May 262013
 


Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and the Lord Jesus Christ.   Amen

When I was an intern, new to preaching, I once used these same words “from God our Creator” while saying hello to that congregation. A man came up to me afterwards and told me that I should use St. Paul’s words without changing them. St. Paul wrote “from God our Father” at the beginning of several of his letters. That man felt strongly it wasn’t right to change scripture. I asked my supervisor about it. He answered with a parable: he said “People sometimes invite me to fights. I don’t go to them all.”

By suggesting I say “from God our Father” that person invited me to a fight about how we imagine God. When I said “creator” it challenged something at the core of his being. I didn’t accept his invitation to battle: instead I swallowed hard and took his suggestion. He gave me a gift: the challenge to reflect more deeply about my images of God.

It’s Trinity Sunday today in our church calendar, also known as the First Sunday after Pentecost. It’s a good day to reflect on the diversity and unity of our images of God.

What are your images of God?  When you close your eyes and imagine God, what are your experiences? Do you just have one experience, or multiple experiences?

I remember a newspaper cartoon from a few years back. It showed a little boy kneeling by his bed with his hands folded saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven.”  He had a thought-balloon showing a man wearing sweat pants sitting on a Lay-Z-Boy reclining chair in outer space watching TV and drinking something from a can—probably not orange soda. Even as a joke, images of God have power.

That’s an image of God that makes God look like humanity, instead of the other way around. I hope that image of God is not the only image that little cartoon boy has, but I can’t say that the image is entirely wrong. In some ways it’s like the image the writer of the book of Daniel (7:9ff) gave us, through the King James translators.

I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire.

In the time Daniel was written, the northern Levant (now northern Syria and southeastern Turkey) was ruled by bloodthirsty warlords. (Things don’t change much, do they?) The “Ancient of days” image, in that context, was a prophetically true image: a vision of divine justice for God’s people. It’s the image of God in the Sistine Chapel. I hope people see the promise of loving divine justice as well as an old white guy when they look at that painting.  Daniel goes on to say,

Behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven … And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom…

Here’s a prophetically true image- “the Son of Man coming in clouds” that’s so prevalent in the Gospels that it must have been a popular phrase among our early Jesus-following forbears. It remains a shared image to this day: Of course Jesus teaches his disciples that his “coming in clouds” glory wasn’t of human origin, but rather the glory of the Cross. He said (Mark 9:31)

The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again. (Mark 9:31)

What other images of the Holy One does scripture offer us? Plenty, and diverse. To Moses it was (Ex 3:2): “a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.”

To Isaiah of Judea the Holy One offered an image of fury-laden justice

He put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in fury as in a mantle (59:17)

Elijah’s divine image came not to his eyes but his ears. He heard God say (1 Kings 19:12),

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

This is the voice of comfort that’s left after unholy violence has passed away.

We love to teach a particular protective and loving image to our children. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14) Our St. Anna’s stained-glass artist depicted this image.

We also have the life-giving bird images, images which knit together the stuff of earth and heaven in unity. The prophet Malachi wrote, “the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. (4:2). Jesus gave us the nurturing image of the mother hen (Lk 13:34) “Jerusalem, Jerusalem… How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

The transcendent bird metaphor conveys the divine presence at Jesus’s baptism.

When Jesus … had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  (Luke 3:21-22)

We don’t hear from the book of Proverbs much in our lectionary. But today’s reading presents Sofia – Lady Wisdom – as an image of the Holy.

I was beside [the creating LORD], like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.  (Pr 1:30-31)

This same eternal and creative wisdom image is reflected at the beginning of John’s gospel – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

And, there are plenty more images of the Holy One in scripture, and in our own lives. We have a great diversity of images of God:  Cocreative Wisdom, nurturing bird from heaven, lamb, shepherd, peaceful voice of comfort, wrathful avenger, eternally burning bush, Son of Man coming in clouds, the Ancient of days, Father in heaven.

“Immortal, invisible God only wise, with Light inaccessible hid from our eyes.”  “Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on.” “Spirit, spirit of gentleness, blow through the wilderness.”

Image upon image upon image for the Holy. I’m sure you have your own. Which images are true for you? Which are almost true? I wonder if any of them are false? Speaking for myself, I find it physically painful when somebody challenges one of my images of God. That gentleman caused me pain by insisting I say “father” instead of “creator.” And, my desire to correct him caused me even more pain. Have you had an experience like this? If so, you know how much it matters. It comes from our hearts, but it also comes from each other and from God. But our own images aren’t the only ones.

When our kids were small, we used to play a game where we put our feet toe-to-toe, joined our hands, and leaned back. We balanced each other, and then started turning around. When it was just two of us doing this, we did pretty well. By watching each other’s faces we could keep our balance.

We sometimes tried it with three of us. That was harder. We couldn’t just watch each other’s faces; we had to hear and feel and see each other all at once. Sometimes one person’s grip would slacken a little and another had to tighten up. Sometimes one person would get spinning faster than the others and we’d trip all over each other’s feet. It was a good game to play on the beach, because we fell over laughing a lot.

That’s one of my images of the Trinity … the various images of God spinning around hand in hand, eternally, in balance and in joy.… all these parts of the Holy. Are our images of God true? Yes. Are any of them complete in themselves? Yes, but only in balance with the others.

Finally, you and I are made in the image of that whirling, eternally balanced God who embodies the metaphors of scripture, and the metaphors that sustain each of us. One of the promises of baptism asks each of us to play our own part in that dance, that balance… we’re asked to recognize each other as reflecting the image of God: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”

It’s my prayer that each of us will continue to seek and find images of God in each other and in the world. It’s my prayer that we’ll draw strength from others when our balance feels shaky, and that we’ll be there for others, just as the holy and mysterious God, balanced in trinity, Father, +Son and Holy Spirit, Creator, +Redeemer, and Sustainer, is there for us all.  Amen

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 Images of the Holy: Sermon for May 26, 2013  Posted by on Sun, 26-May-13 Sermons Comments Off on Images of the Holy: Sermon for May 26, 2013
May 202013
 


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May 122013
 


 

Grace to you, and peace, from the One who was, and who is, and who is to come. Amen.

Friends, I have a lament today. That’s a biblical word for “gripe.” Let me explain.

We’ve experienced a lot of life-denying violence in this country and this world in the last few months. There was the school shooting in Connecticut. There was the bombing at the Marathon last month. But those horrendous nearby events hardly even merit a footnote compared to everything that’s happened lately.  There have been almost four thousand gun deaths in the US since the Sandy Hook School massacre. Just last Friday in Baghdad 17 died and at least 33 were wounded in four separate bombings. The violence in our world is vast. It’s disgusting. It’s evil. It has to stop. But, it’s not my lament today.

Certain acts of violence are more visible than others. The Marathon bombers knew their crime would get plenty of news coverage. The gun murderers at schools and movie theaters want their crimes to become known to the world. At the same time, you and I have a God-given yearning to hear stories about people. As a result, some victims of this vast violence receive the story-telling attention of the news media and others don’t. That’s unjust. Every victim, and every perpetrator, is some mother’s child. Every victim and perpetrator has a life story. But the media culture in our world ignores most victims and exploits a few to manipulate our compassion. That’s a great shame. But, it’s not my lament today.

Did you catch last week’s scandal? The Worcester mortician who cared for the corpse of one of the men accused of the Marathon murders had a very public struggle to find a graveyard to take him. Many graveyards’ managers were afraid of the political consequences of having such a body in their care. The police chief in that community, in the 21st century, actually had to speak the words, “we’re not barbarians. We bury the dead, even our enemies.” That episode was disgraceful, but it’s not my lament today.

Closer to our church home, a year ago come September a 19-year-old man named Jorge Fuentes was shot on his own street in Dorchester. Jorge is a member of a sister congregation to ours; St. Stephen’s. He came up through the diocese’s B-SAFE program, and lately had been working as a leader in that program. He probably came here once or twice during the B-SAFE summer trips. Nobody knows why he was murdered, not that it matters. Jorge’s fate and his mother’s grief are signs of sin, evil, and death in our world. But that’s not my lament today.

A television news company aired a segment about Jorge’s life, and showed that he’s a man of great character and courage. They showed photos of him working with young people, and aired interviews with people praising his compassion. The centerpiece of the news segment was a description of how he intended to join the United States Marines. They depicted him wearing camouflage on a firing range using an automatic rifle, and so lionized him. For my part, I wish that young men like Jorge had career alternatives to joining elite military outfits, but what do I know? I didn’t grow up in his neighborhood. I also wish the television company could imagine other ways to show Jorge’s strength of character – this way glorifies our shared culture of violence. This kind of news story promotes sin, evil, and death. But, that’s not my lament today either.

So what’s my lament? I am getting there, I promise.

Our Nicene Creed, which we’ll recite and reaffirm together in a few minutes, includes the words “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.” This Creed is, truth be told, an ancient peace treaty between factions among the followers of Jesus in the years after the Roman Emperor Constantine adopted the way of Christ. The churches of those days were striving to become unified by adopting common doctrines and ritual, just as the Roman Empire had been unified that way for centuries.  This is important to us today in this congregation: Our forms of worship and the way we celebrate God’s sacraments date from that time.

Our rituals of worship, mysterious as they may seem to our first-time guests, mystically bind us together with the whole body of Jesus-followers through the centuries and around the world. When we gather at the table here for Holy Communion, we’re gathering, symbolically, at Jesus’s table with everybody who hopes to follow him. For a moment, we step out of time and out of space, and we’re all united. “catholic” means “universal,” or “complete”  That’s what we mean when we say “we believe in one holy catholic church” in the creed.   We believe in the unity of the followers of Jesus everywhere and always.

If you haven’t heard all this ancient lore before – if you’re our guest here today – you may be thinking “so what? What does this arcane church history have to do with Jorge Fuentes’s bereaved mother? You’re asking the right question! Please stay with me just a little longer: I do have a lament today.

In our Gospel reading, we have the privilege of hearing Jesus’s prayer. Jesus is speaking to the One he calls Daddy. Let’s imagine Jesus as a child being tucked in, and his mother sitting on the edge of the bed. Let’s unpack these words:

Jesus said to his parent: As you are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.

To me this means, I wish all my friends were part of our family and could be here with us.

He says: The glory that you have given me I have given them,

What is this “glory?” Maybe he’s looking up at his parent and saying, The love that shines in your face here is the love that I have for my friends.

He goes on to say: so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one.

Maybe he’s saying, I know they’ll stop squabbling and all get along when they see the love shining in your face!

Let’s just take a moment with that. Jesus is with his parent. They’re talking about the kind of love a mother has for her child, and how that motherly love spreads out to touch the child’s friends, and their friends, and change the world.

Who are these friends they’re talking about? Jesus’s apostles and followers.  They’re the church through the ages. They’re the people who gathered to work out the creed we say together. They’re you and me.  That’s the one holy catholic and apostolic church in which we claim to believe. Jesus yearns for us all to be one.

And, today, Martha and a group of people from our congregation are joining with a bunch of other Episcopal congregations from all over eastern Massachusetts in a march against gun violence in Dorchester. In a show of unity, the Episcopalians are all wearing purple shirts to make a visible public witness. They’re saying together, “no more of this” to the life-denying culture of violence. That’s very good. I know a large number of us are united in praying for this violence to stop, and it’s good to be visible in that. I know I’m grateful to the ones who got up at dawn to go to that march and walk in the rain.

And here is my lament. We’re not one church. Why, Lord Jesus, does it have matter that it’s Episcopalians bearing this witness? Why is your world so broken that we believe that our little tribe must make a show of our numbers?  Why can’t the church be one? This is the 17th annual march, honoring Louis D. Brown, another young man murdered like Jorge. Why are we showing purple shirts for the first time this year? Why aren’t all of us, all your followers, your holy catholic and apostolic church, bearing this witness together?

You’ve taught us time and again that our differences are the root cause of our violence. Why do these differences consume us so? Black, white, English-speaker, Spanish-speaker, Episcopalian, Methodist, Lutheran, AME? Why can’t we lay them aside and get along?

 

Lord Jesus, you said time and again in the Gospels that the kingdom of heaven is coming near to us. You taught us to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Well?  How long will you hide from us your kingdom of justice and mercy? How much longer will you fill the mouths of the political leaders we elect with excuses instead of your words “no more of this.”

Jesus, in the face of your prayer that we all are one in your realm of love, how can the mayor of Boston dare to say “it would be disrespectful to our residents” to accept the decent burial of the suspected bomber’s body? Isn’t it, rather, disrespectful to presume that our fellow citizens would refuse that small bodily mercy, even to a deadly enemy? Aren’t enough of our fellow citizens guests at your great table, members of your church, that we might collectively know better than to behave like the citizens of Philippi who attacked and beat Paul and Silas, strangers in their city?

We try, Lord Jesus, you know we try. Our forerunners buried an African woman named Flora in a corner of our graveyard when it wasn’t common to do so. We try to feed our hungry neighbors and care for people with addictions. But, take from us, Lord Jesus, the delusion that token acts are enough. Stir us up and change us. Make us all one.

My lament is this: Jesus, when I pray “your kingdom come” I don’t want to believe that I’m praying only for a life beyond this world. I can’t stop hoping that your kingdom will come in this world.

How long, Lord? Use us Lord, to make your promise true. Take away our tribal pride. Take away our suspicion of each other and hatred of the stranger, that we may be one. Give us the grace of patience and sustain us in the hope for your promise, a hope that we do not yet see.  For the life of our world and yours depends on it.

In your name and for your sake, we pray. Amen

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 On earth as in heaven? Sermon for May 12, 2013  Posted by on Sun, 12-May-13 Sermons Comments Off on On earth as in heaven? Sermon for May 12, 2013
May 092013
 

St. Paul’s Youth led our service on May 5.

 


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 Sermon for May 5, 2013 – The Sixth Sunday of Easter  Posted by on Thu, 9-May-13 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for May 5, 2013 – The Sixth Sunday of Easter