Showing posts with label Sermon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sermon. Show all posts

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Repentance As Our Future

3 Lent      Cycle C     March 24, 2019
Ex.3:1-17          Ps. 103:1-11           
1 Cor. 10:1-13     Luke 13:1-9       
Lectionary Link
The life of Moses can be divided into three trimesters of 40 years.  He lived to the age of 120; the biblical writers liked numbers and their symbolic values and the number 40 is the symbol of the time of test and trial and ordeal and practice and preparation.  Moses had successes and failures in all three of his trimesters.  In his first 40 years, he had a miraculous infancy narrative; he was supposed to be killed with all the Hebrew male children in Egypt, but he was spared in his ark of bulrushes and rescued and adopted by an Egyptian princess and raised as a prince of Egypt.  He did not forget his people and as he neared the age of 40 he felt it was his duty to unify the Hebrew people and help them fight their oppression.  He failed and murdered two Egyptians and ran into the wilderness to escape for his life and give up his call.  He attached himself to the family of his bride and became a shepherd for Jethro his father-in-law.  And at the age of 80, he had his great theophany, a great encounter with God who appeared in the burning bush which was not consumed.  

This encounter of Moses as it is recorded in the book of Exodus evokes a study of God, the name of God and how God has come to be regarded.  Through textual analysis of Hebrew Scriptures, some scholars find at least four editions of Hebrew Scriptures.  This is called the source theory, and the sources are abbreviated as JEDP.  Two of these sources derive from the Hebrew words to designate God.  The J stands for "Jehovah" but is called by scholars the Yahwists.  The E, stands for the Elohists.  The Yahwists were the editors who used "Yahweh" for the name of God.  The Elohists were the editors who used Elohim as the name of God.  So how do we know in English translations which Hebrew name of God is being used?  The English word "Lord" is used for Yahweh or some translators use Yahweh.  Yahweh entered our vocabulary because some biblical scholar believed it to be a better English transliteration and the God formerly known as "Jehovah."   The extra vowel has to do with some textual version of the vowel pointing of the four consonants.  So the Hebrew Scriptures result in both versions of God's name being used, as in Lord God or Yahweh Elohim.  What developed in Judaism after the destruction of Solomon's Temple to begin the exile, was the reverence for the name of God.  The four consonants which represent the name of God were regarded to be so holy that they could be written but not pronounced.  These four letters are called the tetragrammaton, and observant Jews read the four consonants with alternate pronunciations, like HaShem, meaning "the Name," or "Adonai"  meaning my Lord, or hakadosh baruch hu ("The Holy One, Blessed Be He").     In his great encounter with God, Moses was afraid about returning to Egypt where he had failed to gain the respect of his fellow Hebrew people.  Moses was given the name of God to use as proof of his call to lead the people of Israel.  God's name is rendered in English as "I am that I am."  But scholars say that the Hebrew language did not have a present tense for the verb "to be."  So some think that it should be rendered as "I will be who I will be."  Moses returned to Egypt to lead a stubborn and skeptical people and he used the revealed name of God and using the name resulted in the plagues and the feats of wondered which enabled the Israelites to eventually arrive in the Promised Land.

Why is all of this relevant to the Christian tradition?  St. Paul and the apostles, understood Jesus Christ to be the one who assumed and made known God as the "I am" or the "I will be who I will be."  St. John's Gospel is the "I am" Gospel.  Jesus said, "Before Abraham was, I am."  This means that Christians regarded Christ to assume identity with "The Name."  St. Paul acted in the name of Christ in assuming it as a manifestation of the name of God.  He wrote that the Red Sea event baptized the children into Moses and many of them did not honor the name and they failed in their temptation and testing in the forty years in the wilderness.  St. Paul warned the Corinthian church not to fail the time of testing.  He said that God, who delivered Jesus in his time of temptation, will also provide a way of escape in our time of temptation if we will commit to speak and act in the name of Christ, into whom we have been baptized.

Our Gospel for today, indicates to us that we always already can be subject to the conditions of freedom where good things can happen to bad people; bad things happen to good people.  Bad things happen to bad people. Good things can happen to good people.  Freedom means that tyrants can prevail and do horrendous thing.  Freedom means that a tower can be structurally unsafe and fall on and kill people.  Such event may leave us speculating about why things happen.  Such speculation cannot change the fact that they did happen.  What response did Jesus give to the conditions of freedom?

Jesus said that we should always live in the state of repentance.  What does repentance mean?  It means we live in order to be better in the future.  How does one become better in the future?

How does a gardener make a better future yield?  A gardener composts the present ground around the plant in order for a better outcome?  What is compost?  In human experience, compost is our dead past.  The past is dead and gone.  The past can be a liability seen as an albatross to determine a bad future, or using the recycling and compost metaphor, we need to learn how to use the dead past to engender a better future.  Repentance is the education dynamic to learn from our past successes and failures to make a better future.

This Lent, we as a parish need to repent into our future.  We need to act in faith toward hopeful outcomes.  We need to apply success and failure in our past to a better future.  If the name of God in Christ is, "I will be who I will be," we can act in the name of Christ into our future with the great expectancy of better outcomes and future renewal.  Let us adopt repentance as a our Lenten habit toward a better personal and parish future.  Amen. 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Fox and the Hen

2  Lent C      March 17, 2019           
Gen.15:1-12,17-18   Ps. 27
Phil.3:17-4:1   Luke 13:22-35 

  One of the ways that I I like to describe the Bible:  Inspired writings of people who are trying their best to give a narrative to the human experience of hope.
  Hope is a great seduction.  With hope we always are seeking a future, a better future.  And in the experience of trying to tell how hope came to human experience, people of faith have been inspired to write the Bible. 
  Hope is so great, it presents us with more than we can complete in our lifetime.  Hope is a great consolation for actual suffering and deprivation in life.  Therefore, hope also inspires evolution in what the future might look like.  The evolution of stories of hope eventually took people beyond this life to the afterlife.
  What would future hope look like for Abraham?  He was a childless man.  The most concrete way for Abraham to attain immortality was in having children.  If one's immortality is children, one's children must also have provision.  What was the most concrete provision available to Abraham?  Land.  So, God promised Abraham the immortality of having children and having land.  Land and children were concrete, objective immortality for Abraham.  The narratives of afterlife cannot be found in but in but a couple places in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Images of the afterlife developed in later Judaism after the future of having children and land was severely threatened because the very existence of the people of Israel and their land was threatened.  How could God's people be allowed to be so oppressed with their land invaded and when they were carried off into captivity?  How could their God be a great God of justice if they experienced such suffering?  This is when hope and justice inspired the stories of the future of judgment in the afterlife when the scores would be settled.  The apocalyptic figures of a Son of Man and a Messiah involved the future of justice and the afterlife.
  Fast forward to St. Paul and the early church.  The land of Israel as a future place had been given up.  The meaning of the innumerable children of Abraham had been changed.  St. Paul wrote not about his citizenship in Rome or Israel; he wrote about being a heavenly citizen.  Heaven was the new Promised Land.  Heaven was the new place of immortality.   And who was the posterity of Abraham?  According to St. Paul, Abraham was the father of faith even before Jacob and Israel existed; the posterity of Abraham was now seen as the spiritual children of faith, even the Gentiles who had become grafted into the family of faith.
  I hope that we can appreciate the evolution of the stories of hope in the Bible, as a movement from physical immortality (found in children and a promised land) to a spiritual and heavenly immortality.  And even though there is this new resurrection immortality, there is not a rejection of the physical world, in fact, it is an expansion of objective immortality.  Why?  Because immortality was no longer limited to the land of Israel and the genetic lineage of Abraham; now God's loving eternal life in Jesus Christ was to be offered to the entire world, all the lands of the earth and to all of earth's peoples.  Every place on earth could be a Promised Land.
  The Gospel story of the fox and the hen illustrates how hope expanded in a rather unexpected way.  The time of Jesus was presented in the Gospels as a time of competition between religious parties in Judaism.  The Pharisees wanted Jesus to move on and so they warned him about the King of the Jews, King Herod.  "Herod killed John the Baptist and now he's going to get you, Jesus, you better go off the grid and into hiding."
   Jerusalem is called a holy city, but it really has no long history as a really safe place for people.  The politics and infighting in Jerusalem have always meant that the prophets would be killed and stoned because they called for justice, love and peace for all.
  Jesus mourned the fact that Jerusalem could not live up to it name, "city of peace."    Jesus used the metaphor of the mother hen.  He wished that he could protect all the vulnerable chicks and take them under his wing, but it was not to be so.
  But what happened?  Jesus as the mother hen submitted himself to death by King Herod, and others.  And what happened?  All the little chicks fled but those little chicks became the eagles of the early church.  They were Christians who brought the message of the hope of Christ and eternal life to the ends of the earth.
  The fox did kill the hen, but the Risen Christ returned to spiritual children of faith to live on forever in this life and in the life to come.  This is how hope's story evolved.  And Hope still inspires stories for us today in our lives, in our families and in our parish.  But for hope to become our story, we need to act in faith so that Hope's story for our parish can be further written in the days ahead.  Amen.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Vision Quest of Jesus

1 Lent C    March 10, 2019
Deut.26:1-11    Ps. 91
Rom.10:5-13     Luke 4:1-13
It is interesting to note the juxtaposition of the temptation of Jesus and the baptism of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke.  The writer consciously connects the two.  What happened at the baptismal event of Jesus?  A heavenly voice was heard to declare: "You are my Son the beloved, with you I am well pleased."  It is as though Jesus himself is quite startled in becoming to know his own identity.  "How can I be so special?  How can I live up to such a distinctive identity?  And what am I supposed to do now that I know this?  Am I supposed to be like John the Baptist and lead a community of people?"

In the search for the meaning of what Jesus found out at his baptism, the Holy Spirit drove him into the wilderness to be alone and to fast.  It reads something like the Rite of Passage known in Native American tribes which is call the "Vision Quest."  Under the direction of a medicine man or tribal elder a young man goes into the wilderness alone to fast and to interact with the totemic Spirit represented by the various animals.  And in this vision quest the young man is looking to find his purpose for his life in serving the tribe as a leader with vision.  The Vision Quest is a Rite of Passage into adulthood and public role within the tribe.

When Jesus went through his Vision Quest he embraced a rather severe fast.  What happens in a severe fast?  The extreme denial of the body opens up the access to a different kind of interior life than one knows on a full stomach.  One becomes more attune to all of the inner voices that the constructions of language within us can produce.  The constructions of language within us can bring us visionary thinking, voices, images and apparitions, in short, a different kind of seeing.  We can under the stress of the severe hunger, access angels and demons.  The name of the chief demon Jesus encountered was Diabolos, the Devil.  It is interesting information that diabolos is the opposite of symbolos.  Symbols are language events which tie things together; symbols are the angels, the messengers who bring peaceful integration of our lives.  The diabolic is what rends or tear things apart to create explosive chaos and the sense of being out of control.  Symbols and the diabolic are opposing ways to understand how angels and demons attain even visionary personifications within the realm of inner seeing, dreamlike seeing.  The other name for the Devil is Satan, which means the accuser.  Everyone at some point has to face an interior event when one's identity and purpose in life is challenged in such a negative ways as to question one's worth, even to the point of "giving" up.  

In the letter of the Hebrews, it is written that Jesus was tempted in every way as we are and yet he did not sin.  Jesus faced the inward diabolical. It is important to know that God took on identity with human experience in the life of the Son of God and in so doing he faced some of the worst things that life can throw at us as human beings.  In the creation story, the first son and daughter of God, Adam and Eve were tricked by the serpent from God's plan for their lives; they were evicted from the Garden of Eden.  Jesus, the second Adam, faced the tempter, not in the perfect Garden but in the place of human eviction.  He succeeded in the temptation where first man and woman failed.

What was the essence of the temptations of Jesus by Satan?  Satan tried to get Jesus to act not as the Son of God in loyal relationship to God his Father.  He tried to get Jesus to act in disobedience to God his Father.

This is the essence of temptation for us too.  Acting out of self interest instead of acting from obedience to God as our heavenly parents who has asks us to love God and our neighbor as our self.

It would be just fine for the hungry Jesus to eat some bread, but not in the way and in the time that God would want him too.  Timing is everything in life.  Impulse control is about doing everything at the right time.  Temptation is about being tricked to do things at the wrong time.  We ask that God's will be done on earth as in heaven and in our lives because we want to obey God's timing as God's sons and daughters.

Self esteem and recognition are important ingredients about health self image.  The devil offered Jesus a kind of fame that all of the cruel tyrants of the world have attained.  The devil indicated that Jesus could be like the Caesar.  "You take your talent Jesus, but if you turn your talent over to me, then I will help you ruthlessly gain control of the world."  It is ironic that the devil was actually trying to tempt the Christ to be the anti-Christ, a lying ruthless ruler of the world.  Again Jesus expressed his allegiance to God his Father as a Son of God.  The fame and glory of Jesus would come in God's time beyond his death into his resurrected life.  Such glory has lasted longer than any earthly Caesar's fame.

Next the devil tried to trick Jesus to kill himself and he used a verse from the Psalms to do so.  He tried to get Jesus to use a verse of poetry as though it is proof that the laws of gravity could be defied.  "Jesus, throw yourself from a high place; you're so important, the angels will catch you, just as the Psalmist wrote."    Jesus believed that his time was in God's his Father's hand; he would not die before his time.  The angels did not come and fight to prevent his death on the cross.  Jesus said, "Be gone Satan, I will not disobey God my Father.  I will remain in God's timing for my life, my death and for the glory and fame of the afterlife of my resurrection."

What do we learn from the temptations of Jesus for ourselves today?  First, remember our baptisms.  We belong to Christ.  God has told us that we are beloved sons and daughters of God.  As children of God, we obey God and we accept God's timing for our lives.  Our lives are all about learning what to do in the right time.  Temptation is about being tricked to doing things at the wrong time.  Secondly, if we forget that we are God's children, we will want the false fame and vainglory in narcissistic ways.  People who need constant fame can never be satisfied.  Lastly, let us know how to be poets and scientists at the same time.  Most of the Bible is poetic, metaphorical imagery to inspire, faith, hope, love and justice and if we use the Bible correctly, we can accept the metaphors of poetry even while being down to earth scientists.

Jesus was tempted; we are tempted.  Jesus did not forget that he was the Son of God and that God, his heavenly parent had a plan for his life.  We, too, can resist temptation by remembering that we are God's children and we belong to God.  From this relationship we can go forth to live the good timing that God has for our lives.  Amen. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

Temptation, Anti-Christ and Mistiming in Life

1 Lent C    March 10, 2019
Deut.26:1-11    Ps. 91
Rom.10:5-13     Luke 4:1-13

Lectionary Link
As I read the account of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, it occurred to me that in 

effect, the internal struggle of Jesus was whether to be the Christ or the Anti-Christ.  The 

temptation was the attempt by the great liar and accuser, Satan, the Devil, the Serpent to 

get Jesus to depart from the intended way of God the Father for the chosen messiah.

The New Testament writers referred to the Anti-Christ.  The Anti-Christ would be a very popular public figure who would have the ability to even use the Bible and religion to fool people.  The New Testament writers were very concerned about false messiahs.  And some would like to think that there is only one Anti-Christ.  But the accounts of history show us that the father of lies has been able to so possess political figures and the results have been the committing of some of the worst atrocities in human history.

In the elements of the temptation of Jesus, he is faced with being tricked by the another manifestation of the original trickster serpent of the garden of Eden.  Eat this fruit the serpent told Adam and Eve and you will be wise like God. 

“You’re hungry Jesus.  Just command these stones and they will become bread.”  So Jesus was being tempted to obey the commands of Satan.  An Anti-Christ is one who follows the lying commands of the prince of lies.

How did Jesus answer?  You are not my Father; I obey my Father and his words and I will be patient for the word of my Father to tell me when it is time to me to eat.

The Anti-Christ is a megalomaniac.  He the Faustian man who makes a bargain with the devil; sells his soul to the devil to be the ruler of the world and to attain greatness.

Again, Jesus rebuked refused to make a bargain with devil.  “Why should I worship you, Satan, Lucifer, Devil, for you have been created by God my Father who is higher than you.  Why should I worship someone less than God the creator?  You are but an idol maker.”

The devil and the anti-Christ are those who are so full of pride that they believe that they are worthy of ungodly adoration and popularity, when true fame and glory belongs to God, alone.

When the temptation regarding bodily needs or the temptation to extravagant fame fails what other trick did the devil have?   The devil said, “kill yourself, throw yourself off the high place, and don’t worry because the Bible says that the angel defy gravity, they will catch and you will be rescued.  Kill yourself because the afterlife is better than this life.

And what did Jesus say, “Be gone Satan.”  Jesus would not be the “Anti-Messiah,” he was the true Messiah because he was going to do all things in God’s way and in God’s timing.

Another thing that I found interesting about my reading of the temptations of Jesus again, is to realize how they correspond to the public criticisms of Jesus.

What did people say about Jesus?  He crazy, he’s mad.  He’s suicidal because he said he was going away; is he going to kill himself.  They said he was a glutton and wine bibber, and one who hung out with sinners.  They said he had a pact with Beelzebub to cast out demons.  They said he had blasphemed because he made himself equal to God and took upon himself the right to forgive people’s sins.

So the very things that Jesus was tempted about were things that people accused him of being. 

Where do you and stand with the temptations of Jesus and with our own temptations today as we enter symbolic season of Lent, 40 days, dedicated to deal with the temptations in our lives?

The essence of temptation is really about mistiming, doing good and bad things at the wrong time.  It’s okay to eat, but we have to do it in the best way for our bodily health and for the health of the 5000 plus who need to be fed in our world.  We must learn to distinguish genuine self esteem which comes from knowing that our heavenly parent loves us, from the narcissistic unquenchable need for public fame based upon the pride which got Lucifer cast from heaven.  We cannot exchange the esteem based upon the love of God for the vainglory which is the major drug of sick personalities.

And finally, just because the Scriptures includes poetry which has angels catching falling people, it does not mean we should mistake science for poetry or poetry for science.  We can be both scientists and poets at the same time using the proper discursive practice for the proper rhetorical occasion.  When people mistake science for poetry and vice versa, people who do not want to believe in God say that religious people are crazy.   

You and I need to learn to resist being “anti-messiah.”  We need to develop the relationship with God to know the inner affirmation which creates an esteem that does not need to be replaced with vainglory.  We need to know the timing of God’s wisdom in our lives so that we live with the mystical sense and the faith to know how we should act at all times, learning what is most appropriate and graceful for each situation.

Let us learn how to resist the internal liar and accuser who would try to get us out of step and timing with the mission of the messiah that awaits us each day.  Amen.


Thursday, March 7, 2019

Hypocrisy=Separating Loving God from Loving Neighbor

Ash Wednesday        March 6, 2019
Isaiah 58:1-12        Ps.103       
1 Cor. 5:20b-6:10    Matt. 6:1-6, 16-21

For those of us who might be crassly literal about our Gospel reading for tonight, we might think that the words of Jesus falsify my ministry, and the ministries of all clergy who are the visible leaders of their flocks. We  want as many people as possible to be seen praying on on the streets where our houses of faith are located.  And we won't even judge your motives for being seen at our places of worship; unless you're only there to sell us Amway products.

The words of Jesus paint a target on us as religious leaders since we are one's seen in holy haberdashery and how can we avoid being seen wearing such colorful vestments.  We have the "uniforms" which announce that we are "religious."

I really don't think the words of Jesus are about the only authentic prayer and piety being done in one's private rooms or closets.  If Jesus only wanted private prayer, we'd all be bedside Baptists or pillow Presbyterians, lonely Lutherans, marooned Methodists or erstwhile Episcopalians.  Is Jesus implying that only private piety is valid?  Is Jesus discouraging any public display of piety?  No PDA's, no public displays of affection for God.  Is Jesus saying this about public displays of public affection for God, "Get a room, a very private room?"

What Jesus is highlighting is that we can have pious public behaviors for all of the wrong reasons.  What Jesus highlights is the issue of letting good motives of the heart be expressed in the outer lives where we live in the main location of our lives.  We don't mainly live in private rooms or on street corners, but we live in our bodies and our bodies can have many locations and our bodies can be in private rooms or on street corners.

So what is the issue?  The issue is the motive of our hearts in our piety and practice of our religious faith.  Having a right heart is the issue.  Having a clean heart is the issue.  One of the Psalms for Ash Wednesday is the cry, "Create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within me."  Isn't having a clean heart the main issue in how we express our piety? 

Lent is a season when we ask God over and over again to do some spring cleaning in our hearts.  The prophet Jeremiah wrote the heart of each person is, above all things, exceeding deceitful.  Jesus said out of the heart comes all manner of evil.  Sigmund Freud said, the unconscious mind is polymorphously perverse.  Martin Luther indicated that we are continuously depraved even as our depravity co-exists with God's grace whose Holy Spirit within us becomes the only clean heart we can ever have; but we have to learn to get out of the way so  the Holy Spirit as a pure heart can be expressed within us.

Having the expression of public piety without the social and communal ethical and just results is what seems to driving many Americans to the religious category of "nones."  Not catholic monastic sisters but persons who have deny membership in any religious group, church, synagogue, mosques.  Social researchers who ask the "nones" about why they refuse identity with religious groups, often respond that religious people behave and think badly.  The "nones" believe that they can be spiritual or ethical without being religious.

This situation is a challenge for us who are not "nones."  We are threatened with our irrelevance and obsolescence of our public piety.

But this is hardly a new issue for any community of faith.  The issue was raised by the prophets and by Jesus and by many other writers of the New Testament.  It has to do with pretending to keep the first great commandment without keeping the second great commandment.  It is pretending that we can love God without loving our neighbor.

I can put on a good show of my love of God as a I participate in pleasing liturgies, even as I walk out of worship and ignore the crying needs of so many people who live close to me.  Jesus shocked the law abiding young rich man when he told him to sell what his possessions give to the poor.  Ratify your love of God by loving your neighbor as yourself.

The writer of the Epistle of James noted the hypocrisy of gathering for prayers while one's brothers and sisters were living in poverty.  The writer of the Epistle of John wrote that we cannot say that we love God whom we can't see if we don't love our brothers and sisters whom we can see.

So what is the clean heart issue in making our piety both privately and publicly valid?  The issue is love.  St. Paul wrote that we can all of the religious gifts and look very religious, but if we don't have love, we are noisy gongs and clanging cymbals. 

What do we have to say to the "nones" today?  Public religious piety in the history of churches has gone on while ignoring or supporting slavery, while living with the subjugation of women, while refusing the protection of children, and while refusing the just inclusion of LGBTQ persons in our faith communities.  If public religious piety does not result in the comprehensive care of the people in our world and the wise stewardship of the earth's resources, then we are guilty of being noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.  The "nones" are saying to us, "Who needs you?"  Even our secular constitution and our democratic ideals are making the law of love known as justice extend to more people than our religious communities are reaching.

We begin this season of Lent convicted by our need to sew together continually the first great commandment and the second great commandment.  This is always the challenge for us to live authentic private and public lives of piety.  We can only validate our love of God by loving our neighbors; all of our neighbors.

Tonight, let us not despair because of our failures.  Let us be thankful for when love has prevailed; when our private and public pieties have been made valid by God's grace.  But let us not be hypocrites to the "nones" of the world; let us not display our religious piety if we are not rigorous in our attempts to love our neighbors as ourselves as we seek to care for them with the very same care and acceptance which we want for ourselves.

May God help us during this Lenten Season to hold together the first and second great commandments, and if we are successful at love, we can know that our public and private prayers and religious ministries have been valid.  Amen.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Epiphany Is More Than Being a Spectator

Last Epiphany C         March 3, 2019

Exodus 34:29-35     Ps. 99
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2    Luke 9:28-36    

How do you and I move from being spectators of what is great to becoming agents of excellence?

The season of the Epiphany is about how Christ became manifest to the world.  How did Christ become the spectacle of greatness?  How did he become the example of who we want to model our lives after?

When did Jesus become best known to this world?  It really did not happen in his lifetime on earth.

Jesus became manifest to the people in the Roman Empire, as the Risen Christ when they were having spiritual experiences of Christ.

The early church leaders were asking why were these epiphanies of the Risen Christ happening?  How are these epiphanies of the Risen Christ connected to the life of Jesus of Nazareth?

The New Testament writings and the Gospels were written to try to explain how the manifestation of the Risen Christ in the Gentile world was connected to the person of Jesus of Nazareth?

Was there any evidence of the resurrection and the post-resurrection appearances before they happened?

The Gospel claim: Well, we knew that Jesus was very special, because we had a visionary event with Jesus on a mountain top.  And this visionary event was like the event which Moses was involved in on Mount Sinai.  This visionary event was like the events which surrounded the great prophet Elijah.  It was a shining event.  The face of Jesus shone, just like the face of Moses had shown when he had his meeting with God to receive the Torah on Mount Sinai.

St. Paul said that we all have a spiritual body which can live forever.  On the Mount of the Transfiguration, the spiritual body of Jesus was able to become a blazing light which lit up his face for the spectators, Peter, James and John.  Before the post-resurrection appearances of Christ and before the appearances of the Risen Christ in Paul and Jewish and Gentiles members of the early church, the transfiguration was an event for the disciples which anticipated the resurrection state of Christ.

Moses had spectators for his epiphany.  Jesus had spectators for his epiphany.  Elijah had his spectators for his epiphany on Mount Carmel.  The spectators were able to witness the glory of the God, the profound fame of God becoming made known.

There is a kind of atrophy which can happen because of the writing of the Bible and the writing of history.  The atrophy is because of the cult of hero worship.  Other people have become great for us to adore and worship, and so we have the lifelong task of being spectators of the heroes, prophets and saints; we can easily be but spectators of Christ and the saints and the spiritual heroes.  Spectator means that we are watchers; we look on and admire greatness.  The danger of being mere spectators is that we absolve ourselves of moving in the direction of the greatness in what it would mean for you and me in our quest for continual excellence.

The cult of heroes and our entertainment culture is based upon creating a large passive audience to support the people who can become popular.  But this violates the kind of greatness that Jesus was representing.

There are two approaches to perfection; individual and communal.  One notion of perfection has to do with the individual quest for greatness in the competitive sense.  I want to be more perfect than anyone else because I want to stand out.

The other approach to perfection is communal.  I want to discover perfection as completeness within my family and community.  My perfection is the experience of the community succeeding in excellence.  This loss of the individual identity within community success is not very popular in our culture, a culture of the worship of heroes and famous people.   But where is communal perfection significant?  It is when mom and dad find total joy in seeing their children succeed and show significance signs of growth.  It is when leaders of schools, parishes and communities take more pride in the group achievement than their own personal resumes.  It happens when a business cherishes the input of all workers to achieve success together.

Christ came to give his life for many.  He did not come just to make us adoring spectators; he came so that he could re-appear to all of us and discover the Holy Spirit as our internal engine to propel us toward excellence.  He came, not to make us spectators; he came to make us agents of his values in our time and place.

Transfiguration is Latin based word for the Greek word from which we derive the English word, metamorphosis.  Transfiguration is both an event and a process.  In the life of a butterfly, what do we often associate metamorphosis with?  We tend to focus on the event of the butterfly breaking out of the cocoon.  But metamorphosis includes the eggs, the larva, the caterpillar and the cocoon phases of life and those phases don't seem as glamorous as the butterfly.

What is the purpose of the butterfly?  Is it to be just a beautiful climax in the cycle of life?  A butterfly is one who can produce the eggs to begin the process all over again for many future butterflies.

Let us acknowledge the transfiguration as both an event and a process.  Let us not be merely spectators of the butterfly event; let us be a part of the process in seeing the birth of many who will come to know the transfiguration energy of Christ in their lives.

Today, we are not here to be mere spectators of Christ; we are to let the transfigured reality of Christ shine through our lives so that others might be able to catch a glimpse of the excellence to which they are called.  Remember that the Risen Christ has a very unique and special way to be transfigured through each of us.  Let us allow the same energy which transfigured Christ, to transfigure us so that others can see Christ, too.  Amen.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Translating the Beatitudes to the Non-Oppressed

7 Epiphany C  February 24, 2019 
Genesis 45:3-11, 15  Psalm 37:1-12, 41-42
1 Corinthians 15:35-38,42-50  Luke 6:27-38  

We in America have attained fascination with the martial arts.  They are exotic and foreign practices from Asia.  The practice of them seem to promote self-discipline, respect for authority and others, and knowing that martial arts is really about never having to really use them in practice; it is the practice of restraint to be used only for self-defense.

Surely the ancient martial arts had the context of preparing warriors for actual battle of both an offensive and defensive sort.  Martial arts would be training for battle and when battle did not exist, it would be the practice of readiness for battle.  But when war was not happening, they would be sporting events to foster the competitive edge.

It is likely that most members of the armed forces training to go to battle today learn some martial arts.  But for most of us it the romanticized Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Mr. Miyagi, waxing on and waxing off for entertainment and good recreational exercise.  But the martial arts for us, are mainly dislodged from the original contexts of preparation for battle, and thankfully so.

We could also say that for us, thankfully, the beatitudes of the Gospels are dislodged from the conditions which generated them.

The conditions of freedom can result in quite a variety of experiences.  Some of them are not so pleasant.  But what about people who have lived for long time in slavery?  What about people who have lived for a long time with their country occupied?   What if you are a member of a minority religion in an Empire that requires you to worship the Emperor as a god, and your religion doesn't allow you to do this?  If you live under sustained conditions of oppression and lack of social, economic and religious freedom, you still have to live.  Much of the Bible was written by people who had sustained misfortune and lack of the social freedoms that we have and take for granted.

What do people of the Bible have to say to us to don't live in oppression?  Can we ever say that we can identify significantly with their circumstances?

I believe that the beatitudes of Jesus represent a sort of spiritual martial arts that was forced upon oppressed people.  The people to whom Jesus came needed a spiritual martial arts both to survive and to live with enjoyment.  Why do you think that the beatitudes were important to reformers like Gandhi and to Martin Luther King, Jr.?  They represent a way to resist and maintain a cause for justice and at the same time live in such a winsome way that you might attract people to join you because of your extreme kindness, the extreme kindness of forgiveness, the extreme kindness of a non-retaliatory way of living.

In our prayers we pray for safety of all, so we pray that the conditions which require the beatitude way of life never occurs.  We'd rather live without enemies, without abuse, without someone who would strike us on the cheek, or without bullies who would take our coats and steal our goods.

The beatitude spiritual martial arts were a special way for oppressed people to live, and we do not want the conditions of oppression in the first place.

When people are oppressed, certainly they have the option of open revolt and retaliation.  But people end up being killed or imprisoned.  The other option is to learn how to fly under the radar and that is where the beatitude style of living comes in.  How can I live in such a super winsome way that even my oppressors cannot help but be impressed and stumped and ask: "Where does this person get the interior strength to love one's enemy, to do good to those who hate, to bless those who curse, to pray for those who abuse, to refuse to retaliate when someone strikes?"

I would suggest to you that we in the land of the free and home of the brave should reject the conditions which required the beatitudes as a way of life.  The entire purpose of laws is to keep people safe, to respect the rights and dignity of everyone.  So, we need to reject the conditions of oppression and injustice which required the early followers of Jesus to have to live such super kind lives just to survive.

But ponder this:  What if we were to transpose a beatitude lifestyle to our time and place when we do not experience the same conditions of oppression?  How do we live without allowing ourselves to even have someone whom we would designate as an enemy?  What if we found no reason and no one to hate?  What if we are fortune enough to not have people who hate us, how much easier it would be to be good to people who are just mildly irritating to us?    What if we could adopt only the language of blessing and never have a reason to curse others?  What if we prayed equally for those with whom we agree and those with whom we disagree?  What if we learn the deft language art of turning our linguistic cheeks and offer verbal roses to those who might want to be argumentative or angry?

You and I do not live in the same conditions which required the radical lifestyle of the spiritual martial arts of the beatitudes for survival and maintenance of dignity.  So how do we live?  We should live to make sure that we are never consciously or indirectly on the side of the forces of oppression, suppression or mistreatment of any people.

We should honor the people who lived with such grace and forgiveness in the times of supreme oppression and we should work to eradicate every form of oppression and injustice.

Remember today, we are the equivalent of the favored people of the Roman Empire; we have the power and wealth.  How can we translate the beatitude lifestyle of oppressed people to be our lifestyle as people of privilege and power?

We can be thankful that the ideals and laws of our country calls us to honor the dignity of all people. 

The challenge for you and me today is to translate the spiritual martial arts of the beatitudes which derived among oppressed people into our lives as those who would live such kind lives as to bring the loving regard of Christ to all people in this world.  Amen.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Unhypocritical Beatitude Believers

6 Epiphany C, February 17, 2019
Jeremiah 17:5-10  Psalm 1
1 Corinthians 15:12-20 Luke 6:17-26

Lectionary Link

Today we have read one of the versions of what are called the beatitudes.  There are two versions found in the New Testament, one in the Gospel of Matthew and one in the Gospel.  The beatitude sayings in Matthew are part of what is called the Sermon on the Mount.  The beatitude sayings in the Gospel of Luke are within a Sermon on the Plains, not on the Mount.  There are significant differences between the beatitudes in Matthew and Luke.  For example, the Matthew version begins with "Blessed are the poor in spirit..." and the Lucan version is, "Blessed are the poor......" full stop,  What happened to "poor in spirit?" How does one explain the differences?  Two different speeches in different places with different audiences?  Or, are the Gospel writers using words of Jesus to two different early church situations?  The poor in spirit crowd probably had more money than the blessed are the poor crowd.  One can see how actual economic condition of the listening audience would effect how the words of Jesus were recalled.

To further understand the beatitudes, one should understand the liturgy of the synagogue.  There were prayers of benedictions and curses, yes curses.  Benedictions "or good words about" are the blessings or beatitudes.  The Birkat haMinim were "curses" which wished that "heretics" be blotted out of the book of life.  These liturgical forms of curses are used to date the separation of Christians from the synagogue.  After the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, the re-gathered parties of Judaism in Jamnia added a curse against the followers of Jesus.  This would mean that a follower of Jesus would not stay in the synagogue to offer a curse against oneself, so when the curse appeared in the liturgy, one assumes a pronounced separation of synagogue and Jesus Movement.

One can see in the beatitudes this form of curse in the phrase "Woe to you...."  So even in the words of Jesus the liturgical formula of "blessings and curses" are maintained.

Today, you and I may be uncomfortable with making curses a part of our liturgy, though we certainly moved the curses of our ill wishes "outside" of the church in the way that we express displeasure for people who significantly disagree with our "correct" view of things.  Fortunately we don't have the guile to associate some of our small views with God's official view.  We still bless and curse in our practice, but we take the scatological stuff outside of the church.

I would like to further state that the beatitudes have been mostly misunderstood or misapplied in the long history of reading these words of Jesus.  Why would I say this?

How many of us would say that poverty, hunger, mourning, being hated, defamed and persecuted are states of blessed fortune?  I can't wait until I'm poor, hungry, weeping, hated, defamed and persecuted because then I will really be lucky.  What kind of thinking would this be?  To wish for states of discomfort might be called unhealthy masochism.  Why would anyone of a sound mind do this?

This misunderstanding caused the philosopher Nietzsche to call the beatitudes the "slave" morality.  How did what is normal get turn upside down.  Wealth, having enough to eat, happiness, public regard and respect are what is normal.  How can someone call the opposite the new normal?  In the Roman Empire, Christians were a minority and therefore liable to miss out on the rights of those in Roman society.  So, do Christians make peace with their suffering by declaring that suffering is the new normal?  Nietzsche criticized this as a dishonesty about what is normal.  This is like the boy who comes into classes and accidentally trips and falls, and when the entire class laughs at him, he replies, "I meant to fall so that I could cause you to laugh; I was in control all of the time."  Nietzsche called this the transvaluation of values; he said that the slave values were declared by Christians to be the preferred values.  But is this dishonest?  How many Christians actually adopt the beatitudes as their preferred values?

The beatitudes became a bit more complicated when Christianity took over the Roman Empire and became associated with dominating economic class of society.  How could triumphant and wealthy Christians legitimately adopt the beatitudes as the true values of their lives?  We can see how the monastic movement developed as a reaction against Christianity's compromise with the wealthy class in power.  Monks and nuns voluntarily chose poverty and spartan conditions to be the true Christians who upheld the beatitudes in a more literal way.  When wealthy Christian nations practiced colonization and slavery, those who were enslaved had the conditions of the beatitude forces upon them just like the conditions that had been forced upon the early Christians.  When Christians introduced the Christian faith to slaves and colonized people, what did slaves and colonized people want?  Not poverty, no persecution, or bias or prejudice or hunger; they wanted freedom and the right to life, liberty and happiness.  Once again, it became rather hypocritical for Christians in power to try to sell the beatitude slave morality on oppressed people as those ordained by God and Christ.

So where does that leave you and me today in our understanding of the beatitudes today.  How do we who prefer comfort and ease, honestly adapt the beatitudes as our honest rule of life?  Are you and I complete beatitude hypocrites today?

I would suggest another insight into the beatitudes which is not hypocritical or dishonest and it has more to do with the transformation and abundant life program which characterized the early Christian New Testament mystics.

I would like to illustrate this with some poignant examples.  Have you ever found your self moody and a bit depressed but then be confronted with a person with really bad circumstances and they are cheerfully blissful.  And you stopped in your track and immediately rebuked by one's own petty and moody self-involvement.  It like the saying, "I complained about having no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet."  You see pictures of children in refugee camps smiling and laughing, and you say, "I'll have what they're having, without all of the suffering."  You see people who suffer from drastic impairments, or parents with handicapped children and you see them cheerful and happy and you wonder, "how do they do it?"    How can they have such empowering contentment given the obvious challenges of their situation?

The mysticism of the early Spirit filled church was about the experience of abundant life also known as a highly conformable contentment.  How does one attain or live from the state of inner contentment, no matter what happens within the freedom of the conditions of what can happen to anyone.  This, I believe, is the essence of the beatitudes.  It is not a masochistic, abnormal wishing for deprivation and bad fortune; it is attaining to an inner state of contentment which allows one who live with grace, hope and faith in any situation.

The secret of Christian mysticism is to find and know the state of contentment that adjusts to no matter what we are facing.

St. Paul who experienced lots of suffering but also some comfortable hospitality wrote, "I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

Jesus offers the mystical state of spiritual contentment to those who suffer and to those who do not.  Because the state of contentment is offered to all, it does not mean that we should cease to eradicate suffering, oppression and illness in our world.  We should not be people who say, "Since you can experience the state of spiritual contentment in dire circumstances, then I do not need to work for justice or the end of poverty."  This kind of religious thinking is what made Karl Marx call religion the opiate of people.  "You can tolerate your poverty now because, you'll have streets of gold in the heavenly Jerusalem."

Attaining spiritual contentment should inspire us and give us the strength and empathy to work for the best possible conditions for as many people as possible.

Today, let the beatitudes invite us to honesty.  Let us ask God for the blessed state of contentment even while we know that we will not be exempt from a range of good and bad things happening to us.  But in the grace of the contentment of the abundant life of Christ, let us endlessly work to bring good news to others in this world.  Amen.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Epiphany, Theophany aka God's Call

5 Epiphany C February 10, 2019
Isaiah 6:1-8, [9-13] Psalm 138
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 Luke 5:1-11
The season of the Epiphany is about how God's love wins us in such a way that we seek to become winsome in sharing that love with others too. How does God become manifest to us?

The readings from the Scriptures appointed for this day gives us insights into the dynamics of God's call.

Today's Gospel presents us with the well-known calling of the fishermen by Jesus. When it comes to the Gospel fishermen,  I think that we often project our notion of fishing as a relaxing recreational sport back onto these fishermen of Gospel fame. Apparently, Peter, Andrew, James and John were from families on the Sea of Galilee that shared a fishing business. Fishing as business and fishing for sport are quite different things. Peter, Andrew, James and John had to fish as a part of the family business. And they probably ate lots of fish too.

Jesus, an itinerant rabbi, knew that these four men had interests beyond fishing. How did he know this?  Some were followers of John the Baptist, a relative and friend of Jesus, so we know that these men were looking for something beyond just the fishing business.

How do you think professional athletes feel when fans and amateurs try to tell them how to play their games? People in any profession do not like outsiders messing in their business. But Jesus meddled in the fishermen's business. "Hey, guys, you're not doing too well on the Lake today; why don't you throw your net in a different place?”

Can you imagine these fishermen rolling their eyes? “Jesus, we were born and raised on this Lake and into a fishing family. We know this Lake. We know the fishing spots. So, why would you presume know more about fishing on this lake than we do? Okay, we've heard good things about you, we trust you and we'll be polite and follow your fishing advice.” And what happened? They caught a bumper crop of fish. And Peter felt all embarrassed that he had doubted Jesus and he humbled himself apologetically before Jesus. And what did Jesus do? He called them to follow him. He gave them spiritual mobility. Their family script told them they were locked into the fishing business for the rest of their lives. But Jesus knew that they were men of words and curiosity about something completely different than fishing. The call of Jesus gave them a deliverance from being locked into just earning a living. Frankly, their families were probably happy for them since there were probably other family members in the business and so if some left the business there would be more left for those who remained.

So, we should be prepared for Christ to meddle in our business. Spirituality will meddle with every human enterprise. God's Holy Spirit will tell us how we can actually do our occupations better if we will allow the insights of our faith to enter our life calling.

What we also can learn from the Gospel is that you and I can do many things at the same time. We can have occupations to earn our livelihood and we can respond to the call of the Christ and much more at the same time. So, we should not let our occupations be an excuse to avoid responding to the call of Christ to our lives.

No, matter what we are doing in our lives, the call of Christ comes to us to make us better people persons.  Jesus told the fishermen, "From now on you will be catching people."

Sometimes we can use our occupations as excuses to avoid learning people skills; the call of Jesus is the call to love. And the call to love means learning people skills. It means learning how to be winsome with others.

One of the most famous accounts of the call of God was to the prophet Isaiah.  And it is a rather ironic call.  His epiphany was a profound theophany.  He entered a mystical dreamy realm and he experienced something that we are told that people cannot do: He saw God and the angelic singers of the heavenly courts.  What did they sing?  Holy, Holy, Holy…..meaning uniquely different and distinct from anything human.  And God’s uniqueness and fame called glory filled heaven and earth.

From hearing such holy singing, what did Isaiah feel about his speech?  He felt like he had a potty mouth and he dwelled among people who also had potty mouths.  And so, the hot coals had to sear his lips to give him the right words to speak.

The irony of Isaiah is that he was called to be a failure.  He was told that the people would not listen to him.  Isaiah was an unrequited prophet; he preached a message that wasn’t received in his own time.

It is still the irony of the call of Christ for us today.  Sometimes we are given insights, ministry and mission even when there are no people present to accept to our insights, ministry and mission.  I’ve seen  people become all “gung ho” with insights and energy to make the parish a better place, but they haven’t always found other people to support them.  When we seem called to be irrelevant, it can be frustrating; and we can be tempted to give up and sometimes we need to remember that the greatness of the one who calls us is greater than what we are actually called to do.  Very early in ministry, like the first week, I realized that I was called to prepare my sermon with the same faithfulness whether I thought 5 people would be present or 500.  It is important to know that the greatness of God and the calling itself is greater than any seeming successful or failing results.  It is also important to know that God hides us from knowing how we are successful, especially when it comes in ministry to youth.  I had lots of mentors when I was young who probably never knew how much they did for me.

What else about the call of God?  God is unique and holy, and God made each of us in our being and in our experience unique.  No one can be called exactly in the way in which we are called.  St. Paul noted how Christ appeared to him in a unique way long after the appearances of Christ to many others before him.  When Paul was called, he quit persecuting the church and he became the one who was called to preach the Gospel to the Gentile people.  As a result, he became one who was called to suffer and be persecuted by his former religious associates.  Paul had a unique calling and so do each one of us.  The call of Christ rides upon the obvious gifts and experiences of our lives.  The call of Christ integrates our personal experience and when we offer them to the church, they are blessed and made to be winsome to other people.

The call of Christ has come to people in their life experiences; they have brought it into the parish and “peopleized” it and it becomes parish ministry.  This is what has happened in our parish in the past;  and I believe that it will continue in the future.  What we need to let people know is that God is calling them within the gifts of their lives and within their life experience; and if they offer it for ministry within the church, Christ will make us all catch people; Christ will make us people persons.

So the call of Christ upon you and me in the uniqueness of our lives; and we need to say, “Here am I send me”…..and we can learn to rejoice in the calling itself, because the calling is in fact our relationship with Christ.   We will have some success and some failures; but let us not get disheartened in our callings as we continually offer all that we have to God to be used to be winsome in enriching the lives of the people whom we are called to be with.

Consider the call of Christ on your life today.  Consider how Christ might want to bless and use your gifts in our parish today.  Amen

Quiz of the Day, March 2019

Quiz of the Day, March 25, 2019 What was the context for the Magnificat of Mary? a. She sang it to Gabriel at the Annunciation b. She ...