Sunday, July 3, 2022

Year C Independence Day 2022 Getting What We Pray For

 Year C Independence Day (Observed), 3 July 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Getting What We Pray For”


Collect: Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Matthew 5:43-48

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”




Friends, today we remember and celebrate our freedom. It is hard to discuss our freedom today, with protests in the streets and hearings over insurrections happening. It is apparent that we as a nation have lost our way.


We can no longer agree on what truth is, much less which way to move forward. And the question we, as followers of Christ, must ask ourselves, how do we follow Christ in days like these? 


Give my three people and we would probably have 5 opinions, and maybe an abstention thrown in to boot.


We are in a tough time, but this is nothing new. People are problematic. Groups of people are even worse. Some of the oldest stories ever recorded looked at the problematic nature of ruling and we collectively do not know what exactly it is that we want.


Whether we look at the Tower of Babel in Genesis, or even what we have reduced to Children’s Stories coming from Aesop, the Greek slave and storyteller from around the 5th century BCE. (620-560 BCE) Here is his notorious…

The Frogs Who Wished for a King by Aesop


The Frogs were tired of governing themselves. They had so much freedom that it had spoiled them, and they did nothing but sit around croaking in a bored manner and wishing for a government that could entertain them with the pomp and display of royalty, and rule them in a way to make them know they were being ruled. No milk and water government for them, they declared. So they sent a petition to Jupiter asking for a king.


Jupiter saw what simple and foolish creatures they were, but to keep them quiet and make them think they had a king he threw down a huge log, which fell into the water with a great splash. The Frogs hid themselves among the reeds and grasses, thinking the new king to be some fearful giant. But they soon discovered how tame and peaceable King Log was. In a short time the younger Frogs were using him for a diving platform, while the older Frogs made him a meeting place, where they complained loudly to Jupiter about the government.


To teach the Frogs a lesson the ruler of the gods now sent a Crane to be king of Frogland. The Crane proved to be a very different sort of king from old King Log. He gobbled up the poor Frogs right and left and they soon saw what fools they had been. In mournful croaks they begged Jupiter to take away the cruel tyrant before they should all be destroyed.


"How now!" cried Jupiter "Are you not yet content? You have what you asked for and so you have only yourselves to blame for your misfortunes." [Source: The Aesop for Children]


I have always heard, “Be careful what you pray for. You just might get it.” The frogs in our story wanted a laissez-faire government, until they didn’t. And then a strong hand, till they felt the weight of it.


Sounds too familiar.


But today we prayed for something particular: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace…


If I use that phrase, “maintain our liberties” each of us would prioritize and think of those differently. That is where the rage and fear that is being expressed is coming from these days, especially after recent Supreme Court decisions. What is liberty to some is seen as oppression from another. And vice versa. Where is our hope?


For me it comes from the approach to that phrase, “maintain our liberties.” How are we to do that? Through Grace. “...that we may have Grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace…” 


We give Grace, and we uphold Righteousness and Peace.


Last week, in one of the most heart-wrenching emails I have ever had to send. I had to write to you, the members of the flock in my charge, that someone somewhere was talking about attacking our congregations in our Episcopal church. The Presiding Bishop’s Office felt this credible enough to share with our bishops, and our bishops shared it with us. People were enraged enough to threaten violence over positions we have taken as a church. Our local police felt it important enough to reach out to me directly.


And this is where the price of freedom is shown. We have taken many positions that some see as wrong, because of our values. As a part of the Anglican tradition, we have always chosen the via media, the middle way. We are very protestant and at the same time very Catholic. We are very conservative while at the same time very liberal. We have a common form and a wide range of living our common faith out.


We chose to try and avoid the excesses and violence that took place on the European continent during the Protestant Reformation, to limited success historically, but we tried. One way we attempted to do that was this approach, the via media. 


This “Middle Way” focuses us on the form, and not the underlying beliefs which are a smorgasbord in most congregations, and we have chosen to be okay with that. As homogeneous as the Anglican Church appeared to be culturally, it recognized that the ways and motivations of the human heart, mind, and soul are varied and diverse. And we reside in the comfort of that knowledge and the occasional discomfort of that diversity.


My favorite example of this was Queen Elizabeth’s poem in response to what happens in the Eucharist: is it the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, or is the Spirit in the elements? 

Twas God the Word that spake it,

He took the Bread and brake it:

And what that Word did make it,

That I believe and take it.


She dances through the raindrops so beautifully, stating it is what it is, without straying too far one way or the other. It is what it is. And we, following in the Anglican path of the Via Media, attempt to do the same.


The sad part is in this environment of Black and White/bifurcated thinking, we see that not picking a way is an assumption of compliance or opposition, depending on whether we are given the benefit of the doubt or not. And so often we are not, living in times such as these.


Friends, we are about living out our faith and inviting others to join our path. And whether they do or do not, we are committed to their well-being and personhood. This is so integral to our approach to the faith of Christ that we include these vows in our Baptismal Covenant:

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

I will, with God's help. 

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? I will, with God's help.

 

This comes from our reason, our tradition, and from Scripture. “There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” [Galatians 3:28]


Friends, we need to voice our opposition to extremes (which may seem extreme in our climate) as too often we are pushed to adhere or be silent. 


Hanging near our front door, a reminder to myself and my family before we step out into the world, is this poem by German theologian the Rev. Martin Niemoeller. He wrote this during the time of the Nazis, but it is a poignant to speak up againts tyranny, but also God’s predilection for the outcast and the vulnerable throughout Scripture.


First they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me

And there was no one left

To speak out for me


If on this day we say we celebrate our freedoms, the best thing we can do is to work for and defend the freedom of all. “For freedom Christ has set us free.” [Galatians 5:1]


In my article this week I mention the quote from MLK, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I pray that when I have doubts and worries I am reminded that Justice will out, and that God is in control and will lead us out of any situation if we but follow him. Pray for this nation, and its leaders, ESPECIALLY if you do not like or disagree with them. Pray for wisdom. Pray for blessing. Pray for peace.


Think on it this way, if you hate the pilot of the plane you do not pray for their failure or demise. We are all in it together. Somewhere along the way someone thought it was in their interest to have us think in “Us” and “Them.” As we pray for our nation, may we pray for all of US. The U.S.A. US. And when I forget that, may God forgive me and nudge me back to our collect. 


Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Year C Proper 7 JUNETEENTH 2022 For Freedom

 Year C 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7, 19 June 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“For Freedom”


Collect: O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving­-kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Galatians 3:23-29

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.


Luke 8:26-39

Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me" -- for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.


Picture you are captured, unable to break free. No matter how much you struggle, or put up a fight, there is nothing you can do to be free.


The Gerasene demoniac was such a person. He was held by powers and entities beyond our comprehension or sensibilities. In our modern minds you may ascribe these to mental health issues, but whatever you see these to be, he was bound and controlled by a “Legion” of things holding him in horrible conditions.


Naked. Living amongst the tombs. Enchained and shackled, then tortured to wreck his body escaping to wreak havoc on his heart, and mind, and soul. He was enslaved to a life beyond our worst nightmares.


We would not wish this on our worst enemy. And yet, here he was. And Jesus arrives, and the powers that control him urge him to confront him and his “Legion.”


This one, enslaved to these powers, is horrifying and sad, but for me, the saddest part of the story are the Gerasenes, the ones living in this land. They knew the one possessed, and they knew that he was changed completely and set free.


Listen to their response to this miraculous act of freedom.

The people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. 


Friends, Jesus is about freedom, and inviting people to health and wholeness. He was two thousand years ago, and he is today. Still, to this day, Jesus is about setting us free.


He heals the broken-hearted and the damaged.


He empowers those ensnared by addiction, and hate, and bigotry, and provides a path to love and grace and wholeness.


He can rid us of a Legion of demons if we would only let him.


I have quoted this before, but it still speaks so profoundly to my soul. A simple poem from the 17th Century. 


The Best of Rooms by English poet Robert Herrick

Christ, He requires still, wheresoe’er He comes,

To feed, or lodge, to have the best of rooms:

Give Him the choice; grant Him the nobler part

Of all the house: the best of all’s the heart.

We are all inviting Jesus in, or sending him away each and every day. If he comes in, do we, like Herrick says in his poem, give him the Best of Rooms? Or do we set him in the corner? If we invite him in and give him the charge of the house, then he has his way and everything, absolutely everything is in his sway.


We are seeking freedom for those ensnared and enslaved, or we are not. “For freedom Christ has set us free,”[Galatians 5:1] and that is not only in the spiritual realm. 


Today is a day of the celebration of physical freedom in our country, declared a national holiday last year. July 4th is our independence, politically speaking, and worthy of honor and celebration. Today is a newly established holiday. Some of you may have even heard of it. Today is Juneteenth. I will read from the PresidentBiden’s proclamation last year…


On June 19, 1865 — nearly nine decades after our Nation’s founding, and more than 2 years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation — enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas, finally received word that they were free from bondage.  As those who were formerly enslaved were recognized for the first time as citizens, Black Americans came to commemorate Juneteenth with celebrations across the country, building new lives and a new tradition that we honor today.  In its celebration of freedom, Juneteenth is a day that should be recognized by all Americans. And that is why I am proud to have consecrated Juneteenth as our newest national holiday.


Juneteenth is a day of profound weight and power.


A day in which we remember the moral stain and terrible toll of slavery on our country –- what I’ve long called America’s original sin.  A long legacy of systemic racism, inequality, and inhumanity.


But it is a day that also reminds us of our incredible capacity to heal, hope, and emerge from our darkest moments with purpose and resolve.


As I said on the 100th Anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, great nations don’t ignore the most painful chapters of their past. Great nations confront them.  We come to terms with them.


On Juneteenth, we recommit ourselves to the work of equity, equality, and justice.  And, we celebrate the centuries of struggle, courage, and hope that have brought us to this time of progress and possibility.  That work has been led throughout our history by abolitionists and educators, civil rights advocates and lawyers, courageous activists and trade unionists, public officials, and everyday Americans who have helped make real the ideals of our founding documents for all.


There is still more work to do.  As we emerge from the long, dark winter of the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, racial equity remains at the heart of our efforts to vaccinate the Nation and beat the virus.  We must recognize that Black Americans, among other people of color, have shouldered a disproportionate burden of loss — while also carrying us through disproportionately as essential workers and health care providers on the front lines of the crisis.


Psalm 30 proclaims that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”  Juneteenth marks both the long, hard night of slavery and discrimination, and the promise of a brighter morning to come.  My Administration is committed to building an economy — and a Nation — that brings everyone along, and finally delivers our Nation’s founding promise to Black Americans.  Together, we will lay the roots of real and lasting justice, so that we can become the extraordinary country that was promised to all Americans.


Juneteenth not only commemorates the past.  It calls us to action today.


Those were the words of President Biden last year.


Any differences we see between ourselves and ANYONE else is gone in Christ. As we read this morning:

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.

We are all one in Christ. All those old lines, and any new ones, are erased in Christ.


Friends, I also see a lot of parallels to Juneteenth and our Gospel reading today. While most of us are not the demoniac, enslaved and tormented, we have a choice in how we respond when God is at work.


Do we celebrate and revel in the work of God bringing all God’s children to freedom and hope?


Or do we ask Jesus, however politely, to go away and let us delude ourselves in the status quo? Do we mourn the economic loss of the swine, and put our personal loss over the freedom of another soul? Is Jesus in charge of our house, or is he a mute image adorning our home, giving us comfort instead of true freedom?


This country is still plagued by demons. Just read the front page of the paper most any day of the week. But we think that our way is better than God’s way. We, like the Gerasenes, ask Jesus to mind his own business and send him away.


It terrifies me what is done in Jesus’ name, and proclaimed as the way of Jesus so often. It bears no resemblance to the Jesus of the Gospels or his message.


A friend of the church gave us this Juneteenth flag so that we can remember this act of liberation and freedom, which we celebrate in our faith as well as in our country.



The red, white, and blue represents our nation. The arc along the red is curving like a new horizon; it is not a straight line. The star is from the Texas flag, where the enslaved of Galveston finally learned two years late of their freedom. The 12 pointed star burst around it is a nova, a new star of freedom being born. The date is when freedom was fully and finally declared. I wrote a long thank you for this gift, and it helps us be ever mindful of full and complete freedom for all God’s children.


Friends, it is often uncomfortable when we bring up hard issues from our past. I recognize and honor it. Growing up, I often ignored anything about the Civil War, because of my discomfort with the issues of slavery and war. I avoided “The Blue and the Gray” miniseries. In my married life, it took me decades after its premiere to finally watch Ken Burn’s The Civil War. But avoiding it did not make it go away. I knew nothing, and if history has taught us anything. If we do not learn our history we are doomed to repeat it.


Today, I celebrate that chattel slavery was finally ended in our nation on June 19th, 1865. Today I grieve that it took 2 ½ years for them to get the news. That is a contradiction, and most big things are, in some way. Step into the hard truths, hold Christ’s hand as he leads us to a better place.


In my travels, exploring and learning about the past through the Triangle of Hope pilgrimages, I learned of this symbol from the Ashanti Tribe of Ghana. Sankofa. It is a goose, reaching back and getting an egg from its back. That is what it is. But what it means is to keep moving forward, but do not let go of the treasures of your past.

And that is what I see us doing with Juneteenth. Honoring the glorious day of liberty, and committing ourselves to getting to a better place, the place which God intended.


Let us pray:

Almighty God, you rescued your people from slavery in Egypt, and throughout the ages you have never failed to hear the cries of the captives; We remember before you our sisters and brothers in Galveston, Texas who on this day received the glad tidings of their emancipation; Forgive us for the many grave sins that delayed that liberating word; Anoint us with your Spirit to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of your favor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Year C Trinity Sunday WEDNESDAY 2022 Open

 Year C Trinity Sunday WEDNESDAY, 15 June 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Open”


Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Matthew 18:1-9

18At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ 2He called a child, whom he put among them, 3and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

6 ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7Woe to the world because of stumbling-blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling-block comes!

8 ‘If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell* of fire.


Good morning. This morning I have a few quick words, looking at being Open. Moses was open to God. Paul in Romans urges us to be open to God. And Jesus teaches his apostles to be Open to God.


Growing up I was taught too often about what was God was against. “A good Christian would never…” And you could fill in the blank with so many things. From our book study over the last few weeks, I have had a phrase echoing through my brain. God is not worried about us being Good, but God is wanting us to be Loving.


If we focus on being Good, then we are closing ourselves to how God could be working in our or others’ lives. It is like the difference between the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ Commandments. Thou Shalt Not vs. Love God, Neighbor, and Self. It is more than just semantics. It is focusing on the minors or residing in the major.


Moses appointed the 70 to help him lead. It was a good thing, but Aaron noticed that two (who were not part of the appointed and anointed) were in the camp prophesying. Eldad and Medad were their names. But Moses was not threatened. He knew God was bigger than any human appointed set-up. He says he wished everyone would be so close to God as to be a prophet. He was glad that God was bigger, and he was Open to whatever God was about doing!


Paul talked about how folks doing evil things had not acknowledged God and were drawn and were celebrating the worst in human nature. They had “debased minds” as he put it. But in the same way, we do not judge anyone. We discern the right and proper path, yes, but we need to be Open to God and be about God’s doings. We do not get bogged down in holding judgment.


And the greatest of the examples in this morning’s readings is the simplicity of the lesson when Jesus instructed that we need to be like little children, and unless we come to him in that type of simple trusting we could never be about the Kingdom of Heaven. We must be Open like a little child is Open. With eager anticipation and no pre-conceived notion of what the outcome could or should be.


We must be like these children. We must be Open. These days of divided interest and entrenched perspectives, we see Openness and flexibility as a negative. God help us. If we can only celebrate what we expect, what a limited world we will have. God help us. God forgive us.



One of my favorite passages of embracing God’s Openness is from the prophet Isaiah. [43:19]

I am about to do a new thing;

    now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness

    and rivers in the desert.


Friends, especially when the day is dark, when your water main is leaking, and the air conditioners are down, and the opponents on the other side of the aisle are snakes, and the allies on your side are even worse scorpions, know that God is bigger and God’s ways are better. Stay true and be open to outcomes, the springs in the desert and ways in the Wilderness. Amen

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Year C Trinity Sunday 2022 Sermon: Impossible

 Year C Trinity Sunday, 12 June 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Sermon: Impossible”


Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Romans 5:1-5

Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.


John 16:12-15

Jesus said to the disciples, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."


Good morning! It is always daunting to preach on Trinity Sunday, because whatever tack one takes, it borders on heresy if you are lucky, or crosses the line entirely.


Less may not be more when it comes to speaking on the Trinity, but less is certainly safer.


This doctrine is the third rail of Christian theology, and has been since the formalization of our theology so long ago.


If you look at the differences between the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed, almost all the differences are in response to heresies that emerged and the Church felt the need to clarify. Every one of these is an example:

    …eternally begotten of the Father,

    God from God, Light from Light,

    true God from true God,

    begotten, not made,

    of one Being with the Father.

    Through him all things were made.

    For us and for our salvation

        he came down from heaven…

And that is just the Trinitarian issues over Jesus.


If you are really interested in all of this, I encourage you to look at the Athanasius Creed in your prayer book on pages 864 and 865.


If you have not seen the video “St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies” that make the rounds every St. Patrick’s Day and Trinity Sunday, you are missing out. Just Google “St Patrick Trinity Video” and it pulls right up. Link


There it talks about how our analogies, which I have heard most of my life, are not only inadequate, but are considered heretical. The leaves of a three-leaf clover, separate but one. Nope. Water: ice, liquid, steam. Sorry, another bad one. It reduces the distinct nature of each of the persons.


One major controversy is in our phrase concerning the Holy Spirit:

    We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, 

    who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

Does not sound like much, but that final bit. …and the Son. That was not in the original Nicene Creed. That was added later by the Roman Catholic Church. Our Orthodox sisters and brothers hold this, the Filioque [Greek for “And the Son”], is the major hang-up in Orthodox and Roman Catholic dialogue, and there is a movement to take out the Filioque in our next Book of Common Prayer. Expect heated debate. Does the Spirit proceed from the Father, or the Father AND the Son? Our Orthodox siblings feel it subordinates the Spirit if seen proceeding from the other two persons of the Trinity. I see where they are coming from. Wars have been fought over less.


As I said, the doctrine of the Trinity is the third rail of the Church. We will see. 


SO what can we say?


I like Richard Rohr’s analogy that the Trinity is the Divine Dance. Movement. Interrelated. Relationship. Always driving us toward God’s culminating dream for creation.


The Spirit of Truth will drive us to the Truth, as it says in our reading from John today. And that Truth will set us free, as Jesus promises in another place in John. [John 8:32]


For me, I appreciate a modern approach to the persons of the Trinity, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, which are strong images. While it is a good alternative, taking away the masculine imagery which is often troublesome to sensibilities, I do have a hard time taking away the anthropomorphism of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are more than our roles, all of us, even God.


From the Hebriac foundations, the masculine for the Godhead has been the case. Jesus, being masculine in his gender, is obviously the Son because he was a son. The Spirit, which is much better than Ghost in every possible way, is more ambiguous. 


Often we will see the Spirit referred to as She to give more balance than what is traditional. There is even a biblical precedent in the Apocrypha, in that “wisdom” is referred to as Sophia, a feminine name we still use, and is often seen as a stand-in for the Holy Spirit guiding us to right living.


But our metaphors and pronouns, none of them are adequate for what we call the Trinity. In a few moments, when we recite the Nicene Creed, please make sure that you pay attention to the words used to surround and name the persons of God. Those descriptions are clear enough to be understood, ambiguous enough to be open. Whatever box we try to fit God into, it is never big enough. God cannot be contained.


Suffice it to say, the Trinity is a mystery. Too big to comprehend. Too important to reduce. Too mysterious to be explained in any possible way. As the hymn suggests, maybe we just say it: “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”




As we look to the Trinity, however we see God, may we look to be surprised. God will always break through, often in a way we cannot fathom and when we least expect it.  Thanks be to God. Amen

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Year C Pentecost 2022 Good & Pleasant

 Year C Pentecost, 5 June 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Good and Pleasant”


Collect: Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


John 14:8-17, 25-27

Philip said to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you."

"I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."


Good morning, friends! Happy Birthday!


This day, Pentecost, 50 days after Easter, we have the joy of this being the line of demarcation. Before this day, there were followers of Jesus’ Way. After this day, we were the Church.


The ekklesia, the word we use for Church, are the “called-out” ones, or the “called-out” assembly or gathering. On that first Pentecost, 3,000 people heard the message preached by the apostles and came out of the world into the ekklesia, the Church. And from that beginning, we are here today. It has been a long and winding road through the two millennia since then, but here we are.


In fact, Pentecost could almost be summed up in the words of Mary Oliver:

Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

And the early Church most certainly did. Thanks be to God!

In our readings today, we are given images. Images of Division. Images of Unity. Images of Comfort.


But I want to start today with one of the Psalms of Ascent. The Psalter was the hymnbook of the Temple. And included in that hymnbook is a collection of songs the people would sing on their way “up to Jerusalem.” One would always go “up to Jerusalem.” Psalms 120-134, these 15 hymns were the marching songs of the people of God. Some bring comfort, some express a desire for justice. One expresses a vision of hope for the people of God, and today I want us to begin with that.


Please grab your Book of Common Prayer. Open it up to the Psalms. Now for those not as familiar, the entire book of Psalms is translated and included in your BCP. On page 787 we have two short psalms. This morning let us say together Psalm 133.


Psalm 133   Book of Common Prayer, p. 787 in the Book of Common Prayer

1 Oh, how good and pleasant it is, *

    when brethren live together in unity! 

2 It is like fine oil upon the head *

    that runs down upon the beard,

3 Upon the beard of Aaron, *

    and runs down upon the collar of his robe.

4 It is like the dew of Hermon *

    that falls upon the hills of Zion.

5 For there the LORD has ordained the blessing: *

    life for evermore.


This image, a shower of blessing raining down because of Unity is such a powerful vision, a beautiful thing. A fine oil flowing down. Dew watering all the life that needs it in Zion. This passage came to mind because of the first verse, “How good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity!”


Yesterday at the Diocesan Convention we had an image of people coming together seeking Unity. We will say more at our announcements, but it was a time of deep feelings and strong opinions. But the common thread amongst all those gathered together was how seriously and importantly they took what we were about. This was no small thing, electing the 14th Bishop of the Diocese of Virginia. Since 1790 there have only been 13 people who have held the title, Episcopal Bishop Diocesan of Virginia. That makes the average tenure just shy of 18 years. So our gathering yesterday was a pretty big deal. From this one decision, made prayerfully, soberly, and in great hope, much of the next decades will be determined.


When our Bishop Elect, the Reverend Canon Mark Stevenson, came on the screen via streaming video, he expressed his joy and overwhelm, it was so touching. We stood and applauded with Unity. Here is a quote:

You have honored me greatly. I am overwhelmed with deep joy over the journey that you have invited me to be a part of with you over the coming years. There’s such a Gospel hunger, Gospel drive in Virginia. It’s simply awe-inspiring… My prayer today is that God will grant us joy-filled day after joy-filled day as we start this new journey with each other and with God.

You could tell he was touched, and he first spoke of how excited he was to join in our journey, a journey for us to be together in the Gospel Ministry of Jesus Christ. Oh, how good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity! May that be the case with Bishop Elect Mark, and our diocese which has taken some heavy blows recently with distrust, division, and disunity.


In fact, let’s stop and pray right now for Bishop Elect Mark, and his forthcoming ministry with us.

Gracious Lord, the clergy and people of the Diocese of Virginia, trusting in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, have chosen Mark Stevenson to be our bishop and chief pastor. We therefore

ask you to lay your hands upon him and in the power of the Holy Spirit to equip, empower, and enable him to be a bishop in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. In the Name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen

I urge you to add Mark daily to your prayers as he transitions to being with us in Virginia, and preparing for his new role.

 

Psalm 133 begins with Unity, but the outcome, the point of it all, is what is so important is the culmination in the closing verse. “For there the LORD has ordained the blessing: life for evermore.”


Unity is how we model that blessing ordained by God. But life for evermore is the goal, beginning now in this world and continuing into the world to come. This blessing is ordained by God. Friends, know that these two things are not separate from each other. They are integral to one another, but they are contingent on God. God has ordained it. God has made this blessing. God is faithful and will be true.


In our Genesis reading, the age-old story of the tower of Babel is told, where language and cultural differences are given as punishment in response to people attempting to compete with God.


But that punishment is not God’s desire for us, we need only look to the passage from Acts, where the gift to the Church is that through the Holy Spirit, we can become Un-Babel-ed. God wants for us to live in unity and harmony with him and each other. And God does not wish us to do it alone.


Jesus in our John reading promises us the Holy Spirit. 

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.


That God-with-Us is Emmanuel, Jesus. But that God-within-Us is the Holy Spirit. That indwelling that can only come from the Father is a foretaste of what it will be like in heaven. Discerning and clarifying, comforting and empowering, the Holy Spirit is the ever present helper in our way through this world. That voice that leads us to calm and peace when we are facing troubled waters. That word of wisdom that comes out of nowhere and we are as surprised as everyone else when it comes out of our mouth. That still, small whisper that lets us know we are on the right path even though all evidence, and maybe even rational thought, may point to the contrary.


Come, Holy Spirit, come! And thank you! Happy Birthday to us all! Amen