Tuesday, April 8

Discerning Life and Death in our Souls and Bodies

It may seem strange as we are finishing up our Lenten journey and wandering and before we get to the Cross to hear about Resurrection.  It may be strange or just jumping the gun, to hear the passage of Ezekiel that we also often hear at the Easter Vigil. “Mortal can these bones live?”… “Prophesy to the bones…”  In the midst of our fast, before we turn to the cross, we stop off with Jesus at Bethany and contemplate life, and resurrection.
It shouldn't be a surprise though that we do this.  Our Lenten journey and our fasting are after all about life and resurrection. Also, in following our lectionary this lent we are contemplating the mysteries of the faith as presented in the sign’s Jesus performs in John’s Gospel.  we are contemplating the mystery of God in our midst in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.
Lent and fasting aren’t about pretending we don’t know resurrection. Rather Lent, and  taking up spiritual disciplines, and fasting is a time to focus our thoughts towards the mystery of our faith, the mystery of God come as a human to die and suffer with us.  Also, it is a time to look at those parts of our lives that may need reviving, that still need the healing touch of Jesus Christ, that still need to fall away and be resurrected.
How does Ezekiel’s vision speak to you today?  When you look at your life, yourself, if it were a landscape is there a place of dry bones?  Is there a place in your life where god comes to you and asks you Mortal, my beloved, can these bones live?  Is there some part of you that seems dead?  Is there some part of you self or life or body that needs to be revived?  Is God speaking to you today asking, “Can these bones live?”  Are you being called today to prophesy by the life giving Spirit of God for those dead dry bones of your life to live, to be resurrected? 
Or is God in Jesus Christ, seeking to come to you in your grief?  Do you know a God who weeps with you while also offering you the hope of resurrection?  In this time of Lent can you hear God’s word to you that death,/endings, aren’t the final word in God, who is resurrection and life.  Has Jesus come to you at the point of death and grief and asked you like Mary and Martha to trust that he is life and resurrection that life and resurrection and not death and separation are the last word.  In your various grief and loses can you experience God both weeping with you and offering you a way beyond death as the final word, can in your grief or loss can you enter that space of life and resurrection.  God’s love and compassion is great, and God who is life does not leave us in death and loss, this is the faith and hope Christ offers us as we contemplate the mysteries of our faith.
But as Roman’s points out death is related to sin.  Are there places in your life, which are dry or feeling dead and empty, because of the need to make a change, to repent?  Has God been calling to you to make a change in your life this Lent?  Has God been calling you from an aspect of your life more indicative of the “flesh” than the Spirit, to use Paul’s terms?  But this metaphorical language of distinction between flesh and spirit should lead us to a duality between body and something ethereal and disembodied, but rather the duality of life and death.  But why then use the term flesh.  Paul can be interpreted by Ezekiel’s vision and the story of Lazarus in the tomb.  Flesh is those bones, even those bones that put on ligaments flesh and skin, but before they had breath, and blood coursing through veins. Flesh is Lazarus’ body in the tomb.  Flesh is body without life.  Bodies can have life and they can cease to have breath, life.  We can have things in ourselves that separate us from our life, God.  Paul enjoins us to examine our lives and see where flesh and spirit are at work, death and life. 
As we prepare to enter into the last weeks of Lent and come to the cross and the joy of Easter, we are called to contemplate the various ways life and death are at play in ourselves, and we are encouraged to let life and breath, the Spirit of God fill us.  We are encouraged to live as though life is the last word and not death and loss, we are encouraged to let God come and comfort us in the face of death loss and endings, and to turn away from those choices in our lives the deaden us, that keep us from fullness of life that are barriers between the God who is the Resurrection and the Life. So that we may be living breathing bodies and not dry bones or lifeless bodies, flesh. 

Contemplate this mystery of death and flesh overcome by life and Spirit.  Let us examine ourselves, let God in Jesus Christ come to us and let us in this examination prophesy to our dry bones, and turn aside from the dead flesh in ourselves embracing that aspect of ourselves that is full of breath and life, the Spirit of God.

Sunday, March 9

Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent: Seeing the Lie in the Half-Truth

Was the serpent correct?  Today we read the account of the Fall and Temptation of Christ. We hear of the first and last temptation of humanity.  During Lent we confront sin and its consequences.
What are we to make of the words of the Serpent and this story of the fall? Is it fair of God to put in front of us this fruit we couldn't eat, and did death truly result from it?  In one sense, the serpents mocking of the consequence of eating the the fruit was correct, Adam and Eve didn't drop dead on the spot, but as Paul says it brought condemnation and dominion of death.  We see this immediately, Adam and Eve who were open and free with each other suddenly experience separation and shame and they hide from each other and from God.  No longer are they free and completely open, naked with each other.  They experienced separation; death ultimately is a separation that can’t be bridged.    Don’t we know this separation, from ourselves, from our loved ones, from our friends, and most obviously from our enemies?  We may have moments of connection, and yet there is always already separation; a painful awareness that we could be left alone.  We have the painful awareness that making and keeping the connection with others is tenuous, this is part of the dominion of death. We might say that one act set in motion a world torn apart, where relationships are tenuous, even the best ones still come to an end.  The serpent spoke a half truth.
We humans have this tendency to believe the half-truth, which is really to believe the lie that is contained in the other half of the half-truth.   In both the temptation in the garden and Jesus’ temptation in the desert, we see what we are up against and what we (I think) can recognize in our own souls:  temptation often comes as half-truth that appeals to a good desire, but asks us to trust only the desire, rather than trust the whole truth about the world, others, and God.
The tempter comes and says, “ Look, you won’t drop dead!  You can look and see that this fruit is not poisonous. You can see and smell that it is good to eat.”  All true but covered over in these true words is the lie that God doesn’t really care for you, God is keeping this from you for no good reason.  This is the slipperiness of temptation and the winding path we follow into Sin.
We don’t know what would have happened if we hadn't grabbed at the knowledge of good and evil.  We arent' told what was ultimately intended by this one fruit. Did God intended us to have the knowledge of God and evil?  What we are told is that we grabbed it.  And what we do know is that our knowledge of good and evil didn’t give us the power to only do the good and avoid the evil, rather it has given us the propensity for both, and in such away that our doing good never really overcomes the evil. Many faithful have said that at some point this knowledge would have been given to us, but because we took it, because we sought it separated from God and God’s caring love for us, it could only distort our true humanity.  Now that we have it we can’t deliver ourselves from evil and the consequences of that first mistrust of God, that first failure of faith.
The good news is that all our sin, our separation our pain and suffering all the evil  in the world is just the beginning of the story, not the end.  When we sin, when we see oppression and violence in the world, we are simply playing out that scene in the Garden with Eve and Adam and the Serpent, but God tells another story .   God rewrites the story and changes the ending.  This rewrite is that one comes, a human, and meets the serpent again. This human being is so united with God that trust in God isn't shaken by the half-truths the serpent speaks; the tempter, Devil using the Scriptures the Word of God against God in human flesh.  So, this time humanity is ready, In Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate Son, sees through the half-truth to the lie, and trusts that God truly fulfills our good desires.  Jesus of Nazareth, hungry and tested doesn’t need to grasp after the good things because God never intends to keep from us any good thing.  In fact all good is from God.  Your desire is from God, even that desire which might be unfulfilled at any particular moment, or even for one’s whole life.
Here we are, on the edge of the desert and the garden, intentionally entering a period of fasting and yes temptation, called into the desert with Jesus.  You will hear the tempter, the serpent; you will encounter your demons.  Be not afraid, know your desires are good, know that God will truly fulfill them.  However, hold your desires lightly.  Accept that not all desire can or should be fulfilled immediately or at all times. We fast to remind ourselves that our desire for food and other things while good should not devour and control us.  Desire is good, but if we accept the lie in the truth of the goodness of desire and believe that a good desire must be satiated now we fall into sin: we become separated from the one who will fulfill the desires of our hearts, the one who is what our hearts ultimately desire.
So, contemplate this Lent these two temptations, one which lead to our fall, the other which lead to our victory.  Let Christ’s faithfulness be your faithfulness.  Remember this Lent that you are Christ, you are the beloved, and in baptism you have the Spirit and have taken on Christ.  Trust in this and see the Tempter flee from you.  Even so, don’t be disheartened by a failure, for even in failure you are still Christ’s.  Repent, get up and accept God’s grace and forgiveness, assured that you are being transformed into this new humanity, which saw through the half-truth to the lie through faith and trust.
God loves you, your desires are good but they don't need to be fulfilled: before temptation trust this truth. And to paraphrase St Augustine: as we begin this Lent and fast together, Love this one who is the desire of your soul, and do what you will.  Amen

Wednesday, January 29

A Light Shines on Those in Darkness Through the Cross: Third Sunday After the Epiphany

Sermon for the Third Sunday After the Epiphany, January 26, 2014.
Isaiah 9:1-4Psalm 27:1, 4-91 Corinthians 1:10-18Matthew 4:12-23

According the Prophets of Israel we are told that God engages the ways and powers of the nations to achieve God’s ends in seeking to bring justice in Israel and upon the earth.  God is also frustrated in this tactic since the nations themselves are unjust and enrich themselves from the misery and destruction they inflict.   Some of the prophets say that God has planned a change in tactics, light will dawn, and it will be different from the heat produced by the direct use and engagement of the ways of the nations and empires.  Things will change Isaiah says, light will shine.  God’s tactics will change but God’s desire to restore humanity and creation remains unchanged.  We are in the liturgical time where we remember this change, this new thing God has done and is doing.  This new thing is the incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth, and God revealing God’s self as a community of persons, Father Son and Holy Spirit.

This is what the prophet Isaiah tells us.  God first confronts human violence, greed and desire for domination and control, through these very human means.   This obviously didn’t achieve the transformation of the world, in a sense it deepened the darkness.  God drove us further into darkness by engaging us on our terms.  Isaiah admits this at the top of the scriptures we read today, but Isaiah says this is not what God desires or has ever desired and a light will shine on those driven into darkness.  God comes to those who curse God, who blame God for all the evil in the world, aren't entirely wrong.  Surprised…?  We’d much rather a God whose more historically consistent, or we’d rather a God who changes, but not a God who does and doesn’t change. According to Isaiah God engages our darkness and unenlightened passions and it only deepens our condition. We go deeper into darkness though we are the cause of our turmoil and pain (or rather we inflict it on each other). Put God in that mix and we get the wrath of God that stirs human sin and self-deception into a perfect storm of suffering and misery, all as we attempt to climb out of the hells we create for ourselves, in our darkness.  This is not the final word God comes, not some corrupt, power seeking proxy of god, but God, the light the true light that enlightens the world, something different occurs.  Before this new thing, light had not shown.  

We might wonder why God didn't bring light, why first God’s wrath that was only heat and no light. Perhaps, this leaves us a little uneasy, and faced with a tension between how God acted and the new thing God is doing. Many divergences in Christian opinion and forms of Christianity have resulted in part in order to resolve our discomfort with this revelation of God: God changes and is unchanging.   Some say God doesn't change so we still have the heat of God to deal with.  The logic and ways of human nations and power is in God is an unchanging quality equal part of God’s love.  God has not changed it is just in Jesus Christ we have the light, and outside our Christian group is darkness and wrath.  God doesn't change god simply is wrath and love.  There are of course problems with this solution, most of you here know them intimately, and I will not go into it.  The other resolution is to say that in some way God has changed (some ancient notions go so far as to explain this change by saying our gods have changed, which is the same as saying God didn’t change, but not many these days believe this version of the story).   Wrath is still an essential quality of God, but it is a quality that God grows out of in some way, God learned that wrath didn’t work.  In this from my view then God is kind of like our understanding of human development writ large on human history.  But neither of these is what Isaiah, Matthew, and Paul tells us.  

What our Scriptures today witness to is that God didn’t change but how God deals with the world, human history, and human beings has changed.  Perhaps we could say that God learned, but Isaiah receives a word from God at the time when God is engaging the world on human terms that God doesn't intend to do this forever. This suggests to me that God’s change in tactic was intended even when the old tactic was still deployed (is still deployed?). Even as God is engaging nations and powers on their turf God is saying through Isaiah that this will not always be so.  As Israel and humanity are driven into the heat and darkness of violence, greed, and control, God will shine on those in that darkness.  Something other than our troubled humanity and human relations will come and it will simply shine.  God doesn’t attempt to explain the change, or justify God’s wrath, or claim to turn a new leaf with the coming of Jesus of Nazareth.  The person of the Son is of the same character, quality as the Father (“God of the Old Testament”, if you will), and the Spirit who comes into our hearts and enlightens us with Love, is of the same character and quality, essence or substance to use the ancient philosophical terms.  Even so there is what God did and the new thing God has done and is doing, we find in this a great deal of contradiction, we can’t put it together, it is beyond us.
Jesus comes and sheds light in the world, light is shining on us all who have lived and live in darkness, a darkness that was deepened by God’s wrath, but not caused by it.  God’s wrath is and was a tactic of engaging the world on the world’s terms, but God is Love, the light of the world.  God comes light from light, and enlightens everyone.

Here we find ourselves in a terrible agonizing contradiction: The light has come and yet we still find shadows to live in. Even we who claim to know the light, and bear its name.  From the beginning of the Church this has been so, witness Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.  We fall back into seeking prestige, power, and control.   We the enlightened think we gain some position of authority and prestige because the light of sun happens to shine down on us and we recognize and aren't blinded by the light.  We attempt to grasp and own God’s grace, and we then think it is our job to enlighten others. In the past and even now we fall into seeking to coerce others into our enlightenment.   But God came and shines forth, and that is all.
We, who see and are not blinded by this light, are the called. We are to fish, cast nets gather into the light.  It’s on some level ridiculously simple.  But in its simplicity it reveals a great complexity.  For in the light we see the mess we are in more clearly.  And enlightened we think the ways of the world can be used to control and clean up the mess.  And God keeps shining and saying “A new dawn is coming, this is a new thing, the old things are past step into the light, live in this new reality, step away from your darkness and consuming heat that only devours your soul.”

The sign of this new thing is the cross.  God, true love, suffers from our darkened desires and ways of violence and seeking to control and have power over each other, the world, and the sacred.  The World seeks to control and overpower God!  And God submits, but darkness can’t overpower the light, it can only put up barriers to the light.  This is why Paul lifts up the cross as the thing we are to glory in.  For it is the new thing.  A violent execution is the means to our transformation.  The unexpected newness is that God ceases to engage and use our darkened ways and instead comes and submits to and suffers them.  This is how the light shown into the world.  God comes and shines from within.  Though we use the metaphor of the sun and dawn, what happened is something for which we perhaps have no metaphor.  The Sun of righteousness shines from within the darkness, not external to it.  Unlike the dawn which we can predict, or even the return of the light during seasons of a year, this shining forth still catches us off guard, and we can mistake it as a property of the world and then attempt to live in the light according to the terms of what is passing away.  Yet we do this only if we cease to remember that the Cross is our enlightenment.

Come into the light, come follow the light, accept the way of the Cross.  Let the crucifixion overwhelm you. Let the love of God, the Spirit of god overwhelm you and drive out all darkness.  Fish for people, let the voice of the light call to them, “Repent and follow me.”  It’s really that simple and yet so exceedingly incomprehensible. This is the way of the Cross. Boast in nothing else, seek nothing else but the Cross, for in it the light has come and shown on those in darkness.

Saturday, January 18

Week of Prayer For Christian Unity, and Multiculturalism

This Sunday Reconciler will be focusing on The Week (Octave) of Prayer for Christian Unity by as has been our custom  using a form of the ecumenical Lima Liturgy in our 5 pm worship service. On Monday I will be attending LSTC's  Multicultural worship service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. followed by luncheon and discussion.

These things multicultural worship, Martin Luther King Jr., racial reconciliation and justice, and ecumenism should be held together.  Yet, as both Reconciler's practice and LSTC"s event show it is difficult to do so.  Martin Luther King Jr. Day always falls around the Octave of prayer for Christian Unity and often the Sunday within the Octave falls on the Sunday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  However, I am unaware of a congregation or group of Christians celebrating both things at once.

I feel we have a missed opportunity as divided Christians in the U.S. to break free of our "Americanism" and celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. as a call to leave aside our fragmentation, and embrace unity and diversity that calls especially Christians of European descent to repent of the sins of racism, ethnocentrism and segregation.  There are calls from many corners of American Christianity decrying that still the most segregated (least unified) period of time for American Christians is when we gather for worship on Sundays.

The unity of divided Christians then (especially in the United States, but not only here) is not simply about division around denomination our doctrinal differences but also race and ethnicity.

So, on Monday I'm attending LSTC's event not only in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. but also to pray for Christian Unity, that we may be drawn beyond of all the lines that we have drawn that divide us from one another. Recognizing that to some extent that the Reconciliation needed isn't simply crossing denominational boundaries but also an issue of justice.

This years reflection on the Week of Prayer for Christian provided by the Christians in Canada, provides us Christians with the soul searching and experience of our neighbor to the North on the confluence of the various ways we Christians have contrived to divide ourselves.  Even though we would want to affirm that Christ is not divided and yet, around ethnicity, race denomination and other differences we find it impossible to join together. Some of these divisions it is important to remember come out of patterns of injustice, from which some parties (White Christians) need to repent, as well as patterns engrained by more neutral processes of history.

However, this seems to reinforce for me that we Christians in America should take this opportunity to honor Martin Luther King Jr. by joining our celebrations with prayers for Christian Unity, for the racial divide divides Christians in this country, in direct contradiction to our calling as members of Christ.  We need to pray for a softening of our hearts, praying for reconciliation and seek to find ways to join together.  Justice, Reconciliation, and Unity among Christians are of one cloth, we should begin to practice this. The confluence of these two celebrations offers us a great opportunity to live more fully into our unity in Christ.

Tuesday, December 24

Merry Christmas, the Oratory is holding no services this year.

Merry Christmas!
Due to changes in our relationship to our host church and scheduling difficulties, we will not hold Christmas Eve or Christmas day services.
Those of us who are in town will be attending other parishes.
If you are looking for a place to worship on this Christmas Eve or Christmas Day here are two suggestions:
Immanuel Lutheran Church (Our host church)
The Church of the Atonement (Episcopal/Anglican)
Sunday December 29th we will have services for the First Sunday of Christmas at our usual time of 5:00 pm
Sunday January 5th we will celebrate 1st Vespers of the Epiphany with Holy Eucharist, also at our regular time of 5 pm.
Wishing all a blessed Season of Christmas

Friday, December 6

John the Forerunner’s Hope Is Our Hope: Awaiting Ax and Fire.

The Scriptures are for the Second Sunday of advent Pastor Larry accidentally used the Scriptures for the Second Sunday of Advent on the First

Our Scriptures on this First Advent are in a string of metaphors, images, and proclamations and a series of interpretations and reinterpretations.  We this evening are called into this as we wait to hear God’s word to us in these images, interpretations and reinterpretations.
 We begin with Isaiah’s proclamation of hope: from what seems to be a dead stump, root systems survives and from those roots and stump a new shoot will come.  Paul (and other writers of the New Testament, and the Christian Tradition) identifies Jesus of Nazareth with the branch that grows out of the Root of Jesse.  This image from the life of trees is an image of hope.  Hope that even though the kingdom of Israel and Judah had ceased to be, even though the Hebrews were an exiled and occupied people, someday they would once again be the center of God’s transformative work, from the root of Jesse would come the rebirth of the nation and transformation of the world, giving not only hope to the people of Israel, but this was the hope of all nations, of the peoples, the gentiles. 
St. Paul sees the fulfilment of this passage to be Jesus of Nazareth.  God’s promise that the Gentiles would find their way to Zion, that they would look to Israel for the wisdom of God, becomes in the Apostles reading of those promises, that one particular Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, holds all the hopes of both Jew and Gentile. 
Then we have the proclamation of the odd and fiery John the Baptist.  At the beginning of Advent we hear of the Forerunner (as he is known among Orthodox Christians) who prepares the way of the Lord.  The decedents of the Israelites living in the area of Judea flock to him, they were waiting, they were anticipating a time when things would be restored, and John gave them hope that the time was now.  John the Baptist/Forerunner’s message of hope seems a little harsh, a bit like “Sinners in the hands of an angry God”.  John takes up Isaiah’s tree metaphor but in a different way.  God comes and will lay an ax at the root, won’t just cut down the tree but will go for the root of the tree that does not bear fruit.  John even proclaims that this is the state of affairs as he proclaims the coming, the advent of the one foretold.  Axes and fire are John’s words for anticipation and hope. 
For John God’s coming is a little bit frightening.  The transformation that must come to bring about lion and lamb, and the end of all violence and death requires slash and burn.  Granted burning of chaff, that part of a grain of wheat that is useless inedible without nutrition, and removing the root of trees that will not bear fruit and new branches.  It’s not enough to rely on life that once was, there must be sign of life now, without it there’s the ax and there’s fire to burn up what is dead and worthless. 
But all this is in the past, even Paul’s words.  What are we to make of this now, what life is in these words for us in the early 21st century?  What are we anticipating, and hoping for now?   Why come to this point again, to wait, to anticipate? Why sing of a coming that has already come, to wait for a hope that is both fulfilled in Christ and yet not quite finished, and not quite what was originally hoped for?
What if we don’t listen to John the Forerunner as 1st century Jews, but as 21st century post-Christians?  What does John have to say to us?  What might it mean to repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand?  What if what we long for is just in reach, and what if it isn’t other people that keep us from reaching it but ourselves?  What if we all are the brood of vipers, who chase after any and all possible signs of life and hope but do so wishing to cling to our dead lifeless lives as if they were full of life and hope?  What if in our roots there is much hope, but little sign of life above the surface?  Do we have some weight to our being, or are we light like chaff, easily blown in the wind and quickly burnt up?  What might it mean to turn around, to seek to have a change of attitude and orientation?  Perhaps we need to stop and wait, to turn and look and anticipate with hope the fire of transformation.
We post-Christians of the early Twenty-first Century have a problem.  Christendom, or the various Christendoms of Europe and the Middle East were seen as these great achievements. They themselves at certain moments in history were seen as part of the fulfilment of this hope that we are called to on this first Sunday in Advent.  While many still cling to this idea that Christendom or America as a Christian Nation (one of the many Christendoms of Europe) is or was the hope we longed for.  Some  wish to preserve the place of Christians in an old order being convinced that only by preserving Christendom can the Kingdom of God come, only through Christendom can we ever hope to have the lion lay down with the Lamb.  I hope that at least those of us here may see in a new light this error (that I think we already recognize as such).  But there is another form of this clinging to a form of Christendom: Some think that only if the human race progresses beyond prejudice, beyond its past failings, only if all could only not be racist, patriarchal, misogynist, if only all prejudice could be eradicated from human beings through activism and the Rule of Law could bring about what that for which we hope: the peace and the lion laying down with the lamb.  Only through human effort and just governments and laws will all wars will cease and we will have the Kingdom of heaven (though possibly without God).   What is it about these ways of thinking that is the same? Both say that some human condition or effort will make it possible for God to transform the world or for the world to be transformed.  You brood of vipers why do you seek out the coming of God, when you believe human effort or human status or moral standing can bring about the transformation you seek?
Johns hope and anticipation, call for repentance, and his warning about axes and fire says that what God is going to bring about is  going to come not by our repentance, but is going to come with our without our repentance. Christ came without anyone’s permission, what God began in Christ is continuing regardless of Christendom or no Christendom. What God began in Christ, our hope as Jew and Gentile together, whether or not there are any Christians, God will accomplish that for which we hope and long.  This is why Paul is so insistent that Gentiles need only to look to Christ and not first to the Jews and the traditions of the Israelites.  No people of God, no nation, will fulfil God’s work, one who comes from the root of the nation of the people of Israel, this one who is also God, for whom John still calls out in warning and hope, prepare the way of the Lord, turn and look to the only one who is our hope, the icon of God, Jesus Christ.  Let go, open up to life in side you, let go of your flighty lightness of being and be joined to the life giving bread.  Become heavy.  Let the shoot of Jesse spring up from your stump of a life, let the fire consume all that has no meaning in you, let ax and fire pass over you and wait for the transformation that follows.

God is transforming the world it began in the one who is the shoot from the root of Jesse, and it has spread from person to person who has found in themselves this same shoot shooting up from places within themselves where no life seemed to have been.  God’s transforming work comes as Christ comes with fire to burn away what has no weight or meaning or value, so that we may find our weight of being, our substance and value as persons in Christ.  Repent and let the ax and fire come, for there is our hope, to be freed through ax and fire from death and nothingness. Amen.