Sermons by Katherine Ragsdale

Occasional Sermons by Episcopal priest, Katherine Hancock Ragsdale.

Location: Massachusetts

you can always google me at "Katherine Ragsdale" OR "Katherine Hancock Ragsdale"

Monday, March 24, 2003

Easter Morning, 2003

St. David’s, Pepperell
Katherine Hancock Ragsdale

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!

The women went to the tomb on this, the 1st day of the week, many years ago, to mourn. It took courage to go there – to the tomb of a recently executed insurrectionist – for it would have been reasonable to assume that is was being watched. That the authorities were on the look-out for this man’s friends. That they would be, at the very least, taken in for questioning, held, perhaps tortured for information, branded as accomplices, and perhaps executed themselves. It’s not hard to imagine the possibilities. And, if your imagination fails, just open a newspaper. It’s not hard to see why they would be afraid. Peter understood; he denied having met Jesus – 3 times – while Jesus was still alive to be hurt by that betrayal.

But Mary and Mary and Salome went to the tomb anyway. They brought spices and went to the tomb to anoint him, to give him the last tender care the living can offer the dead.

They went grieving. Their best hope for a new and better world was shattered. Their hopes, dreams, and plans lay in ruins. And someone they loved was dead. So they gathered their apparently vast resources of courage, strength, compassion, and love and went to the tomb.

And they found it empty.

God had done it again. The God who had so often redeemed Israel from bondage, rebuilt it from dry bones and ashes, had done it again.

But this time was different. In the past God had, again and again, restored Israel – but over time and through the workings of history. This time, in one fell swoop all the loss and despair, all the evil intentions and vile acts, were turned on their head. Death was simply un-done. Jesus rose victorious.

Now, it well may be that some of you here are saying to yourselves – well, that’s a nice story, but ‘rose from the dead’? I have a hard time believing that. And, if you are saying that, let me just say that you’re in good company. There are lots of smart and good folks who just aren’t buying the story.

Scholars have long argued about whether Jesus literally rose from the dead – whether the Resurrection is literal fact. It’s an interesting and fair argument. But it’s also peripheral. Don’t let the facts distract you from the truth – for it’s the truth that counts. And here’s the truth –

Peter, who denied Jesus, became, indeed, a rock – immovable in his faith and commitment and an unwavering follower of his Lord. The disciples, who had been hiding in fear, came out and began to preach the Gospel. And it did cost some of them their lives. And they did it anyway. And the teachings of Jesus did not fade away but grew to fill the earth. And the ministry he began continues 2000 years later.

One way or another, Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus lives – in Jerusalem right after his death and in Pepperell in 2003.

Even death cannot stop God’s good work. There is no loss, no setback, no tragedy that marks an end to God’s grace and power. For in ways mysterious and wonderful our God resurrects hopes, dreams, even us from the dead.

And not only resurrects, but redeems. We survive and thrive, by God’s good grace, not in spite of the evils and losses that befall us, but through them. The pains and deaths we endure become the foundation of our new lives and new strengths and new hopes and new possibilities. Jesus Christ is not defeated by death, and, because he lives, so, too, does the rest of creation – so do we.

Our task now is to come out of our own small, dark rooms of fear and doubt – to claim the grace that has been given us and to join God in the share of God’s work that has been given us -- with courage and hope and joy.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!

Easter Vigil, 2003

St. David’s, Pepperell
Katherine Hancock Ragsdale

Readings included the Exodus and the Valley of the Dry Bones.

We come together tonight after the Crucifixion and before the Resurrection. We come together in our despair to find comfort with one another, to share hope, to remember who and whose we are and where we come from, and what the God who made us and brought us this far has done for us, and for our fathers and mothers from the beginning of time.

We remember that when our people were just a motley crew of tribes, wanderers in the wilderness, who ended up enslaved in a land not our own, God set us free and bound us together into a people, a nation, a community so that never again would we live alone in the world – isolated and unattached. We remember a time when our nation, our people, were conquered and dispossessed. A time when it seemed we were a people no more but just a mess of scattered bones, not even recognizable as the skeletal remains of a people. So long, and so far, gone -- dry bones with no life left in them. And God said – out of these bones I can, and will, re-assemble a people. And it seemed impossible. The bones were little more than dust. There was nothing, nothing, to work with. And yet God reassembled the people of Israel.

And we remember times in our own lives, or those of people near and dear to us, when it has seemed that there is little left of and for us but dry bones and dust. The proud provider with a dream for his family, who sees the market, and his dreams, crash and looks longingly at the high-rise window. The high school senior who can’t get into the right college and sees her hopes and plans for the future dashed and considers the trees on the side of the road. The couple who watch their marriage, their home, and their family come apart and begin to eye the sedatives. The parents whose child dies young and who lose interest in food, life, and one another. Those in Afghanistan or Iraq who watch their homes, their loved ones, everyone and everything they know blown to dust and rubble. All those who see nothing ahead for themselves but more dry bones and dust. Who know, down to their marrow, that there is no way to reassemble a full life from the wreckage that surrounds them. And we remember how often we have seen such lives impossibly reassembled, their dreams implausibly re-kindled, themselves reborn once they allowed God to get Her hands on them and to breathe into them.

We remember those, perhaps even ourselves, who have been hurt so badly that we’ve turned our hearts to stone that we may never suffer like that again. And we remember a God who has said, “I will remove from you body a heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you.”

And, because we remember, we gather here to wait, and hope, and expect God’s saving power in our lives and in the world.

We gather at the tomb – hoping to see Jesus rise again. Knowing that Jesus’ resurrection confirms yet again that God can create new life, new hope, new chances, out of nothing – out of less than nothing.

Because Jesus rises we can, too. And because we can, we must. And, having risen and reclaimed God’s love for us, we have a responsibility to search for ways to take that healing, redemptive, life-giving power out into the world – to spread Good News and hope – to look for ways that we can work with God as He goes about God’s work of re-creating life that has seen its substance blown apart, its own dreams dashed.

We are due for a celebration – for God has promised us resurrection, redemption and joy, and has blessed us with work worthy of our best efforts and our passion. Our hopes have been fulfilled – Christ is Risen.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Good Friday 2003

Good Friday, 2003
St. David’s, Pepperell (MA)
Katherine Hancock Ragsdale+

Let me take us back, for a moment, to Ash Wednesday and the extended confession we made then.

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.

We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us. We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved your Holy Spirit.

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives.

Our self-indulgent ways, and our exploitation of other people,

Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves,

Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work,

Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us,

We confess to you, Lord.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for all the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,

For all false judgments, all uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us,

For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us,

Accept our repentance, Lord.

These, of course, are the things that led Jesus to the cross.

Maybe we, ourselves, didn’t commit the particular sins that created a society within which Jesus’ crucifixion was inevitable – but only because we weren’t born in time. We still engage in the same kinds of sins that they did those 2000 years ago. And the people who conspired against him, turned him over, condemned him, and nailed him up were, themselves, born into, and shaped by, a world already perverted by these sins long before their time.

And every time we indulge in these sins, every time we allow this brokenness to dictate our thoughts, words, and deeds, we nail him to the cross again. Every time. We help create a world in which his execution was inevitable – a world in which persons beloved of God continue to die needlessly each and every day.

And every time we choose, instead, to reject sin – to reject pride and envy and malice and greed, to reject the idea that we are the center of the universe, to reject the notion that we are not all connected in and by God’s love – every time we make those choices, every time we align ourselves with Jesus, we move ourselves and the world one breath closer to the Creator’s vision and hope.

So, now … we pray – the Solemn Collects. We pray for the broken world and those who suffer because it is broken.

We pray as our duty – for we share in the blame for the world’s brokenness.

And we pray as our exercise – for in praying we turn back to Jesus and practice, and strengthen ourselves for, rejecting the sins that cause that brokenness.

And we pray as our privilege – for, even in our own brokenness and guilt, God allows us still to work with Her to bind and mend and midwife Her dream into reality.

Let us pray.

Blogarama - The Blog Directory