Monday, September 25, 2017

The People Complained

The People Complained

The people complained. I can tell you this about the folks back home in Boston. When winter wears on we complain. When the hazy, hot and humid days of summer wear on, we complain. It can get too wet. It can get too dry. And as for the traffic, or the subway service. The one universal is;  we complain. I wanted to let you know you are not alone. Cindy and I were out for lunch Friday noon, and there was a bit of a flurry underway. We overheard someone say; “I’m sick of winter!” We both looked at each other and chuckled; “You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet, dearie!” And we sure have no idea what a Montana winter looks like or feels like. But I suspect we’ll find out. And when we do, I suspect we’ll complain about it. 

And so it was that in the wilderness as the people wandered through the desert wastes, there was no bread, no meat, no water and no vegetables like there was back in Egypt. And so the people complained. In Hebrew word is literally; “they murmured.” Ah yes, how exquisitely human!

Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness?” But God heard the people’s murmuring and recognized their heartaches and rained down bread from heaven. He gave them quail to eat at night and in the morning he gave them “manna” that would keep body and soul together. 

They ran around in the morning gathering the stuff saying in Hebrew: “Manna” which literally means “What is it?” And so, that is what they called it. “What is it?” “Manna?” It was just enough to preserve them through those long, long years of wandering through the desert wastes. It was a way to humble them and let them know that we do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. We are still learning that lesson. 

When we come to this Altar Rail Sunday by Sunday, we come to the “What is is it?” of the Body of Christ. The “Magnum Mysterium” of God’s Presence in the the Person of Jesus is here in our very midst. It is placed in our hands by a parish priest. We too are fed by the Bread of Heaven. God’s living Being shared among us. We remember that night when Jesus told us to love one another and then gave thanks to God, broke bread, said the blessing and gave it to us. Likewise after Supper he did the same with the Cup of Salvation. 

Remember the marvels God has done for us. By the way, class, what are the Five Mighty Acts of God our Catechism teaches us to acknowledge and proclaim in our faith? The Divine Drama has Five Acts like any great Shakespearean Drama. 
  1. Act 1: The Creation
  2. Act 2: The Exodus and the Law
  3. Act 3: Jesus Christ
  4. Act 4: The Church
  5. Act 5: The Christian Hope
It is one thing to say God has acted in history; it is another to say how. Perhaps by naming these five mighty modes of action you can recognize that God continues to be active throughout history and within your own life as well. God is always creating, freeing, and inviting us into obedience to him. God is clearly incarnate in the person of Jesus in every human life particularly as we come to know the love and forgiveness that God intends for us. In the church we come to know how community relationships participate in the formation of our Christian nature. And finally in The Christian Hope we share in the death and resurrection of Jesus in which we all participate through Baptism. We share together in the Whole Mystery of God in community.

And while we are speaking of community isn’t it interesting that we speak of God in community as well. When we name God as Trinity, we are not speaking merely of a static doctrine, we are speaking of a dynamic community. God is not just our Creator, God is also our Savior. God is our Sanctifier. We name God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As we interact with one another we recognize something of God within each other was we see the marvels of creativity. We see the Jesus within each other as we see how we reach out to one another to salvage what we can of each other when in distress for instance. And I will say this about the Holy Spirit; her name interestingly enough is Hagia Sophia the Holy Wisdom from on High, the gift giver who abundantly bestows upon each of us gifts for ministry. The Biblical word for Spirit is in the feminine form and therefore encourages to experience all the fullness of God.

This world needs a church that sees God in such dynamic terms. There is much that seeks to destroy the creatures of God in this world. That’s called sin. Yes. On occasion we need to use that word. Just last week a dear friend of mine lost a grandson to a drug overdose; 18 years old he was. I don’t know why he did what he did. Or the thousand more who do the same?  But I do know that so many of our young people lack hope. There is no work for so many of our inner city and rural poor. If we cannot come up with a way to save our young, we are merely an anemic and ineffectual presence. Is it any wonder our young are no longer a vital presence in the church. I think we need to find a way to organize our life around their needs now and engage the entire community fabric around us so that we can be the hope of the future. 

That’s why I like to think of God as dynamic community. God as creative, God as redemptive, God as the one who makes all holy; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This, I submit to you is how we are to engage the powers and the principalities. 

In today’s Gospel the landowner sends us out to do the work God wants us to do. The harvest is plenteous, the laborers are few. 

That is to say there are so many human needs. When the church has been at its most effective, that’s how we have organized our life. Celtic Christians for instance, organized their work around the sick, the dying, the hungry, those in need of education, interestingly enough. They were also master cooks and made wonderful beer as the record shows. They were cheerful sorts in a depressing world. To them the Gospel was Good news and brought joy to the world.

As we go forth to do God’s work, the landowner finds others idle as the day wears on. Why are you standing there idle? Nobody has hired us? They were bored to tears. They resorted to crime, perhaps alcoholism. I suspect they complained too. But God challenges us with this notion of discipleship; There are always unmet human needs. 

As Matthew’s Gospel enumerates in the 25th chapter, there are always those who are hungry, thirsty, there are strangers who needs your welcome, naked, sick, imprisoned. How interesting that this is how Jesus judges the nations of the earth; in the same manner as the “least of these” are treated.

Allow me to add our inner city and rural young who are easy pickings for alcohol and drug abuse or criminal activity. I think the landowner’s question is a legitimate one. Why are we standing idly by when there are so many unmet human needs?

It doesn’t matter when we go. First thing in the morning or late in the day. To Jesus the first and the last are one and the same. 

What I find most compelling about this Gospel passage is that whenever we respond to human need and do the ministry God has sent us to do the Kingdom of Heaven immediately breaks in upon us. It satisfies something deep within the human soul when we respond to the needs of those beset right now by disaster. Whether in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, or Mexico, there hundreds of thousands, if not millions in a chorus of human suffering crying out to us for help. We keep writing checks to the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund and I’m sure there are many of you who do also to the Red Cross or other charity. Likewise the Cathedral Social Concerns Committee seeks to respond to many local human needs.

This is God at work. God as Creator, Savior and Gift Giver; in the dynamic community known as the Church. This is who we are called to be! First, last, always. St. Paul writes in today’s Epistle; “live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

Still, the people complain. We will be all too human. That goes with the territory as any parish priest or administrator will tell you. But living the Gospel life and keeping our eyes on kingdom work by caring for one another in our needs, that’s what will satisfy the community of God within us. We will become creative, we will save each other in the midst of every disaster, we will bring to bear the gifts God has so lavishly bestowed up on us wisely. 

This community of faith known as the Holy Trinity is far more than a doctrine. The dynamic community of God is knit into every human heart.

In the Name of God; the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen. 

Fr Paul

Sunday, September 17, 2017

"Odi et Amo"

“Odi et Amo”

"Odi et amo. quare id faciam fortasse requiris.
nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.'"
Which being translated means,
“I hate and I love. Why do I do this, perhaps you ask?
I do not know, but I feel it happening and I am tortured.”

We live in a world of much hatred and love. The spiritual warfare within us all is at work in this struggle as captured by the famous classical Latin poet Catullus. Take a good listen to our political life and media commentators. The stock and trade of modern life seems to be invested in the venting of the spleen. What we once prized by way of verbal restraint in our public discourse is now largely gone by way of our twitter accounts and Facebook posts. Today I wish to address the issue of hatred particularly as it has recently manifested itself in last week’s defacing of one our own sacred spaces at St. James’ Church, Bozeman. A swastika and 666 were defaced the church sign, and yet thank God, the neighbors covered over what was written with figures representing red hearts and love. “Odi et amo.”

Before I get into all that, please allow me to thank you and God and modern medicine for delivering me from a rather frightening episode last week. As some of you know I suffered a brain bleed and had to be transported by helicopter to Great Falls where a neurosurgeon could evaluate my condition. Thankfully, the bleed was a small one and could be treated with medication and here I am back in your midst today.

Bishop Frank stopped by after an Episcopal visitation and asked which Psalm I wanted him to pray for me. I thought of Psalm 46. I recite the Psalms daily because we know they were the Prayer Book of Jesus and he prayed them daily. So my friend and bishop read these words.
“God is our refuge and strength, *
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, *
    and though the mountains be toppled into the
                             depths of the sea;
Though its waters rage and foam, *
    and though the mountains tremble at its tumult.
The LORD of hosts is with us; *
    the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
"Be still, then, and know that I am God; *
    I will be exalted among the nations;
    I will be exalted in the earth."
The LORD of hosts is with us; *
    the God of Jacob is our stronghold.”
~Psalm 46
Cindy and I stood close by hand in hand, as he prayed these words and I can only begin to describe what I experienced as God’s own healing touch and grace. The Bishop also offered to operate if necessary. He charges only $29.99 and has a perfectly serviceable Black and Decker ready to go.
Thank you all for your love and prayers.

Now let’s get back to the issue at hand. This business of hatred is an infection of the human heart and is a terminal disease. Our tradition has much to teach us on this subject. 

It begins with the notion of Love doesn’t it? When it comes time for God to lay down the Law, this is what God says
The Shema: “Hear O Israel, The-LORD our God is One. You shall love The-LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” ~Deuteronomy 6:4-9

A lawyer once asked Jesus his reading of the Law. ~Luke 10:26 This is a common question in Rabbinical tradition. In other words how do you understand the Law as God gives it to us through Moses? Jesus knew all about that, didn’t he? Scripture clearly states that Jesus is the Word made Flesh and that he was there in the Beginning with God. Therefore he was there too with Moses as he fashioned the Law, yes? 

Jesus begins with the Shema; “Hear O Israel the Lord your God is one and you shall love the Lord your God”. But then he does an interesting thing. His mind searches the Scriptures and makes its way through the first 19 Chapters of Leviticus in which you may find scores of reasons to stone people to death for one kind of abomination or another.

But when Jesus’ heart, soul, mind and strength came to rest,, what was it about? If you say “Love”, bravo!

Look what he does. He quotes one half of one verse in Leviticus and equates the Second Commandment to the first; “You shall love your neighbor as you do yourself.” ~Leviticus 19:18b. 

We know this as the Summary of the Law. Or as Jesus makes clear, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Again this is an extraordinary statement. Here Jesus puts the Love of God and the love of human beings on a par and he requires that we do too. Not an easy thing, right? In some circles right now there are those who would just as soon do neither. 

Moreover, in Judaism as in all tribal societies, “foreigners” are often looked upon with suspicion. My grandmother used to say it was the Irish who ruined Boston. That will tell you what she thought of my father especially after a nasty divorce. She also made me promise on the family Bible no less, that I would never marry an Italian. I later broke that promise but she understands all this now.

The Prophet Isaiah deals with the issue of foreigners and goes one better than that. He spells out the place of eunuchs in God’s salvation plan as well.

Listen to this.

“Maintain justice, and do what is right,
Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
   ‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’;
and do not let the eunuch say,
   ‘I am just a dry tree.’ 
For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
  I will give, in my house and within my walls,
   a monument and a name
   better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
   that shall not be cut off. 
And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
   to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
   and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
   for all peoples. 
   Thus says the Lord God,
   who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
   besides those already gathered.”
~Isaiah 56

Now, I will submit to you that when Jesus walked this earth, there were no outcasts. Instead, what was there? There was Love.
There was forgiveness, there was compassion. And Jesus took that deadly disease of hatred that infects the human heart and he nailed it to the Cross. And so must we!

That’s my reading of the Law. 

It is clear clear from today’s Parable of the Unjust servant that he owed what amounts to a couple of million dollars to the King. He was forgiven of his debt. Yet when it was his turn to forgive, he showed no mercy to the one who owed him a few dollars. We have been forgiven bountifully by God, likewise we too must forgive. You know the answer to the Gospel question. How many times shall I forgive my brother or sister?

This is the human condition. “Odi et Amo.”, I hate and I love.

But on that last night, when gathered at supper with his friends, he washed their feet and said; “I give you a new commandment, just one now. Listen up, Love one another!”

Our bishop has written of this hateful incident in Bozeman; “As people who have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, we need to die to racism, hatred, bigotry, and rise in newness of life to love of God and love of neighbor. We are called to pray for the perpetrators of violence and hatred, and work in our communities for an in breaking of the merciful reign of God, to repent for our own racism and lack of acceptance of others who differ from us, and to make ourselves into instruments of Jesus’ peace.”

Whoever you are now, you and I need the courage of Jesus to love one another. Without regard to tribal affiliation, race, ethnicity, gender, orientation, political party. And so on and so on. How often does Jesus have to say this for us to get it?

“Love one another.”

Several weeks ago I shared with you the image of the American Bald Eagle. There are those of us on the Left wing of that magnificent symbol of our common life and others of us on the Right. If we hate one another that bird is in grave danger by virtue of the fact it won’t even get off the ground. If I were to say to you the names of Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton, I bet you any amount of money the very mention of the names would inspire intense animus.
That’s a problem. We hate too much. We have forgotten how to hold conversation. We’ve reduced our national discourse to confrontation, ridicule, the racism. And so on. 

We have forgotten the Law of God and so it is time to Reclaim it and Proclaim it. My namesake Paul lays down the Law in today’s Epistle; “Why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,
"As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall give praise to God."
So then, each of us will be accountable to God.”
~Romans 14

You are to Love one Another and this Cathedral shall be a “House of Prayer for ALL People”. Not because I say so, but because Jesus says so. Period!

In the Name of God the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.

Fr Paul 

Sunday, September 03, 2017

What's in a Name?

“What’s in a Name?”

“What’s in a Name?” Juliet said to Romeo, caught as they were between two feuding families; the Capulets and the Montagues but loving hearts beat within them as she said; “Romeo, Romeo, doff thy name and for thy name which is no part of thee take all myself”. ~Romeo & Juliet Act 2, Scene 2, lines 47-49.

As naming was relational to Romeo and Juliet, so it is for all Teachers who must learn their students’ names. So too must clergy when they come to a church. As I continue to learn your names, I also continue to be grateful for your wearing name tags. Knowing names builds relationships.

Likewise we seek to know God’s Name. So let me ask you this about your relationship with the Holy Name; can you remember your first experience of God, or Jesus or the Holy Spirit? Has there ever been a time when the “Holy” has touched your heart? You life? How? What have your subsequent experiences of God been like? Or have you always been an Episcopalian and like a fish to water, God is so much a part of your life, you don’t notice it simply because you “live and move and have your being in God”? Still, has there ever been a time when the word “God” became an existential experience to you? The word is more than three letters and a single syllable. God is a living encounter.

In colloquial English we use so many expressions involving the word God; 
God bless you
O my God!
O for the love of God
Good God almighty!
God forbid!
God only knows!
God rest his/her soul
God willing
God works in mysterious ways wonders to perform
Honest to God
Let go and let God
There but for the grace of God go I
When you think about it, the word “God” takes a prominent place in our lives, our experience and in our hearts.

Apparently Moses was trying to avoid God and problem of slavery and oppression in Egypt. So he took up tending to the flock of his father in law Jethro. Today's first reading tells us that one day while minding his own business he came across this extraordinary sight. There was a bush on fire. Yet it was not consumed. By the way you can see what is called the burning at the foot of Mount Sinai in St. Catherine’s Monastery, the oldest monastery in the Christian wold. When the bush shimmers in the desert winds it appears to be on fire.

Whatever the case, what Moses saw was fire, yet the bush was not consumed. Moses turned aside to see this great sight. He could avoid it no longer. It seemed at first like an angel and then clearly this was God. It was an encounter with The Holy; what we call in Biblical Theology “A Theophany”; literally a showing or revelation of God. Moses removed his shoes because the very ground he was standing on was holy. 

In Celtic Christianity there are what we call “thin places” on earth; places where the distance between us and God seems somehow nearer. Places that seem to take your breath away like Iona in Scotland, Holy Island in Britain or Mont St Michel in France. I feel it in places like this or in the lives of those who suffer. Never do I feel the holy more intensely than in that sacred moment when I walk with someone to that last great moment when we stand together at “The Gate of Heaven”.

And so it was that Moses had an “Honest to God” encounter with the holy at the burning bush. God spoke to him and said, “I have seen the misery of my people. So have you.”

God spoke to Moses somewhere deep in his heart and from the burning bush; “I want you to go down to Pharaoh and tell him; “Let my people go!” It was a dangerous thing to do. 

You can imagine, going to any tyrant and telling him something he doesn’t want to hear. History tells us again and again that those in power don’t take well to criticism and do not like their policies questioned no matter what the moral implications. In fact tyrants like to make up the truth as the go along. 

You can imagine Moses’ reluctance. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” ~Exodus 3:11

God’s response is fascinating. I’ll give you a sign Moses. “When you have brought them forth out of Egypt you shall serve God upon the holy mountain.” ~Exodus 3:12

Moses may well have questioned such a sign. After all, that was well in to the future. So quite naturally, Moses presents God with a follow up question: He might well have said; “Look, all the nations around us have Gods. The Egyptians have Ra, the Babylonians have the Baals, the Midianites have Baal-peor and Ashteroth, the Queen of Heaven. How about us? Who shall I say sent us? Tell me, if you will, “What is your Name”?

Here the Biblical narrative reaches deep into the nature of Being itself. “You go and tell my children “I AM WHO I AM” has sent you. This is my Name forever: “I AM.”

Now then, for the linguists among us. In Hebrew there is what we call the “aorist” mood of a verb. In English we have the indicative, the imperative, and the subjunctive, but there is no such equivalent mood in English so it is a bit challenging to catch the full sense of the translation. Here we have the “aorist” of the copula verb “to be”. The verb requires in its nature a coupling of one thing to another. When God reveals the Divine Name, God “couples” the Being of God to the Being of humankind.

Thus when God says “I AM”  he also requires you to say “I am” too. Obviously the “I AM” of God is in all CAPS, whereas the “I am” of the human being is in small letters. Apart from God I am nothing. But with God and in God we come into relationship with the Eternal nature of Being itself. 

The great Hebrew mystic/theologian Martin Buber, postulated that the very relationship between God and humankind is based exactly on this very kind of encounter. I AM, says God. “I am” too says I. Thus the I-Thou connect in the very act of being. And because God is eternal and without end, when I love God I too become eternal and without end. And when we love one another the eternal, unending nature of the sacred relationship is established among us all. We become the people of God.

Back to the grammar for a moment. The verb “to be” in this case is actually in the third person. So at yet another level of translation it can be rendered to mean “God will cause to be”. In other words, God is not to be understood to be a nationalistic symbol like other nations have when they speak of their gods. The God you encounter at the bedrock of your heart is the God of all history.

So when any people find themselves in bondage and in suffering, God will act in history and bring them up out of slavery and into the promised land. The message of freedom is not for the children of Israel alone but for any people finding themselves in bondage and in suffering. God will act again and again in history.

When you take that journey within to that place where the living God comes to life in your heart of hearts, honest to God, you will find a God who will act in your history and in the history of all those who mourn, the poor, the meek, the oppressed, the elderly, the little children, the persecuted, the ostracized. Isn’t this what Jesus teaches us in the Beatitudes?

In today’s Gospel, Peter didn’t get it; the part about suffering and death. But lets be fair to Peter, who does? I sure don’t like getting old and arthritic. Sometimes it hurts so bad that I’m driven into myself so far that my fear and dread are all that I can think of. Fair enough.

But Jesus, rebukes Peter and the rest of us out of our fear and our self consuming dread. “Look,” says Jesus, “The Son of Man must endure great suffering and death before he knows the power of God’s resurrection.”

Interesting, Jesus Names himself the Son of Man. In fact he does so 81 times in the Gospels. That is to say he is not only the essence of God, but your essence also. Jesus is fully God. Yes. But Jesus is fully human too. 

As Jesus is one with us in our suffering and death so too he is one with God in the victory over sin and death. In the Name of Jesus we become one not only in his suffering and death, we also become one with him in his glorious victory over sin and death.

This is where the rubber hits the road for Peter and the disciples of Jesus. Go ahead, take up your cross and follow Jesus. The Cross and the Crown are two sides of the same experience. For the Son of Man is also the Son of God and he has come to us in the person of Jesus where the two natures meet. And the word “God” has come to life.

Into today’s Epistle, Paul proclaims that the change in us is so profound that we can “Bless those who persecute us.” We can;  “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly” We do “not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.” We “live peaceably with all.” We are “not to be overcome by evil, but we overcome evil with good”. ~Romans 12.

So what’s in a Name? Your name, my name and God’s Name? It seems that in a name there is something of the essence of who we are. There is the sacred encounter where we learn to love, forgive, and reconcile, but above all where we encounter something holy, eternal and everlasting. That is why I end my sermons

In the Name of God; the Most Holy, Undivided, and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.

Fr Paul