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June 17, 2018, 4th Sunday after Pentecost YR B

Year B, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 6
June 17, 2018
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was

 

“I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.”

The world doesn’t always make sense if you can’t see it as God sees it.  Good morning, everyone.  We have a couple of parables this morning.  The parables of the growing seed and the parable of the mustard seed are not about seeds or plants or farmers, but are about the Commonwealth of God.  Commonwealth is a much nicer way of saying what God’s Kingdom actually implies.  There is a whole series of parables describing the Commonwealth in this part of St. Mark’s Gospel.  What does that mean, to be about the Commonwealth of God?  In some instances, the parables are about how God intends the world to be.  They are aspirational.  This is how it should be, it is God’s will for it to be like x.  In other instances, it is about how the world actually is, it is descriptive.  This is the true nature of things.  In either case, whether is it how God wants it to be and it isn’t or how God made it to be, though we might not see it that way, the parables demand that we see the world through divine eyes, through eyes of faith.  The Commonwealth of God is not apparent through earthly eyes, the eyes of the flesh, in Greek sarx.  It is visible through spiritual eyes, nous eyes.  That’s why Jesus used koan-like parables, because the deepest of wisdom, the paradoxically ultimate reality of God is poetry, not prose.  Knowledge of God and God’s will cannot be transmitted digitally, it is a smooth analog curve.  Nothing about God is black and white, rather God is a billion shades of magenta in a great fanning smear across the universe.  So Jesus teaches in parables, not in outlined lectures or theological tracts (or lengthy sermons, for that matter).

Today’s parables are about the Commonwealth of God.  What about it?  So the first one likens the Commonwealth to someone who scatters seed.  Days and nights come and go, and the seed sprouts.  “…he does not know how.  The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head then the full grain in the head.  But when it comes time to harvest, he knows exactly what to do.

Likely what Jesus was doing here was reassuring the disciples.  “Have faith,” He is saying.  He was scattering the seeds, in His work, in their work together, the kernels of divine love and truth were being scattered.  Through that processes, a process that we cannot see, cannot understand, something will happen, something will sprout, and grow and come to full realization and fear not, you will know exactly what to do when the time comes, just like that farmer at harvest.  Most of us have very little idea about how to care for an apple tree, but come October, a five year-old can fill a bushel basket with at least mostly edible fruit.  Don’t worry, He is saying, it is happening, it will come.

It is understandable why Jesus would offer this lesson.  They’d had some bigger gatherings by then in their Galilean ministry.  Twelve of them were really dedicated, that’s pretty good.  But it was the backwater of a mighty empire and at St. Mark’s writing, that Empire’s boot was firmly on the neck of Palestine.  Its heel had just ground the Temple and Judaic civilization into the dust.  And 12 is pretty good, but what are you going to do with 12?  I can just imagine them conjecturing, “We’re just sitting around here, talking about seeds, preaching to a few folks, healing one at a time… but we are not doing anything.  And what could we do, anyway?  The problems of the Empire, the Empire itself is a behemoth.  Those Zealots, at least they are training…”  Can you hear that?  I think I heard the same exact sentence at a meeting at the Homeless Action Coalition last year.  Or maybe it was 350.org.

I think this parable is describing the world as it actually is.  You’ve heard Margaret Meade’s great quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  I like Fr. Daniel Berrigan’s complimentary quote, “A good peace movement starts small and get smaller.”  I think that is how it is, the world.  Judaism is the story of one family!  Abraham and Sarah’s family.  From that one little miraculous coupling and the descendants number like the stars.  From that little cluster of disciples in the Galilean countryside being taught about seeds, from them, because of them and their faith that Jesus Christ sowed in them, we have The Confessions of St. Augustine, St. Peter’s Bassilica, Bach’s Mass in b minor, non-violent resistance to evil, Narnia, coffee hour.  That has got to be a Christian invention.  Our coffee hour, Karen’s cookies are a head of grain for us to harvest that was sown in the Palestinian countryside 2000 years ago.

Do you believe that can actually happen? That that project you are working on, that that committee you are helping with, that what we are doing here, maybe out in our parking lot, maybe down in our classrooms, maybe here as we pray together, that it will have some impact 2000 years from now?  I’d sometimes settle for someone remembering what last week’s sermon was about.  Gotta have faith.  I struggle with that, knowing that what we are doing is worthwhile.  I wish I could believe more of the time that what we are doing, I am doing, will add up to more than a molehill.  Because we are so small and the world is so big, and the problems of the world?  They loom large.

We’ve been continuously at war for 16 years, with no sign of anything changing.  I don’t know if there is a small or even smaller peace movement at this point.  A couple of weeks ago a nuclear disarmament group came to speak to Church Women United, WAND.  They are still at it.  Them’s some principalities and powers to align yourself against.  And the climate!  Nothing is more urgently pressing or more unfathomably enormous a problem than our climate.  But really, what little thing could any of us possibly do that could have any consequence?  Any affect?  I look at our government and I feel paralyzed by the scope and grandeur of the problems.  Is there anything we can do that could possibly matter in something besides a self-soothing, symbolic action?  Can I, can you, can we do something that matters?

Yes.  Or maybe more precisely, we can do something that might matter.  And when it comes down to it, there is nothing more that we can do than that.  Maybe that is one of the points of this parable.  Everything we do has an affect.  From chaos theory we have Edwards Lorenz’s proposition to this affect, summed up in the title of his famous article, “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?”  It is unpredictable, the results of our action, we can’t know how what is done now will take root in the future, but the future, if by the grace of God it comes, is shaped by countless actions, from small to large, happening right now leading, unpredictably perhaps, to the future.  We, as people of faith, need to put in our bit, even though we are unsure how what we do will shape the future.  We need to have faith that the future is shaped by what someone is doing now, and it could be us.  And those little bits, those little seeds scattered to and fro, maybe those little seeds carry the fruit of Empire’s destruction, or carry the salvation of humankind from ourselves and our hubris, or the earth from ourselves and our hubris.

Nothing is insurmountable or unconquerable if looked at on a long enough time-line.  Having Christian faith takes eschatological patience, which really is the definition of hope, patience over the long-haul.  In hope, with the faith that sustains hope, there is consolation, there is salvation, even, or especially when the adversary is so mighty, so seemingly insurmountable.  The will of God will prevail, the Commonwealth of God is at hand, it just might take a while to see it.  It means that no matter how bad it, how little it seems that you can do, do it.  Some of it will set roots.  You might not see it to harvest yourself, but night and day, it grows.  Or like Wendell Berry tells us, “Plant Sequoias.”

This message of hope is not just for those of us with “Resist” stickers on our bumpers.  It can fall a lot closer to home.  Do you have anything in your life seems insurmountable?  Is there anything that you don’t even bother to think about because the problem is so huge, so all encompassing? Like your drinking, or some other addiction?  Something entwined in every aspect of your life and you can’t imagine untangling it so you don’t.  (Maybe you don’t even imagine untangling it let alone actually untangling it).   A troubled marriage can be like that.  Your whole world is implicated: kids, work, daily living, friends, family, colleagues, church, property, expense, future, your head, heart and body, everything is all tied up in it and you can’t even imagine…   Some health issues can be like that, paralyzing for their scope.

But there are the little seeds we can sow.  Like imagining what different could look like.  What you could look like, your life, if it were different.  The first of the 12 steps is admitting that there is a problem to begin with!  Now that is a good start.  Reading a book on it.  Talking to a friend, a therapist, your priest.  No commitments, just a toe in the water.  It is amazing what a little grazing touch on that boulder on the top of the hill can lead to.

One of the best bits of instruction on writing I ever received was about sowing little seeds like this.  I was taught to sit down in front of a black screen or page and just start writing about the topic you need to address.  This can’t be the night before it is due!  Just write for 10 minutes.  Then put it aside and go about your business.  When you go back to the next day, or a few days later, it is amazing what has been going on inside.  Somehow the act of writing, even unstructured like that, even just 10 minutes like that, the act of writing sows seeds in the subconscious that start churning away, day and night, I know not how, but when I go back to it, things are so much clearer, ideas, connections, language flows in such a different way.

Another example.  Do you know why I invite the children to gather around the altar?  It is not just so they have the best seat, or because it proves that we care about them, or that they are so cute, no, it is because we are sowing seeds, tiny seeds of faith in them.  Like most of us, most of them will leave the church.  I left at 12; no conformation for me, thank you very much.  But maybe, 12 (hopefully 18) years of regularly being this close to such a holy thing, sandwiched between the altar of God and the love of you, God’s people, maybe when their time of trial comes they will remember what it feels like to be in Christian community, they will know that they are not alone and that they need not feel alone.  Maybe they will even come to church again.  Those are just a couple of examples of sowing seeds and letting God take over.

That parable of the growing seed is about how the world is.  It describes the world seen through the eyes of the Commonwealth.  Those little things turn and move in the darkness and then one day the 30, 60, 100 fold harvest comes.  The parable of the mustard seed, on the other hand, is about how the world should be.  We will know the Commonwealth of God has arrived when this happens, or it will come sooner if we do this, but it takes some activity on our part.  And what is it we are being taught that we should do?  Part of it is about faith, like the first parable, it is a story of the tiny seed that can.  From the littlest thing can come the mightiest, like the little action we take now, the tiny seed sown can have great consequences.  That is a surface message of the mustard seed, but below the surface, like an iceberg, a lot more resides.

The mustard of this parable is not the mustard of your garden, it is a giant shrub.  In one of the commentaries there is a picture of one and it must be 20 feet high.  That is pretty great for a shrub.  But the thing is, this is not something you would ever plant.  There are uses for it, parts of it are edible for humans and livestock, and as we are re-learning, having habitat for wildlife within agricultural systems is desirable.  That is fine.  But in a few places, I read that this mustard was a noxious weed.  The picture I saw was not something compatible with a garden.  It would be like saying, the “Himalayan Blackberry, or the English Ivy, or Kudzu has the tiniest seed, but when planted it grows into the mightiest bush.”  True that, but who needs that kind of bush in their lives?  Well…

Maybe this is the point.  Not only does the tiny seed grow into something unexpected, but the conventionally undesirable might, too.  Like being meek.  Not a conventionally desirable quality, but whom does Jesus says shall inherit the earth?  Pray for those who persecute you?  That is logically counterintuitive.  Admitting where you are wrong and putting yourself at the wronged party’s mercy?  Resist not an evil-doer?  What in American culture tells us that that is the thing we are supposed to do?  But this is the essence of seeing the world through divine, spiritual eyes and not fleshy eyes of earthly convention.

Jesus repeatedly chose the misfits to share His time and table with.  He chose the road to Jerusalem and a certain and terrible end.  An end that taught that in His weakness, His power and glory would be fully realized and the world would change.  Now I am not suggesting that we use such criteria in hiring our new nursery person, but if we allow human conventional wisdom to steer our ship, we might be missing out on the vast expanse of divine wisdom that God has embedded in the creation, in us and in our neighbors.  Is that like saying just because it seems like a bad idea doesn’t mean that it is?  Maybe Jesus should have taken a left at Bethany?  Or maybe Paul shouldn’t have been the one blinded by the light?  Or maybe Francis should have left the lepers alone, or Dorothy Day the destitute of the Bowery?  The world doesn’t always makes sense if you can’t see it as God sees it.

These parables open things up for us.  They push us to consider what the world would be like if God not only was in charge, but made all the decisions.  Consider that well.  AMEN

June 10, 2018, 3rd Sunday after Pentecost YR B

Year B, 3rd Sunday after the Pentecost, Proper 5
June 10, 2018
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was

 

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God…”

Good morning everyone.  Jesus is fired up!  Binding the strong man!  That’s Jesus Himself bodily struggling with evil.  “And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”  That is as short and clear a parable as Jesus ever tells.  Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable?  He’s all fired up. The righteous anger of Jesus Christ in the face of foolishness and injustice always gets me going.

Today’s Gospel pericope (pericope just means a short, coherent passage) is organized as a sandwich story.  It starts with Jesus family.  They heard that He had “gone out of his mind,” so they tried to restrain Him.  It was a family intervention.  That’s one slice of bread.  Then the peanut butter and jelly is the scribes, their accusations that it is by demonic power that Jesus does the things he does, and Jesus’ harsh response, so harsh as to imply that the scribes had committed an unforgivable sin in doubting the source of His power.  Then it finishes back with His family, that’s the second piece of bread.  Jesus is harsh with them, too.  “Who are my mother and my brothers?  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” A little sandwich story (with a bit of a bitter aftertaste).

It was bitter.  Here are two fundamental pillars of that society: family and religion, and both are very upset with Him because He is challenging some very basic assumptions.  His family was worried for Him. They wanted to bring Him home before He got Himself thrown over a cliff or crucified or something. And what does Jesus do?  Deny them.  They aren’t my family, those who bore me, raised me, have and will love me forever; you, whom I choose, you here now are my family.  Sort of cuts off family at the roots.  That would be very upsetting to hear from a son.

The scribes, the religious authorities, were also upset with Him.  He was doing acts of great power that didn’t jive with how they understood the world to be, or at least didn’t jive with how they understood how world was structured, which just so happens to have them in the driver’s seat.  (It is almost that Jesus Christ is implying that challenges to the status quo are considered offensive and threatening in direct proportion to how comfortable one is in that status quo.  Hmmmm).   In any case, those scribes felt threatened, so they acted threatened.  “He has Beelzabul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”  That is a statement of a threatened power-holder.  Why do they feel so threatened?  Because Jesus is threatening them, like His family.  He is threatening basic assumptions of two foundational categories of His society by changing them, by defining them in new ways.

Throughout His short life, in every conceivable way, from His immaculate conception to everything that happened in the wake of His Passion and death, Jesus turned everything upside down.   Everything.  The first will be last the last will be first.  The mightiest will be the servant of all.  God (Jesus) prefers the company of the universally rejected: sinners, shepherds, tax collectors, Samaritans, prostitutes, lepers, women!  Truly, confronting as directly as He does here the idea of family and of religious authority, He threatened the stability of the whole society, because the basis of many societies, certainly Jesus’, started with family, followed closely by communal religious life.  He questions and threatens both in this tidy little sandwich.

Now stable doesn’t necessarily mean good.  I think that is at the heart of the lesson here.  We crave the constant.  The stable.  The immutable.  We crave stability.  We want, we think we need things to be predictable, constant, static, regular.  That is certainly the easiest.  You get up each morning (well, I do) and the tea pot is where it is supposed to be, and the tea is in the cupboard where it belongs, and your favorite cup is where you put it away yesterday morning, and the morning before, and the one before that. I think we have the desire for much the same regularity in more parts of our lives than some of us might want to admit.  We want it to be predictable.  We want to be able to assume that things are as they seem, are as we are accustomed to, as we know them.  Most of us, most of the time, want things to be ordinary.

I’ve never really understood why LGBTQ stuff gets everyone so upset, the marriage stuff in particular.  If you are a man and you do not feel attracted to men, you probably shouldn’t marry one.  That’s totally fine.  But of you are, and you do, then maybe you should, that’s totally fine, too.  I’ve known all sorts of gay, lesbian, and bisexual folks in all sorts of relationships, and for the longest time I really didn’t understand why everyone got so upset.  How does that affect your marriage?  I don’t know.  Then some years ago awareness, my awareness anyhow, of gender stuff started growing.  Trans and intersex, all the variety of non-binary, non-conforming gender identities.  That was new to me.  I am rather prideful of my liberal non-judgmentalism, and I must say, that sometimes I felt uncomfortable.  Not threatened, but just didn’t know what to do, what to think.  Like when I couldn’t readily identify the gender of someone because they didn’t conform to our society’s gender norms.  It is a basic reference point we have, that I have, that I have relied on.  It is the first question at a birth, “boy or girl?” Right?  In the best sort of way, it doesn’t matter in the least what gender someone is or identifies as.  How could that possibly be anyone’s business but that persons?  But when something like that is different, when a basic category of society is changed, is foreign or new to us; if we are asked to look at the world in a way we never have or never considered we’d have to, heavens can we get thrown off.  Everything can seem like it is falling apart.  “If that is a marriage what does it say about my marriage?”  (As I said, nothing, but we can’t underestimate the power of the fear, the irrational fear that can be there).

Or in church, think of the language we use for God.  He… Him… Father…  Lord… Besides praying in Spanish to an English speaking congregation, there is no surer way to get an inbox full of liturgical complaints that to refer to God as She.  You can (usually) get away with non-male language, but “She” will bring some people’s houses down.  I struggle with that mightily.  In my own prayer and conversation, in my own words while preaching, I never use masculine pronouns or the word “Father” for God.  But I have all sorts of reasonable, learned and defensible justifications for saying the Mass exactly as written in the BCP.  “Because that is how it is.  That is how we say it.  That is how I was taught.  St. Swithen once said…”  If that is in question, EVERYTHING is in question.  Where does it end?  Heaven forbid.

Oh we cloak that discomfort, that fear with all sorts of justifications.  Be it words of the Mass or the rights of people to express their affections, or be of African descent, we have all sorts of ways to justify our discomfort and disapproval.  We use words like sin, perversion, pathology, primitive, feminine, Beelzebub, out of his mind.  But at the root, I think a lot of the hate of our LGBTQ neighbors, the opposition to marriage rights, the rejection of gender non-conformity, any difference in race, appearance, culture, language, custom, all the identity stuff is about our misplaced desire for everything to be static, nothing to be changing or challenging.  You queer, so to speak, what a family looks like, you change it, or you allow God to manifest in the world in new way, both things Jesus does here, for some people it is like a foundation block being kicked out from under them.  That is what is feels like to some.  So many recoil from the existential confusion and resulting discomfort from when things seem unpredictable, not as we expect or can readily identify.  That is terrifying for far too many of us, and too often it leads us down the long and often violent xenophobic paths of homophobia, racism, misogyny, anti-semitism, anything that is other or seems other.  It is that need, that perceived need for immutability, predictability, that is what I think Jesus is challenging here.

Now there are so many threads that we could follow here.  Talking like this can set off a maelstrom.  The point I want to stick with, that I think Jesus is teaching us here, is that we too often grasp at stasis, rigid predictability, at what we are familiar with and are comfortable with.  We desperately, sinfully, violently cling to what we know and understand, what we know by just knowing it, the way it has always been, how we were raised, and just as desperately, sinfully and violently reject that which challenges that expectation.  But here, Jesus differentiates.  Someone doesn’t get same sex marriage, it is foreign to them, that is a sin of ignorance.  Jesus family, on good faith, wanted to stop His ministry.  It was for his own good.  The scribes, though, not only rejected difference, rejected that God could act in ways they were not used to, but they also obsessed about it, theologized on it, consciously fought against Him… that is a sin of a different order. The same one the scribes unforgivably committed.  I don’t know if Jesus needed them to all become His followers, but when they actively clung to their old way of thinking, failed to consider that it might be different than they were used to, expected, approved of, and in that dissonance disparaged, discounted, dismissed the Holy Spirit behind His power and glory, they immediately and unforgivably tread on unholy ground.  That would not, and will not do.

And at the same time, we need stability.  We need things to hold on to.  Like the Collect in Compline, “so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness.”  We need reference points for what is ok, what is right and what is not.  We need a rock on which to put our faith.  That is a challenge for us liberals.  We sometimes take so seriously the validity of other paths that we don’t take the path we are on ourselves seriously enough.  That is a real moral hazard, the reticence to have faith, and is one of the biggest ones here among us at Resurrection.  I know a lot of your struggles, and for many of you, the inability to claim your faith as yours because it might offend someone else’s, is real.  That what you believe and what someone else believes differ doesn’t matter.  It’s apples and skydiving; different categories, no comparison to be made, no conflict to have. But you need to believe, to have faith.  Maybe not this morning you don’t need it.  Maybe not this month or year, or this season of your life, but we will all face troubles that we can’t, shouldn’t, needn’t face on our own.

But at the same time we can’t be so unsteady that everything rides on the world conforming to our way of thinking, of confirming everything we want it to confirm.  That just isn’t how it works. We need faith, but we need to hold our faith, our approach to the world, what we understand to be right and good and true firmly, confidently, but not grasp it with white-knuckles.  We need a solid foundation, a tree to cling to in the hurricanes that will pass over us, but every day is not a hurricane.  We can’t need to have something unmoving, unquestioned in life. That goes for most anything.  Faith in God as we imagine God to be.  (The unmoved mover changes and moves throughout our lives, or so it appears).  Faith in the people we share this life with (I and most everyone you know will disappoint you.  If we haven’t yet, just give us time).  In the New York Times.  In the virtues of education.  Even in the understanding that you, any individual on their own, is ultimately the best judge of everything, which is the beating heart of liberalism.

We’ve got chainsaws going out in the front, working on those bushes, and soon enough in back working on the blackberries.  I am decent with one, haven’t cut off anything important yet, and I think it is a good metaphor for how we need to hold our faith, not too tightly, but not too loosely, either.  When you use a tool like a chainsaw, you need to hold it with some authority.  If you are ginger with it, don’t have a good grip, it will not work out well for you.  At the same time, you can’t have a death grip on it.  Your hands will go numb.  You’ll get tired too fast.  You won’t be able to pay attention to the million other things going on around you like where the tree is falling.  You need to hold the saw confidently, but not arrogantly.  Be sure of yourself, but not blinded by certainty.  Be secure in your faith, not a faith built on a foundation of fundamentalist formulas, but on the swaying branches of truth and the knowledge (and fear!) of God.  Hold it all lightly. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and always remember that your opinion, any opinion, adds up to just about nothing in the eyes of God.

Because it might not always go well.  Our primordial parents met Temptation in the form of a serpent and were thrown out of Eden!  (That was a big change of trajectory. Remember God’s original plan was for us to be vegetarian nudists).  But even with that most egregious loss, it was not all lost, not the love of God, not the love of each other. The story, our story does not end on the wrong side of the gates of Eden.  Life persisted, good life even.

It is not always going to go well.  Rare as a unicorn is the person, the family that tragedy does not visit.  But it doesn’t have to all come crumbling down AND we don’t need to bring anyone one down, with us.  As St. Paul writes to the folks in Corinth, “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God…”  Our faith is a tent, and it is fully human. God is the rock upon which it is pitched.  There is a difference.  AMEN

June 3, 2018, 2nd Sunday after Pentecost Proper 4 YR B

Year B, Pentecost 2 (Proper 4)
June 3, 2018
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was

“The Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath.”

Happy Second Sunday after the Pentecost! Today is the first in a long string of “plain old Sundays.” There are 26 of them, half of the Sundays in the year. It is Ordinary Time. Well, Ordinary Time began the day after Pentecost, but the first Sunday after the Pentecost is a feast day, it has a name (Trinity Sunday), and the color wasn’t green (it was white), but today, the first in a long time, it is just a plain old Sunday.

Ordinary Time is just that, ordinary, ordered, regular, unchanging. It is not a feast season like Christmas or Easter, nor is it a fast season like Advent or Lent. It is ordinary. The calendar is patterned on the life of the world, starting with the life of Jesus. Take a look over here. This is the liturgical season wheel. I borrowed it from the Godly Play classroom. Advent is the preparation for His arrival. Fast. Wait. Clothe the church in the deep Marian blue. Then He’s here! In the snowy white of Christmas we celebrate. Then His presence is revealed to humanity in the Epiphany. He has a life in Galilee; teaching, healing, gathering followers, ticking off the civil and religious authorities; you know, generally spreading the Good News. That is represented by the little green bit of Ordinary time following the Epiphany. The purple of Ash Wednesday marks the point in Jesus’ earthly life that He begins the movement towards Jerusalem and His Passion. Lent, followed by the oxblood red of Holy Week and the dark-night-of-the-soul black of Good Friday. Then, as He promised Resurrection, celebrated in the finest Easter whites. For the fifty days of Easter we celebrate and then that whole age ends with the coming of the Holy Spirit in the red flames of the Pentecost. Which brings us to today, and the cool green of Ordinary Time, the representation of human history since.

Our story is told in the stories, the scripture readings and the text of the Mass and the Daily Office. It is told in the hymns and chants we sing, in the anthems our musicians bathe us in. In children’s songs. “This Little Light of Mine” and “He’ Got the Whole World in His Hands.” Don’t discount that pedagogy. Karl Barth, the giant of 20th century protestant theology, when pushed to describe the Christian faith in one line, sang “Jesus loves me this I know…” Our story is told in art, in every conceivable medium, maybe most importantly in the stained glass that instructed the illiterate for a millennium. It is even told in the haute priestly couture! Altar frontals and chasubles (high fashion in the Roman imperial court), in blue, white, purple, rose, ox blood, black and green like this one and its fish. And it is told in the movement of time, how we mark the progress of time.

There are a lot of ways that we mark the movement of time. We just talked about the seasons. That is our primary pedagogue of Christian progress. Colors, and what we have hanging from the Cross here is one way me represent those changes, but there are others, primarily in the conduct of the Mass itself. Right off the bat, how we greet each other changes. The salutation, the first words of the Mass are “Blessed be God” or “Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins,” or “Alleluia Christ is Risen” depending on the season. (Can you guess which is which)? Whether we say a confession or not depends on the time of year. The beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer itself, the preface varies. “It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you…” that is always there, and then, depending on the season, an extraordinary Proper Preface is inserted. We also change the service music, the setting of the psalms, the sequence hymn (what we sing when the gospel is processed), the tune we use for the Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy) and the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). All of that comes together to move us purposefully, mindfully the spiraling and seemingly perpetual cycle of time in which we live and move and have our being, mimicking not only the narrative trajectory of Holy Scripture, but the natural cycles within which our species evolved. That’s pretty brilliant.

It gets deeper, though. This movement is not just annual, not just seasonal. The week itself has a ritual, a liturgical rhythm. From the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, the week is defined and organized in terms of remembering our relationship to God and the act of creation. That is what our readings are about today, the Sabbath and its keeping. Quick note, Sunday is not the Sabbath. That was a misguided innovation of English Puritanism, codified in this country by our Puritanical ancestors. The Sabbath, Saturday, was the day to rest; church going was something different, that was Sunday, and that is supposed to be a party.

The early church gathered on Sunday to celebrate. Even on a plain old Sunday in ordinary time, we gather to celebrate the superabundance of God on the first days: “Let there be light!” the first day of creation; the Resurrection, the Lord rose on the first day; the Pentecost, the first day of the new age. In the early church, the Eucharist itself was less a memorial of the Last Supper than it was a celebration of the royal banquet of the parables, the wedding feast at Cana, the feedings of the thousands and the fish Jesus ate with his friends after the Resurrection. As the historian Boone Porter writes, “Enjoying life on the Lord’s Day, we know that earthly existence is not meaningless or futile – neither is it final or ultimate. God has prepared something better for those who love Him (sic).”

If Sunday represents the first day, the creation, the Resurrection and Saturday marks and is the Sabbath, the other days of the week have meaning, too. Monday through Thursday are a mini ordinary time, just plain days. And then Friday, we hold, in our calendar too, as a day of special devotion is commemoration of??? Good Friday. Yes, every week has a Odd Friday. Roman tradition is to abstain from eating meat on Friday in observance of this. (The eating fish part, it seems, was actually from Edward VI in 1547 who wanted to prop up a faltering English fishing fleet). We mark it here each Friday morning with Contemplative Prayer at 8:30 and Morning Prayer at 9:00. Because weekly, in the shape of the week itself, we remember and celebrate the cycle of creation and death, of productive lives and mandated rest and then resurrection back into this new creation, new each and every week, and practicing that, through celebrating and working and fasting and resting, that practice reminds us, reminds us of who we are, of what we believe is important but is really hard to remember in the meat grinder our weeks and months can sometime feel like.

All of this, our Christian life together, defined by the stories, the language, the history, the practices… by the very way we understand and mark the movement of time in our liturgy, be it across the whole of the seasons of the year or the perpetual cycle of Sunday to Sunday, all of that serves to give us a reference point in the soup of time and space. It is a reference point so that we, brothers and sisters in Christ can meet on common ground, and is a reference point for our relationship with God in God’s self. God transcends time and space, but most of us, most of the time don’t. We gotta start somewhere.

Today we’re talking about the movement of time, one discrete category of human experience. Time does progress: it began, it continues, it ends. There is only this present moment, that is the only real time, but there was a past and (likely) there will be a future. Maybe it ends back at the beginning like the Moon orbits the Earth and the Earth orbits the Sun and the Sun orbits the supermassive whatever it is in the middle of the galaxy, but as far as we are concerned, from a human perspective, it progresses. As the scatty creatures we are, a-swirl in our own daily, monthly, yearly, lifelong cycles of seasons, it is very, very helpful to have something to hold onto, something to share across the barrier of the self with another self; a common experience to bring us together, just that much closer. How many altar guilds across the world were ironing green things this past week? How many organists were practicing new service music? How many of us right now, on this “just plain Sunday” are thinking about the importance of the tradition of seasons in our worship if God and the living of a common life together? That is it happening. That is the stuff of community. That is the stuff of a people, that makes people a people.

Does that mean that God cares what color we wear or which proper preface we use or whether we rest on the seventh and celebrate on the first of each week? No. (I’m pretty sure about all of that, but let’s not put the Lord our God to the test). I’m joking just joking. God doesn’t care, but I do. The Church does. I think you should, too. It is not important in and of itself, but it is important to us as a people. As a people in relationship with each other and in relationship with a God transcendent and immanent, seen and unseen, fully human, fully divine. Just like Jesus teaches, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath.” I didn’t talk about the need for or meaning of Sabbath itself today, but of the need and meaning of marking time, of the practice of doing so. These are pedagogical tools, ontological handrails, metaphysical training wheels, that, when practiced, even on another just plain Sunday, help.

And in this moment, this chaotic moment in our human and natural history, the gift of marking time is the chance to experience the very ordinariness of time itself in an increasingly disordered time. Things seem to be moving very quickly now; from news cycles to melting glaciers, it seems to be changing faster and faster. (Well, the glaciers are melting faster, I’m not sure about the rest of it). But we are moving from one crisis to the next, faster and faster. One outrage, one injustice followed by another. Locating ourselves in time and place as our practices around time do, season to season, Sunday to Sunday, we can perhaps slow down, and take the time to better notice ourselves and how we are; how the world around us is, and how those around us are. From the reality of common experience, we can better sense when things are askew. When things are changing for the worse. Because they are. And we need all hands on deck.

So welcome to Ordinary Time. Summer it seems is here. I am not sure whether to be happy or worried. Sunday school is slowing down as of today. I think I’m going to start some outside building work here at church on Saturdays, Summer Saturdays in Service (or something like that). Planning for next year. Taking it a little easier week to week, enjoying the sun, finding a center in a new season. And finding new ways to “let the light shine out of darkness”, because despite how dark it seems or seems to be getting, the darkness will not over come it. AMEN

May 27, 2018, Holy Trinity YR B

Year B, Trinity Sunday
May 27, 2018
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was

 

“When we cry, “Abba!  Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

It is Trinity Sunday.  It is a principal feast of the Church, but they don’t really make cards for this one.  Maybe it is because it is a day that we celebrate the very Triune nature of the God in which we live and move and have our being, and that is a hard one to put into a Hallmark moment.

The verse I opened with is from St. Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, and that is as Trinitarian a statement as can be found in the whole of Holy Scripture.  Now, that doesn’t really mean that much, because truly, the notion of the Trinity is not exactly scriptural.  Not exactly.  That “not exactly-ness” is what motivated the original 17th century Unitarians; there is only shaky scriptural basis of the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity is the basic church teaching that the nature of our One Holy and Everlasting God is best described as being Three Persons of One Substance.  It is shaky Biblically, but that is ok, because as Anglicans we don’t consider the Bible to be the sole source Divine authority or divine revelation.   The idea of a three-part God is an idea that evolved as Tradition, which is just another way of saying our collective knowledge and practice of God, evolved.  As Christian witness and experience increased in the first centuries, our knowledge and ability to describe God increased.  So the Abba of Jesus, our ancestors learned, was more fully known as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or, just as compellingly Beloved, Lover and Love, as St. Augustine intimated, or from Luther, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, or Mother, Lover and Friend from Sallie McFague, a contemporary ecological theologian.  Other words might flow from your heart and your lips when you consider the Divine, and they count, too.

So that is the topic of our sermon today, the words we use when we consider God.  So I am going to repeat something I did a couple of years ago on Trinity Sunday, I am going to read aloud the most definitive statement the Church has on the doctrine of the Trinity, the Creed of St. Athanasius.  Did you know (or remember) that we have three creeds?  The other two?   __  Just checking.  The third one, the Creed of St. Athanasius, is consigned to the fine print, literally, to small type in the “Historical Documents (and other Anachronistic Anomalies) of the Church” section way in the back of the Book of Common Prayer.

St. Athanasius of Alexandria was a 4th century father of the church. He was an important theologian, particular when it came to the nature of Jesus Christ.  We won’t get too deep into the life of Athanasius because, though this creed bears his name, he almost certainly did not write it.  It was probably written in the 5th or 6th century in Gaul, but took on Athanasius name because it was such a firm statement of the triune nature of God, a centerpiece of the good saint’s memory.

So turn to page 864 if you care to follow along, (put on your 4x readers, it really is the fine print), and hear the Creed of Saint Athanasius:

“Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. (That’s one reason we don’t use this one very often.  But I digress…”
And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.
The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate.
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.
The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal.
And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal.
As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.
So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty.

So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God.
And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord.
And yet not three Lords, but one Lord.
For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be both God and Lord,
So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion, to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords. The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten.
The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten.
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another; But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal.
So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man;

God, of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the Substance of his Mother, born in the world;

Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting;
Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the Father, as touching his Manhood.
Who although he be God and Man, yet he is not two, but one Christ;
One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God; One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person.
For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ;
Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven, he sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies and shall give account for their own works.
And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.
This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.  (And it ends as it began on a pretty hard note).

So, you have been formally exposed to the Creed of St. Athanasius.  Any questions, comments, complaints?  Like what does this have to do with anything in my life or the life of my children or community?  Or how is this going to help smash the racist, patriarchal, free-market fundamentalist imperial order?  Why do we have this Creed?  Why do we need the doctrine of the Trinity?  Really, any thoughts?

This is important, actually.  Really important.  Things like the doctrine of the Trinity are the deep background material of our common life of faith.  Everything has its starting point in God, so how we know, understand, approach, describe, imagine, project upon the notion of the God we worship matters and has deep and abiding meaning.  The meaning we make of God sets the trajectory for everything that follows.

So what does the doctrine of the Trinity mean?  Well, that’s the kicker, and really the brilliant center of our faith.  In around 417, St. Augustine, the father of most Christian thought, completed a bear of a work called On the Trinity.  In hundreds of pages of very technical Latin, he laid out the Trinity in ways that stuck.  But what stuck?   As Jaroslav Pelikan, one of the great 20th Century historians of the church notes, at the very end of Book 15, Augustine basically says that all that he had written was done primarily so that we do not remain entire silent on the subject.   That opens up the writing life to a lot of us!

On the Trinity, the Creed of St. Athanasius, the hints of a Triune God in scripture like our readings this morning tease us with, the ten-word answer in our Catechism, they are an onomatopoeia of our central metaphor for God.  Each of these forms of explaining the Trinity demonstrate implicitly that words are insufficient to the task of describing God.  If “kaboom” is the way we render an explosion, then hundreds of pages of indecipherable theology is a fine rendering of the deep mystery that is the our transcendent and immanent Godhead.  (It takes a lot of words to demonstrate how insufficient words are).

In the majesty and grandeur of God hinted at in Isaiah, the hem filling the temple and the seraphim calling back and forth “Holy, holy, holy Lord”, we are experiencing “not sighs too deep for words”, but awesomeness too great for words to carry.  Gazing at the Milky Way on a clear night.  Standing on a beach as a storm makes land fall.  Bringing a child into the world.  Seeing a loved one off into the eternal rest and light perpetual of death.  Witnessing horror radiating from a combat zone, or a crime scene or a cancer ward.  Thin spaces, each of these, overflowing with the power and the glory and the mystery of God, each surpassing language’s capacity to bear the Divine fullness that is and is becoming.  That is what the doctrine of the Trinity expresses in its unabashed inability to make one iota of rational, reasonable sense.  And that, when it really comes down to it, makes a lot of sense as a center of a religion.

And with a religion with such a center, a center true to the ineffable mystery from which flows all being, then we have the chance to see the face of God in those stars, in that wind, in that newborn, in the grace of death, and the suffering face of your brother and sister in the creation. And witnessing this God, feeling Him, knowing Her, then and only then will we be able to fulfill the call of Paul, that “…if in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”  For it is in the willingness to suffer for and in the name of what is right and good at true, that salvation, Christian salvation comes. Sacrifice, self-emptying, suffering for the other, an-other, that is the epitome of love made real in Jesus Christ and His suffering and death for us.  Which brings us right back around to the beginning, for where true charity and love are found, God is there. Thanks be to God.  AMEN

May 20, 2018, Day of Pentecost YR B

Year B, Pentecost
May 20, 2018
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was

 

“…we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

A blessed Pentecost to you!  It is a happy day.  It is a big day, religiously.  As one commentator succinctly puts it, “Christmas is stupid without Easter.  Easter is pointless without Pentecost.”  An important day and a fun one.  All the red.  Fr. Bingham down at St. Mary’s has these outrageous red sneakers he wears every Pentecost.  Totally fun.  This chasuble is the only red thing I have.  I do have one t-shirt, it is white, but it does have bright red printing on it.  It is in the Coca-Cola font, but instead of “Enjoy Coke” it says “Enjoy Capitalism.”  I love that shirt but I stuck with the chasuble.  It is a happy day.  The reading that we all joined in on from Acts, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, is traditionally taken as the birthday of The Church.  Where Jesus lodged in the disciple’s hearts in the Ascension, passed on from generation to generation in the church, in the Pentecost, everyone, EVERYONE, inside and out, heard the Good News in words they could understand.  That Holy Spirit, She’s a good one.  The Church arose in that imperishable fire that lay on each and every head that day.  Today we also celebrate a mile-stone for this church.  50 years ago this June 23rd, the first Mass was celebrated in this space, at this altar, by this congregation.  A few of you were here!  Thank you for getting this started.  A happy day!  Join us downstairs afterward Mass for the potluck and the celebration of these founding elders and the legacy they have left with us and for us.

It is a happy day and my heart is heavy.  It has been another bad week in the world. Torture, or at least a lead torturer is back in the public eye.  (And so is Oliver North)???  Yale police seem to have reinforced racial bias by confronting an African-American student who fell asleep in the library.  A New York lawyer ranted against Spanish speaking employees, fortified by our President calling immigrants “animals” again.  But mostly its the violence.   The violence in Gaza.  Sixty dead and 2,400 wounded… on Monday.  Snipers from protected positions shot protesters armed with rocks and slings and that baby asphyxiated by tear gas didn’t even have a sling; and yet our government praises the IDF at the United Nations for using “restraint.”  And violence near Houston, another horror-show in another school.  The 22nd this year.  And we can’t blame assault weapons, the boy carried 19th century technology: a shotgun and a revolver.  Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the same tragedy right here in Thurston.

What are we doing?  We’re fouling our own nest, we’re eating our young.  The image of Goya’s painting “Saturn Devouring His Son” keeps flashing through my mind.  Do you know that one?  A terrible image of a monstrous, crazed figure not eating, but devouring a body, and not just a body, but their own son’s body.  Horrible.  Saturn (Cronus in Greek), was one of the Titans, and fearing usurpation by his offspring, he ate each one as they were born.  (Well, he did kill and replace his own father and Zeus, his son, escaped being eaten and did eventually kill and replace Saturn, so his fear was justified, but his means… maybe his means necessitated the end he came to)?  How can the Israel Defense Forces not understand that?  Or our own political, military and security leaders?  Or advocates for unlimited gun rights?  We’re devouring each other and our own selves and with it, the whole world around us.

I’ve tried to be much more hopeful these past nine months, focusing on God in Christ with the Holy Spirit and God’s church and you, God’s people.  I have been more hopeful, I am more hopeful, but I can still get worked up.  I can get very cynical.  I sometimes wonder how many of the problems in our politics are the creation of a media circus pumping import into minutia to boost profits.  But then yesterday Will sent me a brief video message published by Sojourners, a prominent Christian publication.  It is on our website now.  The message, led off by our own Presiding Bishop, The Most Reverend Michael Curry, (most famous at the moment for preaching at the royal wedding), is a stark public warning about racism and white nationalism worming itself into the highest echelons of government, the dangers of truth evaporating from public discourse and a clear warning about creeping authoritarianism.  Richard Rohr, Tony Campolo, conservative Baptists, our PB (Episcopal lingo for Presiding Bishop) and others chimed in… not a radical group, not alarmists, and they are taking our current situation very, very seriously, that the fabric of our society (and our ecology) is frayed and is fraying at an increasing rate.  Just because you are cynical doesn’t mean that it is not terrible out there.

Pentecost can be a happy and joyful feast.  It can be red sneakers and birthday cakes.  It can be that.  Sometimes, though, that is not where we are, not where the world is, not completely.  What Pentecost always is, though, is a holiday of hope.  It is about the Holy Spirit entering the world in a wholly new way, inviting everyone into the hope of new life.  We don’t need to be happy to be hopeful.  What we need is the Holy Spirit, the source of hope.  We need Her intercession, Her power, Her hope.  As much as ever we need that.  In this moment, I don’t know if we are up for the rush of wind, or divided tongues as of fire.  I don’t know if we could take that, see that, or trust it if it did happen again.  But we need Her presence, O boy do we need the Holy Spirit, our Companion and Advocate, as much as ever.  And in moments such as this, maybe moments as scary or precarious as the times St. Paul lived through, we need to listen for Her voice, and listen hard, for sometimes She whispers in “sighs too deep for words.”

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  For in hope we are saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what is seen?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

We’ve been struggling, we humans, for long, long time.  Forever, right?  That’s the purpose of the story of Adam and Eve: to account for the question, “why is it so hard when it could be so easy?”  Some things get better.  Some things get worse.  Some things don’t seem to change.  That goes for everything human from geopolitics to marriage.  There is so much pain and suffering in the world, so much of it utterly unnecessary and completely meaningless.  That just seems to be the nature of an existence categorized by fear and trembling, sickness unto death.  That’s just the way it is.  But some of that pain and suffering is completely necessary and utterly meaningful.  Through some pain and suffering great change happens, renewal occurs, life enters the world.  Everyone who has given birth, or has seen someone born knows this.  And we know that somewhere deep inside, we were all born.  The conscious memories of our own births are hidden, but we all entered the world in the groans of pain of someone who loved us before they ever even saw our face with their own eyes.

That is hope in its rawest, most unrefined form.

It amazes me to hear of the hope people find in desperate places.  The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew darkness and said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”   That’s the long view.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu, another saint among us acquainted with the suffering of injustice, spoke in hope, saying, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” The Christian life itself is life lived with the knowledge of the cross in the hope of the resurrection.  Right?

We here are people of some privilege.   White American people of privilege have crested the top of the roller coaster.  Like Peak Oil, we’re at Peak White Privilege.  We’re beginning a decline in privilege as white folks in an age of increasing diversity, as part of a disappearing middle class as poverty increases on one side and Gilded Age concentrations of wealth increase on the other, as citizens of an empire fighting a rear guard action as we pass the zenith of our imperial power.  Hope can be hard to find in a downward spiral, because the future looks less appealing than the past or present.

To live in Montgomery or Soweto was morally and physically hard in so many ways, harder than I can fathom.  And it was dangerous, morally and physically.  AND the future was wide open.  (Besides the threat of violent death, it could only get better).  The birth pains those oppressed communities groaned under held the hope and promise of a new life, a life better, freer, more abundant, more just, with more power, with more of a share of the bounty.  For those of us currently with privilege, with power and wealth, it can be hard to hopeful about the leaner, more austere future we face.  It is hard to see that having less is in fact better, and not just for everyone else who is on the upswing, but for ourselves, too.  It is hard to see that so much of the privilege we have is bad for us.  Wealth, for example, isn’t very good for us.  Never has been.  It can make us morally and ethically lazy, can blind us to the other, be it the soil, air or water we rely upon for sustenance or other people, upon whose toil our common life depends.  And men.  We enjoy the privileges we have, but they aren’t good for us, let alone the rest of the world.

We need God right now.  We need the Creator, the Divine Parent who brings us and everything else into the world.  We need Jesus our friend and companion on the journey, saving us over and over again from the evil one and ourselves.  And we need our Advocate the Holy Spirit, life, light, hope itself incarnate if only in our heart.  We need the one holy and blessed God to help us relax our death-grip on the perishing world, pry our fingers from unearned and unhealthy privilege, and give us patience and help us to hope for what we do not, on our own, cannot see.

All the groaning in pain, the anxiety, sighs too deep for words, hope we can’t see… and the suffering of the world amplified by the 24 hour news cycle, it can feel like Saturn devouring his son.  But there is hope.  For us.  For you.  For everyone and everything under heaven.

The Reverend Dr. Peter Storey was the Methodist Bishop of South Africa in the dark days of Apartheid, a co-worker in that rocky vineyard with Archbishop Tutu.  He was a white man, educated, privileged, and on the right side of God and history.  Among other things, he served for a time as the chaplain on Robbins Island, the infamous prison fortress, home to Nelson Mandela in his decades of imprisonment.  Storey was filled with Christian hope of the kind Paul writes of in his letter to the church in Rome.  Hope for the unseen by a groaning world.  Good will come, but it will hurt getting there.  Dr. Storey is talked about this in terms of “the great nevertheless of God.”  I find these words very helpful in understanding Paul, but more importantly, in understanding the Holy Spirit and the hope She offers, especially to Her church.

The great nevertheless of God.  The small minority of white South Africans held the vast majority of the wealth and political power in that nation; nevertheless God was with the poor.  The preferential option, God is always on the underdogs’, the weakers’, the one with less artillery’s side.  The South African Defense Forces were amongst the best trained, equipped and most experienced armies in the world; nevertheless it crumbled before a largely peaceful revolution.  After centuries of oppression, it seemed natural that reprisals would come against the whites as they had in places like Zimbabwe; nevertheless the spirit of truth and reconciliation arose, and with it divine justice in all its messy and unconventionally satisfying glory.  There wasn’t bloodshed.

St. Paul is speaking to the hope that is present to us in the difficult time we are in, a difficult time in the history of our nation and in the natural history of our world.  Climate change is going to birth something.  Nevertheless, God is guiding us, and not just us, but the whole creation through this pain towards the fulfillment of a promise made long ago.  Most of us can’t see what a just future looks like for us, for our nation, not from this staring place, not like I think Tutu and Mandela asked for and imagined from theirs, nevertheless, the Holy Spirit takes our unknown needs to the heart of God in “sighs to deep for words” where they will, in the fullness of time come to fruition.  And as one commentator writes, “The glory of resurrection doesn’t erase the agony of crucifixion – nor does it justify it. Nevertheless- resurrection, life, light is coming.”

Nothing happy-clappy in there, but the “great nevertheless of God” teems with solemn joy, with eschatological hope, with faith in the Redeemer that came and will come again.  In darkened days like we are in, it is worth reminding ourselves of the promises of Christ as we celebrate the birthday of The Church, and the birth of this church, too.  AMEN

May 13, 2018, Sunday after the Ascension YR B

Year B, Ascension (transferred)
May 13, 2018
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was

“…with the eyes of your heart enlightened…”

Now that’s what I’m looking for; getting the “eyes of my heart enlightened.”  So much of existence is shrouded in deep mystery, in the unknown.   Our spiritual and religious life is the place we account for mystery, for the wonder and wildness of the creation.  We can observe, let alone comprehend only a miniscule slice of it all, the world, and we can process in our consciousness only an infinitesimal mote of that, the rest of it fades into grey.  But with the “eyes of your heart enlightened,” it could all become so much clearer; God could be so much more apparent in the wild corners, in the mysterious depths, in the places behind the seemingly absurd and foolish, the unlikely and unbelievable.

I say this, because today we are observing the Feast of the Ascension, the commemoration of a wild and mysterious aspect of the life of Jesus Christ.   We have transferred Ascension from Thursday when it happened, to today, because it is a principal feast (in line with Christmas and Easter) and very few of us go to the extra Masses with our fellow Episcopalians.  Ascension isn’t one we should skip and it is one of the parts of our story that is best observed, remembered, contemplated with the eyes of our hearts enlightened, because it doesn’t make a lot of sense otherwise, not to rational moderns like ourselves, anyway.

The Ascension is kind of a kooky story.  As St. Luke tells it in the Acts of the Apostles, “…he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.”  I almost wish we had a projector and we could see some paintings of the Ascension.  (Almost).  (I can’t even figure out microphones.  I still need help with that)!  Many of the classical depictions show the cloud borne on the wings of cute little cherubs.  Pretty fantastic.  It can be hard for rational minds to wrap themselves around supernatural stories like this one.  Hard, but that does not excuse us from trying.

Because, this story is important. It is important for two reasons.  Any guesses what those reasons might be?  ____  First, you’ve got to deal with the body of Jesus, right?  His bodily resurrection meant that there was a body, and the story needs to account for where that body went.  Narrative integrity is important, but that is a relatively minor point, there is much more.

Do you ever wonder how it is that your priest, any priest, can stand here each Sunday and offer the absolution of your sins in the name of Jesus Christ?  That’s kind of bold.  Or how blessings in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit can be given and received?  Or how we, gathered around this altar can take bread and wine and consecrate them, filling them with the real spiritual presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and bringing us into an eternal and actual encounter with the Holy One of Blessing in the sacrament?    Do you ever think about that?  I think about that all the time, because really, who am I to claim such power?  Well, it is because Jesus gave this power to His church and that happens in our story in the act of Ascension.  That’s the second and very, very important reason for the remembering the Ascension story.  (I guess a third would be that it actually happened so that we ought to remember it, but that is for another Ascension Day sermon).

I’m just going to quote one of the commentaries because I tried but couldn’t write better sentences.  “(The) story is that this fearful, waiting community, which is anxious and bewildered, has no power on its own.  It posses none and can generate none for itself.  It has no claim and no cause for self-congratulation.  And yet, oddly, power is given that causes this fragile little community to have energy, courage, imagination, and resources completely disproportionate to its size.”

The church is The Church with a capital T & C because Jesus Christ, God Incarnate in this world, fully human and fully divine made it so.  Made it His body left on Earth so that we, His spiritual descendants, would have Him in our lives.  We would not, could not know God as we do if it were not for the Church.  That is a laden sentence.  We could not know God as we do if it were not for the Church.

I have struggled mightily with that fact in my own piety, my own religious practice, my religious vocation.  How can such a flawed and seemingly ineffectual institution made up of all these flawed and seemingly ineffectual people claim to speak in the name of God?  I mean, really?  And seeing the church from under the chasuble… goodness gracious, sometimes it’s the same as law and sausages.  Kind of hard to watch it made.

The Church is complicated.  The list of our sins is long; ours right here as a parish in the Episcopal Church where God is “He” in most every official writing, all the way across to Rome, Westboro Baptist, Joel Olsteen, churches where women aren’t supposed to handle the Bibles let alone be ordained, serve at the table or exercise other leadership; it is a mixed and sometimes dangerous bag in the church if you are in any way different.  The church has justified wars, collaborated with dictators, propped up slavery, fomented anti-Semitism, supported the Doctrine of Discovery, opposed women’s rights, concealed abuse, shamed LGBTQ folks, aligned itself with free-market capitalist fundamentalists and benefited from colonial expansion.  That’s pretty bad.  And, as problematic an institution as the Church has been, is and certainly will continue to be despite our best efforts, it is the Church that bears the Body of Christ because the Church is the Body of Christ.  I guess that’s it, we are the Body of Christ, and we are, as a Church, fully human and fully divine.  Flawed and sinful on one hand, divine perfection on the other.  But here it is, here we are, the Body of Christ made manifest in this very moment, in this very place, in us, this, this very gathering of people.  And fantastically this very thing is happening in exactly as unique a way for a billion other people on this and every seventh (sometimes sixth) turn we make on the Earth’s axis.  That is fantastic.

The Ascension is our story about how that happens, how that power comes to us, His followers, formed into one body, His body.  But what kind of power?  God in Christ with the Holy Spirit is all powerful, but not like the Force.  It is not magic or any kind of supernatural control of material things.  No, the power of Jesus Christ is most clearly visible when the eyes of our hearts are enlightened.

Think of the power released in all of those sins being forgiven around the world for these two thousand years.  In the symphonies of blessings.  In the mountains of bread and wine memorialized or transformed in all the ways Christians understand it to be changed: spiritually as Anglicans posit, which is similar to the Orthodox understanding of change, or in the underlying substance of the elements as our Roman friends understand.  Just in our sacraments and rituals in the church, there is a lot of power, think of the power of all that human intention.  All that focused energy. We’re even all facing in the same direction, east.  We don’t do that very well, facing in the same direction, at least not towards good things.

Our sacramental life together is just the beginning.  It starts here, it is the foundation of all the power we Christian people have and that is our business as The Church.  And the product of our collective efforts?  You.  You the formed and baptized Christian.  Your business as disciples of Jesus Christ, or aspiring disciples, or potentially aspiring disciples… that is where the power and the glory of God manifests in its most important way.  You being, knowing that you are a child of God, beloved of, integral to, important for the foundation of the universe.  That is where it starts, and then in that knowledge, through that knowledge, loving and serving God and Neighbor not just here, but in your neighborhoods, in your life which is lived mostly away from this place.  Making real the Kingdom of God everywhere, for everyone.

The importance of this fact is extremely important in this moment.   Our lives are very complicated.  Life and death.  Making a living.  Relationships.  Uncertain futures.  Our world is just as complicated, all the same concerns but on a macro scale and with more guns. The drama! But there is something to remember, our power collectively is not just the power of the church, the institution.  Sure we can concentrate wealth and voice and put it to good use as a group.  But the real power of The Church is you, your life lived as a Christian in, but not of, the world. In your baptism, you have been given the power (and the responsibility) to change the world, to shine the light of Jesus Christ into the darkness.  You, yes, you have been charged with that.

Consider that the biggest source of groundwater pollution in urban and suburban areas is “non-point specific sources.”  That is backyard Roundup, and over fertilized lawns.  Each little yard contributes a little bit and suddenly all the frogs are dying and algae clogs the creeks.  You, being Christian in your home, listening to Jesus as you choose what to purchase, discerning with God what is right or wrong to teach your children, or how to conduct yourself at work, or how to deal the next-door neighbor with the dog that barks all night, or vote.  (Vote by Tuesday)!  That is the power of God happening in you.  And all together, Christians living their lives as Christians in the world adds up, can add up to a tidal scale movement of love.  That is Christ’s body in the world.

That all happened in the Ascension.  Jesus Christ left Himself, through His teaching, preaching, healing, feeding, blessing, inspiring, forgiving, trusting of His friends.  All those things are just applied love.  And where love is, God is there.  Love was there in the early church.  And by the grace of God that love persisted in generation after generation, clouded by evil, by ignorance and hubris sometimes, but that underlying love has persisted, persisted in binding us together while at the same time opening the eyes of our hearts to the suffering of those we share this life with.

This is the wisdom and revelation the author of our epistle this morning prays for the young and thriving church in Ephesus.  That, “with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the work of his great power.”  The hope, the inheritance of the saints, the greatness of His power, those don’t lodge in the institution, not the lineage or traditions, the philosophy or theology, the culture that has developed.  No, these things take root here, in each of our hearts, and then those hearts bind together in love and make this, the ecclesia, the Beloved Community, this gathering of people, and every other gathering yearning to face in the same direction, towards the brilliance of God in Christ, “Shining on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and guiding our feet into the way of peace.”

The loving fruits of the Ascension.  As Jesus left this realm for another, it is as if He went into the very heart of the creation, where, in the words of Fr. Thomas Keating, the great Trappist meditation teacher, “… he has penetrated the very depths of our being, (and) our separate-self sense has melted into the divine Person and now we can act under the direct influence of his Spirit.”  We do that, together, with the eyes of our hearts enlightened.

Next week we celebrate Whitsunday or Pentecost, the birthday of the church as a collective. It is the commemoration of the power of the Holy Spirit coming down to us, The Church, strengthening, enlivening, empowering and sustaining us in the life we live together.  And we’ll be celebrating the life we live together here at Resurrection, remembering our history, honoring our elders, and eating cake!  (It is a potluck, too; bring something good)!  AMEN

April 29, 2018, 5th Sunday of Easter YR B

Year B, Easter 5
April 29, 2018
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was

 

“Abide in me as I abide in you.”

Our gospel today, with the allegory “I am the true vine” and the imperative “Abide in me as I abide in you” is part of a three-chapter long teaching by Jesus known as the Farewell Discourse.  It is one of the great movements of the Gospel of St. John the Evangelist, almost an aria of heart of Jesus Christ.  He gives this to His disciples (well, 11 of the 12) right after the Last Supper.  No time like the last minute.  It was His last chance to sum up everything that He had been teaching and give His final instructions about how to be and live once He was gone, dead and risen.   We should pay close attention to Jesus’ final words from that side of the grave.

Today’s pericope from the Farewell Discourse is centered on the statement “I am the true vine.”  This is an allegory of one of the most important things that Jesus ever says, “Abide in me as I abide in you.”

Abide is one of those great church words, like firmament. “The Big Lewbowski” aside, you just don’t hear the word abide used this way in regular usage.  “If there is one thing I can’t abide…”  That we hear, abide as tolerating something or someone, bearing patiently.  Or “I will abide in the decision of the court.” to accept, or act in accordance with. We hear that on occasion, too.  But that is not what Jesus means.

A third definition is, regarding a feeling or memory, to continue without fading or being lost.  Synonyms include remain, survive, persist.  “Persist in me as I persist in you.” The Message translation of the Bible reads, “Live in me.  Make your home in me just as I do in you.”  That is getting towards it, but that doesn’t quite make my soul sing.  “Live in me;” “persist in me” even in “persists” post-McConnell hallowing, doesn’t quite capture the depth of St. John’s abide.

The poetry of St. John’s gospel is the poetry of faith.  It lifts us high, up from the firmament towards the heavenly hosts, using language and images to put into words the inexpressible, in ways that have survived the millennia.  Poetry doesn’t always make a lot of sense, not in the front of the brain, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of the people.” but the best of religious texts rarely make lasting sense in a direct, logical way.  They make sense in our hearts, in the center of gravity in our being.  That’s where the Word persists, where it gets its purchase, and finds its way into us in a lasting way.

Jesus knows this, so He uses allegory, metaphor, symbolic language to express The Word, because The Word is not just words, it is a deeper-than-words meaning which is Him, and Him in us and us in Him.  So, He tells us that to abide in Him is akin to the relationship between the fruit, the branch and the vine, all under the gentle hand (and razor-sharp pruning shears) of God.  The branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine.  Apart from the vine, it is fruitless, the branch; apart from Jesus, we are without fruit, our life is fruitless.

This is where we miss it sometimes as Christians.  We have these towering verses, “In the beginning was the Word…” and we all know what it means, somewhere in our being, human beings are hardwired for understanding truth, beauty and goodness in all its abstractness, but how do we translate that to Tuesday morning?  How does it help us with feeling trapped and frustrated while getting the children dressed and fed and off to wherever they need to be, or navigating a relationship with the neighbor with the branches (speaking of branches) hanging over onto your side of the fence?  How does Jesus abide with you when you finally realize which of those things about your spouse that drive you crazy will never change, that’s just who they are; or the test results that weren’t what you hoped for, not by a long shot?  Or that leering co-worker, greedy landlord, scary personage in a far-off capitol with their greedy and leering sycophants, how do we abide in anything the way things can get in this life?

Just remember, this is not supposed to be just some Sunday check in, or a once a week Holy TED talk.  Our faith-lives are that, our lives guided by our faith; our whole lives.  We don’t just abide while we are here at church, but the goal is to learn about it here, practice that here, like practice being the people we are supposed to be with each other, and then take it with you to your home, to your work, to your friends and family and the checker at the grocery store, and the ballot at your kitchen table.  If we are not taking the Word in deep, and taking it out there even deeper, then we’re just clanging gongs here, wasting our time trying to feel better about ourselves.  We are here to be our better selves, to learn to be the better selves that God made us to be.  It is so easy to forget, easy to let the Word of God slip into habitual patterns, and trite cliché.

The Gospels are it, the Word of God in words, the original source document for the narrative and vocabulary of Christian faith.  The poetry, the allegory and metaphor, it speaks directly to us, but it also sometimes needs interpretation.  The first layer of interpretation is also biblical: the epistles.  The epistles, letters in Greek, are the first interpretations of the Word, the words and ministry, the life and death, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The letters are about what they mean, they do not tell the story themselves.  Paul’s letters actually preceded the Gospels, written from the oral tradition of the earliest church and Paul’s own witness and experience.

Today we hear one of the brass rings of all of the epistles, this little excerpt from the 1st letter of St. John; “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God…”  Attributed to St. John the Evangelist, no one really thinks he himself wrote it, but rather it was a disciple of the Johannine school, someone writing in the tradition of John to the community that grew up around that tradition.  This whole letter is a treasure, and today’s especially so.

Today’s passage from 1 John opens up Jesus’ instruction to abide in Him.  It is almost like spiritually engineering what it means to abide, how to be in abiding relationship with God in Christ as intimately as the fruit is with the branch and the branch is with the vine.  The grape comes by living seamlessly, root all the way to cluster, one energy, one spirit flowing from part to part, connected in the most intimate of relationship. What flows from vine to branch to fruit that makes the whole whole and holy?  Love.

“God is love…”  You all know that statement.  Well, this is where it comes from, 1st John, Chapter 4, the only place those words occur in scripture.  “God is love and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”   We abide, we continue without fading or being lost, in love.  Love is the blood of Christian abiding, that which binds us one to another, and in that bond, in the connect of love itself, God is there.

“God is love…”  We really can’t say anything more profound than that, but it just kinds of sits there, doesn’t it?  It’s a bumper sticker at Sundance.  But the implication of those words, their application, “…those who abide in love abide in God…” that is what got people in line to meet the lions, maybe not happy about it, but dedicated, and willing to follow through.  Or maybe a better, or more contemporary visual is standing up to a line of riot police, think Gandhi’s satyagrahis on the Salt March or Dr. King on the Pettis Bridge , or liberating yourself from an oppressive, abusive person or force in your life, or bearing the burden of poverty while caring for, carrying others more vulnerable than yourself, and doing it all in love, not in contentment, but not in resentment either: in love.  When that happens, when the kind of love that binds the root to the branch happens between and amongst humans, the force of a tsunami can be released.  A 10.0 subduction zone event.  Love, in the way that Jesus says and John interprets, is the force that not only gives life meaning, but is the meaning of life.  God is love.

The whole nature of existence is relationship. Every thing, everyone starts in  relationship with God the Creator; we are creatures, the created, we have a relationship with the Creator. The Christian understanding of existence is relational.  Nothing exists on its one, we exist only in relationship with something else.  The relationship that the Creator has with us, the created, is perfect, seamless, infinitely giving, vie to branch (at least from God’s end).  Perfect relationship.  Could we have a better definition of perfect relationship than love?.

Love is the highest order of relationship.  Think of our very model of God, the Trinity: it is a vision of relationship.  The God we worship is a relationship, is relationship. God is love.  The Trinity is the being and becoming of three persons in such perfect loving relationship that they are one.  Like an electron cloud, one folding into the next from which emerges the next back into the first and around and around, in and out, forever and ever.  Endless theodrama.  All in the perfect giving and receiving of love; abiding.

In Jesus, the floodgates opened, the levy broke in the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the love of God poured forth into the world in a wholly new way.  In His life and precious death, Jesus teaches, demonstrates, that all life flows from the heart of God in Love.  And we know God, we exist in God, we Abide in God when we love.  When we feel loved.  Our lives truly begin when we first accept the love of God.  We don’t even need to love God back, not directly.  We need to feel God’s love, and through that and with that, we need to love others.  The world.  The earth we tread upon.  The creatures we share it with.  Other human beings, our brothers and sisters everywhere.

That is the application of the way, the truth and the life.  Love one another.  That is the answer to someone asking, “What does it mean to be Christian?”  Love one another.  That’s how we do it, how we are made worthy of the promises of Christ?  Love one another.  How we are moral, ethical human beings, how we are good friends, good parents, good neighbors, and not just in the Biblical sense, but how to be a neighbor, to share the world with the disparate people we share it with?  Love one another.

Here’s the Tuesday morning brass tacks.  Don’t worry about loving God.  Worry about feeling loved by God.  That is the first step.  Like Simone Weil teaches, it is not so much that we say yes to God, we just need to stop saying no.  You are loved by God.  You.  Specifically you. (And everyone else, but it is big love, enough to go around for everyone).  That is the first step in participating in the life of God: allow yourself to be loved by God.  Now how to do that is the subject of a separate 10 part sermon series.  For now, try to relax into it; soak it in like you did the sun last week.  God’s love always shines for you.

The second step is hard, too: love one another.  That’s the primary practice of Christianity, because as Jesus tells us, in loving another, God exists in you.  God so loved the world that Jesus, God came in to it.  If you love, anyone, God comes into it, into your life, that relationship, the very world.  It is that clear.  That direct.  God is even perfected, comes to full fruition in your act of love.  That is the definition of “to abide.”  To continue, not just exist, but continue in the movement of existence without being lost, without fading.  In and with and by and through love we abide in God in God’s very self, a gift brought through Jesus and given by the Spirit.

That is easier for some of us than for others, and surely it is easier to love some people than it is to love others, but we are called to love everyone.  That’s the “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” practice.  The kind of love we are called to have for each must come from God, because look around; we can be a very, very hard species to love, both individually and as a whole.  Love one another.

My therapist likes me to do experiments; to try something and reflect on it.  I’m going to ask the same of you.  A love experiment.  Take a second and think of someone hard to love.  Not  public figure, someone, but someone you are in direct relationship with.  Not an enemy, we’ll start basic, not someone dangerous to you, but just someone who maybe doesn’t bring a smile to your face when they walk in the door.  Have an idea about someone?  Now I want you to practice loving them.  This week.  One week only.  Practice.

What does that mean to love someone?  It means giving the benefit of the doubt.  Assume good intentions.  It means trying to see the world from their perspective, through their eyes.  Trying to understand why they do what they do, and having a heaping helping of forgiveness in what you find.  Not excuses, not tolerance of bad behavior, but forgiveness of the person.  Love means caring about what happens to them, concern for their well being.  And seeing them for who they are, as fully and possible.

The more I have gotten to know people, really gotten to see them, fully, the easier they are to love.  Seeing not just the person they want the world to see, but the full them, the good, the bad and the ugly bits; that’s from where real love springs.  In honesty.  In the fullness of truth, of a true self revealed in her brokenness, in his fear, in their poverty of spirit.  As well as in their joy, and the love they feel.  That’s how God manages to love us.  Knowing us fully, truly, love flows and God is there, here.  That is grace.

So I ask you to try it out this week; practice loving someone.  Don’t change your life, just try it out.  Sound hard?  To quote our friends in the recovery world, “Let go, Let God.”  Really.  As one commentator puts it, “Love is God’s gift, not a human achievement.”  Don’t rely on yourself to love the hard to love, rely on God, who love you even, especially when you are hard to love.  That is what it means to abide.  Abide in that love.  Abide in God and God will abide in you.  AMEN

April 22, 2018, 4th Sunday of Easter YR B

Year B, Easter 4

April 22, 2018

The Reverend Dr. Brent Was

 

“Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”  Or as Jesus puts it, “I am the good shepherd.”

Happy Easter everyone!  The sunshine!  You can feel the power of life surging right now.  I heard the grass growing outside of our window last night.  The creation is reflecting back to us meaning in this Easter-tide.

On the fourth Sunday of Easter we always read this passage from St. John’s Gospel, “I am the good shepherd.”  We’ll get to the metaphor of the Good Shepherd in a moment.  One thing to keep in mind, this is important, is that in the Easter-tide, our emphasis is not on the sacrifice, not on the self-giving of Jesus in the crucifixion: that’s Lent.  The emphasis of Easter is on power, the act of power that follows the crucifixion, through it and from it.  That act of power is the Resurrection.  And that power was so great, that not only was Jesus raised, but it was so strong that it splashed out into the world, and those willing to take up the mantel in Jesus’ name received it.  The Resurrection, an act of power, happens in the power of love.  Life, light, healing, saving, raising… that is the power of love happening.  It was definitive in that first Easter, and despite the trials and tribulations of our ancestors, that we experience, nevertheless, that love persists.  The power, the life, light, love of Jesus Christ is still here, still healing and saving, still growing the grass, still inviting us into closer relationship with God each other, and still changing the perishing world, confounding the principalities and powers as it did the rulers and scribes and elders 2000 years ago.  Could that be what it means to “dwell in the house of the Lord for ever?”  Maybe.

The power of Jesus is love.  It is a power that is strong enough to save you, me, the whole world.  That power, though, doesn’t manifest in sentiment.  It doesn’t change the world through changing how we feel or feel about anything.  No, the love we are offered by and in and through Jesus Christ is the love St. John writes about in his epistle, love expressed “…not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

“… in truth and action.”  That’s a fitting scriptural lead in to our ministry fair.  After church I hope you can join us as we learn about and celebrate all of the amazing things we do here at Resurrection.  Love in action!  Come learn about Home Starter Kits, Hospitality Village, Egan and Shelter week and all the ways we serve our neighbors and enact God’s justice in the world.  Learn about how we form our children, loving them, helping them love each other and God and helping them love the world so much that they just have to be good, moral people in it.  Learn about all the things we do to keep this place running, governing the community, raising and managing money, keeping up this building and grounds.  And learn about our life of common prayer, setting the table with altar guild, serving at the table with the Eucharistic Ministers, singing with the choir and reading with the lectors.  33, 38 ministries?  We do do a lot here, and our community is better for it.  There’s a churchy saying:  “Would anyone notice if we ceased to be, if Resurrection closed its doors?”  Yes, in a word.  Eugene would.  It’s not that we’re all that, but we, you do a lot here.  The love of God in Christ with the Holy Spirit flows in and from this place in the actions we do, in service and prayer.  The actions we do is God’s love shining into a sin sick world.  So please join us downstairs.  See what your church neighbors are up to.  (And that’s where the cookies will be).  Get more involved if you can, and if you can’t, don’t feel bad, just shine your love on those who can.  All I ask is that you be honest with yourself about what you can and cannot do, not just what you don’t feel like doing.  It is in fact OK for the church to ask things of us.  That doesn’t mean you have to say “yes.”

“Faith without works is dead.”  No doubt about that.  We are called to love “in truth and action.”  But action is just part of it.   We ain’t getting to heaven on our work record.  We don’t gain God’s favor by what we do, or what we believe, or what we think or any other action.  Well, God’s favor isn’t gained, it is freely given always and everywhere to everyone and anyone willing to accept it.  That is grace.  But the love that we give is not just what we do, it is also who we are, the truth of who we are fully realized.  Our inner and outer lives need to be in alignment.  Have you run into anyone who gives and gives and gives, who signs up for every volunteer opportunity and seems to hate it?  They can be miserable, mean, territorial, contemptuous of those being served.  I have not seen that here, thankfully, but I have seen it other places, and some of the stories I’ve heard!  Goodness.  Soup served with a sneer just isn’t as good for you as soup served in, with and by someone filled with love.  Heart-water makes everything taste better and it’s better for you.

This can be a real struggle for some of us, aligning what we do with the truth of who we are and what we know. This brings us back to the good shepherd.

How does the power of love that Jesus Christ gives us in the Resurrection manifest in both the truth of who you are and the actions you take in the world?  It manifests in the whole you.  The whole you, your true self not only manifests in truth and action coming together, but the very presence of that love can reveal who you truly are and how you are to be and what you are to do in the world.  We so desperately need that kind of clarity right now.  Violence continues erupting world-wide, Syria, Yemen, another 700 were wounded in Gaza this week, that makes 4000 this month with 39 deaths, again, not in the papers much.  Children walked out of school (again) because they are scared of being shot.  Wealth disparity and poverty are on the increase, and the accountability of government and corporations is on the decline. The great power of love we have been given in our baptism and through our faith in Jesus Christ manifests best when truth and action align.  That is the lesson of the Good Shepherd.

I don’t have any good shepherd stories that apply here.  I don’t know sheep, we’ve never kept sheep.  Goats, yes; sheep, no.  And they are very different.  Sheep don’t follow; goats, do.  You want the goats to go somewhere, “Come on goats!” and you start walking.  They’ll follow, eventfully (usually in inverse proportion to how fast you want them to move or how far you want them to go, but they’ll get there).  Sheep need to be gathered and pushed, moved along, shepherded.  Sheepdogs are helpful to keep everyone together and headed in the right direction.  There is no such thing as a goat dog.  They’d get their head knocked off by a cranky doe or a buck who is all bucked up in the rut.  Sheep are not unintelligent, but they have a group mind that is just different than goats.  I think we all have our sheep-y aspects and our goat-y ones.

But let’s leave the barnyard and see in the Good Shepherd how love can manifest in the truth of our being and the action of our doing.  There are three lessons here.

The first lesson of the good shepherd is found in the contrast between the shepherd and the hired hand.  The shepherd lays down their life for the sheep, while the hired hand, “who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away…”

This is a lesson of vocation.  Vocation means spending your life doing what you are supposed to be doing, not because you are told to, but because that is what you are meant to do, it is your special purpose.  Another way of thinking of it is your activity being an end, not a means to an end.  The hired hand watches the sheep because they are paid to.  It’s a living.  A means to live not a life itself.  The good shepherd has vocation.  Their being is tied up in their doing.  Their life’s energy, their purpose, the meaning of their life is aligned with the things that they do, the way that they live.

Life is hard when you are misaligned; when who you are and what you do don’t match.  It is hard to radiate love in that condition and there is no place to learn that like the Marine Corps rifle range.  A key principal in marksmanship is alignment.  So you lay down in the prone position and sight the target.  If the natural lay of your body isn’t perfectly aligned with the target, don’t lean left, or twist. It’s not stable.  You are relying on muscle tension not the stability of bone.  So you don’t move the rifle, you get up, and lie down again so your whole body is perfectly aligned, naturally.  I taught farm interns the same lesson with a hoe.  Don’t bend, realign the orientation of your whole body and hoe like the wind.

Aligned like that, being and doing as one, you are a channel, a superconductor for the love of God. There is so much less resistance, maneuvering yourself to fit this situation or that, accommodating yourself to things you can’t do well, or at least well enough.  Be who you are, who God intended you to be.  Where does your natural lay point you?  What does the perfect day look like in your dreams?  For the good shepherd, the dream is the flock thriving, the fields where they live together, the sun on his faces, the wind in her hair, the fire at night, hearing the sheep settling down to sleep.  Occasionally there is an umbrella drink, or a date with a cute shepherd or shepherdess (it is a dream), but the power of love is most available when we are doing what we dream we are supposed to be doing; when we do what we are supposed to be doing as the person we are supposed to be.  Vocation clears a path for love.

A second lesson of the good shepherd is found in verses 14 and 15 of today’s gospel.  “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.”  The light-giving, life-making power of love is rooted in intimacy, in intimate knowledge of those we share life with.  Jesus’ relationship with God was so perfect that He could say “the Father and I are one.”  They were; they are.   Somehow, through the great mystery of faith, that love between the Father and the Son spills out over everything, and it is most clear (and strong) in our hearts when we approximate that kind of love, the intimacy between God, Abba and Jesus, the Son.  We are called to such intimate knowledge of those we share our lives with.  That’s a challenge.

One of my favorite novels is The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene.  Not for the faint hearted, but powerful. It is about an alcoholic priest, the unnamed whiskey priest.  Set in a Latin American country, the church has been outlawed, her priests hunted down and killed.  The whiskey priest still lingers, trying to stay alive and offering the sacraments as he can. He also has a daughter.  (I didn’t say he was a good priest).  With a daughter to his name, he struggles, knowing that his role as a priest is to love everyone as much as one loves a child, and having a child, he sees how high, nearly impossibly high a bar this is.  In the end, he lives up to his vocation of priestly, even Godly love, but as in all such ends, the cost is bitter.

Can you imagine loving everyone as much as you love you own children?  Can you imagine being that intimately connected, that intimately concerned with everyone?  The weight of that sounds impossible, is anyone’s heart that big?  As big as Jesus’?  But also, can you imagine the power in that?  The strength it would take to love that much, how fearsome you would be if you could bear that much care and concern.  Being that connected to everyone else, that’s an impregnable, imperishable web of relationship.  The force behind that!  Can you imagine?  That is the power of love, the world-changing, life-saving power of love.  In loving so fully, with such big love, we become love itself.  Truth and action aligned.  The second lesson of the good shepherd.

A third lesson of the good shepherd is the paradox of freedom in obedience.  As St. John tells it, Jesus lays down His own life “…of my own accord.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.”  OK.  Freedom.  Agency.  And then He continues, “I have received this command from my Father.”  Hmmm…  Which is it?  Of His own accord or by the command of the Father?

The truth is, that we have free will.  We have the ability to choose, to choose how we act in the world, how we treat others, whether we do what we know to be right or what we know to be wrong.  It is really not clear if other creatures have a choice, or if they are more subject to instinct and whim or chance.  Did Pickles the farm cat choose to torture one pocket gopher to death and while just quickly eating another one?  Is that choice?  He didn’t like that one’s look?  Or is it just really bad luck for a pocket gopher because cats don’t choose, they just do?

We can choose.  We must.  (I don’t recommend choosing the pocket gopher; too bony).  We have the freedom to choose.  But the fact that we have a choice in the first place is all wrapped up in God.  As one commentator puts it, “Freedom does not entail an arbitrary self-choosing, but is rooted in the divine will.”

Jesus freely walked to Golgotha and laid His life down for all of us. He didn’t want to go, but he did. God laid out the path for Him directly to the Cross, but Jesus made the choice to take it, to drink from that cup.  What if that had been against His will?  What if Jesus didn’t say “But your will, not mine be done.”?  That would have changed everything.  There is so much power in the act of self-sacrifice, self-emptying, voluntary poverty.  Being sacrificed, emptied and/or impoverished are very different things.  But choosing that path, volunteering, even if it is a path laid out for you by others, as God did for Jesus, there is strength beyond strength in that act.  You are becoming what you are, a child of God.

These are lessons of the good shepherd.  Who we are and what we do, truth and action must be aligned.  Through our vocations, relationships, our understanding of our faith in God in God’s self, all through the life and witness of Jesus Christ, a path, your path, may be revealed.   The good shepherd.

Easter season continues.  The power of love that resurrected Jesus Christ persists in the world in you, in the church, in this church, and in the light that we shine into the darkness which will not over come us or it.  Alleluia!  Christ is Rise!  The Lord is Risen indeed!  Alleluia!  AMEN

 

April 15, 2018, 3rd Sunday of Easter YR B

Year B, Easter 3
April 15, 2018
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was

 

“They were startled and terrified, and thought they were seeing a ghost.”

Happy Easter, everyone!

I am trying to emphasize Easter as a season this year.  Easter is not one day, it is 50; so feast on!  The Paschal Candle is lit the whole time.  The flowers are lovely.  We don’t say the confession in this season. It’s bare feet in the soft grass.  Life is free and easy.  Well, obviously there is lots to be worried about; in your life, in the world, there are lots of things to fear if you are paying attention, but that is not the only story, and in Jesus Christ that is certainly not the end of the story.  And that’s what we remember in the Easter season.  In the end, as St. Julian reminds us, “all will be well, all will be well, every manner of thing will be well.”  Easter is all about remembering that, that it will be well.  But that does not just mean that in the end, in the fullness of time, in the sweet hereafter that it will be well.  No, no, no, no…  That’s as bad a Christian misunderstanding as we have ever had.  The Easter story assures us not only that it will be well, but also reminds us that it can be well.  And not just well for you, or for us, or them, but well, straight up well for everyone, for God’s whole creation.  And the wonder of God in Christ with the Holy Spirit even goes further than that: the Easter story teaches us that it is well.  That heaven and earth are already aligned.  We, are the misaligned.  If we had the eyes to see it, the ears to hear it, and the courage, humility and will to be and let it be as God intends, we would know that all is well, that the Kingdom of God is at hand.  That is the promise and the lesson of Easter.  That’ll take at least 50 days to absorb.

And then I read the paper this morning.  Missiles are raining on Syria in response to nerve gas attacks on civilians; evil answered with evil.  More than 1000 Gazans have been wounded by the IDF since Passover began; 30 or 40 killed.  That’s barley in the paper.  Our government… no one is rising to the occasion, barely anyone in public life is except maybe the Rev. Dr. William Barber, God bless him.  And as wealth concentrates beyond the proportions of the Gilded Age, poverty trickles down into our city, our neighborhood, our congregation.  Part of me says that if this is what well looks like, I’d hate to see mediocre!  It is scary, sometimes.

Rob’s great sermon last week reminded us that doubt has deep roots in the Christian tradition.  From day one, literally, from the day Jesus rose from the grave, even the most dedicated, the closest to Him, doubted.  Doubted what the women told them, doubted what Jesus had promised, doubted their own experiences, just doubted.  As religious people, conventional wisdom would say, we are supposed to have faith and not doubt.  I have grave doubts about that statement.  Doubt is real, it is a common experience, and it is a healthy sign of God’s gift of free will which gives us the impetus to wrestle with faith, to consider to whom and what we give authority, discern what we bring into our hearts and minds and bodies, and those of our children.  We shouldn’t settle with doubt, but we need to deal with it here and now just as the disciples dealt with it in their time and in their ways.

The very same thing goes with fear.  As religious people, we are not supposed to be fearful, right?  In Scripture we are told to “not fear” something like 365 times.  Our faith is supposed to carry us through, “yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil…”   “Be Not Afraid.”  That’s the hymn, right?  And yet, right back to the very first day of Christ’s rising, ‘…terror and amazement had seized them.”  Or today, St. Luke’s telling of the first time the 11 saw the risen Lord, “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.” Christians have a long and storied tradition of fear.

Like doubt, fear happens.  It is a fact of life even amongst the most faithful, God-fearing of us.  (Obviously God-fearing has little to do with being scared of God, it means awe, reverence or worship, there is a little trembling in there, but just enough to remind us of what awesome really means). There is a lot to doubt, just as there is a lot to be scared of in this world.  Fear is part of our existence, a lot more for some than others, but it is a universal human experience.  Today’s Gospel, among other things, is about fear.

As Luke tells it, on the first day, the women went to the tomb and Jesus was not there.  Two men in “dazzling” clothes appeared and asked, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Remember?  They tell the Eleven and Peter verifies it (not trusting the women).  And then there is the stranger on the road to Emmaus.  The two followers of Jesus didn’t recognize the man at first, but as he opened the scriptures, and then joined them to eat, taking, blessing, breaking and giving the bread, they recognized Him, Jesus, and then instantly He vanished.  They turned right around and went back to Jerusalem to tell the 11 what had happened.  That’s where we pick up the story today.

How scared they must have been!  Jesus arrested in the night.  Tried, tortured and horrendously executed.  Then His body came up missing.  Disappeared, not even the closure of preparing Him for burial.  Lucy was just in Argentina with her son.  She told me that across the country, mothers of the disappeared still gather weekly, decades after the bad times, remembering those lost, mourning the disappearances, lamenting the injustice, and I can imagine, gathering together to tend to their fear.  The followers of Jesus were in their bad time.

As the two from the Emmaus road told everyone what had happened, Jesus appeared.  Their first reaction is fear.  Even though He had told them this would happen, even though they were supposed to have faith, even though their friends had just told them about what they saw on the road, they were scared.  I am so glad they were scared; it humanizes them, because what a scary thing!  What a completely natural and healthy reaction, to be startled by the appearance of a dead friend and to be terrified by it.  We are told what, 365 times not to fear?  That’s because we need to be reminded over and over and over again, because there is a lot to fear in this world.

And here Jesus Christ begins to offer us a facet of our salvation.  What does He do?  “Beloved, we are God’s children now” is how Peter puts it. Jesus acts like a good parent, a very good parent.  He meets them, God’s children, where they were.  And where were they?  Scared.  Fearful.  An understandable response to life in precarious times or crazy situations.  But as the whole field of trauma studies is learning and teaching us, living in fear is dangerous, it is damaging to our psyche’s and bodies and can inhibit the living of life as you know it.  So much of the trauma suffered on the street by homeless folks and by everyone in a war zone, combatants and non-combatants, is due to being scared for long periods of time.  It is very bad for you to be scared all the time, which is a dilemma if your life is full of fearful people and conditions.  That’s where the disciples were, and had been for months, years maybe?  And it had just gotten so much worse.

So Jesus meets them where they were.  “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”  He recognizes where they were.  Then He reached out, slowly like to jumpy a cat. “Look at my hands and my feet…”  Then He got a little closer, “Touch me and see…”  There was joy.  I can imagine them like “Wow!  Is this real?”  looking furtively to each other, “…disbelieving and still wondering.”  And then Jesus just scooped them up in his ever-loving arms, “Have you anything to eat?”

Food, eating doesn’t cure everything, but other cures don’t work without it.  One of the great blessings that the folks who work Egan and the family shelter offer our guests is the hospitality of the table.  The food here is good.  It is all made here, by you all and others in the wider community.  It is fresh, wholesome, home-cooked, familiar and comfortable, served on real plates, with real forks, real napkins, table cloths.  We need some new table cloths, but those stains were earned the honest way, through real and loving use, and the life and light and love that spills all over those tables with the knocked over coffee and spilled soup can, will save the world.  Many of the folks we welcome here have a lot to be scared of.  But sometimes, maybe even just for a minute or two, you can see shoulders relax.  Or someone settle back into the chair.  Or a flash of relief that dinner smells good and their daughter likes roasted chicken and will eat well, today.  That is fear loosening its grip.  That is the love of God slipping in.

Fear itself is not really the problem.  Being controlled by the fear, is.  Being dominated by it.  We have more to fear than fear itself, but the fear of fear is right at the top of the list.  The disciples were being controlled by their fear. They were holed up, in some accounts behind locked doors.  They were not going out and proclaiming the Word as He had told them to, repeatedly, before and after His execution.  They had much to fear, and that fear got the best of them.

The bravest amongst us are acutely aware of fear.  Not to be is foolishness, and not in Jesus-foolishness but get yourself hurt foolishness.  The brave aren’t fearless, they recognize their fear, and meet it.  Looking at His hands.  Touching his cloak.  Handing Him a piece of fish, maybe having some with Him.  Jesus sets that table and welcomes his scared friends in.  The Good Shepherd.  The good parent.  The good friend.

Jesus helps not in taking scary things away, the temple authorities still had it in for them, but helps by making fear itself less scary.  No matter how much you believe, no matter how brave you are, bad things can (and will) happen to you, to those you love, in the world you inhabit.  Jesus can’t change that. Well, if a critical mass of us followed Him like He asks it might all change, but until the coming of the Kingdom, Jesus can’t change that, but can, does change us.   We’ll still feel fear, still have doubt, but not be dominated by it.

Not being controlled by fear.  Oh what a wonderful world it would be!  When we are dominated by fear, the primary reactions are what?  Fight, flight or freeze.  They each have their use, but those are not the only options available, just the only ones apparent when under the control of fear.  Some feminist psychologists have described other paths, paths much more accessible when we are not dominated by fear.  These paths have been described as gathering and tending.  That just sounds better than fight, flight or freeze.

I think this is what Jesus did with His friends.  He gathered them together.  He was always doing that, gathering everyone around, bringing them in close.  I always imagine His voice being solid, but quite; you needed to lean in to hear, and you didn’t want to miss a word.  Everyone felt safe close in around Him.  Then He died, and was back.  As a hen tender gathers her chicks, they must have wanted to crowd around Him. They did.  There was already food about, and He ate.  I can imagine others dropped their guard a bit followed Him in eating.  “You want to go fast, go alone, you want to go far, go together,” says the proverb.  Gathered they went far.

Gathered together, what did Jesus do for them?  He tended them.  He cared for them, gave them what they needed.  He approached them gently.  Showed His body.  Offering for them to touch and see.  They needed that holding, that care, that tending.  Then gave them more, He taught them.  He “…opened their minds to the understanding of the scriptures…”  He gave them understanding about what was going on around them, and then, gave them a great gift for the traumatized: agency.  He sent them.  “…repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are the witnesses of these things.”  He gave them something helpful, useful, edifying to do, that they had control over.  You are powerless in fear.  Being powerless is scary.  Having control, having a say in what you do and what happens to you is incredibly important for those who are scared.  The mission, the great commission Jesus gave them was just that sort of thing.

Some of it is just having meaningful work.  Read the Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture by Wendell Berry if you want to consider more about the salvific nature of meaningful work in and of itself.  It saves.  (Or at least the lack of meaningful work destroys). What Jesus has on offer in the gospel work He charges us with is forty and sixty and one hundred times more powerful, simply because it is done in the name of God.  That changes everything.  Be you the mightiest of the mighty or the lowliest of the low, all are equal in the eyes of God, Jesus’ life demonstrates that.  So working in the name of God brings you (humbly) eye to eye with the whole creation.  Jesus was an un-landed peasant, a gnat in the Roman imperial ointment, and yet He bested Pilate on his judgement seat.  What that rag-tag group of Galilean dissenters started outlasted the Roman empire (before that converting it in less than 350 years).  Proclaiming repentance and forgiveness in the name of God… that sending, that mission saved those scared men and women as much as it did anyone they in turn saved.  The martyrs of the church, great and small met, meet their fear in the love of God and in the power and the glory of offering God’s love and forgiveness to the world.  By that we can be saved.  So many are.

Gathered and tended.  Sending and serving.  Take.  Bless.  Brake.  Give.  That is the mission that Jesus gave to those doubtful, fearful people 2000 years ago.  And the love, the gathering and tending that He did has been passed down from generation to generation in the church, and happens again each week at this table we gather around.  That is an Easter message worth celebrating for 50 days.

There is a lot to be scared of in this world.  And that is not the end of the story.  Happy Easter!  AMEN

April 1, 2018, Easter Day YR B

Year B, Easter
April 1, 2018
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was

 

“Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has been raised…”

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!  <The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!>

Happy Easter, everyone!  We made it!  Alleluia!  Another turn around the sun, another Lent, another Holy Week, another dying and rising in glory with Jesus Christ!  Happy Easter!

It has been a great week here at the Church of the Resurrection, We’re doing our best at living up to our name sake, this and every Sunday is a Feast of the Resurrection, and that best is pretty good.  I do love you all, and love celebrating the gifts of God with you.  It takes a lot of people to lead a parish, especially through these high holy days.  You know who you are.  We know who you are.  Thank you.

So here we are on Easter morning.  Two thousand years ago, on Easter morning, all they had was an empty tomb.  Well, an empty tomb, a promise and a bunch of terror and amazement.  In the near term, 2000 years ago, everything was great.  The promise was kept.  Jesus indeed did go ahead of them to Galilee.  We’ll hear the ancient stories over the next six weeks of Easter, the accounts of Jesus before His Ascension to the right hand of God.  He did go ahead of them to Galilee, a lot of people saw Him, heard Him, touched Him, were fed by Him, the Risen Lord lived! And the terror was assuaged, for a while, at least until the persecutions began.  And, thanks be to God, the amazement of those women at the tomb not only didn’t fade, it spread like a brush fire.

Two thousand years later, we are here on Easter morning, April Fools day, we, fools for Christ, are still here. Why?   The tomb is still empty.  When we really open to it, when we try hard, we can hear a faint echo of the terror (3:00 AM on Good Friday morning is a good time to listen for it).  Oh, there is still amazement.  Our spiritual lives, when you take them seriously, can amaze!  Church, all the life we are surrounded by is amazing!  But is it amazing enough?  Why are we still here, 2000 years later, celebrating an empty tomb?

The promise of Jesus Christ still stands.  He’s no longer in Galilee (well no more than anywhere else); He’s not offering His hands and side for us to touch (oh that He world, sometimes); He’s not feeding us a breakfast of fish and bread; but if 2000 years of being Christian has taught us anything, it is that Jesus Lives! and Jesus is Lord!  That’s what Easter is all about.

Now for those of you who aren’t here very often, welcome!  You picked a good day to join in the celebration.  You probably expect to hear things like Jesus Lives! and Jesus is Lord!  It is church, it’s the kind of thing we are supposed to say, right?  Well, yes, and that is not necessarily how we talk about it, but you know what, I think it might be helpful for us to reclaim some of the language that we have conceded to other ways of reckoning Christian faith, because you know what, Jesus DOES Live and Jesus IS Lord!  And that’s all there is to it.  In fact, that’s the central meaning of this Easter feast.

Jesus lived a long time ago.  And then He died.  But then He lived again.  He was Resurrected!  But the Christian story isn’t just about some supernatural continuation of life, some promise of life after death that we will receive on the coattails of a savior.  No.  Jesus lives.  From way back then, in the dusty streets and remote hill sides of Judea, Jesus lived and breathed as we do, and through His prophetic preaching, profound teaching, His miraculous healing and feeding, His friendships and love, He seeped into the hearts of so many that He touched.  And in being taken from those who loved Him, by the grace of God, the love, the earth shaking-mountain rocking-temple quaking love He brought into the world, love that He felt for God and everyone blasted like a supernova through time and space marking those who believe and inviting those who don’t into a whole new way of seeing the world.  It does not have to be a fight!  Love is stronger than swords!  You can forgive others their sins against you and you are already forgiven for yours.  The new way is right here!  Right here for those with the strength and grace to live as if this new way, a way He called the Kingdom, the Reign of God.  To live as if it were actually true is salvation.  Jesus Lives.

Jesus lives in our hearts when we let Him in and when we follow His way.  From way back then to right here, this morning, billions, BILLIONS of our brothers and sisters have experienced Jesus Christ as a living reality over twenty centuries in every corner of the planet.  Dreams.  Visions.  Music.  Art.  Words.  Friendships.  Empathy.  Mercy.  Love.  Jesus lives and moves and has our beings; when we let Him.  Even when we just stop saying no to Him, He is there.  Jesus Lives in this whole new way in each of our hearts.  In the heart of this community.  Jesus Lives! in the Eucharist we share each week, as a billion of our brothers and sisters share each week in north and south and east and west.  Jesus lives!

And Jesus is Lord!  In life, Jesus was a great man: loved by many, hated as befitted His greatness.  But it really wasn’t until after He died and rose again that we really begin to understand how great He was.  So we started to really use the word Lord for Him.  Lord, a problematic word, as patriarchal as it gets, does have great connotations.  Great unto divine connotations (hence the problem, but it is lodged in many of our hearts).  As time passed, our understanding of Jesus evolved, and it was quick, one week out Thomas confessed “My Lord and my God!” in that locked room.   And three hundred years out we were at “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God…” and it continued.

When we say “Jesus is Lord!” we acknowledge that this man, this creature like us in some mysterious way was, is God, an aspect, a person, a personality of God that again, mysteriously, became flesh and shared our lot in our very human way ra long time ago.  God was one of us.  And that God, Jesus, lives!  Not out there, but in here, where God belongs, in our hearts and minds and souls and strength and in the spaces in between us in the divine mystery of loving relationship.  As we sang at the footwashing on Thursday night, Ubi caritas, et amor, deus ibi est.  Where true charity and love is found, God is there.  That is here in our heart, and here in loving community, brought to us by the Living God who is Lord, and in being such, is our savior.

The tomb is empty. Jesus Lives!  Jesus is Lord!  Alleluia, Christ is Risen!  <The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!>  Happy Easter everyone.  AMEN