Archive for April, 2014

“Firmly I Believe and Truly” (April 19, 2014: The Great Vigil & First Eucharist of Easter–Canterbury Episcopal Chapel, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama; April 20, 2014: The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day–Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Tuskegee, Alabama)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , on April 19, 2014 by montgomerybrandt

“He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said….”—Matthew 28.6[1] (The Great Vigil & First Eucharist of Easter)

“…I have seen the Lord….”—John 20.18 (The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day)

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

When I woke up on October 14, 2013, I did so expecting it to be just a regular kind of day. Being that it was a Monday, I was on Sabbath, which usually entailed such activities like watching a black-and-white movie on Netflix or Turner Classic Movies, reading a biography, busting out the old trumpet to practice some favorite jazz standards, or just getting out and about in the town. But my expectation was radically removed when, shortly before 8:30am, I received a phone call from my mother. “Brandt…Brandt, I’m calling to let you know that your grandmother has passed.” After taking a little bit of time to soak in the news that I had just heard, I packed a suitcase, got in my car, and made the 109-mile trip back home to Talladega, Alabama, where the duty fell upon me to arrange, officiate, and preach at my grandmother’s funeral and bury her. “This is what your grandmother would have wanted,” my Uncle Darryl said in asking me to be my grandmother’s funeral officiant and preacher.

February 11, 2014 would have been my grandmother’s 82nd birthday. Emotionally, on that day and the two days following, I was not in a good place. It was the most raw that I had felt in quite a long time and the farthest away that I felt God was from me. While sleeping during the early evening of February 13, I had a dream that I was sitting in the downstairs living room of my townhouse reading, when, all of a sudden, at the top of the stairs leading down into the living room, appeared my grandmother! I couldn’t believe my eyes. She looked the way I remembered from the time of my first conscious memory of her face. She was wearing one of her trademark pantsuits that I oftentimes saw her wear when I was growing up. She walked down the stairs, her limbs moving with fullness of vigor, her movement having a spring-like quality. She walked right up to me and said, in a pristine and clear tone, “How are you, baby?” The dementia was gone! She cognitively knew exactly who I was. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t have to reintroduce myself to her. Amazed and filled with joy, I replied, “I’m OK, Granny. How are you?” “I’m doing just fine,” she said, saying it with the biggest smile that I ever saw her have. Of all the things that occurred in this dream, it was her smiling that communicated the most powerful message, for from her smile, I could visibly see the truth of our Lord’s words to His friend, Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”[2] From my grandmother’s smile, I received a renewed assurance that everything that our Lord said is true and that she was, indeed, living, raised to new life by the glory of Jesus Christ. After she smiled at me, the dream ended and I woke up. I kept saying, “Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!” No longer was I feeling raw; no longer did I feel God far away from me. From just one short dream, all was made well.

Usually, I find it hard to recount details of the dreams I have, but not this one. It was so vivid, so clear, so striking that it seemed to be more than just a dream, but a glimpse into that of which was part of a greater truth. What I felt my grandmother doing was showing me a form of visible proof that the claim that Jesus having risen from the grave on the third day was absolutely true and that she, who possessed a great love for Him while alive on Earth, was now, in the words of Saint Paul, “raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”[3]Because of my grandmother’s witness to me in a dream, I stand before you, with a conviction stronger than it has ever been, proclaiming my belief that the news we have just been given—that Jesus Christ has risen—is true! The message of the angel: “He is not here; for he has been raised…”; Mary Magdalene’s announcement to the disciples: “…I have seen the Lord…”; our creedal profession: “On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures”[4]—I believe it! I believe all of it! Jesus Christ has risen and we, who have died with Christ in His death, now live with Him in the power of His resurrection![5] Thanks be to God: alleluia, alleluia! 

Several months ago, I was talking with one of my younger fraternity brothers, a firmly committed atheist, about Christianity’s claims about Jesus, during which he said: “I remember sitting in Sunday school as a kid, hearing all of these stories about Jesus walking on water, healing people, being raised from the dead and stuff and thinking to myself, ‘I don’t believe any of this. It’s just not natural.’” The prophet Isaiah declares, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.”[6]For me, knowing that I am imperfect and prone to the proclivities of sin, the Person of Jesus gives me the ability to trust Him as Someone that is perfect and able to save me from that which seeks to do me harm. His “unnaturalness” gives me the ability to trust that in the midst of all my brokenness, Jesus is the only perfect Source that can bring healing to that which is broken within me; who is able to be my Refuge in the midst of trouble. Because I believe in Jesus, I believe in His resurrection. I believe that all of us have been saved from the sting of death, that Christ protects us from sin’s quest for dominion over us, and, because of what Jesus has done, that we are truly free.

I know that most of what I have said has come from my own personal experience, but let me assure you that the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection isn’t just for me, but is for all of us. Saint Paul states: “This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”[7]The message of the angel—“He is not here; for he has been raised…”—is for all of us! Mary Magdalene’s announcement to the disciples—“…I have seen the Lord…”—is for all of us! Jesus was crucified, dead, buried, and rose for all of us! We have all been changed by the power of Jesus’ resurrection. “Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”[8]  

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

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] John 11.25-26

[3] Colossians 2.12

[4] From the text of the Nicene Creed as approved by the First Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381.

[5] Romans 6.8

[6] Isaiah 55.8

[7] I Timothy 1.15 (Translation found in the Holy Eucharist—Rite I of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer of The Episcopal Church)

[8] I Corinthians 15.54b-55, 57

“Foot Washing–I Now Understand It” (April 17, 2014: Maundy Thursday–Canterbury Episcopal Chapel, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , on April 18, 2014 by montgomerybrandt

“…Do you know what I have done to you?”—John 13.12[1] 

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen!

Throughout my now 12 years as an Episcopalian, I have been in parishes that either did or did not do foot washing as part of their Maundy Thursday liturgy. Foot washing was never really my thing and whenever I was in a parish that did do it, I took its voluntary option to heart by completely avoiding it. The reason why I never elected to have my feet washed had to do with the simple and honest fact that I found the action too graphic and repulsive. The very thought of somebody touching and rubbing my feet and, worse, me having to do the same to somebody else’s feet just freaked me out too much and I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. Foot washing may have been up other people’s alleys, but it surely wasn’t up mine.

A couple of month’s ago, while I was flying back to Alabama from a trip to New York City, the Vestry was at Camp McDowell having its annual pre-Icicle Retreat meeting, during which it was decided that after years of it having not been done, foot washing was, once again, going to be a part of the Maundy Thursday liturgy. When I finally got to the retreat and was made aware of this decision, I immediately thought to myself, “Oh crap!” And being that the Rector, my boss, was in support of it happening, there was no way that I could get out of it. Suddenly, I found myself forced to rethink my stance regarding foot washing. I had to find some way to get over the repulsion I had toward the act.

I found myself getting over my repulsion just a few days ago while reading today’s Gospel, preparing for this sermon. What particularly jumped out at me was the question that Jesus asked His disciples after He had finished washing their feet: “…Do you know what I have done to you?” At that moment, my mind was driven to consider the circumstances of the situation forthcoming. Jesus is about to be betrayed and He is going to die. All of the disciples, whose feet Jesus had just washed, are going to turn their backs on Him: Judas will betray Him to the authorities; Peter will deny Him three times before cockcrow; all the other disciples will scatter away and hide in fear. But despite all that was about to happen, Jesus still stooped down, lowering Himself to the place of a humble servant, and showed honor to His disciples by washing their feet. When considering all of this, I imagined Jesus’ communication to His disciples through His action: “Despite the fact that you will betray Me, that you will turn your backs on Me, that you will leave Me at my most fearful hour, I still love you.” I felt Jesus saying to me, “Brandt, in spite of all your failings, shortcomings, and flaws, I still love you.” Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.[2] What Jesus did to His disciples (as well as open my eyes to) was show them His unconditional love.

Thinking about that humbled me. It made me think about my own sin, my own failings, and how I have oftentimes fallen short of God’s glory and that if the disciples, who were just as sinful and broken as I am, could still be recipients of Christ’s unconditional love by having their feet washed, who am I to think of such an act as being too graphic and repulsive? It made me realize that by not letting my feet be washed, I was missing out on an opportunity to share in the life of Jesus at that very moment. No longer do I have a repulsion of foot washing on Maundy Thursday. I’ve gotten over my apprehension and I repent of it. So when we recommence, momentarily, the practice of Maundy Thursday foot washing, instead of trying to wiggle my way out of it, I will be taking part, seeking to live into Jesus’ command: “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”[3]

Having my attitude humbled by today’s Gospel has reminded me that I am in need of help and that Jesus is the only One that can help me. As hard as I try to do all that our Lord commands us to, I always find myself falling short. There are times in which I find it extremely hard to love someone that has offended and hurt me. There are times in which I have a hard time honoring my neighbors that offend and hurt others. There have been times in which I have offended and hurt others and have beaten myself up for it. Today’s Gospel, I believe, not only shows us a glimpse of Jesus’ unconditional love, but also a glimpse of His grace, which gives me hope. It gives me the hope to trust that whenever I fail and fall short and ask for forgiveness for my hardness of heart, I will not be turned away. Not only Jesus’ actions, but the Person of Jesus, Himself, moves me to trust the words of Saint John: “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”[4]

Today we have been given Good News: the love of Jesus Christ is truly unconditional. Let us live into that love and our continued striving to spread the love of Jesus to others, aided by God’s help. Amen!

[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] John 13.1b

[3] John 13.15

[4] I John 2.1b-2