Friday, June 28, 2019

Unity



Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Proper 8 BCP 230)

Unity. It is interesting to me that this prayer for unity always comes the week before Independence Day. It is almost like the Prayer Book compilers were looking at the national calendar and thinking about the problems of our nation. Unity is something we seem to lack most of the time. With all the intensely polemic political debates, social unrest over issues of injustice, oppression of specific groups of people, and simple normal common everyday difficulties with our neighbors, we don't seem to have a lot of unity in our communities.

Not only on a national level or civic level, the church is full of unrest and discord. For a community of people who strive to be in relationship with and imitate a God with unity of different persons at the core of their being, we don't always do a very good job. Of course, unity doesn't mean we have to agree on everything with everybody. Unity means being joined together, and being joined together means that we spend the time and energy to listen to each other, to discern together, to move forward together. Sometimes our failure to remain in unity is simply a failure of patience. Because moving forward together after listening to each other and discerning together can take more time than some of us are willing to wait.

However, we continue to pray for unity. We hope that in the kingdom to come, God's kingdom, we will be united by Love. We pray that even here on Earth we will be joined together with patience and kindness and just that little extra God-something which changes our hearts and minds in the power of Christ. Let us join together this Sunday in pray for peace and unity in this world.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Trinity Sunday


Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday, BCP 228)

We could really rename Trinity Sunday to the Feast of the Paradox. How can God be one and three at the same time??? It doesn't make any logical sense. At all. Even all the analogies and metaphors we come up with to try to explain the Trinity fall short of the goal. It is a mystery through and through.

Thankfully, just because something is a mysterious paradox, does not mean it cannot be true. We celebrate the Feast of the Trinity precisely because we know it to be true. God is one in three. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Out of this mystery, life, love, and being all come into existence. We are an outpouring of the love involved in God, and we celebrate this in the Feast of the Trinity.

Trinity Sunday is also a reminder of the basic unity which we are striving for in the church. God, the one in three, is at unity. We, the church, strive to be in unity as well. Despite all our differences in the denominations of the church, we strive for peace and unity with those who also worship God. One of the many reasons we join together, Lutherans with Episcopalians, Episcopalians with Lutherans, this Sunday, is to celebrate this unity and to remind ourselves of the work still to be done to bring the church to unity.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Seventh Sunday of Easter - Revelation Part 6


Now we have come to the end of the Revelation to John of Patmos.
(And the end of my sermon series on Revelation.
And there was much rejoicing!)

We have been witnesses to eternity,
we have celebrated with joy,
we have been given the gift of salvation,
we have been transformed by God,
we have seen that God is in all,
hope has been stirred within us,
and at the end of all things,
Jesus gives us the promise of Soon.
"See, I am coming soon."

"Surely I am coming soon."

He says it twice in this passage.

Perhaps because Christianity has become a bit jaded in the two thousand years since John's vision,
We have lost most of that urgency.
We smile ironically at "soon."
Soon would have been a few years ago...
Uh, Jesus,
it's been two thousand years here on earth.
That ain't soon.
Now Jesus is simply late.
And not even fashionably late by human standards.

Although, if you do any kind of athletic events
Races and so forth.
you know, you always tell yourself it will be over soon.
Really no matter if you are at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end.
Having completed my third triathlon two weeks ago, I can assure you of the truth of this matter.
In the grand scheme of my life, that race was going to be over soon.
Even right at the beginning.
Soon is a very loose concept.

Indeed, the God portrayed in Revelation
is a cosmic God.
God commands the stars and the suns,
God reaches into the deeps of hell.
God flows throughout the universe.

And on a cosmic level, soon is more easily understood.

Have any of you heard of Carl Sagan's Cosmic Calendar?
In order to help people understand the scale of the universe,
Carl Sagan put together a Cosmic Calendar
that maps the estimated 13.7 billion year lifetime of the universe onto a single year.
At this scale the Big Bang takes place on January 1 at midnight,
the current time is December 31 at midnight,
and each second is 434 years.
On this calendar, the Solar System isn't formed until August,
and the first life in the universe started in September.
Humanity wasn't created until December 31st, and that is only at the end of the day.
On this calendar, two thousand years takes approximately 4.6 seconds.
One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Three Mississippi, Four Mississippi...
On this kind of scale,
really no matter when Jesus returns to earth,
soon is the truth.

However, even in looking at the cosmic level,
we are still trying to image God working on a linear time frame.
God exists as eternity
and time works very differently for eternity.
There is only ever soon
because all things exist simultaneously
and experience happens on multiple levels.
God's time is always soon.

I have to wonder, are we really prepared for Jesus to come back soon anyway? 
I'm not sure about that.
We have so many desires and so much we want to do as humanity.
I doubt that we are really ready for the end of it.

But waiting for Jesus' soon
waiting for Jesus to come again,
is part of the spiritual practice
of being Christian.

We are given an expectation.
Soon.
There is always urgency involved in soon.
If your parents tell you they are visiting soon...
now is the time to double check that there is toilet paper in the bathroom.
You don't want to wait and be called out for it when they arrive.

John incorporates early Christian liturgical sayings into his written book.
At the end of this passage, John includes
the liturgical saying, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!"
There is desire and longing and waiting and practice in saying,
"Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!"
on a regular basis.
The people who say things like this
are actually waiting for Jesus.
It is part of their spiritual practice.
They invite Jesus to come,
not only on a cosmic scale,
but also on a personal scale.
Come, Lord Jesus!

This is one difference I have noticed in the liturgical nuances 
between the Episcopal and the Lutheran services.
When we do a Lutheran liturgy,
we usually at some point say,
"Come, Lord Jesus!"
Most of the time it is part of the Eucharistic prayers,
there is an urgency and immediacy 
which does not turn up in the Episcopal liturgy the same way.

Today is especially a good time to remind ourselves of our longing for Jesus in our lives.
We are celebrating two baptisms today, (at the 10 am service)
both of whom will become part of the kingdom of God,
are welcomed into the body of Christ today.
Baptism is a celebration of the work of God in their lives,
not just the beginning.

As we baptize and welcome them into the community of saints,
we invite Jesus into their lives,
knowing that God is already at work,
but awaiting the new life and ministry which will come out of them.
So join me in this old spiritual practice,
join me in inviting Jesus to come into the world again,
not only into creation,
but also into our lives.
Soon. 
Let us live into eternity, 
knowing the seconds are long and the years are short.
Soon.
Now.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!



Sixth Sunday of Easter: Revelation Part 5


There are many different versions of this picture.
We have probably all seen one.
It is a picture of Christ,
made up of the faces of humanity.
I encourage you to take a closer look at it.
Either now, during the rest of my sermon, 
on the way to or from communion,
or after the service is over. 

In the passage from Revelation today,
we are heading towards the end of the book.
The apocalypse is over, the battle between good and evil,
between the forces of God and the forces of wickedness
has been completed.
God shares the new holy city of Jerusalem
with God at the center of it.
God is the light and the source of the water of life.
God is at the center of the city
and all people walk in God's light and praise God 
for all the gifts given.

The gates of the city are never shut,
symbolizing the safety and security of the city.
There are an abundance of trees in the city,
symbolizing vitality and growth,
reminding us of the Garden of Eden.
There is one throne,
one seat for God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Always as one, God is altogether in everything. 

Unlike the line of prophets going back through the centuries,
everyone will see God's face.
Even Moses didn't see God's face, 
or Elijah or Ezekiel, 
not the disciples, 
quite literally, no one in the scriptures sees God's face 
yet here,
everyone sees God's face.

The passage even specifies that God's name will be on everyone's foreheads. 
Which is interesting in multiple ways.
It could be a phrase translation issue,
supposed to mean that God's name is on our minds.
Or in the Jewish tradition, with the tradition of phylacteries or tefillin,
those little leather or wooden boxes with scripture 
wrapped around the arm and forehead of the men during prayer,
it could mean that everyone has the name of God written on their foreheads.
Then again, in Revelation, there are characters who have words inscribed directly on their foreheads, so perhaps it quite literally mean, God's name will be on everyone's foreheads.

The other interesting part of this is that in the Jewish tradition,
because names are powerful, and give power to those who know them,
no one is allowed to know or speak the name of God.
In that vein, the tetragrammaton is used,
the four letters used to represent the name of God in scripture,
which cannot be pronounced (though is transliterated into YHWH or Yahweh (which became Jehovah in English).

So not only are the faithful found walking around with the unknowable name of God
written on their foreheads, 
everyone also gets to see God's face.
This is a very different world than the one we live in today.

Or is it?

One of the underlying messages John of Patmos has for the churches in Asia Minor 
and perhaps for us today
is that God is with us all the time,
God is within us and around us.

Throughout the Revelation to John,
God appears with the community of the people.
Wherever the community is, 
that is where God is.

Perhaps as part of God's creation, 
we carry God with us.
Not always as visible as God's name written on our foreheads,
but God goes with us,
because God is within us
and wherever we are, 
God goes with us. 

Genesis tells us
We are created in God's image.
It says so in the Bible.
Okay, so we say that, and we don't know what exactly that means.
But like any creative endeavor, 
when we add our flavor to it,
God added flavor to us.
I've been watching the Great British Baking Show on Netflix,
so yes, I am a few seasons behind,
but it is always interesting to see how the baker's personalities and styles
come out in what they bake,
even on the technical challenge, which is a blind challenge, 
where everyone has to make the same exact thing.
Even when they do all make the same thing,
there are always differences, always nuances which give each baker away,
especially towards the end of the season and you have learned the style of each baker.
I'm not sure what kind of style quantification you could come up with
if you tried to look at all of God's creation,
but I think in the midst of everything, there is an emphasis on love.
As a signature, God's is pretty clear.

If we took a cross section of creation,
which lots of different kind of scientists do to test if something is similar throughout the whole of whatever they are studying,
like taking a cross section of a tree or of the soil or rocks or of fish or of humanity in psychology studies,
if we took a cross section of creation,
we would find God in all of it.

There is nothing in creation that doesn't have some of God in it
because God created everything.

When we create art or clothing or food dishes,
there is a part of us that goes into them.
A good artist or cook or musician or jewelry maker
puts something of themselves in their art,
even if it isn't something that can be pointed out or taken out.
God is like that. A part of us because God created us.
Love created us and love is a part of us.
We cannot live without that.
Even when we deny that God might be in us.

Ah, perhaps you wonder, what about evil! 
Always a problem, evil is. 
Did God create evil?
Evil... the myth about evil is that evil entered the world when Lucifer,
originally an angel of God, decided not to follow God, 
because he was too interested in his own ego and power. 
God created Lucifer, and Lucifer turned his back on God. 
It was a choice of Lucifer's. 
However, just because Lucifer turned his back on God, 
doesn't mean God didn't create Lucifer anymore. You can't go back on that.
Of course, that is the story about evil, we don't know how evil actually was created.
God creates with free will given as a gift,
and we are free to choose.

As choices go,
So many people think they can live without God.
They don't think they need spirituality or religion 
or anything bigger than themselves in their lives.
Community is good, but only with the people they want to be in community with.

However, deep within us there is a part of God.
And God within longs for unity with God above
and with God within others.
We cannot live fulfilled lives without knowing
the deeper truth within us.

Everything radiates from God.
Creation. Humanity. The universe.
Which is why the image of the new Jerusalem
seen by John of Patmos
has endured for centuries as an icon.
We long for ultimate unification with God
and the promise of a new world in which we can be at peace
in safety
and praise God.

The vision John saw was one of hope for the Christians of the first century.
It continues to be a vision of hope for us today.
The world is not one in which we are at peace and safety,
where we all know we are God's beloved children.
But someday,
we will see God's face and we will know God's name
and the face of God will be seen in all of our faces.

Amen.

Pentecost: Whitsunday


Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (The Day of Pentecost: Whitsunday, BCP 227)

Breath. Flame. Dove. The color red. Holy Oil. We have lots of symbols for the Holy Spirit in the church. Human beings tend to be rather visual and it can be seen in our proliferation of ways of trying to see the Holy Spirit's presence in our lives. This coming Sunday we will celebrate God's gift of the Holy Spirit with many of these symbols. (Don't forget to wear some red!) Yet, despite our attempts, the Holy Spirit moves and works in our lives in ways we rarely see.

Our celebration of the Day of Pentecost is a yearly reminder that the Holy Spirit lives with us and around us. The Holy Spirit is always working in the communities in which we live and while we don't always see it, we can see the work that is done. We celebrate this coming Sunday for all the gifts the Holy Spirit has given us this year and we invite the Holy Spirit to continue working in us for this next year.

I hope you will join us this Sunday in celebrating the work of God in your life, seen and unseen. God gives us wondrous gifts, including the Holy Spirit, and we rejoice in the outpouring of love! Amen. Come Lord Jesus! Come Holy Spirit! Amen.