Tola’s sermon preached on May 5, 2024

Posted by on Sun, May 5, 2024 in Easter, Sermons

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 5, 2024

Good morning. And what a morning! It would make it easier for my sermon if it were sunny and warm outside, so that the outside world could be a visual parallel to the joy I feel in my heart. But spring is spring in the Pacific Northwest, and we’re getting a very spring day here on the Eastside, aren’t we?

And I do feel deep, abiding joy this morning. There is something transformative, some kind of alchemy that occurs when we get together to worship Christ. Guaranteed, whatever petty distractions that are in my head on my drive to church in the morning simply… melt away when I enter this holy place and it starts to fill up with fellow parishioners. Every single time, I am gripped by the calming and focusing love I feel in this room, with all of you, and every single time I am reminded of Christ’s message that “when two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst with them.”

I’ve said before that sometimes writing a sermon based on the readings can be challenging. Not today.

Today’s readings are steeped in joy and love. From the Old Testament: “Shout with joy to the Lord!” “Let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord!” Then Jesus gives us a master class in love: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” And “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

Sometimes I wish I could bottle up that feeling that we share here. Wouldn’t it be great if it were that simple? I would take a crystal decanter and just open it open mid-service, and let the joy in the air seep in. Then I’d close the decanter, and carry that joy out into the world. Stop and go traffic, people cutting each other off? Open the decanter. Coworker distracted by challenges at home and sniping with their peers? Open the decanter. Online conversation going like.. an online conversation? Open the decanter.

It is both that simple, and not that simple. We do carry the joy that we feel here out into the larger world. Not in a crystal decanter, but in our hearts. In fact, Christ commands us to do so. In all those situations I just named, we can open that inner decanter, and apply that joy.

It can be hard though, can’t it? I am very bad with negative feedback. It is a weakness born of intense self-criticism and a deep desire to always make the right decision, and say the right thing. So when people point out where I could do it better… it can be hard to hear that feedback from a place of love. Much less if they are mad, or there’s a disagreement over substance. It can be hard to summon Sunday morning joy in those situations.

So bottle it up! Take it in. Let it seep into your skin. The world outside is in need of this love, that Christ brings to us every time we get together.

Christ asks us to go beyond this. There are two questions in our readings today that I think we need to answer for ourselves.

The first is “Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” The mind is immediately drawn to the word “conquers.” We live in a world obsessed with winning. There is nothing better, in 2024, than to be a winner. And nothing worse than being a loser. Winning justifies almost any action. And losers have nothing to offer or teach us.

That’s not how Jesus saw it. By rejecting Earthly power and riches, by constantly reminding us to champion the poor and those in need, he commanded us to move away from winners and losers. By sacrificing his body on Calvary, he invited us to look at winning and losing completely differently.

Conquering the world for Jesus isn’t about banners and standards and armies and slogans- it’s about harnessing Christ’s message and the joy and love we feel right now, in this room, to heal a broken world.

And then, we get to what might be my favorite quote in the entire Bible. Which is saying a lot, I understand.

“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”  

I have to be careful here and tread lightly. There are times when my pride in being an Episcopalian gets the better of me. But this quote is such a big deal, and it guides so much of what we do here, that it kind of chokes me up just to read it out loud.

Peter said it at a pivotal moment in the Church. Thus far, the faithful had been called almost exclusively from the Jewish community. But gentiles, non Jews, were starting to be touched by Christ’s message. The church could have gone either way at this point. It could become a local branch of Judaism. But the Disciples knew that was not Christ’s plan. He wanted all to be saved. So in that moment they welcomed in all, and transformed into the deep and broad and multivoiced church that we know today.

It is an echo of that moment, reverberated down the millennia, that we celebrate when we invite all who seek a deeper relationship with Christ to join us in Communion every Sunday morning.

For me, as a Christian, this is the ultimate moment and expression of my faith- opening up to share it with anyone and everyone, without concern for their background and creed and preconceived notions. Confident that the mystery of the body and blood of Jesus Christ will bring all of us closer to his love and his plans for us. United in joy and love.

“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” No, we cannot.

Every church gets to define how they come together to join in worship of God. But our open invitation is the cornerstone of how I want to be as a Christian, and how I want to present Christ’s message to others.

What a glorious collection of readings we received today! Not just joy and love, but instruction on how we can take that love out into the world. Such undiluted joy to receive it all with you here today on this beautiful day, made beautiful by our love for one another and our love for Jesus Christ. Amen.

© 2024 Tola Marts. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

Post will be removed at 8:00 AM on Tue., May. 5, 2026.