Arise and walk

September 5, 2010

Homily notes for the 14th Sunday after Trinity

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. Sin is out of fashion these days, and for understandable reasons. The idea of sin has often been a cover for pressure exerted toward social conformity by religious institutions. In a more positive vein, many of us have come to realize that, at the profound depths of life, all is held within God and that separation from God is, finally, an illusion. Nonetheless, sin and forgiveness occupy a large place in our tradition, and cannot be simply ducked.

So what do we find in the readings for today? In the gospel, Jesus restores health and movement to the man sick of the palsy. He does so by proclaiming the forgiveness of sins, using the man’s physical healing as a prophetic sign of the results of absolution.

In our day to day world, in our rough and tumble interaction with one another, there is much that paralyzes us – as well as ways in which we inflict paralysis upon others. Such laming, such freezing of life is sin. Jesus speaks – and enables us in turn to speak – the word of release. That which binds the sinner is loosed, and we are free to rise, to walk, to move forward in living, so that – as the reading from 1 John put it – our joy may be full.

The forgiveness of sins is not just an invisible, pious interchange between an individual and God. Rather, it should be a display of the Word of life at work among us, visible, tangible in the power of our living, and in the love and freedom animating our relationships. Human words bring renewal of heart. Can we both speak and listen for such words this week?

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Walking worthy

August 29, 2010

Homily notes for the 13th Sunday after Trinity

We read in today’s gospel from Matthew 7:  Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.We know that simple verbal profession of Christianity without the Christ-Life is meaningless – or, at best, only a beginning.   It is the life lived which gives content and meaning to our words.   But what constitutes doing the will of the Father?  What are the good fruits?

Many will say to me: Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? OK, this sounds pretty good:  prophesy, exorcism, wonderful works in the name of Christ…   Pretty good fruits, no?   Signs of the living Spirit, yes?   Jesus replies:   I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Woah.  Full stop.   What could possibly be wrong here?   I encourage you to meditate on the passage and see what understanding comes to you, as there are doubtless many angles which could be explored.    As a start, it appears that these works are being done in a loud, public, showy way – attracting attention, making the doer “special,” “spiritual,” and otherwise the object of attention.

Paul points us in another direction in the first reading from Ephesians 4, beseeching us to walk worthy of our calling, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We can call down fire from heaven, carry on with ecstatic prophecies and healings, and generally make a fuss – and dramatic gifts can have a place. But  it is much harder and much more essential to simply, quietly, put the good of others ahead of the preferences of our ego, bearing in love with those whose personalities we dislike.   Seeing our sisters and brothers in the unity of the Spirit, knowing them to be one Body with us, and then displaying that knowledge in action are, I submit to you, the good fruits we are seeking.  Then, we will be doers of the sayings of the Lord and not hearers only, together building a house which will stand secure through all storms to come.

II Easter: Breaking bread

April 19, 2009

I am pressed for time today, but in the spirit of not missing a week:

Today’s gospel in the LCC lectionary is the road to Emmaus, but most western lectionaries have the encounter of Thomas with the Risen Christ for Low Sunday, and I woke up thinking about that reading.   Thomas demands that he physically touch the wounds of Christ in order to believe.  What do we similarly demand?   We want clergy titles, recognition from various persons or groups, the right apostolic lineage, a church community that looks like we think it should,  501c3 status from the government, and so on.   We flail around, trying to grasp Christ in such ways.   Even if some of these things are given to us, they are far from needed.   Rather, we grasp Christ, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, in the mystery of the breaking of the bread.    As we share in the eucharist, our eyes are opened and we truly know him.  Yet Christ, who refuses to be bound to limitations and the fantasies of our ego, simultaneously vanishes from our sight, leaving us together in quiet wonder.

Easter 2009: Taking hold of the Risen One

April 12, 2009

Homily notes from April 12, 2009:

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?  Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Christ is risen!   The dark and cold of the tomb gives way to the brilliant, warm sunlight of this morning, when, once again, the Risen One comes to meet us.  This is not just a happy ending to a sad story, but an event of cosmic import.  His countenance was like lightning and his raiment white as snow and for fear of him the keepers did shake and become as dead men.  In the presence of Life itself, the forces of death and constriction shake and fall away. 

The resurrection is not only about Jesus, but about us.  Though our participation in Christ, Easter is our story…  this corruptible (our frail everyday selves) must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality.   Our earthly lives, even our physical selves, are swept up into the mystery of God.  With fear and great joy, the disciples grasped the feet of the Risen Christ and worshipped him.  Like them, let us reach out our hands to grasp him in this Easter communion, that the joy of the resurrection may fill us, today and all days.  Amen, Alleluia.

Palm Sunday: Honor and power

April 5, 2009

It is hard to believe it is already Holy Week.  Palm Sunday bring us to the remembrance of, as the collect says, Christ’s one earthly triumph.   What were the people thinking as they cried out Hosanna?  Were they hailing a political messiah, or a healing thaumaturge, or just the flavor of the moment?  Given how quickly the story turns toward Good Friday, it seems safe to assume that, in their praise, the multitude missed the point.  Jesus’ power is not the sort that brings accolades from crowds — and if it seems to, we may want to question their (our) perception of what they (we) are praising.

Nonetheless, Christ is not only the humble, suffering messiah.  The first reading (from Rev 19) presents us with the faithful and true one whose eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his heads were many crowns, and his name is called the Word of God; and he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written: King of kings, and Lord of lords.   What do we make of these contrasts, which refuse any easy reconciliation?   They will grow even more stark as this week progresses.  The suffering tortured failure is also the resurrected one who holds all the stars in his hand.  We cannot have only one side of this equation, but our minds reel and start to pull toward one side or the other – like the multitude in the gospel that shout Hosanna, and then scream Crucify Him. 

Let us place our hands over our mouths, stopping such easy speech, and simply gaze unblinkingly at the mystery, willing to see all the horror and all the wonder that Holy Week brings to us.

Lent V: In humility is great power

March 31, 2009

Travel is my excuse for being late with posting notes from last Sunday.  At least in the LCC lectionary, the readings last for a week, so it is still current!

This week brings us to a consideration of humility – a theme well positioned as we are between the Annunciation (last week, March 25) when the angel announces the Incarnation, the fullness of divinity humbled in frail human flesh, and the beginning of Holy Week (next Sunday), when the Incarnate One submits to betrayal, suffering, and death.  Do our lives show forth the presence and activity of such a Creator, who humbles himself in love and service before his creatures?

Today’s gospel, the parable of the publican and the Pharisee, shows us humility and pride at work in our religious life.  Can we be who we are, without comparison or guile, in God’s presence?  Or do we prefer to veil ourselves in manufactured identities, titles, outfits, affiliations, degrees, certifications, and comparisons to others?  Humility is about honesty, and a willingness to put aside our personality, our preferences, our pet ideas.  Father Paul Blighton remarked that in humility is great power, for when we get our little selves out of the way, then God can act. No longer impeded by our notions of how things should be, the New Life can flow freely, carving out surprising new paths.  This is the renewing of the mind that we read about in the epistle, a renewal that enables us to prove in our lives what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

As the humble Christ comes to feed us in bread and wine today, may we open ourselves to him, in all the wild strangeness of his ways, that he may feed others through us.

Lent IV: Wisdom and power

March 23, 2009

Sorry to be late posting notes from yesterday:

With Refreshment Sunday, the Lenten purple lightens for a moment to pink.  The weather is warmer, flowers are blooming, Easter is coming.  Lent, like life, is rhythmic, and today we come up for a breath of air.  What is the spiritual refreshment in which we share this Sunday?  The collect tells us that God is a fountain of wisdom, a tower of strength, and an ever-shining sun of beauty and harmony.  As we participate in these qualities, we find the refreshment, the newness of life that we need to carry us forward.

The wisdom of God rests upon us, allowing us in whatsoever state we are, to be content.  (Phil. 4) We can be abased and we can abound, for we know that God’s wisdom passeth all understanding, and does not conform to the practical knowledge of the world. God’s wisdom is not a self-help book leading to worldly happiness.  Rather, it is an indwelling presence which enables us to meet the circumstances of life, in all their rhythms, with joy and peace.  Rev Mario Schoenmaker once remarked that he did not wish his students happiness (which is all too often a matter of small personal satisfactions); rather, he wished them peace – a harder and more profound reality.   Likewise, God’s power does not turn us into superheroes, at least not of the Dr Manhattan sort!  It is definitely not “name it and claim it” which is simply ego writ large.  Divine power is that which gives effective strength to wisdom.  We may have only two barley loaves and two small fish (John 6), but we can see how to use even the most limited resources to serve and nourish others, and we can find the strength to make it happen.

As our limited knowledge and egoic drives are increasingly suffused with divine wisdom and power, we shine with the sun of beauty and harmony, Christ radiating in us.  Perhaps one day we can repeat the truly frightening words of Paul: Those things, which ye have both learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.  Does the light of Christ shine so brightly in us that we can offer ourselves as an example to others?   With a question like that, the purple of Lenten reflection and metanoia returns…

III Lent: No condemnation

March 13, 2009

Having wrestled last week with truth and the governance of our words, we move deeper into this week’s intent of “understanding.”  (Readings: I Peter 3, John 8)  The intent is not just a vague notion of developing understanding as self-improvement, but a call to embody the understanding and compassion of God as seen in Jesus Christ.  We all act toward the good, even if our vision of the good is very limited and selfish.  Most of us are quick to absolve ourselves and explain away our actions.  However, we don’t give others the latitude we give ourselves, condemning them and therefore failing to see them in truth.

The collect tells us that God’s way is quite different.  God is the one who knowest all things and art therefore all-forgiving.  God’s knowledge, God’s justice, and God’s mercy are – unlike ours – identical, and extend toward us in the form of forgiveness.  Through a living participation in Christ’s forgiveness, we not only cover the multitude of sin, but come to a true understanding of ourselves and others.  Knowledge that is devoid of mercy and forgiveness is not only lacking, but simply false.  Jesus shows us that the way of transformation is not through condemnation, but through forgiveness.  Mercy melts the veils which hide us from one another, making the New Life possible.  Let us listen deeply this Lent, hearing Jesus say to us:  Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more.

Lent II: Speaking from the abundance of the heart

March 7, 2009

In James 3, we are reminded that with our tongue, we bless God and we curse our brothers and sisters who are made in the image of God.   Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing.  My brethren, these things ought not to be so.  This is always a challenging Sunday, for who of us cannot see ourselves in these words?

However, as liberal, 21st century people, I think we often mishear James’ instruction to offend not in word as a counsel to Be Nice.   We are to speak truthfully, insofar as we can, and that is not always well-received.  While there are times when, from charity, one should remain silent rather than speaking an unwelcome  or painful truth, that is not always possible.  What we are not to do is bring forth that which is evil (Luke 6) or to curse our sisters and brothers, effectively denying the image of God shining in them – and in ourselves.  Some inner traditions hold that when someone curses another, the curse travels through the curser first – and the same with blessing.

In examining our speech, especially in difficult and potentially hurtful situations, may we ask ouselves if we are speaking from the abundance of the heart, and in a way that honors and blesses the image of God in all of us.

I Lent: Confidence and honesty

February 27, 2009

Homily notes for Sunday, March 1

As we head into Lent, it strikes me that a healthy approach to this season requires a strong dose of both confidence and honesty.  In the epistle (II Cor 5), Paul tells us we are to labor that we may be accepted of him, for we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ.   Further, we are to give no offense in anything, and are counseled to examine oursleves, whether we be in the faith; and to prove our own selves.   This kind of clear honesty, looking with unblinking gaze on those parts of our lives where we love darkness rather than light, bravely lifting off the veils with which we cover our deeds, is often associated with Lent… in our general thougthts about Lent.  In practice, it can be way too scary.  Or, if we are drawn toward such deep delving into conscience, it can turn into an unhelpful wallowing in darkness and depression. 

How then do we approach self-examination, much less penance and amendment of our lives?  The key is also found in the readings this week.  For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.  (John 3)   And in the epistle:  therefore if anyone be in Christ, they are a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.  This new reality is already taking hold in us, by the Holy Ghost, by the power of God, and is nourished each week at this table by the body and blood of Christ.

When we not only trust, but know (in the most profound and personal sense of that verb) that, from the core of our being, we are wrought in God, and constantly surrounded by his transforming love, there is no more fear.  We can walk into the light, carrying all the substance of our life – the good and wonderful, as well as the shameful and painful.  We hand all of this to the Alchemist who finds the ingredients of the new creation precisely in the broken shards we give him. 

We can only offer to Christ what we really have, who we truly are, not our gradiose and self-protective imaginations of ourselves… and Lent is an opportunity, surrouded in God’s love, to discover and to offer.