Sunday, July 27

The Kingdom of God is Hidden: Sermon For the 17th Sunday Ordinary Time:

Have you understood?  The disciples are quite confident, in their understanding.  Yet, oddly the parables Jesus tells here are in part about the inability to fully comprehend and grasp the Kingdom of God.  By contrast, Solomon as he is about to take the throne of the Kingdom of Israel, sees he lacks understanding and is in need of God’s wisdom.  Solomon, doesn’t simply seek conventional wisdom but an understanding that comes from God.  The parables Jesus tells speak of the wisdom of the Kingdom of God as like those things we can’t see and may not predict.  The kingdom of God is this great risk this gamble to obtain what is hidden but invaluable.

Part of the argument for the baptism of infants and those who have yet to gain the ability to assent to the faith as outlined in the Creed and to the story of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, is that God’s wisdom and the kingdom of God our beyond everyone’s comprehension and ability to grasp. 

Our passage in Romans is a difficult passage to comprehend.  On one hand it almost seems to say that nothing bad will happen to believers, or that apparently bad things aren’t really bad in the grand scheme of things.  But if this is what Paul is saying then what of this encouragement that whatever befalls us it can’t mean that we are beyond the care and the protection of God, beyond God’s love.

There is a mystery here,  the Spirit intercedes along with Christ on our behalf yet this doesn’t prevent calamity, or health problems, or being mistreated etc.  Yet, we can be assured that it will all work together for good and God’s purposes. 

What is going on here is perspective. The perspective we are called to is to see from the hidden works of God in our midst.  We are to see God’s real at work in our world like the yeast,  like the hidden treasure, a treasure and store house that has both what is old and new at the same time.

Paul is speaking form the point of view of the crucified and risen Christ who is Jesus of Nazareth and the Son the Word of God.

What is being worked out is the slow and hidden transformation of the world, what is according  To God’s purposes and what is good for us is this unknown, incomprehensible work of God in the world.  God’s action in the world works like yeast and seeds and plants, and is like a treasure hidden whose value is unknown until one attains it and finds it is beyond price and value.  It is the hidden love of God, not our life circumstances from which we are to see the world.

It is different  wisdom than conventional wisdom, we must be schooled in this wisdom, and so schooled when we become masters and Ph.D’s, so to speak, in this hidden wisdom of God, we become like someone who has a treasury of what is both old and new.  We are to see things for their true value, not based on circumstance whether it is old or new. 

The world tells us that our circumstances are the most important thing, that our wealth, our prestige, our health tell us who we are.  Paul and Christ says that true value, even the true value of God’s work in the world, the Kingdom of heaven remains hidden, unbidden often unnoticed and unappreciated, yet it is what makes the world livable.  We are to see ourselves from this hidden perspective that isn't dictated by circumstance of false values.  So that we can say with confidence that we are Christ’s and held in the palm of God’s hand.  God works silently, under the surface free of the tyranny of circumstance and daily cares.

The point of all this is not to leave the world as it is, but to transform it like yeast transforms dough, like a seed planted that becomes a tree exponentially larger than it’s seed.  It’s not that what happens to us doesn’t matter, but that what can be found underneath the surface is so much more astounding and beyond imagination that there is no comparison, and God isn't thwarted by circumstance, the Resurrection of Christ shows that, the incarnation shows that.  God has you, God loves you, God is at work in you and the world, nothing not the worst calamity not the hugest success will change this reality.  We are called to rest and live in that matrix, the mystery of the unknown hidden beyond value workings of God in the world.  We are called to enter into this astounding risk, to risk it all to get what lies hidden beneath the surface.

Sunday, July 20

Our Next Worship Serice will be Sunday July 27th

On Sunday July 27th we will worship at the New Digs, the apartment of the Community of the Holy Trinity 5 pm.
The service of worship will be a Vespers with Eucharist, and there will be a baptism.

Sunday, July 6

Next Worship Service Sunday July 13

No worship today.
We have begun our new pattern of meeting every other Sunday.
We next meet Sunday July 13th.
Visit our Facebook Event page for details and location.
We are no longer worshiping at Immanuel Lutheran Church.

Sunday, June 8

As the Spirit Chooses: Sermon for Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21 - Psalm 104:24-34, 35b - 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 - John 7:37-39

Today we celebrate the birth of the Church, the day the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and disciples gathered in the upper room, with manifestations of sound, and fire, and various languages spoken.
It is a common practice, and in years past we have done this here at Reconciler, for the gospel or the acts passage to be read in different Languages.  This highlights one aspect of the meaning of Pentecost, that what God was doing in Jesus Christ was something for all, that in God becoming a Jew, God was coming near to all humanity, and God wished to meet us in our linguistic and cultural diversity.  Each heard the Good news of God’s wonderful works in their own language.  The universal aspect of this day. 

What I wish to focus on today is the meaning and nature of the Spirit being in us and empowering us, for the purpose of manifesting and witnessing to what God began and continues to do in Jesus Christ, that is to focus on how the Holy Spirit is needed for us to be the Body of Christ. 

The Spirit descends and gives utterance.  The Holy Spirit when it descended made possible what was otherwise possible that the disciples of Jesus spoke in languages they didn’t know so that people could hear from God in a way familiar to them.

The holy spirit came upon the firs disciples and birthed the Church through making possible something the disciples on their own couldn't have done.

There was a trend for a while in in some congregations and promoted by denominational leadership for members of congregations to undergo a Spiritual gift assessment.  These assessments where supposed to tell one what was the gift of the Spirit, or “spiritual gift” one had.  Those who promoted this appealed to this passage in Corinthians.  I think the intentions of these assessments were in the right place.  As Christians this aspect of the Christian life is often underdeveloped, the Holy Spirit and having an awareness of the power of the Spirit in one’s daily life or interaction with other Christians and in worship has been often lacking.
However, my recollection is that these assessments weren’t much different from a personality test.  That is what they evaluated wasn’t something Spiritual meaning of the holy Spirit, but matching up one’s personality with the various list of Gifts of the Holy Spirit listed in various places in Paul’s writing.

The idea was that one’s gift from the Spirit would fit with who you were, it wasn't something one needed to drum up, and it wouldn't contradict your own inner inclinations and abilities. 

Yet, this view doesn’t quite agree with what we find in the Acts account of the day of Pentecost, the point the being that filled with the Spirit and given the gift of speaking other languages was something Galilean Jews would have had no ability or inclination to begin speaking in all these (to them) foreign languages.  Also, in our Corinthian’s passage Paul’s emphasis isn’t on some heightening of the native abilities of the Christian, but Paul’s emphasis is on the will and action of the Holy Spirit.  The point is that what one is given one is base on the will and empowerment of the Holy Spirit and not on inclination or native ability.

The only indication of some consideration of the person is that the spirit gives to each individually. There is a specificity in the gifting but its relation or non-relation to native abilities isn’t in view, rather what we are lead to understand both in terms of Acts and Corinthians is that the gift we receive from the holy Spirit don’t come from us or our will or desire but from the will and desire of the Spirit. So, if one is wondering what gifting from the Holy Spirit is, you will be looking for that which comes beyond yourself.

But that isn’t all.  Paul is also using the idea of spiritual gifts to speak of unity and diversity of the Church the Body of Christ.  In this sense a Spiritual Gift is that which binds you to other members of the Body of Christ.  Spiritual giftedness is the means of the unity in diversity of the Church.  The gift you have from the Spirit is that which you serve and which binds you to other members of the body of Christ.  Your giftedness is part of your being brought into the body of Christ through Baptism.

This was the good thing about those assessments they  sought to get people to think of their connection and service to the Body of Christ, and its local manifestation in their local congregation.

Yet also, this giftedness is about giving witness to what God inaugurated in Jesus Christ.  Or to put it another way The spirit and the gifts from the Spirit empower us and bind us together as the body of Christ. This spiritual reality of the Body of Christ is also the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

The gift s of the spirit allow us to function as the Body of Christ, a unity like all biological bodies that is also a diversity.  It is this Spiritual unity in diversity of the gifts that shows the world what the age to come will be like. 

What gift have you received from the Spirit? What do you find in the presence of other members of the Body of Christ, which binds you to them and also serves other members of the Body in a way that is both unique to you and gives life to you, other members of the Body and the world?

If you are sitting with this and fearful that maybe you’ve missed out or that you are spiritual enough. Don’t worry.  Rest in that you have the Holy Spirit. Ask God and the Spirit to reveal to you this gift that you have been given.  Wait on God, be still. You don’t drum it up, and be prepared for the unexpected.  This is from the Holy Spirit, the gift will be something that is both you and yet beyond yourself and which takes you beyond who you think you are.  Be open to whatever the Spirit will bring you, be open to the movement of the Spirit that is like the wind that you know through its effects in you but don’t know where it is coming from or where it is going. Wait upon God and see where in your desires and in your hear flows life that doesn’t come from you but gives you life and enlivens those around you.  The spirit has come, it rest upon each us, maybe not in visible flame, but the Spirit through Baptism has rested upon each of us, and the Spirit has given you a gift that isn’t for you alone for you but for the Body of Christ and so from each of us may flow a stream of living water for the life of the world. Amen

Wednesday, May 7

Third Sunday of Easter: Finding our way in the Liturgy

We are in the season of Easter; in celebration we enter this mystery:  Christ is risen from the Dead, and death has no more dominion over us.  How can this be?  What does this mean?  We like Cleopas and his companion may still have some questions, we’ve heard the witnesses, but the claims being made about Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Christ, and the Resurrection don’t add up. We know death is still a reality; people we love are those among the dead to whom Christ is supposed to have brought life. Death, suffering, and injustice (the Cross) loom large, and we perhaps can’t quite escape the despair.  Distant and near there are instances of suffering, oppression, and injustice before which we remain powerless. 
The mystery is unfolded for us in the scriptures and Gospel stories we hear in the season of Easter. In Lent we heard stories that prepared us to receive again the way of the Cross.  In Easter we do the same as we view the mystery of our faith from the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Christ. 
Last week we were encouraged in our faith. We were encouraged that even though we aren’t among those who saw Jesus Christ risen bodily from the dead, with the wounds still in his hands, feet, and side, we are still counted with those who first saw Jesus of Nazareth alive again. We are somehow closer to Jesus Christ, than those who saw him, more blessed. 
In the story of Cleopas and his companion on the way to Emmaus we get a glimpse of why we are blessed, and how we are like Thomas. Two disciples not numbered among the Twelve Apostles but among those who followed Jesus and the Twelve], are discouraged. They are leaving Jerusalem, they are despondent not sure yet what to make of Jesus death, and the events that we celebrated from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday.  They are in grief and shock.  As is common among the stories of Jesus’ appearances after the resurrection, they don’t initially recognize him.  And when Jesus begins to ask them questions they think he must be the most clueless and unconnected person in Jerusalem.  How is it possible that this person could have been in Jerusalem and totally missed the commotion of the last week, the social media sites were a buzz about all these events in Jerusalem. 
Strangely Jesus doesn’t speak to the events by sharing shock and outrage over the mob mentality, nor puzzlement at the strange and empty tomb (that is he isn’t focused on the power of death, but speaks from Scriptures, the Torah and the Prophets.  This stranger begins to explain the spiritual and mystical meaning of these events from the religious texts.  The meaning of the events needs God’s revelation.  It is God’s revelation in the scriptures of the Torah and the Prophets that unfolds the meaning of the relationship between death, injustice, and the empty tomb. From God’s self-revelation we learn the meaning of Jesus of Nazareth and his suffering, death, and Resurrection.
Yet it isn’t simply in the Scriptures that we come to understand the mystery but in the hospitality of a shared meal. Jesus pretends to be journeying on but the two disciples insist he join them at supper.   Jesus of Nazareth joins them and as bread is blessed and broken to be given to them to eat by this stranger, this rabbi, tthey recognize him and in that moment Jesus departs from their sight.  Blessed are those who do not see but believe.  These two disciples return to the upper room where the Twelve Apostles and others are gathered to report that Jesus of Nazareth was revealed to them in the breaking of the bread, that is the Eucharist, holy communion, the Lords supper.  The mystery of faith is Christ in our midst as stranger, teacher, guest, and host. 
We enact each week this story of the way to Emmaus.  Each liturgy we celebrate is that journey. We walk it again and again.  We come from the world puzzled, with questions, overwhelmed by the power of death and injustice in our world, and God in Jesus Christ comes to us and walks with us, and says see here this is what underlies all this, this is the meaning of the incarnation, the suffering, the death, and the Resurrection.
Let’s begin again to contemplate this mystery hearing Peter’s sermon and Peter’s letter to those who have believed and been baptized, that is to us.
Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, can be misunderstood in many ways. Two of which I want to focus.  first misunderstanding is seeing the “repentance” Peter enjoins his hearers on that first Pentecost as being to repent from the actions that lead to Jesus’s crucifixion.  True they are cut to the heart by Peter’s revelation that the one crucified is Lord and Messiah.  However, what Peter’s sermon is seeking to elicit is a move from one reality to another.  The metanoia, the change of mind, that comes in repentance, is from identifying as those who subject to death inflict death, to those who identify with the one who underwent death for the sake of all. Repentance here is to go from a certain and clear identity, to a loss of identity, by being joined with Christ in baptism, to receive a gift, of the Holy Spirit and of life.  This giving up on identity saves from a corrupt or crooked generation.  But why?  Here is the second misunderstanding.  We can see this talk about a corrupt or crooked generation as a moralistic escape from what isn’t pure.  But that makes no sense for in becoming one with Christ we identify with the one who became accursed, who is by definition impure.  Purity, moralistic or ritualistic, has no place in this salvation.  In repentance and baptism we don’t become pure, we become inspired with life. To escape a corrupt generation is to escape a dead end, to be freed from a trap.  We remove ourselves from those following a meandering and crooked path, which has no destination.  Through repentance and Baptism we no longer meander to our deaths.
This understanding of being saved from a crooked generation fits with the words we hear in 1 Peter when it says that we have been ransomed from the futile ways of our ancestors.  The paths of humanity without Christ, lead us nowhere. Merely human reasoning and tradition aren’t so much immoral as without ultimate purpose.  That is they are incapable of lead to us into true life.
But we are perhaps left with an unsettling question; does Christianity lead us away from death? Have not Christians been dying from the time of Christ’s ascension and  the day Pentecost until now?  Think of St Stephen the first martyr.
Here we need to hear again the words of Jesus of the necessity of the suffering and death of the Messiah and , of Peter’s insistence on our identification in Baptism with that death, with this one who died.  By death Christ beat down death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life. If in this age we still see death, it is because the present generation and age of the cosmos is a futile, pointless, dead end.  Yet living in the tomb of this age when we pass through death with Christ, we are in the age that is to come, we are in the eighth day we have passed through death.
Like Christ we too still die, yet not in futility.  We no longer meander to death, but know the truth about death, that deaths dominion has no hold on life, because life entered death and brought life to us who are in the jaws of death.  Thus for us to die is to live.  This is the mystery of the way of the cross, not that this age and generation dominated by death will become the age to come, but that in the midst of a death dealing age and generation in Christ we have life and are saved from the futility of our death. We are no longer of this meandering generation, but are Christ, the first born of a new creation, the first fruits of that age to come. 
This is what we taste; this is what we have in this liturgy and in the breaking of the bread. Here we have life and banquette. Here we have God in our midst, life itself sustaining us in this age that is passing away.  Amen.

Monday, April 28

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter

“Put your finger here.” Could you do it? Could you put your finger in anyone’s wounds, much less in the wounds of your miraculously risen spiritual leader? 

I imagine this is an extreme example of “Be careful what you ask for.” Did Thomas regret saying "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe?" - Less for his lack of faith than for following through?

Thomas was courageous though; he was the apostle who said, “Let us also go to die with [Jesus].” Now a strict reading of this passage only tells us that Jesus told him to put his fingers in the wound, it does not explicitly state that Thomas did. The less squeamish among us may want to imagine that Thomas fell to his knees and confessed his faith in response to what Jesus said without actually touching the wounds. 

Why would this reading be preferable? For the same reasons we don’t want to think of Jesus Christ burping or farting or defecating. We want God to be exempt from all the things we hide ourselves away to do. The beauty of the incarnation is that we are saying God is gross, when we are grossed out by the realities of being an animal.

So I prefer to read the passage as messy. Not zombie messy, Peter reminds us “nor did his flesh experience corruption.” Jesus didn’t smell like Lazarus. Neither was Jesus’ resurrected body as stubbornly solid as our flesh, he entered locked rooms we are told. 

None the less, for fingers to be put in them, the wounds still had to be open. They weren’t closed up. They might have still been bleeding even, like some of those with the stigmata. I’m sure you all have heard of St. Francis, but are you aware he had the stigmata? Stigmata is the phenomenon found in pious individuals, mostly women, of manifesting the wounds of Christ on their bodies. 

As strange as it is to say this, I personally find this appealing. And for those who know me, I should say not in the way I find Horror movies appealing. Not Mel Gibson’s passion took this to horror movie extremes, which did not work in my opinion, and that isn’t what I’m talking about.

I need a broken bloody body on my cross. Much of my personal piety is rooted in the crucifixion. Because I need a God who knows what suffering is; who is in solidarity with our suffering. Who isn’t stoically enduring suffering because I’ve been a bad girl, but is telling me that he will bear my suffering with me.  

It’s that stoic Jesus that I often hear in the Aesop’s Fable style lesson that concludes this story. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." Yes this was written for the followers of Jesus who never saw him in the flesh; perhaps even unintended for those who had seen him in a vision. 

It’s almost saying the visionaries are the obstinate ones. Those addressed in Peter’s letter manage to love Jesus without ever having seen him. When God sends visions, is he saying, “Do I have to hit you over the head with this?” Or more precisely, do I have to put your finger in my wounds? 

And yet, Thomas is the first to confess Jesus as his personal God. What does it even mean when one’s personal God has open wounds?

The second person of the Trinity, which pre-existed Jesus, now carries Jesus’ wounds eternally. God has taken on our pain and suffering, knows it intimately. Christ died for our pain and suffering. For isn’t sin the result of pain and suffering? - Or attempts to control or deny pain and suffering? 

I’d suggest that the whole purity system that Jesus turned the tables on is rooted in attempts to distance ourselves from pain and suffering. Things we want to avoid more than even the gross animal stuff. A system now known as “othering” and “exclusion” and devaluing of people, but still results in the idea that only the pure may approach God. In the wounds of Christ, God is no longer pure by these standards, yet remains holy. God redeems suffering. 

God carries our wounds for us. Can we connect with that? Do we want to deny that in the same way we would not want to touch his wounds?

When our pain and suffering gets too much, we have an alternative to sin. When our pain and suffering are more than we can handle, we can lift it up to God. Christ will carry our burdens for us if we let him. I can attest to this and I have seen it work for so many others. But paradoxically it’s not easy.

I’ve seen people hang on to their suffering obstinately. Why would this be so? Why would we not want God to carry our suffering? We want to believe we’re in control. We want to believe in some plan that has existed and always will exist. We come up with theories that God wants us to suffer because we deserve it. We would rather think of God as angry and malicious, than as a God who suffers for us. If Jesus suffered on the cross because we’re inherently evil, we still have this illusion of control. We think our willful actions can somehow ease or prevent suffering.

The old testament is full of stories of people to whom given courage in battle. “Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.” Jesus calls us to a different kind of courage; the courage of getting messy with the wounded; which is also the courage to hold the frightening truth that we are not in control.

There are levels of love for the suffering. I see a progression of messiness in them. Sympathy is “Oh those poor people.” There is still a safe distance there, but messy in that we feel an unpleasant sadness. Empathy is “Ouch that must hurt.” This is messier in that we find ourselves feeling the hurt, the pain. Compassion is “something must be done.” This is the messiest because we feel compelled to get our hands dirty.

Compassion is a spiritual discipline. It’s found in many religions. It’s stated most clearly in Jesus’ description of the last judgment. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”

And if that doesn’t take enough courage, there’s an even messier task given to us. Love our enemies. Love for those who are fighting against us or those we hold dear. Love for those we want to fail. Love for those who are nailing us to our crosses.

Forgiving them for what they are doing does not mean we want them to win, or that we stop fighting the good fight. It means finding compassion for their pain and suffering; finding solidarity in the knowledge that we all suffer. That what drives them to harm others is what drives us to provide for those they intend to harm. The difference is we’re willing to get messy as God in Jesus Christ got messy. 

In a short time we are going to do something really gross. We are going to practice ritual cannibalism. We are going to eat flesh and drink blood. We are doing this to remember; to remember that God came into the world to take our wounds into God’s very essence.