Sunday, January 25, 2015

Discipleship & Apostleship

Discipleship to Apostleship

Not long after we were engaged to be married, after the initial rejoicing, there were those “reservations” shall we say particularly around the fact that Cindy came from a large Roman Catholic family; the eldest of seven children.

One day Cindy’s dad and I went for a long walk and eventually we got around to the subject at hand; “I don’t like my daughter getting married outside the church,” he said as a simple matter of fact.

Equally as a simple matter of fact I said to him; “The day that you start going to church is the day that I will give credence to what you say. In the meantime, thank you for your thoughts, I hope you too come back to the church”. 

Not long afterward, Cindy’s mom came to my office and after a few initial pleasantries she said; “Just what is it you people believe anyway?” 

One always prays for the grace to have an answer to such a question, and this time thankfully, God gave it to me; “We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” 

She said; “You do!”
I said; “Indeed we do!” and then I showed her the page in the Book of Common Prayer where we recite the Nicene Creed every single Sunday.

Not that they were completely satisfied with the answer at the time, but in the succeeding years we indeed have grown very close to one another. Just last year when Cindy’s mom was so sick, she listed me as her “priest” in the hospital intake records.

And so yes, I do believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. This is at the core of our faith as a matter of fact.

We are disciples of Jesus. We are his followers.
We are apostles of Jesus. He are his ambassadors in and for the sake of the world.

We are told in today’s first lesson that God called Jonah to be his disciple and to go to Ninevah, far to the east in modern day Syria. So where did he go? In the other direction as far as he could. He went to Tarshish, in modern day Spain, as nearly as we can tell, near Gibraltar. When God calls us to do God’s bidding do we always do exactly what we are told either with regard to our own care or with regard to the care of others? Or, do we sometimes do exactly the opposite, in fact will we go to great lengths to go as far was we can to escape our responsibility to God. 

This is exactly the case with Jonah. As it turns out, he boards a ship and a storm arose such as has seldom been seen before. It was one of those hundred year storms that we’ve been seeing lately every few years on our shores. And the sailors knew that someone aboard had offended the Fates or God or one of the many Deities that that sailors often believe in. They cast lots, and the lot fell to Jonah. In the Hebrew Bible, the lot is cast once, in the Koran the lot is cast three times to be certain the lot spoke the truth…after all Jonah’s father was Amittai, meaning he was “the son of the Truth”. When the lot fell to Jonah, he confessed that he was the cause of the pending calamity. The sailors tried to cast the cargo overseas in hopes that doing so would satisfy the raging storm. Alas, it came then to Jonah, and he was cast away into the depths and immediately a peace fell upon the sea. The parallels between this story and some of the stories of Jesus are fascinating. After all, didn’t Jesus tell the tossing tempest, “Peace, be still”.

We all know what happens then. God appointed a huge fish and he swallowed Jonah and there he remained for three days. But Jonah prayed to God from the belly of the whale.

In Judaism, the story is told at Yom Kippur every year so that we might know that God seeks to forgive a repentant sinner.
In Islam, the story is also very important. In much of the 37the Chapter of the Koran, and Allah forgave Jonah our of his mercy and kindness. By the way every chapter of the Koran begins with the phrase “Alla, the all merciful”. 
One wonders as with extreme fundamentalists of all faith traditions if in fact they have ever read the Book at all.
And in our own faith tradition Jonah prefigures Jesus’ death and resurrection, since Jonah spent three days in the belly of the whale. 

Literal fact?

We have a minds to think with. Use them. I know that as I read the holy writings I appreciate the full meaning of their literature, as I do great poetry itself. There are so many layers of meaning in all that we read in these sacred stories.

We see in the second reading that Paul is becoming anxious about the fact that the appointed time is drawing near. His understanding of eschatology or “the end times” is often misunderstood to mean that the end of the world itself is immanent. In fact he may have thought so. The language of this brief passage seems to indicate that. And many have thought for the two thousand years since that the end is at hand. 

Frankly, I have my doubts. Yes, I believe in a new world order that is growing in every heart that honestly comes to God and who becomes a follower of Jesus. That’s the point. You and I have been called to follow and that’s what changes the world. That’s what brings the new world order into focus. As Paul more correctly says; “The present form of this world is passing away.” That indeed makes more sense to me. And it seems to be abundantly clear as we look at current events that the world is indeed in an upheaval.

So then that begs the question. What will its future be? Obviously, that will be up to us as we seek in our own way to answer readily the call of Jesus to follow him in the way that leads to eternal life; into the life that brings life to others and continues to do so from one life to another and for ever. 

You will notice that Jesus called rather ordinary fisherfolk to follow him.  They were folks like Simon and Andrew; James and John. Folks who cast their nets into the Galilean Lake, folks who sat mending their nets as a million more had done centuries before and since.

But Jesus had folks to fish for. “I will make you fishers of men, women and children” Jesus was soon to say. The Kingdom of God has come near. It is at hand. As we mend our net so let us mend our hearts. for the old order is passing away. Therefore Jesus calls us to follow.

As disciples, there is a discipline to follow. There are responsibilities we have to one another to build God’s Church. The mending of our nets now includes extending God’s heart to the world in this place and from this place. The essence of discipleship is the extension of God’s Kingdom from one human heart to another as we extend God’s love, Christ’s forgiving power and The Holy Spirit’s reconciling grace.

Disciples are called together at least once a week to hear God’s word to receive the sacramental presence of Christ in our lives and then we are sent out to be God’s Apostles, Ambassador’s of Christ, if you will, in our work places, at school, among our friends and family and in the communities in which we are planted.

Notice then if you will the relationship between our Discipleship and our Apostleship. In our Discipleship, we follow. In our Apostleship we are sent. It is the life and breath of the church. As we breathe in, we gather, as we breathe out we go forth. Much like we do from our homes; we gather to share our meals, tell our stories, and take our rest. Then, strengthened, we go forth into our daily responsibilities and go about our daily rounds. Sometimes we come back bruised and battered. So it is in life. But then at home we tell our stories, our wounds are bandaged up, we take our sustenance and rest. Then we do it all over again. 

This is how it is as we seek to be God’s Disciples and God’s Apostles. Of course life bruises and batters us around a bit but we gather then to tell our stories, God speaks to us, and nourishes us in the sacrament and then we take our rest here in the arms of Jesus. Only to do it all over again.

As I said to Cindy’s mom so many years ago, so I say to you today, so we say to God week in and week out; “We believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.”

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

Fr Paul

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Word of God Was Rare in Those Days

The Word of God Was Rare in Those Days

That sure sounds like current events to me. 

Open a newspaper, turn on the news. All the jarring headlines and brutal imagery we see is so deeply disturbing, because none of these things has anything to do with the God we know and love. There are vicious and violent words and deeds, that are heard done from various fundamentalist corners of the religious world. They make us shudder to think of them.

And yet as we read the holy words of Moses, Jesus and Mohammed we stop to think about the one who brings us out of slavery into freedom, the one who faces down sin and death and rises victorious up from both, and the one whose quiet soul listens to Allah the All Merciful and writes for us the words of the Holy Koran. 

Oh for the storytellers! 

The ones who can tell us of the little boy Samuel and how he had yet to hear of who God was and is. How can anyone “teach” God? Just yesterday, I prayed, how can I tell my own children? Or other people I love. How can I share this sense within my heart that God often comes to us in the night season as we rest?  God can call us by name as he did for the little boy in the Temple where he served faithfully the old man Eli; “Samuel, Samuel”

Did I hear somebody call my name, the little fella said? So he scampered off to Eli. “Yes, you called me.” 
And the old man Eli said “No, go back to bed. I did not call you.”

And then, he lay there surrounded by the darkness and the fulsome silence wakeful because he was certain that there was a voice that called his name. And then, perhaps as he was dozing off, there it was again; “Samuel, Samuel”

The little fella said, “Yes, I did hear somebody call my name”. So he scampered off again to Eli, and now insisted “You did call me”. 
“No, go lie down, I did not call you”

Then the Scripture makes it all clear. Samuel did not yet know the Lord. He did not yet know that God speaks to us in the very depths of our souls, in the dead silence, in the deepest corner of the heart, where the truth resides. It is here that God speaks to us all. I’m not talking about voices that you might hear in a psychotic episode. I am talking about the kind of voice that is always within you as your friend and companion reminding you to go deeper and face the truth; the truth about yourself with compassion and abiding love for yourself and those you love the most. 

This is the Truth that shall make you free. It is the Truth that shall bring you to God.

And then you see, he heard it again, that “voice” that something that speaks the truth within, and off again he scampers to the old man Eli; “Here I am, for you called me”. 

The old man knows now that this is how God speaks to us; often in the night season, in a restless moment or two, in our youth, where there is hope. Eli knew that he and his sons had made a mess of things in the Temple and that God was not the least bit pleased. 

Maybe, God had a word for him. Be that as it may, Eli perceived, he “discerned” that what was really happening was that God wanted to have a word with the little fella. After all, as we all know from sacred history, “A little child shall lead them”, as in the case of Samuel, David, and Jesus. 

This time the old man said; “Go back to your bed and when you hear the Silence speak in your heart once more, you stay there still and say, Speak Lord for your servant is listening”.

What God has to say is not the least bit pleasant because it spells the end of Eli’s priesthood. He had betrayed the trust of God and had let his unruly kids run rampant throughout the holy place. It was time to clean up the place once more and make God’s holy place fit for the Glory of God.

I have always loved this story. When my grandmother first told us that story, I was fascinated by the idea that a child could be called by God to serve the church. So I asked her, “Ma, does that mean that God can call children to be ministers in his church?” This is back in the days when we spoke of the clergy as “ministers” and not as “priests”.

And her eyes twinkled with delight as she said, of course God can call children to serve the Church. I went off to see the priest at the time and made an appointment to see him in his office. I remember that my legs still hung over the side of the chair not quite reaching the floor, as he smiled at me with that kindly smile of the clergy of our church. 

“What can I do for you young man?”
“I want to know what it takes to become a parish priest.”
To his eternal credit he didn’t laugh, but told me. Graduate from Hight School, go to College, preferably a secular college where you faith can be tested, and then go to Seminary, there is one right here in Cambridge. You’ll need to pass a number of tests, you’ll need the sponsorship of a local congregation, and the approval of the Bishop and Standing Committee obviously…but that’s the essence of it.

And so that’s is what I did.

For as long as I’ve lived out my priesthood in the church, I have often wondered what it is that makes the Church endure. Though the rise and fall of empires, as nations come and nations go as fashions and fads shine and then fade away, there is the enduring quality of the human heart in contact with the enduring Presence of God.

And then I remember that we belong to a kingdom not of this world; in this world, to be sure but not of this world. God’s kingdom belongs to those whose heats belong to God. 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is rounding up his disciples at the beginnings of his ministry. He said to Phillip; “Follow me”. He did. 

Then Phillip said to Nathaniel; “We have found him of whom Moses and the Prophets spoke, Jesus of Nazareth.”

“Nazareth!, can anything good come out of Nazareth?” 
But when Jesus meets Nathaniel, he says; “Nathaniel, I saw you under the fig tree.”

Now, I have no idea what it was that Nathaniel was doing under the fig tree, but whatever it was, the fact that Jesus knew about it, brought Nathaniel to his spiritual knees and he was able to proclaim “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!”

Imagine, God knows us that intimately. It is in this manner that God seeks to build a whole new kingdom, a new Empire, built not with armies, weapons of mass destruction, or acts of violence but with compassion, love, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

This is the kingdom to which we have been called.

In the collect for purity the very first prayer from the very first Prayer Book ever written in English, Thomas Cranmer made it clear what our relationship to God was to be like; 

"Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known and from you no secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name through Jesus Christ our Lord."

That’s God’s kingdom, God’s Empire. We are God’s citizens. God is our King and our Emperor. And to meet our King we need look no further than within our own hearts. 

As the old adage goes; “God is closer to you than the very next breath that you will take.” 

If the Word of God seems rarely heard in these days, it is only because we rarely listen. We need look no further than within your own hearts.

It is true, the body is the Temple of God’s Holy Spirit, as the Apostle Paul puts it.

And the Psalmists says it in soaring and magnificent language; 
My body was not hidden from you, *
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book; *
they were fashioned day by day,
when as yet there was none of them.
How deep I find your thoughts, O God! *
how great is the sum of them!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Fr Paul

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Is God Dead?

Is God Dead?
A meditation on the Feast Day of the Holy Name

It is New Year's Day, January 1, 2015, the Feast Day of the Holy Name.

In my own personal Pilgrimage I am celebrating a weight loss of almost 80lbs since June 16th of this year. That was the day I underwent gastric bypass surgery. I thank God and the folks at Massachusetts General Hospital for all the support they have given me in the days and months leading up to and from that date.

The significance of the weight loss encompasses much more than a journey toward better health. 

It is a journey in coming;
To see You and me more clearly,
To love You and me more dearly,
To follow You within me more nearly,
Day by Day. 

How dear to me are those who first taught me the prayer of St. Richard of Chichester; Fred & Beryl, Mark, Allison and Gillian. What a lovely and gracious family to grant me a place at their table so many years ago. It was in that home that we debated the matters of theology, philosophy and church polity. 

How much they loved me. 

It took a long time for me to understand or proclaim what I knew to be the Gospel and how it propelled me through the trauma of my father's death at Christmas when I was a boy 8 years of age.

In some ways, I believe that loss is at the root of my bi-polar illness. My father's death and the knowledge that there is room in the heart of God for him as there is for me as there is for everyone on the planet. That is at once a distressing and exhilarating experience for the human soul. 

It is for me a journey to the deepest part of my soul; those places that are at the deepest corners of my being. This is the journey that brings me closest to You. It is a journey that requires the utmost courage.

The courage of which I speak is the necessity for truth and honesty that You and I must face together, namely, that there is the possibility that it is only I who write these words and that You are simply not there; that there is nothing beyond me other than all other human beings.  We are indeed the measure of all things and we are free to lust after all the sex, money and power we can grab. And there is no internal or external accountability within our hearts or elsewhere for all that we do on this side of death. This is because I am all that is and there is no You. We are all that is. And there is no You. There is nothing inherently Sacred in life even within me so I am not just free do do as I wish, I can engage in utter licentiousness with impunity. 

And that is what leads me back to God. 

The courage it takes to face into the abyss of the Absurd requires the courage to Renounce it. After all it makes no sense for this whole experience to be Absurd with a capital "A". 

I rehearsed this choice on one unforgettable visit with a man named Peter more than forty years ago.  He is a brilliant man and, at the time, a leader of a chapter of Atheists at Oxford University. We spent a few evenings in conversation with one another. With his rapier wit, he asked me three difficult questions.
1. If there is a loving God, how do you account for all the suffering of the very people he supposedly cares so much about?
2. The warfare and the violence done in the name of God throughout history is utterly inhumane. We'd be better off without religion of any sort.
3. Science has a much better explanation of the world we live in than the superstitious account of "creation" that we have from the bible etc. Peter is a physicist, and a brilliant and gifted one.

I spent a restless night twisting and turning with questions touching on the very center of all that I held dear. But then the next night came and it was my turn to ask some questions and his turn to answer. I asked him these questions:
1. If there is no God, what do you propose to be the Meaning of life with a capital "M".
He said that logically, we must admit that life is Absurd with a capital "A".
I said that I renounce that with a capital "R". 
2. While it is true that "Religion" is responsible, and scandalously so, for so much violence in history, there is nothing that makes me think that a "Secular" world would be any more merciful. In fact, from what I see so far in this past 100 years or so, I am terrified by what Science can do, especially with its new capability of atomic power. And if we have no "inner compass" to guide us, no God to hold us accountable, what will there be to put a check to human bestial tendency. He said that we will have to have strong police forces and armies. I said; "Well, that accounts for British Imperialism and American hegemony." 
3. The Church has made some impressive contributions to Western Culture; Oxford & Cambridge among them, great art, architecture, music and some of the finest outlets for human creativity. What do we put in the place of that creative genius? Shall we bulldoze the great British Cathedrals since they are merely harboring dangerous human superstition? That one got a bit of a rise out of him

I am grateful for the night of terror I spent wrestling Jacob-like with God and Peter. And I wonder sometimes if he remembers those two evenings. Apparently he stands at the other end of life in bitterness and without a whimper of hope, according to a mutual friend, also a brilliant Oxford educated physicist and fellow Christian (Anglican/Episcopalian)  since this is all that there is and there is nothing more. 

Should I write to him a letter of thanksgiving? After all, it was he who introduced me to a rather stark prospect; namely, that You are NOT there.

I faced that terror long into the night as I wrestled with You until we both understood something of one another. 

I am in You.
You are in me. 

You are in all whom I meet, with or without the Holy Name we honor today. The Holy Name I honor is the Name of Jesus, the Child, the son of Mary, the only begotten of the Father, the Love of God made flesh and blood the one we meet in the Eucharist and the one who makes it so vividly clear who You are within my heart. And while I am certainly Christ centered, I am not Christ exclusive.

You are the Holy Name.
But are you the only Holy Name under heaven?
Is not Abraham Holy?
And a million more?
Is not every human being under heaven a Holy Name before God? And are we not each and everyone a God carrier in his/her own way? 
For every single Child of all the Holy Names above are Holy to God, are we not?

Again the question begs to be posed.

Suppose, for a moment that there is a God and that God were able to look into every human heart and, suppose this same God were to say; "How shall I bring obedience, love, mercy, wisdom, peace, and justice into the world? Suppose God were able to look at the world Google-like and the Universe as well; is it not possible that God would be free to send these Holy Names into the world God so dearly loves? 

This is obviously a rhetorical question. God is obviously free to do as God wishes. And God may also wish to bring Science and Atheism into the world since God may indeed become impatient with The Church, especially when it becomes a hinderance to the very Truth, Justice, Love and Mercy God intends for the planet.

And this is how I see You. I see You as reflected as an image within my own soul. 
As I am in You and as You are in me so You are in all, All in All. 

This is then my leap of faith, a leap that also requires a good deal of courage.

And this is how I choose to live in You. 
Seeing You more clearly,
Loving You more dearly,
Following You more nearly,
Day by day. 


Fr Paul