Sunday, November 10, 2013

RE: Resurrection

Resurrection. Rebirth. Revitalization. Renewal. Regeneration. Restoration. Response.

They all start with r-e, re. R-e is a Latin prefix, if you remember your high school language studies, you might remember that it means again or back. Adding re to a word gives a repetitive or returning feeling to the new word. And we see this at work in thinking about all those re- words. Even resurrection. Believing and participating in the resurrection implies a returning quality, being redeemed and returned to life, though this time life in God's kingdom.

Luke's gospel gives us a window into an encounter in Jesus' life and it demands a response. The Sadducees bring what they think is a ridiculous question in their mind to Jesus, probably in order to poke fun at him. The Sadducees do not believe in any kind of resurrection, but the Pharisees do, so the Sadducees might be trying to see where Jesus lies in the religious politics of his day. It is almost like asking someone if they think women can be ordained. Depending on the person's answer, you automatically know something about their religious politics. Its not that hard to understand why they don't believe in any kind of resurrection, there is not much evidence for resurrection. The probability of resurrection, in any manner, is inconsistent with what we see going on in the world. Yet, Jesus believes in resurrection. Jesus believes in a resurrection completely different than what we see in this world altogether. And he gives a glimpse of this in his response to the Sadducees. Marriage is not a part of resurrection life, death is not a part of resurrection life, and we are surely witnesses to the place of both marriage and death in earthly life. Death and marriage are two staples of human existence, defining ways in which we live and relate to each other. Yet, even these defining factors do not exist in resurrection life. Life in God's kingdom is very different.

However, life in God's kingdom is not completely different. Our life in God will not be characterized by the changes in relationship we experience now, but relationships do exist, just not in the same way as they do now. Jesus points to how Moses encountered God in the burning bush and how God is God of our ancestors in the present, living, for God all of the community of saints are alive. God is still the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The patriarchs still are in relation with each other and with God, but they are all living. They are in living, resurrected, relationships with God and each other. And not just Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but also Moses, Mariam, Zechariah, Susanna, Paul, Phoebe, and the myriad of other saints. God has promised eternal life to those who follow him and God fulfills the promise. In God, resurrection happens, the dead are returned to eternal life.

The resurrection accounts of Jesus and the way Christians have understood resurrection throughout the centuries suggests that this will be an embodied rebirth, a full scale regeneration of our minds, bodies, and spirits. Fully redeemed, fully sustained, fully created, and fully loved. When the kingdom of God is revealed there will rest the full communion of saints. Embodied in a new way in eternal life, means we will be fully ourselves, more wondrously than we have ever been before.

But since this is resurrection, it does imply death. I assume we are all living this morning, as much as we might not feel quite fully awake or present, we are living. So we haven't experienced full resurrection yet in this world, but we have experienced something. We must have experienced some kind of rebirth in our lives, some kind of response to belief and presence, otherwise we would not be here. Our sharing in the Eucharist is a giving thanks for something which we have experienced. In the prayer Mother Leyla will say in a few minutes, we remember Jesus' resurrection and what God has done for us through Jesus' resurrection. The prayer says that we are celebrating our redemption. Do you feel like you are celebrating your redemption today? You have and will be redeemed! It is definitely cause for celebration!

Unfortunately, we get very complacent about celebrating our redemption since we come here for Eucharist every Sunday. In order to get involved in this celebration, we need to go deeper, deeper into living with God and believing that you have been redeemed through Jesus' resurrection. Living into our belief of the resurrection means celebrating the renewal, the rebirth, the restoration we see all around us. Martin Luther wrote, “Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books, but in every leaf in springtime.” Alas, it is fall. Instead of new life we are shown death in the created world. However, even the seasons cannot stop the resurrection life of Jesus Christ. We see renewal, rebirth, and restoration in the people around us. In our political challenges, in our emotional challenges, in our relational challenges, we experience resurrection life in the changes which make us better people.

Psychology research shows that sharing our gratefulness and our joy increases our experience of those feelings. If we try to be more grateful, we will be more grateful. If we share our experiences of resurrection life, we will better understand the place of the resurrection in our own lives. Sharing our stories of growing into deeper relationship with God, helps us and others grow into deeper relationship with God.

We come to the Eucharist, to church to remember Jesus' death and resurrection, to grow into deeper relationship with God, we want to be part of God's story. We want to be part of the embodied rebirth of the world around us, but that requires response and sharing in order to live into our belief in the resurrection. We need to understand in our hearts and our minds that death does not have the last say. In God, our life means more than what we accomplish before we die, more than how we die, more than what we leave behind. Death has nothing on the power of God in redeeming us. When we live into our belief in resurrection, we are reborn into the joy of God's kingdom. Come, let us rejoice and celebrate the resurrection!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Three P's: Patience, Perseverance, Prayer

Jeremiah proclaims that the day of the Lord is surely coming! Life will be different and everyone will be in relationship with God! His words are full of anticipation!
Yet, that was twenty six hundred years ago. How long are we going to have to wait?

The Bible tells us over and over again that the world is changing and that the world is going to change, that the kingdom of God is coming. Yet we wonder sometimes if it really will ever show up. Christian hope requires more than just faith, it requires Patience, Prayer, and Perseverance.

Patience. Someone once said, “Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience.”1 Jeremiah shares with us an exciting vision of the kingdom of God, but we have to have patience to believe in the vision while not seeing the evidence of its coming. The second letter to Timothy also speaks to the patience needed in waiting for the coming of the kingdom of God. We live in a culture which longs to have everyone’s needs and wants satisfied instantly. But sometimes instant gratification seems to cheapen our lives. Part of the joy of our lives simply comes from anticipation and the fulfillment of patience. The Christmas season would not be the same without the season of Advent, the time of preparation, when we look forward to Christmas and prepare our hearts, our minds, and our homes. Sometimes instead, we have to wait because things are out of our control and this takes real effort to let go of control and accept the need for patience. This kind of patience requires healthy coping skills, supportive relationships, and lots of prayer. Being patient doesn’t always mean being passive, especially when you can pray.

So, Prayer. In the gospel reading this morning, Jesus instructs his disciples to pray always. Obviously, prayer is an important aspect of Christianity. But, did you know that the BCP has prayers for before and after church services which are themselves full of prayer? The Episcopal tradition takes Jesus’ instruction seriously and layers prayer on prayer.

Why is prayer so important? Prayer is the business of a relationship with God. Prayer is the communication and presence of God necessary for building that relationship. Like any other relationship, our relationships with God need to be both communal and individual. In dating, you don't really know another person until you see them interact with other people as well, in a social setting. Communal prayer and interaction with God happens here at Thankful, every time you show up for a service. God is present and we are present, even if we don’t say any of the words. Communal prayer also happens in the daily office, the daily services of morning, noonday, evening prayer and compline. Even when you read or say the prayers by yourself, you are part of the community of Christians throughout the world who share in the daily office. We are connected to all those who say the same words every morning, the people in California and New York and South Sudan and Japan. Even if you listen to a podcast of daily prayer on your commute to work, it only takes 20 minutes, you tap into the community at prayer. Communal prayer helps us understand our relationship with God and each other by giving us new perspectives for relating to God and each other. Again, like dating, you don't want to spend all your time with God in social events, everyone needs a little alone time, time for personal prayer, and this is when we can really develop our individual relationships with God. The Episcopal tradition is full of ways of learning to be in the presence of God in personal prayer: lectio divina, which is meditation on bible passages, reading the daily psalm, centering prayer where you sit in silence, getting into Celtic, Spanish, or Ignatian spiritual practices, or simply taking up a day by day book which has readings from the bible or hymns. Humans have been trying to live in relationship with God for a really long time and have developed tons of resources to help grow that relationship.

Sometimes though, we wander in the wilderness, we founder, unable to be patient, unable to pray. We feel like we aren't making any progress. But when we continue praying when we do not feel like we should, that is perseverance. Sometimes we simply have nothing to say to God, or perhaps nothing nice to say to God. And you know; if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. At least, that was what I was taught growing up. But being in a loving relationship with God doesn’t mean we always have to say nice things. God can handle our pain, our suffering, our confusion, and our anger. Praying always means sometimes we have to tell God that we are angry. And there is precedent, there are plenty of psalms in the Bible which highlight the anger and confusion of people with God.

And when we do pray always, no matter how we are feeling, we build a strong foundation for us to be able to do so many other things. Jesus doesn't just say pray always, he also tells us not to lose heart. That means perseverance.

Perseverance. The way I see it, patience and prayer ground perseverance. And although persistence is part of perseverance, there is more to perseverance than just persistence. After all, you don’t want to fall into Albert Einstein's definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Persevering means sometimes you try different things to achieve the goal when one approach has failed.

Jesus’ parable this morning is about perseverance. The widow perseveres in wanting to see justice done. Jesus uses the unjust judge to highlight the difference between God and humans. God will come to our aid much faster than the unjust judge will, but we still have to persevere, because justice will not come right away. Perseverance requires hard work, patience, and prayer. Anticipation and dreaming can only do so much, being committed to the three P’s, patience, prayer, and perseverance allows achievement.
As Jeremiah, Timothy, and Jesus all boldly proclaim, The day of the lord is coming! The kingdom of God is drawing near! But there isn't any instant gratification here, we have to have patience, we have be prayerful, and we have to persevere.

1 Hal Borland.