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Bishop Todd’s homily: the fifth week of Easter

(Transcript of Bishop Todd’s Townshend’s Weekly Video Address, May 10, 2020)

Grace and peace be with you.

My guess is that by the time I record this video next week, there will be more to say regarding updates on how and when we may gather again in our buildings or in other places but, for now, there is no news on that front so I’m going to spend this time digging into the bible readings that are appointed for Sunday, the Fifth Sunday of Easter: (Revised Common Lectionary)

First, in Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; we may find guidance and comfort to those who are having a very difficult time being isolated—there are those who are struggling because they are ill physically, but this is also a time of deep suffering for many who know the anguish of poor mental health. I encourage you to reach out to someone who can help you; none of us are “OK” right now and there are people who can help. Some links to resources are available on website, and in the links and comments below. (please see below)

This psalm is a song of lament. “Lament” is an important practice for Christians and this psalm can help us learn the elements of it –

  • prayer (vv. 2-5), “incline your ear to me, rescue me speedily” – make haste to deliver me
  • an expression of trust (vv. 6-9), “I trust in the Lord . . .”
  • lament again (vv. 10-13), “my life is spent with sorrow, grief, and my years with sighing . . . my strength fails me . . .
  • and then the very important moment when we say, “but, I trust you, O Lord, You are my God, my times are in your hands”—in spite of all this, I will trust you. (v. 14,15),
  • and prayer (v.16). “Let you face shine on me”

This psalm is like a key to open up our human capacity for lament, trust, and prayer.  So that’s one great resource this week.

But here is another one.

I remember hearing a sermon by Gardner Taylor that moved me to tears. His preaching is in the African American tradition and he was a master. With all that his people had suffered in slavery and through racism, he spoke for so many others who knew pain and humiliation—sometime to the death. And it continues, as we saw this week.

He was looking at Stephen. The Stephen we see in Acts 7:55-60; the one who died in the stoning pit with Saul of Tarsus looking on. Stephen who may have been the first martyr, the first witness-unto-death, for Jesus.

Clearly, not every Easter sermon will be well received. Not every truth in the time of the resurrection will be comforting. Some of these messages, some of this truth, is very, very threatening—especially to the authorities, including the religious authorities. I’ve got my ears open.

Leading up to this passage Stephen has been falsely accused and in his defense he recites the story of salvation—starting with our ancestor Abraham and his covenant with God, he summarized what God had done in each era, and all of the ups and downs of God’s people, highlighting how they didn’t always get it right. And then he zeros in to say—and now, you are opposing the Holy Spirit—and killing the prophets who are sent from God, including the Righteous One.

Well, this was considered blasphemy and it enraged them. They became murderous in their anger. And looking up, filled with the Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God—and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

Now, as Gardner Taylors said, we are used to hearing that, since the time of the Ascension, Jesus has been seated at the right hand of God. There, right beside God, seated at the throne, making intercession for us and presiding over the reign of God for ever. Seated.

But here, with Stephen so vulnerable, and so faithful, with the world so dangerous around him, and the punishment of stoning closing in around him –

Stephen sees Jesus

Standing

Standing up for him, in praise, and appreciation and protection of his soul.

“Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing there for us, at the right hand of God.”

Maybe they didn’t see it.

Maybe they didn’t look.

But the stones rained down on Stephen—even as he prayed that God would forgive them.

And he died. And Saul approved of his killing.

And Taylor concludes, “what strange fruit” . . . that the fruit of Stephen’s witness would be the conversion and ministry of St. Paul, the Apostle. Paul could never forget that, even in the stoning pit Stephen remained faithful and he sees Jesus standing for him at the right hand of God.

We hear that, “Christ is a living stone, the cornerstone, upon whom our life is built, and through whom we are “called out of darkness into his marvelous light”. The people of God receive mercy through this living stone, the stone that brings life and light.

So know that Jesus stands up for us and brings us to himself. We have a God, who hears our lament, stands up for us in our trouble, comes to us in our joy and in our sorrow, and finally brings us to himself so that where he is, we may be also.

+Todd 

Links to Mental Health Resources:

ConnexOntario provides free and confidential health services information for people experiencing problems with mental illness, alcohol and drugs, or gambling. Call 1-866-531-2600.

Wellness Together Canada provides free online resources, tools, apps and connections to trained volunteers and qualified mental health professionals when needed.

Bounceback is a free, guided self-help program managed by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). It is designed to help adults and youth 15+ manage low mood, mild to moderate depression and anxiety, stress or worry.  Mental health concerns are among the many challenges Ontarians are currently facing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. At this time of public uncertainty, CMHA’s BounceBack program remains an effective option to support Ontarians who may be dealing with mild-to-moderate anxiety or depression, or may be feeling low, stressed, worried, irritable or angry.  Read more: https://ontario.cmha.ca/news/cmhas-bounceback-key-part-of-expanded-mental-health-supports-available-to-all-ontarians-during-covid-19-pandemic/ 

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