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

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Lord, If You Had Been Here, Coronavirus Would Not Have Happened

5 Lent a        March 29, 2020
Ez. 37:1-14     Ps. 130 
Rom. 6:16-23    John 11:1-44     

One of my assumptions about the appearance of the Gospels, is the success of the Jesus Movement.  The Jesus Movement and the early home church social phenomenon was so successful that "institutionalization" began to occur.  Institutionalization happens in any organization that is successful and is comprised of members who really believe in the mission of the organization to the point of perpetuating the message and keeping it alive.

The Gospels were generated because of institutional success.  While the Gospel recount the life of the root event of the Jesus Movement, Jesus Christ, they arose after other writings.  We know that they occurred after the writings of St. Paul.

St. Paul was the chief theologian of the early church.  He wrote letters about church order and discipline, but also about the theological importance of Jesus and the justification of a truly universal church, including of the Gentiles.  St. Paul also generated the most significant poetic metaphors for the mystical experience with the Risen Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  And St. Paul did not ever actually see Jesus of Nazareth

Members of the early church were initiates in a spiritual path of Christians who shared different kinds of experiences of the Risen Christ and the Holy Spirit.  St. Paul and other leaders instructed these Christian initiates into this mystical path.  Paul provided an entire poetry to speak about this experience.  He provided a theological history to connect the Jesus Movement as a significant innovation in the Judaic traditions.  It was so innovative that many in the synagogues believed that went too far abroad from prescribed Judaic ritual practice.

By the time the Gospels were written, the success of the early churches required programmatic teaching of incorporating the mystical teaching, practice and theology of Paul into presentations of the life of Jesus.

John's Gospel was the latest Gospel serving as a hiding of spiritual meaning and practice within the presentation of words, deeds and life example of Jesus of Nazareth.

What did Paul write about us?  He said that we lived within the state of death of sin.  Why?  The wages of sin is death.  No matter how we consider mortality, it is anchored in the reality of death.  Human life comes with the experience of death.  But St. Paul also wrote that we could experience another kind of life even as our physical lives careens towards death.  We could experience the Holy Spirit and the life of Risen Christ, as a down payment or as an assurance of eternal life, or as the writer of John called it, "abundant life."

So, Christians who experienced the premonition of eternal life in the experience of the Holy Spirit still knew that they were going to experience physical death.  How could this ambiguity be presented in a Gospel teaching?

We have the brilliant story of Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, one of whom it is said was loved by Jesus.  And Jesus loved and was loved by the sisters of Lazarus, Mary and Martha of Bethany.

Lazarus is the one who died but who is brought to life again by Jesus Christ.  But Lazarus would die again.  Of course.  So,  what is the teaching purpose of the Lazarus story?

Each of us is like Lazarus.  We live under the basic human condition of sin and what is that?  It is knowing that we will physically die.  Yet even in this state of being defined by life's duration ending in death, we can experience another kind of life, resurrection life, eternal life, Holy Spirit life.  And experiencing this resurrection life does not exempt our bodies from physical death.

This is brute Christian realism.  The experience of the Holy Spirit, the mystical experience with the Risen Christ as our spiritual identity does not deny or exempt our bodies from death.  But it means that physical death will not define us as a final boundary of our life.  Why? Because while we live in our bodies we can know Jesus Christ, the Risen Christ as the Resurrection and the life.

We can know that Jesus is weeping at how profound we experience the loss of life of each person in our cherished lives within our bodies.  But we, in our state of death, can experience this inner assurance of living beyond our bodily life.  And this is the narrative for the eternal image of hope that is within every person in this world.  This eternal image of hope within us needs the narrative of the resurrection to release it into the hopeful practice of faithful lives.

Can we appreciate the sheer genius of how this story of Lazarus encapsulates the profound mystical theology and practice of St. Paul?

The coronavirus has brought into focus the state of death which we all live in.  It heightens our sense of mortality.  It results in our mourning of the death of people.  And so, we today affirm that Jesus is resurrection and life; Jesus affirms personal continuity beyond our deaths.  And knowing this, we can live differently.

We today can know ourselves to be like Lazarus, friend of Jesus, loved by Jesus, but living in the state of the death of sin.   We can know the apparent delays of Jesus, which represent the probable conditions of freedom in our world.  "Jesus, if you had been here, the coronavirus would not have occurred."  The conditions of freedom means that often good things, health and resolution are delayed because not everything runs according to our own desired personal schedules.

But you and I, living within the state of the death of sin, with many apparent delays in positive outcomes; we can know resurrection life because of the encounter with the Risen Christ who says to us like Martha of old, "I am resurrection, and I am life."  Within each of us, we can know this abundant life.  So while we live on perpetual delay of the perfection that we so desire for everything, we can experience the totally compensating resurrection life of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And if you and I can pierce the inner meaning of the Lazarus story; we have been initiated into the spiritual mystical program of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Blindness and Darkness. Sight and Light

4 Lent A        March 22, 2020
1 Sam. 16:1-13   Ps. 23 
Eph. 5:1-14     John 9:1-38      

Lectionary Link

We are blessed to be reading from the Gospel of John during Lent.  The Gospel of John includes some interesting features. The Gospel writer has a penchant for presenting the conversion from literal seeing to inner or spiritual seeing.

The Book of Signs found within the Gospel of John are wisdom narratives of Jesus of how the encounter with Christ enables me to be able to make this switch from literal understanding to spiritual understanding.

The physical in the Gospel of John is used as a metaphor for the spiritual.

Two weeks ago, we read about Jesus telling Nicodemus, "No one can see the kingdom of God unless one is born from above, or born again."

In our Gospel reading for today, the issue is about blindness and seeing.  Physical blindness is presented as a metaphor for those who are blind and cannot see the kingdom of God.  The Gospel writer lives in the new paradigm of those who have encountered the Risen Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, and they have come to see the kingdom of God.  They have been cured of their blindness.

The Pharisees and religious leaders are presented as those who remain blind because they are unable to perceive the new paradigm of God's inclusive love for all people, yes even the Gentile people.

There are two kinds of blindness.  There is physical blindness which is a significant impairment.  But we know that people who are blind can live truly enlightened lives.

The other kind of blindness is the kind of blindness which all seeing people experience.  It is the blindness caused by "darkness."  In the Pauline writing we read, "Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light...."

Darkness is the condition of not being able to see well because of one's environmental surrounding.  The progression in enlightenment means that we have gone through many conversions from darkness to new light, and new seeing.

Followers of Jesus and Christians in many ages who experienced the new seeing because of encounters with Jesus and the Risen Christ, still continued in societies and situations which still practiced slavery and the subjugation of women.  How can we say that they were truly enlightened by Christ?

What this indicates to us is that the work of creation, the work of enlightenment, the work of seeing the fullness of the ideals of the kingdom of God as the full practice of love and justice is not yet finished.  There is no time to criticize or blame people of the past for not living out the fullness of enlightenment.  But we should not delay the full practice of love and justice once we have seen.

Who caused this blindness, his sins or his parents sin?  It is very easy to play the victimization game by presuming to know exact causation.  What did Jesus say?  This man was not blind because of his particular sins or his parents', but for the work of God.   The work of God is always the future when we are offered new seeing, new conversion and new birth into better living.  The Risen Christ is more concerned about our future going forward than what caused the way we were in the past.

And the lesson for us today, is that there is new recovery from the environments of darkness in which have often found ourselves living.

Another saying of Jesus in the Gospel of John is, "I am the Light of the World."  Christ is the light who shines in the darkness of the failing paradigms in which we have been trapped.

As we now live in the midst of the most pronounced pandemic in our life history, it may seem like we are covered with darkness.  But what could the Light of Christ be showing us during this time of crisis?

It is showing us that in good times and in crisis, we are still together.  The worsening situation has forced upon us the demand to care for each other as connected neighbors, in ways in which we have not been doing.  It often seems that we have been living out a "survival of the fittest" mentality in letting the strong, rich and powerful dominate the world's resources.  And this have left many people without enough.  And now the coronavirus is no respecter of person, of class, race or socio-economic-educational status or nationality.  This evil virus is requiring of us to become enlightened by the Risen Christ and recover from the blindness that we have practiced to the needs of other.  Resources are going to have to be reallocated to take care of everyone.  Doing this may be good practice for the times when the crisis is not so dire.

Today you and I are invited to be born from above and see the kingdom of God as a call for us to prove that we love God by loving our brothers and sisters with significant care.  And if we can become enlightened with the practice of care during this time of need, what will we be able to do in better times when we care for each other with the same intensity.

While the coronavirus may seem to be covering our lives with the blindness of darkness, let us see the Risen Christ who is now calling us to the enlightened care of each other as the best model for the paradigm of the kingdom of God becoming the practice in the kingdoms of this earth.  Amen.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Worship in Spirit and Truth

3 Lent  A              March 15, 2020
Ex.17:1-17           Ps.95:6-11     
Roman 5:1-11         John 4:5-42
The Gospel communities of Jesus Christ developed community beliefs and practices during the decades which followed the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  They were communities found in the cities of the Roman Empire which were experiencing urbanization and so the home churches proved to be inviting extended family for persons arriving into cities.   The churches found that their message of the Risen Christ replicated itself in spiritual experience and this spiritual experience became the new citizenship expression of the churches.  And Jews, Gentiles, men, women, slaves and their owners, Samaritans, zealots, Pharisees, Saduccees, members of the community of John the Baptist began to comprise the membership of the churches.

The early churches practiced an inclusive diversity; this practice of diversity did not characterize the former practice of the synagogue and the Temple for Jews during the actual time of Jesus.

So the early church needed to present the origin of the practice of diversity of membership within the life of Jesus.  And so we have this discourse of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well.

The story highlights the long history of divisions even within the ancient territory that once made up Israel.  Long ago, the land of Israel became divided between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah.  They had separate lines of monarchs.  The Northern kingdom was overrun by the Assyrians and many inter-married with the conquerors thus assimilating with their captors.  The religious people of the kingdom of Judah, maintained their ethnic purity and the people of the northern kingdom became "enemies," even though these enemies had their own form of Torah religion.  Their Torah indicated that Mount Gerizim would be the holy place for their Temple.  So there was a division between Gerizim and Jerusalem.

But what had happened by the time the churches were flourishing in the cities of the Roman Empire? Mount Gerizim shrines were destroyed in the year 67 and Jerusalem and the Temple in the year 70.  The Holy Places for the Samaritans and the Jews had been destroyed and their populace had become scattered.

The early churches were proof that former enemies were now loving friends in Christian fellowship.  The identities which previously divided people were now longer divisive.  Why?  The Temple, the Torah, the Temple of Mt. Gerizim were no longer to be reason for division.  Why?  Because  it was the Holy Spirit who created Holy Places.  And the Holy Spirit was not limited to the Temple in Jerusalem or on Mt. Gerizim.  The Holy Spirit is nomadic and omni-present and the Holy Spirit is able to become in each person like a gushing spring of water always baptizing us from within.  God is Spirit and those who worship God must worship God in Spirit and in Truth.

The religion of Jesus Christ is a religion of Spirit and through this Spirit we share membership in God's kingdom.  And people of all tongues and races and previous backgrounds had come to know this Universal Holy Spirit of God.

This remains the truth for us today; the church is a church of worshipping God in Holy Spirit and Truth.  We can be like the disciples who did not think Jesus should engage this foreign woman and we can be like the Samaritan woman who was very certain of her exclusive Samaritan heritage.  Or, we can submit to the Holy Spirit who transcends differences and indwells anyone who wants to know and express of the love of God.

We in the Episcopal Church are not so popular today.  Why?  Because we believe in the inclusive Holy Spirit of God who inhabits all kinds of people who are not even accepted as valid members of other churches.

Let us hold on to this inclusive Holy Spirit who is willing to be present in the lives of all.   May this expansive Holy Spirit continually stretch our hearts so that we too will always practice the welcoming love of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Are We Born Again, and Again, and Again......?

2 Lent        A      March 8, 2020
Gen 12:1-8          Ps.121
Rom. 4:1-5, (6-12)13-17  Jn.3:1-17
Lectionary Link

One of the most influential books that I have read in my studies was written by a historian of science. It was written in the 1960's but it had to wait until the 1990's to distill into the culture-at-large after being limited mainly to the academic world.  You may not know the book or the author but you know the lasting catch phrase of the book.  What is that phrase?  Paradigm Shift.  How many of you have heard the phrase Paradigm Shift or a change of paradigm?  When something new was happening in any field, suddenly people would say, "A paradigm switch has happened....there is a sea change and we have to think and act differently because of this paradigm switch."  People in an old paradigm did not seem to speak the same language as the people in the new paradigm even though they used the same words.

The writer of this book was T.S. Kuhn and the book was, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions."  Kuhn observed changes in the scientific communities like those who held for the Ptolemaic Cosmology of geocentricism and the switch to the Copernicium Cosmology of a heliocentric world, a sun-centered solar system.  Kuhn wrote about the change from Newtonian physics to Einsteinian Relativity.  He notes that while people in both paradigms used the same terms of energy, mass and matter; they in fact meant something different.  And this can be confusing when people use the same words but mean something different by them.  How does one come to understand a new paradigm and what the words within a new paradigm mean?

The paradigm shift metaphor is useful to understand how change occur in science, in culture, in politics and in our faith experience.  I believed in God and Jesus when I was sixteen, and I do now, but my understanding of God and Jesus now would be unrecognizable to me as a 16 year old person.  In short, I have undergone many paradigm shifts in my life of faith and I remain the same person who encompasses all of those changes.

This notion of paradigm change might help us to understand the words of Jesus to Nicodemus:  "So Nicodemus, you don't understand my program?  Well, you have to be born again, or born from above, or perceive from a more elevated/heavenly point of view."

The Gospel of John explains the Jesus Movement as a significant paradigm shift from Judaism, even while the same words and symbols are used, they mean something different in the churches of the Risen Christ.

The Gospel of John, in long discourses of Jesus, almost like Socratic dialogues, channels the mind, voice and Spirit of the Risen Christ and place these channeled words of Jesus within a narrative of the life of Jesus.  Why?  The leaders of the communities of St. John's Gospel are trying to teach the meaning of the life of Jesus Christ in a newly constituted Jesus Movement within house churches.

Just as Einsteinian physics did not burn the bridges with Newtonian physics, but rather enlarged meanings to solve problems which could not be answered by the old paradigm, so too the Jesus Movement did not burn bridges with the Hebrew Scriptures.  The leaders of the Jesus Movement reinterpreted many symbols which derived from the Hebrew Scriptures.  How did the Jesus Movement re-appropriate the symbols of the Hebrew Scriptures?  We can look at some which are found in our Scripture readings for today.  Abraham, The Law, Baptism, Water, Spirit, and the serpent which Moses placed on a pole for the people who were plagued with poisonous snakes to see and be healed.

The new Christ-paradigm might be called the "born again" paradigm or the "kingdom of God" paradigm.

Once one has been born into this new divine realm, how does one see things in a new way?  One suddenly sees the flow of Gentiles into the Jesus Movement.  How can this be in keeping with the Hebrew Scriptures which seem to be a Holy Book restricted to the people of the Judaic faith?  Well, Abraham is like a Gentile person because he is pre-Jewish, he is before Jacob who became Israel.  He is before Moses and the Law and he is before King David and the prophets.  Was Abraham, who was not a Jew, accepted by God even though he did not live with the benefit of the law?  Yes, of course.  Abraham was justified or accepted by God because of his faith.  And now Gentiles have come to have faith without the benefit of knowing the Judaic law and the rules of ritual purity.  Was Abraham in the kingdom of God without the benefit of the law?  Yes, indeed, then so can the Gentiles be like Abraham in their lives of faith.

What about the crown jewel of Judaism, the Law?  The law recommends behaviors for good and holy living.  What the law shows is that everyone breaks the law in some way.  The law cannot make ones inner life and motives clean and holy.  The law can teach us how to live well but it cannot perfect those who cannot be perfect.  The Law can only show us that we aren't perfect.  So what is the purpose of the law in the Jesus Movement?  To show us that we have to live by faith in God's grace to justify us.

Moses was given the law; Jesus brought the law of grace and the law of the Spirit.  Water is the symbol of baptism; it is the like the amniotic fluid which accompanies this new birth by the Holy Spirit.  This birth by the Holy Spirit is God justifying us because God justifies the Divine presence of the Risen Christ and the Spirit within us.  Having the Spirit of God within us gives us the access to this new realm of the kingdom of God, into which we have been born.

What about the serpent that was lifted up in the wilderness by Moses?  In the Jesus Movement, the lifting up of Jesus on the Cross as the proof that God sacrificed his own being in dying with us and for us, gives us a place to glance and believe in God's sacrificial grace.  Since we know that we aren't perfect and always falling short, we can glance at the perfect offering of God on our behalf and ride on the coattails of Jesus into this new realm of life, the eternal life of the Spirit.

John chapter 3, highlights the reality of the paradigm which occurred in the Jesus Movement because of the life, death and post resurrection appearances of Christ to his followers.  This chapter of John's Gospel is perhaps the most famous chapter for the people who call themselves fundamentalist evangelical, born again Christians.  In fact, "born again," has actually become a definable political designation in our country.

I know this group; it was how I was raised.  I was raised as a fundamentalist, evangelical, born again Christian.  We loved the 3rd Chapter of John's Gospel.  How many of you have watched sports on television and seen the sign or placard, Jn 3:16?  This Bible verse is the identifying verse of fundamental evangelical Christianity.  And it is a good verse.  God so love the world.  How much?  God gave the divine Son in full identity with human life even to the point of his death.  That the divine life experienced death expresses a full solidarity with human life.  And if we believe in this solidarity of God with us, we can ride the divine elevator to know eternal life.  We can know God's Spirit within us as eternal life.

One of the weaknesses of fundamentalism and the "born again" mentality is that it is so narrow.  One is born again to get into the kingdom of God.  And what this refers to is a one time experience so that one can know that one is not going to hell.

What is more accurate to spiritual growth and process is that we need to have many born again experiences on the spiritual path.  We need to have continuous conversion, not a one-time conversion.  We need to have many paradigm changes on our spiritual journey.   God's perfection invites us to new break throughs in our understanding of God, Christ, the Christian paradigms and much more.  Old Christian practices do not do justice to God's love especially for people who previously were ostracized, marginalized or kept in the closet about their own self knowledge.  The Holy Spirit is dynamics and invites us to both personal and communal paradigm changes.  If we didn't make biblical paradigm shifts, we would still believe in slavery and the subjugation of women because it is in the Bible.  The reason that churches and Christians are often divided is because they live in different paradigms.  We have come to live in a paradigm where we believe the love of Christ honors the dignity of LGBT persons and believe that they should have full participatory standing in our church life.

Part of the conflict in our church and in our society and in our politics is due to the fact that we are unevenly located in different paradigms of the practice of the love of God in Christ to the diverse people who are actually in our lives.

What does this mean?  It means we need to continually invite people to be born again.  We need to demonstrate that the love of Christ as we live it in our Christian paradigm is winsome and truly honors a fullness of what we understand to be human dignity and justice.

So during this Lent, for all of us who have been born again; let be open for this to happen to us again and again as we come into new paradigm changes toward knowing the excellence of the love of God in Christ.  Amen.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Temptation of Jesus: Finding God's Timing for our Lives

1 Lent        A      March 1, 2020
Gen 2:4b-9,15-17,25-3:7  Ps.51:1-13
Rom. 5:12-21         Matt. 4:1-11

If Jesus did not write any of the New Testament, can you even imagine someone who was close enough to Jesus to be able to write about the event of his temptation.  The temptation of Jesus is a Gospel oral tradition and it was used by the church to teach lessons and give insights about living.

This event is full of the symbols of the biblical salvation story.  We might explore some of those teaching symbols which are embedded in this as we look for insights to inspire us during Lent.  

Let us consider the sweeping corporate identities relating to Adam and Christ and the return to Eden.  Let us ponder the anatomy of the experience of temptation.  And finally let us consider a contrast of the devil and angels.

The Bible is divided upon into two corporate personalities.  Humanity is said to be in Adam and we are given an invitation to be in Christ.  Does this mean that an actual man Adam sinned therefore making us all sinners?  Doesn't seem fair.  No, this is a teaching metaphor of a collective identity.  As human beings we all share in the very same human situation with all of its possible variety.  We are together  in the human dilemma.  Adam means both a man in the creation story but also the collective humanity.  The Garden of Eden Story is the story of the fact that we are often in the state of being naïve and vulnerable to be tricked and doing things that we are not ready for.  The Garden of Eden story is a story of insights about how we became moral beings, knowing good and evil.  Adam and Eve did not have the moral intelligence and muscles to resist the trickster serpent.  It doesn't seem fair but the free conditions of our world often find us as naïve and vulnerable to be tricked into doing things about which we cannot fully perceive the consequences of.  So in Adam as human beings, we find ourselves in need of hero to rescue us in our situation.  Jesus is the given hero.  When he returns to the Garden to relive the Adamic event, the Garden has become a deserted wilderness filled with wild beasts.  The serpent is now confronted in the person of the devil.  Jesus had just heard the heavenly voice declare him at his baptism to be God's beloved Son, and then the Spirit drove him into the wilderness and required of him a 40 day fast.  If one fasts for 40 days and survives, the portals of one's interior life becomes open to every sort of hallucinatory manifestation.  Jesus was open to the words of the devil, "So Jesus, you've just had the baptismal announcement that your God's special Son, we'll see about that.  You know what I did to Adam and Eve and I've lots more tricks for you."  Humanity needed a hero who could be tempted in all ways and more and resist, and so be the beginning of a new humanity.  And so we have the invitation to be "in Christ" and have eternal life.

What insights can we understand about the human test of temptation from the temptations which faced Jesus?

The temptations of Jesus show us that the key ingredient of temptation is to force mistiming in our lives.  Did God want Adam and Eve to eat of the Tree of Life?  Did God want humanity to know how to be moral and know good and evil in responsible ways?  Yes, but on the divine schedule when it was appropriate and they were ready.

Is food good?  Is safety good?  Is the esteem of friends and society good?  All of these are good things but they are wrong if partaken of at the wrong time.  The same Jesus who provided bread for thousands was not able to confect bread for himself even as a mirage in his temptation stupor.  Why?  Because as God's child, he was on God's time schedule.  There will be bread in its time but not as some trick in a dream-like state.

Is safety good?  Like falling from a high place and being rescued?  Yes indeed.  Jesus would fall into the hands of the Romans and be put to death on the cross and be rescued by a resurrection announced by an angel, but only in God's time.  Such a temptation was against God's timing.  Such a temptation tried to make Jesus a biblical literalist.  "Jesus, the Psalmist said you can jump from a high place and the angels will catch you.  So go ahead and jump.  You're the Son of God.  You can overcome gravity with angels spotting you."  This includes the common temptation to treat poetry as literal science.  The bane of religion today is literalism, fundamentalism.  How much human cruelty has been promoted because people who believe they are religious, treat poetry as science and use it to harm others.  Let us keep our poetry and our common sense lives in proper function.  We can be both poets and scientists.  Let us not be wrong in our timing to interpret in a literal or a figurative way.

Another mistiming in our lives has to do with how and when we appropriate personal esteem.  The anchor of personal esteem is to know that God declares us to be a beloved child of God.  Yes, it is good to receive appropriate affirmation from our family and peers.  It is very nice to be appreciated.  But one of the most sought after drugs in the world is the drug of excessive fame.  Each of us has the temptation to narcissism.  "If one person likes me, then it is even better if millions adore me."  John Lennon got in big trouble when he stated that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus.  The temptation of Jesus involved the ultimate Faustian bargain.  Remember Faust sold his soul to Mephistopheles for fame.  A person can feed the narcissistic aspect of one's personality and make the Faustian bargain for fame and adoration.  One can literally deny the esteem of being God's child and becomes the devil's deputy in order to feed the endless need for adoration.  This temptation to trade the esteem of being God's child for the wrong kind of fame was resisted by Jesus.  And as we know, Jesus became famous because of death and resurrection and not because he became a political demigod or Caesar serving the devil.  God's Messiah had a completely different schedule.  Don't mistime how to get the esteem and the fame of one's life.  Jesus showed us the way to esteem and fame.  It involved God's will, God's timing for the fostering of our true worth to ourselves and others.

Lastly, we are told that the devil was "diabolos."  And we are also told that Jesus was ministered to by angels.  Diabolos literally means to "throw apart," or divide.  It is the opposite of symbol, which means to "throw together."  Devil and demons and are those inner constituents, parasites on one's inner formation, and they integrate every horrible things that has happened and manifest as an inward accusing liar and they won't let you sew together your inner world with the event in your exterior world with what might be call peace.   We are vulnerable to inner forces which want to throw us apart and keep us from honoring our birthrights as children of God.  The ministering angels can be the messengers of uniting the symbolic order of one's inner life in congruence with one's external life.  The angelic is how we message our inner life to the outer world in the ways that are peaceful and in God's good timing.  When we have the sense of honoring God's timing in our lives, we sense the ministry of the angels.

As we begin Lent, let us remember that Jesus was tempted.  So will we.  We will be tempted to mistime things in our life experience. When and how to gratify desire.  We will tempted to be literal when we're supposed to be poetic.  And we can be tempted to want the wrong kind of recognition.

In our trials and ordeals, let us remember our birthright as children of God.  This is the basis of our esteem as people.  Let us be mindful about the timing of what we do in our lives.  The way that we resist temptation is to pray, "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.....and in God's good time."  We know that we are in Adam in our human vulnerability; let us also know that we are in Christ, as we are led by our hero to learn God's timing for our lives.  Let us ride on the coattails of Jesus to find good timing in our lives.

With God's grace and following Jesus, our hero,  we will find God's time for our lives and resist temptation.  Amen.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Recovering Hypocrites?

Ash Wednesday        February 26, 2020
Isaiah 58:1-12        Ps.103       
1 Cor. 5:20b-6:10    Matt. 6:1-6, 16-21

Welcome to our annual face painting event.  Our foreheads were painted with the invisible oil of Chrism when at our baptism it was said, "You are sealed with the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ own forever."  We belong to Christ in our life.

Tonight the ink is the black of palm ashes.  We recognize our dual natures; our spiritual and our physical.  In the creation story, we were made with dust and deity as the Spirit formed the human person from the clay to become our body and the Spirit left something of the divine upon us in the formation.  The conjoining of spirit and dust left a mediating soul, nephesh, a soul of mind, emotions and will, to negotiate between our bodies and the divine image spirit upon us.

Today we cherish the unity of body, soul and spirit, even as we know that at some point in the times of our lives this unity will suffer division.  The body, our flesh, will like a wooden home burned by fire, will eventually return to dust.  Our bodily home will return to dust.  And we use the ash paint to retrace the mark of our first branding.  We confess that we will still belong to Christ in our deaths.

We know that our bodies will return to dust, and so we prepare for this, in part in this Ash Wednesday liturgy.  The ashes represent in our imaginations the fast forwarding of our bodily lives to their ashen state.  Like Native American Braves going to war,  we paint our face with the image of our future state as preparation and as spiritual, emotional, and intellectual inoculation of our lives against the death that we know that we will face.

This is not a macabre scene of Goth-like face painting; this is a poignant reminder to cherish our lives in which our souls and spirits are unified with our bodies.  It is to cherish our lives and the lives of other with the best of holy living as the only way to celebrate the unity of body, soul and spirit.

This is event is not an event of private piety even though we feel it in a very personal way; it is a deeply social event because just as we are personally connected in body, soul, and spirit, we are also irretrievably connected with each other and with all brothers and sisters in our world.  We don't live alone; we live in community.  We are our brothers' keeper; we are our sisters' keeper.  The law was given to us to let us know that we belong to each other, together caring for each other and being committed to justice for each other.

We know that our bodies are connected to this earth as well.  And if we steal from the good earth by mistreating our environment we are harming our brothers and sisters of the future.

Today, you and I are invited to a holy Lent.  I would suggest to you that as the words of Jesus rebuked the hypocrites of his day, the actors of piety who did not perform justice, so too, we are the hypocrites who bear the rebuke of the words of Jesus.

And if we be hypocrites, I would suggest there is only one kind of hypocrite to be; let us be the good kind of hypocrite, what I would call "recovering hypocrites."

How do we become hypocrites?  We divide the first and second great commandments.  We might say that we love God and point to all of our religious behaviors as proof of our love of God.  But these practices become hypocritical if we do not show an equal commitment to love our neighbors.

The Isaian prophet was rebuking his people for having religious fasts and religious behaviors without having the behaviors of care for the people who were neighbors in obvious need.

So today let us admit our hypocrisy.  Let us admit that we often are proof of "do as I say and not as I do."  The positive aspect of being a recovering hypocrite is the fact that we always proclaim a perfect standard which we always are failing at completely living up to.  God is holy and perfect and asks us to keep and profess this high standard even while we know that we can never attain it.

So it should keep us always as humbled recovering hypocrite, always on the path of repentance.   Let this day be the first day of our Lenten program to admit ourselves into the program of recovering hypocrites.  Let this Lenten season inspire us to plan some recovering behaviors, of more prayer, more study, reading the Bible, giving up bad habits to devote our energy to causes of care for other people and our earth.

Would you join me in this season of Lent in a program of recovering from hypocrisy? With the help of Christ and the Holy Spirit, may we become more successful at holding together the first and second great commandments: You shall love the Lord your God with all your life resources and love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Amen.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Change as the Process of Spiritual Metamorphosis

Last Epiphany A      February 23,2020
Ex.24:12,15-18,      Ps.99        
2 Peter 1:16-21  Matt. 17:1-9

Today in our Collect, the prayer for today, we asked that we might be changed into the likeness of Christ, from glory to glory as we behold the light of his countenance.

One of the basic requirements of human life is to learn how to deal with change.  To be human is to become aware of the passage of time.  And in our aging, we know ourselves as appearing to be different in time, even as we try to cover up the aging process cosmetically.  In our physical, lives we experience entropy, the running out of energy because the end of our physical lives is death.  But we encounter in our lives a counter force to the forces of entropy; we experience in our inner lives the optimism of assuming that some part of us will live forever.  We ponder the possibility that we will recognize ourselves as ourselves in the afterlife in a continuity with who we have been in this life.

In our lives of change how do we live toward the person that we might continue to be, rather than toward our physical homes, our bodies, which are in decline?

The word for transfiguration in Greek might be better translated metamorphosis and all of learn about this in elementary school science class as we were taught to observe the changes in the life cycles of butterflies.  And the church is so fascinated with butterflies, that the butterfly hatching out of a dead looking cocoon has become an oft used metaphor for the resurrection of Christ.

What insights can we gain from the metamorphosis of Jesus Christ event on the Mount of his special Epiphany, called the Transfiguration?

First, we know that the writers of the Gospels revisited themes from Hebrew Scripture to show the surpassing greatness of Jesus.  The event of the Transfiguration was presented to be akin to the event of Mount Sinai.  Moses had a shiny face in his encounter with God; the face of Jesus shone on the Mount of the Transfiguration.  The clouds and the elevation are in keeping with the traditions of describing significant manifestation of the divine.  In biblical symbology, cloud, elevation and light signify mystery, closeness to the divine presence of elevated realm and enlightenment through divine encounter.  Biblical landscape corresponds to personal inscape in the spiritual metamorphosis of those baptized and on the mystical path.

The chief gift of the former covenant was the Law.  The gift of the New Covenant is the person of Jesus Christ.  This contrast is presented in the description of the Transfiguration.

The apparitional appearances of Moses and Elijah meant that followers of Jesus believed him to be in continuity and in succession with the great traditions of the Hebrew Scriptures.  Moses and Elijah were mountain men; Moses saw God on Mount Sinai.  Elijah heard the still small voice of God in a mountain cave.  Elijah called down fire from heaven on the altar on Mount Carmel as he confronted the prophets of Baal.  To the members of the Judaic faith, the poignant references of Moses and Elijah on the Messianic resume of Jesus were important.  How can you go wrong in following Jesus if Moses and Elijah followed and affirmed him in their afterlife appearances?

The Transfiguration event stands between the baptism of Jesus and his resurrection.  The heavenly voice is heard again, like at his baptism, to proclaim Jesus as God beloved Son.  The lit face of Jesus is like a preview of what his appearances will be like in his resurrection.

Further, the Transfiguration visionary event allowed the friends of Jesus to witness a special experience of Jesus, Moses and Elijah.  Jesus invited his willing friend to climb the mountain with him to receive epiphany insights.

The sharing of the visionary event with his friends, is also an invitation for us to embrace the metamorphosis of the presence of the Risen Christ in our paths of mystical transformation.  Since change is inevitable in life, how do we embrace, and process change in the best possible way?  We do it in spiritual metamorphosis with the Risen Christ.

One of the natural tendencies of spiritual metamorphosis is our resistance to change and, in such resistance, we interpret the apparent absence of Christ as the real absence of Christ.  In spiritual metamorphosis, we prefer certain spiritual states over others.

We all perhaps prefer butterflies to cocoons, even as we know that there is not butterfly without the cocoon and the life of the cocoon is equal from the life of the butterfly, equal but different.  In faith, we have to learn how to accept the equal presence of the Risen Christ within the different phases of spiritual metamorphosis.

The mystics have written about the apparent states of deprivation in their mystical journey, as caught in the cloud of unknowing, or the dark night of the soul, or the state of purgation.  When Jesus said on the cross, "My God, why have you forsaken me," is this not the state of the apparent absence of God?

When Peter was on the Mount of the Transfiguration, he wanted to build tents or shrines for the three heroes to have permanent dwelling places.  This meant that he could try to retain endlessly a particular "butterfly" state of Jesus Christ.  Peter, like us, wanted to live on the mountain top; he did not want to descend to the demon possessed valley anymore.

Spiritual metamorphosis is learning to embrace dynamic change.  It is learning to have faith that the same presence of the Risen Christ is with us whether in the dark valley of human loss or on the mountain top of such apparent presence when faith is easy.  

We can be like Peter too in our spiritual lives.  We want to build a permanent dwelling place at the place of our significant spiritual break through.  We try to build rituals, readings, practice and songs around those breakthrough events.  And the assumption is that our spiritual growth has reached it height.  One of the pitfalls of trying to retain the states of our significant spiritual break throughs, is that we make them final and we can judge as lacking people who have not had that same superior experience that we had when we went on retreat.

Yes, we retain the insights of our mountain top experiences; but in spiritual metamorphosis, we are given a mountain top experience, only to see higher mountains which remain for us to climb, and to get there, we must go through valley, desert, storm, cloud and darkness and the exertion of another ascent.

The event of the Transfiguration is presented to us as we prepare for the ordeal of the forty days of Lent.  The church calendar is program which presents to us the rhythm of the life of spiritual metamorphosis.

Today, let us be reminded that we are dealing with change gracefully by accepting the path of spiritual metamorphosis as the Risen Christ asks us to identify with him as he works the process of transformation in our lives.

Enjoy the mountain top!  Enjoy the butterfly events!  But in faith let us also know that Christ is equally present in the valley, in times of loss, times of sin, times of failure and times of disappointment.  In the times when we seem deprived of the apparent presence of Christ, we need to recall the mountain top experience as a reminder to keep on, keeping on because we are in spiritual metamorphosis.

I wish for you many mountain top experiences and from them I pray that you will have the faith to celebrate the equal presence of the Risen Christ in all phases of our spiritual metamorphosis.  Amen.

Aphorism of the Day, April 2020

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