Sunday, November 13, 2022

23 Pentecost, 2022-C: The new creation

Lectionary: Isaiah 65:17-25, Canticle 9, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19 

En el nombre del Dios, que es Trinidad en unidad. Amen. 

One of the greatest mysteries of our faith – to me – is us. We who are bound up in skin, so marvelously made that the intricacies of our physicality are still being discovered by science… we who are also temples of God’s own Spirit, dwelling places of the Eternal One. We are walking, talking miracles: embodied spirits - form and formlessness, time and timelessness dwelling in our humble, complicated, beloved selves.

Our mortal nature allows us to kiss a loved one, walk on a grassy field, swim in the ocean, and nap under a tree. The Immortal One dwelling in us enables us to know love that transcends time, space, and persons; and to connect to all creation and our Creator in mystical union.

Our Collect today addresses the wholeness of our natures: our mortal selves that hear and see and learn, and our spiritual selves that open to holy Scripture and find it a doorway to hope, and eternity. Most of us know what this feels like – that moment you’re reading something in Scripture you’ve read 100 times before, but suddenly, it breaks you wide open and you are flooded with joy, insight, and truth – the whole thing leaving you breathless and amazed.

This is the moment we recognize how corporeal God’s presence is in us and at the same time, how transcendent we and all creation are in God. Like I said, it’s a mystery.

In our Old Testament reading today, the Prophet Isaiah speaks to this mystery. God is promising a new thing, a new Jerusalem a new place where God’s people will live in joy and the things of the earth that bring sadness or distress will be transformed by the love of God. This transformation will be corporeal, such that “ the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox…” It will also be transcendent: “Before they call, I will answer, while they are yet speaking, I will hear.”

That is the new creation: the symbiotic dance of earth and heaven, God and creation, time and eternity. That is what we sing out in our moments of tranquility and what we cling to in faith when the world is crashing around us.

In the conversation between Jesus and his disciples in the gospel from Luke, we see Jesus guiding his students into this understanding ahead of their own trials. The plot to destroy Jesus is underway and Jesus knows what’s coming – for him and for them. The world is about to crash down around his disciples, so they need to learn how to look beyond the present moment on earth and embrace and ever hold fast to the eternal plan of God. 

So do we.

Has there ever been a time in earth’s history when there weren’t wars and insurrections? Nations rising against nations? Earthquakes, hurricanes, famines, and plagues?

Those aren’t the things to dread, Jesus tells his disciples because, before all of that, the powerful on earth will seize you and throw you in prison. You will be brought before kings and governors who will accuse you on account of me. This isn’t something to dread either, Jesus says, because it will be an opportunity for you to witness to the truth you know, the truth of the new creation prophesied by Isaiah fulfilled now in me.

Let’s pause here for a minute to notice something in this part of the story. Jesus says to his disciples: “So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”

Jesus is promising his disciples that he will give them wisdom and the words they should use after he has been killed - which he also told them was going to happen. Did they wonder how he would do that? Do we? 

Do we remember that we are walking, talking miracles: embodied spirits - form and formlessness, time and timelessness dwelling in our humble, complicated, beloved selves because Jesus’ eternal Spirit lives in our mortal bodies, speaking for us, and acting through us in every moment of our earthly lives?

Corrie ten Boom was a perfect example of this. She was a Christian who put her own life at risk hiding Jews from the Nazis during the German occupation of the Netherlands. Her resistance resulted in her being sent to a concentration camp which she survived but most of her family didn’t. Corrie once said, “I know that the experiences of our lives when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work [God] will give us to do.” (Source)

When we surrender our need to judge, to escape suffering, or even to survive, and choose instead to embrace and ever hold fast to the redeeming love of God, we find life, hope, and true super-hero style strength. I think of saints like Corrie ten Boom, Catherine of Sienna, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. – to name just a few.

As Christians, the end of anything is not something we dread or avoid or prepare to survive. It is for us, the revelation of a path to new life. Our reading from Isaiah shows us that God has been bringing new life from death for a very long time.

At the conclusion of this gospel reading, Jesus says, “By your endurance, you will gain your souls." This is often taken to mean that when we suffer, we “earn” our salvation, but that isn’t what Jesus is saying. Jesus never said stuff like that.

Jesus is saying that when we are suffering if we wait in the discomfort, we will awaken to the fact of the presence of God within us. When that happens, we become fully ourselves: human bodies housing the Divine Spirit. Then there is no circumstance, not a pandemic, not even death, that has power over us for we live and breathe in communion with God, according to the will and plan of God.

We can, therefore, let go of our desired outcomes, be undistracted by fear, and choose instead to be awake, aware, and alive in this present moment which is a gift from God. Embracing the hope of eternal life in Christ and holding fast to it no matter what we see or experience in the world is our faithful response.

I close with a poem about hope: 

“Hope is a state of mind not 
 dictated by what appears 
to be, but a promise 
built on faith. 

We look beyond 
fear. And begin to trust 
 what we do not yet see.

We listen 
for though we prepare
and plan
and strive to organize, Love 
will take us in
a new direction, a re-birth
beyond our comprehension. 

 In prayerful surrender
we discover who we are.
By faith we continue
to become
truly ourselves.”                                        Poem and photo: © Valori M. Sherer, 2009. All rights reserved. 


Sunday, November 6, 2022

All Saints, 2022-C: Bound together in Christ

 Lectionary: Daniel 7:1-3,15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31 

En el nombre del Dios: que es Trinidad en unidad. Amen. 

I love the feast of All Saints because it reminds us that our experience of reality in this world is only part of a larger picture. The larger picture, for Episcopalians, includes heaven and earth and all that is in them: the vast expanse of interstellar space and this fragile earth, our island home… along with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven (BCP, 370-371) who sing their praises with us each time we gather for Holy Eucharist.

In that larger picture, the will of God is the only reality, and that will is most simply and most accurately described as reconciling love, love that seeks, finds, and joins together all things and all people. We are, therefore, never alone. The saints who were, who are, and who are yet to be are united to us in and by God’s eternal love.

In our earthly lives, we witness and experience a world that often isn’t safe for us and it seems like we need to take care of ourselves even as we profess our belief in God’s redeeming love. The Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ ends up being reduced to a set of beliefs or practices that function more like ecclesiastical fire insurance (you know, staying out of hell) rather than as an invitation to live transformed lives.

When we are baptized, we are baptized first into the death of Christ, and everything we think we know about God, the world, and even ourselves dies there. In Baptism we are reconciled to God in Christ, becoming part of that larger picture of love. We take on the title and the identity of saint: one who shares life in Christ.

We are baptized into new life and we emerge from the baptismal waters already living a new reality. We then spend the rest of our lives sharing the Good News of that truth by living it so that all who know us know that God’s love is the true reality of the world.

In his book, “Proof of Heaven,” neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, M.D., admitted to being a C&E Episcopalian who wasn’t particularly spiritual – until he contracted E.coli and nearly died. Dr. Alexander talked about having a near-death experience in the hospital after which everything he understood about everything was changed. He said he was transformed by a Love he encountered in a place he calls heaven while his earthly body lay in a coma in a hospital bed.

He described his experience of heaven saying: “It seemed that you could not look at or listen to anything in this world without becoming part of it – without joining with it in some mysterious way (45) … Everything was distinct, yet everything was also a part of everything else…” (46)

Dr. Alexander goes on to describe other worlds, higher worlds that “aren’t totally apart from us, because all worlds are part of the same overarching divine Reality.” This is reconciliation and it is what the world witnessed for the first time at Jesus' baptism when the heavens opened and the voice of God declared Jesus the beloved Son. It's what we continue to witness today at this and every Baptism.

Our earthly experience that we are separated from God is replaced by the reality of our eternal oneness with God in Christ, and that transforms how we live and the choices we make, which Jesus kindly outlines for us in today’s gospel from Luke.

Speaking to his disciples, Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” These aren’t declarative statements, they are descriptive. When you begin from your oneness with God, you will love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and bless and pray for those who harm you.

It’s the outcome of the reality of our oneness with God. As Jesus’ disciples in this moment of the Christian narrative, we can expect that the world’s response to us will be much like it was for those first disciples: we will be hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed by those who choose to live as if they are separated from God’s love, power, and mercy. When that happens, Jesus says, “Rejoice,…and leap for joy, for …your reward is great in heaven.”

Episcopalians don’t see this reward as something we collect upon the end of our earthly lives. We understand it to be an eternal reward, eternal – having no beginning and no end. It doesn’t start later, it’s happening now. The reward is that we are able to look beyond the circumstance of any earthly moment and trust the continual working out of God’s plan of redeeming love on earth as it is in heaven.

Our Catechism reminds us that we believe that “the universe is good… the work of a… loving God who
creates, sustains, and directs it. We believe that the world belongs to its creator; and that we are called to enjoy it and care for it in accordance with God's purposes. We believe that all people are worthy of respect and honor because all are created in the image of God…” (BCP, 846) We believe that the communion of saints is the whole family of God, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.

Living this larger, heavenly reality, in the face of a very different earthly reality isn't something we can do on our own. It's something we must do together as the church, the mystical body of Christ on earth.

Today, we have the great joy of baptizing Vincent Johnson into this heavenly reality, and we invite the heavens to open up as we all declare Vincent a saint, a member of the family of God in Christ among the communion of saints on earth.

I invite the family to join me now at the Baptismal font.