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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Pentecost Hunger

[Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15]
Romans 8:14 says “All those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”  Pentecost is the Greek word for a Jewish holiday celebrating God’s gift of the Torah to Moses and Israel. It is fifty days after Passover (also called Feast of Weeks, 7x7+1) and coincides with the harvest season (barley was harvested at Passover and wheat at Pentecost). [It is easy to see the metaphorical significance of the harvest!]It is on the Jewish holy day of Pentecost that the Holy Spirit came!

The central role of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is obvious. The gift of God’s Spirit to the church, however, is sometimes difficult to understand. We know we have the Spirit, but many times we may not have a “feeling” or “experience” of the Holy Spirit. This is fine. Paul is not talking about an experience, but an ontological fact. Our being or nature is changed into something new: children of God. Those of us who read the daily office have been seeing this theme in the letters of John the past few weeks. Like Paul, John also declares that we are already children of God now, but there is more coming later!

That is why Romans 8:18 must be included in any discussion of being “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Paul writes I consider the sufferings that we now endure not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed in us.” It is a good news, bad news declaration. Bad news: loving Jesus does not free us from struggle, suffering or pain. Jesus may not make everything better immediately. However, the good news is a reason for hope and joy, He will eventually make all things better. Much better. SO much better that it will totally overwhelm the struggles today.

Even with Messiah’s coming, creation continues to struggle with the effects of The Sin. In Genesis, Adam and Eve sinned and that brought down the Curse, not just on them but on the Earth. Sin and Death are the power of Satan’s reign. After Genesis 3, the world as it is can no longer be called the world as God intended it to be. The world is broken and in need of help. All of the world. Salvation is about so much more than “going to heaven.” God is redeeming all creation, the whole world. It is a rescue operation from a Savior outside! This is why all creation groans…

One popular Biblical image for the Kingdom is giving birth. Recently one of our parishioners went through nearly twenty four hours of labor. Giving birth is hard work and it is exhausting. There are many moans and groans involved in the process. Yet the appearance of the child produces joyous celebration. WE know what is coming, but the anticipation period is a time of struggle. SO with creation.

The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, is our share in God's life. It is the ‘first fruits’ of salvation and the coming harvest. Just as the Jews gave God the first fruits to sanctify the entire harvest, so God sets aside those who belong to Him to sanctify His fallen creation. We, you and I, the Church, are part of the first fruits.

But there is so much more to come, that is why creation groans and it is why we groan. There is a God-sized hole in our hearts and we desire more than we can ever have this side of the Kingdom. The unmet needs, the unfulfilled desires, the frustration of being satisfied with what we have and wanting so much more---that is what groaning is. The old rock song, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” is a theological truth. We ache inside for something more, something better. We seek and search for it, but in the words of another song “but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” That desire beyond satisfying is our hunger for redemption. The Holy Spirit inside of you stirs up more desire, not less. The Spirit creates in us an awareness of the counterfeit salvation the world offers.

On Ascension Thursday I challenged the gathering to pray for the Kingdom to come with a child’s impatient heart. Cry out to God, “How much longer???? When will we get there?” Grasp God by the pant leg and say “Please, please, please---can I have the Kingdom now?”

As the Holy Spirit works in us, we take on a children of God attitude. We know how to appreciate every blessing of this life, but we also know that the true fulfillment of our deepest desire is not here. Not yet. But it is coming, and when it gets here… Well it will be worth the wait.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Homily from 7 Easter May 17-18, 2015

Seventh Sunday after Easter

(readings Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19)
There are two “Good Fridays.” On the first, Jesus was crucified, died and was buried. The loss destroyed hope. What would the apostles do now?
The second “Good Friday” is the day after the Ascension. This time the loss of Jesus is uplifting and exciting. There is sadness, but also hope and joy. Jesus is returning to His Father; but after Ascension Thursday the mission begins. What they would do now is clearer. "Wait for the power from on high" (the Spirit is coming!).  However, the Holy Spirit will not come to evacuate them from the hostile world. He is the reinforcements for the battle. We do not abandon our post…

I am no longer in the world (Jesus tells His Father), but they are in the world. Let the words sink in. Jesus is not here in the same way. Jesus’ absence is real. Jesus’ victory is not yet completed.

We live (like Hebrew slaves) in hostile territory, under the dominion of sin & death (world, flesh, devil). “The world” has a technical meaning in this Gospel, it refers not to the earth, but rather to whatever opposes God’s reign. It is also called the Kingdom of Satan. It has its citizens just as the Kingdom of God does. They are sinners, but so are we. They are not terribly different from us in many ways. They are not always worse sinners. However, they do not love and trust Jesus. They are cut off from God.

All creation is in a fallen state as are all creatures. We are all contaminated. Salvation is God’s rescue work. Part of that redemption is our response. God has called us out of the world. The Greek word, to call out, is ekklesia=Church (Those whom God has called out of the world to belong to His Son.) We are called out of the world but we still live in it!   We are in the world, yet we belong to Jesus.

The world is a dangerous place. We are at risk because we are seduced to turn aside. There is a war for our mind and heart, our home and family, our workplace and neighborhood, our church. So Jesus asks His Father to protect us from the haters. Those who hate and oppose Jesus will ask us to compromise. We cannot compromise with the enemy, even if love and pray for them.

The Exodus story may be helpful to illustrate this. Moses announced Good News. His message was “God sees, God hears, God remembers His covenant, God calls His people out of Egypt, out of slavery, to the place He has called them.” Pharaoh was not invited to join the people, he was invited to believe the message of salvation and get out of God’s way. Moses worked signs and wonders to demonstrate God’s sovereignty. It was JUDGMENT. Pharaoh refused to repent and believe, he did not submit to God and his foolishness cost him!!!

(Like Moses) Jesus also proclaimed Good News, He also confronted the principalities and powers. He also worked signs and wonders. He did battle with the World and the Demonic. He was victorious. Now it is our turn. There are many antichrists, and the world hates Jesus so it hates the Jesus People. Raymond Brown says it better than I can (commentary on John, vol 2, p 764)

"If the disciples are sent by Jesus into the world, it is for the same purpose for which Jesus was sent into the world--not to change the world but to challenge the world. In each generation there is on earth a group of men given by God to Jesus, and the task of the disciples is to separate these sons of light from the sons of darkness that surround them."

You and I, struggling in the world, are God’s chosen ones. He will win, He always does. We are protected. So face the hate with hope and joy. The battle rages on, let’s do our part in the war of healing and exorcising, in teaching and sanctifying, in reconciling and renewing, in praying and worshipping-- and above all in loving, trusting and living as children of light

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Homily 6 Easter

6th Sunday of Easter
(readings Acts 10:44-48; 1st John 5:1-6; John 16:9-17)
The first verse of the letter from John literally says: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah has been begotten of God, and everyone who loves the Begetter loves the Begotten.  All of us are ‘begotten’ of God through our faith. The close bonds of the faith community are family ties. Jesus, summarizing the Torah, said loving people is connected with loving of God. This is fundamental to being church! Jesus is the First Born Son. Our relationship with God--the Father--is, therefore, our relationship to God His Son--Jesus.
Last week we heard two of our graduating seniors preach on the Vine and the Branches. This week, we continue with that same chapter (16) of John and the importance of bearing fruit.
The vine is a grapevine. It is also a Biblical metaphor for Israel [see Psalm 80:8 God took the vine out of Egypt and planted it in the land. Hosea 10, Isaiah 5, Jeremiah 2, and Ezekiel 15 also refer to Israel as the vine.]
God planted the vine to bear fruit. That vine “failed” in its task. Jesus has come to remedy the situation. He is the vine. He is the Messiah King who stands in the place of Israel. Paul says that in Christ we are grafted into Israel, we share in the identity of the people of God, the children of God… Our membership is a corporate reality: we do it together. Hence, as I John says, “we love God and obey His commands.” Love and obedience do not gain redemption, they do not earn salvation. Love and obedience is the response to salvation. It is how those redeemed for God in Christ live the new life of grace. Love and obedience can free us from the limitations we suffer in a fallen and broken world. No longer reliant on ourselves, we are led by His Holy Spirit---a Spirit of Truth and a Spirit of Love.
Abiding in Jesus is a living connection. It is ecclesial (or Churchy) to its core. While ‘individual’ faith is possible in isolation (although even faith has a church connection) love is not. One cannot love others in isolation. Real love requires other people; flesh and blood interaction. Love is, after all, not a warm affection for imaginary friends. It is rather, the difficult business of seeking the best for those who may not be always agreeable. Love feels wonderful, but it also hurts. Love is more than a feeling, it is a cruciform commitment. True love requires that we lay down our life for our beloved---each and every day.
This is why love is central to Jesus’ farewell address to His followers. He knows that love and obedience (keep my commandments) are central. And pay attention, He doesn’t say love and obey; He says, “as I have loved, as I have obeyed….”  Jesus the Role Model defines love and obedience.
What is the result of this love and obedience? Joy. Jesus wants us to know complete Joy. Often times, obedience is described in joyless terms. We get the impression that God wants us to never have fun.
Remember, the branch is dependent. It has no power to live on its own. When we buy grapes we refrigerate them, there is a limited shelf life. There will be no new grapes. A branch produces grapes by being connected to the vine. Jesus is the vine, the church is the branches. The church is the body of Christ because of the vine and branches. A branch is an extension of the vine--so we extend Christ to the world. In us and through us Jesus saves. That is the source of true Joy. Jesus speaks of joy and suddenly sacrificial love, a love which dies for the beloved. That is the mystery of joy. How can He be happy to die? How? Because it is obedient to the mission from His Father. For Jesus, dying is more joyful than living because dying accomplished His Father desire. Dying to open the Kingdom to His beloved followers was a joy. The cost was not as great as the benefit.
WE are Jesus’ friends, His partners in the apostolic ministry of salvation. The fruit for which God planted Israel, is now the same fruit which we, the Gentile Israel in Christ, must seek to produce. Branches do not have to work to produce fruit; they work to stay connected. Our work is to hold on to Jesus, to abide in Him as He abides in us--in prayer, in Scripture study, in generosity with time, talent and treasure, in living lives which are worthy of the gift we have received.
Jesus’ message to them at the last supper is intended for us as well.
We, too are commanded to love one another.
We too are commanded to bear fruit and glorify the Father.
We too have the option of abiding in Jesus, in love, like a branch of the vine.
We are doing it now and we can continue to do it, better and better.
And it will be a joy.