Sunday, April 19, 2015

We Are God's Children Now: a sermon

Year B Easter 3
St. Thomas’ Richmond
“We Are God's Children Now”

There are so many different ways to say hello around the world.  

We have our firm handshake, looking someone in the eye here in the States.

In so many places, you shake hands or touch arms as you kiss each other on both cheeks as both a hello and a goodbye.

Hawaii has its Aloha.

Inuit and some in the Near East rub noses.

India and other southeast Asian countries place palms together and present a Namaste, “The spirit or God-ness in me recognizes the spirit within you.”  A beautiful greeting ritual.

Today in our readings, John greets his intended audience with a beautiful greeting, one I wish we did more in the Church and in our society.  “Beloved, we are God’s Children now.”

Beloved.  Beloved.  The Beloved of the Lord.

We can do anything because of who we are.  Now before you get worried over this statement, stay with me while I expand this metaphor.

Picture a Prince, strolling through his Father’s Kingdom.  Who will say no to the young man?  Who will stop him from doing whatever he wants?  No one will lay a palm on him.  No one will prevent his whims from coming to fruition.  The only one who can or would stop the young Prince is the King, his Father, or the Prince himself exercising self-control.  

As we play out this metaphor, we begin to see where John is going in his epistle.  Does the Prince do whatever he wants?  Does he run amuck?  His handlers may give him a questioning look, but he can do whatever he wants.  And in his immaturity he just may.  But as he grows and matures, he learns that his Freedom comes from his Father’s authority.  And as so many know, in fact it is inscribed on the Korean War Memorial, FREEDOM IS NOT FREE.

One of the great things about growing up, is that Freedom, what we strive for so much in our younger years, is not the ability to do whatever we want.  This is a lesson learned by college freshman skipping classes, or anyone venturing out on their own for the first time.  Our young Prince may learn that lesson the hard way.  No matter what he does, good or bad, he is still the Prince.  He may be free to do whatever he wants, but his reputation and his Father’s will pay the price if it is not what he ought to do.

Maturity teaches us an important and sometimes costly lesson.  In our Freedom, we are FREE not to do what we want, but we are FREE to do that which we ought.  We are given the Freedom to choose to do what we will choose to do, and the one who gave us our Freedom did so that we might choose the right.

I John 3:1-7
1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

2 Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 4 Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.

7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

Now it may seem gauche to bring up sin, yet it comes up in response to the Resurrection in our readings today.

Acts 3
“19 Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out,” preached Peter.

Luke 24:45-48
45 Then [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the scriptures,  46 and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  48 You are witnesses of these things.”

Our “missing the mark,” which is what sin is, over and over again is not something we need to repeat.  But we need to break the cycle that has gotten us nowhere.  We often avoid thinking on our sins, but think on the Prince, as he makes his way through the Kingdom.  As he goes through the market from stall to stall, or down the lanes, or across the fields, the choices our young Prince makes show how seriously he takes, how preciously he understands, and even how much he loves being the Child of the King.

Are we any different?  As we take on the name of Christ, that is what Christian means, “little Christs,” we reflect how seriously we take, how preciously we understand, and how much we love Christ who enabled it and God who bestowed us the love to be called Children of God.  We treasure it so much we baptize our children with this name, marking them as Christ’s own forever.  We may wear a cross, or have a Jesus fish on our car.  All fine and good.  But we all know that the proof is in the pudding.  As John states a few verses later in verse 18: “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

It has been expressed so many ways.  “You may be the only Bible some people ever read.”  Or the perhaps apocryphal quote that has made its rounds on the internet from Gandhi: “I like your Christ.  I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”  This is the exact opposite of what John wrote in his letter.

Thursday night the Diocese held its first listening session on Reconciliation at our sister church Epiphany, over in Lakeside.  We were all asked a few questions and asked to respond.  The last one was something close to this:  “What is one thing you can do or the Diocese can do to move towards a ministry of reconciliation?”

It was moving hearing people name the one thing that they can and will do to be more loving across racial, social and class lines.  Today I want to do the same thing.

It is all well and good that we are the Children of God.  There is no more precious or wonderful gift than that.  But are we like kids on Christmas morning who unwrap the treasure and play with the box?  Isn’t that the joy of all gift-givers everywhere?

This morning, beloved Children of God, I would ask two favors.  As you go about the next week, with the people you meet, be they friend or foe, smelly or meek, bothersome or wonderful, as you greet them, think of them as the Beloved of God.  Especially those you hate or that drive you crazy.  See what difference it makes.  One, your response to them won’t be based on your fickle feelings, but try to see them the way God does.  Maybe even try to see them the way God sees you.  (Remember that most hazardous of prayers, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.”)

The second thing that I would ask of you, think on ONE THING that you can do each day to share the Love of God.  Just one thing.  What will it be?  Commit to it, and do it.  I cannot wait to hear where this goes.  Just like our young Prince went bounding around his Father’s Kingdom, hopefully he paused and thought what good could he do as he meandered his way through his inheritance.  May we do the same.

Greetings, beloved our our Father, be blessed this week, and be loving, just as he is loving.  Amen.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Fluid God: a sermon for Easter Vigil 2015

“A Fluid God”
Year B Easter Vigil 2015
St. Thomas’ Church, Richmond

Genesis 1:1-2:4a  Creation
Exodus 14:10-31, 15:20-21 Passing through the Red Sea
Isaiah 55:1-11 “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters…”
Ezekiel 36:24-28 “...I will sprinkle you clean with water…”
Romans 6:3-11  Do you know that all who have been baptized have been baptized...
Mark 16:1-8 Mary and two other women go to anoint Jesus’ body

“So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Mark 16:8

The woman at the tomb, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome left afraid.  

Fear is so easy to cling to in the unknown.  We have been wired that way.  In the culmination of the greatest act of love ever recorded, we see these dear people respond in the only way they know how.  Fear.

Our programming takes us to fight or flight.  Peter chopping off Malchus’ ear.  Fight.  The woman running from the empty tomb.  Flight.  We go there without thinking.  And that is the problem.

But dear friends, we are given another possibility.  Albert Einstein penned that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”  As we move into the mindset of the Resurrection, we are invited to take on the mind of Christ.  We are invited to step above and beyond the fear, and view all of our problems from the perspective of Love.  How else could he stay silent when lies were being told of him?  How else could he receive the Betrayer’s kiss mere hours after washing Judas’ feet?  How else could he look down from the Cross on which he was soon to die and pray, PRAY, “Forgive them Father, so they don’t know what they are doing.”?  Father, forgive us for so often we do not know either.

When are days are dark, and it is always darkest before the coming dawn, we have been given another way.  This new way of thinking and of living has been echoed by the Saints of God across the ages.

Deep in her prayer life, the woman who has come to be known as St. Julian of Norwich wrote of her revelation of Divine Love.  We often hear the first part, but so rarely continue the passage.  She penned, “All shall be well, all shall be well… For there is a Force of love moving through the universe that holds us fast and will never let us go.”

You came out on this darkest of days to celebrate this new life we find in Christ.  You came out to worship this God of Resurrection.  Even those of us who have been in the Church for decades, might need a rethink of what this God we worship is like.

The God we worship is flighty.  Not flighty in a ditzy way, but going from moment to moment and event to event pollinating like the bees God’s Grace and goodness.  

Our God is often depicted as a great Rock or a mighty castle.  But our God is not a stolid God, impregnable like a fortress, despite the words of the old hymn.  Our God cannot be captured in permanence.  Of all things God is not, God is not static.  Dynamic, awe-inspiring, ever-changing, ever-hopeful is our God.

The God we worship is infinitesimal.  Our God is not great and huge, but tiny and precise, slipping between the very atoms that we think hold us together.  

The God we worship is sneaky.  The God we worship this night slips in between our defenses and opens our protective gates so that God’s light and truth may take over the darkened chambers of our hearts.

We come this night, this night of all nights, in recognition that God is NEVER set and ALWAYS changing.  How often do we try and make it so, though?  People say, and rightly, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8  True, but what is the constant?  Change!  Justice!  Transformation.  Our God seeps in where God is unwanted, ravaging the cold and stagnant treasures we hide deep, deep within, and bringing the hidden out into the open.

Tonight, on this night of Resurrection, I want us to think on God.  Our God is a God of Resurrection, but even more so, our God is a God of Insurrection, overthrowing the past and embracing and creating the new.  “I am about to do a new thing;” God declares in Isaiah 43:19, “now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” This Easter Vigil, as we await the dawn I invite you to dream the dream of a God that makes all things new.  Nothing could be more radical, nothing could be more subversive.  Nothing could be more terrifying to so many.  But, nothing could be more true.

Tonight I preach of a fluid God.  A fluid God is one you cannot get a handle on.  When we try to grasp, it slips through our fingers.  Do not hold onto me, the Resurrected Christ tells his disciples, follow.  “Follow me,” and “Go, and do likewise” our Christ commands.

A fluid God is without shape, because God gives shape.  “The earth was formless and void” as we saw in the Genesis reading, “and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the Deep.”  And out of this chaos shape and meaning and purpose was brought forth.  A fluid God can flow between what is and what should be and bring out the purpose of God’s creation.

A fluid God can stop the very rules of Nature.  We know water flows downhill; it does not stand up straight and tall and form walls.  But with a fluid God, the children of Israel can pass through on dry ground between walls of water in the Red Sea.  Rules do not apply when fluid God gets flowing.  The very fabric of the Universe can get soaked and become dripping when the fluid God begins.   And as this fluid God soaks into the fabric of the Universe, holding back the waters of the Red Sea is nothing to our fluid God.

A fluid God can be consumed as well.  In our thirst, a fluid God can be drunk, a drink quenching the unquenchable in us.  “Ho, everyone who thirsts come to the waters…” we read in the prophet Isaiah.  That was for a people long ago;  is it any different for God’s people this night? Come to the waters of this fluid God, drink God in and be quenched.

A fluid God can also cleanse us.  “I sprinkle you clean with water,” Ezekiel reminds.  As the water transfers from the bowl to the cloth to our blemished skin, the fluid God can wash us removing those things that cling so closely, and return us to the state we were meant to hold.

A fluid God can baptize us.  As we are baptized, immersed into the waters of Baptism, our fluid God is surrounding us and transforming us.  Romans 6 tonight told us:
3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
Our baptism is our catalyst into the newness of life in Christ.
We use the word catalyst as something that causes change, but our fluid God is a true catalyst in the chemical sense, “something that initializes and promotes change without being changed itself.”  In our interaction with this fluid God, we are transformed and changed throughout, while our fluid God continues on the same forever and always.  It is hard for us to conceive, but the waters that quenched the dinosaurs thirst is the same the quenches ours.  This precious fluid of life continues being utilized and transforming millennia, after after millennia, after millennia, and it is still here doing what it is supposed to do.  Our fluid God is the same.  And those same waters of the Jordan in which Jesus was baptized are the very same waters we use in our font.  The beauty of that cannot be lost.

What is more, on this night of Resurrection, this fluid God connects beyond just time, God connects us between this world and the next.  Heavy on our hearts is our dear friend Linc who passed this week.  But the same man with whom I shared the bread and the cup with at this altar and in his home is not apart from me.  Our fluid God connects us in the here and now with the great cloud of witnesses.  Jesus promised the thief who asked to be remembered that today he would be with him in Paradise.  In the eternal Now that is to come, our fluid God connects us as one day we will be connected as well.  
Once again from tonight’s Romans reading:
8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
May we do the same.  May the life we live, we live to God.

Lastly, a fluid God can anoint us.  The women went to the tomb that first Easter morning to anoint the body.  But in the fluidity of Resurrection, Christ was no longer there.  An anointing is a setting apart.  David was anointed to become King, even though he was not in the royal lineage.  We anoint the newly baptized, marking them as Christ’s own forever.  I would urge you, brothers and sisters in Christ, in the sure hope of the Resurrection, to be anointed in your hearts and minds.  Set them apart from the way you are wired.  Think of Lincoln, who 150 years ago this very day walked in our city which had recently been the capital of those who saw themselves as his enemy.  Think of Martin Luther King, Jr. who was gunned day 46 years ago today.  Both of these men looked beyond the hatred to a world transformed in God, a world transformed by God.  The women that morning some one-thousand-nine-hundred-eighty-five years or so ago, chose the natural, the safe, the normal way.  But in Christ’s Resurrection we are promised something new.

When we are seized with terror and amazement, the words from Mark’s gospel, when we are seized with terror and amazement, remember our fluid God.  Rise above the fight or flight, and be an agent of Grace, and of Hope, and of Resurrection.  The women, Mark tells us, “said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  As a Resurrection people, we must proclaim.  Our fluid God surrounds us and binds us. Our fluid God baptizes and anoints us.  Our fluid God goes before us into the unknown, and whatever situation may terrify or amaze us, our fluid God is already flowing ahead of us to meet us there.  

May the words of our sister St. Julian of Norwich be our cry even during our darkest night and our fears surround us, “All shall be well, and all shall be well.”  

Or better yet, “Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!”

Friday, April 3, 2015

For Our Sake: a Good Friday sermon

“For Our Sake”
Year B Good Friday 2015
St. Thomas’ Church, Richmond

As I mull on the events of this day so long ago, and how we know so much in some ways and in other ways so little.  

We know it was a hill in Jerusalem, but if you go to the Holy City there are competing claims.

We know some of those who stayed with him, but not where the majority of his followers hid.

We know the times of his execution, and even close to the time of his death, but what it was like and what were the feelings swirling that day we can only imagine.

I think of his mother, unable to stop this sacrilege, but also unable to leave or look away.

I think of the criminals on the crosses beside him, knowing of their guilt and of his innocence.

I think of Christ on the cross, who could have repeatedly stopped the process, who could have found another way, and yet…

And yet, he did not.

Raising children and working with them pretty regularly, I get the “Why?” question a lot.  Or it might be phrased, “How come…?”  

When I think to the events of Good Friday so long ago, my mind races to the Why.  My mind races to the How Come.  But I know that the Why and the How Come are not there.  

If you ask me if I believe Jesus had to die, I would answer, “Yes.”

If you ask me “Why did Jesus have to die?” I cannot give you an answer.

If you ask me why I believe he had to die, my answer would be because he did.  I do not believe that something so stark and so dramatic is just for show.  I do not believe that it is for a blood price either, that some bloodthirsty God wanted his pound of flesh but wanted to be seen as loving and forgiving, too.  

I cannot give a why, though as I said, even my mind races there.

The words of the Nicene Creed are no easier…

For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.

For our sake…

My mentor always told me that a leader does what has to be done.  We saw in the Garden yesterday Jesus praying and asking if there were any other way for the cup to pass, to let it.  But, it did not pass, and so he took it up.  For our sake, he took it up.

Today we saw Jesus praying from the Temple’s ancient hymnbook, one of his final acts on this earth.

Psalm 22
  1. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
and are so far from my cry
and from the words of my distress?

But Jesus was a biblical scholar, about to match wits with the best of the Pharisees and other leaders in the Temple.  I cannot think of a way for him to start this ancient hymn and not go through all of it in his mind.  I believe in his final moments he prayed this Psalm to its conclusion.  It may start with being forsaken by God, but it does not end there.  The last two verses...

Psalm 22, cont.
29. My soul shall live for him; my descendants shall serve him;
       they shall be known as the Lord’s for ever.
30.    They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn
       the saving deeds that he has done.

For our sake…

For our sake he was crucified.  When I think of Jesus dying for my sake, I do not want to go there.  I love Jesus.   I do not want him to suffer for my sake.  I do not want him to bleed for my sake.  I do not want him to die for my sake.

But then I am reminded of Peter, my nick-name-sake, when he did not want Jesus, his Master and Rabbi, to wash his feet.  Is it so very different?  Jesus said to him, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”  For Peter’s sake, he washed his feet.  For my sake and for our sake, he was crucified.

He did it.  I even think that he wanted to do it for each and every one of us and chose to do so.  Once and for all he abolished the barrier that prevented us to come before God.

Some might say it was our sin.

Some might say it was our guilt.

Some might say it was the huge blinders after centuries of habitual sacrifice and ritual, becoming trite, corrupt, or partial.

Whatever the Why, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

For our sake…

Martin Luther was not always the famous Reformer.  Before he made his bold stand he was a simple monk.  He went almost crazy, and I am sure he took his confessor with him, when he felt the need to confess IMMEDIATELY- and at all times throughout the day - to his mentor Johann von Staupitz. After he had confessed and gone away he would think of yet another sin that he had forgotten to repent of and would turn back around,and go to confess again. Martin had a conscience that constantly pricked him and it seemed sometimes that he didn't know why God wouldn't leave him (and his conscience) alone.  He had joined a strict monastic order and and took on practices that punished and deprived his body, as many monks at that time did in the hope of expunging the fleshly desires from one's self.

And finally it dawned on him that this obsessive, repetitive worrying, bouncing from confession to sin to confession, repeat, repeat, repeat, could not be what Christ spoke of when he talked about having life and having it more abundantly.  And he embraced the idea of Grace.  Grace, a free underserved gift of God, for the sheer fact of love alone it was given to Martin Luther and it is given to us as well.

For our sake, Grace.  

For our sake, Love.  

For our sake, Good Friday.

We have nothing to hide, and nothing for which to be ashamed.  It is already known, forgiven and blotted out.  Grace.  Love.  Good Friday.  

Because of this, the preacher of Hebrews was led to say “... my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.”  Hebrews 10: 19-22

And if we have the privilege of coming into the very presence of God, by what was done on the Cross, is there anything of which we should be afraid?  Really.  

Death itself is dead.

Guilt itself is gone.

Grace and Love are the rules of the Rulemaker.  Who else do we need to listen to?

One of my favorite emerging Christian leaders is Shane Claiborne working with the poor in inner-city Philadelphia.  He tells this story...

“One of the most powerful Good Friday services we’ve ever had was a few years ago. We carried the cross into the streets and planted it outside the gunshop in our neighborhood. We had our services there. We read the story of Jesus’s death… and heard about the women weeping at the foot of the cross. And then we listened to the women in our neighborhood weep as they shared about losing their kids to gun violence.
Calvary met Kensington.

“Afterwords, one woman said to me: “I get it! I get it!” I asked her what she meant. And then she said something more profound than anything I ever learned in seminary: “God understands my pain. God knows how I feel. God watched his Son die too.” Then I realized she was the mother of a nineteen-year-old who had just been murdered on our block.

“God understands our pain. That is good theology for Good Friday. And that kind of theology only happens when we connect the Bible to the world we live in. It happens when worship and activism meet. We don’t have to choose between faith and action. In fact we cannot have one without the other.

“Let’s get out of the sanctuaries and into the streets.”

Remember, Christ may have taught in the Temple, he may have been arrested in a Garden, he may have been put on trial in a mansion, he may have been condemned in a palace, but he proclaimed the love and grace of God on a cross at the crossroads.  His love was made manifest in a thoroughfare.  Today as we walked the stations of the cross, did we bear witness to this?  I pray we did.

Psalm 22:30
They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn

       the saving deeds that he has done.