What is YOUR Spiritual Condition?

Sermon St. Dunstan’s 3.10.19

“Almighty God, Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations…” (collect)

On Jesus’ very first public day of ministry, he hears his father- GOD, say to him as he comes up out of the baptismal waters of the River Jordan, “ This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”- and before the water had barely dried on his skin, the Spirit of God is leading him into the wilderness for a 40-day fast– “where he was tempted by the devil”.

I started wondering about this “quick escorted -exit” Jesus makes from the Jordan- to go out into the desert wilderness, give up food for 40 days- (As one who thinks about the next meal to come most of the time, giving up food while you are in the desert for a month+ seems rather dangerous.)  

But I found, as I looked further, the ancients, as well as disciples today consider this an essential spiritual discipline for a lot of reasons- to retreat from the distractions of the world, (go into the wilderness) and to open themselves up to the wisdom and guidance of GOD.  

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book The Cost of Discipleship, said, “Jesus takes it for granted that His disciples will observe the pious custom of fasting. Strict exercise of self-control is an essential feature of the Christian life. Such customs have only one purpose — to make the disciples more ready and cheerful to accomplish those things which God would have done.”

Hmmm- “ to be made more ready to …accomplish those things which God would have done.” Bonhoeffer believed that fasting prepares us for the works
God has ordained for us to do.

The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness- the HS brought him there to be tempted…to reveal Jesus’ TRUE Spiritual condition…to fast and prepare for what God sent him to accomplish…

The Wilderness:  that place for throwing off all dependencies and loyalties– a disciplined withdrawal, a retreat from the world of self-indulgence and distractions that take away our resolve to be obedient and trusting; and distract us from acknowledging everything we have comes from God alone.

The wilderness is also the first place Elijah was led by the HS to build strength for his vocation… the Wilderness- where John the Baptist was led to become the powerful, the mission-led voice in the wilderness…and where Paul was led after his amazing conversion experience- to gather knowledge and guidance from the Holy Spirit for his new identity as an apostle of Christ and a beloved child of GOD.

I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of of my time wandering in my own desert wilderness, finding those dependencies and loyalties I thought I’d thrown off, jump right back on me with their seductive, attractive and subtle voices of temptation whispering in my ear…those whispering voices that seek to talk me out of obeying God, of taking shortcuts and cheat to avoid God’s call to mission, avoiding looking at my own Spiritual condition- am I  ready to resist temptation-to resist the  derailing of what God created and is calling  me to be-his beloved child-to reflect his image in the world?   Has the Holy Spirit brought me to the wilderness to be made more ready to …accomplish those things which God has ordained for me? As I wander… is my true spiritual condition revealed to the Holy Spirit?

Just like in the book of Exodus-we are God’s people in the desert of our own making- in the wilderness-wandering, wondering, doubting, grumbling, hungry-yearning for the worldly life left behind, tempted to go back to our old life…tempted to rebel, to disobey, and to mistrust.

Tempted and distracted enough to forget how God is loving us every step of the way, tempted to forget how God calls us to know, love and worship him– in the wilderness we find ourselves in- are we too caught up in our own distracted wandering, to remember how GOD delivered us and lovingly continues to deliver us from the the horrible place we cried out to him for help in the first place? “Tempted to”…can be summed up in a 3 letter word: SIN.


N.T. Wright puts it this way, “To see temptation in terms of rules we would like to break, or impulses we must learn to tame…[is] to see temptation itself in terms of negatives…The truth is very different. Every moment, God calls us to know, love and worship him...and reflect his image in the world…Temptations lure us to turn away from that privilege and invitation, to lower our gaze, shorten our sights and settle for second best or worse…the Greek word for sin is ‘missing the mark’…Sin…drops short [of the mark], short of the call to true humanness, to bearing and reflecting God’s image.”So where do we begin to do this fasting and wilderness-wandering in this season of LENT?                                                                                                                    How do we find our way back to who God created us to be? How can we change after those whispering voices of temptation have been in our ear for decades?

Today, we are being introduced to a new way of “fasting” for Lent…you and I are invited to fast as a community- be led into the wilderness together to find our way back to being the image-bearers of God and reflecting GOD’s image in the world around us.

During Lent, the Spirit is leading us to be made more ready to accomplish those things which God has ordained for us- to shine the love and light of Christ on everyone we meet…

Because we are turning away from the whispered temptations and distractions, and Giving up what the world tempts us to do- taking up loving GOD and our Neighbor.

 Give up HARSH words- Use GENEROUS ones

Give up UNHAPPINESS – Take up GRATITUDE

Give up  ANGER-  Use GENTLENESS and PATIENCE

Give up PESSIMISM- Take up HOPE and OPTIMISM

Give up  WORRYING- Take up TRUSTING in GOD

Give up COMPLAINING-Take up VALUING what you have

Give up  STRESS- Take up PRAYER

Give up JUDGING others- Take up DISCOVERING JESUS within them

Give up  SORROW and BITTERNESS-Take up FILLING your heart with JOY

Give up SELFISHNESS- Take up COMPASSION for others

Give up being UNFORGIVING- Take up learning RECONCILIATION

Give up WORDS- Take up filling yourself with SILENCE, LISTENING to others

-anonymous, Latin America

My brothers and sisters, I pray as we step into the wilderness together, we will recognize and see Jesus walking before us and along side of us- giving us strength and power to resist the temptations whispered in our ears as we move closer and closer to Christ in our Lenten wilderness and fast. AMEN

 

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I LOVE YOU

Sermon ST. Dunstan’s 1.13.19

“I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.

Because you are precious in my sight, and honored,

And

I.LOVE.YOU.”

For me, when I prepare a sermon, the first thing I do is study the readings or Propers for the day..And the Lessons appointed for the First Sunday after Epiphany, “The Baptism of our Lord” are all filled with so much richness- so many ideas came flooding in – a very familiar Gospel lesson in Luke, another familiar lesson in Acts- and the Psalm is filled with the beauty, power, and splendor of the LORD, with beautiful images of the Glory of God painted in words by the Psalmist.

And then there was the prophet Isaiah…I kept being drawn back to that verse, “Because you are precious in my sight….and honored…and those last four words would just jump out at me each time :

 And I LOVE you.

Years ago, when I taught Sunday School to 3-5th graders, we had lessons on how to use the Bible, what the different books were in the OT and NT, how to look up verses, etc.  And I remember in the first lesson of the year on the Bible- in describing what it was, how it was different than anything else written then or since, etc.  I remember there was a part in the curriculum to describe what the Bible was- and we taught that the Bible was a very long love letter from God to us.

And over the years, I’ve become convinced that is just what the Bible is…Our loving creator, calling to us with love – a love that we don’t really understand.

A love we think we have to earn or become loveable by changing our own actions and behavior.  That somehow we have to “measure up” to be loved at all by GOD.  And most of us don’t believe we are good enough for God to love us. We see the world around us, experience hardship and sorrow, and begin to believe God doesn’t love us at all.

The more I studied the lessons, the more I found myself reading God’s love letter in them…So, I decided to explore the meaning of the words, Love, Beloved…

What I found was the English translation of Love and Beloved from Hebrew and Greek is sadly lacking…

God says “I love you” over 32 times in the OT through the Hebrew word ahab. Sadly, we humans tell God I love you, through the word ahab, less than 19 times in response. (and most of these responses are found in reciting shema and in Deuteronomy).

Another Hebrew word used in the OT that denotes love is “hesed”. Hesed is considered by most Bible Scholars to be one of the richest, most theologically insightful terms in the OT.  Hesed is used in the context of the relationship between God and humans. Hesed describes the special relationship God has with his covenant people.  However, Hesed it is a difficult word to translate into English. It has so many different meanings- hesed encompasses kindness, love, loyalty, and mercy and more.

In the lesson from Isaiah today, God is expressing in every verse his loving kindness, loyalty and mercy…when you pass through the waters, I will be with you, when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,  I give nations in exchange for your life…do not fear for I am with you….because you are precious in my sight, and I love you.”

In the NT, the Greek word used for love is agapao –  “to love”.  The Greek word used for beloved is agapetos. Again this word is difficult to translate because it encompasses the special bond that exists between the one who gives love and the one who is loved. ..like Jesus’ special bond with the Father…At Jesus’ baptism, when God says, “You are my beloved son…” the details include that the Father loves his Son, and Jesus loves the Father, but also Agapetos also means “to speak of the loving activity to be accomplished through the Son”!

The loving activity of GOD–all the loving things Jesus accomplishes in those three years beginning on the shore of the Jordan after his baptism…well, it would be a very long sermon if I recounted them all…but let’s just hit the highlights…

The healing of the sick, the blind, the lame, the demon-infected, the feeding of the multitudes for their body, and for their souls, the forgiveness given to those who never believed they would be forgiven…he taught us how to pray,  love, forgive ourselves and our neighbors over and over…he taught us with God, anything is possible...he loved us and promised he would always be with us. And the greatest love of all: he laid down his own life for us.

Here is Jesus, in prayer after being baptized with water for forgiveness of sins, sees the heavens open,  and the HS descends on him softly, gracefully and privately. He is baptized with water and the HS.

Then Jesus hears God say those incredibly important words of love, affirmation and identity: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

The One who gives love and the One who is loved. That special relationship, between God and the Son.

And don’t forget- the other meaning of The Beloved – the loving activity of GOD, accomplished through Jesus!  So too, is our Baptism like Jesus’- it is about love, identity, affirmation, commitment, promise and more!

Because in Baptism, God’s incredible, unending love for us is proclaimed, God calls, names and claims us as God’s BELOVED children; gives us the gift of the HS, and if that’s not enough, our generous, recklessly loving God also promises to forgive, renew, and restore us at all times!

So, beloved children of GOD...those most precious in his sight, we are in that beloved relationship with the One who gives love and who is loved. We are loved more than we can ever imagine!  From the beginning of time- GOD loves us- we are called to the loving relationship –

Remember, Agapetos also means “to speak of the loving activity of GOD to be accomplished through the Son”!

Jesus showed us what the loving activity of GOD looks like- he taught us how to forgive, how to pray, how to love our neighbor…GOD tells us we are precious to him, (notice he doesn’t say “perfect in his sight”), we are honored, and  best of all, he says without holding back, without requiring anything from us, with reckless abandon,  I.LOVE.YOU.”- All of His children are His Beloved.

So, here’s the thing:

In our case, (as beloved of children of God)God’s loving activity must be accomplished through us. That’s right. Not someone else. US.

So those doors to the world outside are going to open up wide in a few minutes, and we will be commissioned:

Commissioned to GO! Go! BELOVED CHILDREN OF GOD to BE LOVE out there and serve the LORD.

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Give It UP

Sermon St. Dunstan’s February 10, 2019

Prophets were not popular people, they weren’t known for being sensitive to our feelings or their negotiating skills when it came to God’s word.                                        They never achieved celebrity status and were not welcomed, especially in the kings’ courts…they didn’t use “politically correct language”- and were avoided OR CHASED OFF more than welcomed by most folks when they arrived on the scene.

They repeatedly reminded and rebuked, cajoled and shouted- using words with power and imagination-words so badly needed by us to stay alert and aware of what really counts in life- to live faithful and obedient lives before God.

In fact, in all the social circles the prophets found themselves in, God, if considered at all, was refashioned to fit their (and our) convenience– smaller and smaller… downsized to human proportions-contained in a space- easy to handle… SAFE.

But God the Holy Spirit, kept raising up prophets in the most unlikely places and circumstances, and sent them right smack-dab in the middle of those social circles to deliver God’s commands and promises –and God’s larger -than- life Presence to them…  In today’s scripture, we join Isaiah early in his life,…he was probably 18 – smart, wellborn and well connected with the King’s court, he was well on his way to becoming a landowner or politician and then, The Holy One of Israel, God himself shows up.

What Isaiah experiences causes him to put aside his worldly, secular-life-expectations and step into the immense, astounding reality— that is GOD…to plunge into the mystery, the unexplainable, the uncontrollable, the staggering life of GOD- no questions asked- simply,
Here am I, send me”.

Let’s take a little closer look at this passage in the beginning-

The first thing that happens to Isaiah when he is confronted by the hugeness, the astounding immensity of God’s presence, he sees himself as small, as living his life-outside of GOD’s life…-surrounded by people outside of GOD’S presence-

We could suspect Isaiah, the young mover and shaker of wealth and prosperity– well connected to those in the “know” of Jerusalem- realized God wasn’t what Isaiah had imagined…GOD couldn’t possibly be contained in the temple- when just the hem of his robe filled it and then some!

By the sheer immensity of what he sees, he realizes GOD refuses to be re-fashioned into a controllable, safe, predictable God of Isaiah’s convenience. Because he immediately cries out, “Woe is me! I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips!!”

And what happens? God sends the seraphs to purge his lips of sin. GOD immediately redeems Isaiah. Because GOD is good (remember not safe- but good) and loves Isaiah and all of his people- that’s why he wants to send Isaiah to his people – to bring them GOD’s love and salvation-

This encounter changes Isaiah forever. He leaves his worldly life without looking back- without regard to what he is losing (according to the world’s assumptions) – and is obedient to GOD.

And Paul, in his letter to his church in Corinth is describing, (in the background), how his shocking encounter with Christ- at a time in his life, you may recall, he was also a mover and shaker– on the fast track in the circles of the religious elite of Jerusalem...brilliant, well-schooled, well born, righteous in the Law- he was destined to soar high and far in the circles of power he moved in. He had GOD figured out-he had his list of dos and don’ts – what he needed to do, to keep on the right side of the Laws- to keep his power and the powers of his superiors intact- until, one day, he was stopped dead in his tracks by the blinding power and voice of Christ. The immensity of GOD-

And much like Isaiah, Paul came to the realization of how far he was from GOD- how he was a man with unclean lips. How GOD, the GOD he’d spent his lifetime containing in the temple, boxed in by laws and rituals- wasn’t containable OR controllable at all-   

It took him 3 days of inward purging and searching of himself- he was blinded by the world –                                                                                                                                         And then, Christ redeemed him too and Paul could see the loving presence, the immeasurable, uncontainable, unconditional love of GOD.                                        At once, he put down forever his old life, and followed Jesus Christ in obedience. Teaching and preaching the Good News to everyone he came into contact with- bringing the love and salvation message to anyone who would listen.  Possibly, the greatest conversion story of all time.                                                                     And Peter-  When Jesus asks him to use his boat, and to be rowed out a little way from the shore so he could continue to teach the crowds, Peter, dead tired from fishing all night, obeyed.    After Jesus finished teaching, he told Peter to put his nets down in the deep water. Peter, knowing they hadn’t caught anything all night in the same spot, humors Jesus and rows out farther, throws the nets out.

We know what happened- there were so many fish, even when Peter called for backup, both boats almost sank under the weight of so many fish…Peter sees the limitless power of GOD, he sees the Messiah he’s been waiting for is right there in front of him – and is so much more than he could imagine.  Peter, just like Isaiah and Paul, falls down before GOD, and admits to being a man “of unclean lips” before GOD- a sinner. And once again, GOD redeems and loves Peter– gives him a new identity to be something bigger and larger than anything he’d ever imagined: catching people up in the unimaginable and life-changing grace of God.                  Once on shore, Peter and crew left everything behind, including their old life, and obediently followed Jesus.  Never looking back.

So dear friends, do you see a pattern here? It wasn’t all that much different thousands of years ago as it is now-we go about our lives, entrenched in the world’s way of separating things and people in our lives into secular and sacred

The secular is everything in the world that we (CONVENIENTLY)  are in charge of-

Everything else: worship, Scripture, heaven and hell, church and prayers -we assign GOD to be in charge- Sacred.  Fitting GOD into our lives, or commonly called, “making room for GOD.”

In the Scriptures today, we saw through the eyes of Isaiah, Paul and Peter how GOD is far too large to fit into our lives.  It is impossible to contain GOD in ANY SPACE, much less a small portion of our lives.

If we want anything to do with GOD, WE have TO FIT into GOD’S LIFE.  We have to give up our smallness, our perceived control over every facet of our life…instead of insisting on control, insist on receiving GOD into every corner and cranny of our lives.

That’s what the prophets do for us…they help us to first recognize and then enter the new life GOD has for us…they set us on our feet in wonder and obedience and worship-IF WE’LL GIVE IT UP.

They give us the courage to say without hesitation, Here am I LORD. Send me.

 

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“Why are you afraid?”

Why Are You Afraid?

St. Dunstan’s 6.24.18

Lectionary: 1Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49

Psalm 9:9-20, Mark 4:35-41

So, last Tuesday, I sat down at our usual Staff meeting, and as some of you may know, we always have a devotional time before launching into the agenda and calendar items for the week.

We each take turns leading the devotional; this last week it was Fr. Kent’s turn, and he started the devotional with a question, “What would your life look like without Christ in it?”

Then, having dropped that crushing, gut-wrenching question on us, he sat back, smiled and looked around expectantly at each of us as we tried to imagine what it would feel like.

Well, at least for me, it was crushing and gut-wrenching.  Mainly because I didn’t have to imagine what it was like.

I knew what it was like.

Because that question swooped me up and took me right back to a time in my life when I was filled with fear, my life was spinning out of control, I felt lost and in a very dark place.

So, of course, I was the first one to blurt out, “My life would be full of chaos, fear and a very dark place…without joy.”

I thought I had no one to turn to and I didn’t have any idea how to fix it…because, you see, I thought I was all alone in facing this giant

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I was a Christian, I went to church, I prayed, I taught Sunday School, I listened to the scriptures, I loved Jesus, I went to Bible study, but… I was still afraid.

I wasn’t willing to trust God …enough.

Deep down, I didn’t believe I was someone God would find worthy to save.  My life was such a mess, I couldn’t see through the fear to see the miracles Christ was doing in my life…HAD been doing all through my stormy life.

As I was studying the Gospel this week, preparing this sermon…(and I DID have a nicely organized, three point sermon prepared) – a good study on Mark, miracles, because the miracles are hard to ignore in Mark…and certainly the miracle in this passage -Jesus, telling the storm to cease and be calm was so spectacular, it even leaves the Disciples astounded, “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him???”

So, I finish off a rough draft of this neat, tidy sermon, turn off the computer, and walk away thinking, “ok, I’m in good shape for Sunday.  I’ll go back tomorrow and tighten it up and polish it up a bit, but I’m good.”

Except I wasn’t. Even as I walked away, I knew there was something gnawing at me …and as I tried to sleep that night, Jesus’ words to his disciples after he calmed the storm –seemed like they were being shouted at me

“Why are you afraid?   Have you still no faith??”

Why were the disciples so afraid…they’d witnessed miracle after miracle even before getting on that boat with Jesus… and what better Gospeler than Mark to write about all the miracles Jesus did throughout his time in ministry…?

Because Mark’s Gospel is known as the “Miracle Gospel”.  (This is mainly because the amount of narrative he devotes to miraculous events in proportion to the entire Gospel is the highest among the Canonical Gospels).

In the first chapter of Mark, right after Jesus called his disciples to follow him, they went into a synagogue in Capernaum where he taught, and a man “with an unclean spirit” came in, and the disciples witnessed their first miracle, as Jesus drove out the unclean spirit from the man.

When they left the synagogue, they went to the house of Simon and Andrew, and Simon told Jesus about his mother-in-law who was bedridden with a fever and very sick, and they again witnessed a healing miracle, as Jesus reached out his hand to the sick woman, and she got up, well and full of energy, apparently, because she immediately began to serve them!

It was quite a day for the disciples, and it wasn’t over yet!  Somehow, word of Jesus’ miraculous healings of body and spirit spread…and at sunset, a crowd began to form with all who were sick or possessed with demons!  Mark says the WHOLE CITY was gathered around the door!

The next day, Jesus went to neighboring towns, and their synagogues —casting out more demons – and a man with Leprosy asks for Jesus to help him…and right before the disciples’ eyes, the man is cured of leprosy!

A few days later, they went back to Capernaum, and again the crowds filled the house where Jesus was teaching, it was so full of people, that four men were trying to bring their paralyzed friend into Jesus (on a mat), and couldn’t get in.

You probably remember the story, they went up to the roof, opened up a hole in the roof and lowered him down right in front of Jesus! They were determined!

And Mark writes, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven…” (and later)” I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home!”

The disciples are right there, WITH Jesus, and they see him healing, driving out “unclean spirits”, curing lepers, people who are crippled all their life get up and walk, people who are deathly sick, take his hand and they get up from their sick bed and are restored to health…!

So, when we hear or read about the disciples just NOT GETTING IT about Jesus, most of us shake our heads, and think, “How can the disciples be so dumb?

I mean, they had Jesus right there with them for all that time, and they still don’t get it??

We think, “I’m sure I would!”

Would we?   

DO we?

“Why are you afraid?  Have you still no FAITH?”

Hmmm…there’s that word “FAITH” again…

What did Mark actually mean by the word, FAITH in his Gospel?

Mark uses faith in relation to Jesus’ miracles.

Jesus notices the faith of the sufferers in 5 of his miracles in Mark and tells them it is because of their faith they are healed.

Mark sees faith as trust in the power of Jesus to meet physical need or spiritual deliverance… Basically, the trust in the power of God to sustain and protect us.

But I think we have to look further, it’s a little more than this…

If you remember, Jesus himself tells his disciples in Matthew, when they are complaining that they aren’t able to drive out unclean spirits like Jesus told them they would be able to…he says,

“[it’s]Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and [nothing] nothing will be impossible for you.”

Jesus is teaching them that the key in exercising such faith ISnot it’s quantity, (how little or how much faith we have) BUT the GOD TO WHOM our faith IS DIRECTED.

THE TRUST IN THE POWER OF GOD TO SUSTAIN US AND PROTECT US.

That POWER of GOD.

Let that sink in a bit.

Absolute trust and total and complete faith in the power of GOD.

Could it be that the disciples didn’t recognize the REAL miracle on the boat that night?

The miracle, curled up on a cushion, asleep; The Almighty Power and infinite LOVE of GOD, if we just have a little faith?

After that dark, joyless, fearful time in my life, I began (little by little) to trust Christ…I began to realize God loves me!

He loves me just the way I am at that moment! Even during those times when I am so afraid.

I was learning it’s always infinitely better, (with outcomes that I would’ve never imagined) when I remember to faithfully trust Christ in his power to protect me and sustain me in all things.  

About 15 years later, another Goliath stood before me.  This one; tall and seemingly very strong, gearing up for battle with ammunition filled with heartache and loss.

I found myself, (all 5’2” of me) standing on the battle ground before this Goliath; calmly and fearlessly relying on my super power: the REAL miracle of the POWER of God to protect me and sustain me …confidently knowing the peace and the light of Christ, the JOY of his love would fill my heart through this battle and all those to come.

Bring it, Goliath.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Mysterious ONE

Sermon Trinity Sunday 5.27.18

St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church

Propers: Isaiah 6:1-8, Canticle 13, (or Psalm 29) Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17

I have always loved reading…my mother did too, some of the fondest memories I have as a child is my mom reading stories to me as a toddler…and how she so wanted me to learn how to read so that I would could have that mysterious experience of wonder -exploding in my own imagination …opening up worlds of adventure, mystery and knowledge all from black and white words on a page.  So much so, that she patiently taught me how to read by the time I was 4 years old. Now I wasn’t reading War and Peace at that time…! And that instilled love of reading my mother gave me is with me to this day.

When I look back now, I remember the books I enjoyed the most were books that made me curious…wondering and reading to find out:  Why? How? And What?

I think I read every Nancy Drew novel there was … Mysteries were and still are my favorite genre

I’ve come to realize mysteries are everywhere… not just found in books, but also in history, science…geography… (Think about the wonders of the world), even math!

Mysteries in the wonders of the human body, … the human brain and psyche… in God’s beloved creation- the mystery of God’s presence in EVERYTHING.

Most of us are captured by the exploration of the mysteries-we search out the wonder, the “clues” the “evidence” to find the answers to the Why? How and What…

And, maybe that’s why Theologians have been trying to understand, define and explain the Mysterious Holy Trinity for almost 2,000 years. PAUSE

Theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, says “Praise of the Holy One of Israel made Israel a people.  That is why the Psalms are the heart of Israel’s life.  Israel did not begin with an idea of God, what we might identify today as monotheism, but rather she learned to worship the One who alone is worthy of worship… “[1]

Theologians, Jewish and Christian, came to recognize that through ancient Israel’s praise and worship of the Holy One, they discovered a firm line had to be drawn between God and creatures (those created).  This later came to be known in Theological circles as “the distinction”.  Or, as many of us are familiar with: “God is God and we are NOT.”  Now I’m going to put you to work here for a moment…Please open your BCP to page 620– this is Psalm 29-(Also in the appointed in today’s Lectionary readings)

In this Psalm, the distinction is clearly stated…let’s read together, verses 1 & 2:

Psalm 29:

Ascribe to the Lord, you gods,*

     Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his Name;*

     Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

What distinction means is no matter how high, lofty, high-ranking, and glorious any creature may seem – (including the gods in verse 1,) all creatures will never be worthy of worship. ONLY the HOLY ONE is.

Ascribe and Worship are key words …we often skim over them as we read or recite the Psalms- Ascribe means in modern terms, to give credit and acknowledgement.  In this Psalm, it means to give credit and acknowledgement to God for the Glory and Strength and Beauty he already possesses; Worship is literally the bowing down, making yourself as lowly as you can, before the Most High.

And that is what Isaiah sees in today’s reading, …he sees the Glory of God, with just his hem filling the whole temple…and the Seraphs were calling to each other, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of HOSTS; the whole earth is full of his GLORY…”

Their voices of praise and worship make the thresholds in the temple shake…

And Isaiah sees the beauty of the Glory of God illuminating all of creation…

We, as Christians, have learned from Israel’s praise and worship of The Holy One the “distinction” of God and Creation…and that is at the center of what we do when we worship God, praise and worship Jesus.

But, in the words of Nicodemus today, “How can that be?”

How can we worship God and his creation AND Jesus, who for our sake became a creature…How can we worship like that and honor “the distinction”?

It’s the mystery we call the Holy Trinity.

And, to be a mystery, it can’t be an explanation,

It isn’t an explanation of how one god can be three…Trinity is not a further explanation of a prior idea of god, an idea we call “monotheism” … for this makes God a thing, instead of the One Isaiah and the Psalmists praise as the Holy One of Israel.

And like Israel, we worship not with an abstract idea of god, we worship as: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of his glory.”

Hauerwas writes, “That is why, the heart of our confession that God is Triune is the church’s insistence that the God we worship, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is Israel’s GOD…like Israel, we have learned we cannot know who God is in himself…the whole earth is full of the glory of God…and that glory found its decisive home in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

Only God is able to make his home among us while remaining God. That is what Trinity names.”

[2]The Holy Spirit directs us and draws us into the life of Christ, the LIFE of the One “who has come” to reveal to us the beauty of his holiness…

Trinity names for us over and over again, the love God has for all of his creation, how he is unrelenting in pursuing us in relationship with him.  He never abandons us.  He wants us to join in his glory manifested in creation.

And it is through Love, that He is with us and for us!

Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are incorporated into the Triune Love; The Father’s love who redeems through the Son and Spirit, the Son’s love for the Father and the Father’s love of the Son…

1600 years ago, St. Augustine, after writing over 800 pages on the Trinity searching for clues, observed: “We are now eager to see whether that most excellent love is proper to the Holy Spirit, and, whether the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Trinity itself is love, since we cannot contradict the most certain faith and the most weighty authority of Scripture which says: ‘God is love’…, therefore one must ask if love itself is triune”.[3]

Augustine found the answer to his question to be YES!, He said the Triune consists of “three: the lover, the beloved, and the love.”[80][81][4]

We are pulled into that mysterious Triune God, the One who is LOVE…

My prayer is as we continue our worship now, the words that reach our ears will not come as simply words spoken, black and white letter read off of a page, but will come to our ears and hearts as Triune LOVE …as we, through our worship, (from today’s collect) “acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty worship in Unity” …

We will soon hear these words “… we offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to you O LORD of all; presenting to you, from your creation…we pray you gracious GOD, to send your Holy Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Sacrament of the Body of Christ and his Blood of the new Covenant.  Unite us to your Son in his sacrifice, that we may be acceptable through him, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit…

By him, and with him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, now and forever”.

And as the Eternal, Triune Love draws us into union with itself, let us be content in being a part of the Eternal Mystery of the Trinity.

AMEN

[1] Hauerwas, Stanley.  The Cross Shattered Church. Pgs. 53-59

[2] Hauerwas, Stanley. The Cross-Shattered Church. Pg. 56-57

[3] Wikipedia. Article Perichoresis; Trinity and Love, quote from Augustine of Hippo, De trinitate 399-419.

[4] Wikipedia. The Holy Trinity; Trinity and Love.

 

 

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Sanctuary

It’s Wednesday night, at the courtyard at the Episcopal Church Center in Ocean Beach…

The time for the Eucharistic service was fast approaching, 5:30…and we were scurrying to set up the altar, the chairs , distribute bulletins and invitations,  find volunteer readers in “the congregation” …

The congregation of The Right Here, Right Now Church…the congregation of people gathered outside the locked courtyard gates ….waiting to see someone in the clinic, waiting to get in line for the Wednesday night supper, waiting to pick through some clothes and shoes offered on a table in the courtyard…And some, when invited, were waiting for the services to begin.

Some were waiting just to have a place to sit down other than the street…waiting to lay down, other than in a doorway or alley, or behind bushes hidden from those wishing they weren’t in front of their businesses or homes. Because then, they were fully visible: the homeless, hungry, sick, the exhausted; exhausted from keeping always on the move. Because then, when fully visible, those businesses owners and home owners had to deal with their own sense of shame, their own selfishness.

This particular Wednesday evening was lighter than usual…a few remarked, “It’s been lighter these last few Wednesdays for the dinner too.” It’s now against the law to sleep on the street, or doorways.  Now, tickets are issued, to those found sleeping in public places, people are “moved along”, their belongings thrown away. Some say that’s why. Others say there are other places to go on Wednesday night.

This particular Wednesday evening, after the gates were finally opened,and our service began,  a small, slow-moving woman came in and laid on the bench closest to the gate.  She covered herself up to her chin with a worn blanket, and was shivering, as if from a fever.  We came by and offered her communion…but she wasn’t able to take it…she thanked us for offering…but she seemed almost too weak to lift her head.

Later I saw the priest who officiated at the service anoint her, pray with her, and gently pull the blanket up to her shoulders, bringing a small amount of comfort to her.

And it occurred to me; we are embroiled in heated rhetoric, spending money, time and energy over securing sanctuary cities for the undocumented immigrants coming into our country; and with those same voices, with the same money, using their energies to keep our homeless, poor and sick on the streets away, dislodged, and without sanctuary- except at places like the ECC; and even then, the gate is locked until WE are ready to let them in.

Prayer 35 in Book of Common Prayer: ” Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick and all who have none to care for them.  Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy.”

Can we be strong enough to say, “Here we are LORD; at your service. Send us to care for them…to heal their brokenness, with your love and comfort”?

Maybe the first step is to pray, “Unlock the gates of our hearts LORD. Help us to offer them sanctuary there, where your healing love and light resides”.  Amen.

 

 

 

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Three Sad Words

Easter 3 Sermon

“We had hoped.” Perhaps the three saddest words in the Gospels- and our own lives.

“We had hoped…”

When the stranger on the road asked them what they were talking about, they stopped still on the road, and with downcast faces, looked at each other with eyes full of grief, knowing and remembering and recounting what happened…

“We had hoped…”

For the last three years of Jesus’ ministry, despite what Jesus told them, they had hoped he was the messiah, the one, at last, to redeem Israel, overthrow their oppressors and sit on the throne of David, restoring Israel to glory.

But, instead of a warrior, they received a servant

Instead of a judge, they witnessed a loving healer of sinners

Instead of defeating the oppressive Roman rule he taught forgiveness and love for their enemies

Instead of a king, they saw him crucified as a criminal

Crucified on a cross, the symbol of Rome around the world to anyone who would dare to defy their domination and oppression: a sign that “this will be your painful, brutal fate if you dare cross the line”.

A feared and hated symbol.

Christ dying on the cross broadcasted a message to everyone following Jesus; “We crucified him, put him to death, there would be no “kingdom come”. Your Jesus is no king, no messiah and never was”.

They had hoped “he was the one to redeem Israel…” Yet when Jesus was crucified, every single disciple knew what it meant; they thought, “We had put our hopes in Jesus. ‘We saw him as a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people’ … but he was crucified. We got it all wrong, he wasn’t the One. We “backed the wrong horse”[1], they confessed to the stranger.  All their expectations were demolished…their hope in those expectations died with Jesus on the cross.

They had seen him dead and wouldn’t even believe the women of their community when they insisted he was alive and they’d seen him the very morning they had started to walk to Emmaus.  This, to them was their new reality. They expected a very different outcome.

Their expectations blinded them. Expectations of their own personal and political redemption. Expectations SO much smaller than what GOD intends. They totally misunderstood how God was working to save the world.

Their eyes were so blinded by their own personal expectations they didn’t see the risen Christ, in the flesh, on the same dusty road to Emmaus, walking beside them.

Then Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, himself, as Luke tells us, begins to tell the entire story of God and Israel, and God and the WORLD in a new way to the disciples; in the glowing light of his resurrection.

The story re-told in the light of Christ’s resurrection…brought awareness of God’s presence and God’s all-encompassing, unsurpassable love for the world…From Genesis -right down to those two on that dusty road.  

Then they asked him to stay with them, have dinner with them at a stop in Emmaus. 

“He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him…” They see!

They see God’s grace freely given …faith restored. They were blind, now they see! “

Their personal expectations could no longer match what God had done. Instead of their hope being confined by their expectations, hope soared to the heavens. This new reality was more than they expected. Much more.

——————

Hope restored. Hope not just for those two disciples on their way to Emmaus…but for the world. For US.

Most of us have been on that dusty road to Emmaus at one time or another…walking slowly, with downcast faces. Our hopes crushed, our fears paralyzing us, our hearts broken.  There are some here today who are walking on that road…

“We had hoped she would recover,” “We had hoped to save our marriage”, “We had hoped the cancer was in remission,” “We had hoped …”

We are disappointed because we don’t see God doing what we expect him to do. We feel lost and without the presence of God near.

We might feel like those two disciples, and say, “How could you let that happen, GOD?!”

But remember what Jesus does first in his walk alongside the two disciples? He asks questions…he asks them to tell him what is making them so sad, and then he listens.

Jesus knows their pain and grief are real…But he invites them to “name” their pain and grief so it would be possible to move beyond it on the road; to create room in their hearts for God’s grace, (“were not our hearts burning?”) room for them to believe God would show up in their lives – just where they least expected it. [2]

Some of us only need seven miles on that dusty road to find Jesus walking beside us, others may feel like it’s 70 or 700. Some never get to Emmaus. It takes time to move from despair, doubt, grief and fear to faith, hope, and love-

I believe this congregation is willing and ready (as some already have) to travel on that road to Emmaus with those of us who are feeling crushed, paralyzed and broken by events in our lives …events in our lives we don’t understand…events that leave us longing for a different outcome…events our own small expectation of GOD just didn’t live up to.

We can take a cue from our Lord Jesus…We can walk alongside those who are walking on that road with downcast faces, and ask them to name what is troubling them, ask them to “confess” all the difficult elements in their lives out loud; instead of keeping them all bottled up inside…and help them allow God’s grace, forgiveness and acceptance make a space in their lives for a new reality; A reality filled with joy for God’s amazing grace and love.

We can take that journey together from the cross to empty grave and from death to life. We can turn each other’s disappointment into joy. We can help open eyes to the Risen Savior walking next to us…

Throwing our own small, limited expectations of God aside, knowing God will exceed our expectations and surprise us with his love… and be willing to trust God and each other with our hearts.

I’d like to end with a quote from William Gurnall, author and clergyman in the 17th century:

“Hope fills the afflicted soul with such joy and consolation that it can laugh while tears are in the eye, sigh and sing all in a breath”

Open your hearts to Joy. Open your hearts to Grace. Open your hearts to God’s incredible Love. All these are right next to you on the road to Emmaus.

 

 

 

[1] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Joy pg. 40-41

[2] David Lose, In the Meantime

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