Sunday, July 31, 2016

Pentecost 11, Year C, Proper 13, July 31, 2016

Sermon for The Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
Year C, Proper 13  ~  July 31, 2016

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

One's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. 

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

 A  discussion on Democracy Now last week got me thinking about ideology and consciousness. One participant remarked:

... a neoliberal economic philosophy involves a kind of understanding that the notion of the public good is kind of undermined by a basic market logic that turns us all into entrepreneurs, where competition and rivalry define who we are, where the state’s principle function…is to secure the efficient functioning of the economy and the defense, and creating the market conditions whereby you and I can pursue our own self-interest. … if we only read [neo-liberalism] as an economic philosophy and [do] not understand it as a kind of political rationale producing particular kinds of subjects, who are selfish, who are self-interested, who are always in competition with one another, then we lose sight of how neo-liberalism attacks the political imagination.

HMM! An ideology attacks the imagination. How does that work? How about this analogy: the brain is to consciousness as the computer is to the operating system and our consciousness is to ideology as the operating system is to the browser.  Consciousness will be affected to a certain extent by our ideology – more than we think, probably.  No big news – a no-brainer (I couldn’t resist!). 
So, neo-liberal ideology is like a browser, determining what we can do with our consciousness. Neo-liberalism proposes that the best way to advance the common good is by everyone competing with everyone else in the marketplace to advance their individual self-interest
But it is not the only tool to choose from. The many forms of Marxism are different tools, so are the variety of anarchist or utopian socialist theories. In this sense, there is a kind of ideology to be found in the Christian tradition also. It, too, might be analogous to a browser, conditioning our consciousness. It has something to do with the Holy Spirit and what we mean when we speak of living in the Name of Jesus. A certain shaping and conditioning of our consciousness to conform to the Gospel, as understood under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Who reminds us and teaches us about Jesus. Perseverance in using this browser makes permanent changes in the operating system.     
     Now I don’t mean to suggest that Christianity is one more ideology among many. But, insofar as it is a way to interpret the world, to decipher some of its meaning, and to guide us through our own lives, it does what secular ideologies often also do. We would say that none of them rises to the level of the revealed truth, which we believe we have received, but some of them are more compatible with our way of thinking than others. Some of the browsers out there just won’t work with our operating system. Others will. Arnold Toynbee, for example, called Marxism the “fourth Judæo-Christian religion” – Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Marxism. Dated as that remark may be, there is some truth to it.
 It is significant that Karl Barth and Paul Tillich were both socialists. The two great Protestant theologians of the last century may not have agreed on much, but they agreed with our own Archbishop William Temple that “socialism is the economic realization of the Kingdom of God.” This was also the view of later Archbishops of Canterbury, Lords Ramsey and Williams, and many others, especially among the Catholic wing of Anglicanism.  A hundred years ago, they used to say that the Church of England was the Tory Party at prayer. Some wag responded with the observation that the Church’s Catholic wing was the Labor Party at prayer! Which ideology an Anglican finds more compatible with the Gospel – conservatism or socialism – will partly determine which type of Anglicanism one goes in for.
     Secularists sometimes object that this turns religion into the mouthpiece of an ideology, but I protest that Christian religion was around long before modern political-economic ideologies, and if some of them happen to agree with Christianity so much the better for them. In fact – as Toynbee suggested – it can be persuasively argued that Christianity is one of the sources, maybe the chief source, of socialist thinking, both Marxian and utopian. Be that as it may, today’s Gospel has something to say to us about the neo-liberal ideology defined in that debate on Democracy Now, the ideology that now seems to rule the roost.
     The problem for Christians is that the notion  that the best way to advance the common good is by everyone competing with everyone else in the marketplace to advance their individual self-interest contradits   our Lord’s teaching: neo-liberalism can hardly avoid the conclusion that one’s life DOES consist in the abundance of possession.  The neo-liberal order encourages individuals to make all kinds of plans to tear down barns and build new ones and fill them with the ever-growing, surplus that competition supposedly produces. Ever more accumulation. That was the man’s mistake in the parable – rather than sharing the surplus, he wanted to keep it for himself, because it made him feel more substantial, more real, more alive. Neo-liberal ideology encourages that. That was all he could imagine: new barns to keep the surplus for himself. His consciousness was deformed; his operating system corrupted by an infected browser.
     Ideology can invade consciousness and assault political imagination. The wrong browser can crash the operating system. We can come to believe that what the browser lets us know about reality is just “the way things are”: self-interest (in other words, avarice) is the Law of Nature and of Nature’s God. St. Paul calls this, idolatry. He tells the Colossians that greed, simply, IS idolatry. The Gospel says to the man making provision for greed “you fool – tonight your life shall be required of you.”  Market idolatry may produce a great deal of wealth, for some, but in the end the wealth is completely worthless if it is stored up in ever-bigger barns by fewer and fewer people, while more and more get poorer and poorer. That is what lay behind Toynbee’s remark.
Christianity –  at least in its Catholic form – is not that friendly toward free-market capitalism. We are much more interested in human solidarity and the reality that we are all one Body. This notion is a whole lot older than 19th Century socialist theory. St. Basil the Great, one of the most influential church leaders of the 4th Century, is entirely serious in declaring that the extra pair of shoes in my closet is actually stolen from the man down the street who has none. STOLEN. It is not that I have merely failed in generosity, I have actually robbed the shoeless man! My extra pair rightfully belongs not to me but to him – simply because he has none and I have more than I need.
Now, St. Basil is a Doctor of the Church, as is his contemporary, St. Ambrose of Milan, who went so far as to observe that the whole concept of private property is pretty much the same as original sin; the illusion that anything is mine as opposed to yours can arise only out of a consciousness of separateness – the illusion that you and I are separate individuals, and NOT one body. This is a defect in the browser that damages the operating system, warps our consciousness.  Ambrose and Tillich might agree that this illusion of separateness is sin itself, the sin that Christ has come to wash away.
     The faulty browser must be replaced with a new one that will not fool our consciousness into imagining ourselves as “particular kinds of subjects, who are selfish, who are self-interested, who are always in competition with one another.” Neo-liberalism will not do. It corrupts consciousness; it will crash the whole system. Even though it may rule our culture, it is not the Law of God, and any culture that operates as though it were, is like the greedy old fool in our Lord’s parable, whose life will be required of him this very night.

 AMEN
 MARANATHA
COME, LORD JESUS!



Friday, July 29, 2016

Pentecost 10, Year C, Proper 12, July 24, 2016

Sermon for The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
Year C, Proper 12  ~  July 24, 2016

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

Your Kingdom come…

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

I
 heard that some insider journalists like to gamble on how many minutes it would take for a political speaker to mention Hitler. One doesn’t want to be too quick to compare the present state of the country to the Weimar Republic. Frequent wolf-crying notwithstanding, let’s remember that the other side of that coin is “it can’t happen here, and that kind of American exceptionalism is particularly fatuous. A few days ago was the Feast of St. Alexander Schmorell of Munich, the neo-Martyr of the White Rose circle – students who opposed Hitler and were guillotined in 1943. They had opposed Hitler on the basis of Christian faith, Roman Catholic as well as  Orthodox. And today, the Sunday between our two political conventions of this critical election year, we hear our Lord teach us to pray that the Kingdom of the Father may come. We hear Him tell us that the Father will give to those who ask and open to those who knock. We hear Abraham’s relentless insistence on God’s mercy for the wicked city, and we hear our Lord’s comment that even wicked people give their children good gifts and that the sleeping householder will open to his importunate neighbor just because of his persistence. In the Collect we[bt1]  also recognize God as the only Source of strength and holiness, and we address God as our Ruler and Guide.

It is probably time for some consideration of the Lord’s Prayer, but that will take a few weeks. Too much for one sermon. So today, I will concentrate on the first petition. Where we ask that God’s Kingdom may come. This prayer invites a consideration of political theology – particularly appropriate for us, just now.
The Kingdom we seek is not our own, and it is not of our own making. God alone is our Ruler, we pray that God is also our Guide. Listening to the Republican Convention, I kept thinking of the Nüremberg Rallies. People mistook their Leader for their Savior. The godless, Nazi ideology idolized German nationality and Hitler as its focal point: personal embodiment of the entire German People, the living incarnation of their suffering and hope, possessing the strength of will to achieve it. Trump said again and again “I am your voice.”   
The theatrical adulation was, in fact, similar to Nüremberg, right down to the airplane circling low over Lake Erie, and then the Trump Helicopter delivering the Voice – the Leader –  to the auditorium. Go and watch Triumph of the Will – Leni Riefenstahl’s great documentary about the Nazi Party Congress at Nüremberg in 1934. The whole message was similar: we are a great people, downtrodden by a corrupt elite, servants of foreign enemies: venal and self-serving parasites who care nothing for us ordinary Americans, but hold us in contempt. The would-be Leader invoked every real grievance, every fear, and every misguided prejudice: immigrants, terrorists, international financial arrangements, the “terrible crimes” of Mrs. Clinton, and on and on. We Americans used to be winners, now we are losers. But I am here to change that. I am going to fix it. I am America’s destiny. I am your voice. I am your savior.
There was one way in which Mr. Trump did not mimic Hitler, and that was his constant reference to himself. I am this, I am that, I will, I know how to, I am going to…, &c. Me, me, me.  Now there was certainly a cult of personality in the Third Reich, but even Hitler didn’t talk like that. Trump appears to be even more self-absorbed than Hitler. Maybe that narcissism, that infantile egoism, will be his downfall. Maybe that will save us. Maybe not. We’ll see.  But the combination of that pathologically disordered character with the Nüremberg theatrics in a celebration of grievance and anger and fear makes the comparison inevitable, in my opinion.
“Lock her up!”  “USA, USA”. Not far from there to Sieg Heil.  “America First.” Not so far from Deutschland über alles. Maybe this is nothing more than the exaggerated fever of a political convention. Maybe not. Unfortunately, if it is the latter, we won’t know for sure until it’s too late. For now, all we have to go on is style.
So we remember the glorious Neo-Martyr Alexander of Munich and his companions, who achieved the Crown of Martyrdom through political action in this world, and in so doing advanced the Kingdom for which our Lord taught is to pray.  In our election year, it is legitimate to remember that all theology is political. Some of it is good and some of it is bad. Some is genuinely evangelical and some is ediabolical.  Some say that it is the duty of every Christian to support Donald Trump. This diabolical kind of political theology passes off greed and the lust for power, scapegoating and hate-mongering as reform and salvation. The genuine kind of political theology is marked by self-sacrifice and refusal to offer – or to accept – idolatrous worship. The genuine kind of political theology points toward the Kingdom that only God can bring, the Kingdom of Him Whose throne in this world is the Cross. The Kingdom for which we pray whenever we say “Our Father…”. The prayer of a little child asking Abba for bread. If we ask, we shall receive. If, in the process, like St. Alexander, we receive the Cross also, that is not to receive a stone or a scorpion. It is to enter into the heart of the Kingdom, to join Jesus Christ on His earthly throne, to join in His suffering that is the Redemption of this world.
Today a light adorns [our glorious city] the City of Munich, having within it your holy relics, O Holy Martyr Alexander;
for which sake pray to Christ God,
that He deliver us from all tribulations,
for gathered together in love we celebrate your radiant memory, imitating your bravery, standing against th godless powers and enemies.

 AMEN
 MARANATHA
COME, LORD JESUS!







 [bt1]the Collect

Pentecost 10, Year C, Proper 12, July 24, 2016

Sermon for The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
Year C, Proper 12  ~  July 24, 2016

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

Your Kingdom come…

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

I
 heard that some insider journalists like to gamble on how many minutes it would take for a political speaker to mention Hitler. One doesn’t want to be too quick to compare the present state of the country to the Weimar Republic. Frequent wolf-crying notwithstanding, let’s remember that the other side of that coin is “it can’t happen here, and that kind of American exceptionalism is particularly fatuous. A few days ago was the Feast of St. Alexander Schmorell of Munich, the neo-Martyr of the White Rose circle – students who opposed Hitler and were guillotined in 1943. They had opposed Hitler on the basis of Christian faith, Roman Catholic as well as  Orthodox. And today, the Sunday between our two political conventions of this critical election year, we hear our Lord teach us to pray that the Kingdom of the Father may come. We hear Him tell us that the Father will give to those who ask and open to those who knock. We hear Abraham’s relentless insistence on God’s mercy for the wicked city, and we hear our Lord’s comment that even wicked people give their children good gifts and that the sleeping householder will open to his importunate neighbor just because of his persistence. In the Collect we[bt1]  also recognize God as the only Source of strength and holiness, and we address God as our Ruler and Guide.

It is probably time for some consideration of the Lord’s Prayer, but that will take a few weeks. Too much for one sermon. So today, I will concentrate on the first petition. Where we ask that God’s Kingdom may come. This prayer invites a consideration of political theology – particularly appropriate for us, just now.
The Kingdom we seek is not our own, and it is not of our own making. God alone is our Ruler, we pray that God is also our Guide. Listening to the Republican Convention, I kept thinking of the Nüremberg Rallies. People mistook their Leader for their Savior. The godless, Nazi ideology idolized German nationality and Hitler as its focal point: personal embodiment of the entire German People, the living incarnation of their suffering and hope, possessing the strength of will to achieve it. Trump said again and again “I am your voice.”   
The theatrical adulation was, in fact, similar to Nüremberg, right down to the airplane circling low over Lake Erie, and then the Trump Helicopter delivering the Voice – the Leader –  to the auditorium. Go and watch Triumph of the Will – Leni Riefenstahl’s great documentary about the Nazi Party Congress at Nüremberg in 1934. The whole message was similar: we are a great people, downtrodden by a corrupt elite, servants of foreign enemies: venal and self-serving parasites who care nothing for us ordinary Americans, but hold us in contempt. The would-be Leader invoked every real grievance, every fear, and every misguided prejudice: immigrants, terrorists, international financial arrangements, the “terrible crimes” of Mrs. Clinton, and on and on. We Americans used to be winners, now we are losers. But I am here to change that. I am going to fix it. I am America’s destiny. I am your voice. I am your savior.
There was one way in which Mr. Trump did not mimic Hitler, and that was his constant reference to himself. I am this, I am that, I will, I know how to, I am going to…, &c. Me, me, me.  Now there was certainly a cult of personality in the Third Reich, but even Hitler didn’t talk like that. Trump appears to be even more self-absorbed than Hitler. Maybe that narcissism, that infantile egoism, will be his downfall. Maybe that will save us. Maybe not. We’ll see.  But the combination of that pathologically disordered character with the Nüremberg theatrics in a celebration of grievance and anger and fear makes the comparison inevitable, in my opinion.
“Lock her up!”  “USA, USA”. Not far from there to Sieg Heil.  “America First.” Not so far from Deutschland über alles. Maybe this is nothing more than the exaggerated fever of a political convention. Maybe not. Unfortunately, if it is the latter, we won’t know for sure until it’s too late. For now, all we have to go on is style.
So we remember the glorious Neo-Martyr Alexander of Munich and his companions, who achieved the Crown of Martyrdom through political action in this world, and in so doing advanced the Kingdom for which our Lord taught is to pray.  In our election year, it is legitimate to remember that all theology is political. Some of it is good and some of it is bad. Some is genuinely evangelical and some is ediabolical.  Some say that it is the duty of every Christian to support Donald Trump. This diabolical kind of political theology passes off greed and the lust for power, scapegoating and hate-mongering as reform and salvation. The genuine kind of political theology is marked by self-sacrifice and refusal to offer – or to accept – idolatrous worship. The genuine kind of political theology points toward the Kingdom that only God can bring, the Kingdom of Him Whose throne in this world is the Cross. The Kingdom for which we pray whenever we say “Our Father…”. The prayer of a little child asking Abba for bread. If we ask, we shall receive. If, in the process, like St. Alexander, we receive the Cross also, that is not to receive a stone or a scorpion. It is to enter into the heart of the Kingdom, to join Jesus Christ on His earthly throne, to join in His suffering that is the Redemption of this world.
Today a light adorns [our glorious city] the City of Munich, having within it your holy relics, O Holy Martyr Alexander;
for which sake pray to Christ God,
that He deliver us from all tribulations,
for gathered together in love we celebrate your radiant memory, imitating your bravery, standing against th godless powers and enemies.

 AMEN
 MARANATHA
COME, LORD JESUS!







 [bt1]the Collect

Pentecost 6, Tear C, Proper 8, June 26, 2016

Sermon for The Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
Year C, Proper 8  ~  June 26, 2016

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

Keep your hand on the plow: hold right on.

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

P
Plows. Prophets. Apostles. Elisha is plowing, and Jesus says whoever once sets hand to plow, but then “looks back” Is not suited for the Kingdom of God.
Elijah was the great Pro-phet of Israel after the time of David. And Elisha was his successor. God commands Elijah to institutionalize his prophetic office – just as prophets already anointed kings, they would designate their own successors. 
The Church understands this as the duty of Apostles, too. The Apostles are analogous to the prophets of Israel, and they are to ordain their own successors. We make much of this in the Anglican Communion – Apostolic Succession, we say, and we call ourselves Episcopal, which means having to do with bishops, whom we regard as the successors of the Apostles.
This coming Wednesday is the Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. It is often simply called the Feast of the Holy Apostles, and as such it may also be taken as a celebration of the whole notion of Apostolic Succession – a significance much grander, even, than the commemoration of the two foun-ders of the local church at Rome. Both Peter and Paul were foreigners, born elsewhere, who died violently in Rome – traditionally on the same day, June 29. Even though Paul was legally a citizen, they were both outsiders, sent from abroad with a message. To fulfill their commission, they had to give up everything, including their lives.
Just like Elisha. He couldn’t even go back home to tell his father he was leaving. That alone is kind of outrageous, given that filial duty is enshrined in the Fifth Commandment, written in stone on Sinai, by the Finger of God! The twelve yoke of oxen (twenty-four large animals) and the plow belonged to Elisha’s father. Not only did Elisha disappear without informing his father, but he destroyed a fair amount of his father’s wealth before he left! So also, Jesus insists on complete renunciation of ordinary obligations.
What are we to do with this?
·  We can attribute it to the apocalyptic consciousness of the Early Church – the ones who wrote the Gospel – and say that everybody expected the world to end soon, so ordinary obligations are meaningless.
·  We can say (as I often do) that one size does not fit all, and that people have different callings… that it doesn’t mean you have to forsake all obligations in order to do Jesus’s will and to be approved by God – just that not everyone is called to be an Apostle.
·  We can allegorize and spiritualize and individualize the meaning, noticing that sooner or later we all WILL give up everything to follow Jesus, whether we want to or not, in the sense that we are all going to follow Him in death. If we practice inner renunciation now, constantly remembering that we are dust and to dust we shall return, we begin to get ready for the Kingdom of God. Indeed, we call Baptism participation in His Death.
·  We can remind ourselves that the Kingdom of God does not mean a reward in heaven after we die, but the transformed society and transfigured creation of perfect equality and harmony. Obviously, any kind of obligatory preference for anyone is incompatible with such a régime.
Maybe there is some truth to each of these interpretations. At the very least, the story of Elisha and Jesus’ pronouncement about the plow would seem to caution against attachment to aspect of our present arrangements. But it would be a mistake to think it cautions us against love.  If we don’t love our parents, how can we love anyone else?
Somehow the Elisha’s love for his father must be reconciled with the sacrifice of his father’s treasure. A big order, but maybe there is one little clue in the detail about giving the twenty-four boiled oxen to feed “the people”:

[Elisha] took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate.

Leaving aside the considerable resemblance of this story to that of David’s sacrifice of the oxen on the holocaust of the cart they were pulling, carrying the Ark of the Covenant, which the Philistines, in desperation, had sent back, we have to ask “who were these people?”
Whom did Elisha feed? Who knows? They must represent something like society as a whole. The prophet or apostle must put everything at the disposal of everyone else. Everyone is his family, not just his father. He owes that extended family – all humanity – the same obligation he owes his own Father and Mother. If you want to enter the Kingdom of God, you can’t be tied to the natural restriction of obligations to immediate family. Or to clan, or to tribe, or to nation.
The prophet/apostle recognizes the whole of humanity – indeed the whole of creation –  as “father and mother” of the Commandment. To enter the Kingdom of God is to awaken the consciousness that all people and all creation really are as closely related to one as one’s own parents.
   To live in this consciousness seems to me to be a rare gift. How on earth can it be institutionalized? That is the dilemma of the Church – just as it was the dilemma of Jesus and Elijah. Some institutional successors are better than others. Those who really live up to the prophetic and apostolic calling, who offer themselves as building-blocks in the Temple of which Jesus Christ Himself is the chief Cornerstone, sacrifice everything, like Elisha and Peter and Paul, so that the People may eat.
Their sacrifice is symbolized by a famous comment on the rite of consecration of a bishop in the Orthodox Church. After the actual consecration, the new Bishop is vested and presented with two torches – a triple candle and a double one, symbolizing the Mysteries of the Trinity and Incarnation (dual nature of Christ.) But the famous comment observes that these ceremonial torches also represent those carried by the soldiers coming to arrest Jesus in Gethsemane. The main calling of successors of the prophets and apostles is sacrifice.
 AMEN
 MARANATHA
COME, LORD JESUS!



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.
AMEN
 MARANATHA
COME, LORD JESUS!



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.
 WE WORSHIP YOUR CROSS, O LORD,
AND WE GLORIFY YOUR HOLY RESURRECTION.
AMEN
 MARANATHA
COME, LORD JESUS!



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.

ALLELUIA!
YOU GAVE THEM BREAD FROM HEAVEN,
CONTAINING WITHIN ITSELF ALL SWEETNESS.
AMEN, MARANATHA, COME, LORD JESUS!
 ALLELUIA!

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