Sunday, September 3, 2017

Sermon at Emmanuel, Mercer Island, September 3, 2017

In the last couple of weeks we barely got to revel
            in the wonderful natural display of the total solar eclipse
            before we were on to the next crisis – Hurricane Harvey.
And we have been so absorbed in the flooding
                        beyond anything we have seen before,
            that we might have missed the even greater flood devastation
                                                happening simultaneously
                        in India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
In those three countries the human death toll is over 1,200,
            and half the country of Bangladesh has been underwater.

Aside from the natural disasters, we have also been witnessing political upheavals
            that also are crises on various different issues,
                        such as racism, terrorism and threat of thermal nuclear war.
I’m not going into all that right now;
                        I’m just noting how we are personally affected by these stresses.

How do we live in the midst of it all?
How do we live our faith as Christians when that name Christian gets politicized?
What is an authentic way to be a follower of Jesus?
            These are the questions we can ask ourselves and reflect on
                        in the light of the scripture readings for today,
three very good and significant passages we really should to pay attention to.

The passage from Exodus 3 is one of the most important in the Old Testament,
                        the Jewish scriptures,
            and relates directly to the Gospel reading for today,
                        and I’ll tell you how.
This is the story of Moses and the bush that was burning, but not burning up.
That bush was an angel, a messenger from God, to get Moses’ attention,
            so that he could learn something incredibly important about
                        who God is:
not a name, but simply put, “I AM,” Life, being, consciousness.

Moses is given a significant prophetic action to carry out –
            deliver the Children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt,
but that deliverance is for the sake of God who is their Life.

In the Gospel reading, verse 25 Jesus says,
            For those who want to save their life will lose it,
            and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Let’s look for a moment at our opening hymn for today,
in particular verse three.  We sang:
            To all life thou givest, to both great and small;
            In all life thou livest, the true life of all;
            We blossom and flourish, like leaves on the tree,
            Then wither and perish, but not changeth thee.

God lives in all life, - that verse says – or rather all life lives in God.

When we sing these words, we may be focusing on the eternal nature of God,
            but what the words are also saying is that all life is lived in God’s life.

You and I are expressions of the One Life,
            unique and individual yet also only a part of that One Life.
Those who engage in the spiritual practice of meditation get a sense of that.

And this One Life, God’s Life, is the true life of all of us.
What we identify as ourselves is what we see
            blossoming and flourishing and withering and dying, as the hymn says.
But what does not change is the true life,
            what we can find when we lose the life we have been identifying with.

Matthew 16:25
            For those who want to save their life will lose it,
            and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

And then verse 27:
            For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father,             and then he will reward each one according to their praxis.

That is the literal translation.  The Greek word is praxis
            which means practice, action, deeds, behavior, the model of action.

The reward is going to those who lose their life for the sake of Jesus,
            in other words, his disciples.
Praxis is fundamental to discipleship.
We are baptized into Jesus and what we then do flows out of New Life.
It requires that we leave all behind, right down to our own self identification,
            how we define ourselves.
Because when we lose that,
            then we can find our true self, who we really are.

To put it more baldy
            when we come to know who we are in Jesus, in relationship with him,
                        then we can be equipped to be real disciples in action.

Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has spoken of the need for the Church
            to express itself as a Jesus Movement,
and the response has been to be enthusiastic about Matthew 25 ministry.
            You remember that: 
                        “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the lease of these,
                        you have done it unto me.”

But in the “Jesus Movement” the key word is Jesus.
If you don’t begin with relationship with Jesus,
            then you are just running a social justice program
not a real Jesus Movement.

It is so easy to push by Jesus and just get down to work.

And Romans 12 is a great action plan for addressing this crisis
            or any crisis, and all the needs we see around us.

Let love be genuine;
            hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;
            love one another with mutual affection; …
            be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
            Contribute to the needs of the saints;
            extend hospitality to strangers.
            Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. …
            Live in harmony with one another; …
            Do not repay anyone evil for evil,
            but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. …
            Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

There it all is – a whole plan of action, a moral standard, a Christian life style.

You should tear out this page from the liturgy booklet
            and take it home and put it on the refrigerator door
            or tape it to the bathroom mirror
            or on the inside of the front door so that every time you go out
                        you can see these words and remember to take them with you
                        in your behavior, your action, your praxis.

But we have got to understand that this is not just a morality
            for us to try to live out from our own effort.

Romans 12 is a prescription for life in the Christian community,
            the life style of a Christian community,
and the first verse in this reading sets the parameters for all that follows:
            Love must be genuine, authentic.
                        The Greek word here for genuine means literally not hypocritical.
And the word for love here is agaph,
            the love which is beyond all other forms of love,
                        love which surpasses family love,
                        godly love, as in “God is love.”
Love that makes no distinction, does not objectify, but unites with the other.
It is like the true life one finds when the imagined self is no longer clung to,
                                                                                                            but let go of, lost.
Let love be genuine,
and then everything else that follows in Romans 12 will be possible.
Because love that is genuine comes as a gift from Jesus
            to enable us for effective discipleship.
“We love, because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

Now back to the Gospel reading: Verse 28, Jesus said,
            Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death
            before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.

 …To see the Son of man coming in his kingdom,
            and that kingdom is expressed as resurrection.
The reward for those disciples is in seeing the resurrected Jesus,
            and resurrection then leads to the empowerment of the disciples
                                                on the day of Pentecost
to become apostles, to be witnesses of Jesus – that’s the original Jesus Movement.

If we are to be a witness in the world of a Jesus Movement,
            it must be by our seeing kingdom come in Jesus
                        through the power of the resurrection,
by which we then are empowered in God’s love and life.

In a short while I will be issuing an altar call for all of you to come forward
            in order to be empowered for action/for praxis in the world.
You will recognize the altar call when you hear the words,
                        The Gifts of God for the People of God,
            for those gifts are gifts of God’s Life in you.
Discern the Body and Blood of Jesus being placed in your hands,
            and what that reality can do in you.

Then you can pray,
“Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart.”

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday

Did you ever stop to wonder why today is called “Good Friday?”
                        Not Bad Friday?                        It’s Good Friday.

And did you know that this liturgy today
            is not meant to be gloomy, sad and depressing?
No, it’s meant to be solemn for sure, but not mournful.

The liturgy is designed to be reflective,
            giving a time to ponder,
            to ponder how such a death brings life and hope,
                                    how such a death opens the way
                                                for healing and reconciliation in human lives,
                                    how such a death is glory.

Yet this is the hardest part of the week we call holy:
            staying present at the cross, with the crucifixion, with death itself.

But this staying present is part of our devotion and response in gratitude
            for God’s gracious love expressed so incredibly for us.

At the time, there on that Friday, for the disciples
            this horrendous crucifixion was devastating beyond belief.
For those who had been traveling with Jesus,
            listening and taking in and pondering what he had been saying,
            watching how he interacted
                        with all the various sorts and conditions of humanity that came to him,
            seeing the healings, the transformations taking place in people’s lives,
for these witnesses,
            how could it be that it was all now destroyed in this cruel injustice and death?

For the disciples the political forces that ruled the world had smashed
            what was the most beautiful, generous and loving gift of a person
                                                                                                            that had ever been.
Their world was shattered.

They could not yet see how Jesus was putting on the image of the Forsaken One,
            how he put on every dimension of suffering of mind and body,
            how intentional Jesus was about walking straight into his death with all that.

St. Anselm had written about that, saying
            you can’t do that unless you are God;
            you can’t take that on unless you are God.
That’s the mystery and the beauty and the goodness of the Cross.

Jesus had told his disciples,
            “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.”
That is the image of God – God on the Cross –
            and not many get this,
                        even though there is the mercy and love that draws us in.
How is it that this is resisted?
            Our persistent resistance to this good, beautiful truth!

Just a few hours before the crucifixion Jesus had said to his disciples,
            “If you knew where I was going you would rejoice.”

Let’s just look for a couple of minutes at what is happening
            in the Passion story according to John.
In this account in particular you can see
                                                            that Jesus is the only one in control.
He is a calm center in the midst of power struggles, mockery, and cruelty.

Everyone else exhibits that they really have no control over what is going on,
that there is great failure on their part
to achieve what they want to do.

The disciples have no apparent control over their drowsiness;
                        they fail to stay awake.
And then they all run away, fleeing for their lives.
Judas is doomed to play his role as betrayer
            despite whatever his motivation and intentions were.

In that strange scene in the garden, as John’s Gospel tells it,
            the band that comes to arrest Jesus at Gethsemane
                        is knocked to the ground by the force of the word
spoken by Jesus, his simple statement: “I AM.”
Only when Jesus purposely gives them a second chance
            can they lay hands on him and take him away.

Peter, in spite of his earlier protestations,
            fails in his ability to keep from denying his Lord.

The high priests and Sanhedrin
can’t make a credible case against Jesus.
So they have to revert to political pressure
to get Pilate to cooperate.

Pilate being backed into a corner, discovers he is not so powerful
            and he can’t engage with Jesus regarding Truth.
Then Pilate tries but fails to set Jesus free.

It is Jesus who acts, who is in control,
who accomplishes all that needed to be done,
right down to the last detail described in the ancient texts
about the Servant, the Lamb of God.

And then the still point – that moment when he breathed out the last breath.
It is he who chooses when his last moment is, when he dies.
He completes all,
and breathes out his breath
and gives up his spirit.

The scene at the cross now becomes somewhat surreal.
His side is pierced.
Blood and water gush out
            spraying those standing there.
The witness giving the account of this tells the truth.
This is baptism in his death.

Death provides release of his presence
            empowered to baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit
                        without the limits of the mortal body. 

All that afflicts, that contracts, that inspires a sense of poverty,
            that leads to violence, deception of self and others,
            that promotes false, self-serving interest,
                                                                        abuse, exploitation, war, addiction                                                 – destroyed in death. 
Jesus dies the death of all that. 

And in his dying all in us that is identified
            with such a world of spiritual confusion, suffering and self-destructiveness,
                        is drawn into his body on the cross. 
All that tragic evil dies there with the death of his body. 

He is on the cross in our condition of world-identified humanity.
He is on the cross performing a creative act.

For the death of Jesus is the absorption of the sacrificial gift of suffering            
            into the heart of God.
Jesus takes our humanity in its fragmented, self-destructive state
            into the divine presence always whole, eternally unbounded and creative. 

This is what we need to recognize:
            by the crucifixion and death of Jesus,
            as we, and all the world are drawn into and unite with his death,            
the way opens to embrace the eternal radiance of divine love,
                        which is God. 

So today – Good Friday –
is not just about a morbid reminder of a particularly gruesome death,
for which we ought to grieve
and feel deep remorse and penance,
but an occasion for deep devotion, gratitude, thanksgiving even
            for the blessed wood of the Cross.

Hymn 166 Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle
            a hymn by Fortunatus, one of the very earliest hymns of the Church,
Verse 4:
Faithful cross! above all other,
one and only noble tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
none in fruit thy peer may be:
sweetest wood and sweetest iron!
sweetest weight is hung on thee.

This is the glory of the cross,
            the precious weight that hangs upon it,
                                                            precious beyond all counting,
            the grain of wheat falling into the earth and dying
                        producing the fruit of salvation and resurrection
                        and new life for us all.

            In the limitations of our own personal life perspective
                        focused on our immediate issues
we miss the hugeness – it is beyond anything we know how to ask.

Would that we could see more clearly
            how what we here suffer in the routine of daily life
                        often has more to do with our attitudes and presumptions
                        than with the actual reality of our situations.

Would that our eyes were opened
            so that we could see how much we are spared, how blessed we are.

Then we would sink on our knees before the cross,
                        the rude representation of the suffering of God,
and express from the heart our love and devotion,
            our thanks and our acceptance of God’s love.
At the foot of the cross let it all drop away

and worship the glory with grateful hearts in wonder, love and praise.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Lent

Happy Lent!

And I am serious about greeting you that way.

I really want to get beyond that first reaction to Lent
            that it is a time for putting on a glum face.
Lent is a tremendous spiritual resource.
            We have in Lent the opportunity to look at many positive possibilities.
The subdued tone of Lent is meant to foster thoughtful personal reflection
            and open a door for more careful examination of what is going on inside us.
We can use Lent to get in touch with our deepest longing,
            what brings the greatest joy, the greatest peace in our lives,
            what it’s like when everything is right.
                        when life seems its fullest.

This is the home grown, organic, natural Lent.
            Everything is provided for the exercise of a holy Lent.
All we really need is there in the daily stream of events,
                        the daily stream of interactions in our relationships,
            as the old hymn, New every morning, puts it,
                        “The trivial round, the common task
                        will furnish all we ought to ask…”

Everything we need for practicing Lent is right there in front of us –
            free of cost.
It’s just a matter of engaging with it.

Good luck on that, you might say,
            given what we are surrounded by in terms of the news,
                        and the unavoidable awareness of human suffering
                                                going on all around us, and in our own lives.

Politically, socially, economically, psychologically, environmentally
            the world looks all screwed up.
But today you are not going to hear a rant from me about that.           
No rant today
            not with a Gospel reading like we just heard.

John, chapter 3 –
                    the story of a Pharisee, community leader and member of the Sanhedrin,
            coming for a private conference with Jesus,
            at night when it would be safer for him,                       
                        when this conversation wouldn’t have a lot of people listening in,
                        when Nicodemus didn’t have a religious/political role to play,
                        when he could engage personally with Jesus
                                                            about his own questions and life issues.
And what Jesus says to him
            ends up with the most often quoted Bible verse ever:
                        “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
                        that everyone who believes in him
                        may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Now there are two words that I want to tell you today about this whole passage,
            - out of so much that can be said and that I would love to say -
                        just two words
                        and they are both Greek.

Nicodemus says to Jesus,
            “We know you are a teacher who comes from God.”
            No one can do such signs as you do apart from the presence of God.
And Jesus responds immediately:
            “No one can see the kingdom of God,
            without being born from above.”

My first word is anwqen, from above.
And notice, this translation does not say “born again.”
The Greek says, born from above, anwqen,
            from what preceded, what is before – from the Source.

In reading, if something is referred to “above”
we know that means something preceding in the text.
“From above” is like going upstream to the headwaters.
anwqen refers us to the Source,
to the beginning, to where it all began.

“In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. 
He was in the beginning with God. 
All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being.”

You can’t see, that is to say, you cannot discern, the Kingdom of God
            without being born from the Source.

If one knows one is in the Presence of God,
            then one is knowing from the Source. 
In order to know you must come into new being, be born of water and Spirit,
                                                            from the Source.

You may have noticed the baptismal font has been placed here for Lent,
            right in front of us to walk by as we come up for Communion.
This baptismal font is a wonderful visual representation of the Gospel reading!
            Look at the shape of it.
I hadn’t thought of it this way before,
            but in the light of the words from John, chapter 3,
            I looked at this font differently.

Jesus says to Nicodemus,
            “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God
            without being born of water and Spirit.
            ‘You must be born from above.’

This font, its shape            is suggestive            of a uterus                        a womb
                        a place that prepares us for new life.

We began Lent with the ashes of our mortality.
We will end Lent with the Easter Vigil,
            the number one time during the liturgical year for baptisms,
            for being born anew into the eternal Resurrection Life of Jesus.

The font fits beautifully with John, chapter 3.

Jesus continues with Nicodemus:
            The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it,
            but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.
            So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
And Nicodemus says to him, “How can these things be?”

There is nothing we can do or understand
to be born from above, from the Source.
This being born is not something we accomplish,
just as physically babies do not accomplish their own birth
            or understand what has happened to them.
When the time is ripe
the mother’s body automatically goes into contranctions
and ejects the baby, pushes it out,
even without the mother’s conscious part in determining when.

When the time is ripe…
The baby that is in the womb
            is not yet ready for the world,
            would not be viable in the world yet. 

But there is one big difference between a baby being born
            and being born of water and the Spirit.
In the case of being born from above, anwqen,
            the umbilical cord is not cut.
We are connected eternally to the Source,
            to God’s Presence,
            to eternal life
                        begun in the waters of baptism
                        and carrying us through the physical death of the body.
The umbilical cord is never cut.
            It is our path back to God when we wander.
            It is a short path, a path of no distance.

Word number two: kosmojœœ, the Greek word that is translated “world.”

In English we associate the word kosmoj with the universe,
            but in Greek it has a more specific meaning.
The kosmoj is an ordering or arranging or adornment
            placed over the natural, naked creation.
                        Hence the word in English, cosmetology.
World in Greek refers therefore to
            the political, cultural, economy, religious composition
                        of human society within our environment.
It is the embellishment of the earth
            with all our human inventions, philosophies, and ideations.

Now the significance of this word becomes clearer
            when we consider again that most famous Bible quotation:
                        “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
                        that everyone who believes in him
                        may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Everything in the world around us,
            everything we have created or invented or altered or ruined,
            every system of knowledge we have come up with,
            every meaning we have applied to life,
            every structure of society,
everything, it all is included in the Love of God.
Not just the created earth and we humans, God’s creatures,
            but all we have done to it and to each other
receives the intervention of God’s love through Jesus Christ
            so that none perish,
            so that world, the kosmoj, will not be condemned.
God so loved the world.

This is the Gospel good news for this morning,
            what touches our deepest long,
            what brings the greatest joy, the greatest peace: God so loved the world.
In the middle of everything that is going on right now,
            we are told that God has infinite love for us
                                    and all we have done to God’s beautiful creation.

Let this inform our praying of the confession,
                        which as you may recall is now right up front for Lent,
            and fill us with profound gratitude
                        as we hear the words of absolution:
Almighty God have mercy on you,
forgive you all your sins through the grace of Jesus Christ,
strengthen you in all goodness,
and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life.

The spiritual resources of Lent are right before us.

Oh, happy Lent!

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
            that everyone who places their faith in him
                        may be born into the eternal life that ever flows through Jesus                                                 from the One who is the Source of all that is.