I can only imagine the maelstrom of thoughts roiling in Simon Peter’s head in the weeks following Jesus’ resurrection. At the last supper, he promised Jesus: “I will lay down my life for you.” He was willing to draw blood when they came to arrest Jesus in the garden. He followed Jesus all the way to the gate of the high priest’s house. And then everything fell apart. People began recognizing him and he felt afraid and in his fear he did something he never dreamed he would do, not even in his worst nightmare.
Sermon for Sunday, April 17, 2022 || Easter Sunday C || John 20:1-18
Good morning, and welcome to St. Mark’s on this glorious Easter Sunday. Today is our first Easter on-site here on Pearl Street since 2019, and I am overjoyed to see your faces. If there’s anyone here today who doesn’t know me, I’m Pastor Adam Thomas. Today is my ninth Easter as the rector of this wonderful church, and I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be than celebrating with you on this special feast of the Resurrection.
God created us to be beings of love and trust. We all start out that way, at least, but pretty soon the world teaches us a lesson I wish we all had the opportunity to unlearn. The world teaches us to fear, to be afraid of so many parts of life. This makes sense, because the world contains a lot of frightening things. When I was a kid we did not have active shooter drills in school like my children do now. Then the massacre at Columbine happened my sophomore year of high school, and school shootings have been a terrifying element of American society ever since. This fear is ever-present in my mind when I drop my kids off at school, hovering right below the resurgent pandemic.
Fear has a way of debilitating us, of shrinking us down and holding us hostage. Thinking about fear this week, I also had in my mind Jesus’ words from the Gospel lesson I just read. Those words started seeping into my consciousness. And I noticed that Jesus had sidled up right next to my fears and made them seem very small in comparison.
I’m not usually still in bed when the rest of my family wakes up. I often wake up some time between three and five in the morning, while everyone else gets up about 6:30. But this past Monday night, for some reason, I slept later than I normally do. I was still dreaming at quarter to six on Tuesday morning. Then, suddenly, the clock said 6:22. Leah and I were awake, waiting for the patter of little feet in footie-pajamas. Sure enough at 6:30 on the nose our five-and-a-half year old daughter came into our room and without preamble crawled into bed between us. The three of us cuddled for a while, in various configurations as dictated by our wiggly child. In one of the cuddling variations, a feeling of deep peace and soul joy came over me. For that particular moment in time, my body and my spirit were perfectly aligned to accept the love that God showers upon us through the gifts of each other. And the strange thing was that I noticed it while it was happening.
I usually listen to really upbeat music when I’m writing my sermons, often the Piano Guys, who do instrumental mash-ups of pop and classical music. Their driving rhythms mixed with familiar melodies propel me forward as I write. I’m sure I bop my head along, my fingers click-clacking across the keyboard in time with the percussion. When I sat down to write this sermon, I put on the Piano Guys like normal. But about thirty seconds into the first song, I had to switch to something else.
Because today is not normal. Today is about as far from normal as I can remember since the days following September 11, 2001. As I thought and prayed my way into today’s sermon, I noticed just how un-calm I was. I had not slept well in several nights. I had pain in my jaw, always a sign of stress. I had a thick knot of anxiety in my chest. I looked beyond the anxiety and felt a roiling mix of other emotions, which I’ll get into in a moment. Realizing my state on un-calm, I changed the music. I selected a setting of the mass in Latin by the Renaissance composer Palestrina, who never fails to help me take deep breaths.
At the end of this sermon, I’m going to talk about the movie Frozen II. But first let’s talk about fear. Whenever an angel of the Lord appears in Holy Scripture, the angel always begins the message for the same four words: “Do not be afraid.” Today’s Gospel lesson is no exception. Mary’s fiancé Joseph has resolved to “dismiss her quietly” because of her pregnancy, but he takes one more night to sleep on the decision. During that night, an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream and says, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. My question is: Why would Joseph be afraid to do this? I can think of many reasons for Joseph’s fear, and I want to talk about three of them this morning. We’ll dispense with the first two quickly because the third is where I really want us to focus.
Sermon for Sunday, February 10, 2019 || Epiphany 5C || Luke 5:1-11
Today marks the beginning of a season of racial healing, justice, and reconciliation in the life of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. This season, which will last at least two years, was initiated by the Annual Convention of our church, as delegates from over 160 parishes and worshiping communities voted together to share in this particular piece of God’s mission. Just like Jesus calls his disciples in today’s Gospel, God calls us to partner with God in working for healing, justice, and reconciliation across many systems that contribute to the broken state of this world. These systems of oppression and degradation overlap and intertwine, and they are all so big and entrenched into the machinery of the world that challenging them seems like an impossibility.
[The stage is set with two chairs next to a table with a third chair behind it, like a late night talk show. The narrator functions as the “host” of the talk show interviewing guests.]
Welcome back. My next set of guests have a wonderful, inspiring story to tell.
This story is about fear and love. I want to tell you that up front so you can listen for those two things — fear and love. The Bible says in the first letter of John: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.” This story we share today happened because God so loved the world that God gave us this Perfect Love in the form of God’s own child. This story tells how Perfect Love became a person. The fancy word for “became a person” is Incarnation. For the Incarnation to happen, God chose several people to help. Every one of them was afraid, and the love of God gave them the chance to serve despite their fear.Continue reading “God’s Perfect Love: A Christmas Pageant”→
Sermon for Friday, March 30, 2018 || Good Friday || Passion According to John
Way back in Chapter Four of the Gospel According to John, we hear Jesus use a particular phrase for the first time. The phrase is special for it links Jesus’ identity to the divine identity of God. This one little phrase is just two words long, with only three letters among them. The phrase is “I Am.” In Chapter Four, Jesus says these special words to the Samaritan woman at the well. They’ve had a long talk about living water and where to worship, and their conversation ends with Jesus revealing to her his divine identity, saying, “I Am.”
These two little words reveal his divine identity because of their link to a famous passage in the book of Exodus, in which Moses meets God in the burning bush. God gives Moses the mission to free the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. To gain some credibility, Moses asks to know God’s name. “I Am Who I Am,” says God. Jesus echoes this name many, many times in the Gospel of John, beginning first with the Samaritan woman.Continue reading “I Am. I Am Not.”→
Sermon for Sunday, February 5, 2017 || Epiphany 5A || Matthew 5:13-20
It’s week five of our sermon series where we’re imagining our way into God’s point of view. Today we were going to talk about God seeing, naming, and celebrating us as enlightened. I’m still going to get to the content of what I planned to say in a bit, but I need to start from a different place today.
You see, like many of you the two weeks since the inauguration have set my head spinning. I sat down on Monday afternoon to try to find some clarity in the turmoil, and I accidentally wrote this sermon. I didn’t mean to. I was writing a list of recent events to help clarify for myself what’s been going on. After writing the list and reading it over again, this sermon started pouring out. The list was a distillation of recent tactics employed to centralize governmental authority in a small cadre of like-minded men. As I reviewed what I had written, I found the feeling that has been creeping around inside me since the end of election season suddenly no longer creeping, but strutting. That feeling is fear.Continue reading “I Can Be Love”→