The Rev. Steven D. Paulikas
April 1, 2018
All Saints’ Church
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Today is a special day here at All Saints’ Church. Every Easter is a special occasion here, but this year, we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of this parish. And in honor of our 150th year, we have decided that one lucky congregant will receive a…brand…new…car!
April fools! We live in New York City, so we don’t really need cars anyway. Plus, what we are here to do this morning is far more exciting. Easter is the principal feast of the Christian year, when we proclaim that nothing can separate us from the love of God. The tomb is empty, and Christ is risen from the dead. Love has rolled the stone away, just as love will banish any obstacle that stands between us and our God. This is no joke. This is the ground of faith, the knowledge of life, and the key to salvation.
So welcome, everyone, this happy Easter morning! In the name of Jesus, who welcomed everyone he met into his life, welcome, everyone. It does not matter who you are, where you’re from, what you believe. It does not matter if you go to church every Sunday, or if it’s been a long time since you’ve set foot in a house of worship, or if you belong to a faith tradition different from this one—or none at all. You are welcome here. It takes courage to come to church, especially if you’ve been hurt by others in the name of God. Your presence means the world—because you are a beloved child of God.
The preacher on Easter is always faced with an interesting task. Today is the central feast of the Christian year, so it seems we should be talking about the most important thing to Christianity. But what, precisely, is that? At the same time, I know it’s possible this is the only time many of you will attend a religious service this year—if ever. No judgment here. We all have our reasons for the choices we make—and please know what a joy it is to look out and see so many wonderful faces. Plus, one of the great joys of an Episcopal church is that we don’t deal in guilt. Of course we would love to see you again—and if you can’t come to All Saints’ Church, perhaps there is another community of faith out there waiting for you. But in any case, each year I feel a particular pressure on these fifteen or so minutes to share with you a word that springs from the depth of my heart.
Today, that word is this: that on this holy morning, the empty tomb where Jesus was laid declares along with heaven and earth and all that is in it, that love will always conquer fear, because God is love.
If you’ve been afraid lately, you’re not alone. Fear all around us right now. This climate of fear has descended upon us like a soupy fog. I think it started around the time of the election. The conditions were right for it, and events and people simply took their course. We got a taste for fear, and before we knew it, we decided we wanted to see just how much we could freak ourselves out. The fog rolled in, and now we’re sitting inside it.
I sense this pervasive fear in countless interactions. As a pastor, I am watching as people’s lights are dimmed by it, slowly, relentlessly. I am watching as the communities of which I am a part begin to sag under the weight of it. And this fear is most certainly a bigger burden to some than to others. Last week, the Sacramento police shot Stephon Clark shot eight times in the back in his grandmother’s back yard. America will never be a truly Christian country until people of color have the same luxury that white people enjoy of not being afraid of being shot by the state in their own home.
The fear is real. But we are also witnessing as others fight back, resolving to let their light shine all the more brightly in the darkness. Such was the tremendous display of hope and strength last weekend as our youth demonstrated all over the country, demanding a society free of random violence that has dominated their young lives.
Perhaps they know something the adults have forgotten: that love will always conquer fear, because God is love.
This message of love conquering fear may not sound like something you expect to hear in a church. And what a shame that is. The popular understanding of Christianity in America today is so warped and twisted that it’s difficult even to recover shreds of Jesus’ message of uncompromising love to all humanity revealed in the Gospel. To follow Jesus is NOT to adhere to a set of rules and norms. To follow Jesus is NOT to join a political tribe. And to follow Jesus is most definitely NOT to exclude any person from the circle of love that is a Christian community.
To follow Jesus, you must take seriously his commandment to love God and one another with all you have. You must join him in his acts of healing, justice, and compassion. And then you must follow him into the tomb, that darkest of places, where you will discover that fear has no power in the face of the unrelenting love with which God loves each and every one of us.
The power of love to conquer fear is one of the central Christian beliefs. We see this in the Gospel account of the resurrection we hear this morning. According to Mark, the women who came to anoint Jesus’ body were alarmed when they saw the stone rolled away. Upon witnessing this great miracle, they were seized by terror and amazement and left speechless out of fear. They knew this mighty act of love that raised Jesus from the dead was the hand of God at work in the world, and the power of this love was so great that they became afraid.
But this is not the end of the story. Because the Gospel is alive and moving. It lives within you and it works through you and your faith. For each of the countless tombs that enclose us in fear, there is a greater love rolling back the stone, setting us free to live again. We may be buried with Christ in his death, but it is only by passing through the tomb that we can also rise again with him in the newness of life.
Believe it or not, I am a naturally skeptical person. Perhaps that’s why God called me to be a priest—so that I could witness the victory of love over fear with my own eyes, time and time again; so that I could see the living Gospel at work in our midst.
I wish I could tell each and every one of you about the beauty I am privileged to witness on a daily basis in this community. I wish I could share the images stored in my brain of people from this church living out their faith through kindness, patience, compassion, and charity. I wish I could convey to you the thrill of seeing people here—youth and elders, powerful and dispossessed—stand up for justice and dignity among all people. I wish you had a glimpse of the fierce pride I have in our children and youth as I watch them navigate a harsh world with loving hearts. I wish I had the words to tell you how it feels to hold in my hands the very body of Christ, and then to place that body in your outstretched palms. These acts of love have been happening here for over 150 years. There is no way a community could live for a century and a half without believing in the power of love over fear. What more evidence could I need?
So, friends and neighbors, strangers and loved ones, let the joy of the resurrection ring out this morning. Love has rolled the stone away and set us free from every fear. Our anxieties no longer need have any power. Love, and they will disappear. Love, and you shall be free. Love, and you will know the love of the Most High.
So say it with me one more time: Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
The Great Vigil of Easter 2018 / La Gran Vigilia Pascual
All Saints' Church & Iglesia Episcopal de San Andres
I am not a trained preacher. I am a Latin jazz pianist/composer with an interest in theology and some bible commentary books. I own three bibles, a small pocket one, a commentary one and one I could hit someone upside the head with and do some serious damage. Right now, I can’t find any of them. I just moved into a new home and my entire life is contained in carton boxes. This morning I couldn’t even find my underwear.
Yo no estoy capacitado como predicador. Soy un pianista de jazz/latino/compositor, estoy interesado en teología y algunos libros que comentan sobre la biblia. Tengo tres biblias, una de bolsillo, otra de comentarios y otra cual pudiera usar para pegarle en la cabeza a alguien con mucho daño. Ahorita no encuentro ninguna. Acabo de mudarme y toda mi vida está en cajas de cartón. Hoy en la mañana no podía ni encontrar mi ropa interior.
But I was thinking about boxes, containers, vessels and tombs. The sure knowledge of what they contain when you can see what is physically in them. Also, about the potential of their empty state. I was also thinking about our response to emptiness or fullness, whether presence or absence in our lives and in ourselves is something we are aware of.
Pero estaba pensando en cajas, contenedores y tumbas. La seguridad de saber lo que contienen físicamente cuando se puede ver adentro. También la potencialidad de un espacio vacío. También pensé en nuestra respuesta a lo vacío o lleno, si la presencia o ausencia en nuestras vidas y en nosotros mismos es algo de lo que estamos conscientes.
The boxes and boxes of my life are neatly labeled in my new home. But not always accurately. I found photos in the pots and pans box. Shoes in the bathroom box. I know the people who packed these boxes did the best job they could but understanding what goes into each container is sometimes difficult.
Las cajas y cajas de mi vida están etiquetadas con precisión en mi nueva casa, pero no con exactitud. Encontré fotos en las cajas de ollas y sartenes, zapatos en las de baño. Sé que las personas que empacaron hicieron lo mejor que pudieron, pero entendiendo que va en cada caja, es a veces difícil.
And then sorting it all out is very painful and time consuming. You are all happy when you buy the boxes, anticipating your new home and the life it promises. Check this out, my new apartment comes with parking. I know, I almost cried when I first learned this. But the reality of unpacking is horrifying and depressing.
Y luego separando todo es muy duro y lleva mucho tiempo. Uno se pone feliz al comprar las cajas, anticipando la nueva casa y la vida prometida. Oigan, mi nuevo departamento tiene cochera. Yo sé, casi lloré cuando supe eso. Pero la realidad de desempacar es horrible y deprimente.
Sometimes when you first start packing the boxes there are moments of indescribable joy and profound sadness. I found a video of my now-26-year-old son when he was barely one year old. My wife Alison had planned a road trip out West with my parents and child. Seeing Zack scampering around as a toddler made me so happy. To know how beautifully he has turned out thus far and to imagine the potential for his future. Seeing my mother and father when they were still alive was saddening. Particularly since I just lost my mother three months ago.
A veces cuando empieza uno a empacar las cajas, hay momentos de gran felicidad y de profunda tristeza. Encontré un video de mi hijo, ahora de 26 años, cuando tenía como un año. Mi esposa Alison había planeado un viaje con mis padres y el niño. Viendo a Zack correteando, me puse muy feliz. Saber qué hermoso ha crecido e imaginar el potencial de su futuro. Viendo a mis padres cuando vivían todavía fue muy triste. Especialmente cuando perdí a mi madre hace tres meses.
We are containers and over the course of our lives we spend our energy filling ourselves up with experiences, relationships and learned behaviors. Some of it we keep some of it is thrown out. But we spend all of our time living inside our physical beings until the end of our days. But our spirit, our soul, our collective life experience is constantly reshaping and remodeling.
Nosotros somos contenedores y en el curso de nuestra vida usamos nuestra energía, nos llenamos con experiencias, relaciones y patrones de conducta, conservamos algunos y tiramos otros. Pero pasamos todo nuestro tiempo viviendo dentro de nuestro estado físico hasta el final de nuestros días. Pero nuestro espíritu, nuestras almas, nuestra experiencia colectiva es constantemente reestructurando y remodelando.
Between my mother’s apartment, the selling of our brownstone and getting rid of my studio, my wife and I are dealing with editing and combining 84 years of life into simple cardboard boxes. In reality there are many changes taking place in our lives. I am leaving a teaching position that I love. I have too much on my plate with the non-profit organization I run, the composing, performing and constant touring. The loss of my remaining parent is difficult to process.
Entre el departamento de mi madre, la venta de nuestra casa y desocupando mi estudio, mi esposa y yo estamos tratando de recortar y combinar 84 años de vida en cajas sencillas de cartones. En realidad hay muchos cambios en nuestras vidas. Estoy dejando un puesto de profesor que amo. Hay demasiadas cosas en la organización sin lucro que manejo, componiendo, presentando y constantes giras. La pérdida de mi madre es difícil de procesar.
They say the three most stressful events in life are losing a loved one, moving and public speaking. Well today I’m doing all three, at once.
Dicen que los tres eventos más estresantes en la vida son, la pérdida de un ser querido, mudándose, y hablando en público. Pues, hoy, estoy haciendo todos los tres.
And then there is the tomb.
Y luego es la tumba.
Last year, my family and I made a pilgrimage to Cuba to bring my father’s ashes to rest in his beloved homeland. He died broken hearted that he never returned. I sensed this desire in him even after he died. Shortly after the trip whilst driving on the FDR, I noticed an odd silence in my life. A quieting of my father’s voice. He was at peace. I know that the urn is a simple wooden box holding only simple ashes, but in the absence of my father’s physical being there was still a presence that needed tending too. We’ll be making that pilgrimage again in June with another simple box containing simple physical matter. But when we bring my mother’s cremains to be by his side another absence/presence transaction will have taken place and at least three spirits will be at peace about it.
El año pasado, mi familia y yo hicimos un peregrinaje a Cuba a llevar las cenizas de mi padre a su amada patria. El murió con un corazón roto porque nunca pudo regresar. Sentí ese deseo de él, aún después que falleció. Poco después de ese viaje, al ir manejando en el FDR, noté un silencio extraño en mi vida, un tenue silencio en la voz de mi padre. El estaba en paz. Yo se que la urna es una caja sencilla de madera, conteniendo simplemente cenizas, pero en la ausencia del ser físico de mi padre, allí había todavía una presencia que necesitaba atenderse. Vamos a hacer otro peregrinaje en Junio con otra caja sencilla conteniendo simple materia física. Pero cuando llevemos los restos de mi madre para estar a su lado, otra transacción de ausencia/presencia se llevará a cabo y cuando menos tres espíritus estarán en paz.
The tomb of Jesus represents our best hope for being at peace. In its filled state we understand the passion, the sacrifice and the grace and love of God for us. Here was indeed the greatest love that I can only begin to comprehend, that a man lay down his life for another. But when that man is also God and lays down his life for all of us, that we may find healing and salvation than that tomb is a symbol and a call to action for what we must all be.
La tumba de Jesús representa nuestra mejor esperanza de estar en paz. En un estado lleno entendemos la pasión, el sacrificio y la gracia amor de Dios a nosotros. Aquí sin duda, el más grande amor que apenas empiezo a entender, que un hombre dio su vida por otro. Pero cuando ese hombre es Dios también y da su vida por todos nosotros para que encontremos alivio y salvación, entonces esa tumba es un símbolo y una llamada para acción de todo lo que debemos ser.
But here is the miracle, in the absence of the physical being, that tomb holds the greatest presence imaginable. For in seeing it empty, the potentiality of what Jesus has done is magnified beyond what we will ever be able to comprehend. In some miraculous way, the absence of the Christ in the tomb is the beginnings of the His greatest presence. The spiritual indwelling that each one of us has when we acknowledge this humongous act of grace.
Pero he aquí el milagro, en la ausencia del ser físico, esa tumba contiene la presencia más grande imaginable. Porque al verla vacía, la potencialidad de lo que Jesús hizo, se amplifica más allá de lo que nunca pudiéramos comprender. En un modo milagroso, la ausencia de Cristo en la tumba, es el principio de su más grande presencia. El gozo espiritual que cada uno de nosotros tiene cuando aceptamos esta inmensa acción de gracia.
If you look at the tomb and only see the absence, you cannot begin to see the greatest reality of all, His presence. Furthermore, if one sees only the tombs in our lives, if one sees only the absence in our lives, we rob ourselves of the greatest assurance that we have. That we have a great potential based on this absence to enact the greatest changes in our lives that can result in action towards others.
Si ves la tumba y solo ves la ausencia, no puedes empezar a ver la más grande realidad de todo, Su presencia. Aún más, si uno sólo ve las tumbas en nuestras vidas, si uno sólo ve las ausencias en nuestras vidas, nos robamos de la más grande seguridad que tenemos. Que tenemos un gran potencial basado en esta ausencia para hacer los más grandes cambios en nuestras vidas que resultan en acciones hacia otros.
This point was brought home to me recently, with all of the stressful full, empty and half empty boxes and situations in my life and soul. Whilst, driving on the FDR (which has become a bit of a spiritual pilgrimage for me) I was shocked to feel that being orphaned is not the heartbreaking situation that I thought it would be, but it didn’t become real to me until I used this secret knowledge to help my sister deal with her overwhelming grieving process. In other word’s until I put the power of seeing presence in absence into action, until I turned my thoughts into actions and directed my energy towards another human being, the tomb remained empty, but the second I did, the presence of God became very real to me.
Este punto se me vino recientemente, con todas las cajas llenas, vacías y medio vacías, y situaciones en mi vida y alma, al ir manejando en FDR (cual se ha convertido en un peregrinaje espiritual para mí) Me asombré que sentí que el ser huérfano no es la situación de un corazón roto que pensé sería, pero no se hizo realidad hasta que usé este conocimiento para ayudar a mi hermana con su proceso inmenso de manejar su pena. En otras palabras hasta que puse el poder de acción de ver la presencia en la ausencia, hasta que convertí mis pensamientos en acciones y dirigí mi energía hacia otro ser humano, la tumba permaneció vacía, pero al momento que lo hice, la presencia de Dios se hizo realidad para mí.
We live in a very difficult moment. It seems the absence of morality, honesty, generosity and accountability have left our nation from the highest office to the way some of us drive. That we are transitioning into difficulty that is beyond our scope to comprehend. This is precisely when we need to visit the tomb. Filled and empty, we need to contemplate the potential and the real, we need to recognize the absence and specifically, in the very elements of it, to embrace the Presence so that we can reorganize our energies and begin to live the lives God would want us to.
Vivimos en un momento difícil. Parece que la presencia de moralidad, honestidad, generosidad y responsabilidad, han dejado a nuestra nación, desde el puesto más alto hasta el modo que algunos de nosotros manejamos. Que hemos transicionado en dificultades más allá de lo que podemos entender. Este es el momento preciso cuando necesitamos visitar la tumba. Llena y vacía, necesitamos contemplar el potencial y lo real, necesitamos reconocer la ausencia y específicamente en el mismo elemento, la presencia para que podamos reorganizar nuestras energías y empezar a vivir las vidas que Dios quisiera que vivamos.
March 30, 2018
Good Friday Year B
All Saints' Church
We know that our God is a God of mercy and compassion, an Almighty God who desires that we live in justice, peace, joy, and in love.
Why must the road to that kingdom lead us to the Cross, into a tomb?
The question matters because it has everything to do with what we are doing here today, together. With what are we here to do, to observe, to feel on this Good Friday, and what makes it “good.”
Why did our Lord choose to die in this way?
We understand it through Isaiah’s prophetic words: “He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”
Many people have thought this to mean that God punished Jesus for human sinfulness—our sin that reaches back to Adam and Eve. God was angry with us for spoiling our created perfection, and God just couldn’t get over it. But what could God take away from us that God hadn’t given
to us in the first place? So God sent God’s perfect Son into the world, to take something away from him—his life. In our sin, we had harmed God, and God felt compelled to do some kind of harm to us to answer for it. Instead, God hurts Jesus. On the Cross Christ dies for all our sins, pays our debt to God on our behalf.
If we think about it in those terms, then today we mark the day that Jesus’ suffering changed something about God. Changed God’s mind about us. Jesus made God an offer God couldn’t refuse.
I want to look at it a different way.
Let me pause here to address the question you may be asking yourself. Who am I to ask you to think differently? Good question. I’m just a guy who walked in those doors back there three years ago, and soon enough joined the choir, and soon enough started to wonder if the life I had planned for myself was a dead end. I started to feel like God was opening a door in my heart, opening a path for me to God’s service, opening a new life of struggle and joy in what really matters most. I started to ask myself if God was asking me to be a priest—and with your encouragement, and with the help of your tender questions, I am so pleased to say that the bishop has set me on that path. I’ll be heading to seminary this fall (and not too far away). So hear what I’m about to say as coming from one who has spent the past few years trying to really listen to what God is saying…but who is also driving this pulpit without a license.
I believe that it is in the person of Jesus Christ that we know best who God is. For we believe that Jesus IS God – is one in being with the Father.
We know that Jesus didn’t spend his life punishing people. Everywhere he went, he restored people to the fullness of who they were. Sometimes that took a very literal form: restoring sight, or healing a hemorrhage. Sometimes that meant teaching, to expand his listeners’ imagination of
what God’s love is like. Sometimes that meant sitting and eating with those that society had cast out—affirming their fundamental dignity in the sight of God. Sometimes that meant meeting with tax collectors, Roman centurions, and those who had thrown their lot in with the oppressors—affirming their fundamental dignity. Sometimes that meant exorcising demons: confronting a human being with so much love that they were freed from the damage the Devil, or their trauma, or their shame was doing to them.
Jesus spent his life healing people—reconciling them to themselves, to others, and to God.
And that is also how Jesus spends his death. Even in the punishment that we put upon him, he is working to make us whole. Even as we break his body, he is offering that body for our healing. On the Cross, Jesus shows us that God just doesn’t have any other way of being.
The Cross is another form God’s mercy takes. Today God says to us—you would strip me, scourge me, you would try me in a mockery of justice, you would murder me in a spectacle of humiliation—and I will use your rejection to show you that there is nothing you can do that will make me turn from away you. You are my children, and I will never leave you, never stop caring for you, never stop wanting to heal you, never stop loving you. Friends, that is what we have come to hear, and to see.
We have come to see that the love of Jesus goes all the way to the bottom. We have come to see Jesus on the Cross, in the fullness of his love. And to be seen by him, in the fullness of who we are. Let me ask you a personal question. Do you have a little voice inside you, like I do, that says “God’s mercy is everlasting, yes…but not for me. Because if God really knew about me…if God could see what I really am—how angry I can be, how jealous, how petty, how contemptuous, how unforgiving, God would be ashamed of me.” Or maybe the voice says “If God could see what I hide away from the world, the part of me that has been hurting for the longest time … God would turn away.”
We spend so much time and energy hiding our wounds. Pretending that we are perfect in the ways we’re told to be. We’re told to have a certain kind of body, to make a certain amount of money, to be smart, to be sassy, to effortlessly maintain “work-life balance,” to be the right kind of mother, or father, to be one of the cool kids—but not to want to be cool; a good kid, but not too good. To be good Christians, the kind of Christians who come to church at noon on Good Friday.
What if today is the day we can let go of that need to pretend? That need to be perfect? Because from the Cross, Jesus sees all that we have suffered. Jesus sees us in all our strength and shame and guilt and glory and goodness…and says yes. I see you. I see what you’re hiding there. And I welcome it. I welcome all of you. You are the one that I love. Because God doesn’t demand that we be perfect. God invites us to be whole. Whole doesn’t mean perfect—whole means nothing left out. God’s love for us leaves nothing out. Friends, the hard thing is to love one another and ourselves, leaving nothing out. It’s not complicated, but it is our calling, demanding all our faith and courage and humility. It is the way God calls us out of ourselves, out of the dead-ends into which we have wandered; it is the way God calls us to transformation and to new life.
In a few minutes, when you come to venerate the Cross, come as all that you are. All that you show to the world, and all that you hide. All your pride, all your shame. Whatever is wounded in you, friends, bring it to the wounded one there. For the foot of that terrible Cross is a place of healing. And it is a place where we are seen for all that we are, and welcomed as all that we are.
When you come to receive the reserved sacrament, come as all that you are—to be fed by the God who knows brokenness and pain, and whose body is for you. Come, not to be made perfect, but to be made whole. AMEN.