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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Trinity SUnday Sermon

“Holy! Holy! Holy! Is the Lord…” sing the Seraphim. The holiness of God is a reminder that God is beyond us! The Hebrew word, Qadowsh, appears 116 times in the Jewish Bible. It refers to people (saints) and objects set aside to God’s service. It conveys the idea of clean, pure and unpolluted. Yet, we see that all holiness is derived. God is holy, we are holy by “participation” in God’s holiness. The identity of God, however, becomes an expectation for us. In Leviticus 11:44-45 we read

“For I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves…..” (an idea repeated in

Leviticus 11:45; 19:2;and 21:8.)

The words of Isaiah about the three times Holy God were considered a declaration of the Trinity in the early church. Ambrose, Fulgentius, Theodoret, Cyril of Alexandria, and Jerome (from the time period of the late 300’s to mid 400’s) each declared this in their own sermons and writings.

Dating prior to them, the first great scripture scholar of the church, Origen (185-254), said that his “Hebrew teacher used to say that the two seraphim…were to be understood to mean the only begotten Son of God and the Holy Spirit.” Those who knew Jesus saw a new depth in the Jewish text.

Such views may seem to us to be an over-reach, but the Jewish understanding of the Bible six hundred years before this included the belief that there is a depth in God's word, that He communicates and we must go through layer after layer to discover all that is there. The early church, with its metaphorical, spiritual and allegorical readings of Scripture, merely continue the same approach. The mystery of God is deep in His revelation to us, and it goes deeper and deeper the more we dig!

Let us be clear, the doctrine of the Trinity is a mystery; even if I could explain the Trinity to you it wouldn’t matter--because you (and I) could not understand the explanation. It is a mystery but religion is not the only place where mystery can be found. Our world is full of such mysteries. The list of things we do not understand goes on and on. Math reveals that we live in a world of eleven dimensions, barely one third of which we understand. Time is called an illusion by scientists, where past, present and future are simultaneous. Nature abounds with mysteries. We know ”that” things are, but we cannot understand “why” or “how.” If this is true of our physical world, then it is even more true of discussions about God. The mystery of three and one is just that, a mystery. A mystery which lies hidden in the Biblical texts of the Jews, but a reality which faith can find!
The problem is, it is hard to believe. And in an age of unbelief, not believing becomes more and more the norm, and an increasingly hostile, angry and aggressive norm. “How can this be?” the doubters mockingly ask. Yet such a question is found today on the lips of the teacher Nicodemus. There is nothing new in the skeptics disdain, unbelief is ancient, too. In the Gospel of John Jesus asks, “if I told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe it I tell you about heavenly things?”
You and I are believing recipients of a divine revelation. The rest have rejected it, perhaps based on the claim that “they want to believe but they cannot.” I believe this is an error about what faith is.
Faith is not Understanding.
Faith is not knowledge.
Faith is not a feeling or emotion.
Faith is Trust.
It is, in the end, a gift and submission of one’s self to the Other. And what can be more ‘other’ than a God Who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit--one God--three persons?

Yet the revelation of Trinity provides insight into God’s nature. God is love. A love of parent and child, a love of community. God is love from before time and forever.
We are made in the image of God. We are, therefore, creatures intended for community. We are love, or at least we were before the Fall. Our difficulties with others mirror God’s own struggles with us. Love is self-gift and self-emptying. It is sacrificial and seeks the good of the other. It is what we are created for and we do well to focus on that all our days. Yet, since the Fall, we ask "what is in it for me?" Our love can also be consumptive. Ironically, those we love most we also hurt most. This is why God's love, in Jesus, ends up on a cross. Self-gift in love, when it meets the hunger to control, to take, to rule---it is killed.
In preparing today’s sermon I stumbled across an article on After Death Experiences of Hell. Lacking any discipline I ended up reading it. The details of the five cases were similar to the revelations to medieval nuns and monks and modern day mystics. One thing that stood out was that the worst part of it for those having the experience was the isolation. They were surrounded by millions of souls, but no one cared about anyone as each was totally consumed with his/her own misery. The anger, resentment and self-centeredness were the central feature of Hell.

It is important to understand that isolation can occur in a group. Ironically, the person in solitude, distanced from the distractions of life, is able to go deeper into God, to become more integrated and whole, and is able to love. Isolation, the act of turning in on one's self in lovelessness, hardens the heart and makes it cold and callous. The choice of Hell is easy to make, especially as we demand justice and exercise "our right" to be mad, bitter and resentful. But there is a remedy for this disease: God, the Trinity!
I do not understand the Trinity, but I do understand that it is a revelation of God which must shape my life. No one “gets it”--no one ever can. However, if we “get” that Trinitarian spirituality is about love and community, if we "get" that we are called to be like God, self- emptying life givers, then we "got" everything we need. People who "get" love may never understand God the Holy Trinity, but they will meet Him and live with Them in glory everlasting!   

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