Saturday, July 22, 2017

Pentecost 7

Sermon for Pentecost 7

Proper 11  ~  Lectionary Year  A  ~  July 23, 2017
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

…creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay
and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

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

Weeds and wheat, Spirit and flesh and bodies, creation in labor. There is much to unpack here. But let’s start with the Prophecy: There is only one God. There is no other. The weeds in with the good grain are not due to some power or “enemy” that can oppose God. God has no equal. The point is that the garden is a process and the separation of the weeds from the grain is coming in the future.
Just as last week’s sower, the evangelist considers it necessary to add an interpretation to the parable. Unfortunately, like all interpretations these tend to narrow the meaning. Parables can have more than one meaning. The notion that the weeds are evildoers destined for punishment is not the only possibility. Reading the parable next to Paul’s letter to the Romans may stimulate our imagination in another direction.
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God… in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
So maybe the weeds symbolize what Paul calls the “bondage to decay” to which the whole material creation seems to be subject. At the end of time, the holy angels will destroy not individual human evildoers but a certain incompleteness in creation. It is not just individual righteous human creatures who are to be set free, but creation itself. Creation is groaning as if in labor to bring forth something completely new. Inseparable from creation, humanity too is groaning in expectation, as we wait for what Paul calls “the redemption of our bodies.”
Paul mentions the body twice: we have to put away the deeds of the body, but then we are to await the redemption of the body. He never speaks of the redemption of the flesh, but of the redemption of the body. This bodily redemption is part of the liberation of the whole creation from bondage to decay. To redeem is, literally, to “buy back” as in a pawn shop we redeem something borrowed against. Slaves could be redeemed bought back – and set free.  The bondage Paul speaks of is the whole creation’s slavery to decay and death, in which we also participate. But God has come in the Person of the Son to set us free from this slavery – and not only us, but all creation.  The Son is one of us. And we are like him – children of God by adoption and grace, if not by nature, because He has taught us to call God PapaAbba —  as He does. The consciousness that we are, together, the children of God is the Spirit. The Spirit is never opposed to the body, but it is opposed to the flesh and there is a difference. Our bodies are to be redeemed — together. In fact, we already experience the firstfruits of this Redemption. The Spirit is the consciousness of intercommunion among apparently separate bodies.  The flesh, destined for destruction, like weeds in the garden, is the insistence on individual separation.  In fact, maybe as the weeds represent the flesh, so the good grain represents material existence in the body: living and material intercommunion in the Spirit.
What we hope for is not a disembodied or immaterial redemption. The opposition of flesh and spirit is not an opposition between matter and spirit. It is the opposition of communion and separation. The flesh is our will to go our own way and to imagine that we can be by ourselves. That tendency is to be destroyed — the orientation toward death is to be destroyed, the destruction of destruction. But our bodies are to be redeemed. Matter is to be redeemed. I take this to mean that matter is to become what God always intended creation to be: the expression of divine love and beauty.
Our current view about material reality is friendly toward this Pauline view. The Word of creation is "Let there be light." As far as I understand it, our modern creation narrative is that light is all there is: light organized in various ways. And all connected. The shape and behavior of space and galaxies on the unimaginably large scale of the observable universe is found to be uncannily similar to the shape and behavior of energy and matter in the infinitesimal first moments of the Big Bang. The pattern is repeated from the infinitesimal to the virtually infinite.
The Chinese just experimentally demonstrated the theory of quantum physics: some particles of light — photons — are “entangled” with one another, and they behave in a way that shows their connection, even at great distances. The Chinese have just managed to do this in outer space. What happens to one photon here on earth happens to its entangled sister in the satellite. There is some kind of sympathy, even though there is no apparent connection and the photons are separated by great distances. Changes imposed on the terrestrial photon happen also to the celestial one — simultaneously. Yet there is no possibility for the transmission of information from one to the other, by any means known to us. This strikes me as another way of saying that everything is connected to everything else, in ways we do not yet understand: like the mysterious connection Paul calls Spirit. In fact Einstein even called it “spooky action at a distance.”   And it made him pretty uncomfortable.
St. Augustine would not have been uncomfortable, because he speculated that the Holy Spirit is precisely the connection between Father and Son. Spirit Is Connection, Life. Flesh Is separation, sin and death — all of which are excluded from the Being of God, whose children we are invited to become by adoption. Whatever matter is, whatever the cosmos is, everything is connected to everything else, eagerly longing for the revealing of the children of God — that is for creation’s own consciousness, ourselves — to realize the fulness of “the freedom of the glory of the children of God… [and]our adoption,  the redemption of our bodies.”
The weeds are the illusion of separation. from which we suffer, just as the good grain has to grow — for a time — with the weeds. But at the end of time that is when time has fulfilled its purpose — in what scripture calls the fulness of time – separation will disappear into its essential nothingness. As the Communion of the Holy Spirit is revealed to encompasses all creation — ta panta — in  glory, then the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. 


Pentecost 6

Sermon for Pentecost 6

Proper 10  ~  Lectionary Year  A  ~  July 16, 2017
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar 

To set the mind on the flesh is death,
but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 

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

At the end of the nineteenth century, a fascinating controversy went on between two well-known intellectuals, Sir Thomas Huxley and Prince Peter Alexeyevich Kropotkin, over the meaning of Darwin and evolution. It illustrates a difference in what we have come to call paradigms.
From the point of view of the moralist, the animal world is on about the same level as the gladiator's show. … Life was a continuous free fight, and beyond the limited and temporary relations of the family, the Hobbesian war of each against all was the normal state of existence

 So wrote Thomas Huxley in 1888.  He developed his view of  “nature” into a theory that has come to be known as Social Darwinism, according to which, since nature’s law is a law of competition, weeding out the unfit, it will not do to help the weak and unfit survive to reproduce. That is a recipe for the “degeneration” of the human race.
     Kropotkin disagreed, to put it mildly. Here is the opening paragraph of his great work in response to Huxley, entitled Mutual Aid:

Two aspects of animal life impressed me most during the journeys which I made in my youth in Eastern Siberia and Northern Manchuria. One of them was the extreme severity of the struggle for existence which most species of animals have to carry on against an inclement Nature; the enormous destruction of life which periodically results from natural agencies; and the consequent paucity of life over the vast territory which fell under my observation. And the other was, that even in those few spots where animal life teemed in abundance, I failed to find – although I was eagerly looking for it – that bitter struggle for the means of existence among animals belonging to the same species, which was considered by most Darwinists (though not always by Darwin himself) as the dominant characteristic of struggle for life, and the main factor of evolution.

“Don't compete!” Kropotkin concluded.  “That is the watchword which comes to us from the bush, the forest, the river, the ocean. Therefore combine—practice mutual aid!”
     Faced with the same data, the two scientists arrived at different conclusions. This illustrates how paradigms work.  Stephen Jay Gould, in a recent article rehabilitating Kropotkin from his caricature as an anarchist crank, would say that the difference in paradigm included a difference of data, because Kropotkin studied sparsely-populated Siberia, while Huxley and the British concentrated on the crowded tropics. But Gould points out that Kropotkin was anything but idiosyncratic: he represents the mainstream of Russian evolutionary thought, which remains untranslated and almost unknown in the West.  Prince Kropotkin seems singular to us only because he is the only such thinker who wrote in English.
     Now this difference in paradigms ~ the lens through which we agree to look at the world ~ is what Paul is talking about, I believe, in his Spirit / Flesh dichotomy. The Huxley-Kropotkin controversy may serve as an analogy of the difference. It is very important not to misunderstand Paul. Spirit vs. flesh is not material vs. immaterial. Although many have interpreted it that way, such a dichotomy is, in fact heresy.  Material creation is what the bible says God pronounced it to be: Very Good
     The heresy that holds that what is wrong with human beings is our material bodies and our lives in the world is NOT what Paul is talking about. He is talking about two different ways of viewing human life ~ two different paradigms, and the very different ways of life that proceed from each view of life. The flesh , rather like Sir Thomas Huxley, sees the human person as in competition with everybody else: the “war of each against all.” Therefore, my job is to advance my own interests, and get as much wealth as I can. The Spirit, rather like Prince Kropotkin, sees the human person as part of a great whole characterized by mutual aid.
     This is a difference, which I have called a difference in paradigm, might also be called a difference in spiritual temperament. And what one perceives as reality depends greatly on one’s spiritual temperament; whether one sees reality as the dance of Cosmic Love or as gladiatorial combat  ~  “a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing”. Remember who uttered those words: the murderous Macbeth, his soul deformed by his own ambition, one of the most frightening depictions of Pauline flesh in all of literature.
     Prof. Gould rightly warns us against the trap of reading our own political preferences into nature, as both Huxley and Kropotkin most certainly do.  But from the perspective of religious history,  I think one may also conclude that Huxley’s fleshly conclusions naturally proceed from a prior inclination to view the world as competition. Kropotkin, on the other hand, grew up as a nobleman in feudal times, for the rural Russia of his youth was entirely feudal. It was also entirely Christian, and whatever Kropotkin’s conscious atheism, there is no doubt about the influence that Orthodoxy had on his consciousness  ~  it was part of the paradigm by which he experienced the world. That is, it was spiritual in the Pauline sense.  
      For all its pain and death, the material world is beautiful, and human beings are the image of God, however distorted. And as his great compatriot,  Dostoevsky, wrote: “the tragedy of humanity is that a paradise of beauty blooms around us and we fail to see it.”  That failure to see is flesh. That is what brings death. The Spirit is the divine gift of seeing the Beauty and Love that in fact rule the world ~ what our Lord called the Kingdom of God. Anyone who has that gift is led by the Spirit, in Paul’s terminology. Like Prince Kropotkin, they may not be aware of it, but nevertheless, they are children of Godand if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.


Saturday, July 08, 2017

Pentecost 5

Sermon for Pentecost 5
Sermon for Pentecost 5
Proper 9, Year July 9 , 2017

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

Love God and do as you please.
In the Name of  God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

Thus St. Augustine summarized Christian ethics in a remark that serves as a charter for what is called the sovereignty of conscience. It is, in a way, a paraphrase of our Lord’s own Summary of the Law, to which today’s Collect refers, saying that God has taught us to fulfill the whole law by loving God and our neighbor. If we love God, we cannot help but love our neighbor, because our neighbor is like God.
And yet we all fall short of this simple standard. It may be simple but it’s not easy. Because loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength means not only refraining from the worst kinds of outward offenses, but it also means never thinking about anything but God, which means forgetting ourselves entirely. Like Paul, in his famous lament and to the Romans, we find that we cannot do that, however much we may wish to:

The good that I would that I do not,
and the evil that I would not that I do!

Whenever I read this passage, I remember the great Krister Stendhal, the Dean of Harvard Divinity school and later the Bishop of Stockholm, who came to our Episcopal clergy conference here in Minnesota in the early 70s. He had a terrific sense of humor even though, as he explained, he had been prepared for confirmation by Ingmar Bergman’s father! Stendhal was a noted Pauline scholar and he argued that this passage we heard today is not really the anguished cry of a tormented soul, but a rhetorical trope of the kind commonly found in classical literature. “There is no way out of my conundrum, but look! Surprise! There is a way out after all.”
This form may also be detected in today’s Gospel – a kind of bad news/good news joke. What we heard today was a series of sayings of Jesus — so-called “unattached logoi”, or sayings that seem to have been collected individually and piled up on the evangelist’s desk, and then selected seemingly at random, to be tacked on wherever there was room:
I piped in you did not dance &c,
John came fasting and you said he had a demon, I came eating and drinking and you said I was a glutton, there’s no pleasing you!
Thank God that all this is hidden from the wisdom of this world, and revealed to the simple. The Father is unknown to all but the Son, and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal the Father.
My yoke is easy and my burden is light.

It is a challenge to find any common theme here, but I’ll try! Maybe a key to interpretation can be found in Paul’s diatribe about feeling trapped, and the Collect’s reference to the Summary of the Law, which Augustine paraphrased as “love God and do as you please.” At first glance, Augustine’s advice seems to contradict St. Paul’s. Even with the best of will, Paul finds that his propensity to forget God is always close at hand — ready to pounce, as it were. Krister Stendhal’s studies led him to observe that Western European Christians are way too quick to identify this kind of expression with Luther and his famous spiritual struggles.

But there is little evidence that Paul’s temperament was much like Luther’s. The famous passage we heard today is not a cry of existential, Teutonic anguish, but a rather cheerful and humorous thanksgiving for liberation from this kind of pagan trap. When he wrote this, Paul was most likely smiling, not beating his breast! Sure, our condition is absurd, but thanks be to God, because of Jesus Christ there is humor in that condition, instead of despair.

So, we are like the little children: on the one hand, there is no pleasing us —
We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.

While on the other hand, the Good News is hidden from the sophisticated, and revealed to us infants. The Good News is that in Christ, God has overcome sin, and freed us from its death-house. Our decrepit will to do the right thing is not our only weapon in this struggle: thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ.

The “body of death” in which we are imprisoned is not our physical body, but rather the sense of separation in our individual consciousness. This is the “law of sin in my members" which Paul laments, and ridicules. But Jesus Christ has overcome that separation — Thanks be to God. He has overcome it for everyone, although He had revealed the fact, for now, only to a few: to us whom He has commissioned to spread the Good News. No one knows the Father except the Son, and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.

This open secret, which we now shout from the rooftops, is hard to hear. Even public proclamation doesn’t necessarily reveal the secret. People can hear the words and not get it. Part of the secret is that the “yoke is easy and the burden is light.” Just the opposite of the anguish that Paul ridiculed. God knows that He is calling those who are weary and heavy laden. All God asks is that we love Him. God also knows that His adorability is infinitely greater than our capacity for love.

“Don’t worry about that,” He says, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  In other words, do your best to love Me. I will gradually increase your capacity to love. My easy burden and light yoke will gradually form your conscience — the secret place within your inner consciousness where you know Me and I know you. As for everything else, as My servant, Bishop Augustine of Hippo, put it: do as you please!



Saturday, July 01, 2017

Holy Apostles

Sermon for Pentecost 4
(Sunday within the octave of
the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul)
Year July 2 , 2017

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

Anyone who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.
  +In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

The feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, June 29, commemorates the traditional day the Empire killed them. Tradition also reveres them as the apostolic founders of the Church in Rome. These two Jews, very different in background and social position, brought the Gospel to the Imperial capital. There’s lots of symbolic meaning here. Ancient Hebrew monotheism transcends its ethnic roots, extending to all nations, and polytheistic paganism embraces monotheism. Peter, the rough working-class Apostle, is joined by Paul, the Roman citizen of the Diaspora — not even from Palestine but from Asia minor, who spoke Greek as well as he spoke Aramaic possibly better, the disciple of the most noted rabbi of the time, Gamaliel. Peter and Paul represent the universality of the Church — They are the Catholic Apostles, par excellence.
The Sunday after the feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul often falls around the time of our national holiday which makes it a good time to reflect on the relationship of church and state. I mean that in a broad sense, not in our usual legal, constitutional sense. All our scriptures make it clear that human political arrangements are temporary and instrumental. That is, when they promote God’s purpose of peace and justice among creatures, God may bless them, but when they work against those purposes, God shows them no favor. Among the worst kinds of idolatry, also among the most prevalent, is the identification of one’s own society, culture, or nation with the Kingdom of God.
One reason the Hebrew Scriptures seem authentic is the criticism they often level against the People whom God has chosen to be His own. The basic message is that the status of chosen people is not something any nation can claim, but only receive as the gift of God, and the chosen status can turn into judgment if the people ignore God’s commandments.
Today’s Collect identifies the Apostle and Prophets as twofold foundation of the Church. The prophets leave no doubt that God insists on our obedience to commandments: not so much commandments about ritual purity and religious observance, but commandments of social justice. If this is true of the descendants of Abraham by blood, how much more is it true of any other country or nation that thinks of itself as specially favored?
From the beginning, we Americans have thought of ourselves that way. Some even went so far as to dream that we could rebuild a whole new society here, free of Original Sin. A new secular order, as our motto on the Great Seal — found in the back of the dollar bill — proclaims. Deep in our national DNA is the notion of American exceptionalism: we are new and different. We are specially favored by God. Even as we killed indigenous people and enslaved Africans. But this is in fact a kind of apostasy, a blasphemy, a form of idolatry because it places the nation on the throne in place of God.
That is not to say that the United States — or any nation — may never be used by God. But it is a warning against the kind of national pride that easily turns into idolatry. Scripture threatens unpleasant consequences for that! As long as we — or any other nation —genuinely try to advance the cause of peace and justice on earth, we may have God’s favor. But whenever we begin to think that God favors us and so we can do whatever we want, we are in for a big surprise. I’m afraid that surprise may now be upon us.
I think of our present time as a “slow-motion crisis.” We have elected an incompetent, infantile man to be president. A Hebrew prophet would take this as the judgment of God, which we have called down upon ourselves. Of course the ancient Hebrews were not individualists: they did not think in terms of individual rights or deserts. It’s fine to quote H.L. Mencken and say that “democracy is the form of government in which the people get exactly what they deserve”, but what about all of us who didn’t vote for that nincompoop? Well, modern human rights law may take a dim view of collective punishment, but the Hebrew Scriptures didn’t. When the nation departs from the way of the righteous, everybody suffers –  even the individually innocent.
All of this is important to remember in conjunction with our national holiday. I do not intend to turn it into a day of mourning by reciting our innumerable transgressions. I just want to observe that human empires sometimes serve God, and sometimes they don’t. The Roman Empire served to help spread the Gospel throughout the entire known world (at least that part of the known world  mattered to anyone in that culture), and then having served that purpose, it declined and fell — or at least changed into something very different.
We remember Peter and Paul as the founders of the Church in Rome. According to tradition, both died there on the same day — one crucified, the other beheaded as a Roman citizen. Although the Empire may be an instrument, it is never the friend of the Church. The Gospel would spread under the protection of the Empire, and eventually conquer it, even though it killed the first apostles.
One important, underlying message of all this is that parochial or ethnocentric religion — religion too closely identified with one ethnic group — must become universal.  
              Anyone who loves father or mother more
 than Me is not worthy of Me.  
These difficult words we heard last week could well apply here: if you think God favors you particularly because of your nationality, if you love your own ancestry, your own blood more than you love Jesus, then you are not worthy of Jesus. The Gospel is for everybody, not for any particular bloodline.
The Roman Empire was universal, and the Good News that Peter and Paul brought to Rome was salvation for everybody, not only for the blood descendants of Abraham. As the Empire was universal, so would be the New Israel, the Catholic Church. All human classifications, all divisions, all categories would be transcended and abolished. Just as there was one Emperor, there would be one Lord and Savior of all peoples. Once that was firmly established, the Empire had served its purpose. The Empire became Christian, and more or less continued in Constantinople and Moscow right up into the last century (remember that Tsar means Cæsar.) But these Imperial tools eventually outlived their usefulness and disappeared. While the universal Church continued to prosper.
As our own nation and our own world Empire declines, dramatically, let us not be amazed. We cannot predict the future: it may be that the United States of America has served whatever purpose God intended for it — and we can all guess what that might be. [For my part, I think it has something to do with the promotion of universal human rights.] But then it may also be that God will repent, turn back our decline, cleanse us, and lead us in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.
It is possible, but don’t count on it. In the end, the Gospel is opposed to Empire. Sooner or later, the Empire will attack the messengers of the Gospel, crucify and behead them as Rome did to Peter and Paul. But the Holy Apostles will have the last word.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Pentecost 3

Sermon for Pentecost 3
Year A  June 25 , 2017

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar
  +In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

We don’t always know what’s best for us. What seems like catastrophe may be a door to something better. Hagar could only see death for her child and herself, but what was in store for her was a greater future. From servitude, God brought her and her son, Ishmael, to prominence. Ishmael became the father of “a great nation,” the Arabs. But in order to enjoy this reversal of fortune, poor Hagar had to endure a kind of death. She was sure she was going to die and — what was worse — her only child would die too.

Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

This saying is a kind of summary of the whole Gospel. St. Paul expands on it in the passage we just heard from his Letter to the Romans. Share in Christ’s resurrection because we have also shared in his death. As the Gospel says if we are really His disciples, we will take up our Cross. This is anything but “good news”: strife within families, persecution from the authorities, all kinds of misfortunes and disasters. Everyone experiences them to some degree, very few get off easy, and no one escapes death.

Abraham’s family is divided, Hagar and Ishmael driven off into the desert. This is not peace, but division.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

That is, an instrument for cutting apart. And

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me…

But our responsibilities to our parents are first in line after our duties to God, as we see in the order of the Ten Commandments. What is more painful than conflict within the family, conflict with those closest to us? Where is the good news in this?

These extremely negative pronouncements sound like the opposite of good news to me! What’s more, if sin is separation it sounds as though Jesus is promising to bring sin into the world: the sword of division. This is intentionally provocative. St. Paul faced the problem head-on by asking the Romans, Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?

After all, if Jesus is come to bring not peace but division, then maybe we should wallow in the division! “Of course not!” Says Paul.

How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

In other words, to be a Christian, is to participate in Christ’s Death. Part of the illumination of Baptism is the consciousness of sharing His Cross.

… whoever does not take up the Cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.

Perhaps the good news in all of this is to be found in the words “take up.” To accept all of this suffering consciously leads to glory.  Embrace the Suck! As the marines say. (Possibly you thought I would never find anything edifying in military culture!) St.Paul put it somewhat more loftily:

Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

We don’t know what’s good for us. That should be abundantly clear on every level, from our personal lives to our social and political and spiritual lives. If we try to save ourselves on our own terms, we will fail. Hagar the serving woman is our models in this. She accepted her suffering, even her death, and what is worse, the death of her only child. But what appeared to her as ultimate disaster, was really the path to glory.

Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Corpus Christi

Sermon for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi
[Second Sunday after Pentecost
Year A  June 18 , 2017

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

You gave them bread from heaven, containing within itself all sweetness.

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

When we pray that our Father may give us today our daily bread, we refer to The Bread of the Holy Eucharist. The word translated as “daily” is unique in Greek, found only in the New Testament. It appears to mean something entirely different, translated in Latin as super-substantial. In the Greek and Slavic liturgies it is still called that, in the West, following St. Jerome, it is interpreted to be a reference to the Bread of the Exodus: the manna from heaven that appeared every day, saving the lives of the Israelites in the desert, who commanded to share it equally among themselves, because there was always more than enough.
16 This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded: Gather ye of it every man according to his eating; an omer a head, according to the number of your persons, shall ye take it, every man for them that are in his tent.'
17 And the children of Israel did so, and gathered some more, some less.
18 And when they did mete it with an omer, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; they gathered every man according to his eating.
19 And Moses said unto them: 'Let no man leave of it till the morning.'
20 Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and rotted; and Moses was wroth with them
The impulse to hoard, the view that there may not be enough and I had better provide for me and mine, and forget about everybody else produces stinking corruption. The life-giving manna from heaven cannot be hoarded: everyone gathers just enough for each person in the family. Every person gets an equal amount. This equality pre-figures the Eucharistic Banquet, in which all communicants are equal.
In any case, when we utter this prayer for our “daily bread”, we ask and not for daily sustenance, alone — “not for bread alone” — but for “the Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” For that is what this Super-substantial Bread is: the Word Of God, by Whom all things were made, the Word made flesh, by Whose word, the Bread is become His Body. By His Word also, we to become His Body when we eat it. No more distinctions of any kind: neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, rich nor poor, high nor low, neither better nor worse, educated nor uneducated, beginner nor adept. All are equal in the New Adam, equally invited into the heavenly banquet, where this collective Humanity, representing all of creation, joins the three Divine persons around their table of mutual, self-forgetting Love.
No one who eats this Bread and drinks this Cup receives any more or less than anyone else. All are perfectly equal. Samson the Ethiopian reminded me of this supernatural fact the other day in the gym. It was wonderful to have the testimony of one who is about as different from me and my culture and history as anyone can be. Wonderful because of the testimony to universal equality embedded in the core of the Christian revelation, the Gospel received by an Ethiopian before any other Gentile, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.
I call the Eucharistic equality a supernatural fact, because it refers to the perfection of human nature in Christ, a perfection already achieved in His Mystical Body, here on earth, where we already participate in the Eternal Banquet. But this supernatural, or super-substantial perfection is not to be put off until the Last Judgment, when it shall be consummated in a Judgment that is not a condemnation, but the vindication and perfection in all righteousness. The Holy Eucharist signifies this Judgment of perfection. It begins now. Here and now, as our Lord said: “Now is the Judgment of this world, now is the Prince of this World cast out.”  Here and now we are delivered from Evil; here and now we creatures who bear the image of God, become also like God as we forgive sin — the sin of those who sin against us; here and now God’s Kingdom is come and God’s Will done on earth as in heaven, as we share equally in the one loaf of super-substantial Bread. Here and now, the sin of this world, which separates people into categories and levels of privilege, is destroyed in the Communion of perfect equality and perfect love.
As we may not pretend that this blessed state comes only at the end of time, neither may we imagine that it has nothing to do with this world, except in the time-warp we call the Liturgy. We have promised to pray, work ,and give for the spread of God’s Kingdom, here on earth. That means to work for peace and justice in this world, which means among other things to work for equality. Not just equality of opportunity, but equality of life and dignity. It is well to remember that human projects to achieve this equality without God have the nature of antichrist. Without God, our attempts to improve society too easily lead to Auschwitz and the GULAG. On the other hand, the recognition of that danger can too easily become an excuse for what is called quietism, the heresy that counsels against any human effort to advance the Kingdom of God.

In receiving the Super-substantial Bread, our daily Manna from heaven, like the ancient Israelites we receive a miraculous gift: the sustenance necessary to move on toward the Promised Land, the Kingdom in which God's will is done on earth as in heaven.

So mortals ate the Bread of Heaven.
You provided them food enough.

Monday, June 12, 2017


Sermon for the Feast of the Most Holy and Life-giving Trinity
  Year A  June 11 , 2017

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

  +In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

St. Helena, from the Roman garrison town of York in what is now England, was a Christian, and she was also the   mother of St. Constantine, Peer of Apostles, who ended the persecution of the Church in the Roman Empire. Early in the fourth century, she made a famous tour of the Holy Land, where she was shown the traditional sites of the Nativity and the Resurrection. Under her influence, her son built great churches there to accommodate increasing numbers of pilgrims. The basilicas can be visited to this day in Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
At the urging of Constantine’s mother-in-law, a third great church was built in southern Judæa, near the ancient city of Hebron, at the place remembered as the home of Abraham and Sarah, in a grove of oak trees called Mamre. According to Genesis, it was there that Abraham welcomed three mysterious Visitors. The text calls them “men”, but Abraham addresses them sometimes in the singular and sometimes in the plural. Sarah prepared a lavish banquet for them, after which the Visitor promised that within a year’s time she would have a son. Sarah was ninety years old, and so she laughed at the news. And the Mysterious Visitor joked back that she would call her son, Isaac, which means “he laughs.”
Constantine built the third basilica at Mamre in honor of the Trinity. By the fourth century, Christians had a well-established pattern of searching the Hebrew Scriptures for veiled hints about Jesus. Abraham and Sarah’s guests were interpreted to refer, prophetically, to the Mystery of the Identity of Jesus as the Son of God from all eternity. Jesus revealed to humanity something we could never invent on our own: One God, three Persons. It took a long time to work out the theological formulation, and it was not complete even in Constantine’s time, but this was all based on Jesus’ shocking habit of referring to God as “My Father,”
Until Jesus, there is no record of anyone, anywhere, addressing God in that way. The Gospel also records that He commissioned His Apostles to baptize people of all races and cultures in the Name of the “Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” There are, indeed, passages in the Hebrew Scriptures quoting God as addressing David as “my son,” but David does not turn around and call God “my Father.” In the Psalms, the meaning is symbolic. Symbolic and prophetic, in the view of the early Church, because God’s honorary “son”, David, would be the ancestor of the One who would call God “My Father,” because He would be — in fact — God’s Son.
So, Constantine built shrines in honor of the three great Mysteries revealed in Jesus Christ: the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and the Trinity. It is poetically appropriate, perhaps, that the Basilica of the Trinity did not survive the later Arab invasions, since the Nativity and Resurrection can be placed in time and space, but the Trinity cannot be so located. The basilica at Mamre commemorated a cryptic event in Scripture, later interpreted to refer to the Mystery of the Trinity. The Nativity and Resurrection were visible. The Trinity is not. It is only by looking back and rereading the Hebrew Scriptures in the Light of the revelation of Jesus Christ, that we can detect a reference to the Trinity.
Christians also find a Trinitarian hint in the very first chapter of Genesis, when God created heaven and earth. We read that the Spirit of God moved over the abyss, and then that God spoke the Word of creation: Let there be light. So, it is possible to see the Three Divine Persons in that account of creation. It is important to notice that all three participate in the creative act. Since we are talking about something that we can never really understand, it is all too easy to err by simplifying the Mystery into something that we can understand. These simplifications for the sake of comprehension actually close off the Mystery. They are called heresies.
One of the first heresies was the idea that Father, Son and Holy Spirit simply referred to three activities of the one God, toward creation: the Father creates, the Son redeems, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies.  In fact, we do tend to associate these three Divine activities with the three Divine Persons in this way. The heresy is to think that “Father, Son and Spirit” are nothing other than names for these activities. If that were true, then the Trinity could not be thought of as being before the beginning of time and creation. And yet Scripture also teaches us that the Son was with the Father from before all eternity.  So, “Creator” does not name the First Person, nor does “Redeemer” name the Second, nor “Sanctifier” the Third. “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” refer to relations between the Three living in perfect harmony outside time and space, all Three participating in every act of God.
One reason to be aware of this heresy, called “modalism”, is that it tends to obscure the Reality that one contemporary Orthodox theologian has called “Being as Communion.” Before creation, God is not simple, undifferentiated Unity: from before all eternity, God is a Society of Perfect Love. If one is looking for a scriptural warrant, it can be found in John’s epistles, where we read that “God is Love." Love is God’s essence, as our own Bishop Gore taught us a century ago. But if love is God’s essence then God’s love did not begin with the act of creation. God’s love is active from all eternity, outside time and space.
Love, however, is an act between persons. Indeed one could go so far as to say that the definition of a person is one capable of love. We know this from our own, human experience, which is a reflection of Divine Reality. God is personal, and you can’t be a person by yourself!
Sadly, our human reflection is dim, the image marred, and the love imperfect. Human love is limited, and marred by the alienation tradition calls sin. In God, there is no such alienation: the love among the Three Divine Persons is infinite and perfect. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cannot be separated from one another, but neither can they be confused with one another: they remain entirely distinct, yet inseparable in the Community of Love.
The great Russian icon of the Most Holy and Life-giving Trinity seeks to express this Mystery. The golden wings behind the figures symbolize divinity, and they touch each other. I think they represent the Unity of the Divine Essence of Love. The icon also expresses the mutual love of the Three Persons by seating them around Abraham and Sarah’s table, upon which stands a cup, a shared cup — a symbol of community, communion, and sacrifice. The original icon depicts a tiny sacrificial lamb within the cup, recalling the Gospel’s metaphor of cup as sacrifice. The shared Life of Divine Love is a Life of self-giving.
Self-giving is an aspect of the essential Being of the One God. The icon expresses it in its deeper structure: the inner lines of the two outer figures replicate the shape of the chalice in the middle, as if to say the very essence of God is self-giving, that is life-giving Love.
A final Mystery can be seen in the perspective of the icon, which is reversed. Look at the dais upon which the three figures sit and then consider the riddle, “How many are gathered around the table?” Well, the obvious answer is three, but the reversal of perspective means that the focal point of the picture is not somewhere deep within it but rather outside it. The focal point is, in fact, where whoever is looking at the icon is standing. That means that instead of three, there is an indefinite number gathered around the table. All who will open their hearts are invited into to the Communion of the Three Divine Persons, into the interpersonal Love and Life of the Holy Trinity.




Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost
Year A  June 4 , 2017

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh…

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

Pentecost in Judaism was the feast of the first-fruits of the harvest — the winter wheat. By the time of Jesus, it had also become the feast of the giving of the Law on Sinai. Law is a supernatural gift to God’s chosen people, a gift that makes them holy, set apart from other nations, a gift that nourishes their consciousness as the winter wheat of the original feast nourishes their bodies. The law, therefore, is not something antithetical to the Spirit, but rather a gift of the Spirit. As we say in our Creed, the Spirit “spoke through the prophets,” which means, first and foremost, through Moses, through whom God gave the Law.
So, we must not think of the Christian identification of Pentecost with the Spirit as a correction or a contradiction, but as an enlargement, an extension, a fulfillment. As of old, the Spirit inscribed the Law on the stone tablets of Sinai, for Moses to carry down to the people, so now the Spirit inscribes the Law on the hearts of humanity, as God promised through the Holy Prophet Ezekiel. Spirit and law are not in opposition at all. When we speak of the distinction between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law, we are talking about something else. The inscription on the stone, the letter of the Law, does not give life, but that which produces the Law does: that is the Spirit, Whom in the Creed We Call “the Lord, the Giver of life.” The letter of the law cannot save us, it cannot bring us to the fullness of God’s intention for humanity. The underlying Spirit of the law, of which the letter is an expression for a particular place and time, comes into the world in an unprecedented way on Pentecost.
The Spirit does not replace the law; it fulfills it, expands it, and renders it intelligible and life-giving to all flesh. Thus, all the various nationalities assembled in Jerusalem hear the Apostles in their own languages. These people are not pagans, they are Jews of the Diaspora — people who had arranged to come to Jerusalem from all parts of the Empire, to celebrate the feast. And many of them, we are told, were proselytes, that is pagans who were not Jews by birth, who had converted to Judaism. They knew the law. Probably many of them could read it in the original Hebrew.  But now, they were amazed to hear the Apostles proclaiming it in their own languages. In other words, the Spirit extends the Covenant, of which the Law is the outward sign, to all flesh.
The Law, which was originally given to set one people apart from all the rest, the Law which had been the marker of that people as chosen above all other nations, this same Law now enlightens all nations, universally. The Spirit is the extension of the gift of the Law to all flesh. The life-giving nourishment of Pentecost now appears as a gift not given exclusively to the Chosen People, but to all flesh. The Chosen People are chosen not to dominate other peoples, but to act as God’s instrument to enlighten and liberate them.
I was reading the story of Saul and Samuel this week, and one detail jumped out at me in this context: “at that time the Ark went forth with the Israelites into battle.” The Ark, where  the stone tablets of the Law were kept, was carried into battle against the Philistines, and others. The Law was the sign of God’s favor to Israel, as opposed to everybody else. At least, that is how it seemed to the people at the time, about 1000 years before Christ. They thought what it meant was that their nation was chosen by God to rule everybody else.  
Occasionally, however, the Ark was captured by the enemy, which naturally produced great consternation amongst the Israelites! God had to intervene by causing all kinds of misfortune to these enemies until they sent the Ark back! This may have been an early clue that more was going on here than the ancient Hebrews understood.
Gradually, the consciousness grew that this Ark — the symbol of the Presence of God in human society — God With Us, Emmanuel — was not the possession of Israel: on the contrary, Israel was the instrument of God. The Ark represented Israel’s identity: Israel’s heart and soul, what made Israel Israel.  The ancient Hebrews understood that very well. What they learned gradually was that the Ark was not merely the sign of God’s Covenant with a particular people, but the sign of God’s purpose for Israel as a Light to enlighten the Gentiles. The holiness the Ark represented was to extend to all flesh.
The literal commandments, inscribed in stone by the finger of God, and enshrined in the Ark, were to be inscribed anew on the hearts of all people: as the Holy Prophet Ezekiel had foretold, the hearts of stone would become hearts of flesh, upon which God’s righteousness would be written. The first-fruits celebrated on the Feast of Pentecost, would nourish not only the people of Israel, but people of every race and nation.
As foretold by the Hoy Prophet Joel, the Spirit of God is poured out upon all flesh. The sign will be the new wheat of Pentecost celebrated in Jerusalem, made into bread transformed by the Spirit. This transfigured Bread will be the sign of the New Covenant as the tablets of stone are the sign of the Old. By this Bread, all races and nations of humanity come into the Covenant and become the instrument of the Spirit’s transformation of Creation.





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