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The Scriptures proclaim to us that
God's desire for all humanity.
Is wholeness.
Is goodness.
A wholeness and a goodness
that holds all people
and all things
in a single peace.
Saint John calls this wholeness and goodness,
this single peace,
everlasting life.
Proclaiming it memorably:
"For God so loved the world,
that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him
may not perish,
but have everlasting life." (3:16)
Looking back at the 2,105th year of the Common Era,
God's promise
of wholeness and goodness,
promise of a single peace,
seems less possible and less probable today
than it did in the waning days of 2014.
The pain of the
waste of our wraths and sorrows,
seems far closer to everlasting demise
than to everlasting life.
Attacks in Paris at the beginning and the end of the year.
Natural and human-made disasters around the globe,
but particularly across Asia.
An unprecedented refugees crisis,
with people fleeing northern Africa and the Middle East;
at rates exceeding those of WWII;
unprecedented migration throughout the Americas
and other parts of the globe.
Germanwings Flight 9525.
Too many mothers weeping over
their sons' and daughters' bodies
gunned downed, slain
as the fabric of the world's greatest democracy,
frays over
race,
education,
income inequality,
religion.
Senseless gun deaths from Virginia to California.
Every year is filled with small- and large- scale tragedies.
But few as numerous and as heinous,
as pronounced and as preventable
as these.
The spiral of our discourse—
to the lowest,
most dangerous of levels,
and the violence our discourse has sparked—
makes it all worse.
In a chilling reflection
on the infant Jesus' plight
and the plight of so many children of our time
called "The Flight,"
Poet George Szirtes
puts the everlasting demise of humanity
this way:
The child on the dirtpath
finds the highway blocked
The dogs at the entrance
snarl that doors are locked
The great god of kindness has his kindness mocked

Certainly, in my lifetime
there has be no more fractious and pernicious a time
than now.
We are at a cross roads:
Do we give up in despair?
Or find some way for these horrors of our time,
to spur us toward a deeper and better humanity?
Today we celebrate the day of Saint John,
Apostle and Evangelist.
We say of Saints that they point us to Christ.
To the saving and redeeming work of Christ.
Saint John faced pain similar
to that of the waste of our own wraths and sorrows.
Faced it personally.
The beloved disciple, who reclined on Jesus
the night on which he was betrayed.
The only one of the twelve to stand at the foot of Christ's cross.
And stand there, not alone.
But with Mary, the wife of Clopas,
Mary, Magdalene,
and Mary, the Mother of God.
Where he stood and wept.
Cried tears that were
not simply his own,
not simply
the tears of these three women,
but the tears of the community he led.
As they were separated from their own families.
Their own children.
Their own parents.
Their own sisters and brothers.
First when the Romans ransacked Jerusalem.
And then again, when the synagogue that held them all together,
fractured.
The tears shed at the foot of Christ's cross,
are, then and as they are now,
the tears of all humanity.
Saint John's Gospel is a vivid account of the cross.
A claim, a confession that holds the cross' pain,
its sorrow,
its torment,
even its death,
not as an end.
But as a beginning.
The beginning of resurrection.
The beginning of new life.
The beginning of new possibilities.
The beginning of everlasting life.
Peter is confused by such a notion of everlasting life.
He ponders, with Jesus, how this is possible.
As did Saint John's community.
As do countless in our own day.
Its not that we don't see the pain of our own time,
see the cross and its suffering.
Its just that we can't imagine seeing it
in any way other than as an end.
And so we cover up pain.
Shun hardship.
Actively ignore, even demonize,
the plight of others
not as our own.
Szirtes puts our culture's blind disregard:
We move on for ever
our feet leave no mark
you won't hear our voices
once we're in the dark

Saint John's view of the cross
takes an entirely different view.
Pain and sorrow is not ignored or avoided.
But readily acknowledged and
considered an opportunity for
a return to wholeness and goodness,
an opportunity for peace,
an opportunity to walk straight through death,
to everlasting life.
Its not that one wants hardship,
but it is that one does not avoid it,
as we are so prone to do in our culture.
Our cure-seeking, quick-fix, instant gratification culture.
Saint John's cross seeks wellness, seeks healing,
sees life even in the face of death.
Szirtes again:
but here is our fire
this child is our spark.
May those who travel light
Find shelter on the flight
May Bethlehem
Give rest to them.

Everlasting life began for Saint John
the day he reclined on Jesus.
and was not afraid.
Began and continued as he led his people
and proclaimed God's promise of new life to them
even as Jerusalem was ransacked
and their synagogue was pulled apart.
No wonder Saint John tells the story of Lazarus,
—unique among the gospels—
Unreservedly and with seemingly impossible confidence.
Three days dead in a tomb.
Sorrow and weeping.
And Jesus' remarkable words. There words:
"Lazarus come out."
For God keeps on creating,
as in the beginning.
Keeps on seeking
wholeness
and goodness.
Even in the face of death.
And so too, can we.
For God so loved the world,
that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him
—that is, everyone who believes that death is not the end,
but the beginning of life—
may not perish,
but have everlasting life.
Our president put
Saint John's claim about everlasting life this way
in his eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pickney
after the shooting in Charleston, S.C.
"As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy,
God has visited grace upon us,
for he has allowed us to see where we've been blind."
To see where we've been blind,
"to make the most of it"
"to receive this grace we have not earned with our rancor and complacency,
our short-sightedness and fear of each other"
"to receive this grace with gratitude,
and prove ourselves worthy of this gift."
to find "what writer Marilyn Robinson calls
'that reservoir of goodness, beyond,
and of another kind,
that we are able to do each other
in the ordinary cause of things.'

"If we can find that grace,"
the president said,
"anything is possible.
If we can tap that grace,
everything can change."
"Amazing grace."
He sang.
Amazing grace, Everlasting life.
This is what is offered every time we gather at this table.
Gather to receive this body and blood of Christ.
Not some cure-all or sing of victory, triumph, or indifference.
But brokenness.
Brokenness in which we see God most clearly.
See the waste of our wraths and sorrows.
And seeing beyond our waste
to God's goodness and wholeness.
Peace.
Reaching for it.
As Christ reaches out for us.
For on the cross
evil is trumped by goodness.
brokeness by healing.
discord by unity.
Fear by hope.
Death by life.
So dear friends, come, take and eat.
And here find and live eternal life.
Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York

SAINT JOHN, APOSTLE & EVANGELIST
FIRST SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS DAY

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Genesis 1:1-5, 26-31
Psalm 116:12-19
1 John 1:1--2:2
Saint John 21:20-25

The Flight
by George Szirtes

The child on the dirtpath
finds the highway blocked
The dogs at the entrance
snarl that doors are locked
The great god of kindness
has his kindness mocked
May those who travel light
Find shelter on the flight
May Bethlehem
Give rest to them.
The sea is a graveyard
the beach is dry bones
the child at the station
is pelted with stones
the cop stands impassive
the ambulance drones
May those who travel light
Find shelter on the flight
May Bethlehem
Give rest to them.
We sleep then awaken
we rest on the way
our sleep might be troubled
but hope is our day
we move on for ever
like children astray
May those who travel light
Find shelter on the flight
May Bethlehem
Give rest to them.
We move on for ever
our feet leave no mark
you won't hear our voices
once we're in the dark
but here is our fire
this child is our spark.
May those who travel light
Find shelter on the flight
May Bethlehem
Give rest to them.


Commissioned as the carol "Out of your sleep" by Richard Cuaston
for a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols 2015, Kings College Cambridge