Rediscovering the Friendship of Jesus

**Sermon preached on the 3rd Sunday of Easter by The Very Rev. Brandon Duke.
For a video of the sermon, please click here.**

Lately, I’ve been taking a lot of walks. Not by myself, but with our boys. Our house gets tiny after lunch, so an afternoon walk allows it to grow into something we all want to go back to. People walk for all kinds of reasons: To get out of the house. For one’s health. To visit a neighbor. To see a site. Sometimes we walk to raise money for a worthy cause, to go to the bus stop, to run an errand, or to go to work, or out to eat. When we go on long walks, we call it hiking. We when we go on short walks, it’s called a stroll. Not all walks are created equal. The ones I just mentioned are on the positive end of the spectrum, but there are plenty of bad walks. Those on death row, for instance, have to take the longest walk of their lives. Mass migrations of people walk in order to flee. Usually they’re fleeing from something frightful such as violence, political unrest, famine, disease, or war. When we walk, we usually walk from somewhere to somewhere else – point A to point B; and usually, we know where we’re going, as well as how to get there.

At the beginning of today’s Gospel story we discover that Cleopas, and another (unnamed) disciple of Jesus’ were walking from the city Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus, but by the end of the story we (as well as they) realized that they were walking the wrong way. With great irony this masterpiece of a story unfolds so that by the end our hearts (like the hearts of Jesus’ disciples) burn within us as we have re-discovered God in new ways.

Once on a trip to Boston, I found myself merging my car onto an onramp only to realize that it was one-way, and I was the one driving in the wrong direction. I discovered that the alleged onramp was actually an exit ramp when another car’s headlights hit my eyes. Thank God I was able to quickly turn my car around and find another way back into the city. 7 miles outside the city of Jerusalem, Jesus’ disciples encountered the light of the world that guided them back in the right direction. That light was not a judging light. It simply revealed itself, and upon its revelation changed hearts, minds, and directions. The light of Christ empowered them to turn around, and to go back being changed by God’s presence. I find it considerably comforting that God is a God that comes out to walk with us, even when we’re heading in the wrong direction. Because of the encounter with God, our hearts are changed. We stop. We turn around. We go back to the old places; yes, but as new, refreshed, and renewed people.

Another way God is re-discovered are in the simple things. I take walks with my boys every day now, and our entire family prays and eats around the table – sometimes 3 meals a day we gather. If God is a God who walks with us, then God is certainly a God who eats with us too. Some of the best stories in the Gospels has Jesus eating and drinking at tables. He enjoys himself alongside the company he keeps – no matter what one’s station in life. Scholars call this ‘open-table fellowship’ which simply means Jesus chose to eat with saint and sinner alike. His open-table was not complicated in other words. It was extremely simply because he sat and ate out of love, care, and compassion for those around him. What the resurrected Christ showed his disciples that day is that God is known to us in all our walks in life, as well as in a simple meal where bread and wine are served. God takes what is ordinary and transforms it into the extraordinary.

A final way we re-discover God in new ways is that God is our friend. “What a friend we have in Jesus,” the old hymn sings, “all our sins and griefs to bear. And what a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.” Jesus’ disciples had a lot of sins and griefs to bear that day, but the resurrected Christ met them in all of it and carried it all for them as they made their way back through the scriptures, in the breaking of the bread, and into that great city of Jerusalem. When we have a friend in Jesus, we have a friend in fellowship . When I’m out on our walks and because we’re all so closed in these days, I’m finding new forms of fellowship with my neighbors that I’ve never had. Like the disciples my own eyes are being opened as I re-discover the importance of paying attention to whose right outside my door. And if I pay particular attention to who’s in my house, as well as who’s outside my door, then could I not find hope in rediscovered new neighbors beyond the neighborhood, city, state, and country? We’re all connecting in very simple ways. We all have a momma. We got a daddy. And we all gotta live in this world together.

Who are you taking walks with these days? Who’s gathered around your supper table? Are you heading to Emmaus? Are you going to Jerusalem? Where is God in all this? And if you can see God in all this, is he a stranger….or do you call him friend?

Rising to the Occasion

**Sermon preached on the 2nd Sunday in Easter by The Very Rev. Brandon Duke.
For a video of the sermon, please click here.**

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Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd
~Acts 2:14

This was the same Peter who only last week was bent over, cowering with a combination of fear, shame and anger. Who was he cowering to? Was it the mob mentality of the crowd? No. It was a little girl who asked him a simple question, “Do you know Jesus? I’ve seen you with him. Are you not one of his disciples?” Peter’s answer was the same when he was asked two more times. “The answer is no. I do not know the man.”

What a difference a week makes. For today, Peter is not cowering in shame. He’s standing with the eleven. He’s their voice. He’s their preacher. He’s been chosen to speak on their behalf. He raised his voice. He didn’t mumble under his breath a lie. No. He addressed the crowd with truth. No. Today, Peter rises to the occasion, represents his constituents well, and gives the crowd the prototype of every sermon that has ever been preached since then: “This Jesus…God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.” For millennia Christians have said this liturgically as well: “Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again.” Christians have confessed it in the creeds of the church, “He was crucified, died and was buried. On the third day he rose again.” We sing it. We pray it. We proclaim it, and we summarize it with that beautiful word, “Alleluia.”

How do we as Christians boldly proclaim that same “Alleluia” to a world that still finds herself in Good Friday? What goods and gifts do we have to address the crowd, and like Peter to rise to the occasion?

First, we have God’s word. We have the Bible, and in God’s holy word we find wonderful stories of the faith and faithful people like you and me. These are ordinary people who were asked to do extraordinary things on God’s behalf and they said “yes,” or “Lord, here I am”, or “Send me.” Most of these people were flawed in so many ways, but if we look at the pattern of God (and to quote our bishop) “So many times God takes our garbage and turns it into gold.” God takes our weaknesses, our burdens, our failures, and uses them for God’s purposes. Quoting Peter again, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power…you crucified…but God raised up.” That’s the story of our life in Christ, right there in a nut shell. Our purpose is the proclaim in thought, word, and deed the risen life found in our savior Jesus Christ. We have God’s word to help us with this. We have God’s word who was made flesh to guide us through this. Use this time to dive into the Exodus story, the Noah story, the Jonah. Use this time to remember Sara, Rebecca, and Ruth, the two Marys, and all the other flawed saints found in God’s holy word. We are a part of a great cloud of witnesses. May they witness to us once again in our own time of exile and uncertainty.

Secondly, we have a gift in the form of our prayer books. I love the image of Anglicans and Episcopalians down through the ages who held Bibles in one hand and the prayer book in another. Now is the time to get reacquainted with your Bibles and your prayer books. In fact, 3/4ths of the prayer book is the Bible put in a prayer and liturgical formats. The whole of the Psalter is in their too. There’s been a cartoon going around social media that has the devil and God sitting at a table together. With a smirk on his face, the devil claims, “I finally closed the church!” With a compassionate smile of his face, God counters, “On the contrary…I opened up one in every home!” Let that image sink in as it pertains to our moment in history. God has opened up new churches at breakfast, lunch, and dinner tables as well as beside every bedside. Did you know the prayer book has prayers for morning, noonday, evening, and night? These are invitations for us to stop what we’re doing, and to pray with the prayer book in one hand and our Bibles in the other. I’ve been modeling this method on Facebook Live every morning and evening for you for the past few weeks. So, do what I do. Pray. If these prayers are a bit overwhelming to you, the prayer book can calm your anxiety because there are simple prayers for individuals and family devotions. These are meant to be prayed around the breakfast, lunch, or dinner table before the family meal. They’re short, concise, and to the point. Fathers: Teach your family to pray in this way around the breakfast table. Mothers: Teach your family to pray in this way around the lunch table. Children: Teach your parents how to pray in this way around the dinner table. Live and lean into your baptisms during this time. Live and lean into God’s holy word. Combine this with what’s been handed down to you in the form of the prayer book. May the family in all its forms, shapes, and sizes be a little church gathered together in Jesus’ name.

Like Peter, and thirdly, we rise to the occasion when we face reality head on. The reality of the resurrection for Peter kindled a boldness that he could not find within himself only a week ago. He let his grief get the best of him back then. He forsook hope. His ordering was wrong because he was disrupted, disordered and disillusioned. Sound familiar? The order is this: Face and name reality first. Then out of the grief found in that reality, name what has been lost even as you hope for what is to come. Put differently. Be truthful. Be bold. Be hopeful. I invite you to name those things that are real for you right now. I invite you to name those things that have been taken from you right now. I invite you to grieve your losses as well as to imagine a real and hopeful response.

Let me put some hope in the room: Over the past month I’ve been encouraged by so many of you. I’ve been encouraged by those of you who put your head down, go to work, and get the job done – even when it may cost you something. I’ve been encouraged with your imagination and the hopefulness in your voices when you call me up and say I have a check, or a giftcard, or food (I even had someone check in with me who had furniture) to give away as a response to the common reality we are all facing. I’m encouraged that more phone calls to one another are being made, that new technologies are being discovered and implemented for the common good. I’m encouraged that many of you have learned that you can’t do everything, but you can do something. Some of you are encouragers. Some of you are joy-filled. Some of you are numbers people. Some of you are artists. Some of you are teachers, prophets, and providers. Some of you are healers, peacemakers, and have the gift of generosity. Did you know that these are gifts of the Spirit? Did you know that when you use the gifts God has given you, you’re facing reality and leaning into hope? I’m encouraged by you. I’m inspired by you.

One of my own realities is that my sacramental ministry as a priest, has been taken from me. I can’t baptize. I can’t hand you our Lord’s Body and Blood. I can’t lay hands on you, or anoint the sick or the dying with oil. A priest takes vows to be a pastor, a priest, and a teacher. One of those – the priestly, sacramental aspect of my call – has been put on hold. I can mourn that. But I can also see it as an invitation to lean into the ethos of pastor and teacher, and that’s what I’ve decided to do. Some of you may be surprised that we’re praying Morning Prayer at both the 8:30 and 10:30 services. Why aren’t we having Holy Eucharist today, you may ask? Because, Holy Eucharist is a liturgical rite best expressed when we are together physically. It’s best expressed when we can all ask God’s blessing upon the bread and wine as God consecrates them into his very self. It’s my belief (as well as the church’s belief) that this cannot be done virtually, but what can be done virtually is to share in our common prayer practices. In our tradition that translates into Morning and Evening Prayer, or the Daily Office. From now on we will be praying in this way as a recognition of our reality that we all share in our common life as Christians. We will pray this way until we can meet again in our physical building and with the physical elements of Christ’s Body and Blood. As your priest, and as your pastor I feel it is best that I stand in solidarity with you and abstain from Holy Eucharist until we meet again. I will mourn the Eucharist. Her words captivate me, as well as the way she moves. Until then, I remain hopeful. I remain encouraged. I remain steadfast in the faith that St. Peter preached on that day so long ago, and has been preached 2000 years since then. Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd. We, standing on the shoulders of the saintly giants in our tradition, get to raise our voices around the new churches that are being formed around supper tables as a way to address the noise of death, disease, dying, and posturing in order to boldly proclaim, “This Jesus…God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.”