Sunday, February 05, 2012

Epiphany 5B (draft for later)

Sometimes I just like to note the verbs, the actions, in the lessons of the day. Today, on the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, there are more than a few:

First Isaiah on the actions of God: He sits, stretches, spreads, He calls us all by name, he is great in strength, mighty in power...The everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. It's not a bad start!

Our selection from the Psalms continues this: The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts... heals the brokenhearted.. determines the stars and gives them their names...[and we are called in turn to] make melody to our God for he covers the heavens with cloud and he takes pleasure in those who fear him, who hope in his steadfast love.

That's a kind of background music to the whole creation, the selection from our basic theme song.

And in the Epistle, Paul proclaims, in his own way, the love of God that he sees in the light of Christ. Both verbs and prepositions here. He is under the law, outside the law, he becomes weak to win the weak, becomes all things to all people, "so that I might by all means save some... For the sake of the Gospel [and[ to share in its blessings."

And then towards the end of the first chapter of Mark; more significant actions, more verbs:

For Jesus is gathering a community and they're on the move: they leave the synagogue, they enter Simon and Peter's house where Jesus heals SImon's mother in law, and she rises to serve them; and after sundown all who are sick and possessed, the whole city show up, and he cures many and casts out demons and keeps this growing gathering from getting too far out of hand.

And then after that long night and before dawn Jesus goes to a deserted place to pray and his new disciples find him out and tell him that everyone is searching for him. And He says, "Let us go on..."

All these actions! Jesus comes to a particular community and opens it up to a new message and a new life; Paul stretches out to meet a wide variety of people with his understanding of a new way of receiving and responding to the reality of God's life and love in the light of Christ, with the background songs and sagas from the Hebrew scripture, of a world, a cosmos created and guided and loved and enlightened in every moment by the One who goes farther than we can imagine and comes closer than we can ken, the God in whom we live and move and have our being.

So all this makes for a busy day! And my question today is, how do you, as members of this community, the good Anglicans of Mansfield, live with that, come to respond to that reality, that call for relationship: not only with God but with the community, the neighbor, the enemy, the mystery of our own deepest identity?

What does the light of God's creation, the love of Christ's life, the breath of the Spirit in our hearts, mean for the parish of Mansfield on this February morning in the season of Epiphany in 2012 AD as you prepare to welcome a new Rector and renew an established ministry?

Now, my short answer is that I don't know, and I would bet some of you don't either, nor should you. Rather, it is a time when, as Rainer Maria Rilke's writes in his "Letters to a Young Poet," where you might, "try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue." Rilke says, "Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything." That's not a bad way to move in the season of Epiphany as well as into the welcoming of a new priest and a new sense of call in your parish community.

It is also true to the tradition in which we stand. For the seasons of the Church year move from question to answer to question, with seasons of celebrations and solemnity, alternating times for tears and joys, and for moments of mystery and instances when new meanings come clear. Just look at the Christian year and the seasons of your own life and you can see that dance: actually it's all found in the liturgical calendar of the church.

For each of us here has had at least one Advent (and I would bet a few more than one), a time when new beginning comes to our heart and opens us up to letting new life live in us, impregnate us with a sense of God's seed sown in our hearts: a baby-beginning which changes the way we look and learn and live, changes our relationship with friends and family, with work and wisdom, with loss and gain, with what we do and where we go and how we make sense of what we think we are about.

Each of us has had that kind of new birth in our lives: new beginnings that can come in small steps taking us to new destinations, open us to be new people, taking up a newborn understanding of how we carry God's sacred word in our workaday world. Any Christmas can be a time when you give presents to others, But Christmas can also be a time when God gives you a present; Christmas can be a time when you become present to a new way of being in a new world. And when that happens, you know you are called, to share that, and that takes you to a season of Epiphany.

Again, not an easy time, this growth to living out into new realities and relationships. Listen to Paul, reaching out beyond his old understanding to connect to a community that's bigger than he ever expected, that turns out to have room for so much more than he thought he knew. Epiphany! To consent to let your little light shine that wide is not easy. It eons' for Paul, it isn't for any of us. It can break your old sense of self, your old idea of who you were and where you belong. It can break your old heart.

Go back the the Gospel. What must Simon and Andrew have felt when they saw the crowds outside the family home, when what was to be a private healing turned out to be a public gathering. This reign of God, this community to which Christ calls us, is bigger than we know, can be larger than we might like. To quote a line I fear is awe-fully true. "Christ calls us to exchange our living death for his dying life."

And that needs to be dealt with, that deep demand for rebirth that can isolate the old self, send it to the desert, give it long nights of wondering and arid days when old certainties seem to dry up like weeds.  Some nights that feel like betrayal of your best beliefs, some days that feel like crucifixion, of your best hopes of your life. That is often a necessary step in following Jesus. Because God is bigger then the life we though we were called to live.

But, as Auden puts it, God's will will be done, and, if we can follow along, we can come to know Christ's new life in a wider mercy and a larger world; for this journey past Easter can open us up to new understandings, new community, a new vocabulary of compassion and connection that takes us beyond what we thought we knew of ourselves:  so that we can speak immediately to people who we never knew we knew of the good news of God's love and presence. That is a part of the feast of Pentecost, this is a part of the church of Christ, And this is a lot to handle!

So what has this to do with you? Because you, as the Anglican Church of Mansfield, here in the Diocese of Wangaratta, are in a special place, a sort of tender threshold, a slender limn between possibilities, where new understandings of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost can come to life in your corporate and personal lives and journey. And that needs to be taken seriously.

So I am asking you this morning, as you prepare for a new priest and perhaps a new understanding of your individual and corporate ministries, to prepare as well for a renewed understanding of what it means to be the people of God, the Church of Christ, in this place, here and now, "to keep your eyes wide and your sympathy fresh."

So go back to the prepositions and the verbs we started with; the images and actions and relations of a God who creates a cosmos that is bigger than we can easily know, and more intricately and intimately wrought than we might perceive; a spirit that comes closer than we can easily see, intimately breathing us into deeper life and fresher beginning; and a  Lord who calls us to take up and live out the rhythm of a life filled beyond belief with healing and wholeness and hope.

In the name of Christ.


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