Sunday, April 28, 2013

This Beautiful Place

Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
April 28, 2013

Year C: The Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 11:1-18
Psalm 148
(Revelation 21:1-6)
John 13:31-35

This Beautiful Place
            Well, let me just say, where I’m going you are welcome to visit any time!
            As you might guess, getting ready to leave Grace Church (again) has stirred up in me a real mix of emotions. I’m very excited about my soon to begin ministry at St. Paul’s, Jersey City, but I’m also painfully aware of how much Sue and I will miss you. And I’ve also been thinking about all of the parish events that we will miss out on.
            For example, next week you’ll celebrate Rogation Sunday – an ancient tradition when we give thanks to God for the gift of this beautiful planet – when we ask God’s blessing on this beautiful place.
            And this is just about the best place ever to… rogate.
            So, these last few weeks I’ve been trying to pay extra close attention to my surroundings – to be mindful - to really take it all in – to appreciate the opportunity to live and work here – to give thanks for this amazing gift that I’ve been given twice.
            And I’ve been really struck by how beautiful it is here, especially during the springtime.
            Fortunately, this year we were spared any late-winter, early-spring storms so the trees and flowers have held on to their buds and blooms, giving us splashes of color up and down just about every street.
            It’s beautiful here.
            And, of course, it’s beautiful here at Grace Church.
            Yes, a lot of time, effort and money are spent keeping the grounds and the buildings looking so good – no easy task at a place that gets so much use just about every day.
            But, really, it’s beautiful here at Grace Church because of all of you.
            In today’s gospel lesson, we’re back at the Last Supper.
            In John’s telling of Jesus’ final meal with his closest friends, he gives them some hard news, “Where I am going, you cannot come.”
            At the Last Supper, in what’s called Farewell Discourse, Jesus tries to get across what’s most important. Jesus acts out how and who he wants us to be when he gets on his hands and knees and washes the feet of his disciples.
            See, this is who we’re called to be – this is who we are meant to be – this is who we really are: loving servants of God and of one another.
            In today’s lesson, Jesus sums up his teaching, spelling it out as plainly as possible: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
            “Love one another.”
            Grace Church is a beautiful place because of you and the love that we share with one another.
            I could spend the rest of the day up here going on about all the beauty I’ve seen in you – I could probably preach until Rogation Sunday about all the love I’ve experienced among you.
            So much beauty: Anne and Eric and all the adults and children in the choir putting so much time and talent into their music and giving us transcendent moments on a weekly, but never routine, basis; Mary Lea and the Sunday School teachers and the youth group leaders engaging, inspiring and challenging our kids as they grow in their faith. Lauren taking her ordination vows with heartfelt devotion, giving herself in service to the church.
            So much love: the wizards who spend so many hours repairing what gets broken around here, often thinking up inexpensive solutions to costly problems; the diplomats who promote peace with our tenants; the office angels faithfully stuffing bulletins and Messenger mailings; the worship leaders offering our daily services, sometimes even alone; and the green-thumbed “lay weeders” stopping by early in the morning or late in the afternoon to give our flowers and trees a drink.
            So much beauty: the unsung heroes on the altar guild polishing the silver and washing and ironing the linens; the artists on Saturday afternoons carefully arranging the altar flowers; the intrepid flower deliverers bringing fragrant signs of love to grieving or ailing parishioners; and our sturdy ushers giving a warm welcome to all, especially newcomers and guests.
            So much love: gathering every Friday morning for breakfast at the Bagel Chateau, maybe not able to solve the world’s problems but always looking after one another and enjoying each other’s company; preparing and delivering meals to families touched by illness or grief; exchanging the peace every Sunday in a way that feels more like reunion than ritual; painstakingly crafting the church budget and focusing hawk-like attention on our finances; preparing delicious dishes for a potluck supper; rallying around parishioners facing what seem like insurmountable obstacles; and holding tight our friends suffering unimaginable pain and loss.
            So much beauty and so much love.
            Jesus said, “Love one another.”
            Grace Church is a beautiful place because of you and the love that we share with one another.
            In today’s gospel Jesus says to his closest followers, and to us here today, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
            But, actually, we’re called to do even more than that.
            We’re called to love the whole world.
            And we hear that global call to love in today’s lesson from the Acts of the Apostles. Here we glimpse the first big controversy in the Church: what to do about Gentiles – non-Jews – who were following Jesus.
            Many argued that since Jesus was the Jewish messiah then non-Jewish followers should be required to obey the Jewish Law – so, for example, men should be circumcised and everyone should follow the dietary rules.
            In today’s scene, Peter tells the story of a vision he has had – and the call from the Holy Spirit to make no distinction between Jew and Gentile.
            Peter recognizes that the Gentiles have also received the gift of the Holy Spirit. And he asks a haunting question, “Who was I that I thought I could hinder God?”
            Peter realized that God was calling him to the frightening and challenging work of breaking down the boundaries between Jew and Gentile.
            And today we are called to the frightening and challenging work of breaking down the boundaries in our own time and place – the boundaries between rich and poor, between immigrant and native-born, between Republican and Democrat, between the loved and the despised, between the old and the young, between the successes and the failures, between urbanites and suburbanites.
            We’re called to the frightening and challenging work of loving everyone: the people right here in our own community, people in places like Jersey City, people everywhere and anywhere, especially the people who don’t live in physically or spiritually beautiful places – the people who aren’t living beautiful lives filled with love.
            This is who we’re called to be – this is who we are meant to be – this is who we really are: loving servants of God and of one another.
            God is calling all of us, young and not so young, to be “Grace Gives Back.”
            God is calling us to keep shattering those Souper Bowl records; to challenge Kit with figuring out how to schedule so many Recycling Ministry volunteers; to overcrowd the soup kitchen with parishioners ready to greet each guest as Christ himself; to give away so much (unexpired!) food that Jabez and Anne have call on their kids to paint some more Food for Friends barrels.
            God is calling us – kids and adults - to make mission trips to places near and far – to Main Street, to Morristown, to Jersey City, to West Virginia and beyond - mission trips that last minutes, hours or days - not every other year but all the time so that they become part of our very fabric as a church.
            This is who we’re called to be – this is who we are meant to be – this is who we really are: loving servants of God and of one another.
            Who are we that we think we can hinder God?
            During his farewell with his friends, Jesus said, “Love one another.”
            I know that with God’s help we really can love one another.
            I know we really can love one another – we can love the people sitting with us here in church and the people out there in the world.
            With God’s help, I know we really can love one another because I’ve seen it – I’ve received it – right here in this beautiful place.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Hearing the Good Shepherd

Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
April 21, 2013

Year C: The Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
(Revelation 7:9-17)
John 10:22-30

Hearing the Good Shepherd
            This may sound strange and surprising, but when I was in seminary I often found the chapel to be a very tense place.
            It was probably caused, at least in part, by my own insecurity. But in the chapel I was careful not to make a misstep. I was nervous that if I made too many mistakes – if I mispronounced something, if I stood when I was supposed to kneel, if (God forbid!) my cell phone rang during a service, if, if, if – then people would think that maybe I wasn’t really cut out to be a priest – that I had misheard God’s call – that the whole thing had been a big mistake.
            What made me most nervous in the chapel was singing.
            I remember the first services I attended there – I remember being surrounded by so many beautiful voices – the beautiful voices of people who had grown up in the Episcopal Church – who had been in church choirs their whole lives – people who knew the repertoire and who could really sing.
            And then there was me.
            As most of you know, I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church – a tradition that gave me many gifts, but singing wasn’t one of them.
            In my memory, it feels like in church we sang maybe a grand total of five different hymns. I use the word “sang” loosely. And, often, we didn’t sing the whole hymn – just whatever was needed to cover some liturgical action, like the procession or recession.
            One of those five hymns was called “I the Lord of sea and sky” – maybe better known as “Hear I am.” I bet all of you former Roman Catholics know the refrain:
Here I am Lord. Is it I Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me,
I will hold your people in my heart.
            It’s a hymn that never fails to make me tear up, because of the words themselves and, I admit, a sugary dash of childhood nostalgia.
             “Here I am” isn’t in our hymnal but it is in a supplement called “Wonder, Love, and Praise.”
            Anyway, back to the seminary. One day we sang “Here I am” one day during a service in the chapel. As I was croaking it out and trying not to cry, I heard whispers behind me - and some chuckling.
            I shouldn’t have, but I turned around - and saw it was two professors.
            They noticed my look, I guess, and after the service they explained that during the hymn they had asked each other if they ever had heard the Lord “calling in the night.”
            And the answer was no.
            I was reminded of this story when I reflected on today’s lesson from the Gospel of John.
            Remember that John is the last of the four gospels to be completed, probably around the end of the First Century – several generations after the earthly lifetime of Jesus and his first followers.
            So, John is a complex and profound product of divine inspiration working through decades of Christian reflection on the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
            And the Gospel of John also reflects some of the painfully divisive issues and challenges facing at least one Christian community near the end of the First Century.
            The passage we heard today is especially dense with rich theology.
            We’re told that Jesus is walking in the Jerusalem Temple at the festival of the Dedication – better known to us today as Hanukkah.           
            So that’s the setting for this little exchange between Jesus and some people described as “the Jews” – representing the many people who did not accept Jesus as messiah.
            They want to know, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
            Jesus reminds them that he has told them. And, he tells them, “The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me.”
            After Jesus dismisses them as not part of his fold, he says:
            “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”
            “My sheep hear my voice.”
            And that’s what reminded me of the hymn…
            “Here I am Lord. Is it I Lord?
            I have heard you calling in the night.”
            And I wonder: when do we hear the call of the Good Shepherd?
            How do we – how would we - hear the call of the Good Shepherd?
            Last week here in church we heard the dramatic story of the conversion of Saul, when on the road to Damascus still breathing threats and murder, he was knocked to the ground, blinded and heard the voice of the Risen Christ: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
            Saul heard the call of the Good Shepherd in a startling, life-shattering way, sending his life hurtling in a totally different direction, on his way to becoming St. Paul.
            But, few, if any, of us hear the call of the Good Shepherd quite like that.
            And, we all know, it’s hard to hear the call of the Good Shepherd – or anything else, for that matter, in our modern world with its many, many tempting distractions, relentlessly drawing our attention to computer screen, cell phone, texts, facebook, twitter, and other social media I’m sure I haven’t even heard of yet.
            It’s hard to hear the call of the Good Shepherd in our lives – lives often filled with work and worry, with loneliness and longing, with pressure and pretending.
            And it’s hard to hear the call of the Good Shepherd in our fallen and broken world filled with senseless, heartbreaking, violence – in a world armed to the teeth, in a world where some people are willing and able to use both crude and sophisticated means to maim and kill people going about their lives – running  - or cheering on runners – in a marathon.
            In our lives – in this fallen, broken and messed-up world – it’s hard to hear the call of the Good Shepherd.
            But, the Good Shepherd continues to call us.
            In today’s gospel Jesus tells the people who question him, “The works that I do in my Father’s Name testify to me.”
            And in today’s reading from Acts we heard about Peter – good old flawed, bumbling, often misguided Peter, raising Tabitha from the dead. The point is that the Risen Christ continued to do his works through a flawed vessel like Peter. And the Risen Christ continues to do his works through flawed, bumbling, often misguided people just like us.
            And what are those works? It’s the work of self-giving. It’s the work of self-sacrifice. It’s the work of transforming seeming defeat into triumphant victory. It’s the work of turning death into life.
            These past few days I’m sure we were moved by the selfless acts of courage, heroism and skill by police and FBI agents in Boston – the people whose job is to run straight into danger.
            I think I was most touched, though, by the stories on Monday of the marathon runners who kept right on running – not home, not to their hotel, not off to hide and collapse somewhere - but straight to the hospital to donate blood for the victims.
            I bet those runners are just as flawed, bumbling and imperfect as the rest of us. Yet, on that horrible day they were willing to give of themselves – to sacrifice – to transform seeming defeat into triumphant victory – to turn death into life.
            In and through them and so many others, we can hear the call of the Good Shepherd – the call to love one another, the call to give away our lives in service to God – the call to give away our lives in service to our broken, fallen, messed up world.
            May the world hear the call of the Good Shepherd in and through us
            And, then, maybe, this can really be our song:
            Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
            I have heard you calling in the night.
            I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
            I will hold your people in my heart.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Conversion and Full Nets

Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
April 14, 2013

Year C: The Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 9:1-20
Psalm 30
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19
Conversion and Full Nets
            One time during the year when Sue and I were living in Gainesville, Florida, I heard a series of talks given by Bart Ehrman, a professor of Religious Studies at Chapel Hill, who’s also a best-selling author. Maybe you’ve read some of his books or seen him on TV.
            His field is early Christian literature – both what’s in the Bible and other writings that were not included in what’s called the canon.
            Ehrman’s talk was sponsored by the big Episcopal church in downtown Gainesville – so the audience was made up of mostly faithful churchgoers, along with some people from the outside community and the University of Florida.
            Anyway, his talk was interesting, though there wasn’t much news for anyone who had read his books.
            At one point, during the Q and A, someone asked him if he believed in God and in Jesus.
            He was clearly uncomfortable with the question and seemed almost sad as he gave his answer. Essentially, he said no – that while he was open to the possibility that there might be some creative force behind the universe he could not believe that this was the God of Israel and the God of Jesus. It was a very poignant moment when Ehrman, a scholar who has devoted his professional life to studying early Christian literature, admitted that he is no longer a Christian.
            Fast-forward to last year when Ehrman published his most recent book. When I saw the title, I thought, oh boy, here we go.
            It’s called Did Jesus Exist?
            On the back cover it says, “The truth behind the Jesus Myth.”
            My assumption was that this scholar who had lost his faith had now written a book to suggest that Jesus of Nazareth never even existed.
            But, I’m happy to report that’s not what Ehrman is up to in his book. The subtitle is “The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth.” In his book, Ehrman systematically takes on and rebuts the various writers and thinkers who have claimed that there was no historical Jesus. It’s worth reading.
            In one key section of his book, Ehrman takes on and demolishes the idea that some Jewish people back in the First Century just made up Jesus. He does this by summarizing the First Century Jewish expectations of what the Messiah would be like. He writes they expected, “…the messiah would be a future ruler of the people of Israel, leading a real kingdom on earth. He would be visibly and openly known to be God’s special emissary, the anointed one. And he would be high and mighty, a figure of grandeur and power.”
            Ehrman argues that no First Century Jew could have possibly made up the story of a messiah who was a nobody from Nazareth who was rejected and executed in the most shameful way – as a common criminal.
            It was more than ridiculous and outlandish – these claims made about Jesus as messiah would have been seen as an insult to God – as blasphemy.
            Which helps to explain why the author of Acts tells us that Saul the Pharisee breathed threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.
            Saul had already been introduced earlier in Acts at the martyrdom of a follower of Jesus named Stephen. We’re told that as the angry crowd stoned Stephen to death, Saul held their coats and “approved of their killing them.”
            Now in today’s lesson Saul is back, still angry, and on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians, followers of “the Way,” and bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment.
            But, it’s on the road to Damascus that Saul had one of the most dramatic conversion experiences of all time – and began his journey to become St. Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, the non-Jews.
            Saul, who had never met Jesus during his earthly lifetime, endured his own kind of death and resurrection. We’re told that after seeing the intense light and hearing the voice of Jesus, he was blind for three days and ate and drank nothing.
            But then, after Ananias laid hands on him, his sight was restored. He was baptized and reborn. His life took off in a radically different direction.
            Saul who had breathed threats and murder against the Christians now boldly proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
            We know from his own letters and from the Acts of the Apostles that Paul gave away the rest of his life spreading the Good News of Christ – the Good News of this most unexpected, humble, nobody messiah. Along the way, Paul faced many challenges and disappointments – the dangers of travel around the Mediterranean, rejection, ridicule, disputes with other disciples, arrests, beatings and, finally, according to early Christian tradition, martyrdom with Peter at Rome in the early 60s.
            I’ve met a few people – and read many stories about others – who have had powerful conversion experiences – sudden moments when God seemed to intervene in history, dramatically changing the course of their lives.
            Maybe some of you have had experiences like that.
            Not me. Oh, there have been milestones and forks in the road – in fact, one of them is coming up in just a few weeks – but no flash of light, no voice from heaven, no dramatic change.
            We might think that it’s a lot easier to have faith when we’ve been blessed with a powerful conversion experience.
            I’m not so sure.
            A conversion experience can become an idol – a story, an experience, that’s so important and so meaningful that we get stuck, telling it over and over, polishing it like some sacred and valuable object.
            Another danger of a conversion experience is that later we can start to question, to doubt, our own memories. Did that really happen? Did I really hear the voice of Jesus or was it just a hallucination or a seizure or a dream?  It was so long ago, it doesn’t seem real to me anymore…
            No, it wasn’t the flash of light and the voice of Christ that sustained Paul during those years of proclaiming the Good News to the gentiles. Despite all the challenges and disappointments, Paul was sustained by God’s overflowing abundance. Paul was sustained when he saw, over and over, the power of Christ transforming lives in places like Corinth and Philippi and Galatia.
            Paul was a tent-maker, not a fisherman, but his spiritual nets were nearly bursting at the seams, giving him the confidence and courage to move forward into the unknown, risking it all, giving away his life for Christ, the unlikely and unexpected messiah.
            And the same is true for us.
            Whether or not we’ve had some powerful conversion experience, we all face many challenges and disappointments in our lives: regret, fear, rejection and heartbreaking loss.
            We’re not here because of a supernatural experience or because of some book we’ve read about Jesus. No. We’re here – we’re Christians - because somehow even in the midst of challenges and disappointments – even in the midst of our own sin – somehow, together, our spiritual nets are also nearly bursting at the seams.
            Just look around – look at the power of Christ transforming lives right here at Grace Church – inspiring people to care for one another during those challenging and disappointing times of regret, fear, rejection and heartbreaking loss – the power of Christ inspiring us to pick up the phone, to send an email, to drop off a meal, to offer a hug or a shoulder to cry on.
            Just look around – look at the girls and the moms who’ve put on Doll four years running. Look at the children and the adults who give up so much valuable time to make beautiful music here week after week.
            Just look around – look at Kit and his small band of volunteers doing well by doing good, delivering household items that transform the lives of so many people.
            Just look around – look at the people visiting shut-ins, people in the hospital and in nursing homes.
            Just look around – look around and imagine all of the other generous acts that go on around here that most people – even Lauren and I – never know about or only find out about long after the fact.
            Just look around – look and see the power of Christ filling our spiritual nets until they’re nearly bursting at the seams.
            On the road to Damascus, Saul had a dramatic conversion experience – transforming him from the Pharisee who breathed threats and murder against the disciples into an apostle boldly proclaiming Jesus, the unlikely and unexpected messiah, as the Son of God.
            But what sustained and inspired Paul – and can sustain and inspire us -whether we’ve had a conversion experience or not – is the encounter with the Risen Christ in and through one another – the realization that together our spiritual nets are nearly bursting at the seams.           
            If we only just look.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Credible Witnesses

Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
April 7, 2013

Year C: The Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 5:27-32
Psalm 150
(Revelation 1:4-8)
John 20:19-31

Credible Witnesses
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            Every year on the Second Sunday of Easter we hear the powerful and important story of the Resurrected Christ appearing to the frightened disciples hiding in the locked room.
            It’s the story from John’s Gospel of a little Pentecost, the birth of the Church, when the Resurrected Christ breathed the Holy Spirit onto his followers – and it’s the story of Thomas, one of the twelve, who missed the whole thing.
            I always wonder where Thomas was that evening. What was he doing that he missed out on seeing the Risen Christ? I suppose it could have been something mundane like running out to get food. Or maybe after the shameful death of Jesus on the cross, Thomas gave up hope, abandoned the other disciples and just went back to his old life.
            But, I like to imagine him off alone somewhere – out in the wilderness – shouting up at the evening sky, crying out to God. “How could you have let this happen to Jesus?” “How could you have let this happen to us?” “Why was I dumb enough to follow Jesus – to believe that he was the messiah?” “What’s going to happen to me now?” “Where are you?”
            Later the apostle earns his eternal reputation as a great doubter when the others report that they had seen the Lord. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
            Doubting Thomas.
            At least some of the time, Thomas is our patron saint because most of us – all of us? – even those of us who are in church all the time - have our doubts.
            But, why does Thomas doubt that the disciples have seen the Lord?
            Is it because he had lost faith in the promises of Jesus, because he was ready to give up on the whole thing and go back to his old life? Was it a case of fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me?
            But, I think Thomas doubts because the other disciples are not yet credible witnesses.
            After all, Thomas knows these people only too well.
            He has been with them for months, maybe years, following Jesus around the countryside, from town to town, listening to Jesus teach, witnessing Jesus perform his miraculous signs – healing, multiplying loaves and fishes, water into wine, raising the dead.
            And through it all, how have the disciples behaved?
            While Jesus lived a life of love and sacrifice, the disciples jockeyed for position, eager to be at the Lord’s right and left hand.
            While Jesus taught about the kingdom of God - a world turned downside-up – a kingdom where the poor and the hungry and the mourners are blessed - the disciples remained thickheaded and confused, still ignorant about the most basic teachings of Jesus.
            While Jesus was faithful right to the end, the disciples abandoned him in his greatest moment of need. They were unable to stay awake with him while he prayed in the garden on the last night of his life. They abandoned him to die in agony, nearly alone. And at least one of them denied even knowing him – not once but three times.
            Judas wasn’t the only disciple who betrayed Jesus.
            Yes, Thomas knows these people – knows these so-called apostles and disciples. And Thomas knows himself to be one of them.
            Thomas doubts because, for the most part, so far the disciples have not been credible witnesses.
            We all have our doubts, so Thomas is, at least sometimes, our patron saint.
            But, Thomas is really the patron saint of all those people out there – the people who would never think of stepping foot in church, the people who have been turned off by the hypocrisy, unkindness and even cruelty of so many Christians – the people who have been wounded by the Church.
            Thomas is really the patron saint of all those people out there who don’t find Christians to be credible witnesses.
            And, let’s face it, often we’re not credible witnesses.
            We lose credibility every time we reject Christ. We lose credibility when we ignore or reject the command to love God and to love one another as we love ourselves. We lose credibility when we pile up wealth and possessions for ourselves, giving little or no thought to the people here in our own community and around the world who have little or nothing. We lose credibility when we look away from suffering, declining to reach out to the lonely, the grieving, the frightened and despairing people who are all around us.
            We lose credibility when we live pretty much like everybody else.
            Often we’re not credible witnesses of the Risen Christ.
            So, who can blame the modern-day Doubting Thomases for not taking our claims seriously? Who can blame the modern-day Doubting Thomases for choosing playing on the golf course or reading the paper in bed or taking a walk in the park or enjoying a nice brunch instead being with us here today?
            A week later, when Thomas saw the Risen Christ with his own eyes, the doubting apostle cried out, “My Lord and my God!”
            And Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet who have come to believe.”
            Blessed are those who believe without seeing.
            We are not going to see the resurrected Body of Christ the way Thomas and the other disciples did long ago in that locked room.
            But we do see the Body of Christ – we are the Body of Christ – we are the blessing to those who have not seen - when we are credible witnesses.
            And despite the tiredness of the world and the cynicism of our culture, people still respond to credible witnesses – people are still attracted to Christians living authentic lives – people are still drawn to Christians whose words and deeds match up, at least some of the time.
            Just look at how the world has responded to the new pope. People have been so moved and impressed by Francis firmly rejecting much of the seductive trappings and pomp of his office, choosing to live in community, reaching out to the disabled, tenderly washing and kissing the feet of prisoners.
            We may not necessarily agree with some of his theology but we  - and the whole world - are encountering a credible witness of the Risen Christ. And that witness is still powerful.
            Even Jon Stewart said about the pope the other night on The Daily Show, “I love this guy!”
            Obviously, it’s not just the pope. We are all called to be credible witnesses. We are all called to live – not perfect – but authentic lives. We are all called to match up our words and deeds. We are all called to be credible witnesses.
            In a little while we are going to baptize Nora and Maya into the Christian life.
            Their parents and families and all of us will make some big promises.
            As we do at every baptism, we will all renew our baptismal covenant, making big promises to continue breaking bread together; to resist evil and to repent; to proclaim by word and example the Good News; to love our neighbor as ourself; to respect the dignity of all persons.
            Big promises. Lots of words.
            But, really we promise, with God’s help, to be a blessing for all those Doubting Thomases out there who have not yet seen.
            We promise, with God’s help, to be the Body of Christ in a tired world and cynical culture starved for love and craving authenticity.
            We promise, with God’s help, to be credible witnesses of the Risen Christ.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!