Saturday, May 13, 2017

V Easter

V Easter
 May 14, 2017
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

I go to prepare a place for you.

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

Today we hear the beginning of what is conventionally cal-led the Farewell Discourse — St. John’s account of Jesus’ last teachings, set after the Last Supper, after the departure of Judas and the purification of the foot-washing, and before the Passion. I’ve often thought that they might just as well have been spoken on the Mount of Olives, just before the Ascension, which is where we put them in our liturgical lectionary — to be read on the final Sundays of Eastertide. They are packed with important pronouncements about the Identity of Jesus, what He has accomplished, and what the Church can expect.  They have to do with the changes God has wrought in creation: not only the repair of damage done by creatures — visible and invisible — but the elevation of creation to new glory.
Our Lord begins by telling us not to be disturbed in the core of our being by any outward events. “You believe in God, believe also in Me.” Trust Me. He asks us not to believe things about Him, but to trust Him, to believe Him when He tells us “You will do greater works than I have done”. Indeed we have done. We have abolished crucifixion and gladiatorial combat. We have covered the world with hospitals and orphanages. We have very nearly abolished chattel slavery, and achieved formal recognition that it is outside the norm of civilized practice. Same with torture. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we have laid the foundation for the international law of human rights, based on what our own Baptismal Covenant calls respect for the dignity of every person. This 70-year-old agreement of almost all the nations of the earth is as close as we have come to a charter of the Kingdom of God. The world has learned from Jesus the unique value of every person, without exception. It has learned this through His Church, insofar as we have been faithful to His teaching and kept His commandments. Remembering the important reservation that no human system is, in itself, the Kingdom of God, we may still recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in propagating the Gospel precepts throughout the world, with or without explicit reference to their Author. In my Father’s house are many mansions.
It is possible to seek and serve Christ in every person, as we promise at baptism, without consciously thinking of it as such: without any reference to the Holy Name. Let’s remember Karl Rahner’s famous category of “anonymous Christians:” people who do His will, even though they may not think of it that way.  On the other hand, to acknowledge the Name is not simply a matter of tacking it on to the end of our petitions. It is not a magic formula, which guarantees the doing of our will! To ask anything “in (His) Name" means to ask what is consistent with His Identity, His public reputation, and His Mission as revealed in Scripture and tradition. We cannot expect Him to do anything inconsistent with that, even if we say we are asking in His Name, because we really are not. What we really do in that case is to take His Name in vain! Furthermore, we can never know for sure whether or not our perception of what needs to happen in order to fulfill His Mission is really accurate. Just saying “in the Name of Jesus” doesn’t make it so. We always have to add “thy will be done.”
What our prayers accomplish is mysterious. The great Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the most influential theologians of the last century, who marched with Dr. King at Selma, said:
To pray is to expand God’s Presence.
God’s action in the world sometimes  comes through our prayer, through our bringing God’s will into consciousness and action. Heschel went on to say
For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.
That is what it means to ask something “in the Name of Jesus.”  It is neither a magic word, nor even a conscious glorification of His Reputation, but an act in solidarity with His Mission, which is the Kingdom of God, God’s will done on earth as in Heaven, an act that expands God’s Presence in time and space.
These astonishing sayings, in the Farewell Discourse, unveil more of the Mystery of the Incarnation, and its continuation in time, in the Church – the Body of Christ, living in the world and chan-ging it more and more to resemble His Kingdom. Jesus says He goes to prepare a place for us in His Father’s House of Many Mansions. It may be a mistake to think of that as the preparation of a refuge from the world, a place to which we flee, somewhere out of the world.  The Son prepares the world through us, who do works greater than He did when we really act in His Name, whether or not we know that is what we are doing. The Son also prepares the House of the Father to accommodate us. He says he will come to us again, so that we might be where He is. We usually think that means He will take us out of the world, but what if it meant that He will bring the Father’s House of Many Mansions into the world?
And how in the world (or out of it) can we reconcile the House of Many Mansions with the proclamation that “No one comes to the Father except through Me?" Tune in next week!
Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And giving life to all in the tombs.


IV Easter ~ May 7, 2017

IV Easter
 May 7, 2017
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also…
Now when Ananias heard these words [of Peter], he fell down and died.

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

The Good Shepherd calls each sheep by name and leads them. But as we each have a different name, so also we each have a different vocation — a different path in which we are led. Despite these differences, we are all of the same flock. Furthermore, if we read on in this passage, Jesus says that He has “other sheep that are not of this fold.” This says to me that we had better be careful about excluding anyone, of the delusion that our path is the only path. We Anglicans usually like to think of ourselves as given to including people. Sometimes we are derided for that value; but, what is worse, sometimes we don’t really live up to it.
There is tension here between inclusivity and fidelity to the deposit of faith and the living tradition that grows out of it. Our distaste for exclusion, arising out of the political circumstances of the reign of the great Queen Elizabeth I, may be our particular charism, as a branch of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. We want to be faithful to the Apostolic tradition, but also to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, “Who makes all things new.”
The fact that each of the precious sheep of the Good Shepherd has a personal name  — a unique identity — supports the notion of inclusivity. The sheep are not simply interchangeable. Each one is irreplaceable. Each one is led along the path of its own particular calling, some to green pastures and still waters, and some through the valley of the shadow of death. The Good Shepherd also guides sheep from other folds, of which we know nothing. It is a big mistake to try to enforce uniformity. That kind of rigorism is the mark of thieves and robbers.
   Maybe that’s why our lectionary averts its eyes from the rest the story about Apostolic communism. We hear that the first Christian community had all things in common, that if anyone had anything, they laid it at the feet of the Apostles, and that those who had property sold it and turned the proceeds over to the commune too. As the Church grew, it became impossible to maintain this kind of organization, but there have always been Christians who tried to live according to this norm, with varying degrees of success.
Rarely, however, do we hear the other part of the story, later on in the Acts, in which one couple named Ananias and Sapphira held back some of the proceeds of the sale of their property, and kept it for themselves. Peter somehow knew it and rebuked them, whereupon God struck them dead on the spot! Talk about an exclusionary policy! We Anglicans never read it in church.  After all, we do not like to imagine the Father of Jesus behaving as depicted in the Book of Joshua.
Neither do I. I think we must interpret this story metaphorically, not literally. What I mean is this: God requires everything from anyone who proposes to follow the Good Shepherd. To hold anything back is to die — devoured by the Wolf. It is up to each of us to discern how we dedicate everything to God — each sheep has its own name; the Good Shepherd leads each along its own path. One size does not fit all. No one lifestyle or social organization is uniquely Christian.
That said, we still confront Ananias and Sapphira struck dead by God at the feet of the Apostles, and the Church has been uncomfortable with the notion of private property ever since. The Fathers and Mothers of the Church in the next few centuries continued to regard it as having the nature of sin. If something is mine, it is not yours. That means that you and I are separate, alienated from one another, and that is sin.
Wealth is redeemed only by devoting it to the relief of the poor, but the wealthy are always in danger of deceiving themselves and serving their own wealth, instead of God, which is to be devoured by the Wolf.
This basic ecclesiastical distrust of wealth has never evaporated entirely. When Pope Leo XIII endorsed private property, it was on the basis of the Labor Theory of Value: a person is entitled to the fruits of his/her labor. Property is “stored labor.” Withholding the wages of a worker is a sin that cries out to heaven for justice. Depriving a worker of property is the same as confiscating wages. In the same encyclical, the Pope also endorsed labor unions, at a time when they were illegal and persecuted in most countries, including the United States. Later encyclicals built on this foundation, further defining the legitimacy of private property as secondary to labor, which is prior.
Moreover, the Church has always regarded Apostolic Poverty as the way of perfection – the anticipation of the Kingdom of God, here and now. The current Pope does his best to model that for us. He took the name of the one who called himself the “little poor guy", who regarded himself as married to Lady Poverty. Pretty much every time he opens his mouth, Pope Francis reminds us of what the Second Vatican Council called “the preferential option for the poor,” what the Protestant theologian, Karl Barth, described in my favorite paraphrase “between rich and poor, heaven does not adopt a position of neutrality: the rich can take care of their own future; God is on the side of the poor.”

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And giving life to all in the tombs.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

III Easter - April 30, 2017

III Easter
 April 30, 2017
Holy Trinity and St. Anskar

 …He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him;
and He vanished from their sight.

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

Seeing and knowing, blind belief, Thomas’s finger and the breaking of bread. The disciples first see the risen Jesus, but do not know Him, then in the instant that they know Him, they no longer see Him. Or, rather, their ordinary way of seeing is replaced by knowing. There may be an analogy with Thomas’s insistence on thrusting his finger into our Lord’s wounded side, but then not doing so when invited, as we heard last week. Both of these stories seem to refer to a change in consciousness.
Thomas wanted verification. He understood that our eyes can play tricks on us, and that sometimes we see what we want to see, even though it really isn’t there. Thomas would not be content with “seeing is believing.” No. Thomas must actually touch the Body of the Risen Lord, before he will believe. No “blind belief” for him — not even belief verified by seeing. He had to have tactile proof. But in the event, it didn’t turn out that way. He KNEW the Resurrection without using his finger.  Today, we hear that the Apostles saw Him, He taught them, and their hearts burned within them, but still they did not recognize Him. They did not know Him until the moment of the breaking of the bread, and in that very instant he vanished from their sight. As with Thomas, ordinary consciousness and ordinary ways of seeing and knowing were left behind.
This is not “blind belief” nor even “seeing and believing”; it is a whole new consciousness that supersedes our ordinary experience of reality.
Today’s story is obviously a reference to the experience of first-century Christians — and all other Christians ever sense, including us — the experience of all of us who are on the Way. We know Him in the breaking of bread — that is, we know Him in the Eucharist. I think the whole Emmaus incident refers to the Eucharistic liturgy. In every liturgy, there are two parts: the Liturgy of Word And the Liturgy of Sacrament. Likewise in the first part of this story, the Lord instructs the two disciples. They hear Him and see Him, but they still don’t KNOW Him. He remains incognito, as He explains the scriptures to them. Then, in the second part of the story, He stops with them at the Inn.
Now it is not much of a stretch to see the Inn as a local community of Christians – a parish. That very word comes from the ancient Greek, meaning substitute house or temporary dwelling: an INN. So, the table inside this Inn is the Altar. But having first been invited, the Lord becomes the Host: He took the bread, broke it, blessed, and gave it to them. These are the four actions repeated in every Eucharist. Representing the Risen Christ, the priest TAKES the bread and wine at the Offertory, BLESSES them At the Consecration, BREAKS the bread at the Fraction, and then GIVES it to them as Communion.
    In that moment, we hear, their “eyes were opened,” but when they recognized Him, He “vanished from their sight,” in the same instant. Like Thomas’s finger, the ordinary way of seeing became irrelevant, unimportant. For now they knew Him. The risen Lord really was with them — He really walked along with the two disciples, and He really stood in the locked room with Thomas. But the Reality of that Presence was greater than we can imagine — at least with our ordinary consciousness. For the Real Presence of the risen Lord is cosmic, or rather meta-cosmic — it is beyond the universe that we can know with our ordinary means of perception: it includes but also exceeds everything that we know in this life — or on this plane of existence, as we might say mowadays.
The Presence of the Risen Lord in the Broken Bread is far more Real than our ordinary consciousness can take in. However , by regularly coming into this Presence, our consciousness can be changed, so that — as the Apostle has put it —
 It does not yet appear what we shall be but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as he is.
Could that explain the sudden change in Thomas and the two Emmaus disciples?  Suddenly they know at a new level. Thomas utters the first unambiguous confession of the Divinity of Christ, and the two disciples get up from the table, and hurry back to Jerusalem in the middle of the night. Everything has changed. Nothing will ever be the same for them again.
This is all pretty strange. Lots of paradoxes crowd around the Gospel accounts, the good news of the opening of Heaven, the blending of ordinary reality and Ultimate Reality, the intercourse between the created and the uncreated, what we might call the crossing of the uncrossable boundary of the space/time continuum, in other words the experience of something that cannot be, something that we cannot imagine, something unimaginably wonderful, which those who experience are changed.
There is no sign that the two disciples knew Who was instructing them on the way, but they appreciated His company enough to invite Him to dinner, where He then became the Host and turned their supper into the Holy Eucharist. They saw Him, but did not know Him until He “opened their eyes.” But in the very instant their eyes opened, He vanished. When the eyes of their understanding were opened, they lost sight of His physical presence. You would think THAT would make them sad, but instead something else happened to them: they remembered that His instruction had caused their hearts to burn within them, they forgot whatever it was they were going to do, and they went back to Jerusalem to find the eleven Apostles, because
He was known to them in the breaking of bread.
At some level they understood that they could not know Him UNTIL He vanished from their ordinary sight.
The Supper at Emmaus is the Holy Eucharist. In it, we join those two disciples at the Inn. The Risen Lord is known to us in the breaking of the bread, we become witnesses of the Resurrection, and we participate in His Risen Life by receiving Communion. As the Orthodox pray at the end of the Liturgy:

We have beheld your Resurrection, O Christ our God,
We have seen the True Light,
We have found the true faith,
We have received the Heavenly Spirit.
Let us bow down in worship before the Trinity Undivided, Who has saved us.

Friday, April 21, 2017

II Easter - April 23, 2017

II Easter
 April 23, 2017
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

To you darkness and light are both alike.

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

The delightful Sufi stories of the Incredible Mullah Nasruddin include one in which the holy man is crawling around under a streetlight in the middle of the night. A friend passing by asks him what he’s doing, and Nasruddin tells him that he is looking for a key that he has lost.
“Where do you think you lost it?” Asks the friend.
Nasruddin replies that he is sure that he lost it “somewhere over there,” pointing off into the darkness.
The puzzled friend naturally asks the mullah why he is searching under the streetlight if the lost key is somewhere else?
Nasruddin explains that it’s dark over there and the only way one can find anything is to search where one can see — in the light!
As usual with these stories, behind the joke there is a profound truth. I think it has something to do with today’s famous story about Doubting Thomas.
Poor Thomas — the twin, the double —  had a double-mind. His finger is the finger we refer to when we speak of the “finger of the doubt.” Because he wanted to verify the Resurrection by touching Jesus’ wounds. He was like Nasruddin, looking for the lost key in the light. One part of Thomas’s double mind insisted on sensory verification. “I will not believe unless…” But his doubt was not the opposite of faith. For faith is not just an opinion about reality; it is also fidelity, and Thomas was the most faithful of the apostles, in that sense: he was the one who admonished the other apostles to go up to Jerusalem with Jesus and die with Him. And it was Thomas who made the orthodox confession we heard today, addressing Jesus as “my Lord and my God.”
So Thomas is a double-minded person. His will was true — and fidelity, is a matter of will, not of the understanding. But Thomas’s understanding, requires verification. Empirical verification. He was looking for the key in the light, like Nasruddin. In that way, Thomas represents all of us, illustrating the double meaning of belief: it can mean either opinion or trust. In the first sense, belief has to do with understanding — what we think is true. In the other sense belief means trust in someone or something. As Thomas shows, it is possible to have faith in one sense and not in the other. It is possible to be faithful to someone, while at the same time not believing everything that is said about that person, however glorious, without verification.  The Resurrection is too good to be true. It is probably not an accident that we remember “Doubting Thomas” on the very next Sunday after Easter.
John says that he has relayed this story about Thomas so that we “may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing [we] may have life in His Name.” The NAME is not a magic word – I take it to mean reputation or the pubic narrative about someone. So in that sense, Life in His Name begins in faith. Not believing that it is true, but trusting the Name – the narrative – to be a genuine path to life, in spite of our own double-mind, our own doubt. To live in the Name of Jesus, is to hold in our consciousness the stories about Jesus, to accept them insofar as we can, and that faithfully. Our fidelity in remembering these stories and holding them in our consciousness more and more, has the effect — over time — of nurturing the conviction that they are true. So that faith in the sense of fidelity brings about faith in the sense of belief.
Notice that although Thomas said that he would not believe unless he physically touched the Risen Lord, we are not told that he did so, even though the Lord invited him to. Instead, he immediately addressed the Lord as God. He kept his “finger of doubt” to himself. Somehow, his experience of the Risen Lord so transcended the doubting part of his double mind, that it was no longer relevant to his consciousness. He had found the lost key in the darkness, that is in the hidden Mystery of reality vaster that the little spot of light under the streetlight.
The Resurrection is beyond our comprehension. It is far greater than anything we can say about it, and any description will be inadequate. Maybe that is the significance of the detail that the room in which the Risen Lord appeared was locked. Jesus is really there, but He opens to our consciousness astounding new dimensions of reality, so that Thomas’s previous insistence upon verification becomes oddly unimportant to him.
Divine Reality is hidden from us: God is invisible and silent. As long as we insist on empirical evidence, we are like the Incredible Mullah Nasruddin, searching futilely for the lost key to everything in the light of ordinary understanding. But the Key cannot be found there. Ordinary understanding is no help. Divine Reality is to be found in the darkness, that is to say, beyond our ordinary understanding, in the Cloud of Unknowing, as the great, anonymous, English mystic called it, beyond our ability to verify, where the empirical finger of doubt is irrelevant and useless.
Divine Reality — like the Resurrection — is beyond all of our categories, our ordinary ways of understanding reality. God is not to be found there: to God, darkness and light are both alike.

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And giving life to all in the tombs.


Paschal Vigil - April 15, 2017

Paschal Vigil
 April 15, 2017
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

…trampling down death by death…

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

Nowadays, one hears our era called the Anthropocene: the brief geological period in which human beings have succeeded to such an extent that great numbers of species are extinguished by our activity, which may well also result in our own extinction. There are some who observe that this fearful danger is really quite recent. For most of our time, human beings posed no threat to life on earth. The threat has developed as a result of the economic organization known as capitalism. These people would rather call the present geological era the Capitalocene. There is controversy about this, as you may imagine. But most are pretty pessimistic about our future. We must change or die: evolution or extinction, and the smart money is not on evolution!
Pessimism and entropy — things running down, the power of death as the long-term future. It is hard for honest scientists to see anything else, because science — to be science — cannot consider Spirit. Science must proceed without God – as though God did not exist, and material creation without God is a tendency toward death. The Resurrection means that this entropy, extinction, running down, and ultimate death — all that science can properly conclude — is not the ultimate reality.
A couple of weeks ago on the third Sunday of Lent, we heard the remarkable and mystifying story of our Lord’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. The well symbolizes life. Our Lord tells woman that it she drinks of the water He could give her, she will never thirst again. Then He says to the bewildered disciples
My food is to do the will of Him Who sent me and to complete His work.
That is really an audacious thing to say, considering that his Father’s work was the six-day work of creation, after which God rested on the seventh day. Jesus was saying to the disciples and the Samaritan woman that this work of creation was in fact incomplete, and He, God the Son, was come to complete it.
Audacious as this is, it is not entirely without precedent in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the second account in Genesis, we read
So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.
     If we understand the significance of the name of the thing, for the people who composed this record, we have to recognize that Adam — the human one — assisted God in the process of creation, because, for those people, the name is not an incidental label, but an expression of the essence of a thing. So if God waits for Adam to see what he would call the creatures, it means that Adam helps God to create them.  And now the New Adam is come to complete His Father’s work: to flood the world with living water, so that creation might never thirst again — that is that Death might be abolished — and to breathe into the world new life, so that all creation might worship in Spirit and in Truth. In other words, the future of the cosmos is more promising than the Anthropocene or Capitalocene thinkers can legitimately imagine.
The Eastern and Western churches differ slightly in their understanding of the Holy Sabbath that followed Good Friday, the sixth day. Jesus’ last words were it is finished. He referred not only to His own earthly life and suffering, but to the Creation of the world. For His Death was God’s entry into the stronghold of Death. It is hard to talk about that place, because we are talking about that which is not — nihil — the state of annihilation, nothingness, the Abyss, the Void, the triumph of Entropy. The West tends to think of this Holy Sabbath as a rest for the Godman. The East rather thinks of it as a very active Day indeed, in which God the Son Tramples upon the gates of hell, Binds Its Ruler, breaks down its prison walls, and leads all the captives out, spoiling the spoiler of his prey, in our translation of the ancient hymn. Although this all takes place on the Holy Sabbath, it doesn’t sound that restful! It is the consummation of the Victory — the completion of the Work to which Jesus referred when he said It is finished.
Death and separation from God are destroyed. The Word of God, by Whom all things were made, now clothed in the flesh of the New Adam, re-creates the universe. What follows is the unfolding in time of this mighty act. In the words of the final Solemn Collect on Good Friday
All that follows in our history — though it be hundreds of millions of years — is one Day. Science can legitimately discern only repetitive cycles: for the fleshly consciousness, the day that follows the seventh day, is the first day of the following week — over and over again as the cosmos inevitably runs down into stasis and nothingness.  The Resurrection, known to worshipers in Spirit and in Truth, reveals this new first day of the week as the Eighth Day, which is to say a Day that is at once in time and beyond time, the Day when the women came to the tomb before the rising of the sun when it was yet dark, and found it empty. What happened is beyond our comprehension, but the Resurrection is the first evidence of the Victory, the beginning of the completion of the Father’s work of creation, in which, despite all evidence  to the contrary …all things are being brought to their perfection by Him through whom all things were made.
Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival! 
Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?  Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any weary with fasting?  Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,  let them receive their due reward; If any have come after the third hour,  let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss. And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let him not hesitate; but let him come too. And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that toiled from the first. To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows. He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor. The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
 Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!  First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden! Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!
Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free. 
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hades when He descended into it. He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh. Isaiah foretold this when he said, "You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."
Hell is in an uproar because it was done away with.
It is in an uproar because it is mocked.
It is in an uproar, for it is destroyed. It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
 It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God. 
 It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it saw not.
O death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory?
 Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power
forever and ever. Amen!

Good Friday - April 14, 2017

April 14, 2017
And if I be lifted up, I will draw everyone to myself.

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

Reconciliation means the restoration of a broken relationship. When we speak of humanity reconciled to God by the Death of His Son, we conventionally think the sacrifice of Christ has somehow changed God’s attitude towards us, as though God needed to be appeased. But maybe it’s the other way around: the awful death of Christ changes our attitude toward God, the Cross appeases US!

 We all suffer. We want to know why. Especially we want to know why the innocent suffer. It isn’t fair. A good God would not permit that. So, we are tempted to blame God, as Adam did, or to conclude that the whole idea of a good God is a deception. In other words, one way or another we separate ourselves from God.
The Cross rescues us from this brink of death,  because it shows that whatever we suffer God suffers — and more. It does not answer our question as to why it must be so; but it reconciles us to God by showing us that there is no limit to God’s love and mercy.
The Cross does not change God’s attitude towards us; it changes our attitude toward God. Thus does the Cross of the Son reconcile us to God. Whatever forgiveness we need, God has given before we were even born, before the creation of the world. God’s Mercy Is infinite and invincible from all eternity.  The Father of Infinite Love does not require the horrible death of the Only-begotten Son to pay for our sin. What Almighty God cannot do is to compel our love. Love that is compulsory is not love at all. The Prodigal Son’s father cannot force his elder brother to rejoice at the welcome banquet. What will change the brother’s mind? What will overcome his self-imposed separation, that is to say his sin? What will reconcile him to his brother and his father?
God’s answer is the Cross. When we speak of sin washed away by the Blood of Christ — of the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world — we can think of this Redemption as the conquest of our own resentful, self-imposed separation. When we look at the Cross we can no longer blame God for our suffering. God suffers with us. The Creator suffers all the consequences of creation. God suffers everything that we do, including separation from God, which is to say GOD DIES.
All the teachings of wisdom and all the miracles of healing and exorcism might not be enough to overcome our separation. But this public suffering will do it.

And if I be lifted, I will draw everyone to myself.

We worship your Cross, O Christ,
and we praise and glorify your
holy Resurrection,
for the wood of the cross has brought joy to the world.

Maundy Thursday - April 13, 2017

April 13, 2017

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

Communion, service, betrayal, exposure — God-in-the-Flesh says THIS IS MY BODY, referring to the bread He is holding and also to the people who eat it together.  [ Could it be that even expressed that in a gesture?]. A modern Greek theologian wrote an influential book entitled Being as Communion. Everything that is exists in relationship — from atoms to galaxies to parallel universes (if there be any). To be is to be in communion. The relationship between being and communion is especially apparent in living things, and among them it is even more apparent in those capable of reflective self-consciousness: human beings. We cannot live except in communion with each other and the whole world. But we have a choice. One could say that it is a choice is between HOSPITALITY and BETRAYAL.
Foot-washing was a sign of hospitality. Guests reclined around the table, their bare feet at the other end of their couch. Servants would come around and wash their feet. It was kind of like the hot towel offered at a Japanese table. This is the third foot-washing noted in the Gospels: the first two happened to Jesus:  the Woman of Bad Reputation washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair at the house of the Pharisee; then Mary of Bethany anointed his feet with extremely costly perfume, causing Judas to complain about the waste.
But this time Jesus Himself does the washing. There are two meanings here: first, He is our Host and we are His guests. But usually it was slaves who washed the feet of the guests, not the host himself.  So Peter objects: The Messiah is the King, and Kings don’t wash anybody’s feet – slaves do that.  And Peter gets the usual rebuke, Because the second significance of the foot-washing is the Mystery of Divine Abasement:  God Almighty has assumed the role of a slave.
In this form, He gives us what He calls “a New Commandment,” that we love one another. (Maundy is an old word related to comMANDment).  Love one another as I have loved you, meaning that we are to make the welfare of the other our chief concern, whatever the cost. This Maundy enacts the meaning of the Mystery of the Bread and Wine:  Communion means that my neighbor IS myself, for we are all one Body, He commands us to act out that unity as He showed us.
But something else happens tonight, something terrible. The Kiss, the sign of welcome and hospitality, the kiss expressing the mutual love and self-giving that He has commanded becomes the sign of betrayal. Judas has exchanged New Life for money, and he seals the deal with a kiss. As our Lord said, it would have been better for that man if he had not been born. Like Esau, he has sold his birthright for a mess of pottage, and Judas becomes the type not only of betrayal but of avarice. Both are the opposite of Communion, both the opposite of life, of being itself, and Judas went out and hanged himself. In this life we choose every day between communion and avaricious betrayal.
And no one makes the right choice every day. Let’s not forget the Judas wasn’t alone in his betrayal, his abandonment of life. The apostles all went to sleep, and then — speaking for all of them — Peter denied Jesus three times, as we will hear tomorrow.
Tonight we focus on the connection between communion and exposure, communion and vulnerability. Those who would live in communion will be exposed and vulnerable to each other. When we carry the Body of Christ to the symbolic GETHSEMANE of our altar of repose, we refer to it as the “Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.” Christ Himself is totally exposed and vulnerable to us. The Great Mystery of the vulnerability of God is part of the significance of this rite.  It is through divine exposure and vulnerability that our sin is overcome we are reconciled to God.
Our sin is our separation from God and from one another. Our sin is our abandonment of communion and mutual service in favor of a miserable Thirty pieces of silver.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Nativity ~ December 24, 2016

Sermon for Chistmas Eve
Year A ~  December 24, 2016

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

Those who love me will keep my word, and my  
Father will love them, and we will come to them
 and make our home with them.

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

That has always struck me as one of the most stupendous and mysterious phrases in all of Scripture. How can God move? God is everywhere — and nowhere. God is outside time and space. Motion means time. How can the infinite and eternal One move? It is beyond us, outside the capacity of rational consciousness. It remains a mystery. It is the mystery that we celebrate on this Most Holy Night. God’s moving: coming to make a home with us.
We must not restrict this mystery to the individual, inner, spiritual lives of “those who love.” This promise is, no doubt, true on that level, but it is also true on the interpersonal and cosmic level. Jesus promises that He and the Father will come to “make our home with them" in this world, in history, in this life. He does not promise to come and take us out of the world, but rather to “make our home with them” in this world.
After the decline of the Roman Empire, there was a lot less moving around. In the period we call the Middle Ages, everybody pretty much stayed put — geographically, but also socially and economically. Mobility was not particularly desirable. All that began to change in the High Middle Ages, when the paradigm shifted and many began to think that there was some spiritual benefit in moving — at least temporarily. (They may have got this idea — pilgrimage — from the Muslims, who in any case had the idea before we did.) So people went crazy over pilgrimages: Canterbury, Santiago de Compostela, Rome, and — of course — Jerusalem.
The notion that one ought to move if one could, got deep into our consciousness. The whole capitalist system is based on motion: trading over as wide an area as possible. Worldwide exploration to expand the scope of trade, and imperial domination for the same purpose.
Eventually, many Europeans decided to leave home permanently, and to move to new places, in search of a better life — freedom from old constraints, but mostly for economic improvement. Perhaps more than any other country, our own United States of America is based on the idea of moving. Let’s remember that it became conventional to refer to those original English settlers as pilgrims.  As though there were something holy about their moving.
This became part of our American ideology: anyone with any ability, anyone “worth their salt”, would naturally want to leave home and go somewhere else to make a fortune. This was called ambition, which comes from a Latin word meaning walking around. In the Middle Ages, ambition was regarded negatively, but modern capitalism turned it into a virtue. “Go west young man.” Was the maxim of American expansion, without regard to the effect on the natural world or the genocide on  indigenous peoples. These were what we now call “external costs.”
Here the underlying modern theme of motion reaches the extreme. Paul Ehrlich, an early ecologist, rephrased our national maxim: not “go west young man,” but “foul your nest and move west!” Only now we can’t do that anymore. Oh, we can still foul our nest, all right, but now there is no place else to move to. No more “West” in that archetypical, imaginary sense of the land of limitless opportunity. Still the paradigm of the virtue of motion – our idea that moving is good –  persists, and causes conflict.
I’ve sometimes wondered whether the super-rich really want to take everything, because they recognize that pretty soon there will be big problems, but with enough money they could insulate themselves from the negative consequences of capitalism. With enough money, one could, presumably live in a fortified island of prosperity in the sea of increasing misery. Now, one actually hears that some super-rich people seriously think about pooling their resources to build a spaceship to take them away, once the world becomes uninhabitable, as a result of their rapacity!
This is the ultimate end of the motion-paradigm, of moving to better one’s self, of motion over stability: a voluntary exit from the world into perpetual motion in outer space. But such a project would amount to voluntary damnation. After all, what would those super-billionaires find on their spaceship, but other people who were all used to being on top? What do you think would happen then? “The Lord of the Flies,” that’s what. The billionaires would start fighting and kill one another, probably before they even got out of the solar system.
Motion, in the sense of getting out, leaving  home in the name of finding something better — even in the name of finding salvation — is deep in our consciousness, but it is a dead end. It is a horrible counterfeit of the only motion that can save us: God’s motion, God’s coming to us to make a home with us. Coming into the world, not leaving the earth. That is what we celebrate tonight.
God comes into our darkening world, but things are not instantly changed. Only a few recognize what is happening: the extremely poor, and the extremely wise, who are at the same time humble. But their recognition occurs in private. The immediate public effect of God’s Coming is disaster: atrocity, infanticide, the slaughter of the innocents. The Holy Family has to flee into Egypt as refugees. The darkness is not dispelled. Not right away. And yet the world is re-created. Silently, incognito, out of sight, hidden from the view of the powers of this dying world, unnoticed by the bemused and avaricious who would defile and then escape the world, God sets to work to save the world. That doesn’t mean that things are going to get better right away or any time soon. In fact, things may get a great deal worse, as we are about to find out in our own land. More injustice, more inequality, more misery and heartache, more “Rachel weeping for her children, because they are not.”
But tonight we celebrate hope: Hope that the increasing darkness will not be the end of the story. Hope that the raging tyrant will not have the last word. Not because we imagine that things are going to get better in our time, but because we believe that God is with us. This is the difference between optimism and hope. In our own present moment, when insane avarice seems to have taken over, the words of Karl Barth seem especially pertinent:

Between the rich and the poor heaven does not adopt a posture of neutrality. The rich can take care of their own future. God is on the side of the poor.

Emmanuel. Yes. God is with us. God is with the poor, who cannot afford to dream of escaping on a spaceship. God is also with the rich who are sufficiently wise to humble themselves and identify with the poor and move to where they are:  the rich who indeed get up and leave their own country, their own comfortable home of insulated peace, and journey far into the dangerous world, to find the Holy One, Who has come into the World, in order to deliver their riches to Him, so that He and His human Family may have the mans,  in turn, to get up and flee into Egypt, where they can find refuge until it is safe to return.
In the end, we can’t lose if we love the One born as on this night, for we have His promise:

Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.



Advent IV ~ Year A ~ December 18, 2017

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent
Year A ~  December 18, 2016

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

Behold, a virgin shall conceive…

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

Vigilance,  repentance, expectation are the themes of Advent.
·     Vigilance: waking up to what is happening in history, staying awake and keeping watch
·     Repentance Changing our mind,  a new consciousness about what is real, and living in accordance with it
·     Expectation: or gestation — the pregnancy of history, the fullness of time, the arrival of the Novum, the utterly new and unexpected.

Advent is a season of paradox:  expect the unexpected! The end of the world, in a New Birth. The world pregnant and about to bring forth the Promise, and the world unable to produce anything that can help itself. For the past couple of weeks I’ve emphasized the disconnection between salvation and natural processes — including the processes of the world and its history. But here we are on Advent IV adoring the most basic of natural cycles: human birth. As day follows night, as season follows upon season, as all the world renews itself by its natural processes, so — it seems — is Salvation born from the processes of nature. A young woman conceives and bears a child. What could be more natural?

Her pregnancy, however, is not natural at all. She Is a Virgin; she has conceived by the Holy Spirit. God has entered history to alter its processes, so that creation may coöperate in its own salvation, which is entirely God’s doing, and outside the natural order of things. The two English translations of the prophecy tell us something about our own underlying ideology and our difficulty with the paradox. The Hebrew word almah means not only a “young woman,” as rendered in our modern translation of Isaiah,  but it means, specifically, a “young unmarried woman.” A maiden as opposed to a matron. As in English, a maiden is assumed to be a virgin. In the ancient culture, if a young unmarried woman were not a virgin, she would be in a lot of trouble: she would not be marriageable, and she might be treated very badly, even killed. The connection between almah as “young woman” and almah as “a virgin" used to be so obvious that when Jewish scholars translated the passage into Greek a couple of centuries before Christ, they used the unambiguous Greek word parthenos, or virgin, which is why the Gospel, written in Greek, uses the term.  Our modern translators, I suspect, hesitate to make this connection due to current cultural preferences, but it is historically obvious. I would say, further, that it is quite important, and not simply incidental.

For the virginal maternity of Mary is not just a symbolic way to express God’s Incarnation; it is also the recognition that the natural processes of this world, by themselves,  cannot produce salvation. The Virginal conception of Jesus does not diminish His humanity, but it emphasizes the fact that creation cannot save itself. Salvation comes to the world from outside. God must intervene. The natural processes of the world have a role to play, as willing coöperator of God, but the fallen world has no power of itself to help itself. 

 So, the Advent theme of gestation recalls both natural process and divine act: God’s coming into history to redirect it and transform its end. The cycles of time and season, birth and death and birth again are not the Ultimate Reality. God is bringing them to an end— a glorious End.

And Joseph awoke from sleep. He took Mary as his wife, but she remained a virgin until she had borne her Son. And he named Him Jesus: [YHWH Saves]. For He will save His people from their sins.


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