4th Sunday of Easter
Gospel of St. John 10:11-18

Fear. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of being alone. Fear of being in a crowded room. Fear of being unknown or the fear of being found out. The fear of having too little, or having too much, or having nothing at all. The one thing we all have in common is our fear.

Sometimes our fears are present and real. We wake up to them in the morning, close our eyes to them at night, and struggle with them in our dreams. Sometimes our fears are self-created and imagined; monsters that exist in our closets and under our beds. And, sometimes our fears are just out of our control. We are a vulnerable, fragile, and susceptible species and often times, in our journey through this sometimes violent, hostile, and insufferable world, we come up against forces that threaten our health and well-being.

When we examine this world in which we live, and I am specifically referring to this first world American culture, we discover an entire economic structure built upon the pre-tense of fear. Pills that prevent this; investments that prevent that; promises of prosperity and security if only one would do this or belong to that. These mechanisms, inventions, and strategies which are created, marketed, and perpetuated to us, a people who by their very design are born with a desire, a desire that can only be filled by God, attempt to satisfy and placate this temporal struggle.

The catechism teaches “the desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself (CC 27).” Our inability to satisfy this desire by our own designs then becomes the source of our fear. St. Peter, in today’s first reading, indirectly addresses this reality, our innate desire for God, when he boldly proclaims, “there is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

When he professes this cure for the condition of humankind, he does so to a group of religious leaders who have brought him to trial to explain the healing of a man who was born lame. He was speaking to men who held fast to the belief that their salvation was afforded to them through race, tradition, and law. He was speaking to an institution that was frightened that its very system was under attack by the message of the Gospel; which professed salvation not as an exclusive privilege of birth and obedience, rather as a gift freely given to anyone who believes.

For those of us here today, sitting in this church, our church, we hope and pray, it is not a struggle of belief in the salvific power of Jesus’s name; rather, I propose, that our struggle is with our inability to live firmly in the belief that Jesus is exactly who he professed himself to be, “the Good Shepard.”

Our human condition; our fragility, our vulnerability, and our susceptibility are not eliminated because of our belief in the salvation freely given through the name of Jesus Christ. In fact, it could be argued, that because of our faith, and our efforts to live out that faith, we often times find ourselves in direct opposition to the world in which we live. The words of St. John in his First Epistle in today’s second reading ring ever so true when he wrote, “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” It is not an unfamiliar reality that belief in the name of Jesus causes one to be rejected by a world desperately seeking salvation through created and temporal mechanisms and inventions.

However, as I mentioned earlier, our struggle is not one of belief, our struggle is with fear. As followers of Christ we are not immune to fear. We experience hardship, doubt, pain, suffering, and uncertainty. The fears produced by these real or imagined causes afflict our joy, courage, and witness. We come up against the wall of what we profess vs. what we experience and our resolve to live out our faith falters and weakens.

Yet, unlike the promises of the world, the promises of Christ hold true and permanent. The Good Shepard lays down his life so that the sheep will not be scattered or lost. The Good Shepard knows those who belong to him, and those who belong to him also know him. The Good Shepard searches out for us and we will hear his voice, and we will be gathered to him. These are the promises of the Good Shepard. These promises are the cure to our fear.

Gathered here today, together, in front of this altar, we have brought with us many things. We have brought with us our prayers and hopes for intercession and relief. We have brought with us our joys and thanksgivings, and our praises for the blessings of God in our life. We have also brought our fears and our concerns, our doubts and our despair. We have come before the altar of God exactly who we are; with our good and with our not so good. And for this we are thankful and celebrate the beauty and mystery of God’s grace. I encourage you, each and every one, that this day, as you approach this altar, that you bring with you all of who you are. Every part of you- the good and the bad- and place it all, in its entirety, at the feet of the Good Shepard trusting in his promises.

The other evening my wife and I were walking to our car…

3rd Sunday of Easter
Gospel of St Luke 24:35-48

The other evening my wife and I were walking to our car after having spent a very pleasant couple of hours at the movie theatre. I was commenting on how pleasantly surprised I was by the fact that the movie had turned out NOT to be a “scary” movie; because I really dislike scary movies. In a rare moment of agreement, at least as far as movies are concerned, my wife also commented on how much she enjoyed the movie, even though it was NOT a “scary” movie; because my wife, on the other hand, really loves scary movies. Overall our time together that evening was enjoyable and pleasant and full of peace… and then I got into the car.

As we were backing out of the parking space, I had to suddenly bring the vehicle to an abrupt halt as a group of young adults were standing directly behind our car taking selfies with their phones. They appeared to not at all be interested in getting out of the way, and it wasn’t because they were ignorant of my car or the fact that I was trying to back out. So, there they stood, and there I sat.

I sat there and stared at them through my rear-view mirror, and I could see out of the corner of my eye that my wife was staring at me, waiting. Waiting to see if the old-man curmudgeon, which, on more than one occasion I have been not so subtly accused of desiring to become, would reveal himself and impress upon this obtrusive group of young people to take their picture taking, duck-face making, conglomeration somewhere else other than directly behind my car. I stared at them. My wife stared at me; and nobody said anything.

Eventually, the group of young adults moved on and I was able to put the car into gear and safely exit the parking lot. It wasn’t until we were on 17th street, headed for home, when my wife, with a sly grin and a twinkle in her eye said, “You really wanted to get out of the car back there, didn’t you.” I paused, considered my response carefully and said, “Yeah…now that I am a Deacon I guess I can’t do that anymore.” She agreed, and we both laughed; however, one louder than the other.

Now, believe it or not, the story I just shared with you has relevance to today’s Gospel and I ask for your patience and attention as I attempt to make a point about a group of selfie-taking young adults and an aspiring curmudgeon.

In today’s Gospel, Luke describes Jesus’s appearance to his disciples in the upper room. We read that Jesus suddenly appeared and was welcomed with shock, dismay, and disbelief. He extended to them his peace; he revealed himself to them through his scars; and then he proved to them his corporality by consuming baked fish. He opened their minds to the Scriptures, and when they began to understand and believe, he reminded them of who they were, stating, “You are witnesses of these things.”

Let us take a moment and examine this word “witness”. It carries with it a greater meaning than just an observer of events, it also implies testimony. This Greek word (pronounced martus) translated to the English word “witness” is also the same word from which is derived the English word “martyr”.

This same word is also found in today’s first reading, in the Acts of the Apostles, when Peter proclaims, “God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.” It is here where we find Peter possessing the title and the mission of Jesus’s call to be a witness. It is here where Peter, through the power of the Holy Spirit, proclaims the Gospel, and calls upon those who hear his voice to “repent and be converted.” It is here, as well other place in the Gospel’s, where we find the Apostolic church both in office and in action. In her office, in the witness of the Apostles as it has been handed down through their successors; and in her mission of being “sent out” to proclaim the Good News.

We are a church that not only has preserved the office of the Apostles, but we are also a church that continues to carry out their mission. The mission of going out “to all the nations” sharing the message of salvation through the forgiveness of sins.

Now, this essential truth is absolutely important to understand in regard to the mission the church, the witness of going “to all the nations” is not just for the ordained or the religious. Rather, the mission of being a witness is for all of the church. We here today, whether we be clergy, or laity, are called to be witnesses of Christ in all that we do, in all that we say, and in all that we are. For the entire Mystical Body of Christ, comprised of all her members, empowered by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and with the charity drawn from the Eucharist, is called to the labor of building God’s Kingdom here on earth.

So, going back to the events of this past week, you must know, as I was driving down 17th street fuming over a group of young adults whose agenda differed from mine, that my answer to my wife’s question about my desire to get out of the car and confront that inconsiderate mob, was in fact, in error. The truth of the matter is this. I should no longer act in a certain manner just because I am now a Deacon; rather, I must act in a certain manner because, like all of us, my brothers and sisters in Christ, I am a witness of Christ in all that I do, and in all that I say, and in who I am.

I was in high school, a junior I think…

I was in high school, a junior I think, and I was driving back to school after lunch. I came to an intersection and the vehicle I was driving suddenly lost traction

Second Sunday of Easter
Divine Mercy Sunday
Gospel of John 20:19-31

Today, the Second Sunday of Easter, was declared by the Holy Church on May 5, 2000, to henceforth be ever known as Divine Mercy Sunday. Today’s Gospel, read every Second Sunday of Easter, describes the event during which Jesus entrusted to the Church his authority to forgive sins. We also read about the Apostle Thomas, the one who doubted, and learn that everyone, including the Apostles, are in need of God’s mercy.

I was in high school, a junior I think, and I was driving back to school after lunch. I came to an intersection and the vehicle I was driving suddenly lost traction (it was mid-January in Wyoming and the road conditions were icy) and slid into the intersection colliding with another vehicle. No one was physically injured in the accident; not me, the passenger riding with me, or the old man driving the 1972 Jeep J-series pickup…it was pink. Not bright pink, but like red paint sprayed over gray primer pink…and it was smooshed. The vehicle I was driving, a 1984 Ford F-150, 4×4, two-toned blue, pickup with a white topper shell had sustained significant damage to the grill, front bumper, and left front quarter panel; so much so that it was impossible to open the driver’s side door. I vividly remember this day and the damage to this pick up, because it was my dad’s pickup, and I was “technically” not supposed to be driving it.

My dad worked out of town during the week and his company supplied him with a “work truck.” His work truck had tool boxes, fuel tanks, and was primarily used for work. His personal truck, the 1984 Ford F-150, 4×4, two-toned blue, pickup with a white topper shell was not used for work. In fact, this truck was not to be used for anything other than, of course, for whatever my father wanted to use it.

The concepts of ownership and authority made sense to me at that time… I am sure… because I had spent the two previous summers working to earn enough money in order purchase my very first car; a 1981 Mid-Night Blue Ford Mustang. A car, by-the-way, which at the time of this incident was safely parked in the driveway of my father’s house because, “Mustang’s aren’t that good in the snow and the pick-up had 4-wheel drive.”

So, like I said, the concepts of ownership, authority, respect, and the common courtesy of asking someone’s permission before borrowing their stuff had to have been concepts that I understood and practiced, even at the age of seventeen. But on that day, they weren’t and I didn’t. I borrowed my dad’s pickup without his permission. I denied his authority, disobeyed his rule, and rationalized and justified why it was perfectly ok for me to do the wrong thing.

The accident, I remind you occurred on a school day, during lunch, and I had to go back to school. I managed to get the damaged pickup back to my father’s home, where I parked it in the garage, and then got into my car and drove back to school. Thinking that I had at least two days to prepare for the return of my father I went back to school relatively confident that I had a couple days before I would receive consequences for my disobedience… and, at the very least, I had a good story to tell.

Later that evening… as I drove up to the house, late because I had basketball practice, and it was dark, very dark, I noticed my father’s work truck sitting in the driveway. I got out of my car and through the kitchen window I saw my father, still wearing his work clothes, sitting at the kitchen table talking to my mother. It was at that moment I seriously considered running away and joining the carnival. I was convinced that whatever fate, fortune, or failure that awaited me as a carney would be far better than whatever was waiting for me on the other side of that door.

I want to be clear. My father is not, nor was he ever, an abusive man. The dread and apprehension that I felt that evening was not a result of the fear of my father; rather, it was because I knew I had disappointed him. I had disobeyed him, taken his hard-work for granted, and denied his authority. In essence, much like Thomas, I denied the position and authority of my father, and acted upon the belief that my own set of rules and perceptions of the world in which I lived, were all that mattered.

I walked into the house, put my basketball stuff away, came back into the kitchen where my parents were still sitting, and stood looking down at the linoleum floor. My father, standing up from his chair, said, “Well, should we go out and look at it?” I nodded and followed my father out the door.

Our garage sits on the back of the property and it is about a 25’ walk from the back porch of the house to the door of the garage. It was a quiet walk for there was no need to say anything. We both knew why we were out there. We got to the garage, turned on the light, and I promise you that somebody must have entered that garage while I was at school and beat that truck with a sledge hammer. Because that 1984 Ford F-150, 4×4, two-toned blue pickup with a white topper shell looked way worse than it did when I parked it 6 hours earlier. I didn’t say anything.

My father, still looking at his damaged pickup, asked, “Nobody got hurt…right?”.

“Yeah.” I answered, “Nobody got hurt.”

We stood there for a few minutes looking at the damage caused and the words I had spoken earlier that day came to my mind as if they were being played over the radio of that 1984 Ford F-150, two-toned blue pickup with a white topper shell. In that period of silence, I heard the rationalizations and justifications that perpetuated my disobedience.

My father then sighed which caused me to come back to reality, and for the first time that evening I looked my father in his eyes, and he said, “Let’s go back inside and have dinner.” He added, “You will get that to the body shop tomorrow, so we can get an estimate.” I told him I would, and I followed him back to the house.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, today, the Second Sunday of Easter, is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday.

Their eyes were opened and they recognized him

Easter Day
The Resurrection of the Lord
Gospel of St. Luke24:13-35

“Their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” What a wonderful description for this glorious Easter Sunday. I hope your day has been a day of joy, of celebration, and of renewal. A celebration of new birth, of life, of victory over sin and death.

As a community we celebrated and continue to celebrate those who entered our fellowship last night at the Easter Vigil. Individually, we are celebrating the end of our Lenten penitential journey. Some of us, for example, may be celebrating the wonderful taste and satisfaction of a hot cup of coffee, flavored ever so subtlety with a dollop of sweet hazelnut cream, just enough to give that dark, layered, deep color a gentle hint of blonde. Other’s of you too had opportunity to celebrate similar simple pleasures as well… and we are thankful and full of joy.

We also find additional reason to celebrate as we discovered in this afternoon’s Gospel. It is there where we read about the encounter the disciples on the road to Emmaus had with our Risen Lord, Jesus Christ. We see in their encounter his desire to walk and to fellowship with us. His desire to make himself known and to bring us into relationship with him and with one another.

The details of this encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus is not unfamiliar to us; yet, its message may sometimes escape us as we too sometimes have difficulty recognizing Jesus. The challenge we have this day is to put ourselves on that road… the road to Emmaus.

Emmaus is West of Jerusalem which meant those two disciples were traveling towards the setting sun. Their chosen path leading them not towards the sun rise, the dawn of a new day, but rather towards the sunset, the ending of their story. They were leaving Jerusalem, which for them, had once held promise, and was now the very source of their discouragement and disappointment; the city was where their hope had perished. They were leaving the community of believers. The very people with whom they had previously traveled difficult miles, endured long hours, and suffered the heat of the day and the cold of the night. They were abandoning the very people with whom they had witnessed the miracles which inspired their faith; and with whom they grew in hope and joy. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were not just walking… they were walking away.

We read about their disappointment, frustration, and discouragement regarding the events they had just witnessed in Jerusalem. We read about their inability to understand the significance and the promise fulfilled in the resurrection. Even as Jesus accompanied them along the road, his words and his teaching and instruction caused a “burning within their hearts”, yet, the Gospel is very clear, they were prevented from recognizing him. How sad it must have been that first Easter to have travelled the same road alongside Jesus and not recognize him. How sad it is this many years later to travel a similar road and not recognize him.

The road to Emmaus, for all its disappointment is in truth a wonderful illustration of God’s love for us. As Jesus encountered these two disciples, so too does he encounter us. Jesus walks alongside us, as he did with them, when we are discouraged and down. Talks to us, as he did with them, through his word and with reason, helping us to know him and understand him. Jesus is just as patient with us, as he proved to those two disciples when he walked seven miles… in the wrong direction…, when we lose our way and are engulfed in doubt and despair. As he did with those two disciples, when light began to fade and the day turned to night, Jesus waited but only for an invitation, as he does so patiently with us. And when we have opened ourselves to him, as did to those two disciples, he too will open our eyes and allows us to recognize him. Recognize him in the Eucharist; in the Sacraments of the Church; in his Word; in each other.

Those two down-trodden, discouraged, and dismayed disciples were no longer. For once they recognized Jesus, the moment their eyes had been opened, they immediately changed their direction, hurried back to Jerusalem, rejoined their community, and bore witness to the work that he had done in their lives. They celebrated, in true joy, the wondrous grace and mercy of God. The fulfillment of a promise that did not end at Calvary, on the cross, but continues to this day in the lives of each one of us. The promise that Jesus want us to know him, to recognize him, to fellowship with him at his table.

We have gathered here this day to celebrate not only the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, but also his presence here with us. His presence here in the Eucharist. His presence here inside each of us. His presence here in each other. Invite Jesus this day to open your eyes and reveal to himself to you, that you too may be filled with joy, and his love… one for another.

Six weeks ago…

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Gospel of Mark 14:1-15:47

Six weeks ago, we willingly embarked upon a journey purposely, and intentionally exposing ourselves to difficulty, trial, temptation, and hardship. We set out upon this journey into the desert in hope. Hoping that upon its conclusion we would find ourselves transformed by the grace and mercy of God the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to more resemble our model and example, Jesus Christ our Lord. Today, this Palm Sunday of our Lord’s Passion, we have reached our destination, but not the end of our journey.

In today’s Gospel (Mark 11:1-10) at the procession we heard about Jesus’s entrance into the city, his final destination. We heard how the people welcomed him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!” In these words we can almost feel the excitement of the city of Jerusalem, and a people, who have spent hundreds of years in anticipation of the arrival of the Messiah, God’s Chosen One, and on this day we celebrate, as did they, his arrival. However, unlike those who witnessed first hand the entrance of the Messiah, we, who gather here today, know that Jerusalem, although his destination, was not the end of his journey.

I am not sure how your Lenten journey has gone. Or, more to the point, I am not sure how you have faired during these past 6 weeks of Lent. Were your struggles too much to bear? Did you abandon the journey? Did doubt creep in and diminish your resolve? Or, did you persevere? Were you able to endure the hardships, trials, and temptations? Did you find a wellspring of hope along the desert path? Were you able to live out your commitment to prayer, service, and self-sacrifice? No matter how you entered this day, triumphant and confident, or discouraged and full of doubt, rest assured that you have reached your journey’s intended destination.

Lent is intended to be a renewal of our hearts and minds. We have labored to set aside the burdens and push through the barriers that have weighed us down and blocked our growth in holiness. We have struggled to maintain our focus on the cross and have fought against discouragement and despair. We are looking forward to rest through which we will be revitalized, refreshed, and renewed.

Yet, just as Jesus entered the city amidst celebration and great joy, he too knew that his journey was not complete. His work was not finished just because he had reached Jerusalem, his journey’s destination. So too I ask you to be mindful of this very fact and know that your Lenten journey is not yet complete.

We have now entered the heart of the church year, Holy Week, and there is still work to be done. As we see in St Marks Passion of Our Lord, Jesus did not take these days as a reason to cease his labor. In fact, we see the exact opposite. He becomes more intense, focused, and earnest in his activities and labors. He no longer speaks to his disciples in parables of talents and mustard seeds. His instructions are clear, direct, and intentional. From his instruction to his disciples to “let her alone” regarding the woman who anointed his head with oil; to his preparations for the observance of the Passover; to his proclamation of Judas’s pending betrayal and Peter’s upcoming denial; to the institution of his, the Lord’s Supper; to the loud cry upon the cross as he breathed his last breath, Jesus labored and endured for he knew that though, on Palm Sunday, he had arrived at the final destination, yet, his journey was incomplete without the cross.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter the spiritual condition in which you have arrived here today; no matter the successes or failures you experienced during your Lenten journey; no matter the discouragement or joy you feel, I implore you, in the example of Jesus, to complete your journey this Lenten season. Make Holy Week a period of preparation and labor. Find time each day for prayer. Read the Passion of our Lord; let his suffering, his courage, his obedience, and his unwavering love permeate into your every thought, word, and deed. Commit yourself to the service of others. Take risks in your charity and affect the lives of the people around you for good. Let this Holy Week, regardless of how you got here, be the opportunity that God will use to change your life, heal your wounds, and strengthen your spirit. See your Lenten journey to its end.