April 10, 2016 – Seeing with the eyes of faith

Sermon for Easter Three: April 10, 2016 St Mark’s Episcopal Church

Seeing with the eyes of faith

In the Name of God: Our Creator, Our Redeemer, and our Comforter. Amen.

Beloved, today is Easter. It is still Easter. And already we need to hearken to the words of today’s Collect, in which we ask God to “open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work.” Open the eyes of our faith so that we can continue to see God’s redeeming work in the world around us. You might remember that the last time I preached to you, we were in Lent, and I said that the purpose of Lent was for us to glimpse ourselves as God sees us, and God sees us go through the world with angels before us and behind us, proclaiming, “Behold, a Child of God, Behold, a Child of God.” That is seeing with the eyes of faith, that is seeing God’s redemptive work ongoing in the world.

We need to do this because the world around us sees us with the eyes of commerce, which is based on convincing us that we are needy. We don’t measure up, we are under judgment. We are always starting over, falling short, always in a deficit position, always wondering what we need to do to measure up, get it right, win God’s favor. And the world does not help up. A couple of weeks ago, the world of commerce was with us, taking advantage of Easter. But now we are out of sync. Its only two weeks since Easter Sunday, and already in the cultural world around us, things have moved on. The Easter Bunny has gone back to wherever the Easter Bunny lives. The chocolate has been consumed, the basket with the fake grass in it has been put away, the flowers have been composted. Everything left over from Easter is on half-price sale at the WalMart out here on the highway.

So things in the world of commerce and popular culture have moved on. But we are still very much in the world of Easter. Easter is a season, and its 40 days long. And it’s a season full of wonders and mysteries, and we are just now getting into it. We are just now beginning to get used to saying “Alleluia” again after 40 days of absence. We’ve just gotten to sing “Hail thee Festival Day,” and for me its not Easter until we have sung “Hail thee Festival Day. Peggy Webster and I have been having this conversation for years now. Its not Easter for Peggy until we sing “Welcome happy morning, age to age shall sing,” and for me its not Easter until we have sung “Hail thee festival day.” We have our differences, and that is why there are a lot of Easter hymns in the hymnal, and a lot of Easter in which to sing them.

But for us its still Easter, and we are just now getting into the Easter season. We’ve just gotten into the Book of Revelation, with its vision of wondrous and spooky creatures, all singing about a sheep. You know, all those “angels and living creatures and elders . . . singing with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb . . . to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” That’s some serious vision – and we are just getting into it.

Even the Gospel is getting a bit wild and crazy on us, here in Easter. After all, in today’s Gospel, we have St Peter skinny dipping in the Sea of Galilee and Jesus fixing his disciples grilled fish tacos for breakfast. So we have all these wonderful lessons, to help us learn to see with the eyes of faith, to learn more and more how to see God carrying out God’s redemptive work in the world in us, and in the world around us. The challenge we have in this Easter season is to learn to see, to learn ever more deeply how to keep our eyes open.

Beloved, in the midst of this mess of seasons and lessons, I propose to point out what I think are the things to pay attention to in these lessons, and then I propose to give you a gift. I don’t look like the Easter Bunny, and I don’t have any chocolate, but I have a gift.

The gift is a sermon preached over 1600 years ago, at the Easter Vigil, by St John Chrysostom, a priest and Archbishop and saint in the Orthodox tradition. This sermon is now part of the liturgy every Easter Vigil in the Orthodox tradition. In this sermon St John Chrysostom celebrates Easter in terms of Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the Vineyard. You will remember, the owner of the vineyard put people to work at 6 in the morning, and more to work at 9, and more at noon, and again more to work at 3, and again at 6. And when it came time, at the end of the day, to pay his laborers in the vineyard for their labor, he paid them all the same, whether they came early or at midday or at the eleventh hour. So this parable forms the narrative core of St John Chrysostom’s sermon, and around it and through it Chrysostom celebrates Easter as a sign of God’s love, and of God’s abundance, and of God’s mercy. Easter for Chrysostom, is a time for rejoicing, for as the Psalmist says for today, of God, that God has
. . . . . turned our wailing into dancing;
. . . . . put off our sack-cloth and clothed us with joy.
Therefore our heart sings . . . without ceasing; *
O Lord our God, we will give you thanks for ever.

Or as the reading from Revelation tells us, the kingdom of God is a kingdom of Joy, as the creatures, and the angels and the elders join in their chorus, “Blessing to the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb, . . . . . blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever.”

Easter for Chrysostom is a time of learning to see with the eyes of faith, with the eyes of the redeemed, rejoicing in God’s love and abundance, rejoicing in God’s work among us, even in the confusion and messiness of life, even in the shadow of death. With the eyes of faith, we see the most ordinary things of life – offerings of bread and wine — as the signs of God’s ongoing presence in our world, food that, for Paul, opened his eyes to see God’s redeeming work, food which Jesus fed his disciples, so that they – and we – recognize him in the breaking of bread.

Easter is the festival of the coming of God’s kingdom, especially in the giving and breaking of bread and of fish and of all that nourishes and sustains the live that God has given us.

As we prepare this day as we do each week when we gather together at this table to offer the bread and the wine, and to receive them, blessed, made holy by the God who welcomes us to this table, let us remember that it is Easter, when heaven and earth are joined, and we are reconciled to God.

Let us remember, as we gather, and may the Easter sermon of St John Chrysostom, help us enter into this feast, in his sermon about food, and about joy, and about God’s abundant gift to us of himself:
Chrysostom starts by asking a series of questions:
Are there any here who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any here who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.

He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of our Lord!

First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Back in my voice now:
Beloved, our God is a God of abundance, and love, and mercy, a God who has overcome everything that separates us from God, a God who comes to serve us, a God who in Christ joins heaven and earth, a God who through water and the Holy Spirit has made us worthy to stand before God, a God who is the host at this table, a table set for us, who invites us into holy table fellowship with him, a God who regards us not as we are in our sinfulness, but as God knows and loves us as members of Christ’s Body.

So we end today as Chrysostom ended nearly 1700 years ago, “To Christ be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!”