Saturday, May 29, 2010

1st Sunday after Pentecost Yr C, Trinity

We find ourselves at the time of our church year when it seems like we are completing one thing and embarking upon another. The Sundays of Easter have come to a conclusion, we have celebrated the Day of Pentecost, although we call these days the Days after Pentecost, and we alight for a moment on this, Trinity Sunday, before we come to rest in the ordinary days.

That all sounds so linear, like we can finish up one thing and then begin the next. But you all know that I am not a linear thinker, and therefore in my mind, seasons have a tendency to overlap, or to extend, or to be hurried, but never to happily move in a straight line. The challenge in my life is to be fully present to the now, yes, to look back and see where I’ve been, and to look forward to see what may be off on the horizon, but to let the anxiety of the past and the future be what it is in the present, no more, no less. If I don’t, I will miss incarnation, and I will miss resurrection. In other words, being fully present to now, puts me in a position to see, hear, feel, God in our midst, the reality and the truth of God in you and me and in all of creation. Being fully present helps me to experience the wideness, the boldness, the tenderness, the compassion, of God. It is to be able to listen to God, and to subject myself to God’s authority. If our lives are a narrative, a story that we write with God, then God’s authority is as author, creator.

I do believe being fully present is a good way to experience this thing we call Trinity. The three in One, the One in three. Because Trinity is much more like a dance than a doctrine. Imagine, the God of the universe who creates, who authors, all that is, seen and unseen, who is love, exuberantly spilling over into what we call son and spirit. God being with creation, in the midst of creation, continuing to create, loving, healing, reconciling, speaking, writing the story. So how do we talk about Trinity?

Here is an example. I really love being a mother. Motherhood has changed for me these days. Our boys have grown up and are in various stages of taking steps away to lives on their own. I love to watch Tom and Willie grow and deepen. Deepen in character, faith, expression and relationship. As their mother my heart breaks when they are in pain, and my heart soars when joy finds them. As their mother, I try to prepare them and support them both in their successes and their mistakes. My greatest hope is that they will grow into the full stature of Christ.

Being a daughter these days is hard. I miss my mother, and there are still days that I miss my father, who died sixteen years ago last week. My mother, who is the mother of eight children, never missed a band concert, or a swimming meet. She lived through my boyfriends and bad judgments. When I was 23, I went by myself on a 6 month trip to Europe, only now do I begin to realize what I must have put her through. And she helped take care of Tom and Willie when they were younger.

And then there’s being me. A woman who is creative, passionate, stubborn, compassionate, controlling, has good judgment sometimes not so good judgment once in a while, wife, priest.

All of these, mother, daughter, wife, are always in relationship. Nothing I do, or think, or am, can be separated from the rest. I bring to this present moment all that I am, all that I have been, and all that I am becoming. It is the story that I write with God, while responding the joys and challenges life presents.

If that’s not Trinity, I don’t know what is. Trinity is at its essence relationship. It is relationship among what is, what was, and what shall be. It is relationship among creator, created, and community. Trinity is lover, beloved, and new life.

I remember so very clearly the Sunday night youth group that the priest came to, to explain to us teenagers everything we ever wanted to know about the Trinity. I remember nothing else about that night, except that I left as confused as I had come.

Today I know that that is because understanding Trinity isn’t an exercise of the intellect. Nor is Trinity to be described adequately by our language, because Trinity does not dwell in the world of language. I think efforts to construct Trinity are woefully inadequate. Even the Nicene creed that we all recite by memory each week, which was compiled by men who tried desperately to describe what Trinity is not, only is a glimpse of what may be true. Because the real truth of Trinity lives in that part of us that is intuitive and relational. Trinity exists in the part of our humanity that yearns to be in relationship, that yearns to dance.

Theologians have written tomes about Trinity, I write only this. Trinity is the truth we find in the God who loves us so much to come into our lives as one of us, to be forever among us and forever before us. Trinity is the way in which our lives are lived in relationship, relationship that makes real the body of Christ. And Trinity is the life that is made absolutely new through our creator God.

One of my favorite hymns goes like this. “I bind unto myself today, the strong name of the trinity, by invocation of the same, the three in one and one in three. I bind this day to me forever, by power of faith, Christ’s incarnation…. I bind unto myself the power of the great love of cherubim…..I bind unto myself today the virtues of the starlit heaven… I bind unto myself today the power of God to hold and lead.” We call upon the authority of the one who is creator, the one who created, and the one who gives new life.

We must bind ourselves to the strong name of the Trinity. We must bind ourselves each and every day to the chance for new life given to us and written for us by our Creator.

I had the great privilege once to spend a week at Kanuga conference center in the mountains in North Carolina, to listen to my favorite author Madeleine L’engle speak about this and that. She talks and writes about leaving her apartment in New York City and walking the few blocks to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where she was writer in residence, and that she would recite this rune, as it is called and was before we knew it as a hymn, “I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the three in one and one in three.”

We must bind ourselves to the strong name of the Trinity, to the authority that creates us, redeems us, and makes us new creations. We must be fully present to Trinity, to the relationship that enfolds us, empowers us, gives us new life, and calls us from darkness to light, brokenness to wholeness.

In the name of the one who is creator, who is redeemer, and who is sustainer of all life, In the name of the one who is father, son and spirit, In the name of the one who is mother, daughter and compassion, be present to the power that protects you, guides you, and gives you new life.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God: Come let us adore him.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

7 Easter Yr C

Time, we never have enough, it goes too fast, it drags, it can be our enemy and sometimes our friend. I begin today with a quotation from my favorite author, Madeleine L’engle. She writes, We need to remember that the house of God is not limited to a building that we usually visit for only a few hours on Sunday. The house of God is not a safe place. It is a cross where time and eternity meet, and where we are—or should be – challenged to live more vulnerably, more interdependently. Where, even with the light streaming in rainbow colors through the windows, we can listen to the stars. Many of Madeleine’s stories deal with time, a wrinkle in time, an acceptable time, the irrational season, and yet she never sets out to tell stories about time. We are, or at least I am, fascinated by stories about time. I used to like to watch The Time Tunnel, and much more recently I’ve been fascinated by the story The Time Traveler’s Wife. John’s Revelation is also all about time, although he never sets out to tell us a story about time.

So let’s hear again from Revelation. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star. The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

What John is doing here is proclaiming the one who is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and last, the beginning and end. In other words, he proclaims faith in a God who spans all time, who lovingly embraces all time. This faith in God has been the foundation of his message to people of God who are suffering. To people who wonder why God has allowed time to be invested with pain and suffering. John's answer to them is to show them the one who sits on the throne of heaven, the one who is the beginning and end of all things, and so is the one who can promise an ending to the pain, a time when God will wipe away our tears and all suffering will come to an end. John proclaims to us a God who stands outside of time and who comes into time, into the midst of humanity and all it’s suffering along with all its joy, and embraces all time with divine love.

There is much mystery here. Time in Revelation is not the straight line of our lives, or the straight line of history, with a beginning and an end. Time in Revelation is much more like the wrinkle that Madeleine L’engle imagines in A Wrinkle in Time, like when you take a piece of fabric and fold it. (show this) Or as it is imagined as a cross where time and eternity meet. Getting out of the way of thinking about time in a linear fashion opens John’s Revelation to be what it really is, not an end times predictor, but an invitation to live fully and completely in this present that God creates and redeems.

The Good News here is that the Creator God, the God of the universe, the God that we worship, not only creates time, but also comes into time and walks with us in the midst of our joy and our suffering. This is Good News indeed. John shows us this mysterious reality.

As if the eternal nature of God isn't hard enough to understand, this God is one who also enters time. As eternal, God is outside of time but through Jesus steps into time to redeem it...and us. How so? This is what can be difficult for us to understand. For, if you or I were making the decisions, we would redeem the world by ridding it of evil, by simply wiping out all those people and all those things that give us pain, who give us a hard time, who we don’t like and disagree with. Wouldn't we? But God doesn't choose to do that. Thankfully, God is God, and we are not. I'm not sure if it's because God is perfect love and we aren't, but God chooses differently. God chooses instead to suffer with those who suffer in time, with a promise that some day, some time, it will be different.

So there is an invitation before us, the spirit and the bride say come, let everyone who hears say come, let everyone who is thirsty, come. This is an invitation to live the full and abundant life that God intends for us right now, at this intersection of time and space, at this intersection of earth and heaven, at this intersection of cross and empty tomb, right now. The invitation to us is to welcome the One who comes into our limitedness, our humanness, who comes into time as we know it; the invitation is to be fully present to that abundant love and grace. The invitation is to not be ruled by the past and the future, but to live in God’s presence,

If we accept the invitation to live in God’s presence, God’s time, at this intersection of cross and empty tomb, what does it matter? We have also learned from Revelation that this present time is God’s realm. So if we accept the invitation to come, if we accept the invitation to live fully in God’s presence, we stand, or sit, or kneel, in resistance to the world’s insistence that we must always be in a hurry, or that we must always have our way, or that we must always meet violence with vengeance. We stand, or sit, or kneel, in resistance to the world’s insistence that you must live only for yourself, or that you must amass riches and wealth. We stand, or sit, or kneel in God’s presence in witness to the love that includes, the love that makes whole again what is broken, the love that unites and does not divide.

When we accept the invitation to live on God’s time, we live more vulnerable, more interdependently. When we accept the invitation to live on God’s time, we stop living to acquire and we give away and give over. When we accept the invitation to live on God’s time, we stop living in scarcity and are filled with abundance. When we accept the invitation to live on God’s time, we stop living in fear, and we live in hope.

The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Alleluia, The Lord is risen indeed: Come, let us adore him. Alleluia!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

6 Easter Yr C

We’ve been listening to John’s visions in Revelation, and we’ve compared those visions to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Scrooge says as he is accompanied by the Phantom who shows him his grave, ‘Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead.’ But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me.’ One of the purposes of John’s Revelation is to effect transformation in us, to wake us up, to show us the results when nations continue to bow down to idols. Today’s passage from Revelation shows us what will be when lives are altered, when lives are transformed. It is a glorious vision.

The vision is of the holy city Jerusalem. Revelation sets the holy city Jerusalem over and against the whore city Babylon, the heart of empire, the heart of addiction to violence, greed, fear, and unjust lifestyle, the heart of whatever holds each of us most captive. The holy city, the new Jerusalem, is established right where we are, not somewhere else, not away in the clouds, but right where we are. The glory of God is the city’s light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light. And what’s more, the river of the water of life flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city, and the leaves on the tree of life are for the healing of the nations.

The book of Revelation was born out of a time when people who followed Jesus had to live under cover. Worship of the gods was proscribed by the Roman Empire. Empire and worship were one and the same. The book of Revelation gave hope in that context, and describes the community that Jesus has set up on earth that is an alternative to empire. These were people who would gather and sing songs to God and to the Lamb, to share stories and to break bread in remembrance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. They came together around a radical and transforming vision of the joyful reign of God. In this letter from John this community heard a call to faithfulness, a call to renew their love for one another. They heard the promise that they would be victorious, provided that they resist the seductions of the empire. Signs and portents of revelation worked to wake up the people to change, to wake them up so that they could resist the seductions of the empire.

The vision of Revelation gathers the community together beside God’s riverside, to drink of its water of life, to find shelter beside God’s majestic tree of life with its healing leaves. As you read these verses in Revelation chapters 21-22, imagine yourself walking into this city through its open gates, exploring the landscape that the angel unfolds before you. You are safe at last. You are beloved.

I know that the truth of our lives here and now is that the seductions are powerful. The seduction of greed, of exclusion, and of self-importance is powerful indeed. Chapter 21 in Revelation speaks specifically to the healing of all nations through the leaves of the tree of life. There is much in Revelation that some have used to dominate and to create a culture of fear. The theory that some know as the rapture is clearly a misinterpretation of the message of Revelation. The call to transformation and to reconciliation and healing is clear in Revelation. The call to turn away from violence, to turn away from greed, to turn away from exclusion, to turn toward peace, to turn toward generosity, to turn toward inclusion is mighty powerful. God’s holy city provides enough food for all, in God’s holy city all hunger is satisfied.

Given this interpretation of Revelation, that Revelation offers hope and freedom, nourishment and sustenance in a culture of greed, violence, and narcissism, I ask you this question. How does this speak to your deepest hunger? How does this speak to the deepest hunger of our world? I think we spend our lives yearning and searching for nourishment, for something that resembles the holy city that is described in Revelation. Our search takes us by way of false nourishment. Like eating potato chips instead of potatoes, or candy instead of fruits and vegetables. We look for satisfaction in places that can only offer us momentary delight. But when we look away from God to satisfy our hunger, we continue to go away hungry.

Gathered at the riverside, God’s people, you and I, have tasted life-giving water and manna from heaven. We have glimpsed God’s beloved city. Because of that, everything is different now. Everything and everyone is precious. The challenge is to live our lives according to the story of God’s beloved city, to live in terms of its blessing. We live in freedom, not enslaved by the need to please and perform, but fully and absolutely and abundantly loved by the God who created us, who came into our world to live, suffer, and die as one of us, who rose from the dead, and lives among us, and who will come again to reign here in the company of the creation.

I invite you to respond to the promise of the new creation, the New Jerusalem, it is a summons to be more, to live and love more, to share more because there is so much more that God desires and designed for us. It seems to me that there are at least two views of the religious life. Both acknowledge that this world we share is full of tumults and challenges, of sometimes seismic ups and downs. You know these things, and it seems we have been living through them one after another; earthquakes and volcanoes, oil spills and terrorist bombings. One view of the life of faith assumes that when you come to faith, things settle down, stop shaking, and make sense suddenly. But most of us know that isn’t really the truth of our lives. The other view of faith, however, doesn't promise an end to the tremors but enables you to keep your footing amid them. That’s what Revelation shows us. Christ, the Lamb, in our midst, taking on our sadness and pain, sharing our burden, celebrating our joy.

And it’s not all about any one of us; we live our lives connected to one another. Barbara Rossing reminds us near the end of her book, The Rapture Exposed, that Revelation’s story is about seeing the Lamb beside you in every moment of your life, in the car, at the shopping mall, at work and at school. Revelation is about looking more deeply into God’s picture and seeing how the Lamb is leading you even now into a world of joy and healing.

Alleluia, The Lord is risen indeed: Come let us adore him. Alleluia.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

5 Easter Yr C

When we began reading from the Revelation to John, back on the first Sunday of Easter, I suggested that Revelation may be something like A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. At that time I said that A Christmas Carol is a morality play in which the miserly Scrooge is taken on a visionary tour of his life. As we all know, Scrooge gets a hair-raising visit from the ghost of his dead business partner, and he gives Scrooge the first warning of what his future may hold if he does not change his life.

I quote from A Christmas Carol again today. “The Spirit stood among the graves, and pointed down to one. He advanced toward it trembling. The Phantom was exactly as it had been, but he dreaded that he saw new meaning in its solemn shape. ‘Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,’ said Scrooge, ‘answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be only?’ Still the Ghost pointed downward to the grave by which it stood. ‘Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,’ said Scrooge. ‘But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me.’ The Spirit was immovable as ever. Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went; and following the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name, EBENEZER SCROOGE. ‘Am I that man who lay upon the bed?’ he cried, upon his knees. The finger pointed from the grave to him, and back again. ‘No Spirit! Oh no, no!’ The finger still was there. ‘Spirit!’ he cried, tight clutching at its robe, ‘hear me. I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?’ For the first time the hand appeared to shake. ‘Good Spirit,’ he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: ‘your nature intercedes for me, and pities. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life.’”

In the book The Rapture Exposed, the author Barbara Rossing describes Revelation by comparing it to A Christmas Carol. She said that the visions in Revelation are like the visions Scrooge has. The ghost of the past, present and future warn Scrooge that if he doesn’t wake up and change his ways, these visions are the way it is. The book of Revelation serves to show us the very same thing. If we don’t wake up and change our ways, if we don’t reconcile our relationships with one another and with this earth, our island home, the consequences will be dire.

And then we come to chapter 21 that we hear today. This chapter is the chapter of hope. This chapter is my very favorite in the whole bible. In this part of the story we hear Good News; we hear that what could be is that the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with us as our God and we will be God’s people. God will be with us and will wipe every tear from our eyes, death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. See, I am making all things new.

This is hope. This is where all our visions and dreams come into focus. The whole message of the bible is that God loves the world so much that God comes to earth to dwell with us. Revelation proclaims this message. God’s home is not somewhere else, but here in our midst, incarnate right here on earth. This is a message that is not just about the future; it is a message that is operative right here, right now. See, I am making all things new. New life is about now; new life is available to each and every one of us right now. We don’t live our lives for the reward at the end. We live our lives because we have this chance of new life, of a different way of being, right here, right now.

And what is this new thing, what is the gift we’ve been given. Why does any of this make any sense at all? It is the gift of God with us, the gift of Jesus Christ who lived this life, just like you and me. Jesus who suffered and cried, Jesus who loved his friends, Peter who denied him, and Judas who betrayed him, Jesus, who would not give into the cultural pressures of his time. Jesus who was God who is God and who will be God forever, whose work in his life in his suffering in his death and in the resurrection gives us something new, gives us the truth of a transformed life, calls us into a life that is about hope and growth and love and forgiveness, it calls us away from a life of self-centered and self-serving narcissism. Hope is what revelation is about.

When we embark on the journey of transformation, we enter the land of hope. When we enter the land of hope, we are in fact transformed, made new, given the gifts for living this life fully alive, where out of death comes new life, out of sadness comes hew hope, out of crying and pain come new love.

The vision of revelation is meant to be God’s vision by which we live our lives right now, as followers of the Lamb, who is Jesus, in our world. According to Barbara Rossing, “The Lamb is leading us on an exodus out of the heart of empire, out of the heart of addiction to violence, greed, fear, and unjust lifestyle or whatever holds each of us most captive. It is an exodus we can experience each day. Tenderly, gently, the Lamb is guiding us to pastures of life and healing beside God’s river.”

The theme of exodus runs through the entire book of revelation, and it is the theme that guides us through our Christian lives. Each of us and all of us together wander through the wilderness of all that which enslaves us, all that which hurts us and causes us to protect our hurts and fears at all costs. That is what the scary stuff of revelation is. It is the powers that enslave us. The powers of empire that demand worship and adoration at all cost. The powers of possession that cause us to fool ourselves into believing that people and things are ours to possess. The powers of self doubt that fool us into believing that we are not worthy to be loved by God. But it is also the theme of exodus that assures us that God is God and we are God’s people, and we can do nothing to cause God to break that covenant. That is the liberation, that is the freedom.

The vision of Revelation also is a vision of God’s realm right here right now, as well as that which is yet to come. We live in the tension of this vision always. You and I have been claimed by and for God’s realm at our baptism. We receive God’s realm on earth by sharing the love of God in Christ. It is by our love for one another, our love for the stranger, and our love for those we vehemently dislike, that we may be known as Christians. This 21st chapter of Revelation has been paired with the gospel of John chapter 13; I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you have love for one another.

You and I participate in God’s realm when we love one another. You and I change one life when we love one another. You and I change people around us when we love one another. You and I can change the world when we love one another. You and I can participate in the new creation described in Revelation when we welcome God in our midst, when we receive God into our very being, when we treat each and every person as if that person is created in God’s image. You and I can be an incarnational community, a community of love, of hope, of resurrection and of transformation right now, we don’t have to wait until some time in the future. Welcoming God among mortals, expecting Jesus with us, this is our call; this is the Christian life we are to be about.

Alleluia, The Lord has risen indeed: Come let us adore him. Alleluia!