Sunday, August 18, 2019

Sermon; Proper 15C; Hebrews 11:29 - 12:2


Last week we began a stretch that will cover four weeks from the Letter to the Hebrews. That passage opened up with this sentence: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

The author expanded on this thought by invoking Abraham and Sarah. Back in Genesis 12, God tells Abram that he will be the father of a great nation. And in Genesis 15, God tells him that his descendants shall be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Even though both Abram and Sarai were old, as good as dead and barren, they believed in the promise. Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac – hardly as many as the stars in the sky. Isaac also had two sons, Jacob and Esau; again, hardly as many as stars in the sky. Jacob had many sons, who had many sons, who had many sons, who became as numerous as the stars in the sky. And that promise was fulfilled by faith – the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

This theme, faith in things not seen, continues in today's passage. The author recounts famous stories of old – the parting of the Red Sea, the fall of Jericho, and heroes of days gone by – Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel. These famous men and women of old are named as faithful servants who also did not see or receive what was promised. And in one of the more gorier passages, the author recounts how faithful people of God were flogged and stoned to death, sawed in two, and killed by the sword. None of these received that promise in their lifetimes.

In thinking about the readings from Hebrews over the past two weeks, there are really two things I want to address. The first is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen. This reminds me of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” This whole faith thing isn't necessarily about what it or God can do for me. Faith is not about the prosperity gospel that assures us we will reap massive benefits to our health, wealth, and financial status if we simply believe hard enough and in the right things.

We need to remember that we do what we do for a bigger purpose than ourselves. We do what we do for something that goes beyond obtaining our desires. We are here to worship, welcome, serve, and encourage. All of that looks beyond us. To worship God. To welcome the stranger. To serve others. To encourage people in a variety of ways. Sometimes we are the beneficiaries of these things. But as Eucharistic Prayer C reminds us, we must avoid the presumption of coming here for solace only and not for strength; for pardon only and not for renewal.

In some ways this gets back to stewardship. We are stewards of the building, grounds, finances, and people, not so that we can have the biggest, best, richest, beautiful-est, most populous (and popular) church in town, but so that we can be a beacon of hope for others, a place where others can grow in the faith and love of God, and where generations not seen will come to worship, welcome, serve, and encourage. Our stewardship is a visible reminder of faith in things hoped for, and a conviction of things unseen. One plants. One waters. God causes the growth. In other words, this is the conviction of things not seen.

The second point I want to look at is from today's reading; and in particular the list of heroes of old. The author recalls the crossing of the Red Sea and the taking of Jericho. The author lists people such as Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel. These are listed by name as being part of our heritage and part of the great cloud of witnesses who ran that race of faith, endured trials and tribulations, and have taken their seat in the kingdom of God.

It all sounds wonderful and thrilling. But here are the dark backstories:

An untold number of Egyptians died while pursuing their property. Rahab was a prostitute who betrayed her people. Gideon was so afraid of following God that he only did what God asked him to do in the middle of the night, as well as continually testing God to get a favorable response. Barak would not fight for God alone, but required Deborah to go with him, which led to Jael getting the fame. Samson was petulant and petty, and eventually became the first suicide terrorist when he killed 3000 Philistines who had gathered together. Jephthah became a general and, after winning a crucial battle, made an ill-advised oath which resulted in offering his daughter as a burnt sacrifice. David, among other things, raped Bathsheba. And Samuel cut an enemy king to pieces.

THESE are the people that the author of Hebrews extols as being great men and women of the faith? THESE are the people we count as being part of the great cloud of witnesses? Yes, yes they are.

We sometimes have this idea that the people of God must be lily-white pure, free from any sin, in order to qualify as his. People outside the church often think the same, and point to our failings, our hypocrisy, as a reason to not be part of the church. Sometimes people in the church expect those outside the church to be lily-white pure and free from any sin before they will invite them to join us.

These points of view are all untrue. None of us are perfect. None of us are sinless. It's not hypocritical for us to sin. But it is hypocritical for us to not acknowledge our sin and repent while holding others to a different standard than ourselves. Nor can we hold up the unsavory side of these characters and claim they are all much worse than I, so I can keep on doing what I'm doing.

No, we are not perfect. Yes, we sin. We must acknowledge that sin (confess) and work to change our actions, behaviors, whatevers (repent) so that we can more closely follow the way of God. The trick is to work on this one day, one hour, one moment at a time. The trick is to continually strive to be in relationship with God. The trick is to remember that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, both past and present, out there and in this room, who strive to follow God. And, as it just so happens, some of those who are part of that great cloud of witnesses are unsavory characters.

So let us work to lay aside every weight and sin that clings closely. Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us. Let us continually look to Jesus. Let us remember that others have gone before and others will come after. And let us keep in mind that, despite our imperfections, we hold to this assurance of things hoped for while having the conviction of things not seen.

Amen.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Sermon; 5 Pentecost/Proper 10C; Luke 10:25-37


“What is written in the Law? What do you read there?”

This was Jesus' answer to the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Answering a question with a question is a good tactic. It allows for some wiggle room, can keep you from getting boxed into a corner, and can lead the original questioner to come to a place of understanding on their own. It also might be a good way to get someone to think more broadly about their question.

In this back and forth volley, the lawyer must now provide an answer to Jesus' new question: What is written in the law? What do you read there? His answer is pretty straightforward: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.

And Jesus said, “Winner, winner, chicken dinner. Do this and you will live.”

The answer the lawyer gave has been around for a long time. Jesus gives this same answer when he's asked what is the greatest commandment over in Matthew 22. He pulls from both Deuteronomy and Leviticus to give the answer; which, I'm assuming, so does today's lawyer. And there's a story that tells of a wise rabbi who said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, body, and soul; and love your neighbor as yourself. The rest of the Law is just commentary.”

But then the lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbor?” The text says he asked this to 'justify himself.' This tells me that he already had an idea of 1) what the correct answer to his original question was; and, 2) who he classified as his neighbor. In response, Jesus tells one of his most well-known parables – the tale of the good Samaritan.

Donald Trump was walking around DC one evening alone, for he had managed to sneak out of the White House undetected. While out he was attacked, beaten, and left for dead. Now by chance Franklin Graham was out walking and came upon the body who looked somewhat familiar, but since he couldn't be sure if he was a Christian, he passed by on the other side. A little later, William Barr strolled by, but also unable to identify the badly beaten man, and unsure as to whether or not he was a US citizen, he too crossed the street and continued on. A little later, after a grueling meeting, Kamala Harris happened upon the man. Her car was parked close by, so she managed to get him in that and drove him to the hospital. Now, which of these was a neighbor to the president?

This is what is at the heart of being a neighbor in the eyes of God.

Who is my neighbor? It's the Republican or Democrat across the street. It's the white supremacist in our city. It's the rabid nativist who wants all non-Americans removed. It's the polite racist in our midst. It's the person in need. It's the struggling mother. It's the dying friend. It's children in cages and those who put them there. It's our friends and family. Notice that we are not asked to make value judgments. We are not asked to determine who is worthy of our care, or our compassion, or our welcome. And this is a very hard thing to do.

Jesus must have had the baptismal covenant in mind when he told this story, because the good Samaritan lived into the promise we make to respect the dignity of every human being.

Love God . . . yeah, sure, whatever. We think this is easy, but we just trick ourselves when we think that way; probably because we don't have to deal with God on a daily basis.. But loving our neighbor and respecting their dignity is hard work. Especially since we do have to look at our neighbors and deal with them every single day. And especially when we make value judgments about their overall worth.

When talking about what we must do to inherit eternal life, I sometimes feel like we're answering Jesus' question, “What do you read in the law?” We read the law, or scripture, and we do, or try to do, exactly that. We think if we follow/obey the letter of the law, we will be doing what is required. It's a lot like new referees who memorize the rules book but don't quite yet understand game situations.

I remember working a game as a new official. Rule 7-1-5 says that no player shall encroach on the neutral zone after the ball has been marked ready for play. Someone did and I threw the flag. It was an obvious penalty. But it was also the 4th quarter with under three minutes to play and one team up by 30-some points. Rules book knowledge versus game situation knowledge.

With this parable, Jesus is giving us a game situation. This is what it looks like when we add grace and mercy to the law.

So how do we go about loving our neighbors? First of all, we can pray for them. We can pray for those who have harmed us or those who annoy us. And I don't mean praying, “Dear Lord, please grant them the knowledge to realize what complete jerks they are.” Pray instead for peace in their lives. I have found that the more I pray for their peace, the more peaceful I become in my attitude and actions toward them.

Second, get to know your neighbor. The Samaritan didn't know the injured man. There are plenty of people here who don't really know each other. Change where you sit and get to know a new neighbor here at church.

Third, combine the two. Is there someone here with whom you have had an argument? Is there someone here who annoys you because they sing off-key, or say words in the wrong place or way, or just because they show up? Change pews and go sit next to them. Apologize, if necessary. Offer to make a new start. Offer to pray for a need they have.

This neighborly stuff is hard work. It causes us to find compassion that we'd probably rather not find. But hopefully, as we work hard to love God and love neighbor, we will be strengthened. We will come to see the face of Christ in others. We will understand that discipleship is more than simply following the rules. And we just might make this a better place because we were able to move beyond what is written in the law.

Love God. Love neighbor. Change the world.

Go and do likewise.

Amen.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Sermon; 4 Pentecost/Proper 9C; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20


“How big is your church?”

I get asked this question on a semi-regular basis. There are many reasons why people ask, some more valid than others. But it seems to me that the number one reason for asking that question has to do with a quick evaluation: how do you compare to my church; are you big enough to be taken seriously; and, do you have or offer the programs I want? All too often it's a numbers game with people assuming the bigger the church, the better it is. Or, if numbers don't match expectations, I/we must be doing something wrong.

But this isn't always necessarily the case. My former parish in Montana has about 40 people and they are incredibly vibrant and vital. Numbers don't tell the whole story. And with the numbers game comes the inevitable comparisons. WE had twelve baptisms last year. WE had twenty. WE put in a coffee bar. WE hired a new band. WE'VE had to expand the building twice. WE added three more services. And on and on and on.

When we play that game we begin playing with the sin of pride. We begin thinking these are things WE have accomplished. Or maybe we begin thinking that God loves us just that much more. And when we play that game, we also begin seeing church as just another commodity, or as a transaction to be made, where if we sell enough religious widgets, we will be successful.

But we are not merchants. We are not out to sell the most religious widgets in Hagerstown. We aren't traders, offering this for that. We are not here to build the biggest church in the area. We aren't here to wow people with coffee bars and bands. We aren't here to say, “Look what we did.”

Jesus reminds us of this when he sends out those seventy disciples on a mission to proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near. He reminds us of this when he instructs them to carry no purse and no bag. These seventy are heralds of the gospel, they are not merchants. They are not to engage in trade. This is not a business.

Like those seventy, and like the twelve before them, we are here to proclaim the gospel. This proclamation has nothing to do with our ASA. It has nothing to do with coffee bars, bands, or expansions. It has nothing to do with how many religious widgets we sell. Because none of that – bars, bands, or widgets – makes us stronger in discipleship. None of that deepens our roots.

Like those seventy, and like those twelve, we are here to proclaim the gospel. That proclamation, coincidentally, has everything to do with our mission statement: Worship, Welcome, Serve, and Encourage. None of these four points requires a financial transaction. We have no need for purse or bag. And in none of these four points is it about us.

Worship is not about us; it's about giving our best to God. We don't welcome people in an effort to get them to donate. We don't serve people to stroke our egos. We don't encourage people to be like us. We do these things to proclaim the gospel and help people draw nearer to God.

But when we do those things well, and when we do them with God as our anchor, things will happen. We may need to add more services. We may baptize more people. We may do more with our music program. We may, like those seventy, proclaim that we have done wonderful things and that even the demons submit to us.

And here we need to be on our guard. Notice that when the seventy returned to Jesus excited about the demons submitting to them, Jesus refocused them. Yes, you have power over the enemy, but don't rejoice in that; instead, rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

Triumphalism is inappropriate. Reveling in our own power and greatness, even when we claim it is done in the name of Jesus, sends us off the mark. Another gospel put it this way: “On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?' Then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you, go away from me, you evildoers'.”

Our joy is not to be found in the great deeds we did, but in the knowledge that we are brothers and sisters in Christ and members of the family of God.

We do not measure our worth by our ASA. We do not measure our worth by the number of building projects, additional services, or baptisms performed. We do not measure our worth by coffee bars or worship bands. For this we do not need purses or bags.

What we do need is a willingness to be sent out and proclaim the good news of the gospel. What we do need is a willingness to be called, “Apostles,” for it is the apostles who were sent. What we do need is a willingness to worship, welcome, serve, and encourage. Because it is in these acts where we learn about discipleship. And it is in these acts where we can most truthfully and joyfully proclaim the good news.

“How big is your church?” is the wrong question. What we should be asking is, “How deep are our discipleship roots?”

Amen.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Sermon; 3 Pentecost/Proper 8C; Luke 9:51-62


“When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

So begins the gospel lesson for today. Here we are on the third Sunday after Pentecost and already we have Luke preparing us for Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and his crucifixion. We hear these words – the days drew near – and we think we are approaching the end. We hear that Jesus has “set his face to go to Jerusalem” and we think that he is singularly focused and determined. But we still have ten chapters to go until we actually get to Jerusalem, and on the way Jesus will be in Samaria, Bethany, Galilee, Jericho, and points between. He will visit friends, be a guest in various homes, and share meals.

One commentary says that this section of Luke isn't so much a march to Jerusalem as much as it is a travelogue. Luke is asking us to see this journey with Jesus as a pilgrimage that deepens our relationship with Christ as we journey to both the Passion and the kingdom of God. And as I said last week, this is the point of Ordinary Time – to deepen our discipleship. This is when we move from learning broadly about the events of Jesus' life to deepening our roots of discipleship.

Today we have two stories of discipleship that can help us to deepen those roots.

First we have a visit to Samaria. This is not the first visit outside of Jewish territory for Jesus (remember last week Jesus visited the country of the Gerasenes), but it is the first visit after he sets his face to go to Jerusalem. Jesus knows that he must go to Jerusalem. He knows he will suffer and die there. He knows that his life and ministry are to draw all people to God. And through the acts of his Passion, he will save the world. So the first thing he does is travel to Samaria, the land of outsiders and half-breed heretics.

But Samaria did not receive him and would not follow him. In retaliation, James and John want to eradicate them with fire from heaven. Before we condemn these two for their rash behavior, we need to think back to last week's demoniac and remember that he is us. We are the demoniac, and we are James and John.

How many times has the Church, or any number of self-professed Christians, been more than happy to call down fire from heaven in an attempt to eradicate those who don't accept their message or claim to follow a different path? Everything from the Inquisition to the 30-years War to missionaries in both North and South America, Christians have been happy to persecute those with whom they disagree. And you don't even need to go back that far when we have preachers claiming LGBT people are the reason God is punishing America, women are second-class citizens, whites are God's chosen people, and anyone who disagrees with any of this is going to hell. So James and John calling down fire from heaven is simply par for the course.

If you go back to the beginning of Chapter 9, which textually falls between last week and today, you will read the story of Jesus sending out the twelve apostles on their first missionary trip. They are to proclaim the kingdom of God and are given these instructions: Wherever they do not welcome you, shake the dust from your feet and move on. In other words, offer the Good News of the kingdom of God to people and let them decide what to do with it. James and John seem to have forgotten this. They, like too many Christians, would rather show the power of God through damnation rather than love.

This long journey with Jesus that we have embarked on to deepen our faith isn't accomplished by broad strokes of condemnation or looking to mow down those with whom we disagree. Instead, we need to dig deep and cultivate the way of love through Christ so that the Holy Spirit can do the work of transforming lives. That goes for people out there as well as those of us in here. Because like James and John, there are times we would rather call down fire from heaven on those who annoy us than do the hard work of building relationships.

The second discipleship story comes when Jesus has encounters with three people about following him.

In the first encounter Jesus says, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but he Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” This reminds us that Jesus is reliant on the hospitality of others. Jesus doesn't force his way into peoples lives. Like the incident above with James and John, all we can do is invite; it's up to others to let us and Jesus in.

This points to an aspect of discipleship we don't often talk about, and that is the acceptance of hospitality. We are all good at stepping up to care for others. We are all good at being doers. But sometimes we need to be Marys. Sometimes we need to let our feet be washed. Sometimes we need to say, “Yes, I need help.” Discipleship isn't always about doing, it's also about learning. And sometimes we need to learn to be cared for.

In the second encounter Jesus asks someone to follow him. The answer is, “Sure, but first let me bury my father.” And the third encounter has a similar response – “I will follow, but let me first say goodbye.”

Both of these people are rebuked by Jesus. We may see it as harsh, especially for those of us who have close family members or who have had the difficult experience of burying a family member. The issue, though, may not be literal as much as it is telling us about priorities.

Discipleship is hard. Being a committed disciples takes time and effort. In our discipleship, we are asked to give our best. Like our pledges shouldn't come from what is left over but from what we receive first, our discipleship shouldn't come from the leftovers of our life and time. We are asked to make discipleship a priority.

This isn't a priority over the worst of our lives. As one commentator put it, “Jesus doesn't ask us to choose him over the devil but over our family.” Again, this sounds harsh. But before we throw the baby out with the bathwater, let's start with small steps.

Here's one: How many of us leave out of town family/friends at home when they are visiting to attend church on Sunday morning? How many of us attend church when we're on vacation? Is worshiping God on the Lord's day a priority in your life?

This second section of today's gospel is asking us to prioritize our discipleship. We are asked to give God the best we have, not simply our extra leftovers.

Discipleship isn't easy; it takes time and dedication. We commit our time and energies to all sorts of things we find important. Where is God in all of that? As our journey with Jesus begins, let us work on prioritizing our lives. Will we work to build up in love rather than tear down? Will we spend time learning? Will we take steps to make God a priority in our lives, and not just an afterthought?

Discipleship is hard work and takes time; but then, so does anything we deem worthwhile.

Amen.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Sermon; 2 Pentecost/Proper 7C; Luke 8:26-39


With the close of the Easter season, the day of Pentecost and Trinity Sunday behind us, we are now officially in the long, green season of Ordinary Time, the Season after Pentecost. Whereas the liturgical seasons have a specific focus – penance and forgiveness in Lent, resurrection in Easter, etc. – Ordinary Time moves from focusing on the major events of Jesus' life to focusing on the life of Christ. This is the time and season when we spend our time walking with Christ on a daily basis as we develop into faithful disciples.

And today we get the perfect text to begin that journey.

Jesus and his disciples are on the road. They cross over the water to the country of the Gerasenes, Gentile country, where they encounter a demoniac. This particular demoniac lives in the tombs. He knows who Jesus is. He is possessed by demons. And he is kept under guard by the town so that they can control and monitor his activities.

How do we see this story of the demoniac, the wary townsfolk, the demons, the healing, and the sending? Today I want us to look at this maybe a little differently than we've looked at it before.

Today I want us to see the demoniac as the Church.

Like it or not, or as uncomfortable as you may get, we are engaged in spiritual warfare. We, the Church, are battling a legion of demons. Everything from greed and hypocrisy, pride and envy, hatred and malice, lack of love and charity, murmurings and lies, racism and classism, hatreds of all kinds and an unwillingness to respect the dignity of others or to see the face of Christ in them, are just some of the sins and demons we deal with on an everyday basis. These are the sins of humanity. And because the Church is made up of humans, these are also the sins of the Church.

We the Church are living in the tombs. That is, the Church has been relegated to a place outside the boundaries of everyday life. The Church has been moved to a place not lived daily by most people. And like the tombs, people will come on special occasions to pay their respects or to remember how things were; but for the most part, the Church is outside the boundaries of daily life.

I would wager that even for us, the Church is outside the boundaries of daily life. How many of us keep the cares and concerns of the Church first and foremost in our lives? How many of us make daily prayers a priority, or do they get pushed back to whenever we have a few extra minutes to squeeze them in? How many of us make it a priority to read and study scripture? Even for us, the Church has been pushed to the tombs and outside the boundaries of daily life.

And speaking of being outside the boundaries of daily life . . . this is where the world wants the Church. The world wants the Church pushed out into the tombs. The world wants a Church it can control. The world wants a Church that can be ignored. The world wants a Church that doesn't threaten it. The world wants a Church it can declare as out of its mind.

If the Church listens to Jesus, however, things will be much different. The first thing we need to do is allow Christ to heal us. Like the demoniac knew Jesus but didn't follow Jesus, there are many in the Church who know Jesus but don't follow him. Those who know to love their neighbors but work to persecute them instead. Those who know to welcome the stranger, but work to keep them away. Those who know to feed the hungry, but work to close down support programs. Knowing Christ doesn't equate to being a disciple.

We must allow Jesus to exorcise the demons of fear, exclusion, lust, hate, pride, greed, and more. Because if we don't, then we will continue to live in the tombs.

Notice what happens when the demoniac is healed – the people of the town become afraid.

The people of the town were quite content to deal with a madman living in the tombs. They were quite content to ignore or explain away his ravings. They were quite content to have him living on the margins. The world is content to ignore or explain away the teaching of the Church. The world is quite content to keep the Church on the margins, out in the tombs, where they pay scant attention.

But imagine a time when the Church, like the man, is healed of its demons. Imagine a time when the Church has its demons of pride, arrogance, lust, hatred, exclusion, greed, fear, etc. driven out. We would no longer be an institution to be ignored. We would be completely dedicated to following Christ in all we do. Instead of random rants and ravings, we would present a clear picture of why discipleship and life in the Church is so vitally important. And all the world would be seized with great fear.

Once upon a time, Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Today we have met the demoniac and he is us.

This story challenges us to revisit who we are. It challenges us to confront our own demons. It challenges us to see that we are living in the tombs. And it challenges us to discover what we could accomplish when we are in our right minds.

Discipleship should move us from living on the edges out in the tombs where we can keep a controlling eye on our faith, not letting it get too close to our daily lives, to living a faith-based life that is the center of our being. On this first Sunday of our journey with Jesus, let us remember that we are not called to live out in the tombs but that we are called to live faithfully out in the open of everyday life.

Faith isn't something to keep a watchful eye on, something to be chained up and controlled, something to visit occasionally. Our faith is to be lived into daily. Our faith calls us to daily discipleship. Our faith should be released from its chains and allowed to escape from the tombs so that we live daily into the freedom faith brings in the midst of our everyday lives.

It is in that freedom where we proclaim to the world how much Jesus has done for us. And it is also in that freedom and daily discipleship that will frighten the world.

For that to happen, though, we must be willing to first purge ourselves and the Church of the demons that control us; and second we must be willing to follow Christ daily. Today is the first day of the long, green Season after Pentecost where daily discipleship is the overall focus. What better way to begin this journey than to let Christ purge us of our demons.

Amen.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Sermon; Trinity Sunday 2019


Water is in the form of a liquid, a solid, or a gas (steam).
Light takes the form of a beam, a wave, and heat.
An egg is made up of its shell, the white, and the yolk.
A clover is a plant made up of three parts to the one flower.
A person describes themselves as Me, Myself, and I.
A woman may be a mother, daughter, and self.
And holy matrimony is made up of two people and the marriage itself.

These are just some of the ways in which people have tried to describe the Trinity – that great and holy mystery of three in one and one in three. And, generally speaking, they are all heretical in one way or another. Because while they do describe three aspects of one thing, none of these three aspects can ever completely be completely the other thing. A shell is an aspect of an egg, but it can never be a complete egg. And this is why explanations of the Trinity break down.

Our understanding of the Trinity, however, goes beyond the examples I gave. Whereas an egg is present as the shell, white, and yolk, the shell is not a complete egg, the white is not a complete egg, and the yolk is not a complete egg, even though they share some of the properties of a complete egg. On the other hand, God is present as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And within those three persons, or substances, the Father is completely God, the Son is completely God, and the Holy Spirit is completely God. The three are in unity and complete. But we must also remember that the Father is not the Son is not the Holy Spirit and they are completely differentiated. Completely different and completely unified, three in one and one in three.

So what do we actually DO with the Trinity? That is, other than end our prayers, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen” What does the Trinity have to do with us today, and what can we learn from this great mystery?

For starters, we can understand that the Trinity is relational. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while individual members of the whole are also unified in relationship with each other such that their individualism is completely bound together in unity. They are self-differentiated, but they are also completely selfless. This is something that humans can never do or be because we are selfish beings. Oh, not always; there are times we commit selfless acts. The J2A group, and several adults, selflessly gave of their time and effort as they raised money and then walked Friday night and into Saturday morning. But we can never be completely self-differentiated AND completely selfless as the Trinity is.

The Trinity gives us an example and goal of what humanity could look like if we could live in good, holy, and complete relationships all of the time. We will probably fail at this more often than we succeed, but the invitation, the example, and the goal is there. So while we do try to live into where God is calling our relationships, as well as other aspects of our lives, we do fail. As Eucharistic Prayer C says, “We are sinners in your sight.”

We have failed to be in relationship with God. We have failed to care for God's creation. We have failed to respect the dignity of every human being. These and other failings remind us that we are sinners in need of redemption.

Through prophets and sages God called us to return. In the life of Christ we have an example of what a life lived with God could and would look like. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit we are drawn deeper into relationship with God. The triune God is inviting us to participate in the divine life. That invitation should challenge us to become both humble and grateful. Humble because the Holy Trinity loves us enough to want us as part of their life. Grateful that the Holy Trinity has shown us the way to salvation. And all of this is reflected in what we do here: In our worship of God with our heartfelt praise, blessing, and thankfulness.

Following up on the understanding that the Trinity is relational, we can come to understand that it is in the worship of God where we reflect the divine entity most clearly. The world may be broken by sin. We may have fallen away from God. We have sinned in so many ways that one may wonder why God still wants anything to do with us. But the invitation is continually there. God really does desire our return into his loving embrace.

So while we and creation may have lost the image of God's complete goodness, love, and mercy, God has not. The goodness, love, and mercy of God remains intact in the Trinity. And when we come together in worship, when we participate in and partake of these holy mysteries, we, for a brief moment, are one with the Trinity. We are one in relationship with our fellow worshipers and one with the triune God, three in one and one in three.

We have had a lifetime of participating in our own selfish desires. Those desires have left scars on the world, the people around us, friends, family, and ourselves. Those desires have led, or will lead, us to force those around us to bend to our will or to change into our own image. Just look at how humanity has treated the environment and others, or how corporations conduct business.

But God, through the Trinity, is asking us to live life differently. In the Trinity we can see lives lived selflessly. In the Trinity we can see relationships that are both differentiated and united; bound in love with no other desire than to just BE.

Using the Trinity as our guide we open ourselves up to being changed from the sinful, fallen creatures we are, into the people we were created to be – caretakers of God's creation living in union with our Creator.

The Trinity isn't so much a doctrine to be described – being like water, or light, or a clover, or an egg – as much as it is a way to live and love.

How would our lives be different if we lived a life based in this Trinitarian theology of selfless unity? How would our lives be different if we lived “Out There” like we worship in here?

I can only answer those questions for myself. And my answer would have to be, “Better.”

May the love of God the Father create in us a desire to live selflessly and in unity.

May the wisdom and grace of God the Son grant us the strength and courage to pursue his will in all that we undertake.

May the fire of the Holy Spirit kindle in our hearts the flame of burning love for him, this world, and our fellow human beings.

Amen.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Sermon; Pentecost C; Gen. 11:1-9, Acts 2:1-21


Welcome to Pentecost, that great day of celebration when the apostles were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. It was on this day that they began speaking in other languages and Peter reiterated the prophecy from Joel that God would pour out his Spirit upon all flesh, that sons and daughters would prophesy, that young men would see visions, and that old men would dream dreams. The Spirit of God would be poured out upon men and women to do great things. Pentecost is one of the three great feasts in the Church year. But before we get here, we need to go back to Genesis.

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. As the people migrated from the east, they settled in Shinar where they began to build a city and tower in honor of their greatness. As they were building the tower, God came down to see what they were up to. After witnessing the people in action, God their language and scatters the people over the face of the earth.

We know that this isn't how different languages actually developed, but it is a really good story. Like all good stories that aren't factually true, however, it contains elements of a larger truth within it. And who better to tap into those larger truths than John Chrysostom. He makes three points about this passage that are as equally true and applicable today as they were when he originally wrote.

First he says that this passage points to humanity's inability to recognize our limits; that we are always lusting after more. This doesn't happen overnight, but in stages. The people wanted a better place, so they moved out and settled in Shinar. That place wasn't grand enough, so they built a city. And because they wanted to announce their greatness to the world, they built a tower in the midst of the city. But that tower eventually was abandoned and fell into ruin. This is a tale of truth as to how we keep chasing after the things of the world only to have it fall into disarray.

Second he says that this story reflects our human tendency to use the privilege given us for evil purposes. Adam & Eve used their privileged place in the garden to see themselves as gods. The people in this story used their privileged place to create monuments and again attempt to elevate themselves to the position of gods. We continue to work to elevate ourselves to the place of gods where we have power and control over others. Whites have used their privilege to enslave blacks and sentence Native Americans to live in the very worst places and conditions of the country. Various peoples have attempted to commit genocide against other peoples. Humans have used their privilege to run to extinction various animals and clear-cut forests into oblivion. We were to be caretakers of creation and a blessing to others; but instead we have decimated the environment and abused our fellow humans.

And third, Chrysostom says this story reflects the inflated ego of humanity. He said that people want to be remembered through the ages, so they build grand towers to their honor. And when asked about their building projects, they most likely reiterate that it is to have their names remembered by future generations – that this tower belongs to so-and-so. But Chrysostom points out that this tower doesn't belong to so-and-so the great, it belongs to so-and-so the miser, despoiler of widows and orphans. This tower's expense was toward selfish reasons and helped not one-cent toward the benefit of fellow humans.

This story reflects the insatiability, abuse of privilege, and greed of humanity. But there is a corrective, and that corrective is the Holy Spirit.

We are now fifty days after Easter – Pentecost. The disciples have been, if not in hiding, living inconspicuously. On this day they are gathered all together in one place. Suddenly a violent wind rushes in and tongues of fire appear, a tongue resting on each of the twelve apostles; whereupon they each began to speak in other languages. People from various parts of the world heard the commotion and gathered around to see what was going on. Some onlookers passed it off as a drunken revelry.

“These men are not drunk,” Peter says, “but it is the fulfillment of prophecy and God's Spirit is being poured out.”

Note the contrast between the story of Pentecost and the story of Babel.

Chrysostom said the Babel story reflected humanity's need to always lust after more, to continually push outward. In the Pentecost story, note that the apostles have gathered together in one place. Unlike the people of Genesis, they are content to sit and wait upon the Lord. They have not used this time to get organized, form a mission statement, and march out in conquest. Instead they have taken the time to stay in one place and pray.

Unlike their counterparts in Genesis, they have not used their privilege for evil purposes. And they are privileged. They have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. They have been given the ability to speak in other languages. They could have used this privilege to condemn the people of Jerusalem. Instead they use this privilege to acknowledge that God is seeking the salvation of all people.

And third, whereas the people of Babel exhibited inflated egos by desiring a great tower to bear their name, the apostles do the opposite. They do not take credit for this miraculous ability to speak in other languages. They do nothing to take credit for what is happening. Instead, Peter, speaking for the group, essentially says, “this is the Lord's doing. This is the fulfillment of prophecy and it is God who is doing a new thing.”

These two stories ask us to reflect on why we are here. Are we hear to build a great tower in our name and honor as a memorial to ourselves for future generations to admire? Are we here to use our privilege in an attempt to make others into our own image or eliminate those with whom we disagree? Or are we here to pray and discern how God is calling us to be in this world? Are we here to not proclaim our own greatness, but to speak about God in a language other people can understand?

If the former, we are doomed to failure. If the latter, then we will draw together people from all walks of life and varying languages as we fulfill the mission of the Church to reconcile all people to God.

This is the day of Pentecost. How will you speak to those around you, and how will your language draw in rather than scatter?

Amen.