Oh, how good and pleasant it is,
when brethren live together in unity!
Our passages today intertwine examples of faith and doubt, emphasizing how God works with us even when our minds and our hearts cast shadows on the absolute reality of the Good News of Christ’s resurrection. God is with us even when we doubt that the power of God’s love is a tangible thing. We look forward to our resurrection after death, life eternal, but right now, here in the flesh, journeying through our lives, we are…or we can be if we allow ourselves in both truth and love…resurrected from our sorrows, our dysfunctions, our feelings of resentment, and even when we fail one another, because we will fail one another. The great love of God that sparked Jesus’ transcendence into the Eternal Christ touches us individually and collectively. We will cycle through times of flourishing in our lives and in our church, toward descent and problems, the deaths of our egos and ways of doing things, and then through the grace of the Holy Spirit, rise again with love stronger than ever.
Please think of two things right now. One, to possibly share in a few minutes…only if you feel moved to do so…of how God’s grace has touched you. Second, to meditate on a doubt that may be nagging you about God, the church, a relationship, yourself. These we will keep private.
The first Christian communities took to heart Jesus’ words to share possessions, to look after the needy, to hold things in common with the love found in Jesus’ words to guide them. As our passage from Acts states, “They were of one heart and one soul.” But as time passed, as the church grew and factions took sides, and power consolidated to make the church imperial and hierarchical, the simplicity of these first believers seemed to have been forgotten, except by a few rare individuals and communities, as only memories preserved in early documents.
I would love to go back in time and spend a day with this community where “great grace was upon them all” and “there was not a needy person among them.” How wonderful it would be to see how this systematic way of loving neighbors actually worked. This isn’t to say that large churches or foundations don’t work in providing help, subsistence, and hope, and do vital work that makes lives of thousands, if not millions of people, better. The Episcopal Relief and Development Foundation is a case in point. They’re necessary and can respond to global needs in an organized and powerful fashion. But, I do believe there is strength in smallness, in knowing our brothers and sisters intimately, in responding to the personal needs rather than the global.
I also believe our parish has many of the same attributes that the early Christian communities held. We simply are family, and right now great grace is upon us as it was for them. Can you feel it? It’s here with us today. Think of all the generations who have worshiped in this sanctuary and encountered this foundation of love. Grace is the underpinning of our liturgy, of the work we do in the food pantry as we respond to our greater family in the Lakeport community, of the work done in the thrift store, of all the different ministries that the Holy Spirit is calling us to fulfill.
The epistle today says, “If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.” I found grace in Fr. Leo’s presence and in his great love of God and Jesus. When I feel my light growing dim, his memory helps to rekindle it. I find grace at St. John’s where I touch this light most strongly. This church is the bank of hope I pull from as I deal with the challenges I’ve created for myself during the the week. I meet God’s grace in our prayers, in the stories each of you share, and being heard and accepted for who I am by all of you.
You are my family, and as all families, we sometimes have problems, but our mission to love and serve the Lord, and to forgive from our hearts and begin anew, keeps sustaining us. Last week I was up here without kleenex. The first two hymns we sang had been a part of Fr. Leo’s memorial. I lost it, forgot to take the crucifix up for the gospel, could not stop crying during the whole service no matter how I tried to breathe. I felt I was in the Easter garden with Jesus, with Mary Magdalen, and I felt God’s great grace and love housed within our beautiful church and the beautiful souls of all of you.
I’d like to open up to a conversation. I’m wondering, how have you encountered the grace of God at St. Johns or elsewhere in your lives? If anyone feels comfortable to share I’d like to open this time up to you.
Shared thoughts: having cancer wreck health and income forcing a move to Lake County, and then finding St. John’s and a new life, feeling forgiven after stress meltdowns, and memories of living in a commune in Haight-Ashbery in the 60s.
The Gospel today also talks about doubts. I think it’s important to understand…and this is something that I have to stay open to…is that doubt is not the opposite of faith, but a part of it. Jesus isn’t rebuking Thomas when he says, “Blessed are those who have not seen, yet come to believe.” How fortunate we have this story. Thomas touched Jesus for allof us, so that we would all encounter the risen Christ through him. All of us have had doubts about God, or the meaning of the dark times in our lives, of our faith even in this church. We don’t have to be ashamed or hide; we can live in the ambiguity, and still experience a way to believe, to be guided by our heart’s experience. God will allow doubt to pull us toward Eternity and the certainty of God’s love.
Saint John’s has challenges, as all congregations do. But, just as in our relationship with the mystery of Christ, we don’t have to figure it all out. We can rest in the knowledge that no matter what happens in our future, the grace experienced here is real. The stories told today are part of our spiritual food. We can live in uncertainty, but actively listen to the still small voice that rests within each of us. How can we each continue to make this beautiful church reach out to heal, take care each of us, and toward the future to the unknown individuals who will someday find their home with us?
You were given a card as you entered today. I’d like for you to write one doubt inside of it and to carry it with you for the next week. Don’t feel you need to resolve it, but pray, as the poet Rilke said, to live in the question and see where God leads you.
We’ll end with a quiet moment. Let us breathe in God’s grace and the love that is present here with our family.
Many believe St. Thomas was an apostle to India and said to have died there December 21, 72. For an interesting look of the facts/myths about St. Thomas, here is a link to an article in Times Magazine.
Saint Thomas is believed by many to have been an apostle to India, dying there on December 21, 72. Here is an article from Time Magazine about some beliefs about his life there: http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,817710,00.html
Acts 4: 32-35
1 John 1:1-22
John 20: 19-31
Alethea Eason is a licensed lay minister at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Lakeport, CA.