Monday, May 1

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Easter



Were not our hearts burning within us?

Sad to say I know a few people, myself included, that find it much easier to get into the darker emotions of Lent and Good Friday, than to be lifted up by joy in the Easter season. But perhaps that’s because we associate joy too much with the prevalent social pressure to strive to be happy. Burning hearts to me suggests a different tone of joy. More of an eagerness, a desire.

Which is a more intimate thing that exuberance. And despite the initial volley of words- “Are you the only one who doesn’t know?” “Oh you fools” –todays Gospel story is quite intimate. Not as intimate as last week’s fingers inside a wound intimate, but in a way more remarkable in that Jesus appears to disciples rather than apostles, here. Disciples who were not even in the inner circle enough for them to know Simon by the name Peter.

Their hearts burned as they came to understand that their expectations of the messiah were in error. That victory and glory were in identifying with the victim. That freeing Israel was neither a political or military matter. Then in the breaking of the bread, which we know to be his body, they recognize him.

Then, even though the day was nearly over they went back to Jerusalem to tell the 11 and companions what they saw. They had to share this experience with those who would understand. And it is that kind of sharing - talking to people about a wonderful encounter with God – that will be our overarching topic this Eastertide.

Evangelism is usually talked about more in the spirit of Peter’s rhetorical argument - and look how many numbers came to Christ that day! Remember, though, that Peter was saying something brand new at the time.  I swear every time I get handed a Christian pamphlet on the street I think, “Do you seriously believe I’ve never been exposed to these ideas before?” I really don’t think a primer in Christianity is needed anymore. Not in Chicago anyway. Some ideas about Christianity can and should be corrected, but most folks know the basics by now. And it’s sort of insulting to suggest they don’t.

In part because of the very offensive and in your face evangelism that many people have had to endure, to even talk about evangelism at all makes me bit uncomfortable. Yet, that makes me all too often fail to tell people about what Christ has done for me, or about my relationship with God; a relationship that defines so much of my life. It’s very personal to me.

Now by personal relationship with God, I don’t mean an individual relationship to God. My relationship to God is bound up in relation to others. I rather mean personal in an intimate sense. It’s profound and deep and unique, but not solitary. I have had visions and mystical experiences of God, but they happened in the context of scripture and ritual that have been cultivated for 2000 years. And it is only through sharing with others that I came to better understand these experiences.

As I’ve shared these experiences, I’ve discovered that people who are at very similar places in their spiritual journey that I am have gotten there in different ways. This reminds me of the Hindu concept that there are different paths to God for different people. And in reading about that I was reminded of the five love languages in personal relationships.

The five love languages was developed in marriage counseling (though I think it applies to other relationships) to describe how what one person sees as an expression of love, the other person may seem differently. “Why don’t you ever say you love me?” “I do! I give you presents all the time!” “But you never say the words!”

The five languages are: gift giving, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch. My love languages are physical touch and quality time. This is why mediation and the sacraments – which are physical – are so important to my connection to God. Some folks I know connect with God much more intellectually, which I equate with words of affirmation. For some of my social justice focused friends, acts of service is their Godly love language.

For God is love. Our relationship to God is a loving one, no matter how we express or cultivate it. And so I ask you, “Where and when do you speak of your earthly love relationships?” How do you talk to people about your partner, your children, your family, your beloved friends, you pets? Aren’t those conversations imitate, or an invitation to intimacy?

Would you tell those same people about your loving relationship with God? At the same times? Why or why not? These questions are what we’ll be exploring in the weeks to come.

Contemplate your love relationship to God, pay attention to your heart. What makes your heart burn? What would make you rush to others to share? What inspires you to have genuine mutual love, to love one another deeply from the heart?

Monday, January 16

Jesus’ Foolish Politics: Preparing to Hear the Sermon on the Mount

    Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany
    We are in that time between.  It is a time of joy.  The joy of knowing God has come, God is with us. It is a time of enlightenment. We have seen and heard of God come as the human Jesus of Nazareth. My message for us to day is a simple one. Fully entering Our enlightenment, our joy, is accepting and acting on Jesus’ invitation to “Come and see”.  But there is great deal to unpack in this simple invitation. 

    We have a related difficulty. After the coming of God in human flesh, we struggle to live by the light and the path revealed to us by this light.  The story we have walked through, god born of Mary like any other human being, god vulnerable to the machinations of Herod, god coming to the banks of the Jordan as just a normal unremarkable person. According to our passage in john even after the baptism and the heaven opening and the voice and the manifestation of the Spirit like a dove, John still points out Jesus to his own disciples and says hey, you might want to check that guy out, he’s the Lamb of God, and even so still others stick around John rather than going after Jesus.

    We have in all of this the mystery of the Church, the body of Christ in continuity with Israel, not so as to supplant the importance nor the reality of the Jewish people as God’s chosen people. The church is Israel taken up into Jesus of Nazareth, who fulfilled what Israel is, Christ fulfils the law. Also, the church is how the prophesies of the nations coming to Israel and being enlightened is also fulfilled. In this small community, we have this reality encapsulated, we have a member who is Jewish and who knows Christ come in the flesh and we have those who come from a variety of peoples in the world all of whom are blessed by Israel and the Jewish people, having been enlightened by Jesus of Nazareth the word of god Made flesh, the Israel and wisdom of God.

    Our moment comes after a long and varied history of the church in which those who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus, Christ have missed or not answered, or ignored, or betrayed the call to be the church. We Christians have relied on that which is other than Jesus Christ.

    There is a need to reacquaint ourselves as members of Christ body with the place of God’s presence in our midst. We need to be reminded that when God came in human flesh God did not reside at the centers of power. We need to contemplate and discern the meaning that  God coming in our midst and the manifestations around it, were missed by most everyone especially the powerful. The power brokers and well as the powerful had no idea that anything significant had happened.  Even many of the poor and the oppressed people in Judea and Galilee also had no clue.

    We may wonder what to do in this moment. We may wonder at the failures of members of the church to live out our faith, and to live into the call to be saints, as body of Christ, isn’t so much that we haven’t known what it is, as we the members of the body of Christ have consistently tried to dilute the call and the message by realism or by acquiescence to the powerful. We know it. We celebrate it year after year.  We know the teaching and we will in this liturgy read the sermon on the mount and have the teaching of Jesus clearly proclaimed to us positions other Christians take. But we can’t get mired in the failures of Christians and the betrayals of Christ and the Church, either now or in the past. We need to come again and ask Jesus Christ to show he is staying.  And we need to leave aside our assumptions and presuppositions and truly come and see.

    The Isiah passage we read reminds us that what we have been liturgically waiting for in Advent and Celebrating in Christmas and continue to celebrate in this season after the Epiphany, was proclaimed and anticipated by the Hebrew Prophets. We know well with Isaiah that the world can be a place absent of light and hope.  What we need to remember and see again that it is God who enlightens and offers hope, that the nations and the powers aren’t the means through which God offers this hope and light. This happens through a small and insignificant people on the world stage, the Jewish people that God chose to bring enlightenment and hope. Ultimately accomplished through the Jew Jesus of Nazareth. Of course, Isaiah has only a small glimpse of this, and much of what he says of this one and what will happen either is wrong or at least not literal. That is, we don’t know what we celebrate about the person Jesus of Nazareth merely because Isaiah and the prophets of Israel proclaimed it. Rather after the coming of Christ, the incarnation of the Word of God, we see what the Hebrew prophets saw and yet couldn’t fully articulate. We as often as not are like those around John the Baptist , not seeing , nor recognizing the reality of God with us.

    Friday, November 25

    Hope is a Crucified God; Sermon for Reign of Christ Sunday


    As Christians, this is our hope, Christ crucified. Our hope is that Christ has been exalted over all things through his death on the Cross.
    There are dangers in this statement of faith and hope. There are interpretations that ask us to accept injustice for the sake of a deferred hope. In seeking to find hope in the crucifixion many focus on the final sentence of the Gospel passage just read. “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” The interpretation that focus on this says that our hope is only one found in what happens after our death.
    But such an interpretation misses the identification with oppressed, poor, suffering, sinful humanity.  A “faith” that focus only on “Today you will be with me in Paradise” is more like the lack of faith of the first insurgent criminal than the second. It fails to connect the afterlife with this life. This complete focus on the afterlife fails refuses to be overcome and encompassed by the full ministry of the incarnation, it is a rejection of God joined with matter and our humanity in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. God’s union with humanity and the outcast is the essence of Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, the Holy one of God, and this union effect the now or it doesn’t affect the afterlife.
    The Cross, Christ Crucified, is the politics of the Church, the body of Christ. This crucified one is God come to be the shepherd of God’s people, who is consistent when other shepherds lead the sheep astray or abandon the flock altogether
    This is our hope, the Cross.
    In this moment though it is not enough to just say hope in Christ crucified. For this statement of hope and faith has been used by the powerful to say that the oppressed must accept the oppression the lot given to them.
    St Paul in the letter to the Colossians gives us the antidote to the missuses of the Cross:
    1:11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully1:12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.
    If we don’t anticipate the end of this passage, if we don’t remember that for Paul, Jesus Crucifixion is the power and glory of God we can misunderstand what Paul is encouraging us to embrace.  The Cross is our strength, God’s solidarity with the oppressed with our divided ruthless humanity and God’s willingness to suffer its consequences. This is the glorious power of God.  If you don’t believe me wait till we get to the end you will see that this is Paul’s point of this opening encouragement to us, the church.
    1:13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,1:14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
    So we are strengthened by the glorious power of God (the Cross) by which we have been moved from one realm into another,  We have redemption and forgiveness. Do we act like we live in the Kingdom of Christ, or under the power of Darkness?
    1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;1:16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers--all things have been created through him and for him. 1:17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 1:18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.
    So the Crucified one, the suffering servant is the image of God, is united with all creation, as the firstborn.  Are you seeing in whom we hope, who was crucified, who is in solidarity with oppressed humanity?
    1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,1:20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
    Not only image as we human beings are intended to be, but in this crucified one, in Jesus of Nazareth the fullness of God dwelled. This identification with us was not to subdue us, not to punish us, but to reconcile us, bring an end to our violence, but suffering our violence and our tendency to oppress seeking power over others. God in his glorious power in Jesus of Nazareth, and in the crucifixion, acts contrary to these impulses and suffers as one who could have inflicted suffering.  God fully in a human being faces destruction when God could have come and destroyed. Through solidarity with the marginalized the oppressed, with the condemned (justly or unjustly), with the tortured and the rejected, god in this act by the shedding of God’s blood, by undergoing death, reconciles and makes peace and shows us the way to overcome death and oppression as a path of reconciliation and peace.  But it is only in solidarity, in being with, in willingness to walk the way of Christ, which is the way of the cross that there is hope.
    Questions for discussion:
    In facing our fears for ourselves for our friends for our families, for the marginalized and the vulnerable, what hope can you see in these passages in the Cross and in the Crucified One, in God in solidarity with us in our suffering and with the oppressed?
    What does Reconciliation mean in our context and how is this ministry of reconciliation hopeful?

    In the coming months and years, we can act out of fear or out of hope.  What does it look like and mean for you in your context and in your circles to act upon the hope of the Cross and God’s ministry of reconciliation?

    Thursday, November 24

    Hope as Virtue and Discipline

    This comes out of pastor Larry Kamphausen's notes for and from the discussion at the Theology on Tap: Hope as Virtue and Discipline, November 18, 2016
    “The arc of the moral universe is long but bends towards Justice.”
    Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used this aphorism in a sermon delivered at Temple Israel of Hollywood.  This is a hopeful image.  The aphorism is a snapshot of hope as virtue and discipline, before we unpack and interpret this aphorism, we need to ask some questions.
    What is Hope? Hope can be a slippery thing to lay hold. We may by a lottery ticket and in hoping to win the lottery.  A child might hope that she is getting from her parents a gift that she asked to receive. Such hope doesn’t seem to be either virtuous nor does it require any discipline.  The second case approaches more what we mean when we speak of hope as virtue and discipline. In the case of the hope of a child for a gift from their parents, is hoping in someone for something There is a difference between hoping to win the lottery and hoping to receive something one has asked for at Christmas.. The hope of the child is rooted in the loving relationship between the child and their parent. The hoped-for outcome isn’t guaranteed, but it is more likely and is bound up with a relationship.  In this second type of hope what one is hoping in is distinguished from what is hoped for, yet they are bound up together. Even so, in the hope of a child for a Christmas gift hasn’t yet brought us to hope as virtue and discipline
    All instances of hope aren’t virtuous. So, we need to ask what is common across various instances of hopefulness. So that we then can lay hold of a hope that is something we can call a virtue and about which we can be disciplined. What covers all connotations of hope is that hope looks to a fulfillment; it also lives now in anticipation of that fulfillment.
    Given this sense of hope, what then does it mean for hope to be both a discipline and a virtue? Hope is a virtue and discipline if what is hoped in is a good that is more than a desire for only oneself and more than wishful thinking. Hope that is a virtue is a hope bound up with a movement toward the good, something that in hoping for it we are moved towards our betterment. For hope to be a virtue and discipline requires something to be hoped in and for that can lead us to something greater than we are now.  Hope that is a virtue and a discipline is hope that moves us toward what is hoped for.  Hope as virtue and discipline is anticipation that actively waits for what is hoped for. This sort of hope isn’t passive; it is moving towards a goal or an end.
    Hope can be a virtue because hoping in something that moves us towards that which we hope.  Such a hope requires an expansiveness, to borrow Obama’s phrase, it requires an audacity. Simultaneously it also requires humility to admit that what is hoped for isn’t yet realized. Hope as virtue and discipline is magnanimous and humble.
    The enemy of hope as virtue is presumption. This may find itself in too great a confidence, too much assurance that at any moment what is hoped for is coming to fruition or fulfilment and completion in that moment. Thus, it is destructive of hope to use hope as part of a political campaign as Obama’s campaign did.  This is so, largely because, what we hoped for in Obama wasn’t going to be completely fulfilled by Obama’s admiration, rather a virtuous hopefulness in a political party or a factional politics, or a politician is in there being able to bring us closer to that which we hope, not for their ability to deliver that for which we hope.  What was hopeful about Obama and his campaign and subsequent presidency was only hopeful to the degree that that hope was what propelled Obama, not in his or his administration’s ability to fulfill and deliver that for which we hope.  Thus, to the degree that Obama was hopeful with us and not the object of our hope then we have a truly hopeful politics, but the moment we hoped in Obama or his administration, we ceased to have hope in a way that is virtue and discipline and which can lead us toward a goal greater than ourselves.
    Hope as virtue and discipline needs the humility to understand that there is in this life always a remainder of what is hoped for in any movement towards what we hope. For hope as virtue and discipline there needs to be the simultaneous magnanimity of claiming to be able to achieve what is hoped for with a sense that the fullness of what is hoped for can’t be found in any one moment.
    What sort of things might we say we hope for in this manner? What is it that we can both be audacious about and about which we can be humble?
    Hoping in God and of the God revealed in Jesus Christ.
    The God revealed to us in the Hebrew Prophets and the divine human Jew Jesus of Nazareth, is a god who is about justice and who defines for us justice as the concern for and right treatment of those who are marginalized, most vulnerable and who are outcasts. Captives, prisoners, widows, orphans, those who can’t easily and financially hold on to property and means of production to provide for their daily lives, food, shelter and clothing.  In the letter from the Apostle James, we are told that true religion is one that has solidarity with the poor and the vulnerable.
    Thus, hope for this sort of justice can reside not simply in some future wished for utopia, that may or may not be achieved, nor something that may or may not be realistic and realizable rather this hope is bound up in the very fabric of the universe and in the source of all that is.
    When Martin Luther King Jr. affirms the aphorism “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”, this isn’t some generic hope, but a faith statement about the one has aimed the bow and the arrow is on target..  This is faith in the God who is revealed to us in the Hebrew prophets and in Jesus of Nazareth. That is Martin Luther King Jr. isn’t in that moment talking as a politician of a one nation state, but as  a member of the people of God, Israel, the Church. He is speaking as a preacher and a prophet.
    The above aphorism. isn’t a hope in humanity’s ability to progress based in humanity alone, but in God’s work in history
    Hope then in its activist form is seeking to act in accordance with this goal. This is what makes hope a discipline.  The virtue of living in conformity with the long arc of bent towards justice, is to live in a certain way. Hoping in this manner is especially a disciple when a present moment seems at odds with what is hoped for. As a Rabbi friend says it is to act as if.
    The difficulty and the virtue of hope is that some aspects of the current moment will appear to be an argument against having hope.  If hope is merely wishful thinking, if we can’t say truthfully that in some sense justice, wholeness, true life isn’t the goal isn’t the direction of things, then no living as if will counter what immediately appears.

    To have hope that is a virtue and can be a discipline is to have hope in something that is true beyond a certain instance. It is to hope in something that is true about our deepest selves and the entire universe and of human being.  Different philosophies and Spiritualties may give different reasons for it being there or exactly how to describe it but it must be an affirmation that our goal forms us into our truest selves.  Simultaneously it must also affirm that this goal is beyond any one of us or any moment. The fulfillment of this hope is beyond us but also realized in us an in moments even if not yet landing its mark.

    Sunday, August 7

    First Vespers with Eucharist Feast of Saint Mary Mother of God

    Join us Sunday August 14th for a Vespers and Eucharist for the Feast of St Mary/Feast of the Dormition/ Feast of the Assumption of St Mary.

    Visit the Google + Event page or the Facebook Event page, for more details.

    Tuesday, June 28

    Sermon for the Sixth Sunday After Pentecost,

    Scripture Texts: 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21Psalm 16 Galatians 5:1, 13-25Luke 9:51-62
    What is the Kingdom of God, basileia tou theou?   How might we address that using “king” and “kingdom” to talk about God and God’s activity often reinforces authoritarian structures that are antithetical to the community Jesus Christ creates in the Church.  We should recognize that exclusive use of King and Kingdom without attention paid to the meaning given to basileia tou theou is part of the problem. We should also note that “king” and “kingdom” are not static terms, and even in our modern contexts can refer to differing forms of governance.  The Kingdom’s of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, United Kingdom, Sweden and the Netherlands (to list some current kingdoms in the international landscape) all vary to some degree or another from each other.  All are Monarchies in some sense but the role and power of the monarch, the king or queen all differ.  This all suggests that as we run across “Kingdom of God” or “Kingdom of heaven” in the Scriptures we should pause and ask questions about what we bring to that phrases. We should also pay attention to how Jesus or Paul qualify “king” and “kingdom”.
    In the United States we have a distant and ambivalent attitude towards of Kings and kingdoms. We have fantastical and fuzzy romanticized view of say the British Royal family which is a sort of celebrity worship, or we think of monarchies and kings and queens in the autocratic and tyrannical version of monarchies that emerged as the kings in Europe developed the notion of absolute monarchy and the divine right of kings.  It is true that Christian theology and the church hierarchy was used to develop these notions of kings and kingdoms.  What we tend to remember in the United States is that God and kings were often elided in this attempt to shore up European royalty and kingdoms, Absolute rule by a singular being was upheld as the natural order of things, and authoritarian hierarchy was put forward as what good Christians and citizens of the nations should accept for good order. If we listen to Jesus’ parables and what in our text Paul describes as being contrary to the Kingdom of God, we can readily see that the above connotations of king and kingdom don’t easily apply to the ways in which Jesus and Paul speak of the “Kingdom of God”.
    In order to not bring the above senses of kingdom to what Jesus and Paul seek to direct our attention with basileia tou theou we can use other language in place of Kingdom of God that draws out the various metaphors and stories Jesus tells us about the Kingdom of God”: beloved community, the reign of God (The it remains that monarchs or maybe champions are what reigns, presidents and elected officials don’t reign), the Kindom of God etc. Yet we will still run accoss throughout the new testament we can’t get away from basileia tou theou, which in the very least means “reign of God” and usually translated Kingdom of God.  We still need to understand what is going on in Scripture with this language.  First we can recognize if we are aware of what we bring to “kingdom” and “king” and allow our notions of king and kingdom be disturbed, by the varieties of ways that the seeing God as basilei with a basileia, doesn’t conform to the authoritarian and autocratic.  I’d argue that this is part of what the use of “king” for God and ‘kingdom of God” are to do, we are to experience the dissonance between what God’s revelation tells us about God as “king” and the “Kingdom of God” and what we know of “kings” and “kingdoms”.
    The history of God’s people, shows us that we can often miss or refuse this revelation.  God’s intention with the freeing the Hebrews from bondage and bringing the people of Israel to Mount Sinai and presenting them with a Covenant, was that they would understand two things: 1) that there was only one God and one king, and that they were to see this one God as their king.  This wasn’t abstract authority over, but relationship with, a covenant between a people and their king.  In this sense kingdom isn’t territory over which a king has sovereignty and controls all that is within that domain, rather it is a relationship between a people and a sovereign in which each freely enters into tis relation in which each has responsibilities and privileges.
    We get the contrast between the reign of God under the covenant and what the people of Israel ultimately chose to have a human king. These human kings more or less poorly represent the reign of God and most fail miserably acting as we’d expect kings to act, in autocratic and authoritarian ways exercising power over others, in terms of coercion and force and not covenantal relationship.
    What Paul sets up as contrary to the basileia tou theou, the beloved community the reign of God, could be read as a summary of the historical books of the Hebrew scriptures, 1 2 Samuel, 1 2 Kings, and 1 2 Chronicles.  God sends prophets, beginingwith Elijah and Elisha , to call the people of Israel back to the Covenant that their kings lead them away from in their autocratic and authoritarian whims deemed necessary by real politic and the clash of empires and nations for dominance and control.  Israel is as we know eventually overthrown by these forces of empire and real politic of the clash of kings and kingdoms seeking to control and dominate over others and territory.
    The reign of God, God as king is polar opposite to the above history of the kings of Isreale.  Paul in our text today says,  the Beloved Community the Kingdom of God is characterized by love of Neighbor- this is the covenant God as king makes with us that we love our neighbor (and enemy)- and Paul further states that what then characterizes the Kingdom of God”, the beloved community is “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control..”  These are the fruit of the Spirit, the evidence of living by the spirit of being ruled by the love of God. To live the life of the Spirit is to live in the freedom of the Kindom of God.
    I hope we are being able to experience the tensions and dissonance, that Jesus’ and Paul’s use of the Kingdom of God should elicit.  Of course this troubling of “king “and kingdom when used of God and what God accomplishes in the world and in us, only comes by taking the time to see what Basilea tou theou refers to, and its contrast to the clamoring for power and the desire to have control over others.
    We find similar juxtapositions in the icon we blessed today and in the imagery of the beloved community the reign of god used in the iconographic depiction.  Most immediately relevant is the depiction of Christ enthroned in heaven.  This is a diction of an Emperor, a King of Kings, Jesus Christ triumphant and victorious all powerful, Pantocrator in Greek.  The text in the Gospel is from Colossians 1-5-20.  The cross can never be far from any depiction of Jesus Christ.  All depictions of Jesus Christ must have the cross inscribed in the halo, along with the words O ON, in Greek meaning the One or the Being or the one who is, it is a reference to the unpronounceable name by which God names God’s self to Moses.  In the halo and depictions of Christ we have the fullness of the Gospel, the one who is, the unpronounceable unknowable circumscribable one, joined with humanity in Jesus of Nazareth and died on the Cross and rose again and is seated at the right hand of the Father.   But this icon of Jesus Christ isn’t the only icon. On the reverse of this icon we find another depiction of Christ.  Jesus as a child in Mary’s arms.  This is God the all-powerful, vulnerable dependent upon the care of his mother. God in the infant Jesus is God vulnerable dependent upon the love of another. The paradox and tensions of the incarnation.  Here again you will see that cross and the Name are there to remind us this is the same one who is seated on the thrown among the heavenly powers the 4 living creatures.  And although not depicted in this icon at every service upon this alter sits a crucifix and we see the same halo so inscribed the same letters indicating Jesus Christ. The childe the Pantocrator and the crucified are all the same one, all depicting for us God as king and thus the Kingdom of God.
    In this icon with Mary Mother of God embracing Jesus Christ and Peter and Paul embracing, we see the Reconciling love of God at work.  In these depictions we are invited into the embrace of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit.  These images draw us in and we may recognize ourselves in the embrace of our mother God, whose pinions gather us in in protection and warmth. We also see God at work Reconciling differing interpretations of who is included into the beloved community and how they may be so included.  Christians and the Church still wrestle with this, and on this Pride Sunday, we are painfully aware that as Christians we are divided on if and how to include and embrace LGBTQ.  Yet, it is in embrace that God’s Kingdom leads us.  These re images of Love, Reconciliation and inclusion, and they are images of God’s reign, of the Beloved Community, the Kingdom of God.  Peter and Paul were divided they were at enmity with each other in the early church, in the Jewish and Gentile factions each seeking God’s will, yet each right and wrong, each had to be drawn into the embrace as each recognized how those seen by the other as unclean or foolish and haughty could be drawn together into the beloved community.

    Contemplate these images Scriptural and iconographic, learn from them, let them soften our heart, may these images of God as King and the Kingdom of God, transform your heart, set you free, to embrace your enemy as God embraced us in Jesus of Nazareth and upon the cross that we may live together in the Beloved Community of Father Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

    Wednesday, May 18

    Pentecost Sermon 2016: The manifestations of Pentecost and Discerning the work of God on Earth

    Texts: Acts 2:1-21,John 14:8-27
    The material effects of the descent of the Spirit on the Church at Pentecost
    Why do we read Acts in the Season of Easter? It’s a little out of order.  We read Acts in Easter because Acts tells us how the incarnation passion, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ effect people in this earthly life.  I will lead us in reflection on  these earthly and material effects and impact on us and the world around us.  This is perhaps more obvious in other passages in Acts than the one for Pentecost. Yet if we pay attention to the manifestations of the Spirit at Pentecost and the perceived extent of the effect of that manifestation we can begin to understand the material nature of the impact of the Spirit and thus the Passion, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ.
    Let us attend to what can be seen, heard, touched and is located on the earth in Luke’s account of Pentecost.  Most notably, and what is generally emphasized in our celebrations of Pentecost, the speaking and hearing of various languages.  We should remember that this is a physical and really very earthly and human effect. Unlike the glossolalia mentioned in Paul’s epistles where the language spoken is unknown to any of the hearers in the gathered body and thus requires translation, at the descent of the Spirit upon the Church, (at this time those Jews who are believers in Christ and who had undergone the baptism of John) Jews speak Languages they don’t know that are then also understood by those in the crowd that gathered (also Jews from different parts of the earth). This effect is relational and reconciling. There is also the noise of wind and what appear to be tongues of fire that rested on each of the Apostles.  The descent of the Spirit caused a commotion, sent out sound waves and emitted photons in the form of tongues of fire. This manifestation had an impact not only on the 120 or so gathered who formed the church of that time and moment, but of those outside that group. The Holy Spirit’s descent causes a commotion, it draws attention, and it also draws mockery and disdain.  So, the Holy Spirit descending to fulfill and continue the work begun in Jesus’s life Passion, Resurrection and Ascension has physical and material effect such that people stop and take note, but the effects themselves aren’t meaningful in and of themselves.  Ultimately Peter has to clarify the meaning in this first proclamation of the Church.  Since, Peter is preaching to those of Jewish faith and it is important to establish Jesus as the Messiah, it must be demonstrated how these manifestations fit with Jewish expectation and Torah expectations of the Messianic age in the Tanakh. Peter points to prophet Joel and what he says about the coming of the Messiah and the Messianic age, well this is the fulfilment of Joel’s expectation and prophesy about the messiah and the messianic age.  Now Peter doesn’t mean here that there’s a one to one correspondence between the manifestations experienced by all those on this Pentecost after the death and Resurrection of Jesus, but that if one wishes to understand the meaning of what this crowd has seen and heard and experienced, one should be consulting this prophecy.
    Luke gives us another means of interpreting the meaning of this event, it’s geographical extent. Luke’s list of places from which the Jews in the crowd are from is a list of what would have been understood by Luke’s first readers as the extent of the inhabited earth. Meaning that for Luke the extent of this local event is in effect global.  Through the diaspora of the Jews who were on pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover and Pentecost, represent the known inhabited world. There are ancient traditions that mark the coming of the Gospel and the Church to certain regions to this moment of Pentecost. Most notably the Latin Father Abrosiaster dates the founding of the Roman Church to this moment and not the direct proclamation of the Gospel by Peter and Paul. For Luke this one local event is at this very moment also global in its extent.
    Signs and wonders as physical manifestations of God’s reign in the earth.
    What are we to make of all this commotion, and earthly and physical impact?  First, is that the result of what God did in Jesus of Nazareth and in the incarnation and Passion isn’t simply an internal and purely “spiritual” (if “spiritual” means non material psychological and internal experience) reality.  This means that if we’ve encountered this reality of God come in Jesus of Nazareth and the reality of the Passion, Resurrection and Ascension, we will have seen it, it will have a material effect, something we can see, hear and touch.  Second, is that this material manifestation is oriented towards a goal, that is only understood if we know how to interpret what we are seeing hearing and handling.  It is this second thing that I wish to focus on for the remainder of our time.  Since, the exact physical and material effects of the descent of the Spirit do not necessarily continue to happen, there are other possible manifestation and material effects of the mediating and sustaining and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. In order to see them and interpret them correctly we must understand the depth and extent of the theophany of the Spirit at Pentecost.
    In order to interpret and correctly identify the effects of the Spirit in our midst and in the earth, we need to understand the role of the Holy Spirit and meaning of the descent of the Spirit.  Most fundamentally we must remember that the Holy Spirit is God, a person or hypostasis of the Trinity.  In that sense the Spirit's presence in our midst is for the same purpose as the coming of God the Son in Jesus of Nazareth.  The work of the Spirit is the same work as of the incarnate Word’s, Jesus of Nazareth, life, Passion, Resurrection and Ascension.  The Spirit doesn’t inaugurate another work of God in the World, but is the means to continue the work.  This is the work God had been doing in the people of Israel which was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, and through the Spirit is continued in the Church, in continuity with Israel.  Fundamentally God’s work is to restore the relationship between God and God’s creation, to reconcile humanity and God.  The purpose of God’s work in the world is relational, and is born out of God’s desire for us and for all creation:  The work of God in teh earth is aimed towrds relationship and love.
    The material meaning of Pentecostal and Charismatic signs and wonders
    Using the above framework we can look again at the manifestations and their interpretations given to us by Luke and by Peter’s first sermon.  First the manifestation and its effect are things that are evident and noticeable.  Sound of wind, tongues of fire that are seen, languages spoken.  Those who wanted to discount what was happening couldn’t deny the event they simply gave it another explanation, the drunkenness of the individuals around whom the commotion started. But the manifestations aren’t random either.  Sound of wind, tongues of fire. These are consistent forms of epiphany and theophany that the people of Israel have known and experienced. They aren’t new, remixed yes, entirely new, no.  God manifesting God’s presence through meteorological phenomenon especially wind, and in fire is consistent with the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which the celebration of Pentecost marks. The effect of the coming of the Spirit as a continuation of the work of Jesus Christ, does so in continuity with the work of God in human history and the people of God, Israel. The manifestation and effect is relational and reconciling, it bridges gaps and breaks down barriers that simply are the case in the world.  Languages and location and identity divide us as human beings, on the Day of Pentecost God uses what divides to bring together, and shows that the intended effect of the incarnation and the passion is to bring together, to reconcile in relationship.  Furthermore, Peter in referencing Joel tells us the effect is intended for all no matter one’s social location or identity and no matter your geographical location, yet it also doesn’t erase those differences or identities, rather it makes possible relationship and connection where it seems impossible or difficult.  Lastly, it shakes up what is considered inevitable, simply set in the nature of the cosmos, or dictated by the powerful.  Peter tells us that what we have seen in the descent of the Holy Spirit is the same as the cosmic powers of sun and moon being changed, shaken and upended.
    On this Pentecost, what might we take from all of this?  First, pentecostal and charismatic manifestations and signs and wonders aren’t meant to be ends in themselves, without interpretation they are dead ends. Yet, to ridicule or otherwise diminish them is to deny the incarnation. To so ridicule or diminish is to deny that salvation is earthly and material.  The story of God’s activity in the world to reconcile God and God’s creation that begins with Abraham and is brought to fulfilment in Jesus of Nazareth.  If we attend to that story we will see that this reconciliation this transformation isn’t an escape from materiality and the earth, but is a deep and profound affirmation of all that God created. Yet, many of the material conditions of our current worldly existence are at odds with God’s transforming and reconciling work on the earth and in the entire cosmos.  The miraculous, or signs and wonders, are manifestations, epiphanies, that are meant to point out how and where God is at work.  We members of Christ’s body the Church should be both where these manifestations appear and those who should be looking for these theophany.  Yet, these epiphanies and theophany aren’t only the miraculous.  We should find in various ways a transformed and reconciled and transfigured world replacing the world as we know it and find it.  The Church isn’t supposed to be seeking merely the reform of worldly structures and certainly isn’t supposed to be a means of escape from this earthly existence, rather it is to up end the worldly powers of whatever name they go by: socialist, communist, capitalist, neoliberal, progressive, conservative, democracy, monarchy ad infinitum.  God came to earth to transform and redeem and reconcile God’s creation the physical and material created universe seen and unseen. The signs of the descent of the spirit at Pentecost and the signs and wonders that manifested around the early Church and show up again throughout history, show us that God means to transform our material existence.  God’s reconciling work is for the earth, for all creation, for the entire universe. Our very existence is to be transformed, and it happens in time, in history, and on earth. Yet, the work of God is also not from history, nor is it historical nor merely material. This is the incarnation, this is the coming of the Spirit, this is the meaning and reality of the Church in germ. Look, listen, be sent into the world so that we may truly see where God is at work and be ourselves individual and corporately sites of God’s reconciling and transfiguring work on earth upending all worldly systems.