Memorial Day & Trinity Sunday, 2013

This is Memorial Day weekend. And today is Trinity Sunday. It occurred to me that there are some interesting connections… Memorial Day, if you’ll allow me to speak idealistically, is about remembering and giving thanks for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. Whether a soldier agreed with or even understood the policies and politics of what was going on at the time, they stepped out and went forth and died for the highest ideals which our country is built upon: e.g., democracy and equality, liberty and life; freedom of expression and of belief. We hold them and their sacrifice in our hearts and we are grateful. Their offering of themselves affords us the opportunity to continue to enjoy the rights they died to preserve.

And we know that without our vigilance, our devotion, our gratitude, and our remembrance of their sacrifice we stand to lose what was so hard-fought for and won. If we ignore or neglect our freedoms, we will lose them. At least: they will be taken away; at worst: they will atrophy. Either way, we will be lost…

The doctrine of the Trinity is in similar straits. It is the core of Christian belief that without our vigilance, our devotion and gratitude, without our remembrance, we stand to lose what was so hard-fought for and won and which defines us.

There is One God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Now I could speak philosophically and at length and find myriad quotes about freedom and democracy, liberty and equality. I could speak theologically and at length about the Trinity. For instance one of the most succinct statements about the Trinity is from Sergei Bulgakov: “God is one in his holy trihypostasizedness.” His essence or beingness is threefold… But eyes would glass over and snores might rise. Isn’t it better when we offer examples of these things? Isn’t it more helpful to illustrate and demonstrate than pontificate?

So let’s show how the Trinity is applicable. There is pragmatic reality and consequence to believing the Trinity. For instance I strive to use the Trinity to guide how I live my life, understand my job, celebrate the Sacred Mysteries, and worship God in the fullness of His beauty.

In my public life: I try to think of economics and politics with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as my grounding: The Father is the source of a morality of love, Jesus is shows a morality of self-sacrifice and the Holy Spirit instills a sense of altruism.

In my vocation, which includes social work & “ministry”: Hope is the ground of all my labor. God did not give up on His creation. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” But I fall short of that love and come under indictment: Jesus said “if you love me you will keep my commandments.” While forgiveness through Jesus Christ is given, that is not enough to motivate me and so Jesus says “the Holy Spirit will remind you of everything and inspire you to do more…” If this is how God treats & leads me, shall I not do the same for others?

In my worship: Worship is all about how we honor and respect and love God. It is the worth that we place on our relationship with God. Typically we refer to the major liturgical styles as “high” or “Anglo-Catholic/Orthodox,” “evangelical,” and “charismatic.”

At its very best, high church worship with its majesty, its jewels, precious metals, and incense, its ceremony and ritual, trumpets and chants, at its very best, high church worship is an enthronement service for God the Father.

At its very best, evangelical worship with its unapologetic proclamation, the appeal and invitation for Christ the King to become Lord of our lives, the invitation to ask Jesus into our hearts, the preaching of the word of God: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. At its very best, evangelical worship is the exaltation of God the Son.

At its very best, charismatic worship is about the enjoyment, the sharing, the spontaneity and the manifestation of the gifts and the fruits of the Holy Spirit. The healing, the compassion and guidance, the power, the freedom, the joy: at its very best, charismatic worship celebrates the presence of God the Holy Spirit.

Christians believe that God is eternally revealed as Holy Trinity: One in Three and Three in One—God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. So if we would worship all of God, we must honor the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Otherwise we must decide what part of God, do we not want in our worship?

The ramifications of this are profound. Without the Holy Spirit, high church worship for all its splendor, can become rote ritual. Without the Holy Spirit, evangelical worship can become legalistic and puritanical.

Without God the Son, so-called Spirit-filled worship, with all the freedom and joy, is susceptible to being ungrounded and individualistic. Without God the Son, high church worship for all its splendor can become merely precious.

Without God the Father, evangelical worship can become rule driven and reward focused. Without God the Father, charismatic worship can become chaotic, detached from Truth, and far too subjective.

This isn’t just a matter of taste or style. And it sure isn’t about just what we like; there are practical repercussions. One of the most important goes back to the principal reason for why Jesus came to die for us in the first place, and what we accomplish when we come together to worship Him. He came to save us from our sins. His sacrifice provides us with the possibility of a personal relationship with God, and to make our union Him and with one another a reality. This is why we worship regularly and frequently together. And this is why liturgical worship is not democratically or dictatorially derived. As faithful worshippers and followers of Jesus, we need ancient hymns: their very deep theology and the connection they preserve for us with our ancestors. And we also need new songs. Every generation has to write its own affirmation and love song to God. I’ve noticed that most ancient hymns tend to speak about God and about our faith; whereas many new hymns tend to sing to God, and address God as “You.” A steady diet of either, and either without the corrective of the other, is problematic. We need the grounding and we need the relationship. We need the strident majesty and subtle beauty. And we need the exuberant praise.

At its heart then, Christian worship is all for God and affords us the opportunity to express our relationship with Him in the community of brothers and sisters. I want to worship all of God. I want to experience God in His fullness. I know that our personal tastes don’t plumb the depths or exhaust the range of all that the Lord wants us to know or experience.

So the last manifestation of the Holy Trinity is the patience and love and humility we all need to respect one another in the myriad idiosyncrasies which we manifest in our worship. Some stand, some sit, some kneel. Someday someone may dance. Some fold their arms. Some fold their hands. Some lift their hands and raise their arms. Is any of this wrong? Does any of this not fit? I don’t think so. Is there room for variety, for differing expressions? I hope so. Without it, we run the risk of missing the Kingdom of God and not noticing Heaven in our midst.

May the Lord bless us each of us and all of us as we seek ever more faithfully to serve and worship Him in the fullness and the beauty of holiness: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Advertisements

‘Tis still Advent

I was struggling with thoughts of Mary’s obedience and with the world being turned on its ear as I stood in my backyard last night. The moon had only been up a little while. Shining there in the unusually clear, night sky, I thought about how the moon was created to reflect the brightness of the sun, and what Christmas might mean if we were as obedient as the moon, if we fulfilled in each of our lives the work, the mission of what we were created to be as well as the moon does what it was created to be. The moon is the light in the dark; according to the Bible, its only purpose is to reflect the light of the sun.

When this Christmas season finally does come upon us tomorrow night, perhaps we can remember in Whose image we were created and how we’re to reflect the light of His Son in our lives, how to be His light in the darkness of the world. That’s what the obedience of Mary accomplished. And in our obedience to the Lord, we, too, will see the world undergo an unexpected upheaval; because then the light of the Lord will shine in the darkness, and the meek will inherit the earth. Just as Mary knows that God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. We can expect unusual things when God is borne in our lives and when we answer, “be it unto me according to Thy word.”

Epiphany 8A (Matt. 6.34)

…Don’t play the world’s game, Jesus says. I have come to let you live by a different set of rules. Be salt. Be light. Be perfectly satisfied that God, in His infinite care for you, will bring about what’s best. Don’t be afraid. Don’t worry about your life, says Jesus.

So let our worries and anxieties be an indicator of how reliant we are on God or how separated our lives are from God. When the “worryometer” indicator goes up, pray more. When anxiety rises, trust more. How do we trust more? Pray. Hope more. Help more. Be more in the Kingdom of God. Let’s live more like what we believe is true.

Pascha 6, last paragraphs

In today’s lessons love and faith precede obedience and miracles. We don’t like that, but that’s the way of God. We would prefer to have to do something and then we get something; but that isn’t the way it is.

First, Jesus says, we love and have faith. Then, Jesus says, the Holy Spirit will lead us and guide us and teach us all that He said. Then the Father and the Son will take up in us. Then we will do greater things than Jesus. Then the world will know that we’re His disciples. Then we will see miracles. But that’s a mature faith. That’s a faith that hopes in unseen things, that the faith that hopes for all things.

And here’s the kicker: we’re the group that will help the world to see. We’re the body of believers that Jesus is using to help the world grow in faith. We’re the ones to whom He has entrusted Knowledge, Power and, most of all, Love. Incomplete? Of course. We’re always growing, always learning, always on the way. But it is His way. This is why He reveals Himself to the disciples, but not to the world.

a homily for June 28, B 8

Deuteronomy 15:7-11
Psalm 112
2 Corinthians 8:1-9,13-15
Mark 5:22-24,35b-43

In keeping with the theme of how we live the faith we hold, today we consider the way we treat the poor and needy among us, the way we exercise the spiritual gift of generosity, the way we go out of our way for others… These are the ways we show our faith in and our love for God. These are the ways we show the world that God reigns and rules over our lives. These are the ways we show the world the power of Jesus Christ, the love of God and our fellowship by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

“Deuteronomy” means 2nd law. Not in the sense that it’s a new law, but it’s the second time the people are told about it. The first time is in Exodus, and that is recounted as narrative, as a history, as the story of God and His people. Think paper back. Deuteronomy is written as a covenant between God and the people of Israel. Think hard cover text book. It begins by reminding Israel who the Lord is and what He’s done for them to get them where they are. Their ancestors wandered in the wilderness and died there because of their lack of faith in the Lord. Here Moses readies their children to move into the Land. Besides recounting their history and how God kept saving them, Moses tells the Israelites that they’re to take care of the poor and the needy, and the foreigners among them. Not merely as acts of kindness, but because it would make them remember how God took care of them, how the Lord restored them to freedom and wholeness as a community.

The passage from Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians is the follow-up to Paul’s first letter which referred to the offering that was received for the Jerusalem Church, that Paul promised Peter, James, and John. In the first 5 verses Paul is trying to arouse almost a spirit of competition between the Macedonians and the Corinthians by telling the Corinthians how generous the Macedonians are in giving; if there’s a standard of giving, the Macedonian church would be a great one: they were giving generously without being nagged or even reminded: they were begging for the privilege! They give because first they devoted themselves to the Lord. Paul explains that was to be the Corinthians’ motivation as well. In other words, the generous giving that Jesus modeled of His life offered as a sacrifice, which was the standard by which they thought themselves rich in the first place, that is the same generosity they ought to exercise.

Up to now we might draw the conclusion that today’s lessons are about how to relieve the needs of the poor and, perhaps why we should be faithful in our stewardship. But Mark moves us into a little different arena. Jesus was just asked to leave from where He’d healed the demoniac and the Legion of demons sent the herd of pigs over a bank, and they fell into the Galilee and drowned. Jesus is now back on the northwest side of the sea, Capernaum, walking through town, when the head of the synagogue, who is also the Roman administrator of the community, Jairus, comes and falls to the ground at Jesus’ feet, and begs Him to heal his daughter. After Jesus learns that the little girl has gone from ‘critical’ to ‘dead,’ He goes to the house and restores her to life.

So we hear about caring for the needy, generous giving, and supernatural power… these are the hallmarks of the people of God.

Ministry that doesn’t take care of the whole person isn’t Christian. If a church isn’t preaching the gospel and helping the poor, it is neglecting what God loves and who Jesus died for. If a church helps the poor but forgets the gospel they’ve lost their motivation and forsaken their Master. The ministry of the Scriptures to us today provides a view on how we’re to wholistically to exercise our Christian faith.

We need to recover the sense of equilibrium in our teaching, our belief, and our life. The Christian faith is that God wants us to take care of the poor and lay hands on the sick. God asks us to give our money to further the Kingdom and also to give our very lives. The Lord wants enthusiastic worship and good government and a faithful witness to the history and experience of our spiritual ancestors. And we should see results in our lives when we commit to these things.

The truth God communicates through Scripture comes in different forms for a reason: we need the various perspectives to grasp all the truth. We need to be reminded of God’s mighty deeds and how the faithful have been saved in the past. We need to see Jesus in all of His ministry. We need to know the whole history of the Church and remember how the faithful have always devoted themselves to doing good and using the spiritual gifts they’ve been given. We need the teaching of Paul and James and Peter and John, who explain to us how Jesus Christ works in the Church through the Holy Spirit. We need the witness of the Early Church to keep us straight and on the proper track, moving on the trajectory that God established, which leads ultimately to the goal of: nothing short of the reconciliation of the world in Jesus’ Name.

“Pentecost” by Metropolitan John of Pergamum

“COME, HOLY SPIRIT, SANCTIFY OUR LIVES!”

The cry for transformation and sanctification corresponds to the deepest longings and desires of the human being. And God knows the world, as it is, and our existence, as it actually is, needs transformation. The image of God, in which we are created, knows we cannot be content with things as they are. There must be change for ourselves and the way things are; but how?

The Holy Spirit: Two Avenues

Asking the Holy Spirit to be involved in our lives in any process of transformation leading to holiness. One is to ask Him to assist with our efforts: we do the planning, we make the efforts, and the Holy Spirit is asked to help. The other way is to leave everything to the Holy Spirit. We do nothing but pray, and leave everything to the Holy Spirit. Both of these extremes are wrong; but of these two the first one is probably the one we have to watch out for more carefully at this time of widespread rationalism and planning. The Episcopal Church claiming the Holy Spirit is responsible for the “new thing” that is being done in is an example of this.

The Holy Spirit seems to have an obsession with freedom. He blows where He wills, and does not like to be told what to do. [Remember the joke about how to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans…] We must certainly try, and we must definitely do our best, but when we pray for the Holy Spirit to come we must be prepared for the unexpected. All of our best thinking may well prove to be wrong. But I for one would rather be holy than right…

Sanctification has always been associated with the specific operations of the Holy Spirit since the time of the Church Fathers. But the way this sanctification and the holiness that results from it have been understood through the centuries has turned spirituality into an irrelevant concept for the world today. A certain aristocracy and elitism are often associated with spirituality. We need to combat the lie which says the Holy Spirit transforms and sanctifies only certain individuals, with the truth that His gifts are poured “upon all flesh” as the prophecy of Joel has put it. How can we make the concept of holiness relevant today?

The Ethos of Holiness

Holiness means setting apart someone or something for God. Holiness requires an attitude —towards all that exists (our bodies, our minds, the material world, everything) — which says, “by nature, this belongs to God.” We cannot own ourselves, our bodies, our lives, our natural resources — they belong to God. Our theology says that we are in the world as the priests of creation endowed with the privilege of offering creation back to its Creator.

This eucharistic attitude is the first thing that we need today during this time of severe ecological crisis as well as when there are so many enemies and factions in our lives. This eucharistic attitude is a spirituality of holiness that flourished in the desert Fathers, but has been forgotten in the meantime. It has to be recovered urgently, now that we need to be redeemed from humanistic and human-centered attitudes to existence.

Holiness and Community

One of the greatest sins of mankind today is seen in how holiness is understood individualistically. We think of the transformation of an individual into a holy man or a holy woman and that they are characterized by certain virtues and they shine forth with qualities of goodness, humility, love, etc.

But we tend to forget that when the Holy Spirit blows, He always brings about communion and therefore creates community. There is no such thing as “holy individualism.” All holiness stems from the communion of the Spirit. That is what makes the Church holy and at the same time is so important for our spirituality and holiness.

There’s an old Latin saying that goes “One cannot be a Christian alone.” It is because of the association of the Holy Spirit with communion that the saying of St Cyprian, “There is no salvation outside of the Church,” must be taken seriously. And so we must look for a transformation of the Church even as we speak of sharing holiness and sanctification.

The structure and ministry of the community — which is visible unity — cannot be irrelevant to holiness. It is a tragic reality that Christian communities do not recognize each other’s saints, because of division at the level of both or either faith and order. Holiness and church structure cannot be separated. Praying for holiness must go together with working for unity. If we are not working for unity we cannot be holy.

Holiness and Freedom

Finally, holiness means liberation — or rather, freedom. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17). Liberation is from someone or something; freedom is for someone or something. Both aspects are associated in the work of the Spirit, who is freedom. These take various forms:

  1. liberation from the past — forgiveness through repentance (metanoia);
  2. liberation from passions of egocentricity (askesis, healing one’s self);
  3. liberation from injustice, exploitation, poverty and all social evil;
  4. liberation even from decay and death — something we speak so little about;
  5. freedom to love, even our enemies; to allow for personal, cultural and other differences to exist; to give our lives for our enemies, even as our Lord gave His on the Cross for us.

All this means that the Holy Spirit has a great deal to say to the churches today through sanctification and holiness. We must work for a spirituality that will make sense for all human beings in all walks of life. And yet we must guard ourselves against an easy ‘spiritualism.’ We often speak too easily and too quickly of the presence and the activity of the Holy Spirit in what we are doing. We must humbly submit what we are and what we do to His purifying judgment, waiting for Him to reveal the truth.

There is always the danger of confusing the Spirit of God with our own psychological experiences or certainties. The Holy Spirit is God. He is Lord. He cannot be contained by our feelings. The best we can do is to worship Him as Lord, to pray to Him to dwell among us, and to wait patiently upon Him in all that we do.

“The Burial of Our Savior”

St. Amphilocius of Iconium
Sermon on the Solemnity of the Burial of Our Savior
(Delivered on Great and Holy Saturday)

1. Let us commemorate today the solemnity of the burial of Our Saviour. He has undone the bonds of death of those who were in Hades, filled Hades with His splendour, and roused from sleep those lying there; and we on earth rejoice exultant, recalling to mind His Resurrection, and now we fear death no more, for it shall not prevail against immortality. Because Thou wilt not, says the Scripture, give Thy Holy One to see corruption (Ps. xv.10).

It may be that the Jews and the Greeks will laugh at our wisdom; the former looking for another Christ, the latter bringing their own hopes to an end in the grave; of whom the prophet has rightly said: And their sepulchres shall be their houses forever (Ps. xlviii.12). They now laugh, but they shall weep: for they shall weep when they look upon Him Whom they have pierced (Jn. xix.37; Zach, xii.10; Ps. xxi.16), and tormented with injuries. We now weep, but our grief will be tempered with joy.

Death has seized Our Lord Jesus Christ; but shall not keep its hold on Life. It swallowed Him; it swallowed Him, not knowing Him: but, with Him, it will give up many. Of His own will He is now held; tomorrow, He shall rise again, and Hades shall be emptied. Yesterday, on the Cross, He darkened the sun’s light, and behold in full day it was as night; today death has lost its dominion; suffering itself a kind of death. Yesterday the earth mourned, contemplating the evil hate of the Judaens, and in sadness clothed itself in a garment of darkness. Today, the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light (Is. ix. 2).

Yesterday the earth trembled, as though it would dissolve, threatening to swallow those who dwelt in it; and the mountains were cleft asunder, the rocks were split, the Temple appeared as though naked, and as though it were a living being threw off its veil, seeking as it were to show by what had happened to itself that its holy places were no longer sacred to the Lord. They that suffered these things were lifeless, without mind. The elements mourned, as though it wanted little for them to dissolve in chaos, and bring disaster on the world, were it not that they could see the purpose of their Maker: namely, that of His own will He suffered.

2. O new and unheard of happening! He is stretched out upon a Cross Who by His word stretched out the heavens (Is. li.13). He is held fast in bonds Who has set the sand a bound for the sea (Jer. v. 22). He is given gall to drink Who has given us wells of honey (Num.xiii.27.). He is crowned with thorns Who has crowned the earth with flowers (SongSol. ii.12). With a reed they struck His Head Who of old struck Egypt with ten plagues, and submerged the head of Pharaoh in the waves. That countenance was spat upon at which the Kherubim dare not gaze. Yet, while suffering these things He prayed for His tormentors, saying: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Lk. xxiii. 34).

He overcame evil by goodness. Christ undertook the defense of those who put Him to death: eager to gather them into His net, annulling the charge, and pleading their ignorance. Made the sport of their drunken frenzy, He submitted without bitterness. He suffered their drunkenness, and in His love for mankind called them to repentance. What more could He do?

Profiting nothing from that goodness, they enclose Him in a tomb Whom creation cannot contain. They seal the tomb, safe-guarding our deliverance; and fearing He would rise again, they station soldiers to watch the sepulchre. Who has ever seen the dead placed under watch? Or rather, who has ever seen a dead body treated as an enemy? Who has ever seen one struck by death causing fear to those who have slain him? Who fears his enemy, once he has killed him? And who will not forget his enmity when sated by the death of his adversary?

Why do you still fear Him… Him Whom you have done away with? Why do you dread Him Whom you have slain? Why do you still dread Him Who has gone forth from among the living? Why do you fear the Dead? Why do you still fight with One Whom you have crucified? His slaughter has made you safe: rest secure. If it is a mere man who has died, he will not rise again. If it is a mere man has died, then there is no truth in those words of His: Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up (Jn. ii.19). If He was a mere man, then death will keep him. If He was a mere man, what need to seal His tomb: is it not useless? Wait till the third day, and see the disproof of His madness? Cease to labour in vain, and you will see what comes to pass. Cease to rage against the truth. Do not try to wage war against God, inflicting wounds only on yourself. Cease offering insults to the Sun of Righteousness (Mal. iv.1), thinking you can put out its light. Cease I say, and do not try to seal up the fountain of life.

Do not begin to make difficulties for yourself. Do not speak of guards. Have no traffic with corruption; and the bribing of those who keep watch. Do not attempt what is foolish; nor spend what you have in impiety; nor imagine that you will defeat God. Do not give money to the soldiers, to say this and not that. Do not set a crowd to watch the tomb. Put not your trust in armour. The Resurrection will not be stopped by force of arms, nor impeded by seals, nor put down by soldiers, nor concealed by bribes. Rather it shall be believed in.

Have you not seen Lazarus a little while ago throw off death as though it were a sleep (Jn.xi.11)? Have you not seen him come forth, clothed in his cerements (burial rags), at the words: Come forth (Jn.xi.43)? Have you not seen the dead obedient to His voice when He bade him come: and the winding sheet did not prevent Him? Have you not seen how His voice restored a man already dissolving in death? He Who did that can also do this. He Who raised His Own servant, much more shall He Himself be raised up. He Who gave life again to a body already corrupting shall not leave Himself in death.

The great blindness of the Judaens, who, beholding these wonders, yet could not see: For, they have eyes and see not! For, the god of this world hath blinded the minds of unbelievers, that the light of the Gospel may not shine unto them (Ps. cxiii. 5; 11 Cor. iv.4). But let us for a time leave these unhappy ones in their unbelief, and let us, while contemplating in spirit the tomb of our Saviour, say with the faithful Mary: They have taken away our Lord, and we know not where they have laid Him. To Him and to the Father Undefiled, together with the Holy Spirit, be there glory for ever and ever. Amen.