Sunday, June 30, 2019

Pentecost 3, 2019: Follow and serve for the sake of love

Lectionary: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5:1,13-25; Luke 9:51-62

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Lectionary: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5:1,13-25; Luke 9:51-62

En el nombre del Dios: Creador, Redentor, y Santificador. Amen.

Our stories today from 2 Kings and the gospel of Luke share a theme: what it means to follow God. In the OT story, Elisha is tested three times by Elijah, a process played out in John’s gospel when Jesus asks Peter ‘Do you love me?’ three times, after his trifold denial of Jesus.

Elisha passes his test. His faithfulness is rewarded and he is divinely appointed as Elijah’s spiritual heir.

In the gospel story, an unidentified person traveling with the Jesus says, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ I’m sure they meant it – but more in the way a groupie would. Jesus knows what’s about to unfold and doesn’t need groupies. He needs servant leaders willing to bring love into the hateful circumstances about to come.

This is why Jesus rebukes two of his closest disciples. The background of the story is this: in order to get from Galilee to Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples must pass through Samaria. As you know, the Jews judge the Samaritans as being racially and spiritually impure – having intermarried with the Assyrians who conquered them centuries earlier. Since the Samaritans were unwelcome at the temple in Jerusalem due to their impurity, they built their own temple and actively sought to stop the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.

It is in this context that Jesus sends messengers ahead to Samaria to tell them he was passing through - on his way to Jerusalem. It’s no wonder the Samaritans offered no welcome.

The judgment in this short story isn’t on the Samaritans, with whom Jesus had had relationship earlier in this gospel – even curing the Samaritan leper. The judgment is on his disciples who respond out of their tradition rather than from the new way Jesus has taught them.

When James and John ask Jesus if he wants them to bring down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans for their insult, they are referring to the story at the beginning of 2 Kings when Elijah called down fire from heaven to kill the ruler of - you guessed it, Samaria: Ahaziah (son of Ahab and Jezebel) along with 50 of his men for their unfaithfulness to God.

Elijah did it – why can’t we? It’s funny how the disciples remember that part of the story, but not what happened next. Fire was not sent from heaven. Instead, an angel of God told Elijah to go to Ahaziah, which he did. Ahaziah died, but from injuries resulting from a fall he took, not from a destructive, punitive exertion of divine power.

When Luke says Jesus rebuked James and John, he was indicating the Jesus expected better from his disciples. After their years of ministry together, didn’t they get that the reign of God wasn’t about the exertion of power, but about love being brought to unify people who had been divided?

The discussion about following, however, truly does have an edge to it – a cutting edge – and Jesus says it like a Yankee would: directly. Anyone with conditions or hesitation about following him isn’t “fit for the kingdom.”

I’ll bet someone in that group said, “I don’t have a problem with what he said, just how he said it.” Jesus was heading to his trial and death. There was no more time to teach in the usual rabbinical ways. They had to hear it plain.

So when the person in their troupe promises commitment, Jesus’s response is equally direct: you say you will follow me? Do you realize that where we are going is nowhere? We are not going to a place where we will settle in and establish a new kingdom like David did. We are going to keep moving, adapting, and proclaiming until the whole world is transformed by the only real power there is: love.

Then as now, there is no earthly blueprint for this – no laws, no system. God will show the way each moment and we must be willing to follow, keeping our faces set toward the marker at the end of the row we are called to plough.

To the two who spoke of family obligations – a very big deal in ancient Jewish culture, and a pretty big deal in our culture now – Jesus was just as plain: if you need to look back, don’t come at all. You aren’t ready.

Jesus’ responses in this gospel story seem to me to obviate any inclination toward religious conservatism, and most certainly fundamentalism. The “we’ve always done it this way” approach isn’t fit for the kingdom.

That isn’t to say tradition has no place. It certainly does! We stand on the foundation of those who went before us, as our Collect reminds us. Each Sunday when we gather to worship we experience again how our tradition connects us in real, visible, divine ways to all who came before us; and through our church conventions we strive to pass our living, ever-adapting tradition faithfully along to those who will come after us.

Our adherence to tradition cannot, however, lock us down and restrict the Spirit’s free movement among us, which it only does when we look with earthly eyes alone. As the author of Galatians warns: be careful about getting caught up in earthly experiences and definitely don’t count on your ancestral heritage to shield you from the consequences of your sin.

In Jesus’ time, it was a traditional belief that, as the chosen race, the Jewish people would all be fine, even if they sinned against God and one another. They could do purifying rituals and be square again.

It’s kind of like what I learned as a kid in Catholic school about confession. When you sin, just go to confession and that dark blot on your soul will be wiped away. This approach is why so many early Christians, including the Emperor Constantine, waited to be baptized until right before their death – so their souls would be clean and they’d go straight to heaven. Baptism became as an ecclesiastical “get out of jail free” card.

I’m sorry to inform you that there is no “get out of jail free” card in the kingdom of God. In fact, following Jesus means going into the jail and proclaiming the good news there too!

The wisdom not to be missed in this letter to the church in Galatia is two-fold and is plain to see in our world today. First the writer warns, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself. If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” If our out-of-control gun violence doesn’t show this to be true, I don’t know what would – except maybe the real and escalating nuclear threat in the world today. We are biting one another, and we risk destroying ourselves.

Second, the writer says: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Are we seeing those fruits in our churches? In our country? In the world?

Followers of God in Christ have willingly sacrificed our earthly passions and desires in order to be guided by the Spirit so that we can do our part in the divine plan of the reconciliation of the whole world to God. In practical terms, that means, maybe we let go of our favorite way of being church in order to invite a new generation of worshippers; or we shift our familiar system to welcome new ministries.

Maybe we sacrifice our reputations to speak out against the victimization of immigrant children or we risk friendships calling for a sane approach to personal weapons. Maybe we ask our political leaders to build relationships with our enemies rather than threaten to call down fire from heaven on them.

Jesus expects better from us. We are the disciples who bring God’s love by bringing ourselves, temples of God’s Holy Spirit, into the hateful, hurtful circumstances of the world because that’s where Jesus is found: in the face of the unsupervised child in a cage on the border; in the broken heart of the parent whose child was shot at school; in the people of the nations of the world who long to live free from threats of war and conquest.

This is our test. Pass or fail, God will stay with us until we are ready and able to proclaim to our world as the author of Galatians did to his: “For freedom Christ has set us free…” So let’s not use our freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but for the sake of love let us serve one another.”

In that way, the whole world is transformed, person by person, church by church, nation by nation, in the love of God.


Sunday, June 16, 2019

Trinity Sunday, 2019-C: There's always more

Lectionary: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Canticle 13; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

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En el nombre del Dios: Creador, Redentor, y Santificador. Amen.

Last week on Pentecost Sunday we celebrated the establishment of the community of Christ on earth. Today, Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the Community of God. One reason the liturgical calendar puts these principle feasts side by side is that we learn how to be the community of Christ on the earth by living like the community of God: a community in unity with itself.

Trinity Sunday is when we pause to contemplate what we it means to us that God is Trinity in unity; one God in three persons. There is no expectation that we’ll figure out anything new. It took the church 325 difficult years to agree on how to understand and talk about who Jesus was. That was the great achievement of the ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 from which we received our Nicene Creed. And it is because we can stand firmly on that foundation that we are able to soar freely into the knowledge and experience of the mystery of God as God chooses to reveal to us today.

Easier said than done… Years ago, I was talking with a friend of mine who was a Presbyterian minister and is now an Episcopal priest. I asked him what heaven would be for him; how he understood it. He said that for him, heaven would be to know everything there is to know about God.

My initial, interior response, was sadness. First of all, he’s a very smart man. How could he think our finite brains could ever hope to truly comprehend the infinite? More importantly, however, was my friend’s use of the word “about.” To seek to know about God isn’t the same as to seek to know God. Knowing about God objectifies God. God is other, outside, observed.

I felt lonely for him because Jesus didn’t come to be observed or studied by us but to reconcile us to God. The Holy Spirit descended upon the community of Christ at Pentecost because God chose to dwell in us, to be one with us forevermore.

I don’t think I’ve shared with you yet about one of my longstanding hobbies: quantum physics. One of my favorite quantum physicists is Fred Allan Wolf who wrote “Taking the Quantum Leap” in 1982. I’ve been reading his papers (and others’ works) ever since.

Quantum physics is concerned with the micro-universe, sub-atomic particles like quarks, and the macro-universe, galaxies – going as far as we can go in both directions. What I have learned from this discipline is that everything we learn points us to something we don’t know. Beyond anything we can know there is always more.

Fred Allan Wolf says the farther physics goes into the micro and out to macro-universe the closer we get to mystery. “The trick” he says, “the real trick in life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery.” (A scientist said that!)

When we think about it, there is much we already know about God. We know that God is the source of all that is. We know that Jesus said he and God are one. We know that Jesus promised the Holy Spirit of God would come, clothe his followers with power from on high and lead them into all truth. We know that this would happen over time as Jesus said in today’s gospel.

We know that God is relationship: a Trinity who lives in Unity. We know that we have been brought into that relationship through Jesus who reconciled us to God, making us one with God as he is one with God.

We know that God continues to be revealed to us in creation, in prayer, in community, in our own bodies, and in the gift of our intellect. When Jesus said, I have many things to say to you and you will know them over time, he was talking about the kind of knowing that happens by entering the mystery – a knowing that happens in the wholeness of ourselves; in the wholeness of our community, and in the wholeness of creation – from the tininess of a quark to the vastness of a galaxy.

God is revealed to us in many ways. Have you ever had the experience of a breath-taking sunrise? …or stood in the timelessness that exists as you peer over the edge of a cliff on the Blue Ridge mountains? Have you ever heard the healing power of the crashing waves of the ocean? …or been lost in the universe of a star filled sky? If you have, then you have been in the mystery of God.

When I hold my new grandson and he loves me with his whole little self, I know God. Am I alone when I say that when my dog snuggles into me and looks at me with adoring eyes, I know God? Does anyone else experience that?

When I remember my mother’s smile or see her in a dream, our love feels as real as when she was alive and I know… that’s God, because I know, we know, that God is love, and love never dies.

Every time we gather for Holy Eucharist where we, as the community of Christ on earth, are nourished, strengthened, and enlightened by Word and sacrament, we know God.

God is revealed through the prayers we’ve prayed and hymns we’ve sung together a thousand times. Sometimes, God chooses to be revealed in the midst of a hymn or a prayer we’re going through by rote, not really paying attention until some divine truth hits us, switching on a light of understanding, transforming our understanding entirely.

Trinity Sunday is a good Sunday to be an Episcopalian. We don’t try to solve the mystery. We simply enter it. When we do, when we’re quiet and make space for God to speak in us, amazing things can happen. Love we didn’t know we could have is given to us, insights light up our understanding, and truths are revealed that connect us to everything and show us how to go forward on our path of our faith.

Theologian Christopher Morse says, “Faith is in the first instance, God’s doing. It is God’s relating to human beings in such a way as to relate human beings to each other in ministering to the common good. How and when and where God’s spirit achieves this is not subject to human control. The Spirit’s working for freedom is revealed only by the free working of the Spirit.”

Standing firmly on the foundation of our faith, in unity of community with one another, we can let the Spirit of God work freely in and through us, and we can soar freely with Her going wherever God leads us, certain that there is always more God, more love, to be revealed.


Sunday, June 9, 2019

Pentecost, 2019-C: Our Pentecost reality

Lectionary: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35,37; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17, (25-27)

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En el nombre del Dios: Creador, Redentor, y Santificador. Amen.

In the Pentecost story from Acts, the disciples are waiting together as Jesus had told them to do, until they’d been “clothed with power from on high” which truly did descend upon them filling them with the Holy Spirit. And the best way the Luke could describe it was that it looked like divided tongues of fire settling upon each one present. As you know, fire is biblical language for the presence of God: the burning bush in Genesis, the pillar of fire in Exodus, and the fire covering the tent of the covenant in the book of Numbers.

On that first Pentecost, fire which signaled the presence of God, divided itself into smaller bits and each person present was given one of those bits. Gathering all of their bits together enabled the synergy of God’s presence in each of them to blossom into the fullness of God among them. This equipped them to carry the Good News to the whole world as the prophet Joel had said, and the early church grew exponentially.

Sadly, it didn’t take long for some of those disciples upon whom the spirit of God descended to be edged out to the margins of the community once again. As the fledgling church began to form its institutional identity the top leadership – Jewish men - shoved the new wine of this Pentecost reality back into the old skins of the Jewish temple system, eventually edging women, slaves, the poor, and others right back to the “outer courts” of the community.

There was no existing earthly system that would enable the Spirit of God to continue to move unimpeded among the disciples, so they fell back on a familiar one. The doors that Jesus had flung open began to close and that institutional system evolved into the one we have today which continues to reflect this ancient patriarchal advantage.

It’s a pattern that has played out in human history over and over again.

I recently read a novel called, “The Healing” by Jonathan O’Dell. Set on a cotton plantation in pre-Civil War Mississippi, this book tells the story of a young slave girl named Granada who transitions from life in the “great house” to an apprentice “doctress” – a midwife and healer - under the tutelage of an amber-eyed, mixed race slave named Polly Shine. Polly, a healer, was purchased by the master to intervene in the cholera epidemic wiping out his “stock.” Knowing abolition was on the horizon, the master aimed to treat his slaves well enough so that when freedom became an option, they’d have no need of it – a condition Polly called being “freedom stupid.”

Mother Polly had “the sight.” A person with “the sight” had visions and dreams from the eternal realm which helped them “see” beyond what seemed apparent in the world to what was eternally true: in their bodies, their community, and in the world.

Polly could “see” this truth and she saw that same ability in Granada but Granada would have to learn how to use it, and doing so would cause her to confront and unlearn so much of what she had assumed was true. Polly told Granada that in order to learn this Granada would have to stop talking, watch, and listen.

Polly’s great frustration with Granada was what she was “freedom stupid.” Once when discussing the prospect of freedom with her young apprentice, Granada complained that she didn’t want to leave the plantation to go to freedom-land. “Where was it, anyway?” she wanted to know.

It isn’t a place, Polly told her, it’s a way of being.

This story is such a great metaphor for the church. Church isn’t a place. It’s a way of being. We don’t go to church. We are the church who gathers together in a building we call our church. Each Sunday we share stories from Scripture that help us remember our identity; and we share the divine meal together – the one Jesus asked us to share in order to remember him.

In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter quotes the prophet Joel who declares God’s intention to pour out divine Spirit onto ALL flesh: sons and daughters, men and women, old and young, slave and free. This is that time, Peter proclaims. It still is because God is still redeeming. God is always redeeming.

But like young Granada, so many in the church cling to old understandings and old ways. Unable to comprehend the magnitude of the freedom of God’s spirit and trust its power to transform us, our community, and even the world, many Christians turn away from it, choosing to fall back into a spirit of fear as St. Paul said.

“Do you not believe…?” Jesus asks his disciples. “Believe me [when I say] that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.”

Or as Polly would have said: stop talking, watch, and listen. Transformation is happening even now in our individual bodies, our communities, and in the world. God is redeeming. God is always redeeming.

We look back at the pre-Civil War era and wonder how Christians could ever have believed that the kidnapping and enslavement of humans could be proclaimed as in keeping with God’s will …that snatching nursing babies from their mother’s breasts, and children from their innocence; that working people to near exhaustion, whipping them, and hanging them from trees was in any way in keeping with Jesus’ commandments to love.

Yet today more than ten thousand brown children, whom we separated from their parents - some while literally nursing at their mother’s breasts – are being housed in cages on our soil. An additional 1500 children remain officially “lost.” While in our custody, 7 year old Jakelin Caal Maquin died from dehydration and exhaustion, and 8 year old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez died from a cold that went untreated until it was too late.

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Jesus said. And his commandments were to love God, and neighbor as self. To love others as he loved us.

Thankfully, God is still redeeming. God is always redeeming until “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” God renews the face of the earth by continually sending forth God’s own spirit to create and re-create the world; and God has chosen us to make manifest on earth what is true in heaven.

This is a tremendous gift, one that often overwhelms our experience. Like Granada, we may hesitate to accept it and resist unlearning what we know in order to learn this new way of being, but when we gather together, the bits of God’s spirit in each of us unites with the bits of God’s spirit in all of us, and the fullness of God is made manifest through us on the earth.

That’s why we come to church. We don’t come to check off the attendance box on our heaven-bound report card, or to prop up a building, or to hang out with friends. We gather together every Sunday to remember the stories of our identity and share the divine meal so that we, as a community, can unite our bits of the spirit of God together in order to manifest the fullness of God into the world.

We know that each church and every church institution will be as imperfect as the people who comprise it and devise it, so we endeavor to free up the spirit of God to establish new ways of being church in the world: our church, THE church, remembering that God continually works through us in all our imperfections to redeem. God is always redeeming.

Happy birthday to the church in our continual becoming. Amen.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Feast of the Ascension: True stewardship

Today we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension. Since this principal feast falls on a Thursday, we transferred it to Sunday. (See BCP, p 15)

Lectionary: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

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En el nombre del Creador, Redentor, y Santificador. Amen.

Our Scripture readings today speak to us of power - the power of God given to those who believe. This is radically different from earthly power, however. Let’s take a look.

In the story from Acts we hear Jesus’ last words on earth: "… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you." In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul speaks of “the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.” In the Gospel from Luke, as Jesus was ascending into glory, he blessed his followers, and they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy…” (the Greek word “chara” being translated here as ‘joy’ means: great gift, extraordinary power).

So, what is this power they are speaking about? The answer is simple: The power they speak of is love, and yes, it is as available to us today as it was then.

We have been baptized by water and the Holy Spirit. Knowing full well the cost of love, Jesus gave us the power of his own love – love that prays for those who persecute us, forgives those who harm us, and gives of itself for the sake of the other. This love compels us to stand by those who hate us, going toward them, not away from them, so that we can bear the light of this love into their darkness.

This love is more powerful than anything else in creation. It is the source of all life and the hope of the world. This love that we have been given can transform lives, heal bodies, move mountains, and renew the face of the earth.

We, who are believers and witnesses of this love, which is the love of God in Christ, are called to receive the gift of this love for ourselves, and to use it for the sake of others. Remember, after Christ ascended, it was the disciples who went about preaching, and teaching, and healing the sick, and restoring the lost. This is neither beyond our ability nor (should it be) beyond our expectations for ourselves and our church community.

So I ask you, St. David’s family, in what ways is this power, this love, being manifest in and through us right now? Are we models of forgiveness in a hate-filled world? … of humility in a world that worships aggression? …of generosity in a world that grabs for personal power? Are we icons of hope to the hopeless? …light to those trapped in darkness? …comfort to the suffering or lonely?

It’s so easy for the church to get distracted from our mission, but the mission is remarkably simple: bear the extraordinary, powerful, transforming Love of God into the world. Make known this amazing love to those who don’t know it, or have forgotten it, or had it stolen from them by “good Christian folk” who had it all wrong. Be Love in the face of hate and ridicule. Stand humbly in the presence of earthly power as Jesus did and embody the Source of true power as She acts through the weak, the least, and the last. Detach from anger, from being right, from the rewards of this world, and seek only the Love that makes no sense – the Love that forgives all, welcomes all, and values all – all people, all creation, all.

When the generations to come look back on our part of this ongoing narrative, what will be the story they tell about us: the St. David’s community in 2019? Will they sing songs about how the power of the love in our small church transformed Cullowhee and Jackson County? It’s a goal…

The greatest, most powerful thing in the whole world is the same now as it was when creation was being spoken into being: love. And this love has been given to us as a gift from the Creator of the universe. More amazingly, it is this Love, God Herself, who dwells in us.

Take a moment (close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing that) and turn your thoughts inward. Open your hearts and enter that beautiful temple of God’s Holy Spirit known as your body. Enter reverently, marveling at the fact that God created you in all this intricate, distinctive physicality; that God chose you knowing all your strengths AND weaknesses; and that God dwells in you. Stay there a moment in peace and awe as you feel the love of God within you, on you, all around you, making you one with all that is, all that was, and all that will be. Claim this moment of Holy Freedom – the freedom to be exactly who God made you to be. Let’s stay in this moment for just a few seconds and allow it to sink in…

Now open your eyes and look at where you are: in this beautiful, holy space, surrounded by friends and co-members of the body of Christ known as St. David’s. We have been clothed with power from on high.

When the disciples first experienced this, they returned to their lives exhilarated. That felt sense of elation and openness of heart is how our bodies experience "Holy Freedom: the full awareness of ourselves as part of the unfolding Divine Will."(Source: The Enneagram Institute)

We, as a church, having been clothed with power from on high, are unlimited in our potential. Remember, Jesus told us that, as amazing as his ministry was, we would do greater things in ours.

This church community is being gathered together by God – as an intentional divine action - because the expression of God’s love, in each one of us and in all of us together, is exactly what is needed in this time and in this place to do the work God has for us to do.

Brother Keith Nelson, of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, an Episcopal Monastery in MA, says it like this: “Jesus, our savior and our model in all things, teaches us that anything glorious that is visible in us or any glorious work wrought by our mind or heart or hands is the manifestation of God’s glory. Since that glory is not ours, it is an unlimited supply that we can spend without counting the cost.”

This is true stewardship of our gifts: to use all that we’ve been given without concern for depleting them or even ourselves, knowing that we are animated by and operate within the abundance of the eternal love of God.