Sunday, May 19, 2019

Fifth Sunday of Easter - Revelation Part 4


I'm sure some of you are wondering what this week's interesting engagement bit is going to be,
right?
Or maybe not.
Well, in your pew you will find a bowl with a little capsule in it.
Do you know what the capsule is?
If you do, you might be able to figure out what the theme is for today.
Any guesses?

In the passage from Revelation today,
John hears God say that God will give a gift of water to all those who are thirsty
from the spring of the water of life.
The spring of the water of life
is a symbol of new and refreshed life.
Not quite the same as the fountain of youth so longed for 
by the medieval kings and queens of old.
God's water grants resurrection life,
God's water is the living water of Jesus Christ.

I'm going to walk around with a pitcher of water here
and all those who are "thirsty" or simply curious as to what is going to happen,
hold out your bowl,
and then drop the colored capsule in it.
It is regular water, but the imagery is good.
Just wait and see.

(walk around with pitcher of water)

In John's vision, we hear God say,
"See, I am making all things new."
Transformation is also a gift from God.
John sees God create a new heaven and a new earth,
a brand new creation.

Interestingly enough, the vision specifically leaves out the sea.
At that time, the sea was the primeval force of chaos, 
The sea signified unrest and turbulence,
not the order and goodness of God. 
That is why the sea was no more.
The vision compares and contrasts what God is doing in recreating the world,
by creating order and peace,
Instead of the chaos and turbulence which pervades our world today.
Thankfully, the vision doesn't leave out the goodness of water entirely.
We do have the water of life imagery,
God gives the water of life to those who are thirsty.

How is your bowl of water doing?
What has happened to your capsule?

It has been transformed.
No longer the dry little pills, all the same shape,
they have been made new with the gift of water.
Now we have lots of different shapes!
They have been transformed,
not of their own power,
but by our grace and purpose
Just as we are recreated 
not on our own power,
but by God's grace and purpose.

While most of us long for salvation, for some saving help,
like we talked about last week,
not all of us long for transformation. 
Yet, sometimes despite our best efforts,
God does offer us transformation
and we do transform throughout our lives.
Sometimes in very directed ways,
sometimes in more wandering ways.

Transformation is not always easy.
Okay, I feel I'm always saying things are not easy.
Most of life is not easy.
But good transformation is worth it.
Especially transformation in Christ.
Its another one of those things that happens 
and half the time we don't realize its happening
until we look back and see, golly!
Things have changed.
I am a process person, in that I like good processes.
They make sense to me, lined out step by step,
with progression forward and learning and testing and change.
However, not everyone is like me.
And some of us grow, learn, and change in very different ways.

God works in us without us always realizing it.
God is transforming the world around us all the time.
We move through an ever changing world
we move through death and new life hundreds of times in our lifetimes.

God is making all things new.
It is a promise, a threat, a comfort, and a warning.
We don't know what the world will be like when God is done making it new
We don't know what we will be like when God is done making us new

Another interesting note in the vision John sees is the community.
Not once in the book of Revelation is there a scene in the visions of heaven,
where there is only one person or angel or cherubim off doing their own thing
There is always community.
(Which is a bit of a scary prospect for an introvert like me... everyone else, all the time? Ah!)
But the comfort in this is that we are not in this alone.
Even as we change over time by ourselves,
This community transforms us as we grow into it.
God gives us this gift and will transform us together. 
We grow into the full stature of Christ 
as Christ formed his followers in the first century,
in community.

Throughout St. John's life, this parish and community has grown and changed.
At first it was a community that could barely hold together for regular services.
Then it blossomed into a wealthy congregation 
comprised of the social elite of Franklin.
Then it widened its focus and became a broad community church,
serving all those who come seeking God.
And while the congregation is changing these days mostly by growing older,
there is new life emerging in the new faces and people who are joining in,
seeking God and joining in the community
to be transformed into true followers of Jesus Christ. 

In Revelation, John wants to remind the churches of what God is doing for them. 
And what a better way than to show them what they have to look forward to.
A new heaven, a new earth, a new creation.
Fully lived and loved in God.

God is making all things new,
even our messy selves. 
God is working in us, 
drawing us closer to the heart of Love
transforming our hearts of stone into hearts of love,
and recreating us in community.

Let us praise God today in wonder of the truly marvelous work God is doing
in transforming heaven, earth, all creation,
even us,
into something that is good and holy and loved.

Amen. 

Friday, May 17, 2019

Fifth Sunday of Easter Reflection



Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Fifth Sunday of Easter, BCP 225)

The Call.

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joyes in love.

From The Temple (1633), by George Herbert

I believe that God has given us free will, the freedom to make our own choices, in this world. For better or for worse, we face choices everyday. From when to wake up in the morning to when to go to bed at night, we must choose what and when and how and why we do what we do.

The collect for day quotes the gospel of John, chapter 14, verse 6 where Jesus says, "'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" The prayer asks God to help us to follow Jesus's steps along the way. We should probably pray this prayer every day, because every day we must choose to follow Jesus. Every day we have choices where we can invite God more deeply into our lives, or we can blindly wander around. Every day we have the choice to follow Jesus.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Fourth Sunday in Easter - Revelation Part 3


Not many of us probably use the word salvation on a daily basis.
Perhaps the word save, or saving, savings, or other variations.
Yet, salvation is a big part of the reason humans have religion.
We long for salvation. 
We long to be saved,
from all the mistakes, mess ups, pain, hurt, sorrow
that pervades our world. 
We want salvation, 
but we don't always understand it. 

Both fortunately and unfortunately,
Salvation theology brings lots of great vocabulary with it.
Preservation, protection, deliverance
justification, atonement...
and all this theological vocabulary can be confusing.

At its base, salvation is all about how much we need help,
and how we get it.
Naturally,
because none of us wants to admit that we need help,
in any way,
we find lots of dressed up, finessed, Gothic ways of talking about salvation,
but the end result is that we have to rely on God to save our 
... 
necks.

There are many reasons John of Patmos talks about salvation in his Revelation.
No discussion of the end of time, 
the end of humans and history and Earth,
can be legitimate without discussing how any of it is going to be saved.
(It is funny to me that we hold onto the idea that any of it will be saved.)
Throughout the scriptures, 
there is a thread of discussion about how God is going to save people for eternity.
There is even some discussion about how God is going to save creation, not just humans,
but the trees, rivers, pollen, bees, flowers, badgers, and so on.
In this passage from Revelation, 
John highlights two important ideas concerning salvation:
First, the promise of divine protection during times of tribulation,
God will protect us from harm.
Second, the assurance of ultimate salvation,
God will save us in the end.

Let's face it.
We know,
and as scripture points out,
we have known for a long time,
how broken and messed up and in need of saving 
we human being are.

And if you think that perhaps we have gotten better
in the last six thousand years,
since the beginning of written down scriptures,
think again. 

As a country the United States has been at war for the last 16 years. 
Jails are running out of space, because crime rates cannot seem to be stopped.
Anger issues are becoming more and more felt and known.
Sexual harassment is common place in every type of environment. 
Gun violence has invaded schools, churches, synagogues, stores, homes...
We are destroying our planet at a unprecedented rate.
The City of Franklin's population has declined at a rapid rate.
All of this adds up to an overwhelming feeling of... 
ah! help!
Even in our community, more than a hundred families a month need help with groceries, utilities, necessities
in order to live.
People find themselves out on the streets with no where to go and not knowing who to turn to.
Within ourselves, we know the thoughts and deeds
that would make others cringe,
that make us cringe when we think of them.
Knowing we lashed out at others,
knowing we hoard things for ourselves we don't need,
knowing we think terrible thoughts about people without knowing them at all.
We know our brokenness and sinfulness.
We are in desperate need of help.
We don't want to admit it.
Even if what we do in coming to church is showing up every week seeking help,
from God and community,
we aren't going to admit that we actually need it or need to be here.
That would be too much.
Yet, we are longing for someone to save us.
We are waiting for someone to help us.
We want someone else to take care of all the things we cannot carry anymore.

The first century Christians felt the same way.
They were living through persecutions and economic fluctuations.
They wanted someone to solve their problems for them. 
They wanted someone to save them,
from the crazy Emperor, from the soldiers, from their neighbors,
they wanted a Savior.

John of Patmos reminds the first century Christians
and us today,
we have a Savior. 
Jesus has already saved us. 
Jesus is still saving us. 
Jesus will save us. 

Both John, the gospel writer, 
and John, the author of Revelation,
make clear that the Good Shepherd is the Paschal Lamb,
and the Paschal Lamb is the Good Shepherd.
Our Savior, our leader, our guide.

Luckily, John is very clear in his vision. 
All people, from every nation, all tribes, peoples, languages 
God gives salvation to all people 
A very inclusive God we have.
What John sees is a great vision,
no hunger, no thirst, no tears, no famine.
God offers protection and assurance 
God offers ultimate salvation,
saving from all the troubles, trials, tribulations,
and messiness of humanity.
And it is not something we can earn.
It is simply a gift.
A gift we can accept.

We can accept the gift of God's salvation
and stand with the great multitude 
and praise God saying,
"Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!"

We can accept the gift of God's salvation,
pray to God in our hearts and minds and souls,
"help me accept your salvation,
to know your saving grace deep within me,"
and stand with people of all nations, tribes, and languages,
and wave palm branches,
like the followers of Jesus did when he triumphantly entered Jerusalem,
proclaiming, "Hosanna!" 
praising God in the way of Revelation, in a sevenfold celebration.

"Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might
be to our God forever and ever! Amen!"

God is waiting for us to let go of all our troubles
to accept the gift of salvation and to stand with all those who have gone before us in praise.

So let us stand, and wave our palm branches and praise God.
(palm branches on front pew)
Hosanna! Alleluia!
Blessing be God!
Alleluia! Hosanna!
Salvation has come! 
Hosanna!
Alleluia! 
Amen!
Amen!
Amen!







Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Third Sunday of Easter - Revelation Part 2


Many of you will know this song...
Or at least you've heard it somewhere.
By Pharrell Williams.

(play music)
(clap along)
(do a twirl)

As he says in the song, if you listen to the lyrics,
he is going to be happy no matter what news you give him,
because as
Pharrell says "happiness is the truth"
I would say, "joy is the truth"
God wants us to be joyful, in all circumstances.
God wants us to celebrate and rejoice in all that has been made and done for us.

Joy has nothing to do with our circumstances or our current mood.
Joy is something deep inside
which is part of how we see the world.
Happiness is rather fleeting
and usually has to do with what is going on in our lives
or something we have acquired.
Joy has to do with knowing who we are and whose we are
and celebrating being alive.

Thankfully joy can be learned
and it can be practiced.
It starts by simple celebration for all the gifts God has given us.
It starts by finding joy in who you are and whose you are.

Practicing celebrating God in our lives
is no easy thing.
It is more than simply saying, yay, God! every once in a while
when something good has happened.

Celebrating God encompasses giving thanks for God's being
for God's gifts, for God's love.

I bring up celebration and joy this week 
because as we move along in Revelation, 
we hear John tell of seeing 
a throng of the community of saints celebrating
singing in praise of God around the throne.
Not just the humans, the heavenly creatures praising God,
but John notes that he hears every creature in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and in the sea,
singing in one voice
The birds, cats, dogs, mosquitoes, dolphins, earthworms! all joining in on the song.
I can't even imagine what an earthworm singing might sound like.

Interestingly, the sevenfold aspect of Revelations is so strong,
that it even goes into the song that the elders and creatures are singing.
"Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power (1) and wealth (2) and wisdom (3) and might (4)
and honor (5) and glory (6) and blessing (7)!"
Sevenfold Celebration!

The vision John offered to the churches of celebration
would have been a good reminder to rejoice in the Lord.
Living in persecution and fear,
perhaps celebration would not have been their most natural way of being.
John shows them that those who have gone before stand in celebration of all that God has done.
Despite whatever has happened to them,
they rejoice in God.

John speaks of the elders, 
24 of them.
Twelve of the tribes of Israel,
twelve of the Apostles.
Both groups, the sons of Jacob,
and the twelve apostles,
faced and endured many pains and sorrows,
and yet, there they are
celebrating God. 

We need the reminder as well.
To celebrate what God has done in our lives.
The Episcopal tradition tries to make us remember to celebrate in our liturgy.
The leader of Eucharist is called the celebrant for a reason, 
the Sunday morning service is always a feast,
always a celebration of what God has done for us.
It is supposed to be a joyous occasion.

How often do we make it a somber and sad occasion,
even when we are singing the Sanctus,
the great hymn of praise from Revelation:
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

Revelation is full of praise hymns.
Another reminder to the churches
to celebrate what God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
have done for us. 

Brene Brown points out in her book series multiple times
that one of the ways we protect ourselves from feelings
is by robbing ourselves of the joy inside of us
so that we don't have to feel the joy
because joy can be a vulnerable feeling
it makes us light-hearted and open
and because we learn from our human brokenness so easily that disappointment can follow
so we think it is easier and better to not even feel joy
because then we won't be disappointed.

However, robbing ourselves of the joy simply reinforces the disappointment and pessimism
which drags our hearts down and keeps us from feeling the good things in life.
We block out the good so that we don't have to feel the bad.
None of which is healthy.

God created us to be able to celebrate.
God wants us to find joy in our lives.
God gives us joy in our lives.
And God wants us to celebrate it.

There are many ways to celebrate what God has done for us.
We can like the hosts of heaven, fall down and worship God.
We can like Pharrell Williams, dance around in joy, using the bodies God has made for us,
We can spend time together with community, friends and family,
enjoying the community God has given to us.

Dancing around 
clapping
twirling
or praising God with song or joyful prayer
or in community.
Join in with all the heavenly hosts of angels, prophets, apostles, martyrs, saints,
sing praises to the amazing inspiring graceful and loving God we have!

Our God is an awesome God!

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Amen!



Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Third Sunday of Easter


O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen (Third Sunday of Easter BCP 224)

During the season of Easter we are told many stories of Jesus appearing to his followers after his death and Resurrection. We hear of Jesus appearing in the upper room to the disciples. We hear of him appearing on the road to Emmaus, and this Sunday, the gospel passage will tell us the story of Jesus appearing on the beach of the Sea of Galilee for breakfast. In all of these stories, Jesus appears seemingly out of nowhere. A shock to all who experience him in that moment.

Many times in my own life, Jesus seemingly appears out of nowhere. Not in flesh and blood, but in presence or understanding. While I feel like I should be used to it by this point, I am still surprised and sometimes shocked at the moments Jesus turns up in. What is he doing here? Why did he decide to turn up now? These questions run through my head as I try to understand what God is doing in those moments.

Yet, the gospel stories show us an underlying message about Jesus in these stories. He doesn't appear out of nowhere. He doesn't suddenly materialize... poof! ... out of nowhere. Jesus is with us at all times, its just that sometimes we see him more clearly than others. Many times, like the disciples, we don't always recognize him at first. Notice where Jesus appears in your life this week. Does he appear out of nowhere or was he with you the whole time?

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Second Sunday of Easter - Revelation Part 1


"I saw Eternity the other night, 
Like a great ring of pure and endless light, 
All calm, as it was bright; 
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years, 
Driv’n by the spheres 
Like a vast shadow mov’d; in which the world 
And all her train were hurl’d. 
The doting lover in his quaintest strain 
Did there complain; 
Near him, his lute, his fancy, and his flights, 
Wit’s sour delights, 
With gloves, and knots, the silly snares of pleasure, 
Yet his dear treasure 
All scatter’d lay, while he his eyes did pour 
Upon a flow’r. 

The darksome statesman hung with weights and woe, 
Like a thick midnight-fog mov’d there so slow, 
He did not stay, nor go; 
Condemning thoughts (like sad eclipses) scowl 
Upon his soul, 
And clouds of crying witnesses without 
Pursued him with one shout. 
Yet digg’d the mole, and lest his ways be found, 
Work’d under ground, 
Where he did clutch his prey; but one did see 
That policy; 
Churches and altars fed him; perjuries 
Were gnats and flies; 
It rain’d about him blood and tears, but he 
Drank them as free. 

The fearful miser on a heap of rust 
Sate pining all his life there, did scarce trust 
His own hands with the dust, 
Yet would not place one piece above, but lives 
In fear of thieves; 
Thousands there were as frantic as himself, 
And hugg’d each one his pelf; 
The downright epicure plac’d heav’n in sense, 
And scorn’d pretence, 
While others, slipp’d into a wide excess, 
Said little less; 
The weaker sort slight, trivial wares enslave, 
Who think them brave; 
And poor despised Truth sate counting by 
Their victory. 

Yet some, who all this while did weep and sing, 
And sing, and weep, soar’d up into the ring; 
But most would use no wing. 
O fools (said I) thus to prefer dark night 
Before true light, 
To live in grots and caves, and hate the day 
Because it shews the way, 
The way, which from this dead and dark abode 
Leads up to God, 
A way where you might tread the sun, and be 
More bright than he. 
But as I did their madness so discuss 
One whisper’d thus, 
“This ring the Bridegroom did for none provide, 
But for his bride.”"
Henry Vaughan is one of my favorite 17th century Welsh poets, 
and this poem, The World,
marks the contrast between the world and eternity,
between what it is like in this realm,
and what God is calling us to. 

I first read this poem in high school
and what struck me at that time was
the witness to eternity. 

Henry Vaughan in some way had an experience of eternity
and he was not content merely to enjoy it
he wrote about it,
he was a witness to it
and a witness to the calling of God to all
not just some, as one of the characters in the poem suggests.

Poets have not only been the witnesses to eternity,
though many might come to mind.
In the scriptures, we have many prophets 
who have seen and heard much of heaven and eternity
and been willing to speak and share about it,
even when such sharing got them into serious trouble.

This is where we find John of Patmos,
a Palestinian Jewish Christian in the first century,
who fled from the region of Israel during the Jewish Revolts,
and ended up in exile on the island of Patmos because of the persecutions of Emperor Domitian.
He had a vision of eternity,
he had a message of hope for all people.

The Revelation to John,
the last book of the Bible today
details the vision and message John received
in the guise of letters to seven churches at the time
in Asia Minor, what is today, Turkey.

Revelation, as it is mostly known as,
is a very complicated, metaphorical, allegorical, visionary, eschatological apocalypse. 

And if that doesn't put you off,
St. Jerome, the well-known scholar and bishop, 
who translated the Scriptures from both Hebrew and Greek
into Latin to create the Vulgate, the standard Catholic Bible,
who was well-known for his scholarship and theology,
wrote in 394 in a letter (no. 53) to Paulinus, another bishop of the church at that time,
"The apocalypse of John has as many mysteries as words."

Which considering the book has 22 chapters, is a lot of words
and a lot of mysteries.
If this is how one of the greatest Christian biblical scholars feels about the book of Revelation,
we shouldn't be too concerned when we have a hard time making heads or tails of it.
The Easter season is a time of newness and hope
we hope for salvation, knowing that it has already been granted to us,
we celebrate, for fifty days!, the new life within and awaiting us.

This is why we hear from the book of Revelation during the season of Easter.
We hear from Acts, because it tells the story of the days after the resurrection 
and the events which happened between the resurrection and Pentecost. 
We hear from the gospel of John, 
because he includes the most post-resurrection stories in his version of events. 
(Reading from Mark during Easter would be difficult! No post resurrection stories!)
And we hear from Revelation, 
because beyond its fantastic allegories and confusing-to-us metaphors, 
it is at its base, a book about hope.

It is a vision of a new creation and a new God-centered reality.
It is a vision of salvation and forgiveness and love.

Naturally, I don't expect you all to agree with all of my interpretations of Revelation 
over the next seven weeks.
Interpretation is a complicated, tricky, and entangled business.
And not every question can be answered.

However, I do hope you will listen with me,
listen to the author of Revelation,
listen to God calling to us.

We are indeed witnesses to the acts of Jesus
in so, we are witnesses to eternity.
We behold the power of eternity
and the eternal being of God
And it is a story we need to share. 

We think things that last a long time are eternal,
Like the forty days of Lent,
but that is not the truth of the matter.
God who is and who was and who is to come
In the vernacular of the time, 
God says he is the Alpha and the Omega, 
the beginning and end of the alphabet. 
The beginning and end of all things.
Now that is eternity,
always something new but always the same.
Paradox and mystery.

However, God's mystery of eternity is part of how God conquers death.
Jesus gives himself up to death willingly and because he is innocent,
he breaks the bonds.
As a human, death would naturally claim him and even a sacrifice of innocence would not destroy death
Yet, as also divine, death does not naturally claim him
and he destroys the hold of death.

We are witnesses to this.

John reaches out to the seven churches in Asia Minor,
(you can read in your insert which churches he reached out to
and see where they are on the map)
to remind them of their witness
and to remind them of the hope of Jesus.
In God we can celebrate, 
in God is our salvation, our transformation, our hope.
We have seen eternity in the works of God,
"Like a great ring of pure and endless light"
let us share in John's witness
and share in telling the greatest story in the world.

Amen.




Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Second Sunday of Easter

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Second Sunday of Easter BCP 224)

Jesus greets his disciples after the resurrection with peace and the Holy Spirit. He comes to stand among them, which would have felt very familiar to the disciples, yet after the Passion, death, and Resurrection, would have been very different! This time instead of teaching or parables, Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit. The text says, Jesus breathed on them the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the scriptures, there is a correlation between breath and the Spirit of God. God speaks out the Word, God breathes life into the first humans, God breathes new life into the dry bones in the valley with Ezekiel. God breathes and the Spirit goes forth. In the gospel passage for this coming Sunday from John, Jesus breathes out the Holy Spirit as well. Fully human and fully divine, Jesus offers them God's gift of new life.

The thing about breathing is there is a lack of control around it. You can see this anytime someone goes to blow out some candles, whether in church or on top of a birthday cake. We breathe out, and as much as we try to push our breath in one direction or another, once it is out of our mouths, it disperses, it goes to fill the room. All the people in the room with Jesus, the disciples, the hangers on, the women, the servants... all of them received the Holy Spirit when Jesus breathed out. In fact, as soon as the doors were opened, out that breath of Spirit went... the Holy Spirit loose in the world to bless and work in all people. Breathe in, receive the Holy Spirit.