Saturday, June 28, 2014

Taking on a tough Gospel with Cross References: Matthew 10:37-42

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 
This portion of the Gospel for today is what is called a “hard saying.” There are three others sayings like this elsewhere in Matthew but we’ll leave them aside for now. It’s a temptation to think that, “Jesus would never say anything like that!”, but a lot of  Biblical scholars think that, simply because they are such brutal sayings, they are undoubtedly from the lips of Jesus. Who else would want to add that line in? It’s not real attractive, like, “Fear not… you are of more value than many sparrows” You can imagine some early friend of Jesus adding that line on to a late night prayer-time with their needy child. But, “Take up your cross!” doesn’t do it as well!
So, easy as 1, 2, 3; Jesus tells us to love God more than we love our parents and to love God more than we love our children, and to take up our walk with Jesus no matter what cross road we find ourselves on. For “whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me and those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Since it’s such a hard saying. I’d like to do a little detour and head to another, somewhat easier scene from scripture that still might move us to understand where Jesus is calling us to walk; and that’s the Transfiguration account as it is found in Chapter 17 of Matthew. It’s also in Mark and Luke as well as the second letter of Peter. 
You already know the story: Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain by themselves. There He’s transfigured before them: His face shines, His clothes become white, and before you know it He’s talking with Moses and Elijah. A great scene! And good old — not yet Saint  — Peter (and you know Peter in most of the Gospels: “Open mouth, insert foot”)… Peter says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah,” and suddenly a cloud envelopes them, and a voice says, “This is My Son… Listen to Him!” and they see Jesus only. 
Moses, Elijah and Jesus, who tells them to follow Him, to take up their cross: 1, 2, and 3 one more time. And maybe this is what it all means…
If Abraham is the grandfather, then Moses is the parent of Israel: he carries the law, he holds the history, he sets the standards; much like any parent. And when Jesus comes he tells the Israelites (and us too) that holding on too tight to their traditions, taking some parental injunctions too seriously, can keep them (and us ) from seeing what God is doing in the present moment. 
A few months ago I heard someone I respect greatly say of a man that we’ve both known for a few years: “He’ll be OK when he gets outside his father’s shadow!” That’s a hard saying too, but I bet we all know people who are caught in such parental expectations that can hobble or kill a call to follow God, to live life, in the present moment. There comes a point when you know that you have to love God more than parents if you want to follow God. 
And then there's Elijah, head of the Prophets; standing for those who speak for right relationship, for justice, reform, expectation, for the hope of Israel. And maybe he stands for what we want, what we try to offer our children, those we mentor, those we raise up or care for. The prophets give their all for the children of Israel; but then so do righteous parents, tyrannical bosses, believing terrorists too; I’ve heard parents say, “ I was willing to give them every-thing,” and maybe one response to that is, “What they want is simply room, perhaps to get it wrong, but then to make it right, in their own way, in their own time!” 
Even Jesus would have held the people of Jerusalem, to gather them together, “as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings," and they were not willing, and maybe he knew that was right too. Even to give your children, to give your greatest hope up to God, is to allow and open the grace for growth beyond these limited visions. 
Still, it is so understandable, on the one hand, that Peter wants to build a structure to keep history and hope enshrined safely at the top of the mountain; but Jesus knows there is another road to follow, another mountain that must be met before father or mother, son or daughter, maybe before anyone, can really make it home; 
So a voice says, “This is my Son, listen to him” and Jesus says, “Take up your cross.” For “whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me and those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it,” and we’re back to the beginning: a hard saying waiting to be answered. How do we look upon this, live with it, get through it? It might not be as easy as 1, 2, 3, but I believe it is always within our reach by God’s grace, and it has to do with focusing on the facets of the cross.
For there are three crosses in the history and the heart of the church and together they point to the three dimensional reality where God meets us here and now and always. First, we see the crucifix where “Christ has died,” and that encourages us in the life-giving faith that God joins us, along with all the other friends of Jesus, in the very centre of human being; that can give us the faith that we will never be alone on this unfinished road. Then the second cross we can look for with great hope is the empty one that dawns on Easter, with the mystery that, “Christ is Risen from the dead,” and the hope-filled promise that comes with God sharing this new and larger life with us. And finally there is the Christus Rex, where this self-giving, all-loving Jesus reigns as the victorious King of all creation, the culmination of all things, when “Christ will come again:” where faith finds us, hope follows, love wins and Jesus makes all things forever new. Maybe, after all that, it is just 1, 2, and 3.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Nobody gets out alive: Pentecost 2

Jesus says one thing three times in the tenth chapter of Matthew, the Gospel for this morning. As the NRSV puts it: “Have no fear” then, “Do not fear,” and finally, “Don’t be afraid.”

And that’s nice to hear but sometimes it’s not easy advice to take because life can be bewildering and frightening and –- let's face it -– it looks none of us are going to get out of here alive. But  last Friday morning I preached three sermons that might come together as a three dimensional roadmap for facing life and death and all the rest with a larger sense of living life and a smaller component of fear.

First, this Friday at 9:00am I celebrated the Eucharist for the students and staff of Cathedral College. Since it was also celebrating the feast of the Holy Trinity, for which the Cathedral is named, I told I gave them a three-sided sermon and shared three things: 

First, look for God in the big stuff: Mountains, Sea, Sky. For God creates the whole cosmos; and in a world resolutely louder year by year it is important to see the larger scheme of the incongruous and amazing facts of creation. Then, look for God in the small stuff: Feet, food, breath to start; see God’s Spirit animate all the ways  we live and breathe and have our being. Then look for God in flesh: in friends, family, foes, the stranger. For if we see what it means to be a human being in Jesus, and then we can explore the expanse of God’s love lost and found in every human being.

There was some method in my madness: young people need focus and direction, both visions and boundaries. Plus they need the wisdom of the body: the deep miraculous wisdom of their own corpus plus that of history, community, wisdom: the body corporate, the body of evidence, the body of belief that enables with healthy feedback and grounded hope and practical help enabling them and us to get on with the hope and the fear and the business of living with all the possibilities. And that’s one part, in my understanding, of what it means to be the church.

From there I went to a 10:30 service of hymns and communion from the reserved sacrament in the Dementia Ward at St Johns Village where I talked about the three dimensions of the Lord’s Prayer there; reaching up to our Father in Heaven, calling for God’s blessing in our lives and asking for right compassion and connection with our neighbour. A fair number of people joined in the three gestures. Then we shared the bread, body of Christ, and peace at the last. 

I find being a chaplain on D Ward to be a salutary exercise. It meets me in a place where I need to reminded, healing some old fears that you might share. For me getting older means meeting limits, stretching where we wear out; worrying when the possibilities get fewer, when options narrow, when the memory misses words and numbers. I think we all wonder about D-Wing in the end.

But what I see with the people there reminds me of a quote from Jane Fonda where she said she became a Christian  because she  found herself “humming with a reverence.” that was leading her to God. I hear that there, a sense of people on a horizon of life praying with, as Paul puts it, “The spirit interceding with sighs too  deep for words…  groaning for the new creation.” It is deeply moving and surprisingly beautiful.

On the third Friday of the month the 11:15 Nursing Home holds a Memorial Service and Eucharist, with space for a bit of a biography for the person who has died recently (who she was, where she lived, what she liked), then lighting a candle, special prayers, different hymns and the Holy Eucharist from the reserved sacrament. The twenty or so people there, with an average age in the late eighties sang well, prayed and listened quietly 

And I talked about the acclamation in the middle of the Eucharist: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again,” where (quoting, Austin Farrer I think) we are invited to “exchange our living death with Christ’s dying life.” Christ opens the dead-end of life with an endless love that lives forever; he invites us to open to resurrection time, and assures us to abide in that hope until he returns to share eternal life; that’s the faith we follow, the hope Jesus plants in our life, the love that calls us to open new beginning. 

And that’s last Friday morning. Let me make an end. Do not fear, because God has created a cosmos in which you can never get lost.  Do not fear, because the Spirit will meet you in every moment of life and death, of ending and beginning. Do not fear, because Jesus is wildly in love with you, reaching out his arms of love, willing to share his loving life with you here and now and always, 

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Talking about the Trinity, Cathedral College, Holy Trinity Cathedral, Wangaratta

20 years ago this month, I was living in San Francisco, working as a chaplain when I decided to take a summer vacation at a hermitage, a special monastery on the California coast. The head of the place, Father Robert, was a man I had known 10 years before when I was studying at seminary. He was a good man, very smart and very friendly, always room for listening to others, there was a special joy in being around him and I thought it just might be because he was very holy. He was now in charge of the monastery so I hoped I would see him there.

So I left my apartment in the middle of San Francisco very early one morning and I caught a bus which took me to a train in which I traveled for an hour and a half and then transferred to another train for another trip for several more hours and then I got on a bus that took me to a town, Monterey, on the California coast, where one of the brother–monks met me in a ute and drove me several hours down the California coast to an area called Big Sur; lonely, a place where tall tree covered green mountains meet the ocean with just one or two winding roads to connect you with the outside world.

The days there had a kind of rhythm between silence and speech and music. The community gathering several times a day to read lessons from Scripture, sing psalms, and pray for the world and those in need; then time for study, for manual labor, for meetings and quiet conversations; but there was also to listen to a kind of rhythm around the place itself. A short walk away there were benches on a bluff where you could see how high we were on the mountain and how far above the blue Pacific ocean: all that land and sky and sea made the world is pretty big. Sometimes we sit on this great earth like interesting little creatures playing in the dirt, and it is a good thing to know how big this world, this cosmos, can be and how fragile and fine is our part in it.

That is something like what we find in much of the writings of Scripture. An attempt to get our heads and hearts around what it means to be part of a creation that is so large: to be the special part of the world that can look out and see its majesty and beauty and sometimes terror, can see and hear and smell and touch it, can take pictures and make paintings and tell stories, can make poetry and prayers, can learn to care for it. 

To know that creation is so large, so majestic, and to know we have a part in it, is, among other things, what that word "God" points to: darkness and light, anger and forgiveness, doubt and faith, loss and love. The histories, the prophets, the Psalms, the Wisdom writings in what we call the Old Testament all point there too, and that's why it is a good idea to sometimes find a mountaintop where you can sit and look over the expanse of life and know you are an important, though small, part of something that large

With 20 or 30 people in the chapel, it was like a large quiet family, listening to readings, chanting psalms that were several thousand years old, softly discussing what living life with God might mean. There was time and space to watch the sun cross the sky and set in the West and to let the moon rise in its own good time. There were times to watch the clouds crossing and shadows moving against the green forest, There was time to eat in silence — tasting each ingredient in every bit of food, which can be, when given the time and place, a very surprising pleasure and privilege. There was time to walk slowly down a path and feel in your every motion and step the miracle of the human body in which we live and move. There was time to tend to the subtle and sometimes quite indescribably delicious feeling of simply breathing: the receiving and relinquishing, the giving and taking of the most basic stuff of life – each and every breath you take.

And this is like some of the experiences the early members of the church, our ancestors in the family of this cathedral, called the Holy Spirit. The sense that the God of the whole creation was as close in every step they took, in every moment of time.and every bit of food received and given and shared, in each and every single breath, and it was al good.

The day before I left one of the monks came to tell me that Father Robert would be leaving the monastery to driving not far from where I was returning: would I want to travel with him? So the next day we drove up the coast and through the valley and into the cities again and all that time he asked me how my way had gone in the last 10 years. When he let me off on the street not far from my home I thought, “What an interesting and good life I had led!” I had done some good things, along with some fairly dumb deeds, but there were good times, times coming to bloom, with love and light and silence and good speech and care and community keeping me growing up in God’s world. And then I realised it wasn't about me.

There are a number of people around in whom love seems to live in particularly lively ways, opening room for refreshment, healing and joy, who seem to open doors and windows for forgiveness and finding new ways to be alive in community. In my time with Father Robert I could see how my life connected with both the big and the small, the blue sky and the breath of air, walking on the earth, being a good neighbour, so the light of his light I saw my life in a new way. And in that he was like Jesus.

So you see taking this journey for me was like what the Trinity is about: seeing again how big the world is, how majestic and beautiful, as well as how small it can be with every breath, as well as the surprise that we can meet love and new life in the face of human beings. Jesus is that kind of human being and we are here to learn to know him, know his love, and finally try to live like him.

So these are the three dimensions of the holy Trinity: the breadth of creation, the intimacy of inspiration, the hope in the heart of being human. And grace means keeping the door open for God's glory and grace and gladness to meet you in each of these places and on every step of the way. Enjoy the journey! 

In the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Trinity Sunday 2014

This morning I want to talk about the Holy Trinity from two different angles: first from a historical perspective and then with a personal story.

The idea of the Trinity is not, except in the selection from Matthew's Gospel, something that occurs often in the Gospels or the whole of the New Testament, but the concept gives a name to a particular three dimensional experience that happened  early in the life of the first disciples.

The gathered friends of Jesus were mostly from a Jewish background: they knew the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; they knew the God that Moses encountered in the desert who defined himself as, "I am what I am." Their Scripture begins with a God who was before all things, who created all things, from the stars and planets to the oceans and the seashores, to the cells of our bodies and our very souls. They believed in a God who was from before the beginning, the ruler of the universe, in whom all things found their end.

And to their surprise, in the life of Jesus they saw what seemed to be the fullness of God in human form. Maybe it was like the times when you see a photo of someone where you have to say, "That is such an excellent likeness!" "That picture captures the essence of you!” Jesus captured, looked like, walked like, loved like, what they knew God to be. In Jesus they saw God's righteousness, God's compassion, God's intimate love entering into the middle of human being; fleshing out their understanding of how God worked by walking along the road with them; in all the potential and pain, in all the complex love and limits that come from being human. 

For Jesus just might be a moving picture of God-with-us that goes through the full journey of being flesh and blood, so that we can say there is no place where we might be separate from God in all the business of living and dying, which is where another surprise came in. 

The friends of Jesus didn't see his death coming while they were on the way, and I don't know that Jesus did either, but for very different reasons. The disciples were expecting a worldly triumph, a happy ending before the end of the program, an expected victory: and they didn't want to see it could go another way, to an unexpected and unforeseen victory that was to be almost beyond belief. But, I believe, as Jesus walked through the human journey alongside everybody, he only saw God: God's righteousness, God's compassion, God’s intimate love; in every moment of life, in every person he met. So he was able to walk to his own death in faith that God would meet him in every instant on the way. In the end, I think that the resurrection would have been less of a surprise for Jesus then it is for us.

But what happened next was even a bigger surprise! For then the disciples felt closer to Jesus than ever, felt as though his righteousness and compassion and intimate love were closer than ever; in their midst as close as breath; renewing them and reminding them that we are created and redeemed and sanctified, made and met and mended by God -- making light and love and mercy -- breathing living love in the centre of it all.

Really that's less strange than it sounds, for every one of us – I would bet – remembers moments, irrespective of quantity,  where we have felt something like the quality of that holy love breathing in the midst of our lives, by the gift of the Spirit, just like Jesus, with the grace of God. It just seems to be part of the package. So when the church committees were putting together their lists of necessary doctrines, what seemed good and necessary things to believe, to lean into, the holy Trinity made the final cut. And that's some of the historical background as I understand it.

Now from a more personal viewpoint.  For the last few months I've been carrying around a prayer I first heard in 1986. It's a line from an Irish poet named Thomas Ashe, written in the first part of the 20th century, and he wrote:

"Christ look upon us in this city and keep our pity fresh and our eyes heavenward, lest we grow hard."

And I’m finding that is another way to live into the Trinity; aiming to keep our pity fresh and eyes heavenward, learning to lean into, live in sight of, Gods vision, breathing deep in the spirit, with the ultimate aim of living and giving our lives away in love like Jesus. It's a very beautiful prayer.

But I know enough about myself, my various neuroses, my need for comfort, my lack of discipline, my somewhat dreary and faded list of sins; to know that I won't get far on this road on my own. Yet I still carry the poem, still look at the hope of it, still want to begin again, and that’s one other thing that keeps me in the church. 

There are people we encounter in church who are enabled to live like the Lord most days, to follow the way Jesus lived his days, breathed his life, gave himself over through the love of God to make the world anew. They seem to look on the world with delight and compassion and pity, with what seems like God's own love. And in this they're just like Jesus, keeping God's own light in their sight at every opportunity, keeping their eyes heavenward, letting  their heart be renewed, their compassion and pity freshened in all the opportunities of life that God shares with us.

So lately I’ve begin to wonder again what it would be like to be living alongside him on that journey. And I believe, for the disciples and the others, that it must be a little like being part of a great dance, with rich rhythms of darkness and light and death and life and loss and love: you can almost hear that moving tempo between the times with the crowds and the moments of loneliness in the desert; the praying to the Father in heaven and the heartfelt work so that God’s will be done and God’s kingdom comes here on earth; living everyday with compassion, patience, pity ever freshened and  a continually renewed hope that would never end.

"Christ look upon us… And keep our pity fresh and our eyes heavenward, lest we grow hard." 

The truth is, I think, that each of us is called to walk this way, and the truth is that we are very fragile people; so the question might be: how can we get there from here, and do we want to try? Do we want try to walk this walk, to talk this talk, to live this life; try to live like Jesus; with the hope  of the kingdom of heaven raining down on us, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit freshening our breath in every instant? It can be a very big ask; but God has mercy, the Lord loves us, the Spirit gives breath and hope: and we can, with fear and trembling and every newborn bit of belief that comes our way, take upon ourselves the task of asking the Holy Trinity to help us join in living this love and walking this way in the very middle of God’s graceful human journey.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.