Sharon UMC Question and Answer Sunday; April 30, 2017

FIRST LESSON: 1 John 1:5-9     QUESTION: Why do we change the candleholders during Lent to three candles on the altar?

The questions this time around were more about tradition than they were about theology. And that’s okay – because Wesley said that our faith is built on Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. And while scripture stays the same, tradition, reason and experience are very dependent on what our world is like right now. We have a lot of traditions form the early church, but we don’t act them out the same way that they were implemented in the 1st or 2nd century.   Every culture, in it’s own time, develops their own way of expressing how the Gospels have meaning for them.

Now the three candles on the altar that you saw during Lent I have to take some responsibility for. You see in my first Lent/Easter here in 2014, I noticed that we only had the brass candle holders on the Altar – but one of the Methodist traditions that was handed down from the church of England via the Catholic Church (remember – Methodists are reformed Episcopalians and renegade Catholics) is that all gold ornaments and flowers should be removed from the Altar during Lent, and dark metals or wood used instead. This is to remind us of the earthly suffering that Christ went through, and the fact that even though he was the Son of God he was living an earthy life with us. Gold is symbolic of divinity but wood or dark metals are associated with earth.

So after talking about it in our worship committee, a group of us went to Hobby Lobby for some supplies and we also found the candleholders that we use now. I actually was planning on getting three of the same design. (I wanted three because I could use the extra candleholder when we had Trinity Sunday, or I preached on the trinity.) But as we tried out a bunch of different candles holders we really liked how these three looked together.

So now we take out the three Trinity candles during Lent. And they are also handy for other times of the year – like when we use red, white, and blue candles for the fourth of July and Memorial Day, or when we use the red candle for Pentecost.

I think I should also mention the silver candlesticks. About two years ago I was at a garage sale where two matching candlestick and one single candlestick were being sold. When I asked how much they were the owners apologized for not having another matching candlestick, but I told them that that was okay because I was going to buy them to use in the church and since I could use three to represent the Trinity that it didn’t matter that they didn’t match. They were really trilled that I was going to use them in the church and they very kindly donated them to us.

Now we have our wood, silver, and gold candlesticks that we can use to express the beauty of our faith on our altar during worship.

SECOND LESSON: Luke 23:50-56     QUESTION:  Is the story of the Legend of Glastonbury real?

The Legend of Glastonbury is about Joseph of Arimatheia, who we read about in our scripture. From scripture we know that he was a rich man, because he had a private tomb, and that he was a follower of Jesus, even though he seems to have been quiet about it. There is a strong possibility that he was also a relative of Jesus because after the Crucifixion he claimed the body of Jesus from Pilate, which implies that legally he was a relative. Most of the legends make him Jesus’ uncle.

After Jesus’ resurrection, Joseph got on the Temple Authorities black list and so Joseph fled to Britain with some other followers of Jesus. Why Britain you might ask? Tradition states that he knew Britain from his trips as a tin merchant (that’s how he became wealthy.) Part of the legend even states that Joseph brought Jesus with him on one of his trading trips during Jesus’ “lost years” between the ages of 12 and 30. When Joseph fled to Britain he landed near Glastonbury on the coast and then traveled to a site where he planted his staff, as if to say, “This is where we will settle.”   The staff miraculously flowered into a tree, The Glastonbury Thorn. A cutting from that first tree was planted in the grounds of the later Glastonbury Abbey, where it continued to bloom every year thereafter, at Christmas time. There is still a thorn tree in the Abbey grounds, and a cutting is sent to Buckingham Palace every year at Christmas time, which analysis has shown is a Palestinian variety.

Parts of the Legend also say that Joseph brought with him the Holy Grail, and some also say that the Virgin Mary fled with him and that she and Joseph are secretly buried with the Grail somewhere in the area. Another version is that Joseph buried the Grail at the foot of Glastonbury Tor, whereupon a spring of blood gushed forth from the ground. In any case Glastonbury claimed for a long time to be the first Christian Church of England and until the Reformation, when it was destroyed by King Henry VII, it was a prominent abbey and influential center of power.

Actually, this story could be true. You see that area of England has long been known as a tin mining site, it was actually one of the reasons that Rome invaded England. But those tin mines must have been up and running before the Romans started to invade in about 43 BCE, and there is evidence that trade was taking place because Britain was actually known as the Tin Islands. Jewish people lived all over the Roman Empire and a lot of them were traders – so it is quite possible that there were Jewish traders in Britain or who had connections in Britain.

There is nothing to say that Joseph wasn’t a trader in tin or other goods. And he certainly could have traveled by sea or land for business. And if you are running away from prosecution the best place to go is someplace far away, but also to a place that you are familiar with. So I could see Joseph running to Britain and bringing with him some disciples who just wanted to live their faith quietly. One of the first things that they would do, would be to build a church and actually there has been a very small church found, dating back to the time of the Romans, although there is not enough evidence to have it be conclusively as early as the 1st century.   Further legends tell that the church founded by Joseph continued for many years and eventually became a monastery, and one of the first abbots of Glastonbury Abbey was the future St Patrick, who was born in England’s west country.

About the Holy Grail – I think that’s an added on legend from the medieval period when EVERYONE was creating Grail legends. Depending on what legend you believe the Grail was taken to and hidden in France, England, Scotland, North America, Israel, or even the Vatican. Besides England, the Virgin Mary also has burial sites in Israel, Turkey, and India. There is a spring at the base of Glastonbury Tor, but it runs red because of the high iron content, not because of blood.

While the legend of Joseph of Arimethia doesn’t reveal any great theological in-site into Christianity, it does tell a story of faith and a certain place and time and about how Christianity grew. I think that the Legend of Glastonbury is true at least about Joseph coming to Britain. After all, how is that story any different from a scrappy group of about 100 people who got onboard a ship and crawled their way across the Atlantic Ocean to land in the area that we know as Cape-Cod? They were fleeing from a place that didn’t accept their faith and hoping to build a place where they could live with their faith. That’s a story of resilient Christianity that has been repeated many times over many generations. It’s a story that we are a part of now, because every generation reclaims Christianity in a new time, and adapts the place they use to express their need to connect with God.

The Legend of Glastonbury is so inspirational that the poem ‘Prelude to Milton’ by William Blake (1757-1827) is better-known as the popular “hymn” Jerusalem. It was set to music by Sir Hubert Parry and Sir Edward Elgar, and has been sung at national events since the First World War, when it was adopted as an ‘anthem’ by the Women’s Institute. As well as being sung in church, it is now a popular alternative to the England’s official God-Save-The-Queen anthem, to close national cultural events.

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon England’s mountains green?

And was the holy Lamb of God

On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded here

Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:

Bring me my Arrows of desire:

Bring me my Spear: O Clouds unfold!

Bring me my Chariot of fire.

I will not cease from Mental fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand

Till we have built Jerusalem

In England’s green and pleasant land.

Now that is the way to carry faith forward into the world.

*THIRD LESSON: Luke 24:13-35     QUESTION: Who were the Disciples who were walking with Jesus to Emmaus?

We know that there were two disciples on the Road to Emmaus, Cleopas and the other unnamed disciple. But there has been a lot of speculation about who that other person is.

There are two 2nd century commentaries by different authors. One author states that the other disciple was a man named Joseph and was Cleopas’ brother. The other author names Mary, his wife, as his companion and mentions that their son James became a priest, of the early Christian Church.

What is interesting about the name Cleopas is that it isn’t Jewish – it’s Greek. Which indicates that even before the early church was evangelizing in Greece there were Greek followers among Jesus’ movement. This could also be why Jesus spends a large amount of time explaining the Jewish scriptures to these two travelers while they are walking. If the two disciples were Greek then they probably didn’t grow up with the Torah tradition or the criteria from the Torah about who the Messiah would be that most Jewish children would have. Jesus might have wanted to give them a quick history/scripture lesson to confirm for them that he fulfilled all the Messiah criteria from the Jewish faith.

Another point that is possible is that if Cleopas, who was Greek, was traveling with his wife, whose name is Mary, then they might be a mixed race couple, since MARY was a very common Jewish name, but not a common Greek name at the time. If so that would mean that the Jesus movement was very accepting right from the start of people who were stepping out of the norm.

Of course all of this is scholastic conjecture, but imagine what those unconventional possibilities do for our message of evangelism. Are we supposed to be talking to people who we think should be disciples, or are we reaching out to people who are not following the norm? Sometimes all of us need to step out of what we expect a Christian to be and realize that Christ came for all people, no matter how unconventional they might have been.

Jesus spoke with a lot of different people. Jesus accepted a lot of different people. Can we do the same? We are all walking to Emmaus, and I believe that Christ is always walking with us. But we need to open our eyes to the possibilities that all people we encounter could be Christians. We shouldn’t be shy of reaching out to them and finding out. Maybe we will teach them, maybe they will teach us, but I think, in the love of Christ, we will all be in for a big surprise.

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About pastorpeg

Hi -- I'm the pastor of the United Methodist Churches in Lakeville and Sharon CT. This blog was created to post my sermons so that people can read them who were not able to come to our worship services (Times of Worship: Lakeville: 9:15 am, Sharon 10:45) or for people who want to review them during the week. I hope you enjoy reading them.
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