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.


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.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Holy Week - The Triduum

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord's resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Easter Sunday III BCP 222)

The real focal point of Holy Week is the story that takes place over Thursday night, Friday, and Saturday night/Sunday morning. In the Christian tradition, the three days are called the Triduum, or the Paschal Triduum. The services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil in the prayer book are functionally all part of the same service, without any dismissals or opening rites between the opening on Maundy Thursday and the dismissal at the end of the Easter Vigil. Many ask how what seems like four days can be called "three days," but the tradition is based on the Jewish tradition of days, which starts in the evening. Thus the three days starts with Thursday evening and goes through Sunday.

I hope you'll join us for the services this weekend. The story is one we walk through year after year, but every year is an opportunity for something new to stand out to us, some part of it to touch us in a way we hadn't experienced before. From someone who struggles with the emotional breadth and depth of the Passion story, it is good each year to try to engage and experience the emotions those first Jesus followers experienced, to understand the immensity of the newness and audacity of the Sunday morning sunrise surprise and the true gift of love God gives to us through Jesus' resurrection and salvation for the world. Come walk the way, follow Jesus. 

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 219)

As the official title for this coming Sunday shows, this coming Sunday is a Sunday with multiple parts. We celebrate Palm Sunday with Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem and we listen to the story of Jesus' Passion in the dramatic reading of the Gospel story. Palm Sunday starts the Holy Week commemorations and celebrations, when we walk with Christ the way of the cross, towards death and ultimately resurrection.

Every year we come to this Sunday with mixed feelings. Lent always seems to go by quickly, even though forty days seems to go so slowly. We come to Palm Sunday excited about the coming story, sad because of its pain and humiliation, confused as to the whiplash of triumph and death, and hopeful as ever about the coming resurrection and new life.

By going through the story multiple times in the next week, we have time to go deeper into and understand more of what happens. By tracing Jesus' footsteps, we walk with the early disciples and learn with our hearts, minds, and souls what God has done for us in giving us Jesus. Come and listen, hear the story of God's great love for us.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Lent 3C Moses and the Burning Bush

Moses was not a man with a plan.
Estranged first from his family of origin,
then from his adopted family,
he accidentally found a new life 
sheep herding as part of his wife's family.
We see him today
(and I love this description)
"beyond the wilderness"
at Horeb, the mountain of God.

We tend to think of the wilderness as 
out there,
and here Moses is wandering around
beyond the wilderness.
He is way out there.

Now we tend to think of Moses as this great leader.
He was.
But before he was a great leader of the Israelites,
he was 
an adopted son who didn't speak so well,
who murdered a man,
and ran away from home.
Thus how he ended up way out there.
He was an outlaw in Egypt,
estranged from both his family of origin and his adopted family.

He was not a man with grand plans.
He was not anyone's hero.
He was herding sheep around, living day to day 
beyond the wilderness.

Yet, God comes to him,
out there in the back of beyond,
and gives him a job to do.
go back to Egypt.
I am going to set my people free. 

We have an example in Moses.
He didn't think it was possible
to go up against the Pharaoh
to free the Israelite slave population from Egypt.
Yet with God
it was possible.
It happened in a rather miraculous and stupendous way
And He is not the only example from the Bible.
Gideon, Samson, Deborah,
David, Solomon, Ezra, Nehemiah
The apostles, the disciples, the early Christians,
all of these people did the impossible
because of God in their lives.
Its so easy in our culture to give up on trying.
We make it easy to justify giving up.
Things are too hard and we are okay with not trying.
We don't think we can make things better or different,
And it can be very difficult,
so we justify our inertia.

We are not responsible for the big picture.
World Peace is not in our job description.
However, what is in our purview,
what we can do
is do one thing.
And then another.
And then another.
Step by step we can help out.
We will never see the work completely done.
We will never run out of things to do.
We do not live in a perfect world.
Thankfully though, there is always one more thing we can do.
Prayer, service, fasting, giving.
We can always do one more thing.
God gives us so many gifts and we are called to share them.

Moses received a vision of a part of the big picture.
He wasn't told everything at the beginning.
He was given one direction.
Go back to Egypt, talk to the people.
I am going to free my people from Pharaoh.
He wasn't told about having to cross the Red Sea.
He isn't told about the forty years in the desert to come.
He isn't told about the Promise Land.
He isn't told about the Temple in Jerusalem
Or the Messiah to come.
Or even the plagues or the Passover.
Those are all part of the Big Picture
Moses doesn't learn about.
He is given one step at a time.
Go to Egypt.
We are going to set those people free.
Even in the process of setting the people free
it is one step at a time.
Go. Talk to the people. Talk to Pharaoh.
Now, take a staff,
now show Pharaoh God's power,
now we are going to have the plagues.
The steps were laid out in time.

We are only ever given a part of the big picture from God.
Perhaps we know this can be a healthier or larger community.
But we cannot see what is going to happen in Franklin for the next hundred years.
We get
One part. One step.

There are so many examples of people
who didn't have it all planned out.
Who didn't have a grand plan for the next ten years,
but did one thing.
In all of the interviews with Rosa Parks,
she never suggested she was trying to change the world
or had a grand plan of sit ins on buses.
She simply knew the system was wrong and was tired of giving into it.
It was one thing that she did.
and she inspired others to do one thing,
Until there was a national movement.

It may not seem like a lot,
one prayer, one person helped, one life changed.
One baptism, one can of soup given away,
ten minutes with your child,
yet over time, those things add up.
They are all building blocks in the kingdom of God,
they all change the course of the world
and show God's love and salvation to a world desperately in need of it.

Especially in this region of the country,
we have felt betrayed,
we have felt denied,
we have felt the hardships
in the change in economy,
in the change in political systems,
in the systematic oppression of the struggling.
You don't have to go very far to see the signs on the houses,
to see the signs in the faces around us,
Franklin is in a region where we are not impressed with our standards of living right now.
Initiatives to fix up what is broken have failed over and over again,
because there is no one easy fix.
There are too many issues,
education, poverty, hunger, drug and alcohol,
hoarding, underemployment, cost of living,
cost of reliable housing.
There is a never-ending cycle of depression in this region
and it seems way too big for any of us to be able to do something about it.
However, we can.
God has seen worse.
God has worked miracles,
even in this time and place.
Because of one action,
because of people working together,
lives have been changed.
People have been able to get better jobs,
have been able to kick hunger,
have been able to get better education.
All because we did one thing
and then another
and then another.

In offering free food to our neighbors through the Food Pantry,
we have helped children with the nutrition they need
in order to pay attention in class and to become educated
to be able to get jobs
we have offered community to those who otherwise have none
we have offered prayers for those who have felt helpless
and given them the comfort of not being alone.
None of it looks big or grand on the outside,
yet each small act 
has changed this community.

Continuing on in the faith that God is working through us
with a much bigger picture than we could ever see
and being grateful to be a small part of it,
Jesus reaches out through us
giving gifts we don't even see.
True trust in God, true faith in God's grace
leaves no room for cynicism,
leaves no room for "woe is me".
Giving in to those ways of being is giving in to the workings of evil.
We are God's children,
and we are called to faith and trust in our magnificent Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.
Let us not give into the evil pressures of this world.
Every day, 
do one thing.
And then another.
And then another.
God will be with you in each and every single one.


Lent 4C The Prodigal Son

How many of you have heard of Joel Osteen?
He is a non-denominational Christian preacher in Texas. 
His church, Lakewood, has about 52,000 regular attendees.
They meet in what used to be the Houston Rockets basketball stadium.
Joel Osteen has written numerous books about living your best life.
However, there is a serious problem in his books and his theology.
His books are all about saving yourself to live a better life.

In our society, saving yourself is a big part of our jobs in our lives.
We have to figure out to make our lives have meaning,
we have to have our relationships and jobs and vocations all figured out
so that we can be productive and reliable members of society.
Especially in America, we have this understanding that we have to pull ourselves
out of the mud, out of our trouble, out of the mire
all on our own.
Sometimes we even get mad when we are saved by someone else
and not on our own.
I've seen this many times.
We want to save ourselves.
We want to be independent people who have our lives all under control.
However, we are not all in control.
For most of us, three months out of work or three months without social security payments,
and we would be hungry or homeless or in some other kind of desperate need.
Yet, we are told
Accepting help is a weakness, and weakness is not to be shown.
However, this is categorically not true.
This is an evil lie.
If you hear someone saying this to you, The devil is speaking at that moment.
We are not meant to save ourselves from our problems all on our own.
We are in community. 
We have a loving God.
We are not alone, and showing vulnerability and needing help
are great strengths.
We don't have to earn our salvation.
God gives us salvation as one of many loving gifts.

The story of the Prodigal son has a couple of pivotal moments.
Some stories only have one important moment.
However, this story has multiple moments which can be emphasized.
The first is the generosity of the father shown in the beginning of the passage.
He gives his younger son his inheritance early.
Not something easily done or necessarily good for the future of the family.
Yet, he gives generously of what he has to his son.
Then we have the pivotal moment when the son recognizes his failure
and brokenness.
He recognizes how far down he has fallen.
He knows that his father treats his servants better than he is being treated,
and perhaps because of his father's compassion, he can get a job for him instead
and bring himself back into his family's good graces.
He changes his life and goes home.
The third pivotal moment comes when the father sees the son far off
and runs to hug him.
Showing more love and forgiveness and grace
than most of us have ever experienced.
His father rejoices in his return,
despite all his mistakes,
and his father welcomes him back into the family without a moment's hesitation.
The fourth moment in this story
comes in the conversation between the father and the older son.
Angry about the ways both his brother and his father have behaved,
the older son feels betrayed and left out.
Yet, the father also lets him know that his love is for him.

I'm sure you've all heard sermons on all these different moments,
these different lesson points in this amazing story.
As a parable showing free will, brokenness, forgiveness, love, and absolute grace,
this story does summarize the overarching message of the whole Gospel rather well.

What I want to talk about this morning is the redemption in this story.
The salvation given out in great abundance.
The Prodigal son wants to earn his salvation. 
He wants to return and work for his father and earn his salvation. 
We totally understand the prodigal son's plan
work off the debt he has created, win back his father's affections,
it makes sense to us that way.
It makes sense to his brother too.
However, his father blows his plan completely out of the water.
His father showers him with unearned grace and love.
He has no way of earning his salvation, because it has already been given.
It is the greatest gift the prodigal son could ever receive.
And it doesn't make a lot of sense to the brothers.
Neither brother knows what to do with it.
They are both astounded.

Naturally, in the social sciences, there are questions about the effectiveness of this strategy.
Social workers and social scientists will tell you 
that programs like Joel Osteen's are more workable. 
We have seen that people are more willing to change their ways and their lives
if they have some responsibility for what they are doing.
Rehab programs, twelve step programs, give the responsibility directly to the patient.
You can get better, you can change your life,
only if you are willing to work towards it.
And even most self help books say you can change your life.
Which in some ways is true.
There are some things we do have agency over.
There are some parts of our lives we can change.
However, there are many things in our lives we have very little control over.
We cannot change the way our bodies are created.
We cannot change our chemical make up.
We cannot change our deep brokenness.
Only God can do that.
Inviting God into our lives opens the space for God to heal us.
We cannot earn God's love or grace
or God's change in our lives.
God is not a deal broker.
She doesn't sit around waiting for us to make a deal for our salvation.
God freely grants salvation.
Like the father of the prodigal son, 
God freely gives us more than we can imagine.
God is an awesome God!
Good to us even when we have not been God to ourselves or others.
God openly and lovingly saves us.

We try so hard to earn our own salvation.
We are told over and over again that the American dream is that
we pick up ourselves up by our bootstraps.
Self help books tell us how to save ourselves.
Unfortunately when you try this way, you'll most likely find,
We cannot rely on ourselves.
We are broken and inconsistent
No matter how hard we try to fix ourselves,
we cannot do it perfectly or alone.
We have to rely on God.
If you find yourself struggling to save yourself,
take a moment to pray.
Pray deeply and openly
for God to enter your life
to strip you of the desire to save ourself
to heal the hurts hiding inside of you
to help you along the path of true life.

We have to pray to God to help us.
We have so much deep inside of us that we cannot get rid of,
but God can manage that.

Advertisements, television, news
try to make us feel like we have to figure out how we are going to make it out alive
all on our own.
Of course, none of us make it out alive.
However if we live in Christ
we die in Christ.
And when we die in Christ,
we are risen with Christ.
We are saved solely through God in Christ.