[Sermon preached on Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018 [Year B] at Saint Paul’s Church on Lake of the Isles – Minneapolis, Minnesota].

[You can listen to this sermon by tuning into the latest episode of the Word Made FRESH Podcast].

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Tell that to Mother Nature because, apparently, she did not get the memo.

Although the ground outside is covered in a fresh layer of snow and ice, Christian faith says that life, unconquerable life, is still stirring beneath the ground, waiting to flood creation with warmth and energy and a different, less cold, type of beauty.

That’s the way the world was created – a beautiful act of love. At least as far as the book of “Genesis” is concerned, our Creator created the world in and for harmony, abundance, and peace. We were created in the womb of love for the sake of love alone.

But love, by its very nature, cannot be coercive. You cannot make someone love you. It cannot be demanded. It must be a choice. Therefore, from the very beginning, although we were created in and for harmony, abundance, and peace, disharmony, scarcity, and violence were always possibilities lurking in the background. The tendency to be drawn away from love and towards selfishness is what the Bible calls “sin.” Sin is not a list of things we do wrong. It is a network of brokenness that constantly seduces us away from our true home in love. To call ourselves “sinners” isn’t a statement about our individual morality. It’s a cry for help. It is an act of resistance against a system that silences us and traps us, against a system that is destroying us, against a system that denies our ability to journey home.

Aretha Franklin, the one and only Queen of Soul, sings of this home when she sings,

I have heard of a land on the fay away strand,
‘Tis a beautiful home of the soul
Built by Jesus on high, where we never shall die,
‘Tis a land where we never grow old.

The Christian journey is about finding our way back to that “home of the soul” by following the One who pioneered the way even through the gates of death – Jesus Christ. It is ultimately about recovering our true identities as incredibly beloved, passionately creative, deeply compassionate co-partners in God’s continual work of creation. Each of us was created to sing in harmony with everyone and everything, but we have been seduced into disharmony and, for the sake of our own wellbeing and that of Creation itself, we must find our way back home. Because until then, we are exiles, wanderers, sojourners, and pilgrims in search of provision and grace to sustain our journey as we continue our mysterious search for freedom.

Perhaps that’s why our faith speaks so much of bread and wine, water and fire. They aren’t meaningless symbols in a meaningless ritual. They mainstays of our wanderings. These are episodes of grace, food for the journey, and divine protection. In Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God lights our way home and provides food and water for us along the way. These simple elements are what my dear friend the Rev. Broderick Greer calls reminders “that God’s liberating power isn’t just something that happens in stories told long ago. No. God liberates, breaks chains, and sets folk free even today. Right now, in this moment.” Dear friends, despite what it might look like around us, God is still recreating this world. Things that were dead are being raised to new life. What was once cast down is being lifted. What was old is being made new. And all of this by the power of God who created us in love and for love and will go to the ends of Creation and back to bring us back to love.

When the two Marys and Sister Salome visit the tomb of our Lord that first Easter morning, they were going fully expecting that Jesus was still dead. They were bearing spices to anoint Jesus’ body as was the Jewish burial custom. They had fully resigned themselves to his death, and with good reason. After all, they were there when they crucified the Lord of Life. They witnessed the sheer brutality of it all. They saw the violence. They experienced the trauma. Maybe it was grief, or common sense, or doubt or a mixture of all three, but for them, the story was over. Jesus was dead and, despite having been immersed in the stories of God’s salvation, they couldn’t see any other possibility on the horizon.

That is, until the tomb they expected to see closed and filled with death is found opened and overflowing with life. Rather than receiving a message that confirmed their expectations, they encounter a man, an angel apparently, who tells them that God has just blown their minds. In that brief encounter with the angel, the Marys and Sister Salome are reminded that you can count on God for a lot, but you for sure can’t count God out.

Beloved siblings in Christ, like the two Marys and Sister Salome, it is easy to take one look at the world around us and see death, and for very good reason. Our planet seems to be teetering on the abyss of climate disaster largely because of our exploitation and misuse of the abundant riches of creation. International relations seem poised for nuclear war as leaders gamble our common future with 240 characters or less on social media. Relationships within and between diverse communities in this country seem fraught with division, distrust, and hatred. Our own lives are filled with endless examples of tragic news like death, job loss, and devastating diagnoses. Death and violence stalk us all around.

But through bread and wine, water and fire, God is reminding us over and over again that the Creation, this blessed Creation, is still unfolding. In bread we are reminded of a God who will nourish and sustain our souls with grace in the midst of a world experiencing a famine of compassion. In wine, we are reminded of a God who will lean into the worst of humanity in order to reveal the very best of the Divine Nature. In water, we are reminded of a God who invites us to be family, a community, connected not by uniformity, but by diversity and difference. In fire we are reminded of a God who will protect us even as God lights our way home. Bread and wine, water and fire are signs of encouragement, foretastes of glory divine, and strength from above to do what seems impossible.

I think Paul MacCartney had it right when, in 1968, he sang,

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

God is not dead, but alive. God’s word is not death, but life. God’s gospel is not a negation of life, but an invitation to wade more deeply into who we really are – a people with a faint memory of a homeland, “the beautiful home of the soul.” In a culture that seems to thrive on death, we need regular reminders to celebrate life, life that flows like an unstoppable river. We need bread and wine, fire and water. We need to be reminded that we are, or we can be, a people who are fed and filled, baptized and redeemed. We need to be reminded that what we see around us is giving way to our true home.

We need to be reminded that, even in the dead of night, we can take these broken wings and learn to fly to that home by beating our wings for peace, beating them for joy, beating them for love.

Letters from our Wardens and Rector (click to view)

August 29, 2019
Dear Saint Paul’s Parish Family,

We are sorry to share so early in our journey with Father Marcus that he has submitted his resignation and will be leaving us October 6, 2019. He has accepted a position at the Diocese of Connecticut. In his new position, he will be the Dean of Formation and will also be working as a Missional Priest-in-Charge of a faith community. This is a wonderful opportunity for him allowing him to continue to strengthen his gifts. The Diocese of Connecticut will benefit as we have from Father Marcus’s passion. Although it is hard to see him go, we have learned and done wonderful things as a parish with his leadership and guidance over the past 2-1/2 years. It will be exciting to watch his continued growth from afar knowing we were blessed to have been part of his early career. Father Marcus’s letter to the parish is included in this email.

So now we begin to look forward. Beth and I will be in contact with ECMN and Bishop Prior to plan for an interim priest and to look at putting together a search committee. We will gather together and consider what we have learned about ourselves during our time with Father Marcus. This is a chance for us to evaluate where we are and to make plans for moving forward: what we want to be sure to carry forward, what things we might want back that have changed, and yes, what might not have been tackled yet that we want to explore? We ask that each of you give prayerful consideration to these questions. They will be foundational to our Rector search.

We know the amazing strength of this parish and are confident we will become even stronger from the challenge that has been put in front of us. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns.

Blessings,
Meredith Johnson, Senior Warden (meredithvj@gmail.com) Beth Carlson, Junior Warden (pbcarlson@comcast.net)


Dear Saint Paul’s,

It is with a mix of sadness and joy that I inform you that I offered my resignation to the Vestry on Monday, August 19. My last day as your priest will be Sunday, October 6, 2019. I have accepted a call to serve as the Dean of Formation for the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, a position that will also include serving as a Missional Priest-in- Charge of a faith community there.

Throughout my time as your Rector, I’ve tried to preach, teach, and exemplify a consistent message: each of us is called to grow in Christian maturity to meet the challenges and opportunities of being the Church in this new missional age. Our patron, Saint Paul the Apostle, calls this the “full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). This means taking seriously our individual and collective calls to be leaders, not only within the walls of our parish but also in the wider community. Leading, especially in times of great change, means taking risks, being open to failure that leads to learning, collaborating with others, and standing firmly in our identity and purpose.

People across Saint Paul’s Church have heard this message, stepped up, and stepped forward. Together, we have faced down a major challenge head-on –tackling our budget deficit– and as a result are experiencing a renewal of energy and spirit. We have new ministries popping up all around, a greater capacity for innovation, and deeper commitment to Christ and the mission of God he invites us into. There are others who are still afraid to step forward or unsure where they fit, and that’s okay. Saint Paul’s moves forward together.

My new role will give me the opportunity to help form other ordained leaders in what we’ve done together: translating an age-old faith to a contemporary context. I am excited and honored to be asked by Bishop Ian Douglas to serve the Church in this role.

None of this takes away the anxiety, sadness, or grief that many will feel at this time. Transitions are always hard, especially when it comes when things are going well. I have not served as your Rector for long, but we’ve done a lot together. I will pray for you as you discern what leadership model God might be inviting you to try and who might best step into that role to walk alongside you as you continue engaging God’s mission. Your wardens are two of the most capable people I’ve ever met and together with your vestry and the entire community, as it has for the last 139 years, your journey continues.

There will be time to say goodbye, and I will continue to serve faithfully until my final day. In the meantime, the mission of God calls us onward. There are individuals and communities in need of the Gospel – and it is our job as followers of Jesus Christ to proclaim it, in word and example.

Faithfully, Marcus+

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