Monday, May 19, 2008

Say What You Need to Say

This Sunday we will talk about our experience of St. Hilary as part of our steps in discerning who God is calling to lead the parish.

This follows up on the Church Assessment Survey. We will have one on one and larger discussions during sermon time. For reflection, John Mayer's recent song, "Say" has some good things for us to reflect on:

Take all of your wasted honor
Every little past frustration
Take all your so called problems
Better put 'em in quotations

Say what you need to say (x7)
Say what you need to saaaay...

Walking like a one man army
Fighting with the shadows in your head
Living out the same old moment
Knowing you'd be better off instead

If you could only
Say what you need to say (x7)
Say what you need to saaay...

Have no fear
For giving in
Have no fear
For giving over
You better know that in the end
It's better to say too much
Then never to say what you need to say again

Even if your hands are shaking
And your faith is broken
Even as the eyes are closing
Do it with a heart wide open... wide...

Say what you need to say (x7)
Say what you need to
Say what you need to
Say what you need to say...
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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Living in the House of Love

Trinity Sunday May 18, 2008

When is the moment a family starts? Now you might say, it’s when a child is born or adopted by a couple. But what about the reality of the mother’s changing body? The father’s growing concern over the mother, over his ability to care for this new life? What about the months of joy and worry and speculation over the child’s growth and development? The turning over of different names, the decisions about who will stay home and care for the child, who will be godparent, those thousands of decisions. Isn’t family being formed then?

Now some of you might say, a family is formed at the moment of conception when male and female are joined and make a new life. But couldn’t the beginning of a family go back farther—when a couple start to think about creating a new life? When a man and woman—even if they don’t know each other—think about their being mother or father? When people chose each other—whether it is as spouses or as potential donors for artificial insemination—aren’t they thinking about making a family?

And isn’t this one family tied in very real ways to the families they came from, shaped both by genetics and upbringing, by hopes and dreams of their parents, and their parents before them and back and back into history. Back before we were human. Back to the beginning of time.

When does a family start? In very real ways, don’t each of us start where we began our readings today—with creation. A family starts with creation. A good place to begin our lives. A good place to begin our life in God. Our life in love.

For us as Christians, the reality that God is love and the reality that God is Trinity are bound together. We begin as all of creation begins, at the beginning, when God overflowed and created the universe. When does a family begin? When love overflows and makes a man a father, a woman a mother and what did not exist before becomes a person—a child.

Now we believe that although there was a time when the universe did not exist, there never was a time when Jesus was not in God. Jesus’ becoming human allows us to come into God’s family. Adopted sons and daughters, all of us, we enter the dance that God is always engaged in.
Many people have tried to illustrate this and perhaps none so beautifully as the Russian Orthodox icon writer, Rublev. Come with me back to the font and let us look at the icon there.

Take some time to gently and prayerfully gaze at the icon. When we pray with icons, we’re not trying to figure out a math problem, solve a Sudoko puzzle or learn about how to put together a piece of furniture from IKEA. The way to look at an icon is to empty our mind of ‘right and wrong’ answers but to let the icon speak to us. And we gently gaze on the “window to eternity” Remember that icons are ‘written’ in order to lead us “into the inner room of prayer and bring us close to the heart of God.”

Let me invite you to pray with the icon for a few moments. What do you notice there? Now there are many interpretations possible here. Rublev wrote this icon to portray the Trinity. Because of the Biblical prohibition against depicting God, icon painters turned to the story of the hospitality of Abraham who was visited by three angels.

Many see Christ in the middle angel and God the Father in the left. Others see God the Father in the middle angel, and Christ in the left one. The middle angel occupies a special place in the icon: it is set apart not only by its central position, but also by a "regal" turn of its head towards the left angel, and by pointing with its hand towards the cup on the table. Both the turn of the head and the gesture are important clues to the hidden meaning of the icon. Equal among equals, the middle angel has such expressive power that one hesitates not to see in it a symbolic representation of God the Father. On the other hand one cannot fail to notice that the left angel is also essential: two other angels lower their heads towards it and seem to address it. Therefore, if we assume that the left angel is God the Father, the middle angel should represent Christ.

The icon shows a dialogue between two angels: The Father turns to His Son and explains the necessity of His sacrifice, and the Son answers by agreeing with His Father's wish.

Neither of these interpretations impacts the interpretation of the Trinity as triune God and as a representation of the sacrament of the Eucharist. The cup on the table is an eucharistic symbol. The third angel does not bless the cup and does not participate in the conversation, but is present as a Comforter, the undying, a symbol of eternal youth and the upcoming Resurrection.

The other important place our attention is drawn is the rectangle in the center bottom of the table. The perspective of the icon draws us into the center, just as our life in God draws us into the middle of the life of the Trinity.

The family of God of which we are adopted daughters and sons began in eternity. Before there was a universe, God existed. At a specific point in time, the universe burst out, just as we heard in today’s reading from Genesis. And God declared all of it very good.

Humanity was created out of God’s self-giving love. And from eternity God has been calling us into the dance of the Trinity. The ceaseless flow of self-giving love between and among the persons of the Trinity is the dance to which we’ve been invited.
But we’d forgotten our heritage, forgotten whose family to which we belong. So Jesus became human and reminds us how to dance. And he sends the Spirit, the Spirit of God’s undying love to be with us and to equip us to live in and love and transform the world.

Later today we are going to celebrate the birthday of the church. Usually parishes celebrate that day on Pentecost since the day we remember that Jesus gave us the gift of the Spirit can also be considered the church’s birthday. On that day, the once spineless group of Jesus’ followers became evangelists as they proclaimed to the world the good news that God loves everyone and that everyone is invited into God’s house.

But what with last Sunday being Mother’s Day and our celebration of our ministry with IRIM, we decided to defer the birthday celebration for today. Serendipity I’d call it because the patron saint of this community, St. Hilary was a great and early defender of the doctrine of the Trinity. Even our blogsite is known as Trinity Thoughts.

Hilary was born in a pagan family and although he was converted as an adult, he was caught in the middle of a great heresy. It was a time that makes today’s controversies about the role of homosexuals in society and in the church seem weak. Hilary initially thought like others that while Jesus was a great man, he was not God. Only later after his exile from France to Turkey did he read scripture more carefully and prayerfully and then he wrote volumes about the Trinity.

“Interesting”, you may say, but why should we care? We should care for the very same reasons the early church struggled with this—not because they didn’t have anything better to do than to sit around debating fine points of theology. We should care because it is in the house of God, in the reality of the Trinity that we are invited to come and live.

Our godfamily began in God’s love. It continued as Jesus joined all people to himself. It was furthered as his disciples followed his command to “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teach them in the practice of all I have commanded you.”

Baptism is important to the people of St. Hilary’s. When you called Pastor Terri, you identified it as central to your identity. Perhaps you did so because you were following patron saint, who found in this formula an important part of his life in God.

As you go forward from here—whether it is today as you go grocery shopping or attending a baseball game. Whether it is when you call someone you’ve not seen in awhile to find out if they’re okay. Whether you stop and buy some items for the food pantry or for a refugee’s kitchen. Whether you pray about a decision you need to make at work. Whether you take a moment to reconcile with someone you’ve injured.

When you live life in the Spirit of God, you are living in the life of the Trinity. You are dancing with God. So let us consider Jesus’ command to his disciples to be our mission. We too are to go forth from here. We too are to make disciples of people who don’t know about God’s love. We are to baptize them (and, in fact, in two weeks we will be baptizing Julia Moss) and we are to continue training them. Just as we ourselves are in training.

We enter the mystery of the Trinity because Jesus pulls us into life in God. Jesus invites us to the dance that is God’s never-ending dance of love for all of creation. The only sin is being a wallflower. He’s a perfect partner and can make all our clumsiness vanish. “Come dance with Me,” he says. “Come dance!”

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Pictures from Bishop Lee's Installation

A bit late but better than not at all. Here are some photos from Bishop Lee's installation.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Faith with Feet

T.S. Eliot (“East Coker”) writes:
“Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.

Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.”

Today we mark the last Sunday in the Easter Season. Forty days after his resurrection. Forty days of his appearing to and visiting his friends. Forty days during which he met with specific followers and met their needs: to Peter he brought reconciliation, to Thomas, reassurance; to Mary Magdalene he brought joy out of sorrow.

Today’s readings reflect Jesus’ ascension into heaven. “Home is where one starts from.” Bethany was Jesus’ home base while he was preaching and on his last day on earth, he took his followers the two miles from Jerusalem to Bethany.

Home is where we start from too. We start from the familiar: from the places we started from. We start with what’s familiar. And we are called out. We discover the connections between us and the world: “Not the intense moment/ Isolated, with no before and after,/But a lifetime burning in every moment.”

Several weeks ago I traveled with Cathy and Betty and Sue—we ventured out from our homes to the Leadership and Ministry Fair. You will hear from each of us about what we learned and discovered. You will hear about a few steps on our journeys with the Living Lord. Because you see, real faith has ‘feet’. Faith moves us out of our places of comfort to meet the living Christ where he is to be found.

That’s the reason the angels asked the disciples: “You Galileans—why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky?” Not that we could blame them for staring. But they learned what T.S. Eliot says: “Love is most nearly itself/When here and now cease to matter.”

For the living Christ commands us to do but two things: love God with all we are and love our neighbors and our enemies as ourselves. To do this is to experience eternal life—not just in the great by and by but here and now. In the midst of uncertainty, in the midst of strife, to know God through a relationship with the living Christ. Jesus himself has said this: “And this is eternal life—that they may know you…and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

Now this knowing is deep and personal. To know Jesus, to know God is through a deep relationship—the way that brothers and sisters know each other, the way that lovers know each other, the way that a mother knows her child. It’s as far removed from a purely intellectual knowledge—the way that we know that traffic will be horrible on a rainy Friday night—as it can be.

For Christian spirituality is not a set of answers about a dead person. The life of a Christian is rather a life lived in relation to the mystery of a living person. Thus, we can follow T.S. Eliot when he suggests that “Old men must be explorers,” and that we must be “still and still moving.”

Whatever can it mean to be still—as in motionless—and still moving? We can be unmoving, tranquil, solid on the Rock that is Jesus. He is the pattern for our lives. Yet he also calls us to move—to get on with our lives and to be his presence in the world.

When people ask where Jesus can be found, we should be able to say with our words and with our actions that the Risen Christ resides in the gathered community. He resides in our worship and he lives in our service. The Risen Christ lives on in our hospitality to the stranger and in our ministry with others. The Risen Christ lives in the ways that he changes our lives and transforms the world.

So our “faith is a response to the living Lord who presses us on in every moment.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, “The Living Jesus”) You see it is Jesus who impels us “Into another intensity/For a further union, a deeper communion.”

Where our faith is growing, it is alive. In our end—in the death of what has lived out its usefulness, the death of what has become stagnant, the death of that which no longer serves us or God—is our beginning. We will now hear some of what Jesus’ current disciples have learned as they moved out from their homes to the Leadership and Ministry Fair a couple of weeks ago.

As Jesus ascended into heaven, the very last thing he did was bless the disciples. It is the first time in any of the gospels that we hear that he raised his hands to heaven. It is likely he prayed the prayer God gave to Aaron, when he was blessing his people. “The Lord bless you and protect you; the Lord make his face to shine on you, and be gracious to you; the Lord look with favor on you and give you peace.”