSLO/videos/and Hymns & Psalter


2020 May10_FrIan

Fifth Sunday of Easter - Year A

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, Source of all that is and that shall be, Mother and Father of us all,Loving God, in whom is heaven: May we hear Your Word and be enlivened by Your Spirit. Amen.


Quasi modo geniti: As new-born babes. It is from our reading in 1 Peter that the term “Quasimodo Sunday” was applied to Low Sunday, or the Sunday after Easter Day. Victor Hugo’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame” is named Quasimodo because the character Frollo discovers him on Low Sunday, and the translation from Latin in isolation roughly translates to “almost merely”, as in almost merely human. When I looked up the scripture reference, I noticed that it landed on Easter 5 instead of Easter 2, so I want us to think of today as


“Quasimodo Sunday”.


It’s also the one Sunday in the 3-year lectionary that refers to our patron, St. Stephen. Of course, we use that reading on our own St. Stephen’s Day, the second Sunday in September. The Stoning of Stephen is after a speech that he delivered at his trial after being arrested for blasphemy. His speech outlines the history of Israel, culminating in Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the prophesies, and telling the council that they were stiff-necked people for not being followers of Jesus Christ. They didn’t like that, so they stoned Stephen without finishing the trial.


So, what’s the connection between Quasimodo, Stephen, Peter’s audience, this Gospel reading that we most often here at funerals, and us? Oh, and it’s Mothers’ Day. I think the key is in Quasi modo geniti: As new-born babes…or newness.


St. Stephen was part of the new church. Brand spanking new! Jesus had not long ascended after the Resurrection. The role of Deacon had just been established, and St Stephen was the first among them. He was passionate about salvation through Jesus Christ, so passionate that he was “full of grace and power, [and] did great wonders and signs among the people.” (Acts 6:8)


Peter was addressing “new-born babes”, the new church. He is continuing a theme started at the end of Ch1 “You have been born anew”. The church was a couple of decades older than in Stephen’s time. But don’t confuse that with a well-established organization with rules, regulations and order. That didn’t happen until well after the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in 313AD. Christianity was still a fledgling, dispersed and diverse community spread all around the Mediterranean and small in numbers. Peter was writing to instill confidence to the people in what is now Turkey, and encouraging them to resist the criticism and hostility to the non-Christians around them.


Re-birth is a significant theme in Christianity. The bunnies and eggs at Easter are symbols of new birth. Through the water of Baptism, we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. The re-birth in 1 Peter is of course through Jesus, and we are encouraged to be Christ-like by being obedient to the truth, or to God. This is sustained by being a cohesive group, despite the hostility from the outside world, and our membership of this group – the church – is a sign of re-birth.


But what comes with birth? Growth – so, the building metaphor. This also gives the writer a chance to again link the fledgling community with Jesus, who was rejected, but who is now the most important part of the Church: the Chief Cornerstone. The audience was being rejected by the wider community, which was hostile toward these new Christians. But they have God on their side.


The Gospel is a bit funky. It’s a pre-Crucifixion story, but we’re in the Resurrection Season. It’s also one of 3 Farewell Discourses in John’s Gospel…Jesus telling His Disciples that He’s going away, and they have absolutely no clue what He’s talking about! Within that, Jesus emphasized His relationship with God the Father. You have to realize that the Disciples have no concept of forming a new religion, and Jesus doesn’t really have that concept, either. Jesus came as the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets, not to start a new religious club. And His followers, by and large, were devout and faithful Jews who were drawn to Jesus by His ability to help them more clearly understand the Law and the Prophets and their relationship with God. The Church, even as it was known in 1 Peter, wasn’t a fully-formed concept. Yet, Jesus was pointing His followers to a new relationship with God, a renewed relationship with God, through Himself, who is one with God, and it transcends both location and death.

 

So, we have:

  • A new Deacon in
  • A brand-new Church
  • A call to be re-born and
  • Renewed in Christ, and
  • Jesus pointing toward a new place into which all who believe in Him will be drawn.

Try this: Quasi modo Ecclesia – really bad Latin to mean “as like the Church” or “somewhat a new Church”.


One of the aims of bible study and reflection is to discover how the text speaks to our present-day situation. I, and many others in the Church, have said that we will be a new Church on the other side of this pandemic…somewhat a new church. What we will look like and behave like as a Church community has yet to be seen. But what I do know is that we will need everything that we are reading about this morning in order to thrive as St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Welcoming, Worshiping and Working with, for and among the Good People of San Luis Obispo.


We will need:

  • People on fire for spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ, like St Stephen did.
  • To be re-born in the Spirit and renewed in Christ for ourselves and for our mission and ministry, as the Petrean Christians were called to be.
  • To be confident in our faith in the Resurrection to Eternal Life with Jesus in that place He has prepared for us.


It will take the courage of Stephen, the determination of the Christians in Asia Minor and the bewilderment of Thomas and Philip once we are back in our building. And the funny thing about that is, what will be somewhat new – quasi modo – is our building. We got a new steeple 2 years ago, the rotten siding has been replaced, and the whole exterior has been painted. The new doors will be on in a couple of weeks. That part of it was done with your money and the talent of others. But building the Church, the Body of Christ, the Living Stones will require your faith, your talent and your passion.


The new Living Stones of St. Stephen’s will also need “mothers”. Mothers care for and guide their children into maturity and beyond. We will need mothers and midwives to guide us through growing into salvation together, and we will need skilled architects and construction workers to guide us as we are built into a new spiritual house. The mothers and midwives will guide into how to be Living Stones; the architects and construction workers will build a strong community with the Living Stones, with us.


Quasi modo Ecclesia is bad, bad Latin, particularly since I don’t know Latin and had to rely on online translation sites. But we will be “somewhat a new Church” when we are all back together. Last week, we explored how to increase our number during shelter-at-home. We can do that. Perhaps some of them will be with us in our somewhat new Church. We are already a different Church, gathered in a different way. And we are remaining faithful: faithful to Jesus and faithful to one another. In all 3 readings, that’s what the communities were doing or being asked to do: remain faithful to Jesus and faithful to one another.


Will you be a Stephen who spreads the Good News with passion? Will you be a Petrean who will be re-born and renewed? Will you be a builder of Living Stones? Will you be a mother or midwife to guide us into that new way of being Church, of being the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement in San Luis Obispo?


Whatever role you are called to fulfill, the form of the Lord’s Prayer in the New Zealand Prayer Book can sum up all that we are being called to be and do:


Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker,
Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and
that shall be,
Mother and Father of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo
through the universe!
The way of your justice
be followed by the peoples
of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by
all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace
and freedom sustain our hope
and come on earth.
Amen.


© 2020 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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