Sermon Archives

Sunday, September 11, 2016
Fall Homecoming Sunday
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Fall Homecoming - Gift; Gratitude; Love

Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ! 
For by his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  (1 Peter 1:3)


And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. (Luke 24:52)

As we begin the new program year, we begin, in fact, by looking back – looking back to the roots of our community; looking back, even, to the very foundation of our faith.  To help us along, we drew our Propers (that is our readings, the Collect of the Day, and the preface to the Eucharistic prayer which we will say in a few minutes) from the Feast of the Ascension.  While these aren’t the Propers we will use for the Feast of Christ the King in November, they are customary for churches dedicated to the Christ the King as we are.

So, let us go back for a moment ourselves, to that day upon which the first disciples found themselves alone again, yet charged with an audacious mission. 

We can imagine the weariness that they must have felt.  Here, upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples gathered with Jesus one last time – certainly the eleven who had been with him in that upper room were there, but also certainly Mary and Martha among his closest friends, and as tradition has it, his mother also, herself among the most faithful disciples.  For over three years, this small band of friends and followers had journeyed with Jesus throughout the Judean countryside.  Together, they had made the long walk north as far as the Sea of Galilee and back again to Jerusalem; together, they withstood the accusations and attacks of the Pharisees; together, they formed a new family; together they witnessed the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, their brother and teacher along the way; and together, they celebrated with great joy his return among them.

Now, in today’s lesson these weary disciples make another journey together, and though short length – Bethany, is only a couple of miles from Jerusalem – it was in many ways the culmination of the much longer journey they had walked these past three years.

We can imagine, too, their collective desire to hold on to Jesus.  As assuredly as the father of the prodigal son would do all in his strength to hold onto his son who had been lost and now was found, we can imagine the desire of those first disciples to hold onto Jesus upon his return.  Locked away as they had been following his persecution and death, his return would have brought immense joy and inspiration.  We can imagine, too, the desire of Mary and Martha, to hold onto their dear friend; the friend they had tenderly buried only too recently, now restored to their embrace.  And we must imagine, as well, the most powerful desire of Mary, his mother, to hold onto Jesus, her son; the son whom she had witnessed in his abandonment and pain; the son at whose feet she had wept as he hung upon the hard wooden cross; the son she whose lifeless body she would have cradle in her arms as any mother or father would.  We can imagine her desire, and the desire of all those close to Jesus, to hold onto him, to cling to him, so as to never let him go.

And we can imagine, as well, the fear that we, ourselves, may have felt at Jesus’ departure again.  As majestic as the Ascension was, the fact remains – the disciples were alone again, back in Bethany where the torturous journey of Holy Week began, having to make their own pilgrimage to Jerusalem as Jesus had done throughout that fateful week.

We wouldn’t be surprised, either, if Luke had included a final mandate by Jesus – a final instruction to his friends, about what they were to do now upon his departure.  Certainly, Matthew includes a concluding charge as Jesus’ final words to his disciples, but noticeably not Luke.

Here in Luke’s account of the final exchange between Jesus and his closest friends, we do not hear of their weariness or their fear, we do not we hear Jesus place one final obligation upon them, nor do we hear of his friends clinging to him, holding him down so as to never leave them again– instead we hear of a gift, we hear of worship, we hear of great joy, and finally a gift returned!

I am sending upon you what my Father promised;
so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

In place of a final command, Jesus promises a parting gift.  And what is that gift?  None other than the very presence of God, the Spirit of God overshadowing them, surrounding them, filling them with power from on high. 

Now, we must be careful, when we hear these words because over the years Christians have often gotten them horribly wrong – the power Jesus speaks of, the power he has always spoken of, is not the power to rule (this is how humankind so often defines power).  But it is not God’s power as scripture reveals it – God’s power is the power of gift and sacrifice.  God’s the power of love for another expressed by giving oneself to another in sacrifice and service for the sake of the other; God’s is the power to change the life of another through solidarity, sacrifice, and love – this is God’s power.

This is, of course, the power, which we are promised each time we gather around this Holy Table.  As we celebrate the Eucharist week-in and week-out, we are reminded of, arguably, the most fundamental and transformative truth of our faith – God is with us.  As we receive into our outstretched hands the symbol of Jesus’ body broken for us, and as we receive into our mouths that symbol of Jesus’ blood poured out for us, we are reminded of God’s eternal gift to us and to all of creation – to pour herself out for us even unto death, in order that we might have life.  As we receive these sacred symbols of God’s presence, we are reminded that God chooses to abide with us, to make his dwelling within us, to be in solidarity with us throughout our lives, and if with us, then also through us into the world,

The final exchange between Jesus and his followers was not a word, but a gift, as it always is with God – a final gift of himself.  It is a gift we are invited to receive here, again today.

And what is the disciples’ response?  Gratitude and joy!  Worship and great joy as Saint Luke and Saint Matthew tell it!  What began that day in a small town on the outskirts of Jerusalem has continued now for nearly two thousand years – a community rooted in worship of Christ the King, a community whose first act is thanksgiving to God.

For the Christian community – at our best at least – this gratitude becomes the basis of our life.  The gratitude we know in Baptism through which we are proclaimed beloved of God.  The gratitude we know through the Cross as Jesus himself proclaims his love for us in spite of our selfishness, in spite of our brokenness, in spite of our on-going betrayal of him, his life, and the life to which he calls us.  The gratitude we know through the Breaking of Bread as we are reminded again that God’s undying love is ever ours, and that God’s presence is ever within and among us.

These are the gifts and blessing of God; these are the foundation of our gratitude to God; and these must become the foundation of the generosity and love we reveal for our neighbor.  You see, our love, human love, naturally has an end – it may stretch further then we expect, but seldom does it extend to those who annoy us, to those who disagree with us, to those who disrespect us, let alone to those who harm us, and whom we call an enemy.  No, human love is not enough. 

On the contrary, it is God love we receive, it is God’s love we hold onto, and it is our gratitude for God’s love that propels us into the world.  It is God’s love that enables us to sacrifice ourselves, our wealth and our status for a stranger.  It is God’s love that draws out of us a love we didn’t even know was possible; we love remarkable because we first were loved remarkably by God!

We come, again and again, to this table to receive the great gift of God’s love for us, and God’s presence in us and with us; nourishing us, sustaining us, shaping and re-shaping us.  And we come again and again, to this place, to give thanks for that greatest gift that fills us with immense joy!

And how is it that we give thanks?  Through our worship of course – through our prayers of praise and thanksgiving, and the singing of songs that give glory to God . . . but not only there, not only here in these walls – for this hour is but one in the course of our week, only the smallest fraction of our life.

We give thanks, or at least we strive to give thanks, through the totality of our lives – the time here within these walls is meant as a catalyst, a spring-board of sorts, for the week to come.  For it is there, in the daily actions and interactions of our life, in the ordinary and mundane places of our life where we make the choice to love; there at the grocery store counter; there at copy room in the office; there in the bleachers of our son- or daughter’s game; there at the kitchen counter with our spouse and children; there in the boardroom; there at the sales desk; in these and all those ordinary places of life we make the choice to love – to love ourselves and those whom we like, to love others in so far as they serve our needs our desires; or to love as God first loves us, sacrificially, patiently, forgivingly.

When we show our lives to be shaped by the gift of God’s first and sacrificial love for us, when we live a life of our generosity and sacrificial love for another; that is when we make our great gift of gratitude and sing our finest song of praise.

Gift and gratitude – these have and remain the very foundations of the Christian community – they are, still today, the foundation of this Christian community of Christ Church.  Come today to receive again Christ’s most precious gift – himself broken and poured out in love for you his beloved.  And let us go forth as well, to give our greatest gift in return, ourselves to one another and to the world!