The Rev. Steven D. Paulikas
November 24, 2019
Year C Last Pentecost
Harvest Sunday/Christ the King
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
Words of tremendous faith, words to live by.
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
The last words of a criminal, the final words before an execution at the hands of a ruthless and violent state. Remember me. Do not forget that I exist. Do not forget my life and what it has meant. Remember me when you come into your kingdom. Not this imperfect kingdom, this dark cloud of power and injustice. Enough of this kingdom. Jesus, remember me—when you come into yours.
And Jesus’ reply: Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise. A promise. A vow, from the dying Messiah to a common criminal. A promise, from Jesus to you and to me. Today, we will be with him in paradise. Not tomorrow or in another age, but today. And not by living a perfect life and doing everything right. Certainly not by gaining the approval of this kingdom. No, you will not find the door to the kingdom in the throne room or the bank vault or in the special meeting for perfect people. The kingdom is reached through the cross. When you’re up there, with Jesus, with the criminal. When you have run out of options and there is nothing left. When your heart is broken from the trails of this life. When you have finally come to accept that there is no salvation for the righteous in this profoundly confused and unjust world. When there is nothing left at all but to say: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. That is when you will know the kingdom is nigh. That is when you hear the voice respond, truly this very day you will be with me in paradise.
The word “kingdom” is a strange one to have to deal with in such a deep and meaningful spiritual context. Kingdom—it’s old-fashioned. It manages—in one word—to bring together gender and power that make many of us uncomfortable. Sometimes people use the word “kindom,” without the “g.” But there’s no mistaking it—the word in the Bible can’t really be translated as anything other than “kingdom,” so we’re stuck with it.
And maybe it’s for the best. Because Jesus isn’t a king like the rulers of his time—or any other. Throughout his ministry, Jesus taught that true power is humility, that to rule is to serve. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. Jesus does not inherit his kingdom though a coronation, but by the crucifixion. So when he promises that we will enter his kingdom, he is not proposing a one-for-one swap, a king for a king. He’s not telling us that we will stop kneeling at the feet of the earthly king and bow down to him. Actually, it’s the opposite. Entering Jesus’ kingdom means that he will serve you, because that is where his power comes from. His courtesans and advisers will be the humble and meek, the people of the Beatitudes. In fact, these are the saints. And you can be with them in paradise today, too.
So when we say “remember me,” when we ask to come into Jesus’ kingdom, it’s not the request of a supplicant begging to be let into a rich land. It’s the acknowledgement to Jesus that he has shown us the truth about power, and that we want to live our lives the way he has taught us, under his gracious care, the care of the one who came to serve. And most shockingly of all, that kingdom is right here, right now. It is in our hearts in in our midst. It is right here in this assembly. It can be found in the darkest corners as much as it bursts through high above the altar. “Very truly, THIS day you will be with me in paradise.”
If you believe that this is the day the Lord has made,
If your prayer is true when you ask for our daily bread,
If you believe the words of Jesus to the criminal on the day of crucifixion,
Then you will see that the kingdom of God is right here, and that paradise is the dwelling place of those who love God. Not sometime in the future, but right here and right now. Very truly. This day.
Today is Harvest Sunday at All Saints’ Church. Like kingdoms, harvests are more of an abstract concept to New Yorkers. You may have grown up in an agricultural place, and maybe the rhythms of growing year are in your blood. If that’s the case, then you know that the time for reaping is cause for celebration. It happens only after months of work and care: sowing, tilling, weeding, protecting. When the blade of the scythe meets the stalk, it is a holy and awesome moment. One can’t help but give thanks.
But realities like these are receding into the distance. Kingdoms, harvests…they have become metaphors. But never forget that metaphors and images point to reality in powerful ways. We come together this morning to catch a glimpse of the heavenly paradise Jesus promises the thief. What more could someone ask for in life but to see heaven open up in front of our eyes? It is a spiritual harvest. But as such, it comes only as the result of hard work and dedication, perseverance and prayer.
The Kingdom reveals itself of its own accord, without any help from us. But just because the Kingdom doesn’t need any help doesn’t mean that we don’t need help to see it. That is the work of the Church. And if you’re here today, then you’re doing that work alongside everyone else.
As an act of thanksgiving for this heavenly harvest, this morning we proclaim our faith in the kingdom that is already here and yet still to come. And we have to have a concrete way to do it. A farmer doesn’t just talk about planting seeds; a farmer goes out into the field and plants the seed with their own hand. Today we, too, commit ourselves to the work of this holy community. There is no one but us to do the work that needs to be done to help the world see the Kingdom of which Jesus speaks. That’s what makes us stewards.
In a few moments, we will make our offering to God as we bring our pledge cards to the altar. As you place your card in the offering plate this morning, think about how it is an act of thanksgiving for the promise of paradise that has been given to you. The gift you leave at the altar comes out of the harvest of your labors. But it is also a seed that will be planted for the future.
Let me tell you: I have tithed 10% of my pre-tax salary to the Church for the past 14 years. Every year I give thanks that I am able to do this. I’m generally amazed that I can do it, and it always feels like an accomplishment—and the only feeling I can have about it is gratitude. But now that several years have passed in this practice, I have an even grater gift, because I can see some of the fruits of my offerings. All Saints’ Church is flourishing in ways we never would have imagined. It is a life-giving and holy place where truly the Kingdom of God can be felt. And I know that I have been a part of it. Few things fill me with more joy and happiness. Because you see, when I place my offering in the plate it is not just an offering to God—it is an offering to my future self and your future selves. What a blessing.
Friends, Jesus will remember you when he comes into his kingdom. You will see paradise, perhaps even this day. Let us give thanks! For the harvest is rich. And it is a blessing to be a steward in the Kingdom of God.
Christopher Alan Lee
November 5, 2019
Chapel of the Shepherd at General Theological Seminary
If you’ve spent any time in Austin, TX, you probably know that the city has a semi-official slogan—Keep Austin Weird. The slogan serves both as a celebration of a uniquely eccentric and creative city, and as a call to arms against the deadening forces of unchecked gentrification, big-box consumerism, and general conformity that increasingly plague the main streets of America.
It’s a slogan I believe Paul would have admired, and I think it captures some of the spirit of the opening to the 12th Chapter of his letter to the Romans. Scholars have wrestled with one another for centuries over just who Paul was, and what made him tick, but there seems to be consensus on at least one thing—Paul of Tarsus was a very weird dude.
So what made Paul that way? He himself makes a pretty convincing case that it was his encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, and subsequently committing the rest of his life to living out the implications of Jesus’ Gospel. Paul clearly lived what he preached—and I think it’s safe to say that he was not conformed to this world.
But then Jesus in the Gospels seems pretty bizarre himself. His closest friends can barely make sense of the things he says. His own family wonders if he’s gone insane. Poor Pontius Pilate has never seen anyone like him. I think Jesus’ weirdness springs from his being utterly free—free from the toxic effects of selfishness, fear, pride, even from death itself. And because we’re unfamiliar with the sheer freedom that Jesus embodied, that he inspired in disciples like Paul, and that he invites us to share—we find it strange, and even scary. Yet on some basic level, to be Christ-like is to embrace a freedom, that, to the world, looks profoundly weird.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed
The word Paul uses for “transformed” is metamorphao—and it’s the same word Mark and Matthew use to describe what happened to Jesus on Mount Tabor, when his physical human body became permeated by the uncreated light of God. Paul is exhorting us to share in that same transformation, a transformation that is impossible for those who are conformed to this world.
But that’s why we have the church, right? Doesn’t the church sufficiently form us all for transformation, for nonconformity to the world? I think we know all too well that that’s not the case. That sadly, in our day, the church is often quite closely conformed to this world. And so if we conform ourselves to the church, we are always at risk of being conformed to the world.
This might be easier to understand if we remember that Paul wasn’t writing for the church. He started churches, but I doubt he had any conception of the institutional church as we know it today. Jesus, of course, neither started a church, nor left any specific plans to do so after he was gone. This was surely deliberate—who can read the Gospels and think that Jesus envisioned an organization that would, over 20 centuries, so thoroughly contradict the example of his life and ministry? That someone who was crucified for resisting imperial power would inspire an institution that would become synonymous with a succession of Empires?
We can all feel that tension, can’t we, how closely the church has conformed to the world? Many of us have been working on parallel tracks for several years now, balancing the mundane political demands of formal discernment within the church, alongside that small, still voice inside us that persistently reminds us of our divine vocation. Those two tracks may be running side by side, but they are not equal. Because our call is from God, not the church.
The institutional church is the mechanism through which we will live out what God has called us to do; as a means to that end, it has a place and a purpose and should be preserved. So by all means, read the literature on management theory and family systems and institutional giving. And glean whatever wisdom you can from them. But remember you are not leading a corporation, a psychotherapy practice, or a foundation. You are a disciple of Christ, a priest in his church—you are wild with the transformative freedom of Jesus.
There will be church leaders who will tell us we’re naive, reckless, full of ourselves. They’ll tell us not to change anything in our parishes for the first three years, that we need to adjust to the ”reality” of part-time and bivocational ministry, that we’re lucky to have such a healthy pension fund. And we will listen to them, patiently and respectfully, remembering that these are the same leaders under whom the church has suffered a catastrophic decline in membership, and become increasingly irrelevant in the public square. So we will weigh their wisdom appropriately.
We are the ones being sent out onto the front lines, so we will have to listen first and foremost to God, then to each other, and finally to our own hearts. We will need to feel free to find and experiment with everything that is weird and wild in the church. Transforming the church out of conformity to the world and ever further into the image of Christ.
It won’t be easy. It will require bravery, and we will all experience doubt and discouragement. Luke’s Jesus recounts the parable of a great banquet, which, one by one, the invitees find excuses not to attend. What will our excuses be? How will we find ways to stay conformed to this world, to remain untransformed?
My wife, who does as good a job as anyone of keeping me on my toes theologically, has asked me more than once how I might explain the eucharist to someone who feels drawn to the church, but who is uncomfortable with, even scandalized by, all our talk of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus.
It’s a good question, and I don’t know if I’ve given her a satisfactory answer; what I do know is that an honest answer would still be discomforting. Because whatever else it is, the great eucharistic banquet we have all been invited to is shocking, astonishing, and deeply weird. And that is precisely its power, that is its grace.
The sacraments are what we have to offer the world that it simply can’t get anywhere else. In Baptism and the Eucharist the church is most out of conformity with the world—and most capable of transforming it. Because if we mean what we say about baptism and eucharist, there IS no more effective social justice work. Do we mean what we say? Do we believe that to be baptised into Christ’s death is to receive eternal life through his resurrection, to be indissolubly bonded with God? Do we believe that at the Eucharistic table our sins are forgiven, and that we’re made one with Christ and one another?
Because if we don’t believe that, if we think that baptism is just a symbolic cleansing and the eucharist merely a memorial meal, I’m not sure what other purpose the church serves. The secular world does things like social services and real estate development at least as good as, and usually much better than we do—not to even mention better music and better food. The sacraments work for everyone, always and forever. If we believe what we say about Baptism and Eucharist, nothing the world has to offer us is as definitive, as permanent, and as liberating as the grace we receive in them.
And that is the church’s single, strange, wild and beautiful gift, an alternative to a world which consistently chooses greed over generosity, war over peace, death over life.
If we’re doing Christianity right, it should never ever sit easily alongside the respectable people and institutions of society. To follow Christ was not, is not and never should be comfortable, because nothing is weirder or more shocking than to worship a crucified saviour. Nothing is weirder than the idea that love conquers death, that all our sins are freely forgiven, always and forever, by the very source of Creation. Being the church should always look weird to the world. And thanks be to God for that.
My friends tonight I appeal to you to keep the church weird. Do not be conformed to this world, or to the church insofar as it conforms to the world. Embrace the wildness and the freedom that Jesus embodied, offer yourselves as a living sacrifice at the Lord’s table, and be transformed.
The Rev. Steven D. Paulikas
November 17, 2019
All Saints’ Church
One night this week, I found myself at a fancy cocktail party. I was invited by one of my dearest friends. We’ve known one another since we were two years old, and maybe because we grew up together, we’ve always shared pretty much the same values and beliefs about what’s important in life.
The party was in an elegant room in on the Upper East Side. The guests were mostly wealthy and powerful people our age. We talked to many people who work on Capitol Hill and in high positions in the government. We met businesspeople who probably make more money in one year than I will in a lifetime. On our way out the door we asked a man to take a picture of us with my phone. I googled him later, and it turns out he was a famous hedge fund manager and billionaire.
How I wound up in these rooms I have no idea. I’m generally skeptical of what these folks are up to. But I will say it’s fascinating to walk through such a crowd as a priest. I’ve gotten used to the look I often see on the faces of people used to aggressive networking when they see me in a collar. It means I have little to no earthly power—and that I certainly have no money. And yet for many people, my mere presence in the room is a provocation, a reminder that no matter how much power and wealth you accumulate in this life, there is, after all, something higher and more powerful than you. Among the people who do take the time to talk to me, I’ll often get awkward comments about how someone no longer goes to the church of their childhood, or sometimes even a deep spiritual insight. But I’m sad to say that more often than not, rich though these rooms may be, they contain a spiritually impoverished people.
And that, I suppose, is why I go. I took a vow to serve the rich and poor alike, and I’ve come to understand why. Because I have relationships with both, I know how similar they are. They’re both struggling to survive. They both want to know they are loved. They both desperately want to know that they have a place in this life, that they are not just floating in space on a spinning planet hurling itself on an inexorable orbit around a distant star.
But back to this cocktail evening. I may have been dressed as a priest, but it was my friend who brought the Gospel to the party. I should mention she is an accomplished academic and not religious. But more importantly, being in her presence is like standing in front of a fire hose of charm, intellect, and warmth. So imagine what it was like for these rich and powerful party guests when she approached them all, one by one, with a smile from ear to ear and bright eyes, and asked them her standard cocktail party question, the only question she was interested in this evening:
What are your plans for the apocalypse?
Yes, that’s her question. And you’d be surprised at people’s answers. Understandably, some looked at this charismatic woman and her priest friend and just fingered their wine glasses and looked for an excuse to escape. But it turns out others have elaborate plans that reflect who they really are deep down. Powerful people confessed their doubt in their own skills. Others instantly opened up about their families and desire to leave New York or Washington to return to a simpler place of their childhood. Others were taken aback and visibly disturbed.
“What are your plans for the apocalypse?” Why is my friend’s question so brilliant? Because it asks you to give an account of who you really are, who you are when stripped down to your bare essentials. The question really asks, what matters to you? Who matters to you? What would you do if you had absolutely nothing to hide behind? And in a few short words, it forces you to acknowledge that none of us is ultimately master of ourselves, but rather that we all belong to a God beyond our own comprehension.
Jesus said, “as for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” He tells us that there will be wars and insurrections, that we will be persecuted, that the very foundations of the earth will shake and cause order to crumble. But he also tells us that not a hair on our heads will perish. Because by our endurance, we will gain our souls.
Consider this Jesus’ question at this, our very own cocktail party. What are your plans for the apocalypse? Who are you when everything is stripped away and you stand bare before your God? Where is your heart—entangled with the things of this earth, or united in heaven with all that is holy? When the stones begin to fall, the wars and rumors of wars spread, the world is turned upside down, who will you be? Whose will you be? What will you have faith in?
One day, the rug will be pulled out from each and every one of us. We cannot tell the moment it will happen or what it will look like. But part of the nature of this life is that it is ultimately not under our control. It is constantly changing. The only constant is God. And if we endure in our faith, no matter what the circumstances, we will gain our souls.
Our readings in church are on a three-year cycle. So it happens that the last time we heard this Gospel passage was November 15, 2016. It was the first Sunday after the election. I will never again be able to read these words without hearing the audible gasps from this assembly as Deacon Jennifer proclaimed Jesus’ solemn teaching. For many in our congregation, the world had been turned upside down. Never before had Jesus’ prophesy had so much immediate meaning.
But never forget the comfort he leaves us with. Not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.
Three years later, we have endured. It’s been a long three years. But as we endure, our souls grow stronger. With each crisis, we learn where our hearts truly are. And the longer we keep faith in what is constant, what is true, what is holy—the more deeply we know our God.
Friends, we have had a plan for the apocalypse all along. If you are here, then All Saints’ Church is a part of your plan. As time rolls like a river, this place is where we gather to gain sustenance for the long race each of us must endure in life. This is the blessed community, where heaven descends from above down onto this earth and we gain a glimpse of the world the way God sees it. This is the place where we comfort one another in sorrow and lift one another up in grace. This is the place where we encounter God. This is the body of Christ, which endured the humiliation of the cross and rises in glory anew.
I have the privilege as your pastor of knowing what the people of All Saints’ Church have been up to in the past three years, since the last time we heard these words. You have been beacons of hope and light in the world. We come here for solace, renewal, and inspiration. But then we go out bearing those same things to those who need it. You carry the light of the Gospel into hospitals and clinics, offices and classrooms. You are witnesses to your friends and family, to strangers and acquaintances. You may not have known it, but this was your plan for the apocalypse all along. And every time you are a channel of God’s love, you confront someone else with the same question of what their plan is in the face of the Almighty.
We are in our 2020 stewardship campaign at All Saints’. As you reflect on what you will offer this place next year, I hope you will give thanks and celebrate what it has been to you while keeping faith for what it will be in the future. Rich and poor and everything in between—we all want the same thing. We want to be loved and know we are loved. We want to have meaning in our lives and sense of connection. Our souls long for God. We will not gain our souls by hoarding treasure or influence. We will not gain our souls through clever plans or dodging the truth. You won’t even gain your soul by being right and proving that you are right. No. There is only one plan for the apocalypse: endure. And by your endurance you will gain your souls.
Right Answers to Wrong Questions
November 10, 2019
The Rt. Rev. Mark Edington
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 20: 27-38
Homily for All Souls'
All Souls Requiem
November 2, 2019
Spencer D. Cantrell
The Great Inversion of Sainthood
November 3, 2019
Feast of All Saints
All Saints’ Church
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.
Blessed are you who have found your way to church on the Sunday of the New York City Marathon.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven.
Do people actually believe this? Are there people in the world who think that the poverty of this life is richness in God’s eyes? Does anyone really believe that true greatness is meekness? That sorrow is transformed into joy? That exclusion in society is inclusion in the heavenly fellowship?
Does anyone actually believe the beatitudes? Yes—and they are called saints. And guess what? This is All Saints’ Church. The Feast of All Saints we celebrate today is special for us at this church. It is a reminder of our true calling, of the path God has prepared for each and every one of us, paths specific to who each of us is, but each of which leads to the same destination: sainthood. If you are here, then you are called to sainthood.
And if you’re confused about what it means to be a saint, just listen to Jesus, who tells us what it means to be blessed and beautiful. To be blessed means making room for God’s richness and not your own. It means filling up on all that is good and holy. It means having faith that sadness and pain will be transformed to joy. It means turning your back on the affirmation of the world and all its temptations and turning toward the great mystery of God in Christ.
That’s what it means to be a saint, according to Jesus. Obviously, sainthood isn’t easy. And part of the problem is that the way you are a saint is unique to you—to the gifts God has given you, to the time and place in which you find yourself, to the struggles you face. If these Beatitudes give us the principle of sainthood, the details are only filled in through excruciating trial and error. But let me tell you something I know as surely as I stand before you this morning: I have never met a person who wasn’t called to sainthood. It may confuse you. It may confound you. You may run from it and try to hide from the sheer weight of this calling. But you are called to be a saint of God.
Luckily, we who have been called to sainthood have a powerful tool on our side: this very church. All Saints’ Church is, among other things, a fellowship for those who are called to sainthood. You see, you don’t become a saint overnight. It takes practice. We come here, week after week, year after year—or even for the first time today—to practice being saints. You also don’t become a saint on your own. Many people think that saints live by themselves in caves until they are given a revelation by God, or that they are singularly talented and charismatic. But when you read the lives of the saints, you learn that every saint was born in community. All Saints’ Church is your sainthood community. Here, you are welcomed, you are nurtured, you are challenged, you are encouraged, you are held accountable, and you are sent out into the world to be a saint. There is no other place than a loving Christian community that will equip you for sainthood. There is nothing to replace a church in the formation of saints. This is the place where you encounter yourself anew each week, where you encounter yourself as a saint.
One of the reasons it’s so difficult for us to wrap our heads around sainthood as Jesus describes it is because it calls for an inversion of the way we see the world. In Jesus’ time, the great and the mighty were what he describes in the second half of today’s Gospel passage—the part with the woes. Woe to the rich. Woe to those who feast at sumptuous banquets. Woe to those who laugh, and woe to those who receive high praise. These were the things people sought after in their lives.
And as you can tell, things haven’t changed very much, even after 2000 years. We lift up the rich and the well-fed, the happy and the well-praised. There are no reality shows about those who weep. Just try starting an Instagram account about poverty and see how many followers you get. Accolades and praise are given out so readily and for so little that they hardly have any value. Did you see the news this week about Adam Neumann, the former CEO of WeWork, the company that owns coworking spaces? At the age of 40, he resigned after leading the company to utter ruin. You might think that after arranging shady financial deals and misrepresenting the company’s true value, after laying off almost a quarter of its employees, Mr. Neumann would face some harsh consequences. Instead, he received a payout of one billion dollars. One billion dollars.
That’s a lot of money, and Mr. Neumann is now a rich man for his failures. But in the inverted world of beatitudes, he is not rich at all, because his ill-begotten fortune separates him from the place of true riches: the Kingdom of God.
It is appropriate that this Feast of All Saints is also the beginning of our annual stewardship campaign at All Saints’ Church. Every year, we are called to reflect anew on what it truly means to be blessed. We recommit ourselves to the words of the beatitudes and take seriously our call to sainthood. Following this morning’s Eucharist is our annual Stewardship Café, where you can see the many ministries you can be involved in. And in three weeks’ time, on Harvest Sunday, we will offer our pledges to equip the work of the saints in this place, remembering what it means truly to be wealthy.
Today we also welcome a new saint into our midst as we baptize Lucy Rose Fontana. God willing, she will have the words of the beatitudes written on her heart. She will never forget that even in the trials of life, she is blessed. Lucy is just now beginning her path toward sainthood, and she’s going to need all of our help. Are you willing to show Lucy by example what it means to be a saint? Do you want the world she grows up in to look up to billionaire failures or to confess the richness of God’s Kingdom? When we are all gone and Lucy is still here, do you want her to remember us as a generation of the confused or as the saints who blazed the trail for her?
God has called you to be a saint. It is the highest calling one can have. You are a part of the great cloud of witnesses that envelops us even here this morning. May God be your strength and your guide. And may the saints of God shine forever by the light of Jesus Christ.