Saturday, June 18, 2016

Pentecost 5, Year C, Proper 7, June 19, 2916

Sermon for The Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Year C, Proper 7  ~  June 19, 2016

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar 
All the people …. asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

Exorcism is bad for business. Freeing people from domination by mysterious, unseen forces can upset the status quo and annoy powerful people. This may have happened in the case of the Gerasene demoniac as it does later in the Acts, when Paul and Silas are thrown into prison in Philippi for spoiling the business of the owners of the slave-girl medium they had healed.
Two details of today’s incident jump out to me:
  1. The liberated man wants to go with Jesus, but Jesus tells him to stay put.
  2.  The people who know what happened beg Jesus to go away, because they are seized with great fear.
There are two sermons here, so I will just give a nod to the first, and concentrate on the second.  Salvation comes through following Jesus, but He does not call everyone to follow Him. We know that Jesus will save those who follow Him. But that does NOT mean that those He tells to stay put are condemned. Not at all. We know where the Church is; we do NOT know where the Church is NOT, said the Russian theologian I never tire of quoting. From today’s story, it appears that Jesus doesn’t even WANT everyone to follow Him, at least not in the same way.  We must never think that we can tell anything about God’s relationship to other persons. One size does NOT fit all!
So on to the second sermon! Why did the locals want Jesus to get out as fast as possible. Maybe it had something to do with the dead pigs.
…people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.

Why were they so afraid, with a fear underscored in the passage? On first glance it might be fear of Jesus: fear of Someone with great, supernatural power. But where else do we find such a reaction? Other miracle stories lack this detail. People rejoice, people are amazed, people are thankful, &c, but not seized with great fear. What are they afraid of? I suggest that it has to do with the pigs. A large herd of them, feeding on the nearby hillside.
…Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed.

Which means they told them about what happened to the pigs, and
 …Then [everybody] asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.

Let’s think about that. Somebody must have been buying the pork. But why such a big herd? Pagan farmers could raise their own pigs, so who was buying those culled from a herd of hundreds – or even thousands? The Romans, that’s who! That’s one theory, at least.
There were Roman soldiers all over the place, legions in garrisons and higher officers living on their own. That would account for the large pork business that Jesus destroyed in the process of freeing the Gerasene demoniac. The owner would have been livid. A kind of “defense contractor,” he would have been quite well-to-do and influential. His hired swineherds ran into town to inform him, to explain that it wasn’t their fault. The crowd knew that he would arrive any minute – probably with Roman soldiers – and that would account for their fear. They wanted to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the meddlesome Outsider, Who destroyed the herd. Apparently, our Lord took their point and left immediately to go back across the Lake.
Exorcism is bad for business. In this instance, it is also – arguably – bad for imperialism. In freeing the poor kid from the unseen forces that dominated him, Jesus also indirectly challenged Roman imperial rule. It is not just an accident that the demons called themselves, legion, referring to a unit of the Roman Army. It’s a Latin word, and Jesus was throwing these Latin-named demons out. He sent them directly to destroy the swine, unclean food intended for the occupying imperialists.
Exorcism is bad for business. In this case, it attacked not only the Empire’s food-supply, it also destroyed a fair amount of capital. If the demons were really comparable to a legion it meant –  at the time – about five thousand of them. At one demon per pig, that was indeed a large herd: an extraordinarily substantial capital accumulation. Jesus interfered with the market intended to support the current system of imperial governance. 
As the Gerasene demoniac was enslaved by the demons whose name was Legion, so the People of God were dominated by the Roman legions. And not by military force alone: a small number of local civilians grew rich by collaborating with the imperial overlords. This was a kind of First Century Military-Industrial Complex. And as we just heard, Jesus assaulted it by destroying the collaborator’s wealth. THAT is why those who saw it were seized with great fear.
So, it should be obvious that exorcism – the freeing of human beings from the forces of evil that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, the forces we renounce at Baptism – is not ultimately about wicked ghosts. It is about systemic evil – the mysterious, unseen forces that seem to have a life of their own, that cause increasing misery and now threaten our very survival.
The Gerasene demoniac represents God’s creation, enslaved and disfigured and mortally endangered. The One through Whom all things were made is come to set us free. If that entails destroying whatever feeds and nourishes those mysterious, unseen forces along with the wealth of those willing to collaborate and support them, so be it.
Exorcism is bad for business.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Pentecost 3, Year C, Proper 5, June 5, 2916

Sermon for The Third Sunday After Pentecost
Year C, Proper 5  ~  June 5, 2016

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; *
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity
What could be more heartbreaking than the loss of a child?  The Prophet of God foreshadows the Son of God in raising the widow’s son from the dead. The prophetic story is even more poignant, perhaps, since Elijah had already saved the widow and her small son from starvation, only to let him succumb to disease.

Whenever I read this story, I find myself rooting for Elijah and God: thanking God for keeping the jar full of grain until it rains. But then the child dies of something else anyway.
“Is God toying with me?” The woman wonders. And so do I. I have to agree that she has a point. If God cares about our suffering, why doesn’t He act? And Elijah wonders, too, and so he takes the little corpse aside and prays very hard, and God revives the boy. And Jesus revives the dead son of the widow of Nain.
But both of these lucky revivees will one day die again, like Lazarus. Maybe that’s the point of the double miracle of the Elijah story. Where will God be when the widows’ children die the next time? Where was God when all the other children died? Where is God when anybody dies? Do we want God to revive them all? Is this life the ultimate good? Jesus says He comes to give life and give it more abundantly. That must mean something beyond the raising of Lazarus and the widows’ children. 
It has been said that the whole spiritual life is preparation for death. The inevitability of death brings those who contemplate it to a certain seriousness about ultimate reality, of which we might otherwise remain oblivious.  In this sense death is an ally: Sister Death, as St. Francis sang. Even as we celebrate its destruction in the New Creation of the only-Begotten Son, we do so in recognition that the victory is won precisely in His Death – indeed in the most awful kind of death.
   Still, the widows’ grief – their pitiful, helpless grief – is brought to our attention almost ruthlessly. Elijah and Jesus share it. Elijah prays to God; Jesus, the Godman, does not pray, but Himself commands the corpse to arise. The Holy Ones do not want the widows to suffer. That has to be part of the meaning. Yet the other part is that suffering, grief, and death are unavoidable. They can be overcome and ultimately destroyed, but they cannot be avoided.
   Our grief is the cost of our love. Where there is no love there is no grief. The reverse is not so, since in the Kingdom every tear is wiped away, sorrow and sighing shall be no more, only everlasting joy.
But the awful crucible of grief and suffering comes first. Some say that without it, we could not know joy, that the more deeply we are wounded by sorrow the more joy we can contain. Maybe so. Maybe so. I would not say so to a grieving person, but I dare to say so now, in hopes that we may remember it when it comes time to suffer.
   Victory over death and suffering comes in passing through it. I suppose God could have prevented the deaths of the widows’ sons. Can we really say that would have been preferable to what happened?  In the end God will raise us all and abolish suffering and grief. Does that mean it would have been better not to suffer at all? I leave you with the question.
The great Baron Friedrich von Hügel, of such immense influence on Anglicanism in the last Century, said this of our Divine Savior:
…with Him, and alone with Him and those who still learn and live from and by Him, there is the union of the clearest, keenest sense of all the mysterious depth and breadth and length and height of human sadness, suffering, and sin, and, in spite of this and through this and at the end of this, a note of conquest and of triumphant joy. …but the soul is allowed to sob itself out; and all this its pain gets fully faced and willed, gets taken up into the conscious life. Suffering thus becomes the highest form of action, a divinely potent means of satisfaction, recovery, and enlargement for the soul, the soul with its mysteriously great consciousness of pettiness and sin, and its immense capacity for joy in self–giving.

   We must do what we can to eradicate suffering and fight to alleviate it. That is one way to destroy it. The other way is to accept it as indispensable in our ascent to God and eternal joy. The divinely potent means of satisfaction, recovery, and enlargement for the soul.  Our model in this is He Who “went not up to joy but first He suffered pain, and entered not into glory before He was crucified.” Or, as the mystics say, our ascent to God requires two wings whose names are Love and Suffering.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Corpus Christi ~ May 29, 2016

Sermon for the Sunday after Corpus Christi
Year C  ~  May 29, 2016

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

Give us today our daily Bread

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

I hope you say this every day – the Our Father several, times a day – as the center of your private prayers. There are a few things to notice about this petition.
In the first place, it is in the plural. That is, when I say it, I am praying not just for myself – The petitions in the Lord’s prayer refer to us, not to me. Whenever I ask for daily bread, I am asking not just for myself, but for you, too. For all of us. For all creation. I ask for daily bread on behalf of ALL, and that God give it to us together, in common. In fact, in asking this way I recognize that the only way I CAN receive this gift is in common with others, unto all creation.
             The second observation is more perplexing: in the original Greek the words our Lord commanded us to say do not include the word daily, in our usual sense. The word in Greek  –  επιούσιος – is unique, not found anywhere else in ancient literature. Its meaning is unclear, except that it certainly does NOT mean “everyday” in the sense of ordinary. It is ironic that the Latin word St. Jerome used was quotidianus. It just meant daily, but quotidian has come to mean ordinary, everyday – even dreaily everyday or mundane!  That has to be just about the OPPOSITE of supersubstantial, which is the literal meaning of the Greek.
             Literally, it may mean bread that is necessary for life, but it may also mean bread that is to come.  Bread necessary for life may refer to ordinary, everyday, human life but it may just as well refer to ultimate, spiritual life. And the bread that is to come – as it is translated in Syriac, the language closest to the Aramaic Jesus must have spoken –  gives it a mystical, apocalyptic flavor.
I kind of like that interpretation. Give us today our daily bread, then, is a prayer that today may be the Day of the Lord, that is, the promised Day of the Coming of the Kingdom.  This would make sense, in view of the fact that the petitions preceding it in the prayer refer to the same End Time  (your Kingdom Come, your will be done on earth as in heaven). The supersubstantial bread, is, then, the food of the Messianic Banquet – the Bread that is to come. “Let it be now, today” is what we are asking.
As such, the connection with the Holy Eucharist is obvious. The manna from heaven, which daily fed the liberated Hebrew slaves in the wilderness of old, is a figure for the bread that is to come in the Kingdom. The transfigured Bread that our Lord calls My Body is the same sign. Whoever eats it lives forever. The Eucharist is the Kingdom of God come on earth, where God’s will is done on earth as in heaven, and the so-called daily Bread is anything but ordinary and quotidian! In the Eucharist, the Day of the Lord is come, the Bread that is to come is here.
We call it the Body of Christ, and with it we receive His Blood. These terms are intentionally outrageous, when you think about it –  especially so in their original context. An observant Jew would never consume blood, even of those animals the law permitted to be eaten, let alone human blood. Blood was thought to be life itself. The altar of God was drenched in sacrificial blood, because life belongs to God alone. But now Jesus Christ calls the wine His Blood and commands us to drink it.  He invites us to share His Life.
The Blood of Christ is the Life of Christ. In drinking it we join in everything that He is. Partaking of Communion we participate in His Divine Life. He is in the Father and the Father in Him. When we drink His Blood, He is also in us and we are in Him. Thus we call it Communion – participation in the Divine life. Our participation is communal, not individual. We eat His Flesh and drink His Blood together, never separately.
Give US today the bread that is to come. Participating in His Divine Life, we are freed from the prison of our individuality to become persons, like the three Divine Persons, gathered around the table of Abraham’s hospitality in our ikon – the table that is the Table of the Holy Eucharist, God’s Kingdom come on earth as in heaven.


Image result for rublev trinity icon meaning

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Trinity Sunday ~ May 22, 2016

Sermon for the Feast of the Holy Trinity
Year C  ~  May 22, 2016

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

if the Word has been made a human being,
 it is so that human beings may be made gods

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

So wrote St. Irenæus, Bishop of Lyons toward the end of the second century:
If the Word has been made a human being, it is so that human beings may be made gods.
This is the core proclamation of the Church, echoed by the Church’s Teachers – East and West – throughout the centuries. What they proclaim is called divinization or even deification in the Latin West, and theosis in the Greek East. Possibly the Greek is better, because it lacks some distracting connotations that burden our English words. Theos means God, and -osis is the suffix indicating a condition or a process of changing. Usually it has a negative connotation, since we hear it mostly as a medical term, describing a pathology: tuberculosis, sclerosis, necrosis. The meaning is an invasion or infestation, bringing about a change or transformation that is usually not desirable. Something abnormal or diseased.
Theosis, on the other hand is altogether desirable – in fact it is the aim of our whole life: it is the process of human beings becoming God. If you ever wondered what I am muttering when I bless the water being poured into the chalice to mix with the wine at the altar, it is a precise reference to this core teaching:
By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.
This same core hope of our tradition is found in our own Anglican theology. Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester and one of the translators of the or King James Bible, 400 years ago wrote:
Whereby, as before He of [our nature], so now we of His are made partakers. He clothed with our flesh, and we invested with His Spirit. The great promise of the Old Testament accomplished, that He should partake our human nature; and the great and precious promise of the New, that we should be “consortes divinae naturae”,“partakers of the divine nature,”
And in the last century, the Anglican C.S. Lewis wrote:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.
Last week we considered radical equality in the Kingdom of God. The dullest and most uninteresting person can become divine. All persons however wretched, are already images of God and they can become God’s likeness, that is they can become perfect – if limited – reflections of God’s Glory. Lewis goes on to say:
The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command … He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness.
And Pope St. John Paul II recalled the preëminent ancient theologians of the fourth century:
…the teaching of the Cappadocian Fathers on divinization (which) passed into the tradition of all the Eastern Churches and is part of their common heritage… can be summarized in the thought already expressed by Saint Irenæus at the end of the second century: God passed into man so that man might pass over to God. This theology of divinization remains one of the achievements particularly dear to Eastern Christian thought.
It is not a coincidence that the very same theologians – the Cappadocians –  penetrated as far as anyone ever has into the Mystery of the Holy Trinity, whose glory we acknowledge and worship today. The notion of theosis is inseparable from the glory of the Three in One and One in Three; because whatever the Only-begotten Son is by nature, we are to become by grace.
What is the Son’s nature? We say “perfect Love.” But love is not a nature; Love is a relationship, a personal relationship. Love is the relationship between the Three Divine Persons. But they are not the only Persons in this relationship. I have asked before that you look at the ikon and tell how many persons gather around the table. It’s a trick because there are more than the obvious three. The perspective of the picture is reversed, so that its focal point is you, the viewer: there are FOUR persons around the table. The fourth Person is humanity, divinized by conversing with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

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St. Symeon the New Theologian, at the end of the tenth century wrote,
He who is God by nature converses with those whom he has made gods by grace, as a friend converses with his friends, face to face.
In other words, humanity is drawn into the Divine Life as a participant. That is what it means to worship God as Trinity.
Theosis is not a metaphysical transformation. We still are human even as we undergo the transformation called theosis. But what we are, increasingly is Love, and love is an act not a metaphysical status. When we say that God IS Love, we are saying that God cannot be understood by any static definition of being. We are saying that before God is anything, God loves. Love is an act of will: personal will in the interpersonal Life of the Most Holy Trinity. Christ brings us into this Divine Life by the Holy Spirit.
Here is what the greatest of those Cappadocian teachers of the Trinity – St. Basil the Great – had to say about theosis:
Through the Spirit’s aid, hearts are raised on high……the Spirit makes them spiritual through the intimate union they have been granted. As when a ray of light touches a polished and shining surface, and the object becomes ever more brilliant, so too souls that are enlightened by the Spirit become spiritual themselves and reflect their grace to others…..Thus do they become like God, and most wonderful of all, thus do they themselves become divine.
 Theosis is the eternal process of becoming like God by beholding God’s glory more and more. In the words of today’s Collect we begin here and now, when we acknowledge and worship.  But increasingly, we see. Theosis is seeing, the process of becoming like what we behold. What we behold is the Eternal Act of Infinite Love, the One and Eternal Glory of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.



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