Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Binding

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
June 29, 2014

Year A, Proper 8: The Third Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 22:1-14
Psalm 13
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42
The Binding
            Parents love their children.
            There are some very sad and troubling exceptions, but for the most part parents love their children with the most intense love that we can experience in this life.
            Most parents would do anything for their children - would, without a second thought, give up their own lives for their children. I see that kind of sacrifice around here all the time. So many of the parents here at St. Paul’s – so many of you - work so hard – work sometimes beyond exhaustion - to make sure your beloved kids have opportunities – have the best life possible in this often tough and dangerous city.
            Parents love their children. And that’s especially true – intensely true – for parents who had difficulty conceiving children.
            Maybe you’ve known people who endured fertility treatments or in-vitro fertilization to get pregnant. Some people employ a surrogate mother. And, of course, many wonderfully generous people adopt.
            Those parents – who desired a child so much – who kept trying despite the odds – who had children when they thought they couldn’t have children - those parents love their kids with an especially intense love.
            Abraham and Sarah were part of that group.
            The Book of Genesis tells the story of how God had called Abraham and Sarah to leave behind their old lives, to leave behind their home, to head out into an unknown land.
            God commanded Abraham to give up the past.
            And, in return, God promised that Abraham would be the father of a great nation.
            There was just one problem. Abraham and Sarah couldn’t conceive.
            You may remember last week we heard the story of Hagar and her son Ishmael. Because she couldn’t conceive, Sarah had given the slave woman Hagar to Abraham and together they had a son, Ishmael.
            But then, in their very old age, God gave Abraham and Sarah a child of their own, Isaac. We can imagine – some of us don’t have to imagine – Abraham and Sarah’s intense love for Isaac, their miraculous gift from God.
            All of this makes the story we heard today – what’s called “The Binding” of Isaac - so powerful, poignant and, yes, disturbing.
            Once again God calls Abraham. And Abraham responds, “Here I am.”
            Abraham is paying attention, ready and willing to obey God.
            Once again God sends Abraham out – this time with his beloved, miraculous,  son and two servants – this time to a place called Moriah where Abraham is commanded to sacrifice Isaac.
            Earlier, Abraham had been commanded to give up the past.
            Now, Abraham is commanded to give up the future.
            They arrive at Moriah and Abraham tells the two servants to wait while he and Isaac worship and then return together – which sounds like a lie. Abraham may simply be lying to the servants and to Isaac – and maybe even lying to himself. Or, maybe it’s not a lie. Maybe Abraham hasn’t lost hope – maybe Abraham still trusts God’s mercy.
            Abraham places the wood on Isaac’s back.
            Isaac, no fool, realizes - wait a minute! - we have everything for a sacrifice… except the lamb.
            The Bible doesn’t describe how Isaac reacted when he realized that he was the lamb. But, it doesn’t seem like Isaac put up a fight. It seems that he submits to his elderly father. It seems that, like his father, Isaac also submits to God.
            Then they arrive and Abraham binds his son and takes the knife, prepared to obey God’s command, prepared to sacrifice his beloved son, prepared to sacrifice the future.
            And then at the last moment an angel orders Abraham to stop.
            Abraham passes the test.
            Abraham’s obedience, his total devotion, is rewarded.
            After the passage we heard today, God renews the original promise to make Abraham the father of a great nation, with descendants as numerous as the stars, as numerous as the sand on the seashore.
            The Binding of Isaac is a powerful, poignant and, yes, disturbing story.
            I bet a lot of us have trouble accepting what seems to us like God’s cruelty – testing Abraham by commanding him to kill his son.
            But, in ancient times, no one would have seen God’s command as cruel. Difficult and painful, yes, but not cruel. Throughout the ancient world, in every religion, the gods demanded sacrifice.
            And sacrifice means giving up something we value very much.
            It wouldn’t have been much of a sacrifice if Abraham didn’t value his son, if he didn’t love Isaac so much.
            The point of the story was and is Abraham’s total trust in God – Abraham’s total faithfulness and obedience to God.
            And God rewards that total trust, total faithfulness, total obedience with great blessing – blessing for Abraham and for the many generations that followed.
            So, what does any of this have to do with us here today?
            God certainly isn’t going to command us to sacrifice our children. And God isn’t even going to ask us to sacrifice a ram, or even a cat.
            But, God still calls us to sacrifice.
            God still calls us to total trust, faithfulness and obedience.
            In the story, Isaac was bound by his father for sacrifice.
            Well, today we’re going to have a different kind of binding.
            In a few moments, I’m going to have the great joy of baptizing Jasmine. Unlike Isaac long ago, Jasmine knows what she’s getting herself into. In the water of baptism, God is going to make an unbreakable bond with her – God and Jasmine will be bound together forever – linked by a bond that is indissoluble.
            And you and I are going to be reminded that we are also bound with God.
            In baptism, God has made an unbreakable bond with us – no matter what we do or don’t do – God will never dissolve the bond that holds us together.
            And just like God long ago commanded Abraham to sacrifice, so God commands us to sacrifice.
            God commands us to sacrifice what’s valuable to us – to sacrifice our precious time by coming here and praying together and breaking bread together – to sacrifice our pride by admitting when we mess up and promising to change our ways – to sacrifice our selfishness and self-interest by loving our neighbor as ourselves, by loving everyone even our enemies – to sacrifice our wealth by giving to those in need - to sacrifice ourselves by giving away our lives in loving service.
            God commands us to sacrifice – maybe not as difficult as sacrificing a beloved child – but pretty challenging nonetheless.
            And, like Abraham, when we sacrifice we are richly blessed.
            We are blessed with bonds of love – bonds of love between God and us – bonds of love among us all.
            Just look around.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

God's Gang

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
June 22, 2014

Year A, Proper 7: The Second Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 21:8-21
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

God’s Gang

            I don’t know the first thing about soccer but I’m impressed by how excited so much of the world gets about the World Cup.
            I was at a meeting this week with someone who told me that he and his son were about to leave for Brazil to see four World Cup matches. He told me that when they had booked this trip long ago they had no idea what countries they would get to see compete. As it turns out that one of the games they’ll get to see the USA vs. Germany. I’m sure it’ll be an amazing experience.
            On the one hand, these games bring out nationalism – there’s lots of flag-waving and anthem-singing and chanting all the rest. But, the games also remind us of our common humanity – these athletes demonstrate amazing skill and stamina whether they come from big, rich countries or small, poor ones. And, every once in a while, a small country scores an upset over a powerhouse.
            The World Cup has sparked lots of soccer-related stories in the news.
            The other day while I was driving I heard on the radio a story about an organization that tries to provide lower income people and homeless people with the opportunity to play soccer. The story focused on a tough Brooklyn neighborhood called East New York. Although many of the people who live there come from soccer-crazed countries, there aren’t too many chances to play.
            Why? Well, first there isn’t much open-space in the neighborhood for soccer fields.
            That makes sense.
            And then the reporter mentioned another reason: gang turf wars make some streets too dangerous to cross. People in that neighborhood might have to literally risk their lives to cross the street to go play a game of soccer.
            That made me sad. And it surprised me, though I guess it shouldn’t have.
            We have plenty of gangs and gang-related violence right here in Jersey City – right in the neighborhoods where many of us live.
            Not quite two weeks ago two young men were shot and killed while sitting in a car on Van Nostrand Avenue. As far as I know the police haven’t released more information but no one would be surprised if this was a gang-related killing.
            And, many of us know that lots of other stuff happens on our streets goes that never makes it into the news.
            There’s nothing new about this and certainly nothing unique to a particular ethnicity. People have always grouped themselves for safety and for power. We don’t usually call these groups gangs – we use nicer words like nationalities, or extended families, or even religious denominations.
            We group ourselves together. And we classify others as outsiders who are unwelcome on our turf.
            That’s what we humans have been doing all along – we’ve been forming gangs.
            Us versus them.
            Meanwhile, all along God has been trying to get through to us that there’s no us versus them. There’s just we. There’s only supposed to be one gang – God’s Gang – the gang where all are welcome.
            We hear about God’s Gang in today’s reading from the Book of Genesis.
            God chose Abraham to be the father of God’s people. It’s encouraging that in choosing Abraham, God chose a dysfunctional family to begin the spread of God’s message. There’s hope for us all.
            Anyway, in today’s reading we hear about the weaning of Isaac, the son of Abraham and his wife Sarah, this child born miraculously in Sarah’s old age. Now, back when it seemed that Sarah couldn’t get pregnant she had given the slave Hagar to her husband. Together Abraham and Hagar had a son named Ishmael.
            But, now that Abraham and Sarah have a son of their own, Sarah wants Hagar and Ishmael gone. Sarah can’t stand having this slave woman and her son in their family – in their gang – on their turf.
            As we heard, in the story Abraham goes along with this after God assures him that Hagar and Ishmael will be OK. They’re expelled from the family – out of the gang - and go off on their own. But, God doesn’t abandon them. We’re told that God heard Hagar’s cry of despair. And God blesses Ishmael, making him the father of a great nation.
            Now, the usual interpretation is that Ishmael is the father of the Bedouin tribesmen who live south of Israel. The usual interpretation is that they are related to the Hebrews but inferior.
            But, another way of looking at it is, yes, the descendants of Abraham and Isaac have a special place as God’s chosen people. But, God blesses everyone. Hagar the slave and her son Ishmael were expelled from the gang but they were still welcome in God’s gang.
            Later, some Hebrew prophets offered a vision of the last days when all our divisions would be erased and all the nations, all the gangs of the world, would gather at Mt. Zion and worship the one true God.
            Kind of like God’s World Cup.
            We Christians believe that those last days have begun. God’s World Cup has begun in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
            In his earthly lifetime, Jesus had no interest in human gangs.
            Jesus stressed out his followers and outraged the authorities by reaching out to people he had no business talking with, crossing streets he shouldn’t have crossed. In the gospels Jesus is remembered reaching out to women, tax collectors, children, Samaritans, Pharisees, pretty much everybody he met.
            Jesus invited everyone to be part of just one gang: God’s Gang.
            In today’s passage from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus warns that it’s not easy to be part of this gang.
            And at first glance, God’s Gang sounds pretty much like any other gang.
            If we’re part of God’s Gang, we’ll be accused of all sorts of stuff.
            If we’re part of God’s Gang, we’ll have to risk our lives.
            If we’re part of God’s Gang, we’ll have to put that allegiance above all other responsibilities – even including, even especially, family.
            Sounds just like the gang keeping kids from playing soccer, right?
            Except that everyone is invited to be part of God’s Gang.
            And, as membership in God’s Gang grows, there is less bloodshed and suffering as we – all of us - find our true identity and unity as God’s children.
            Let’s be honest. The world is a tough place and it often seems that God’s Gang isn’t doing too well. But, when we look carefully we can see signs that God’s Gang is growing.
            Here are two signs – one far away and one close to home.
            For more than a thousand years, for all sorts of reasons, Christians have been broken up into rival gangs: the Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, the Anglicans, all sorts of Protestants and on and on. For more than a year, Pope Francis has been busy bridging divisions, inviting everyone to be part of God’s Gang. He’s become good friends with the Patriarch of Constantinople, the leader of Orthodox Christians. Along with the Patriarch, he recently held a prayer summit at the Vatican with the presidents of Israel and Palestine. All of this was unthinkable not long ago.
            This past week the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of our Anglican gang, visited the Pope at the Vatican for the second time in a year. They spoke about different ways that our two gangs could work together, which the pope summed up as the “Three P’s” – prayer, peace and poverty.
            At the end of their time together, the Pope – the Pope! - bowed his head and asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to bless him.
            God’s Gang is growing.
            Closer to home, a couple of weeks ago some local clergy representing Jews, Christians and Muslims – gangs that often don’t get along - met to discuss the possibility of praying at places in Jersey City where there have been murders. We reached an agreement and hoped we wouldn’t be called to do this anytime soon.
            A day later those two young men were shot on Van Nostrand. A week later a group of us – a rabbi, an interfaith minister, a Methodist pastor and two Episcopal priests – gathered at the spot and offered prayers for the dead young men, for the perpetrator, for peace on our streets and around the world.
            That group of clergy has all kinds of theological differences and yet at that moment it felt like we were all part of God’s Gang – the gang that offers peace and love – the gang where everyone is welcome - the gang that can build a world where kids of all different nationalities can cross any street they want and play a game of soccer.
            In and through Jesus, God invites us – all of us – to be part of God’s Gang.
            It’s up to us to say yes.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

God the Dancer

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
Church of the Incarnation, Jersey City NJ
June 15, 2014

Year A: The First Sunday after Pentecost – Trinity Sunday
Genesis 1:1-2; 4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

God the Dancer
            I have been on a kind of “spiritual high” since our magnificent Pentecost celebration last Sunday.
            For me, it was not only one of the best services we’ve celebrated since I’ve been rector. It was one of the very best services I’ve ever experienced.
            The weather was perfect – maybe a little warm, but we have our air conditioning! We had knockout music and a packed church. Everybody looked so good decked out in their Holy Spirit red. I had the privilege of baptizing three beautiful children, Olivia, Charlotte and Amir. Standing at the font and feeling the joyful and expectant crush of the crowd around us was a very powerful experience.
            We prayed over our new altar. We congratulated our Sunday School children and gave gifts to our recent graduates.
            And then we topped it off with an all-time great St. Paul’s picnic. It was a little bit like the loaves and fishes – despite the larger than expected crowd there was more than enough delicious food for everyone.
            One of the highlights of our 10:00 service was the dance offered by some of our girls and led by Patrice Maynard. I had seen a little bit of their rehearsals so had some idea of what they were going to do. I knew it would be really good, but it was excellent.
            And then something happened that I didn’t expect.
            Patrice broke into this amazing high-energy solo dance right in the aisle.
            Now, I remember Patrice dancing here at St. Paul’s when she was a kid. I told her after that she’s still got it – she’s still a great dancer.
            How many of you like to dance?
            Because I’m so “smooth and graceful” I know you’ll be surprised that I’m not much of a dancer. You can just ask Sue if you don’t believe me.
            I remember in high school going to Prep dances that were held in the school cafeteria. There were lots of boys like me who couldn’t quite muster the courage to let loose and dance. So they set up a row of chairs on either side so the wallflowers would have a place to sit.
            Years later when I taught at Prep and chaperoned dances, I used to joke that nothing much had changed. Twenty years after graduation, I was still standing off to the side watching other people dance.
            Now, pretty much the only time I dance is at weddings – when I do the white guy two-step with Sue during some of the slow songs.
            Last week we celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. And today on the First Sunday after Pentecost we celebrate and ponder the mystery of the Trinity – this mind-blowing impossible to explain belief that God is One in three Persons.
            God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
            God is Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.
            Now since it’s pretty tough for us to wrap our heads around the idea that God is one and three at the same time, Christians for many centuries have tried to come up with analogies and metaphors and images to make the ultimate mystery a little less mysterious.
            St. Patrick made probably the most famous attempt, using the shamrock, the three-leafed clover to explain to the Irish how God can be One and Three at the same time.
            Some of the early Church Fathers used the Greek term perichoresis, which means rotation, to describe the relationship among the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father dwells in the Son and the Son dwells in the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit dwells in the Father and round and round they go.
            Others have taken that rotation image and made it less abstract by describing the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in a great and cosmic dance, dancing together in love for all eternity.
            God is the great dancer.
            And God could have left it at that. God doesn’t need anyone or anything.
            The Trinity could have danced away alone for ever.
            Yet, apparently God doesn’t want to dance alone.
            God chooses others – chooses us – to be part of the divine dance.
            In today’s first lesson from Genesis, we heard the familiar story of creation, the biblical explanation for why there is something rather than nothing. God chooses to share God’s love with all of creation. God chooses to share God’s love especially with us.
            God invites us to the dance.
            Sometimes we accept the invitation. Other times, more often, we decline.
            We know in just a few verses after what we heard this morning, there’s the story of Adam and Eve. Talk about invited to the dance! Yet, we know how the story goes. The first man and woman choose not to dance with God, choosing their own wants and desires instead.
            Throughout the Old Testament we hear the story of God using prophets and other holy men and women to invite Israel to the great dance. Sometimes they accepted the invitation. Other times, more often, they declined.
            And then, finally, God joined us in and through Jesus of Nazareth. God brought the dance right here to earth. God invited us to dance, to dance by loving our neighbor as ourselves, by loving our enemy, by giving away our lives in loving service to God and one another.
            We declined that invitation – actually, we destroyed that invitation - at the Cross, in the ugliest way imaginable.
            And yet on that first Easter Day, God extended the invitation to the dance once again. The resurrected Christ says, “Peace be with you” and breathes the Holy Spirit on us.
            Now, the invitation is issued to us here today.
            Once again, God invites us to be part of the dance of love.
            We accept the invitation to the dance in the water of baptism. We accept the invitation each time we ask and receive forgiveness. We accept the invitation each time we stretch out our hands and take the Body and Blood of Christ into our bodies and our souls.
            God invites us to be part of the divine dance of love.
            We accept that invitation each time we reach out to someone in trouble, each time we offer forgiveness, each time we share our bounty with those in need.
            We accept God’s invitation each time we go out into the world and through our actions and our words, we teach about Jesus. We accept God’s invitation each time we share the Good News, making disciples on Duncan Avenue, on Storms Avenue, everywhere.
            For all of eternity, God the great dancer is dancing away.
            Father, Son and Holy Spirit are dancing their dance of love.
            The Good News is that God invites us to the dance.
            The Good News is that at God’s dance there are no chairs along the side.
            The Good News is that at God’s dance there are no wallflowers.
            The Good News is that, if we say yes, we can all dance with God.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

We are Not Abandoned!

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
June 8, 2014

Year A: The Day of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
John 20:19-23

We are Not Abandoned!

            Like everybody else I get caught up in my everyday life – all the tasks and challenges that we all face day after day – and often lose sight of the fact that I am so fortunate, so blessed.
            It’s such a privilege to serve as your rector, doing a job that I love so much. I am loved and supported by a wonderful – and rather patient – wife. I have good friends. And I’ve always known – and still know – the love of my parents.
            For my whole life they’ve always backed me up, supporting what I wanted to do, even sometimes when they had real doubts and misgivings.
            I’m really fortunate. Really blessed.
            So, unlike many, far too many, people, including, I know, some of us here, I’ve never really known the pain of abandonment.
            As I don’t need to tell you, abandonment is one of the most painful human experiences.
            I’m very glad to have been spared it. One time, though, I did get a brief taste of abandonment.
            Among many other great things my parents did for my sister and me, one of the best was taking us to New York City starting when we were very little. From an early age I was really familiar with parts of the city. If necessary, I could have navigated large parts of Manhattan on my own.
            It was on one of these trips that I got a little taste of abandonment. It was just my father and I this time. I think I was about eight years old. After a day in the city we were on our way home and, like we had done many times before, we arrived at the 33rd Street PATH station. Like we had done countless times before my father gave me three dimes (remember that?!) to put into the turnstile. The train was waiting at the platform, ready to depart. We both hustled through the turnstile. My father got through with no problem. But, although, I had done this so many times before something went wrong this time. Maybe I had put the dimes in the wrong slots. Maybe the turnstile malfunctioned. I don’t know.
            All I know is, I saw my tall father walking briskly for the train, assuming I was by his side as always.
            I felt the stomach-drop of fear and panic.
            I could have just ducked the turnstile and ran for him.
            But instead I started calling out, “Dad!” “Dad!”
            And when that didn’t work I called him out by name: “Tom Murphy!”
            Maybe that did the trick. Or, more likely, my father who would never abandon me realized that I wasn’t there. He looked back, saw me, and came back for me.
            But, for a moment that felt a lot longer, I got a taste of the terror and pain of abandonment. In the great scheme of things it wasn’t a big deal. But, I’ve never forgotten it.
            Jesus’ first disciples knew only too well the terror and pain of abandonment. In the lesson I just read from the Gospel of John, it’s still Easter. We’re told that in the evening of Easter Day the disciples are hiding in fear from the people who had been responsible for the arrest, trial and execution of Jesus.
            It was perfectly reasonable for the disciples to be afraid that first the authorities who had knocked off Jesus would now be coming after his friends. The disciples feel the terror and pain of abandonment.
            And then suddenly the Risen Jesus appears. Jesus has returned. He’s still himself – look at the wounds – but he’s also transformed, somehow able to appear without warning in a locked room.
            Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”
            Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on his first followers. Pentecost.
            And in that moment, Jesus’ first disciples realized that they weren’t abandoned at all. Jesus’ breath of peace turns their fear into rejoicing.
            This morning we heard another Pentecost story, too.
            Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, tells us it happened fifty days after Easter. Once again the disciples were all together in Jerusalem, all together in one place. Luke doesn’t say it, but I bet that once again the disciples felt abandoned. They had witnessed Jesus rise into heaven, seemingly abandoning them again, leaving them behind gazing up into the sky.
            Then suddenly there’s a loud noise and “divided tongues, as of fire appeared among them and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
            The Holy Spirit whisks them out of their place and out into Jerusalem proclaiming the Good News in the languages of the city, the languages of the world.
            Nobody had ever seen anything like this.
            The cynics and skeptics scoffed, “They are filled with new wine.”
            But this “new wine” that inspired the apostles would never – can never - be corked. Instead the Church is born that day in Jerusalem and the Good News of forgiveness and life begins its spread around the world.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            The great meaning of Easter and Pentecost is that, no matter what, God never, ever abandons us.
            In a few moments I’ll have the great privilege of baptizing Olivia, Charlotte and Amir.
            In the passage from his First Letter to the Corinthians that we heard this morning, Paul makes the point that in and through the water of baptism we become part of the Body of Christ.
            That means no matter how many times Olivia, Charlotte and Amir mess up – no matter how many times we mess up – no matter what we do or don’t do, we have a bond with God that can never be broken.
            In the words of the prayer book, “The bond which God establishes with us in baptism is indissoluble.”
            That means when we’re feeling the pain and terror of abandonment, when we call out in panic to a God who seems to have gone on ahead of us, who seems to have forgotten us, God will always turn back, will always come back for us.
            That bond means that God will be with them – is with us - the whole time.
            No matter what, God will never, ever abandon us.
            And that’s something really worth celebrating.
            So, this Pentecost, let’s join with the first disciples who were so overjoyed that people thought they must have been drunk. Let’s join with Christians throughout the ages, filled with the Holy Spirit. Let’s joyfully and courageously proclaim:
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Sunday, June 01, 2014

While We Wait

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
June 1, 2014

Year A: The Seventh Sunday of Easter
Acts 1:6-14
Psalm 68: 1-10, 33-36
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
John 17:1-11

While We Wait
            Well, believe it or not, today is the Seventh Sunday after Easter.
            We’re actually still doing pretty well with the Alleluias but otherwise things have mostly returned to normal. The Easter lilies are all long gone. My wife Sue planted some of them on the church grounds and a few others remain in their pots on the rectory porch. Whether in the ground or on the porch the lilies are waiting – they are in-between Easter joy and what is yet to come.
            For many of us, let’s admit it, even the memory of Easter is beginning to grow faint. We’ve long since pretty much returned to our normal lives and our everyday routines.
            Yet, it’s still – just barely – Easter.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            We had quite a week here at St. Paul’s.
            As many of you know, the installation of the air conditioning here in church was completed. It was a major project that will improve our common life here at St. Paul’s – and it’s a real vote of confidence in our present and future ministry sharing Christ’s life and love in our little corner of Jersey City.
            On Wednesday we had our monthly healing service at the Liberty House nursing home on Montgomery Street. This is a new ministry that we’ve been doing for the past five or six months. Although we haven’t spoken too much about it, and only a few of us have been involved, I think it’s an increasingly important and beautiful gift that we are giving to the residents over there – many of whom, I suspect, don’t get too many visitors and don’t have too much light and joy in their lives.
            Instead, they spend much of their time waiting – in-between a happier past and whatever is yet to come.
            As it happens, this month we had the biggest crowd yet – about 30 residents were there - and it was just Ace Case and I leading the service.
            Ace’s singing and guitar playing shot a joyous ray of light penetrating through the mental fog that enshrouds many of the people there. I wish you could’ve seen their faces as he played and sang… and played and sang…and played and sang… as I made my way through the room anointing each member of our congregation with Holy Oil and saying a short prayer.
            And then we said our goodbyes for another month. But before we left, one of the women there asked us to pray for them. I said something that I’ve said many times before in similar situations,
            “OK, let’s make a deal. I’ll pray for you if you pray for me.”
            This captured her imagination and she repeated it a couple of times, including one last time when we were waiting for the elevator. Although that time she admitted that after a couple of days she’d probably forget.
            I didn’t say it, but I thought, me too, probably.
            And then on Thursday it was Ascension Day – that principal feast forty days after Easter when we remember Jesus being taken up from heaven, leaving his disciples standing on the mountain, staring up into the sky.
            Ascension Day doesn’t get too much attention around here. I think that’s partly because Ascension Day always falls on a Thursday and partly because it’s hard for some of us to wrap our minds around the idea of Jesus – the physical, resurrected Jesus – ascending into the heavens.
            Not too many people were in church on Thursday, but that’s OK because fortunately we get the story again in today’s first lesson, from the Acts of the Apostles.
            Notice up there on the mountain the apostles ask the Risen Jesus if this is the time when Israel will be restored. Is this it, finally? Will our wait finally be over?
            Jesus replies, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
            But, first, more waiting. The apostles are waiting in-between Jesus ascending into heaven and the gift of the Holy Spirit ten days later on Pentecost.
            And what did the apostles do during this time of waiting? We’re told they were together – men and women - in the upper room “constantly devoting themselves to prayer.”
            During that in-between time, while they waited, the apostles prayed.
            According to the church calendar, today you and I find ourselves in an in-between time. Easter is receding into the past, Ascension was a couple of days ago and next Sunday we’ll celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
            On Pentecost, we’ll have a raucous celebration with different languages spoken, lots of Holy Spirit music, a bunch of baptisms and a wonderful picnic.
            But, beyond the church calendar, in a deeper sense, we live in an in-between time.
            We live in the in-between time after the Resurrection and before the return of Jesus at the end of time.
            And what are to do during this in-between time?
            Well, there’s certainly a lot to do – plenty of people in need – many people hungry, homeless, despairing who could use our help.
            But, like the apostles who left the mountain and returned to the upper room in Jerusalem, first we are to pray.
            We are to pray, especially together here in this beautiful, old, holy and, yes, now air conditioned place.
            During this in-between time, we are to pray for all the suffering people here with us today and out there in our community and around the world.
            While we wait, we are to pray for the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria only because they wanted to read, study, learn and improve themselves.
            During this in-between time, we are to pray for the thousands of victims of gun violence – to pray for all the frightened people who feel the need to arm themselves to the teeth – to pray for the deranged people who get their hands on these weapons and do horrible things – to pray for our broken society and dysfunctional government that grieves each time this happens but has little interest in doing anything about gun violence, or any other kind of violence for that matter.
            While wait, we are to pray for unity – unity in our own church, unity among all Christians, unity among all of humanity. Let us pray Jesus’ prayer that we heard in today’s gospel lesson, that we may be one as he and the Father are one.
            During this in-between time, as the Easter lilies rest in the soil, as the apostles we gaze up into heaven, as we await the great feast of Pentecost, let’s make a deal – let’s make a deal to pray for the residents at Liberty House, to pray for the patients at Christ Hospital, to pray for each other.
            During this in-between time, while we wait, let’s make a deal. I’ll pray for you if you’ll pray for me.
            And if we pray while we wait, God will use our prayers, slowly transforming us and the world into what God has always dreamed we could be.
            God will use our prayers to build a world where each day will feel more like Pentecost – a world where every day can be a little Easter.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!