Saturday, January 14, 2012

Sermon - Epiphany 3B

I used to hope that someday I’d meet a holy person who knew it all, who could tell me where to go and what to do and how to live and what to think so that I’d be the right kind of person, so I would be better, kinder, smarter, somehow different, somehow somebody else. So I am very lucky I didn’t fall into some cult for people who have trouble making up their own minds, I am lucky I didn’t get brain-washed: I am lucky I didn’t end up my life trying to be somebody else.

Because for most of the journey I had just enough faith and hope and sense that God was calling me to be myself, to find myself, through trial and error, through a lot of history and with a little hope, with the help of good friends and gentle strangers, and the sense of Gods goodness and guidance lighting the way, sometimes, not always; and after awhile I came to a sense that I was somewhere near where I should be. But it didn’t come easy, and it didn’t come simple.

It wasn’t simple for Samuel in our first lesson. He was living in difficult times, when the voice of the Lord was not often heard, when the world was noisy with other slogans and goals and Gods, and it took Samuel time to take in the voice that was different from the power and principalities he was primed to listen to, and what he finds when he listens is a voice that calls him away from living life with those powers, in those usual places. He finds he belongs to another kingdom, he must give his life to another way and vision, that he must learn to speak the truth of another viewpoint, he must learn to see things the way God sees things, he must live out God’s love, he must live out God’s life.

And in the Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul is speaking to people who are caught between visions. The popular culture in Corinth embodied the belief and action that you could use other people, their bodies, their purpose and passion, without connecting with their minds and their spirits, without linking their lives with your life; that you can serve your own ends, without being tied to other people, that in the end other people don’t mean much, don’t matter, that the power of an individuals spiritual life doesn’t touch the life of the common body.

But, as Paul writes elsewhere, If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, part of the body of Christ, a member of the church. And that means seeing a difference, seeing a different world with different relationships between people, with different values, different visions, different voices to listen to; living in a world where everyone is conceivably a member of Christ’s body the church, a different kind of body, and that means waking up into a new world.

Simeon the New Theologian writes this a little over a thousand years ago.

We awaken in Christ’s body
as Christ awakens our bodies
and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
my foot, and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisibly 
whole, seamless in His Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightening.
Do my words seem blasphemous? - Then 
Open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him
We wake up inside Christ’s body. 

where our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it, 
is realized in joy as Him, 
and he makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in his light
we awaken as the Beloved 
in every last part of our body.

(Symeon the New Theologian [949-1022] translated by Stephen Mitchell)

But what does it mean to be wakened, found, seen, found out, called by God to live a new life,  and, more importantly,  if God calls us to be born into this new life of the baptized, of the body of Christ, how do we live out that calling, live into that new vision and vocation, live with that new constellation of caring and community called forth by Christ?

Here are three very tentative answers that I sometimes find helpful.

First, look at everything as if you’ve never seen it before, asking, what is this? What if everyday was the first day for the rest of your life? What if God was giving you just one day, one moment, one instant of your life to live, day by day, moment by moment, now by now? Could you learn to look at everything like you’d never seen it before, like you’d never see it again? Could you learn to love the questions even before you learned to move towards the answers, knowing that God was in the questions as well as the answers? Could you look at everything as if it might be a gift from God, a gift to God, that was waiting to be discovered, uncovered, right now?

Second, can you learn to look at everything with the question, “What is this to love?” As if the world were full of hidden icons, gift-wrapped mysteries, secret sacraments that might open up, uncover, everywhere? Can you allow the hopeful question; “What is this to love?” with every possibility, every way you spend time and money, passion and purpose, every way you can live and give your life, everyone you like or love or look upon. At each open opportunity to spend your life, can you look to see, to ask, What is this to love? How would love look on this moment? What would Jesus see here?”

And finally, can you tell the truth of the good news of how God sees you, where God has found you, how Christ has called you? Under whatever particular fig tree you were loving or looking or loafing when Jesus was looking upon you and calling you by name, calling you to be who you are, calling you to live in his love and live out his life in the world he creates and redeems and breathes love into every day? How can you tell that story in all your live, in everything you do, everything you are, to everyone you know? How can you, as St Francis puts it: “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary using words!” To look to it all with the question, what is this to love in the life of the body of Christ, and to live that out from here on to the end.

W. H. Auden writes this as the end of his great Christmas Oratorio, “For the Time Being”

He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

So Jesus says that Nathaniel will “see greater things than these... Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Just like Jacob that dreamer and schemer, who wrestles with God in all the intricacies of his life, the good and bad, the lost and found, that whole holy mess and mass of it; just like Samuel, who will learn to speak peace and justice, to love his neighbor and the stranger and to make the world a better place; just like Paul, who will learn that the law is a schoolmaster to lead us to the love and freedom of Christ, to be a new creation waking up in his graceful body. Nathaniel will follow Christ into being another unknown disciple, apostle, witness, seeing the Lord in places he would have never thought to look.


Sunday, January 08, 2012

Baptism Sermon

The First Sunday of the Epiphany
The Baptism of the Lord
January 7, 2012
Holy Trinity Cathedral, Wangaratta
Fr Robert Whalley

We’ve just heard Mark’s account of John baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River at the beginning of his ministry and I want to connect that baptism with each of our baptisms, whether they took place recently, or some years ago, whether we remember them vividly or not at all, and how each of us participates in the life and ministry of Jesus by offering the sacrifice of our lives in his service as baptized members of his body, which is the church.

Listen to what Rowan Williams wrote a few years ago:

The Christian Church began as a reconstructed version of the notion of God’s people – a community called by God to make God known to the world in and through the ... model of action and suffering revealed in Jesus Christ.. a pattern of common life lived in the fullest possible accord with the nature and will of God ... in which each member’s flourishing depended closely and strictly on the flourishing of every other and in which every specific gift or advantage had to be understood as a gift offered to the common life.

This is how the imagery of the Body of Christ works in St Paul’s letters. There is no Christian identity in the New Testament that is not grounded in this pattern; this is what the believer is initiated into by baptism. And this is a common life which ... depends on the call and empowering of Christ’s Spirit.

So with that in mind, let’s talk about the two biggest questions about our baptism in Christ which are these: First, how do we take that in and, second, how do we live that out?

For when we really look at it, we see that baptism is more than just a friendly ritual, something pleasant to do to an infant before a festive brunch with family and friends (though it can certainly be that, and that’s not a bad thing at all), but it can be so much more more. By the grace of God it is a matter of life and death, of dying to an old life so that we can be part of a new partnership, a new community, brought together, quoting Rowan Williams again, in “the call and empowering of Christ’s Spirit.” it's a real renewal!
 For Baptism means we don’t have to live for ourselves or by ourselves anymore and it points to the true promise that our participation in the baptism of Christ enlivens us to a larger purpose, opens us to the greater gift of a larger life that shared by God, enlightened by Gods life, living within the reality of God's love.

And that is only the start! For the liturgical ceremony of baptism at the font, that lasts a few moments, turns out to be something that lasts well over a lifetime. That ceremony of baptism is just the beginning; for in that we are enabled and called to take up the work and ministry of the baptized, to take this new life that Jesus shares with us, and to spread it around, to join Him in washing the world and helping to make sure it shines with the love of God.

Now, to take a step back, I’ll admit that it is not always an easy task, and so in many ways, I think that’s one of the best reasons for coming to church every Sunday! We might have been washed up at the font in our baptism as a baby or as an adult, but we still need to  keep coming back to learn more of the basic steps  and basic shape of it in the motions of the Eucharist to learn to let it move into all the ways we live our life from here on.

You see, we might have come here to reach for Christ; but what we find is in doing that, in reaching for Jesus and asking him to be part of our lives, we get a bit more than we expected. Grace works that way. So if we come to get a grip on him, we can find that we’re called to hand him to the world and hand the world back to him. It can be a bit of a stretch at times, but it seems that’s part of God’s economy, that’s part of what it means to be part of God’s household, God’s ongoing and outpouring ministry.

For the hands which reach for the body and blood of Christ here, are the same hands, same body, same love, same life, that reach out to touch the world in daily life in all the places where we make business, or peace or war or love: everywhere we move to touch the lives of friends and strangers, every place we spend our days. The love of God in Christ reaches into the particulars of all our daily liturgies through our baptismal ministry, and we come to move like Christ in all these places. We just come to remember it here.

Look at what we just did in the center of this Cathedral with the reading from the Gospel. We stand on our feet for the Gospel here in the center of the church, but we do that here so that we can learn to stand for the good news of God everywhere; so that we can learn to stand individually and corporately  for God’s caring, connection, judgment and renewal of the whole creation; again, not just in church, not just here, but everywhere! Standing in witness and wonder and partnership for Gods’ loving action in the whole world.

So this shared liturgy in church helps us exercise our ministry muscles when we move it out! So everything  we do in here helps us remember and renew everything we do out there! Because by God’s grace it is one world! And what  we need to remember, in singing hymns or wishing Peace to a neighbor across the aisle, is that we’re exercising the same voices, same hearts and minds, same bodies, which takes showers, eats breakfast, goes to the market, talks to friends and strangers, lives life in all its daily demands and complexities every day.

So here’s a few ministry exercises you can do on your own: First, try wishing the peace of God to the person who calls to sell you long distance phone service when you just sat down for dinner; pray for the talkative person with the full cart in front of you in line at Safeway or Cole’s; try piling blessings on the person who took your preferred parking place on a warm day; simply love your neighbor and the stranger and your own self as best you can, and make that an offering to God every minute of your day, every day of your life.

It’s not always an easy task, an liturgy, and that’s all right. You won’t always get it right, and you don’t have to, you don't have to make it a big thing. In fact it’s better if you don’t, ‘cause it’s not all about you at all; it’s just giving a gift that you received in your baptism. Just try to make your daily life a kind of silent Gospel procession and proclamation, a sustained hymn of peace and praise, a reaching out for the body of Christ in all his distressing disguises, a kind of continuation of the communion you take in here. Take that out to the world.

Remember what we say at the end of the Eucharist?

“We offer ourselves to you as a living sacrifice through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory.

For in the end our baptismal ministry happen every time and every way we take time to  create, redeem, and relate like God. It’s how we live our lives. Some people heal with kindness, others love the stranger, others listen well. Some make justice, visit the sick, give to the poor, live cheerfully, tell the truth. Everybody does what they can, and that’s why we come here today, every day, to remember that this is God’s good world and  we are God’s good friends, and the good news is that we are here to remember and renew our call, by the grace of our baptism and the love of God, to be the body of Christ.