Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sermon; Trinity Sunday

Today is Trinity Sunday, the day set aside to specifically honor the doctrine and worship the mystery that is the Holy Trinity – three in one, one in three, separate but not divisible, unified but individual.  And because of the difficulty in trying to explain this concept without falling into some kind of heresy, it's also the day most likely given over to guest preachers.  So without further ado . . . Deacon Joani!

Of course I jest . . . unless Deacon Joani really wants to preach on the Trinity?  I didn't think so.

All kidding aside, it can be tough to preach on the Trinity.  Mainly because when we look into the Trinity, we are looking into the deep mystery of the eternal Godhead.  And when we start talking about and exploring those deep mysteries, we need to be prepared to face our own inadequacies, insufficiencies, and desires for control and certainty.

There are two basic ways to talk about God – in the negative and in the positive, otherwise known as what God isn't and what God is (officially known as apophatic and cataphatic theology).  Negative theology states that we can't know what God is because God is just too immense to know.  For instance:  God is not a creature, because God is not any thing since God transcends all things; God is not ignorant (not that God is wise because that assumes we know what all wisdom is); God is not evil (not that God is good because that assumes we know what all goodness is); and God is not confined to our concepts of space and time.

Positive theology attempts to know God through God's defining nature.  For instance:  God is loving; God is creator; God is omnipotent; God is a seeker; God is forgiving; God is one.

It's that last one, God is one, that sort of set us on the path to Trinitarianism.

In the beginning, a wind from God (or, “the Spirit of God”) swept over the face of the earth.  And God said, “Let there be light.”

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am.”

The Spirit of truth will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine.

In these and other places in Scripture, Christian scholars have found what they believe to be the doctrine of the Trinity – that deep mystery stating One in Three and Three in One, undivided yet individual.  That doctrine was fought over for many years, in particular by the Arian heresy that stated there was a time when Jesus was not, thereby denying the Trinity.  In response to this controversy, the Council of Nicaea was called in 325 and Trinitarian orthodoxy sort of won the day, giving us the Nicene Creed.  The controversy continued up until 381 when the Council of Constantinople reaffirmed the Nicene Creed and, for all practical purposes, eliminated Arianism.

However, there are religious groups, the Jehovah's Witnesses being one, who deny the Trinity because that image, and that word, doesn't specifically appear in Scripture.  But if we were to rely solely on scripture quotations alone, we would eliminate the third leg of our Anglican stool – Reason (the other two being Scripture and Tradition), thereby surrendering our God-given ability to think.  But Scripture must be interpreted through our reason, and we must be willing to accept the mystery of God.  Consequently the doctrine of the Trinity was formed over time, through reading, study, prayer, and interpretation, as well as being willing to say that God is more mysterious than we can imagine.  Eventually, thanks to people like Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Basil of Cappadocia, the Church settled on the orthodoxy of the Trinity.

But because the Trinity is a mystery, the more we talk about it, the more we try to pin it down, the more likely we are to wander off into one heresy or another.  And that's what was going on in the early days of the Church.

On the one hand we need to give thanks to God for the rise of the heretics because they got the rest of Christianity to actually think critically about this whole God-Jesus-Spirit thing which helped to define orthodoxy.  On the other hand though, in attempting to totally define God in their terms, they did some really strange things.  So I want to take a few minutes and have us look at some common Trinitarian heresies.  As you have already noticed, these can be found in your bulletins.

Modalism:  The three persons of the Trinity are different “modes” or aspects of the Godhead, acting in those different modes at different times in history, but never unified as one.  A common modalist example is that of a woman acting as wife, mother, daughter.

Tritheism:  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three independent and separate Gods.

Arianism:  Often called the greatest heresy.  Developed by a priest named Arius, it essentially states that there was a time when Jesus was not.  This meant that Jesus was a created being, and not divine.

Docetism:  Taught that Jesus was a purely divine being who only appeared to be human.  Some versions claimed that Jesus' divinity departed from him on the cross, others claimed he only appeared to suffer and die.

Ebionitism:  Basically the opposite of Docetism – Jesus was sent by God, but was only and always a man.

Macedonianism:  A sect founded by Macedonius, an Arian priest, that followed the logic of Jesus being created in that the Holy Spirit was also a created being, and therefore not part of the Godhead.

Adoptionism:  Taught that Jesus was born a human and then adopted (usually at his baptism) by God and infused with divinity at that time.

Partialism:  Similar to Modalism (three components of one God), but that each person of the Trinity is only one-third of God.

Orthodoxy:  Check out the Athanasian Creed on page 864-5 of the BCP.

So there you have it.  The Trinity is a core doctrine of our faith.  For anyone to claim to be an orthodox Christian, they must hold to that doctrine, with the creeds being a good place to start.  Anything more and we begin to limit God, forcing him into a box of our own making, losing the mystery, and actually turning God into an idol.  Anything less and we begin to deny the holiness of God, the divinity of Christ, and the revealed glory of the Trinity, essentially rendering God impotent.

This is one reason why the Episcopal church is a creedal church and not a confessional church – because the creeds are a sufficient standard of orthodoxy, allowing for an unlimited and mysterious God, while avoiding a confessional statement that reduces God and faith to nothing more than a series of intellectual propositions.

Today is Trinity Sunday.  May you see God in all things and know that all things are in God.  More importantly, may you abide in the mystery that is the Trinity.


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sermon; Pentecost 2016

From the time Jesus began gathering his disciples, whether pulling them from their fishing boats or picking them up from John the Baptist, up to and including the various resurrection stories strewn around the gospels, Jesus has been working to teach and train his disciples on what it means to be in relationship with God, and what it looks like to work for the spreading of the kingdom.  This could be said of ourselves as well – through the example we have of Jesus we are learning what it means to be in relationship with God and what it looks like to work for the spreading of the kingdom.

In the last two weeks of Easter that preparation became crystal clear.  Two weeks ago we heard from the first part of the Farewell Discourse.  In the arc of the gospel story, Jesus was preparing the disciples for his imminent arrest, crucifixion, and death.  In the arc of our liturgical calendar, we were being prepared for his imminent departure through his ascension to the Father.  In both cases he reminds the disciples and us that we will be left behind, but we will not be left alone.  He lets us all know that he will send the Holy Spirit to us, his own first gift for those who believe.

The following Thursday was the Day of Ascension.  That was the day we were truly left behind.  That was the day when we realized he wasn't kidding and that we were now in charge of fulfilling his mission and ministry.  That was the day we were told to stop gawking up to heaven and get to work.  That was the day we became apostles.

And then last week we heard again from the Farewell Discourse, but this time it was from the end of that monologue.  As I said then, the focus there was not on separation but on unity.  For the disciples, Jesus was reminding them that they needed to remain unified in the difficult days ahead.  For us, we are reminded that it is in our unity with each other and with God that we dwell in each other, we dwell in God, and they dwell in us.  It is in our unity that we will be able to better work for the mission and ministry of Jesus and the church, and to live as if the kingdom is already upon us.

The trajectory of these last three Sundays, Easter 6, Easter 7, and today, Pentecost, is to remind us that we have been left behind.  It's there to remind us that the mission and ministry of Jesus is now in our hands.  It's to remind us that we have graduated from discipleship to apostleship.

That doesn't mean that we quit being disciples, because there is still much to learn and emulate.  But it does mean that we are not only followers but we are also leaders.  It means that we are not only students, we are also teachers.  And for those who have taught any subject, it's a truism that you become the biggest student of that subject because no teacher wants to look stupid.  So, yes, we have become learners and teachers, disciples and apostles.

So if Ascension is the day we graduate from discipleship to apostleship, then today is the day we get our teaching certificate.  Today is the day we are appointed and commissioned to go forth and spread the good news of the kingdom of God.  Today is the day we are gifted with the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, who will be with us always.

We don't necessarily have to be like Peter and the apostles who began speaking in tongues and added about 3000 people to their number.  But you do need to realize that on this day the Holy Spirit has come upon you, officially recognized you as an apostle of Christ Jesus, and commissioned you to go forth and share the good news of God in Christ.

I know what some of you might be thinking:  I can't do that; I'm not comfortable sharing my story; Even though you said it, I don't have any such teaching certificate from the Holy Spirit or the church.

First . . . Yes, you can do this because you have received the Holy Spirit and that's all the authority you need.

Second, nobody said being an apostle of Christ was going to be comfortable.  In fact, it is probably the most uncomfortable thing you will ever do.

Third . . . thanks to the local Dollar Store, I happen to have your Diplomas, Certificate's of Excellence, and Super Student awards right here.

You have been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit as apostles of Christ.  You have been gifted with the Holy Spirit who will lead you and guide you into all truth.  And like the Scarecrow who had brains but was uncomfortable using them until awarded a degree by the Wizard, you have now been awarded certificates.  You have graduated from disciples to apostles.

You are now officially sent out into the world, to love and serve God as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.  Go forth and proclaim.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

This is a surprise?

This just in from the Capt. Obvious Dept. of the NY Times:

Donald Trump has repeatedly unnerved women in private encounters over 40 years.

I never would've guessed . . .

Monday, May 09, 2016

Easter 7C; John 17:20-26

Last week we heard from the beginning of the Farewell Discourse and I said the reason we got that particular passage was because we were being prepared for Jesus' ascension and departure.  That event took place this past Thursday, forty days after the Resurrection, and we are now, officially, on our own.  And this week we hear again from the Farewell Discourse; but this week we hear from the end of that monologue instead of the beginning.

That's because, unlike last week when we were being prepared for that departure, and where Jesus reminded us to be not afraid because he would send the Holy Spirit to be with us, the focus this week is a bit different.  The focus this week is not separation but unification.  Jesus is coming to the close of his speech and he wants to remind the apostles to maintain their unity.  We can probably come up with several reasons for that, but let me give you two.

First, the apostles were about to face some serious difficulties.  Jesus would be arrested, tried, crucified, and buried.  There was the very real possibility that they would scatter and Christ’s mission would be over before it even began.  And we see some of that when we read that it was pretty much the women who stayed with Jesus through the Passion, while the men seem to have disappeared.  It would only be in their unity that they would succeed.  Roughly 1700 years later, Benjamin Franklin would mimic Jesus' concern when he said, “Gentlemen, we must hang together, or most assuredly we will hang separately.”

Second, we need to be unified in the message of Christ.  One part of that message is that Jesus is God.  He is in the Father and the Father is in him.  We are getting a bit of John's high christology here, placing Jesus and the Father on equal footing.  As the apostles are sent into the world, it's important for them to proclaim as part of their message that Jesus is God incarnate.  Not that he's a really good guy.  Not that he is the spiritual image of God.  But that he is God incarnate, and that he and the Father are one.

Part 2B of that message is that it is all based in love.  God the Father loves God the Son.  God the Son loves God the Father.  That love binds them together in unity.  Jesus wants this binding love to be given to the apostles so that they may be made completely one, unified with the Father and the Son.

As we move forward from Easter to Pentecost, these are things we would do well to explore.  Are we unified in Christ’s mission to the world?  Are we unified in the mission of the church?  Do we know what that mission is?

As we move forward from Easter to Pentecost, are we moving forward bound together and unified in love?

But we need to be a little careful here.  When I talk about being bound together in love, that doesn't mean or imply a happily-ever after pollyannaish pipe dream.  Even in love there are doubts and arguments and difficult times that go along with times of certainty, agreement, and joy.

For those of us in relationships – family, romantic, platonic, or otherwise – we know this.  Sometimes we fight.  Sometimes we argue.  Sometimes we doubt.  Sometimes it's all good.  Through it all, I hope that we feel bound to the other person so completely that we become one.

Jesus certainly experienced all of this with his disciples.  He was probably frustrated and exasperated at times.  He argued with them at times.  And he also experienced this with God the Father: “Take this cup from me,” and, “Why have you forsaken me,” being the big two.  But in the end, he and the Father are one, bound by their love.  He and the disciples are also one, bound by their love and common mission.  We are bound to each other in the same way.

We may have struggles, doubts, and arguments, but we also have times of deep joy, certainty, and compassion.  And the more we bear with one another through these things, the more we bind ourselves to one another.  And the more we are able to bind ourselves to one another, the more we reflect the unified bond of the Father and of the Son; and the more we live into that bond, the more that bond lives in us.

Our challenge is twofold.  The first is in giving up ourselves unconditionally, binding ourselves completely to the will of God so that we may live in him and he in us.  The second is in opening up ourselves unconditionally to the presence of others, welcoming them in love, so that we and they may become one.

That's quite a challenge, and one that I will admit to not living into as I should.  Where do we even begin to live into unity with God and our neighbor?  May I suggest that we begin where Jesus begins in our gospel passage for today – Jesus prayed.

Are we praying to be completely filled by God?
Are we praying to have the courage to welcome others unconditionally in love?

If not, that might be a good place to begin.


Thursday, May 05, 2016

It's not just the Americans

On one hand, this makes me feel good in that it's not just the Americans doing/saying stupid things.

On the other hand . . . The Stupid . . . it burns.

A British MP had this to say about the Church of England's Commission on Climate Change:

A British parliamentarian has challenged the Church Commissioners’ stance on climate change and urged them to “read the Bible."  David Davies, the Conservative MP for Monmouth, told MPs that the parable of the oil lamps and 10 virgins in Matthew 25 supported the “cheap and ready supply of this much-maligned fossil fuel."

Just . . . Duh-AMMM

Click here for the full story.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Sermon; Easter 6C; John 14:23-29

Today's gospel passage comes from what is known as the Farewell Discourse that runs from the last quarter of Chapter 13 (after Jesus washes the feet of his disciples and Judas leaves to betray him) through the end of Chapter 17.  This section of John is referred to as the Farewell Discourse because of its similarity to other final speeches, such as Moses' farewell speech of Deuteronomy, in which the leader is about to be separated from his followers.  Among other things, he reminds them of who they are as God's chosen apostles and that he will send the Holy Spirit to comfort them in their loss.  It is, in effect, Jesus' “Win one for the Gipper” speech.

The section we heard in today's gospel takes place early in that speech and it is particularly apt for today, mainly because this coming Thursday is the Feast of the Ascension.  This Thursday is, in the tradition of the Acts of the Apostles, 40 days after Easter and the day when Jesus ascended to the Father.  It's the day when we have been left behind to run the store.  And so we get this part of the Farewell Discourse today to prepare us for Jesus' departure and our greater role in his mission.

What is Jesus telling us as we prepare for that departure?  The first thing we are told is that, although Jesus is leaving us, he is not abandoning us.  The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will be sent in his name.  Additionally, the Holy Spirit will teach us and remind us of all that Jesus said.  That's the good news.

The bad news, if you can call it that, is with Jesus gone we can no longer talk with him.  Oh, I know, people say they talk with Jesus all the time, and we even have songs about it – “Aaaannnd he walks with me and he talks with me . . .”  But the reality is that for us, and for the post-Ascension apostles, Jesus isn't here.

What is here is the Holy Spirit, his own first gift for those who believe.  This gift ensures that we have not been abandoned, nor are we alone.  This gift will teach us everything and remind us of all that Jesus said to us.  But there's a catch:  since we can't actually talk with the Holy Spirit, we need to spend our time listening.  We need to listen for guidance.  We need to listen for love.  We need to listen to where God might be calling us.

Another really important thing Jesus tells us is do not let your hearts be afraid.  That is a hard thing to do when we find ourselves alone for the first time.  At the crucifixion, death, and burial of Christ, the disciples were alone.  But that was sudden and, for them, somewhat unexpected.  They have now had forty days with Jesus getting used to the idea of his permanent departure.  And on Thursday they will once again be on their own.

In Old Testament terms, it's time for them to gird up their loins.  In current terms, it's time for them to put on their big boy pants.  Be not afraid.

But I think there is something else beyond Jesus leaving us behind that causes us to be afraid.  Beyond the fear of being left behind is the fear, I think, that this mission of Christ now rests on our shoulders.  It is now up to us to proclaim the gospel to the people with whom we come into contact.  It is now up to us to pray, study, and teach people about our faith.

The pray and study part may not cause us to be afraid.  We all pray at various times and in various manners.  But I would be willing to bet that most, if not all, of us could stand to make prayer a more intentional part of our lives.  The same can probably be said about studying.  While not afraid of studying, we could all benefit from more intentionally reading and studying scripture, as well as attending the Sunday morning study between services.

This leaves us, then, with teach.  You might think that teaching requires a degree or certificate or a classroom.  While that's the traditional understanding of teach, there can be a lot more to it.  Teach is also synonymous with inform and share.  And those can be synonymous with – and here's where it gets scary – evangelism.

This Thursday is the Day of Ascension.  On that day the disciples witnessed Jesus disappearing into heaven on a cloud.  On that day they stood gazing up into heaven wondering what they might do next.  And on that day a couple of angels asked them, “Why are you standing here looking up to heaven?”  From that moment on the apostles spent their time praying and teaching.  Well, to be fair, the teaching part didn't come until Pentecost; but from that day forward they stopped looking to heaven and got busy.

We are pretty much in the same place.  The Feast of the Ascension is this Thursday, and Pentecost is two weeks away (don't forget to wear red).  We can spend our time looking up to heaven wondering what to do next, or we can follow the apostles and get to work.  If we choose to get to work, then we begin by spending our time in prayer, study, and evangelism – teaching or sharing if you prefer.

The more we pray, the more we learn to listen to the whisperings and callings of the Holy Spirit.  The more we study, the more we become familiar with God's curriculum.  The more we study together, the more comfortable we become in openly discussing our thoughts about God.  The more comfortable we become in discussing our thoughts, then the more comfortable we become in telling and teaching others about our faith.

The Feast of the Ascension is coming up, and Pentecost is two weeks away.  As we move from Easter to Pentecost we would do well to remember three things:

1. We have been gifted with the Holy Spirit.
2. We have no reason to be fearful.
3. It's time to quit gawking and get moving.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Things that make you go, "Hmmm"

"I will have a deportation force to kick out people who reside in this country illegally." -- Donald Trump

"When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you." -- God