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.

Wednesday, March 9

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent: "Disgrace of Egypt" and Reconciliation

Scriptures for the Fourth Sunday in Lent Year C, RCL:

“Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” Entering the land of Canaan for the Israelites was to come to finally achieve being freed from slavery.  The manna which was the provision of God in the wilderness came to an end once they were in the land of Canaan, the land of promise, the Promise land.  The words of Marin Luther King Jr. in the sermon the day before he was assassinated “I’ve been to the mountain top and .....and I've looked over and I've seen the Promised Land” echo here.  I can’t help but think that he also had in mind this passage in Joshua and the rolling way of the disgrace of Egypt.

I request your patience. What follows is a winding road.  The path I’m asking us to walk down has its dangers and at moments will look hopeless.  It may bring up fears, or shame, or guilt.  I request that whatever is brought up, that you let that come without judgement and without fleeing from what these words evoke. I encourage us to follow through this path, to come to a place where we can truly be on the path of reconciliation and liberation.  Some of what may be evoked in you as I guide you through this path is that the Kingdom of God, the Promised Land remains for all of us uncharted territory, and may always remain so, because that space is about union and unfettered relationship with each other through God whose ways are not our ways and whose thoughts are to our thoughts.

I’m walking a tight rope of interpretation.  I want to encourage us to hear our texts and the story of the people of God, and yet at the same time there are ways of interpreting these stories and text that will inevitably lead us away from Christ, or towards a Christ of our own invention. we can too readily identify with Israel and miss how we aren’t Israel and how we are connected to Israel, if Gentiles. For White Christians this danger is an already realized fact of our interpretation of Israel.  We see ourselves as Israel when we have actually been Egypt, when it is the system created by European Christians as white that created the conditions of Israel in Egypt for African people as we enslaved them and justified it through appropriating to ourselves the identity of Israel. Europeans justified slavery in part by seeing themselves as the new Israel.  The American version of it is to see the U.S. as that city set on a hill the beacon of freedom God Chose to bring enlightenment and democracy to the world all the while enslaving and oppressing Africans.

So, let’s be clear this passage can’t be applied to White Christians, not at least as White Christians have done so.  Gentile believers can be joined to Israel, but only through the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, a Jew.  Only through this mediation of Christ can any Gentile become part of Israel and then hear these stories as our stories.
For Christians in the United states there are two distinct ways in which America carries with it the disgrace of “Egypt”. For black people it is the same as with the generation of the Israelites who entered Canaan in this passage, that they were formerly an enslaved people.  For White Christians it is that we were and are Egypt. (And Babylon and Rome) White Christian and the White Church is a gentile religion without Jesus Christ, the Jew of Nazareth the God the Son incarnate. White religion and Christianity. This is admittedly a depressing way of looking at this.  It starkly puts the point of division, a division that violently happened at the red sea, the division of Israel from Egypt, for the freedom of Israel and for God to begin to join with humanity through Israel. To the extent that White Europeans have enslaved and resisted the freedom of Africans and of Black people in the U.S. this division of Egypt for Israel reverberates for us in our day.

So, after White supremacy after African enslavement after the holocaust how can white Christians take up and read the Scriptures?  Can Egypt become Israel?  How then might Egypt read and properly identify with this story and the words of Joshua to Israel that the disgrace of Egypt has been rolled away.

 this depressing picture of division and the impossibility of a meeting between Egypt and Israel is to be looking at things not from the perspective of being in Christ but of seeing things from the point of view of flesh and the human point of view. But today we hear Paul calling us to no longer view anyone or anything form the point of view of flesh, the human point of view.

If we judge from the point of view of the flesh we may hear Martin Luther King Jr.’ preaching as addressing the U.S as Israel or the Black Church as Israel.  Such a reading though only offers division from Egypt, it doesn’t provide a means to enter the promised land and for the disgrace of Egypt to be rolled away, for Egypt remains other and negatively so, Egypt in this universalizing and abstracting appropriation of Israel leaves Egypt as only representing evil and slavery. It offers no hope of reconciliation Between White people and people of color. No hope of transforming relations of oppression into relations of liberation and love.

But what if we hear all of this King’s words “I’ve been to the Mountain top I’ve seen the promised land.” from the point of view of being in Christ?  From within Christ we may be able hear King’s vision from the space of being in Christ can see the disgrace of Egypt in its duality for American Christianity.  In that space we can begin to see it as something beyond the history of the United States, beyond the history of European colonialism and White supremacy.

Incredibly what Kings vision may illumine, if viewed from being in Christ, is that Egypt is among the nations that come to Israel along with all other gentile peoples who’ve suffered the disgrace of Egypt.

The trick here is that we all are so familiar with the view point of the flesh, the human point of view. That it  is difficult is for us to fully accept being in Christ and to thus stop viewing others from the point of view of the flesh.  How do we with Paul no longer view other form the perspective of the flesh?

The starting point is something we all if we have received the sacraments of the Church.  The starting point is Baptism and Eucharist; through these we do have access to this other point of view.  Through baptism and Eucharist, we have entered the promised land, that King glimpsed.  Yet, like our ancestors in Jesus of Nazareth the Christ, we have to be willing to enter in, to face our fears and walk through them. We have to accept our death in baptism, we must accept God’s substance in the manna come down from heaven.  But how do we embrace this unrealized reality that most of our ancestors who walked out of Egypt never fully embrace with only their children stepped into that Promised land.

How do we step in to this place, how do we walk into the Promised Land King glimpsed before his death?  Howe do we take up a position from within Christ, from within the promised land and no longer position ourselves in the flesh, no longer seeing anyone or anything from a human point of view?

Let us hear our brother Saint Paul. What does he say?  Are you in Christ?!  The answer is yes, through faith and baptism and consuming Christ in the Eucharist!  What does Paul tell us if we are in Christ?  Look, all things are new!  Do you hear that, can you grasp this, can you stand now, right now in this newness?  Chicago even as the old age continues to assert itself, Chicago is new, New Chicago (King speaks of needing to live in and seek this newness.)  But how?

This view from within Christ is twofold:
1)     it is to be in a new creation that is to be in the promised land
2)     It is to be reconciled to God and to be then with God in reconciling.
This is to no longer see anyone from the human flesh point of view.  It also means for us now being in two times and places at once.  This being in Christ is to be simultaneously in the desert that is in the age that is passing away and in the promised land, the new creation.

From this point of view and not the human point of view. Israel’s entrance into the promised land of Canaan, that strip of land between modern day Egypt and modern day Lebanon, was the beginning of the whole world and cosmos becoming the promised land.  All of creation is to be the place of our being with God.

From this point of view in Christ, what then of us who are Egypt and enemies of God and God’s people oppressors of other human beings?

Paul says again Are you in Christ!? No longer view anyone including yourself from the point of view of the flesh, but from the newness of the promised land.  Look at yourselves and all with the eyes of God incarnate, Jesus Christ.  In that space, in such a moment of newness we who are oppressors and we who suffer oppression no longer need to view each other according to our flesh, according to the color of our skin as Whiteness dictates.  We must view ourselves and all from the space of being reconciled. Be Reconciled to God!  If you are reconciled with God, you no longer view any person from a human point of view, from that space of reconciliation there can be no enmity, nor lessening of the other, no disparagement of self or other. Yet to remain here, to enter here, to see with the eyes of God the Father, this is the constant challenge, and the place of our constant failure, where we fall back into the desert and the human point of view.

And so Jesus told them this parable. Jesus tells this and several other parables when certain religious leaders were grumbling at whom Jesus Christ was welcoming.  Those being welcomed and those grumbling were Israel. Even in Israel there was division and looking at people accord to the flesh and the human point of view. 
we are perhaps too familiar with this story usually titled the Prodigal Son, but it could as easily be entitled the Loving/forgiving Father, the parable to the two brothers.  For our purposes today I’d want us to hear this parable under the title the parable of the new creation in Christ.

15:11b "There was a man who had two sons.
15:12 The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them.
15:13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.
15:14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.
15:15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.
15:16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.
15:17 But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!
15:18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;
15:19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."'
15:20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.
15:21 Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
15:22 But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe--the best one--and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
15:23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;
15:24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.
15:25 "Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.
15:26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.
15:27 He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.'
15:28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.
15:29 But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.
15:30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!'
15:31 Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
15:32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"

It is possible to find ourselves in many places in this parable.  But if we’re to see this parable from the POV of the new creation and not stuck in the flesh we should place ourselves in the place of the father (which is the place of reconciliation and new creation.)  If we continue to interpret this parable either form the point of view of the younger son or the older brother we have yet to enter the feast that is prepared, we have yet to fully embrace our baptism and the Eucharist, we have yet allowed ourselves to be transformed by our consuming of Christ week after week.  The reason for this is that both sons remain representative so seeing others and ourselves according to the flesh, the human point of view.  The younger is caught in self condemnation, the older brother is caught in continual condemnation of others.  Yet to be in Christ is to be in the place of the father. The Place of the father is to be in the place of simultaneous the desert and promised land, that is to be actively waiting and looking for moments of reconciliation, of return and repentance, of the newness of life.  This space of the father in this parable is the space of knowing ourselves to be already reconciled to God and thus by god to all others including those who we have harmed or who have harmed us.  We are in the space of the father in the feast of the new creation in the world that still need God’s reconciling work accomplished in Christ Jesus.

Yet to come to the moment of the father actively seeking reconciliation, we must come through the moments of the two brothers. In the desert fleeing oppression, slavery and abuse, that Egypt will come to Israel is unimaginable. The oppressor, the powerful, the one who has inflicted harm and has robbed others of life and wealth and land and freedom, must accept the depth of their sin and turn and repent and not expect a joyful embrace.

Yet in Christ, in God all these moments are held together in a loving reconciling embrace that forgives without denial, offers repentance with responsibility, but without guilt or shame.

Here is the place of hope without fear that all the same sees clearly, to see trump and his supporters not from a human point of view but from the point of view of the father, who holds us all in Christ both those who are far off and those who are near.
Step into the promised land, have glimpse of this yet unrealized reality of being in Christ, where all is new. But first we must come with our fears our doubts our grumbling our judgments, our fears and anxieties and say I’m still in the desert, I’m afraid of what it might mean.  I need to hold on I need to protect myself, even in that moment in Christ, God embraces and says, come put on new cloths, come and feast, come and be reconciled to God. Or maybe you are standing outside, confounded by why God hasn’t struck down Pharaoh like he did that one time, why there are still people who lash out, who are bigoted who threaten your very existence, and you say how can I enter in, and God comes to you and says you are mine, you always have been mine, I’ve never abandoned you and never will, come see all is new, death and fear and tears don’t have the last word, they are all passing away. Come eat, dance, drink, behold in Christ, already now even when this age is crumbling around us, there’s the new creation.  There God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself like the father waiting to embrace a son who selfishly rejected all the father had given him.

Know that oppression and death don’t have the last word and the oppressor can return, Egypt will be among the nations turning to Israel, and you are already proof that this is so, for you are already in Christ, have already begun to enter, you are reconciled to God. This is the space of the promised land of being in Christ of no longer seeing rom a human point of view makes many things possible. Among the things it makes space for it makes space for the oppressor to repent and the oppressed to be freed from oppression and both to be reconciled to God and each other. This is the hope repentance and liberation. This is no longer seeing from the human point of view. Amen

Sunday, January 17

Transforming the Ordinary into Extraordinary Joy: Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Scriptures:
I
Water into wine at a wedding, this is the first sign that Jesus performed. We have here such a tiny and puzzling story.

In the grand scheme of things, the event is insignificant and we know very little about this wedding at Cana except that these were friends or possibly even family of Mary and Jesus.

John is the only gospel to recount this event and John will eventually tell us that this is indeed very
significant, though it is also very ordinary and happened in an insignificant place in this backwater of the Roman Empire, Galilee.

John sets us up to see this event as significant. This wedding that is otherwise a quite ordinary event, a wedding in an insignificant town in Galilee, that would be unknown to us except for this story.  We don’t even know the names of the couple being married. The event in and of itself is like so many events in our lives, and event that will be repeated by many others, forgotten in time.

John says this wedding took place on the third day.  If we read the Gospel in a literal historical way, we may think John is saying that this took place on the third day after John Identified Jesus as the Lamb of God and Jesus’ first disciples started to follow him.  But it is more likely that saying this occurred on the third day is to make us think of the Resurrection.  Just before this Jesus tells Nathaniel that he will see the heavens opened up and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the son of man, a reference to the crucifixion.  John has prepared us to see this as no ordinary event, even though it is simply an ordinary wedding of ordinary people in an ordinary town.

Even so, Jesus doesn’t at first see the significance of this moment, rather it is his mother, Mary, who sees and at whose behest and insistence he performs this his first sign that reveals Jesus’ glory and the glory of God.  Jesus even says that it is not time, the Third day hasn’t yet come, and yet it is already the Third day.

In this moment things begin to blur. Jesus provides some of the best wine the steward of the wedding feast has ever tasted, and in that moment this ordinary wedding feast becomes a feast of the kingdom of God, the wedding feast of the Lamb.

And so we read Isaiah 62 where God promises to marry Israel and the land.  And so there has been speculation that this wedding at Cana was Jesus’ wedding, and this is why the bride and groom aren’t mentioned or named.  Historically speaking that is at best speculation, and at worst a form of literalism that obscures the significance of Jesus’ first sign.

In that moment, at an ordinary wedding, in an ordinary town, at the marriage of two people whose names are lost to history (perhaps John own memory), whose celebration was about to be cut short, Jesus in providing wine shows himself to be the Bridegroom, the one through whom God has married humanity and all creation.

Here at the beginning we are at the end. Here we are already at the joy of the Resurrection, of the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost and the consummation of all things, the marriage feast of the Lamb.
Mary insists on the joy of the celebration not being cut short, and so Jesus’ ministry that leads to the Cross, begins in joy and as a sign of the marriage of God and God’s creation in Jesus of Nazareth. This marriage isn’t complete or consummated without the Passion, and yet it was accomplished through God the son becoming human through Mary the mother of God.

Yes, lines are blurred, yes history and the insignificant and the significant come together in this moment. The wedding at Cana is and isn’t an ordinary wedding, and it was and wasn’t Jesus’ wedding feast, the wedding feast of the lamb.  This was the first sign that Jesus performed revealing his glory and his disciples believed in him. Through this sign of turning water into wine at an ordinary wedding, the wedding at Cana became the wedding feast of the lamb before its time.
Through this sign we like Mary may see and name the ways in which this joyful feast, the wedding feast of the lamb is breaking into our ordinary everyday lives. 

We are in ordinary Time after the Epiphany, we have begun counting Sundays, but this isn’t a time of drudgery or just killing time, rather it is a time infused with the light of Christ, of God’s manifestation in human flesh in Jesus of Nazareth.


May our hearts be changed in this time after the Epiphany, may we have eyes to see.  Don’t cut short the celebration.  Basque in the insight that the love and joy of union with God is found now, even in the midst of the most ordinary events, even in the midst of dreary and cold winter.  God will consummate this joy, and we will also know sorrow before all is accomplished.  Yet today is also the Third day, the time to celebrate, the day of our enlightenment.