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

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Leftovers Anyone?

8 Pentecost, Cycle A Proper 13, August 2, 2020

Genesis 32:22-31 Psalm 17: 1-7, 16

Romans 9:1-5 Matthew 14:13-21

Lectionary Link


One of the best things, the day after a meal is leftovers.  I've said hundreds of time, "wow, this soup or sauce tastes better today than when I served it last night."  And so the obvious question is why don't I have the discipline to serve things a day late so that the flavors can marinade longer and taste better?  Well, I'm not that disciplined and also not everything tastes good as a leftover, like a soggy salad.

 

I'm fascinated with the accounts of the multiplication of loaves stories in the Gospels.  They all include leftovers.  Why do all of the authors make sure to report leftovers but they never write about what is done with the leftovers?  Are the leftovers recorded to imply the abundance of God's blessing?  Are the leftovers recorded to indicate that the work of distribution remains for the disciples to feed people who were not present for the original meal?

 

Is the multiplication of loaves story the cryptic insertion of the Eucharistic practice of the early churches with the invitation that the leftover bread is the renewal supply of God's holy bread for the people of this world?  If MacDonald's have served billions of burgers, how many billions of people have been fed with the continual leftovers from the Table of the Lord in the history of the church?

 

The leftovers reported at the multiplication of loaves event is an indication that the feeding of people with bread and the word of God is still not finished.  It is a reminder to us that we cannot divorce Eucharist as an event of Word and Sacrament from the needs of the hungry people of the world.  We are challenged to devise creative economies to get the leftovers from the abundance of God to us to those who need food and the things for necessary subsistence.

 

Let us look at a theology of leftovers in the story of salvation.  One might say that the intent of God was to bless all with abundance and have the leftovers of abundance be continually shared to new and more people.  The leftovers are the evangelism, the invitation to join the main table of blessing which God desires for everyone.

 

The biblical story of salvation is that God wanted to deliver the blessing of abundant living to all people in this world.  As God's creation, God wanted the human creatures to have an "owner's manual" on how to best operate human living and how to troubleshoot if problems arose.

 

The delivery system was the selection of a people who would build a house of prayer for all people to be invited into the ownership manual for best behaviors and living.

 

We have read today, the story of the transformation of a single family man into the corporate personality.  Jacob wrestled with God and he, died as the last Patriarch, but he received a new Corporate Name, the name of Israel.  In this name, a people would be readied as a divine strategy to deliver the owner's manual for human beings to this world.  Israel became the corporate name for a people with a divine mission.  And the mission had some successes and some failures.

 

The mission was successful in forging a continuing identity for the Jewish people by rules which segregated them from the other people of the world.  Everyone can theoretically become a member of an Amish Community, but the rules are so inaccessible from the normal practices of modern people as to make Amish practice an impossible universal practice.  What became obvious in the time of Jesus and Paul is that Judaism as it had come to be practiced was not adaptable to the conditions in Palestine and to the majority people in the cities of the Roman Empire.  Even though Judaism permitted proselytes to convert, one could say that evangelism was not a major mission of the Judaism which was practiced at the time of Jesus and Paul.  The most effective way of Jewish evangelism was birth of a child within a Jewish family.

 

In the letter of Paul to Romans, Paul, a Jew, mourned the fact that his Jewish faith community did not have evangelical wisdom.  How could the people of the world know that God's blessing was intended for all if there was no strategy for sharing.  Paul believed that the blessing of God to the Jews had plenty of leftovers.  The offering of these leftovers to the Gentiles people was the evangelism of the Jesus Movement within the Roman Empire.  The earliest churches derived from the synagogues and were a Christ-centered Judaism to the people in the Roman Empire.  And to be more accessible, the Jesus Movement were led by the Spirit to dispense with the ritual purity requirements of Judaism to reach the Gentile peoples.  And this caused a painful separation of the Jesus Movement from the synagogue.  Evangelism of the Jesus Movement believed that one was not distinguished by ritual purity, as important as it might be, one was distinguished by the inner presence of the Holy Spirit to change one's life toward the moral perfection of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, self-control and faith.

 

Leftovers might seem to be like second-hand clothing that we give to the thrift store.   But when it comes to food, leftovers can be the better tasting food due to mature marinating.  And that is what evangelism is in the Jesus Movement; it is the leftovers of the blessing of the main meal which has marinated our faith lives in maturity so that we can make a more tasty presentations of our good news to the people in our lives.  Why?  Because we want everyone invited to the main table of God's love and blessing.

 

May God give us wisdom to distribute the wonderful leftovers of God's blessing in our lives, so that more people can know that they are invited to God's main table, God's welcoming feast of life.  Amen.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Balancing Cosmic Patience With Particular Impatience

7 Pentecost, Cycle A Proper 11, July 19, 2020
Genesis 28:10-19a,  Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23
Romans 8:12-25 Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Lectionary Link


A basic technique of Jesus for teaching and communication was the parable.  A parable is a story which provides wisdom insights about life and certainly Jesus was one we might designate as a wisdom teacher.

Wisdom is not what we call science; wisdom has more to do with the ordering our inner lives of feelings and values and motivations to propel what we do and say in our lives.

One of the basic themes of the parables of Jesus was the kingdom of heaven or kingdom of God.  First why does Matthew's Gospel use "kingdom of heaven" and not "kingdom of God?"  One theory is that the reading audience of Matthew were predominately from a Jewish background and since in respect for the name of God, the word heaven was put in the place of God's holy unpronounceable name. 

Jesus came to teach us the wisdom of God, the wisdom of heaven while we very much live in the realm or kingdom of this world.  The wisdom of heaven which can be derived from being born from above, involves someone who was conversant in the heavenly realm, the inner spiritual realm, and who communicated this to us in the earthly realm.

We've read today the story of the dream of Jacob about a ladder from heaven on which angels traveled up and down.

In the Gospel John, Jesus said to Nathaniel that he would see the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.  Jesus, then is Jacob's ladder, in that he connects the invisible abode of the divine with the earthly landing on the bottom rung.  Angels are messengers, symbolic of the messages which come through Jesus as the connecting ladder of the heavenly with the earthly.

St. Paul noted that the world is subjected to futility.  Futility might be described as thwarted hope, unrealized aspirations for things which seem so appropriate and right.

Jesus told the parable of the weeds and the wheat to give us insights about the experience of futility due to the conditions of freedom which prevail in the passage of time.

Jesus indicates that the human situation is like the life of a frustrated, challenged and yet hopeful farmer or gardener.  We plant and we hope for optimal outcomes, but in the conditions of freedom allow pests and weeds to challenge the success of our hopeful dreams.

And what is required of us as earthly gardeners?  Patience.  In the impatience of rage we wish that we could just go "Rambo" on our enemies, all of the weeds which challenge the full success of our lives.

We wish the field of freedom could be instantly rid of all evil by pulling up all of the weeds of evil.  But to rid the field of all of the weeds, we are reminded that such weeds in field of freedom are intertwined with all that is good.  And so we must be patient to tolerate the conditions until the time of harvest when what is good can survive and nurture future life.  That which is unworthy is separated and not allowed to be perpetuated.

As gardeners of living, we have to be patient for the cycles in the passing of time for things to come to pass.

The entire council of God or Christ are not revealed in the parable of the weeds and wheat.  Only the passive side of patience.  Yes, like gardeners we have to be patient.  Most of the biblical writings were written by people very unlike those of us who are white in America.  Biblical writings were written by people without political power; people who were oppressed and suppressed.  So, they needed insights about being patient.  If the Jews and early Christians thought that they could attack the weeds of evil of their Roman overlords, they knew that all of their good would be lost as well.  They had to abide in patience.

What the parable does not give to us is the responsibility that people with power, privilege and wealth have to prevent the injustice and oppression, and evil in our world.

Just think about slaves in America for many years.  Just think about indigenous peoples in America for many years.  Were they and are they supposed to just be patient waiting for the harvest when their oppressors are sorted out sent to the dust bin of history?

We certainly should not use this parable of Jesus to tolerate the delay of justice for all people, if we have the power to bring it to full practice and to right the wrongs of the evil of our past.

If we are people in futility today, faced with some evil, over which we have no control, let us have the patience of a good gardener to wait for things to pass.

But us not regard ourselves as helpless gardeners,as passive ones who can do nothing about the presence of injustice that is in our ability to weed out.

All of us live under the cosmic futility of time, aging and death; and for this cosmic futility we need the cosmic patience of endurance.

But let us not accept cosmic futility as an excuse for not working in our own garden patches to rid this world of the oppression of injustice and all inhumanity to everyone in our world.

The patience of God does not give us the excuse to delay justice in the garden of this world.  We will not appreciate the anger of Jesus, if we are happy to delay justice for many to a future heaven.

May God give us today the cosmic patience for our cosmic futility in knowing time, aging and death; but may God give us the impatient, anger of Jesus to bring righteous justice to everyone whom we can now.  Amen.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Parable Sower Was Not Jethro Tull

Pentecost, Cycle A Proper 10, July 12, 2020
Isaiah 55:10-13 Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-14
Romans 8:1-11  Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23



To be human is to be interested in causation.  Why do things happen?  Why are certain things successful?  Why do certain things fail?

Farmers and gardeners are interested in causation.  What makes for a very good crop?  Drum roll....wait for the answer.  The conditions have to be right.  Well, duh.  That answer is too vague to be satisfying.

A modern agribusiness farmer wants to control as many factors as possible.  If it doesn't rain, then irrigate.  Use good seed, hybrid seed, prepare the soil environment with good soil analysis, pin point your seed planting, protect from pests and weeds and hope that some major flooding or other uncontrollable disaster will not hinder a good crop.

The early members of the Jesus Movement were wondering about the success of the Gospel Mission.  Why do some people receive the message and some do not?  Why are some Christians sixty day wonders and then peter out and go back to their pre-Christian habits and life styles?

The leaders of the Jesus Movement found the Gospel irresistible and lasting.  They wondered why everybody did not find the Gospel irresistible.  And so, we have the parable of the sower.  And the answer given for Gospel success and failure in the parable is not that satisfactory in its precision.  Why is the Gospel successful?  It depends upon the conditions.  Well, duh.  I wanted a precise answer Jesus.  Not just a vague reference to mystery.

The sower in the parable is a pre-Jethro Tull sower, not the Rock Band but the inventor of the seed drill, for controlled placement of seeds.  The sower in the parable just tossed the seeds to the wind and let them fall where they may.  Why isn't God a precision planter?  Why is God so indiscriminate in how the seed is sown?

The greatest mystery in life is the mystery of Freedom and the free conditions of life.  And all of the mixtures caused by the free conditions of life.  Free conditions in life mean that differences of all sort prevail, not only in farming and gardening, but more complex in the the social and psychological conditions of the people in the world.  Not everyone is in the same place in their psychological development, their social situation, their age, their family, their personal histories, their personality and lots of of other individual and social conditions of life.  If one is relatively happy with one's life and sees no need for a change, then a change which is offered may not even be received.  If one has to suffer too much for a commitment, then one may not commit.

I like the parable of the sower, precisely because it honors the free conditions of life.  It does not seek to explain away the mystery involved in how each person arrives at the right conditions to make a creative advance in one's intellectual and spiritual life.

That is why we are not involved in the science of evangelism.  We are involved in the art of evangelism as we seek to bring good news to people, in the appropriate ways tailored to the conditions in people's life.

The seeming indiscriminate sowing habit of the sower in the parable speaks to the universal availability of the Gospel, even though the conditions of its reception may not always be ideal.

The success of the Gospel for people is a matter of good timing. The conditions of freedom in the hearts and minds and the communities of people in our world, mean that we are involved in a discerning art rather than a strictly rational scientific method of evangelism.

Let us enjoy the parable of the sower today as an insight about free availability of God love to everyone even in the diverse free conditions of the hearts and minds of people.

And we do not have to be fatalistic about this in the way things are; we in our freedom can develop the call we have to be in the discerning art of evangelism. This is art of empathy, of knowing how and when to share our good news, as we discern the conditions of receptions in the people who are brought into our lives.

The condition of reception for many people today need our discernment about Black Lives Matter, hungry lives matter, poor lives matter, Covid-19 suffering lives matter, LatinX lives matter,  stressed lives matter, despondent lives matter, LBGTQ lives matter, unemployed persons lives matter, everyone's life matters.  The art of evangelism involves discerning exactly how people's lives matter and demonstrating how the active love of Christ proves the dignity of people's lives.

May God grant us the right conditions for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and may we keep learning the discerning art of evangelism for the success of letting all people know how much their lives matter to God and to us.  Amen.


Saturday, July 4, 2020

Caught in St. Paul's Twilight Zone? Try Being Yoked with Christ

5 Pentecost, A  p 9, July 5, 2020
Zechariah 9:9-12 Psalm 145:8-15
Romans 7:15-25a Matt. 11:25-30

Lectionary Link

Video.  Sermon at 11:53

As Episcopalians we morphed from having been the Church of England in the American Colonies.  So the American Revolution was probably hardest upon the members of the Church of England in the Colonies.  Why?  The Church of England was the Established Church of the British Empire and the King was the Head of the Church.  It was an important feature of the Book of Common Prayer to pray for the King.  When our framers wanted the separation of State and Religion, they were purposefully trying to escape the English practice of established religion.  The revolt in the Colonies was hardest on the clergy; many clergy were Tory clergy and the last to make peace with our independence.

So, Happy Independence Day, Episcopal Church.  Do we mourn the loss of being the favored and established church of our country?  Or do we celebrate the fact that our country was an experiment in government that arrived at some important Gospel and Christly values?

Most Episcopalians are strongly in favor with the separation of church and state, precisely because we know our past.  And we get concerned when many Americans want the government to be specifically a certain kind of Christian rather than be non-aligned with any religious community.

How can we be Christian and Americans at the same time who respect the diversity of beliefs or non-belief of our citizens?

Perhaps, we are familiar with the quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:  Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary use words.

Many people decry the age of the Enlightenment when Reason and Science replaced God and theology.  I would like to suggest that the Enlightenment was one of the results of the success of the Gospel being preached but not with words, rather in resulting social functions of society.

Love God and your neighbor as yourself.  That is Gospel and Torah.  What embodies that more than the declaration that all are created equal and are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Who was formerly responsible for providing health, education and welfare?  Such were the main diaconal functions of the church.  But what if the church converts entire governments to the role of being concerned about the health, education and welfare for all of the members of society?  Is that the defeat of Gospel values or the triumph?

Some Christians today are disappointed by secular health, education and welfare because it does not have specific Christian sub-titles stamped all over it in with conscious Christian evangelism.  In health, education and welfare, churches can only do band aid efforts in face of such great public needs.  We should be thankful that the governments have been converted to be responsible for the general health, education and welfare to the reach all of our citizenry.  And when we complain that it is not ever done perfectly, what do we want?  Do we want our government to cease to make the efforts on our behalf?

Should we not be thankful that the government adopted a biblical like tithing system of taxes so that the public common good can be taken care of?  With our payment of taxes we are doing the Gospel without words.

How many of us truly appreciate the collateral effects of preaching the Gospel without words which our government actually does for us because of our American values.  Dear ones, let's be thankful and let us not complain, except when we as a collective people are not living up to those "hidden Gospel" values within our American ideals which pertain to the active love of justice and dignity for every human being.

The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Torah are examples of the highly recommended behaviors for good human relationships.  They are such expressions of ideals that they can be experienced as the down side of idealized laws; they continuously remind us of our failures and our need to be better angels to truly fulfill them.

We've read from St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, the section which I call the "Twilight Zone."  Why?  Do,do,do,do, Do,do,do, do, Do,do,do, do, Do,do,do, do.  In the portion we've read,  the word "do" is used sixteen times.  If you were Paul's writing teacher, you would encourage more stylistic variation, but you can understand Paul's obsession with an action verb.  The law stands over his head reminding him that he is not perfect, so how can he tolerate himself as his limps on his way to become better each day?  The intervention of the Risen Christ who becomes his "stand in" perfection while, he walks the path toward perfection.

We, as Americans, over and over again are faced with the utopian ideals of our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution.  We have legislative bodies to try to provide us laws which approximate these utopian ideals.  We are faced with the obvious fact that people of wealth and power have the ability to finesse our legal system while people who are poor and deprived of full social equality end up being on the harsh punishment side of our legal system.

We want to do liberty and justice for all.  We want to do life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in an equal way for all of our citizens, but alas, we are ever poignantly reminded of our failure.  O, wretched failure that we often are.  Who will deliver us from the consequences of unequal practice of our great American Ideals?  We need the higher power of God and Christ and the Holy Spirit to help us become our better angels toward the ideals of our country.

Although we are not specifically a Christian country, we can say that the values taught by Jesus Christ became expressed in the Declaration of Independence and in our Constitution in expressing a freedom to love God, if we choose, but the requirement that we love our love our neighbor as ourselves, in the most general and complete expression of love, is the practice of justice.

When Jesus came he found a very fickle public.  They criticized John the Baptist who was ascetic and spartan in his habits and his general rebuke of everyone; they criticized Jesus as a glutton and drunkard for eating with publican and sinners.  And what did Jesus say?  He was revealed to the vulnerable.  Who is the most vulnerable?  An infant.  He was saying, if you want to act in the wisdom of God, tend to the vulnerable.  The wonderful "I will give you rest," expression of Jesus reminds me of the ideal stated in the Lazarus poem at the Statue of Liberty, "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free....I lift my lamp beside the golden door."  America is the ideal of welcome.  Lady Liberty with the torch says, "We'll leave the light on for you, so you can find your way to welcome."  "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me and you will find rest for your souls."

Today, both the vulnerable and the powerful and the wealthy need the serious help of Christ.  We will not live up to the high ideals of God's law or even our country's ideal, if we try to go it selfishly alone or divide ourselves into tribal groups to perpetuate opposition in our country.  If we want to make progress toward our ideals, we need to be yoked with Christ.  Being yoked with Christ means that we are not absolved from our own agency and effort.  It means when we desire to go in the right direction, we can be sure of the power of Christ, the assistance of a higher power of the arc of justice toward the ideals of God as they are expressed in loving our neighbor as our self.

On this day after our American birthday party, we say, Happy Birthday America and we love you.  We love your high ideals, even if they consistently remind us of our failures.

But as Christians and Americans, let us come to Jesus as the weary ones today, seeking rest for our souls.  Let us take on the yoke of Christ to help us today as we alway live and act toward loving our neighbors as ourselves.  Amen

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Practice of Welcome

Pentecost,  A p 8 June 28, 2020
Genesis 22:1-14 Psalm 13
Romans 6:12-23   Matthew 10:40-42
We call our Holy Bible, the inspired word of God.  We call it revelation.  Many Christian like to treat the Bible as their possessing the correct meaning or interpretation.  I would like to see it as revelation which means that within language, we have an unveiling of meanings for our lives to help us please and obey God.

As I have read the Bible, and not pretending that I could have been there when it came to it textual form, I read it for unveiling of meaning and promotion of what the wholistic health of salvation means for us in our lives.

As foundational as the story about the sacrifice of Isaac is in the Judeo-Christian tradition, for me it represents a story from the pre-historic era when people came to realize that God is not a God who requires human sacrifice in some cosmic justice system.  A substituted animal was allowed in the sacrificial system because people needed the sacrifice of physical life in how they perceived a cosmic system of justice.  


The Psalmist and the prophets wrote that God didn't need  or want the blood and sacrifice of animals.  By the time Jesus had died on the cross, it came to be understood that God did not desire death but life.  Sacrifice as a universal principle of the behaviors of living for each other and for God is something that God was trying to teach humanity all along.  And for St. Paul, the death of Jesus became the spiritual and mystical mode to die to oneself and be initiated into the way of being a living sacrifice.

One can easily see in St. Paul's writing to the Roman church the basis for the 12 Step Program analysis of addiction.  Paul understands sin to be addiction.  Sin is the force of habits formed by repeatedly doing wrong things, and the habits can get so entrenched that they put a person in the state of slavery known as addiction.  The 12 Step people cite an encounter of grace with a higher power to help them interdict their bad habit and become empowered agents able to build one sober moment at a time to reform one's behavioral habits.

Paul used the "Instrument" metaphor; all facets of our personalities are instruments which can be employed for wickedness or for righteousness.  The event of the grace of Christ in being able to die to selfish self in the power of the death of Christ, also means to ride the power of the identity with the resurrection to a new free agency, to attain the freedom to make new choices of righteousness.

One of imbalances in spiritual practice in the church is that we make salvation a very private and individual things.  We regard sin to be a very individual thing.  But the individual is also a member of a larger corporate body of people.

The well-known psychiatrist Carl Menninger wrote a book entitled, "Whatever Became of Sin?"  And he was not so much concerned about individual sin; he wrote about corporate and social sins.  He wrote about the things that are done in the name of the group, for which each individual does not have to take individual responsibility.  Racism is one such social sins which has remained in various forms since the lack of full inclusion of Black persons into the full promise of the American ideals after the bloody end of the practice of slavery.  The forty acres and a mule promised to Black persons was never fulfilled and Andrew Jackson overturned completely the practice.

We like to revert to individual responsibility and salvation and totally down play and discount the effects of social practice which does not give equal chance and equal opportunity to everyone in our society.

As a society we need to repent of our social sins and we need to have our social practice be transformed to the causes of righteousness in finding strategies of opportunity and justice for everyone.

What is the outcome of the transformation of personal capacity and social capacity to righteous practice.

The Gospel words explains it best with a wonderful word.  Welcome.  What if everyone in our country, state and local neighborhood could feel like they are people who are welcomed, in the name of all of us.  Jesus said when we welcome each other we are welcoming him.  And welcome and being welcomed is the self-reinforcing reward.

Let us not give up on the possibility for the hospitality of welcome becoming a delightful reality for the Black people in our country as we pray that all of us together will commit ourselves to the practice of mutual hospitality.

The Eucharist is the declaration of the practice of the hospitality of God in Christ.  Sitting at the table of hospitality is the expression of our aspiring prayers that such experience of welcome can come to all of us, all of the time, and all together.

In our country today, we pray that each of us will be instruments of the welcoming love of Christ and it be received by people as the kind of welcome which they want and need to receive for their dignity.

Let be in the welcoming ministry of Jesus Christ today.  Amen.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

When Is Peace not Peace?

3 Pentecost, A p 7, June 21,2020
21:8-21 Ps. 86:1-10, 16-17
Rom. 6:1b-11    Matt. 10:24-39


Youtube Liturgy.   Sermon at 17:50

We can get very sentimental about a word like peace, but peace can become a silent complacency and false comfort in the static state of I know what I like and I like what I know, so don't upset my peace.

But today we have read the seeming contradictory words of Jesus when he is quoted as saying, "I did not come to bring peace, I came to bring a sword."  And then we have read the rather frightening words of division, yes, family division.  Families are supposed to be united and peaceful and not at war; "Jesus why would you bring a sword and not peace?  Aren't you the Prince of Peace?"

And so I pose the question, when is peace no peace at all?  And the answer?  When peace is anchored in the perfection of God for each person and for the society of people who need to become their better angels.

Two days after the celebration of June 19th which commemorates the declaration of liberty and freedom from slavery arriving to the Black people in our country, we have been recently experiencing the Peace that is no peace.  Why?  Because the peace of God is anchored in perfection and God wants us to be in perfect peace.

In biblical times, the language of everyone, including the language of Jesus indicate to us that the world had made a terrible peace with the practice of slavery.  The ancient economic virtue of slavery persisted and resisted for way too long progress toward the perfect peace of God.

And when people advance in and toward the perfect peace of God, there are revolutionary times when things don't seem so peaceful.  Whenever true cultural and spiritual advances are occurring the peace of complacent blindness to taken for granted inhumanity gets upset and people get angry and are divided.  "But we've always done it this way and we aren't bad people."

The peace of God is no peace to those who do not want to advance to a more perfect peace when a better way is shown.

Early Christ-centered Judaism was an advance in evangelism to the entire world.  It seemed as though religious elites had promoted that God had only a few chosen people and God wasn't available to everyone in the world.  Why would God be available to the Gentiles?  And Jesus and his followers said, "Why not?"  And the peace in the community of faith was shattered and division occurred between the synagogue and the Jesus Movement.  The harsh words of the Gospel for today echo the big problem caused by offering salvation to the whole world.  And Paul hearkening back to Abraham declared that God was truly a universalist, God was for everyone.  And Paul saw that the meaning of Jesus the Christ, meant that God was for everyone.

And when we are offered a more perfect Peace from God and we refuse to advance to a more perfect peace, what happens?  Joseph Campbell once said, "Yesterday's virtues can become tomorrow's vices."  The once practiced exclusivity of thinking that God only belonged to a certain clan, became exposed as misrepresenting a loving God.  In Jesus, it was revealed that God was for everyone.  And when humanity finally begins to arrive at enlightenment in being humane, the ancient economic virtue of slavery has been exposed to be the wicked degrading practice of inhumanity to people who were created equal in God's image.

We as Americans, believe that our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution were enlightened documents for humanity to advance toward their better angels and toward a more perfect peace with God and each other.

But just like Paul believed that people in his faith background were not living up to the universal faith of Abraham, it has over and over again been shown to us in actual American practice that we have not been living up to the high ideals of our founding principles of liberty and justice for all.   And when the hypocrisy is revealed, when we are shown to be lacking in the practice of our ideals, especially toward minorities, toward women and people of color, the public peace has been upset.  Why?  Because in power relationships people fear the loss of power if actual equal justice is offered and lived towards all.  People who have had wealth and power do not realize the motivating power of fear of loss in their own lives.

And these past weeks have been poignant and painful reminders that we have not yet achieved in full practice the perfect peace of God, we have not yet become the better angels that our Declaration of Independence and Constitution tried to write us to be.

So what do we do?  Today, we give up the false peace of complacency and the ignorance based upon refusing to know each other in fully mutually beneficial ways.  We accept the sword of division which Christ still brings today to force us to move on to better practice of the higher peace of God.

The perfect peace of God will always make us uncomfortable if we are settling for and tolerating the harm of anyone.  The perfect peace of God will not let us be comfortable because we have been segregated and sheltered from having to interact with people who are different from us.  America has for too long lived as separate gated communities of people with ethnic, social and economic differences and this betrays the peace of E pluribus unum.  Out of the many one.  Out of the many one, cannot just mean out of the many  European descendents who came to America,  the one.   Because of the original born here, the native peoples and those who were brought here unwillingly as slaves, and the many waves of immigrants who have come here for a better freedom and economic well-being, our land is a land of differences, and the wonderful peace of God calls us to find a fuller peace and practice the best ways of celebrating the beauty of these differences.

The peace of Jesus came to Palestine as an unsettling sword of division to call the world to the greater peace of God.  You and I are called to this greater Peace of God today.  May we have grace in our nation to weather this unsettling time of confrontation with the humbling and humiliating reality of our failure, but let this be a sure indication to us that God loves us to perfect us in the perfect Peace of God.   And for the sake of Christ, let us not give up on each other.  Let us provoke each other to become our better angels in the perfect peace of God. Amen.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Trinity Sunday: Taking the Baptismal Covenant to the Streets

Trinity Sunday A   June 7,2020   
Gen. 1:1-2:3       Ps.33
2 Cor. 13:5-10,11-14  Matt. 28:16-20


Lectionary Link

Video Trinity Sunday
These past days have been hard on us as a human family, because we have shown that we not always a very good family.  The death of George Floyd has exposed some very bad family traits, the traits of both subtle and not so subtle racism.  And experiencing our family at its very worst, we cannot write ourselves off completely, because events of this past show some bad interwoven with lots of peaceful voices marching for justice and change.  Some place have seen looting and tear gas and pushing and shoving and Billy clubbing, and yet there’s been police and protesters dancing, kneeling, and smiling and joining in common cause.  So, let’s not write off the whole human family, all of the time, yet.

And why do we sense our human failure in really bad family behaviors such as injustice and racism, misogyny and many other forms of prejudice?  Why?  Because the ultimate family to which we belong is led by such perfect Persons.

Today is the Day of the Holy Divine Family of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And they are perfect.  They were perfectly Three in One, long before we in America could come up with E pluribus unum.  From the many one.  And why do we often fail to act as one in our differences?  In our sin and our group egos, we magnify difference and use the power of group egos to hinder the unity that is best expressed in justice for all.  Justice is not a privilege of people with money and power; justice is the right of everyone, like air, water and food. 

So, what are we going to do when we are faced with this failure of ours to let the unity of justice prevail for all of our many people?

We’re going to repent and return to the Lord God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Why?  Because that is what we promised when we were admitted into the Family of the Father, the Son and the Spirit at our baptism.

We have been baptized, immersed into the nature of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and we took vows to this holy, holy family and we’ve confirmed those same vows in the presence of each other many times.  What are two of those vows which we have made and confirmed and reconfirmed in the presence of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and each other?

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

I will with God’s help.

This past week calls out to us to repent and return to more truly representing the Holy Trinity, into whom we have been baptized.

The other baptism vow that we have made and confirmed many times is this:

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will with God’s help.

There have been people who have not had equal justice and not been able to have peace and whose dignity has been diminished even unto wrongful death, even murder in the custody of peace and safety officers.  And what has that death spark around the entire world?

A cry for repentance.  A cry to renew our promise to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being.

We prefer to whisper these promises in our quiet baptismal liturgies, but this past week people are yelling and crying this same baptismal pledge loud and together.

What we can thank God the Holy Trinity for this: that the Baptismal covenant has hit the streets and all over the world.  It is not a cute little baptism with a young baby boy dressed in the family baptismal garment.  It is shouting marching people in the street saying with God’s help and/or by holding each other accountable we will strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of all.  And yes, you will repent, because I will repent, and we will all be more diligent about holding each other to repentance.

If in the sadness of this past week we can rejoice that the baptismal covenant has come to be loudly confirmed in the streets of our world with blaring publicity, then we can know we have not given up trying to approximate our behaviors in the direction of the Perfect, Holy, Holy Family of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Let us rejoice that this week we had it made known that we have failed miserably in doing what the Holy Trinity would have us to do in our relationships with each other.

But let us rejoice that we are mourning and lamenting our failures and that at least we have had our consciences rebuked and renewed by the high standard of our baptism when water was poured over us and it was said, “I baptize you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Why do we do this?  Because we want to keep alive the high and holy standard of the perfect family of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  And we want to renew our initiation and we want to plead, "God keep making me a better Christian and let me live out better my baptismal vows and so that my confession of the Trinity on Trinity Sunday might be authentic, even as I endeavor to keep my vows."

In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we renew our endeavor to strive for peace and justice among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.  Amen.

The Personal Politics of the Trinity

Trinity Sunday A   June 7, 2020   
Gen. 1:1-2:3       Ps.33
2 Cor. 13:5-10,11-14  Matt. 28:16-20


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Today is Trinity Sunday on our liturgical calendar, and so the topic for the sermon seems to be dictated, even though I might rather talk about justice and health given what is happening to us in our public life today.  But if I got into talking about justice and health, I would be broaching one of the forbidden topics in the Episcopal Church, because we all disagree,  politics.  So, I will talk about the Trinity; surely there can be no politics when speaking about the Trinity?

Well, I'm wrong because one cannot avoid politics even when speaking about the Trinity.  The Trinity became front and center because of that little church convention in the city of Nicaea in 325.  An unbaptized Roman Emperor, Constantine had observed that his Empire was being rapidly populated by Christians.  This is instantiated by the fact that at the beginning of the fourth century Christian were not allowed in the Roman Army and by the end of the Fourth Century, only Christians were allowed in the Roman Army.  What kind of sea change was that!

Constantine observed that Christians weren't unified; they were divided over their beliefs about God and the nature of Jesus Christ.  Bishops with different beliefs had sponsoring and protecting local governors and this was a potential political problem for the overall unity of the Roman Empire.

Constantine, in effect said to the bishops, "get thee to Nicaea and standardize your faith because I don't want fighting among Christians to divide my Empire."  So the bishops gathered in Nicaea to develop a creed of belief and a canon of church laws to promulgate and enforce the official statements of the Council.  So the result of the council of Nicaea was immediate church unity?  Wrong.  The pronouncements of this Council resulted in the excommunication of more than half of the Christians in the Empire, even though the canonical effect was not immediate since Bishops who lost at the Council still had supporting governors and political authorities to protect them and their continued practice of post-Nicaean heresy.  They went to Nicaea thinking they were "orthodox" and good people of faith; and many bishops left being designated as heretics.

So how can we avoid politics when speaking about the Trinity?  At Nicaea most of the vocabulary for speaking about the nature of God came from Greek Philosophy.  This too was quite a change since the biblical writings came from grounding in Hebraic and Semitic words and thoughts and thinking.  The Nicaean Council is proof about how Gentile the Christian faith had become since the scholarly bishops used their background in the language of hellenistic philosophies to speak about the notions which arose from the more Hebraic context of Jesus of Nazareth.

Most Christians in the world have tacitly accepted the results of the Council of Nicaea and it is almost for the Christian world, a "ho hum;" it goes without saying that God is One God in Trinity of Equal Persons.

How can you and I be embraced by a Trinitarian understanding of God in a way that has a direct message for us today, in a divided country today?

The most obvious reason that we are Trinitarian is because of the way that we understand the life of Jesus presented to us in the Gospel and particularly the Gospel of John.

How is Jesus presented?  He is presented as the very ground of knowing anything at all.  In his pre-existence he is called the Word who was with God and who was God.  To know anything at all, we first assume that we live on the ground of Word and having language.  Knowing existence is mediated through us having language.

Having language means that we live in a personal universe.  Naming everything means that we live in a personal language.  Language is the essence of relationship and relationship is personal.

In the biblical traditional, what happened because we have language?  Everything  and everyone gets named.  And so did God.  God came to have many names.  There are over one hundred names for God in the Bible and these names seek to cover the vast ways in which people believed God to be involved and related to their lives.  All of the names of God indicate the belief in personal relationship.

In the life of Jesus, we came to find all of the names of God for human and personal relationship with God arrive at very specific Persons of God.  We cannot avoid that we live in a personal universe because we have words and language.  And Jesus really simplified an understanding of God.  In Jesus, we found one so superlative that we came to know and confess Jesus as one who was completely bilingual in God-language and human language.  And Jesus made God known in the most accessible human way to reveal that God has accepted human experience as a valid way to know God and to be in relationship with God.  In the understanding of God, God went from such general Personality with many names of the divine attributes, to the unveiling of God in distinctly three Persons, of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, not because any human language can control or limit the greatness of God, but because we need to know particular personal relationship with God.  We need to know that we have permission to assume a relationship with God.  And that is what Jesus Christ did for us in such a poignant way.  He gave us permission to accept ourselves a sons and daughters of God, with him as the sibling to lead to our membership in God's family.

We know the difficulty in living within the one human family.  We're one human family but prone to let our many differences keep us from expressing our unity.

And this is where we arrive at the pure politics of the Holy Trinity for us today.  God as One God and in three distinct different Persons is the perfect model for us today.  Unity in Difference.  E pluribus unum is not unique to our Country.  Knowing God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we can know three Persons who are One in unity.

And how we need to resort to this perfect model of the three in One today in our country, more than ever as we face the constant challenge of a dignified unity honoring the differences of each one.

Today, let us not try to over-intellectualize the Holy Trinity, let us accept that we live in a personal universe because we live in the Word who was with God and was God from the beginning.  And living in a personal world means that relationship is unavoidable.  And if relationship is unavoidable, let relationship be known as the the unity of Peace, as is best expressed in the practice of love and justice.

We accept the Holy Trinity as the impossible and unattainable Unity in Diversity Model for us in actual practice, but we accept it as defining the direction which we want to be headed towards in good human living.

In our baptismal association with the Holy Trinity, we believe God is associated with us, in spite of ourselves, and we are always challenged to live up to being associated with the Trinitarian family of God, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Let us set the direction of our lives toward the Unity and Diversity of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Language as the Personal Field for Knowing God as Trinity

Trinity Sunday A   June 7,2020   
Gen. 1:1-2:3       Ps.33
2 Cor. 13:5-10,11-14  Matt. 28:16-20      

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Today on Trinity Sunday, we might stop to ponder why we as Christians have come to confess God as One God in Trinity of Persons.

First the only way in which we can know anything at all is to know it as it is mediated in the field of language.  To have language, to use words in speaking and in writing and in body language deeds is the manifestation of the very medium of personality.  To have language means we are by basic nature personal because language implies being in relationship and relationship is how personality comes to be known and manifested.

As language users, we assign value within human experience.   We come to assign some values as being values which are literally out of our reach, beyond our "pay grade" because we know that individually and collectively we cannot comprehend the vastness of the existence which confronts us.  And so we posit some experiencing being who has the capacity to comprehend the vastness of all, and we conceive of a greatest one who came long before us and will be long after we are gone.

But does the conception of such a great One who experiences all, imply a personality?  Albert Einstein once wrote that an important question in life is whether the universe is a friendly place.

Should you and I take all of the events of freedom in this vast cosmos personally?  We cannot help but do other since we are prisoners of human personhood and having language is the essence of personhood.  To use language in all forms is to be a person.  When we interact with non-human life, we do so as persons.  The attributing of human like characteristics to non-human life is called anthropomorphic projection.  Such is unavoidable.  An astronomer in the study of the stars might want to forget his or her humanity in being some impartial, non-human observer of the stars, but there is no way to escape being human being seeing human versions of the non-human worlds.  So, we cannot help but project our human personality because we are using language in our observation and interactions.

Do you assume that pets and plants have human-like mutually responsive features?  People talk to their plants as though they can understand and interact in human-like ways.  And even if you think this is silly, do you think that regarding such projection is a valid human poetry celebrating our intimate connection with important non-human being?  The Psalmist wrote the heavens declare the glory of God.  The Psalmist was projecting a deliberate vocation of the stars with regard to God.  Also ancient astrologers, projected upon the stars a personal relationship between the constellation of the stars and the life situation of people.  Astrology is the ancient poetic projection of the universe having all kinds of personality which was accessible to the chief persons, human beings.

If we can understand our pets as being "like" people enough for significant mutual beneficial behaviors, it is not a great leap for us to understand the poetry of the great One from whom all derive as embracing the personality of God as heavenly parent and Father of the Plenitude and us.  In confessing God to be a Trinity of Persons, we do not confess God as Father and Holy Spirit to be the exact kind of embodied persons as we are.  We would say they are "hyper-Persons, super-Persons," in fact so super that to attain clarity on how we might address them as distinct persons, we would need One who had bi-lingual experience between the divine and the human.  And in the Person of Jesus Christ, the revelation of God as Trinity becomes manifest.  We found Jesus of Nazareth to be so perfectly human, literally, out of our league so that we confess him to be God's unique Child.

Let's be honest; we confess God as Trinity of Persons, because we first came to confess Jesus as God's unique Son who shows us how we in human terms could understand the personal dynamic of the divine.

The standard of believing in the Trinity comes from accepting the presentation of the witness of Jesus Christ and his relationship with divinity.

For Christians, the main access to the Trinity is through Jesus because he is the One who is known to be bi-lingual with God and humanity so that the divine could be translated to human terms.  And Jesus translated the divine in the familial terms of the persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It is highly intuitive poetry to say the very least and so it resonates with us.

Frankly, our acceptance of Jesus as the the truly God-human bi-lingual being is the honest acceptance of the validity of human experience as the only way in which human beings can come into the highest values of living.

In Jesus, we have come to accept the Trinity as intuitively sound, because we have in him the acceptance of the validity of our lives as a way of "knowing" God.

And in accepting the understanding of the Trinity today as best presented by Jesus Christ, we know the deep Gospel love of God accepting us, as human beings, mere human beings, but truly loved.  Amen.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

We Need an Apparent Holy Spirit

Day of Pentecost  A May 31, 2020
Gen. 11:1-9Ps. 104: 25-32
Acts 2:1-11      John 14:8-17, 25-17  
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At 13:16 mark of video. 

Come Holy Spirit.  Veni Sancte Spiritus. Ven Espiritu Santo,Viens Esprit Saint, Komm Heiliger Geist, Ruh al'qdos Biya, 

Pentecost is the event of finding harmony in difference.  It is the day of affirming that people who speak different languages and have drastically different world experience and conditions can come to harmony and peace together.

And so we say in every language today, "Come Holy Spirit," even though we know that the Spirit came in creation and has never left the world.  The Spirit creates the divine environment and so we can know ourselves to live and move and have our being in God.  If the Spirit has always been, why to do pray, Come Holy Spirit? We do so, because it isn't always enough to know that there is a wind; we need to see the leaves move in the tree.  We need to see the Holy Spirit as apparent in human community.

And how we need the peaceful Holy Spirit to become apparent in our human communities today.   On Pentecost, we have been literally "pent" up, sheltering in our homes for longer than the Easter season.  We have been "pent" up in anxiety about the pandemic and its many drastic effects upon human life on every level.  And now the injustice inflicted upon the life of a black man in Minneapolis seems to put us over the top of what we can actually bear without the acting out of frustration about long denied justice and the practice of uneven justice in our society.

Come, Holy Spirit, Come.  Be made apparent even as a peace dove calming our hearts.  Today, we need more than our belief in the Holy Spirit; we need the Apparent Effects of the Holy Spirit to be realized in significant ways.

The Holy Spirit can become apparent, if the Spirit has the leader who can unite.  And Jesus Christ was the one who could unite hearts with voices which spoke different languages.

The Holy Spirit is looking today for worthy leaders who can unite in the midst of differences. The Holy Spirit of Peace is looking for us to be the leading channels or instruments of peace as goes the prayer attributed to St. Francis.

There are other spirits besides the Holy Spirit and the spirits of peace that the Holy Spirit inspires.

"Spirits" are the constellation of the energies of group identities which motivate group actions, some are destructive and evil, some are entertaining, benign and beneficial, and some become the vehicle for God's Holy Spirit to be peaceful, loving unifying justice in our world, not just in ideal, but in actual practice.

Come, Holy Spirit, Come.

Think about all of the group identities which are the "esprit de corps" rallying what people do when they come together.  Think about all of the footage of horrifying dictators who have flamed unities of hatred and bias.  The mob spirit found in our history books and in our world today are truly anti-Christ, because they don't end in inspiring peace, truth and unity.

There are other manifestation of group spirit which are benign and even beneficial.  Colleges, sports teams, school spirit, city pride, hometown spirit are manifestations of esprit de corps in very benign ways.  An esprit de corps which raises money to fight cancer and every sort of illness or malaise can true be a beneficial "mob" spirit.

Come, Holy Spirit, Come.  And help us discern what you truly inspire.  And how is Holy Spirit distinguished from the other manifestations of "esprit de corps" in our world?

First, Holy Spirit is permanent.  It is the ground of the omnipresence of God within whom we live and move and have our being.

Second, it is Personal.  We acknowledge on Pentecost the rising in human understanding of the Holy Spirit as a Person of the Godhead.  The reason that we can project Personality upon the omnipresent Spirit is because we as humans are personal, meaning we are connected and related to all that is.  Personality is our highest attribute and if we confess someone greater than we are, that Someone also is at the very least a very exalted Person.

Come, Personal Holy Spirit.  We need you.

The Holy Spirit has had a general permanency since forever, but the Holy Spirit also has "coming out" parties and events.  Pentecost was the chief coming out party of the Holy Spirit.  There needs to be particular manifestation so that we can be renewed in knowing the Great Friend of the universe.

Come, Holy Spirit, Come.  Wind, I need to see the leaves move on the tree to reassure me that you are still here.

So we need both the general and the particular apparent experiences of the Holy Spirit to reinforce the belief in the unseen in the middle of all that we do see, touch, feel, and hurt and cry about.

Come, Holy Spirit, Come.

The Holy Spirit is not just enlightened esprit de corps; the enlightened identity attained by people who want to let the Christ nature become evident in them.  The Holy Spirit is also individual and personal.  The Holy Spirit can be known within each of us as the Clean Heart which the Psalmist prayed for.  We need the Holy Spirit as our Clean Heart because we need the highest authority for our consciences and motives.

We need the Holy Spirit as the experience of deep calm and peace within us, because we know that things on layers above the Holy Spirit can be turbulent and unsettled and even frightening.  We need an internal place of retreat and refuge, not to escape our world but to have an anchor within the tossing waves of the world.

And we need the Holy Spirit as proof of our longevity in Hope.  Hope has made me want more than can ever be delivered in my lifetime.  Is my Hope a taunting God who wants good things that will never fully be my experience?  Or is that Hope the very presence of the eternal Spirit who is saying that I will ride the eternal Spirit, eternally?

Come, Holy Spirit Come, and come in apparent and particular ways for us today.  Inspire and activate manifold creativity to bring an end to this world pandemic.  Inspire and convert leaders who will promote social harmony.  Bring police and minority communities together for the common good of actual justice.

Come, Holy Spirit, Come, even to us the people of St. Mary's-in-the-Valley in specific ways.  Let us discern your manifestations today.  Amen.

Aphorism of the Day, August 2020

Aphorism of the Day, August 8, 2020 "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"  Faith is about being persuaded about someone after ...