Gracious Spirit


Surprise, surprise


Mighty Steeple


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John 20:19-31

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.



Christ is alive                  # 182

The strife is o'er        # 208

Hail thee festival day     # 225

Come, Gracious Spirit    # 512

(Ref. 1982 Episcopal Hymnal)


Gracious Spirit

Sermon given on 31 May 2020 by The Rev. Jon Roberts

Calvary Episcopal Church, Indian Rocks Beach, FL


Surprise, surprise

Sermon given on 22 April 2012 by The Rev. Jon Roberts

Grace Episcopal Church, Monroe, LA

Surprise, surprise;

in order to know where you are going,

you need to see Jesus with your own eyes.


In January 2000 Time Magazine honored the great physicist Albert Einstein as the Man of the Century. This didn't come too much of a surprise to the public. He came up with the famous E=mc2. His findings in the photoelectric effect led to the quantum theory. Albert was a quantifiable soul, who pondered the many mysteries of life and spent his life calculating them. But there was a telling story about him that many may not know. Einstein was once traveling from Princeton on a train when the conductor came down the aisle, punching tickets of every passenger. When he came to Einstein, Einstein reached in his pocket. He couldn't find his ticket, so he reached in his trouser pockets. It wasn't there. He looked in his briefcase but couldn't find it. Then he looked in the seat beside him. He still couldn't find it. The conductor said, "Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I'm sure you bought a ticket. Don't worry about it." Einstein nodded appreciatively. The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he turned and saw the great physicist, now on his hands and knees, looking under the seat for his ticket. The conductor rushed back and said, “Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein don't worry, I know who you are; no problem. You don't need a ticket. I'm sure you bought one." Einstein looked at him and said, "Young man, I too, know who I am. What I don't know is where I'm going."[1]


Someone once said, "Life without God is like an un-sharpened pencil

- it has no point."[2] You may know who you are, but if you do not know where you are going, there is no point to life.


For the Christian there should be no surprises who we are. For the Christian there should be no surprises where we are going. When we get apprehensive; when we are worried; perhaps it is best to return to our hands and knees, not in a frantic sense of being lost, but rather in prayer, fixing our eyes once more on the Savior. It is most disturbing to the other passengers in life when they see a renowned person who is a Christian, no less, yet seen on the floor,  worried about where they are going. But life for us is not about punching a ticket. Life is about being redeemed in the saving grace of God. From God do we sing a new song and find complete peace. It is about Him giving us daily assurances we are on track. If only we could touch and hold His hand, we would promise never to let go. Life is a series of episodes of both relaxation and worry. We move back and forth between these two postures, so it seems. It is only when we keep our eyes set on Jesus, that we are saved from all our troubles. "If we only have Jesus...surprise, surprise." How often said, but not done. Like an un-sharpened pencil - it has no point.


The great conductor came up the aisle and stood among them. They knew who they were, but they forgot where they were going. Eleven disciples were frightened. Then, surprise came about them. Jesus stood among them. Scripture testifies that the disciples thought they were seeing a spirit. Perhaps they were too focused on their troubles, that their sight was blurred. They were troubled and confused. Jesus noticed the anxiety in their hearts. To assure them they were not seeing a ghost, he reached over and took a piece of broiled fish. He put it to his mouth and ate it. Surely this lends proof to a supernatural occurrence. It was hard to formulate. It’s not empirical. This is way beyond E=mc2.


This is our problem.

We try too hard to analyze our situation and rush into all the possible, worst case scenarios. We need to verify things in life over and over again. We take the ticket and look at it, then stick it in our shirt pocket. Minutes later, we take it out, look at it, then stick it in our purse. Still later, we take it out and put it in our pant's pocket. Later still, we forget, Oh where did we put it? It was like this for the disciples. They continued to go back and forth. "Now didn't he say he would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead?" No, he said the Christ would do this. Peter chimes in saying, Jesus is the “Christ.” Moses and Isaiah, the great prophets, stretched out their hands and parted seas and overcame invaders.

Jesus was not like that. Wasn't there something greater for him to show us? So quickly, his life was taken. We were robbed. What bitter remorse.

How can he come back? Who says three days is really more like three years? Surprise, surprise, when he returned and stood in their midst, for them to marvel with their own eyes. He retold the account of Old and became living proof.


Years later, we see how important this return was. It made a definate impact on those disciples and they vowed to always keep their sight on Jesus. We find Peter in Jerusalem, being charged by Annas the High Priest of blasphemy, as Peter preaches that Jesus was indeed the Christ.

Everyone forgot the cripple who was healed by Jesus. Perhaps Peter was referring to his own helplessness, reflecting on that fateful evening when asked three times, if he was one of Jesus' disciples. How crippled he must have felt not to testify on his behalf then.


From their witness, and countless other renowed Christians seen on hands and knees, we now have the relation to where we are going. We are going to God who came down to us, to conduct our passage and lead us home. He, who lived among us in the flesh continues to do so by His Holy Spirit, by the Blessed Sacrament, by our common fellowship.


Be sharpened in your faith in God. Know that he is always moving in your midst, reminding you of who you are and where you are going. Surprise, surprise; in order to know where you are going, you simply need to see Jesus with your own eyes.

[1] Story by Billy Graham, Charlotte Conference of Christian leaders, Jan. 2000.

[2] Unknown

Mighty Steeple

Sermon given on 1 May 2011 by The Rev. Jon Roberts

Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida


The Second Coming of Christ stained glass window

St. Matthew's German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Charleston, South Carolina.


The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.[1]


With its mighty steeple reaching far into the sky above Charleston, South Carolina, St. Matthews German Evangelical Church contains some of the most beautiful stained glass renderings of the life of Christ. Being Lutheran, of course what type of church would it be if it did not have a stained glass depiction of the Reformer, Martin Luther? This church was built in the hay-day of the Confederacy. There was a great sense of prosperity within the city walls where this church was built on King St. An abundance of cotton, rice and slave labor could be found. In history this would be short lived as Christians of all sorts would meet and pray for God's wisdom in the face of fear. One cannot see Charleston without seeing the bloody, uncivil, war between two brothers, as the first shots were fired out in the bay on Ft. Sumter. The city of Charleston would, over time, learn to rebuild. For the Christians who worshipped at St. Matthews, it was not the fear of the war that gave them the greatest challenge. Instead it was the terrible fire of 1965.

Someone noticed smoke coming out around 6:50 am, as some of the paintings caught fire from an incandescent light bulb that got too hot. By 10:00 am they believed to have had it contained but a mighty wind came out of nowhere toppling the mighty steeple, weakened by the fire. The steeple made of pure and massive concrete, fell, turning upside down, point first, like an arrow. It drove eighteen feet into the ground next to the sanctuary. The force and the odds of it driving in like it did was hard to believe. It was a fearful sight. The purpose of the steeple was for people far away to know where to find the church. Now, who was it summoning, as it pointed not up, but down? When the fire was contained and the dust settled, many would go up to it, and touch it to see if it were real. It was like God's way of putting an exclamation mark on the end of a sentence.

The church had an important decision to make. With most of the paintings and pews and stained glass destroyed, some doubted whether or not they should stay there. Perhaps it was best to collect what insurance money they could, sell the property, pack up, and start over a little way, out of the city. This would be more affordable than trying to rebuild, some suggested. It would take years to rebuild it. How would they ever be able to remove the steeple from the church floor and reposition it once again on top of the building? So they prayed about it.

It was agreed by this solemn assembly that all was not lost. In truth, they felt this was an opportunity. They committed to unity and rebuild. You see, they knew in their hearts that sometimes the Church has to teach the world what it means to be patient; what it means to act accordingly to God's will. They rebuilt that church. They restored the paintings. They restored the stained glass. They even left the original steeple, planted upside down where it fell, as a reminder of God's exclamation mark. One of their most treasured restorations is a stained glass window of the second coming of Christ. It shows Christ coming to the disciples on a cloud. He wears a cope and a stole, with a white gown. There are no shoes on his feet and he holds out his hands. Below his feet are grave sites with crosses on them. Think about how Christ comes into your life. Is it not for the sake of triumph? Is it not for the sake of building us up? When a life is used for prosperity, but all has been lost, does Christ not come in? When a life is used to be high and mighty, but lowered, does Christ not come in? When rubble and ash lay all around, and we wonder how we'll ever rebuild, does Christ not come in?

He comes in the moments when we need peace the most. He comes when our steeples have been overturned. There are many in the state of Alabama right now, wondering how they'll ever rebuild. Fear of loss has swept through by the acts of tornadoes. Lives have been lost. Is this not the time for Christ to come in? Much like the disciples of long ago, they huddle in despair, wondering where God is in all of this.[2] Some doubt whether God is big enough to resurrect their communities and to restore them. Perhaps they should collect what they can, sell what's left and move out, as some might suggest. What would it have been like, if Christ did not return to his disciples long ago? Would they have simply kept the memory of the miracles, but returned to be fishermen, a tax collector, or something other? God showed them by the return of Christ, by His glorious resurrection, that he walks upon the clouds, above the graves. He has dominion over the tornadoes and the fires that tear us down and topple us over. His disciples didn't get it through all of the other miracles, but they got it through this act. They could ponder the curing of the blind and the lame, the feeding of thousands, and the walking on water, but there was no way they could explain his return from the dead. Like the disciples we too must suffer various trials, in order that the genuineness of our faith will be seen by the world; a world that lives in fear.

Our faith is more precious than gold and will be tested by fire.[3] Let us teach the world that the only fear it should have, is what our life would be like without God. What would it be like if He had decided not to return. The world would be living in the ruins. It would continue to doubt His existence. It would see things like wars and death and destruction as the things in which to be fearful, the things which would dominate the landscape. But this is not the Christian understanding. Our thoughts, our hope, our faith is based on light coming into a dark room. They are based on restoration and resurrection. They are about our mighty steeple, our faith in God, and how sometimes we must build around that when at times it appears to have been toppled. If we are to fear anything in life, let us fear the Lord and what he asks of us. It is the beginning of all wisdom.


[1] Ps 111:10

[2] John 20:19-31

[3] 1 Peter 1:6-7

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Sermon given on 31 May 2009 by The Rev. Jon Roberts

Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida


A contemporary Eastern Orthodox icon of Pentecost, c. 2004 by Phiddipus.

Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles

An allegorical figure, called Kosmos, at bottom, symbolizes the world.


If one intends to spread the Gospel to the ends of the Earth, they need to be prepared for the unexpected. They don’t know who they might meet, so they had better go bearing at least the one, most all-important gift. Found somewhere between folklore and history, today, we meet a notorious individual. In Britain he was known for his valor, and his faithful subjects who he sent to the ends of the earth, searching for treasure, fair maidens and fame. As a champion of good and godly virtues, faith, hope and love, he proudly admitted all existed at a simple, round-table. Almost everyone has heard of the man known as Arthur. He was the one who designed this table, in-the-round, to prevent quarrels and give equal status to those who were sovereign. These so-called knights joined King Arthur, sitting around, making their plans on how to unite the country; a country that had been divided for so long.

“What gift”, they asked, “could we give to the people.” Legend has it, they met many times around this table, asking this question but there was one day in particular, that became their sacred annual meeting. Interesting enough, it happened to be on this very day; the day of Pentecost. On the fiftieth day after Easter, the King’s court considered this to be the one of highest degree, marking it as the birthday of the church. It was the day they reaffirmed the answer to their question, “What gift could we give to the people.” The answer was, “The Holy Spirit.” The day the Holy Spirit came, and appeared to the apostles like many tongues of fire, was the day in which the one, all-important gift was given. Filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking with the utterances given them, The Knights of the Round Table likened themselves to the holy apostles. It was the church, and the teachings of the apostles that they decided to take as a gift into every village.

The church would unite all, both God and Country. This was their strategy and unyielding commitment. In the name of God, they went to the Anglos, the Welch, and even those bothersome Saxons. They went to the ends of the earth. Their shields were adorned with the image of God in the form of the Lion. Colors of red and white made it leap forth. White symbolized the baptismal covenant. Red symbolized the Holy Spirit and the power over flesh and blood therein. After each of their quests, they discovered many challenges along the way. Part of the irony making the stories worthwhile, was when a knight forgot to follow the virtuous path, and misfortune fell upon them. At that moment, they stopped giving the gift. They forgot what made them sovereign in the first place. They lost their way.

It must have been like that for the Apostles.[1] How easy it was for them to lose their way. Not to see Jesus before them must have been alarming but it was the gift of the Holy Spirit, that filled them on Pentecost and set them ablaze. With boldness and conviction, the gift helped them to see through their weakness and their insecurities. They let go of doubt and fear. They peeled off their pride. All because of this one, all-important gift.

How easy it is for all of us, to lose our way in the ordinary, day to day mission of our life. As Christians, we tend to forget how prepared we really are. By giving one, all-important gift to those around us, we are able to go to the far reaches of the earth. Our mission may take us as far as the realm of King Arthur’s day, or it may be as far as the village mailbox. Whatever the destination, see each as an opportunity to meet someone unexpected and to share with them The gift; The all-important gift of God’s Holy Spirit.

[1] John 20:19-31

© 2012. Black & White Chi Rho Ministries 

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