Posted by: dacalu | 16 July 2017

Growth in Body and Spirit

Today, I had the honor of worshiping with the people of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Laurelhurst.  Here is the sermon I shared.

 

Collect (Prayer for the day)

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Readings

Genesis 25:19-34 (Jacob and Esau)

Psalm 119:105-112 (“Your word is a lantern to my feet”)

Romans 8:1-11 (“To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”)

Matthew 13:1-9,18-23 (The Parable of the Sower)

 

Sermon



Once again we find ourselves with passages about life and growth.
We’ve known each other for a while now;
	perhaps you know my motto on this.
When dealing with life metaphors in the Bible,
	we should always take them more literally.
So, in Matthew’s Gospel, we have a parable about our own spiritual life.
	In my opinion, it’s one of the more transparent parables.
	It appears in all three of the synoptic gospels.
	And in all three, Jesus spells out the meaning.

God is sewing the Word in our hearts, the good news of Christ Jesus.
	Why is it that the word grows and bears fruit for some, but not for others?
	Though the seed is the same, the ground is different.
	Though the word is the same, the hearts and minds are different.
Sometimes, the word does not even sink in.
	It sits there on the surface of our hearts.
	It finds no soil to sink into and so gets snatched away.
This seems very common to me.
	I know many who have been to church, read the bible,
	heard the word, but it means nothing to them.
Sometimes, the word finds a little bit of soil, 
a little piece of our hearts where it can grow,
but it cannot grow fast enough,
	and its roots can’t reach far enough,
	so it doesn’t stand up to the weather.
	The new plant fades away.
This also seems common to me.
	I know people who were enthusiastic Christians,
	but also Christians of convenience.
	Their faith was not part of their life.
	Or they identified very strongly with the church,
		but could not engage their heart, or their mind, or their soul.
	When their faith was tested by persecution or tragedy,
		they could not hold on to a relationship with God.
Sometimes the word finds soil,
	but it is not the only thing to grow within the heart.
	Other loves and other faiths choke it out.
	Jesus specifically mentions the love of wealth and power.
	That, too, is a plant – one that can outcompete love of God and neighbor.
This is perhaps the most common of all:
	when we truly have the option of deep faith,
	but find it too hard to choose love over control
		or attempted control of the world around us.

And, when everything goes, just right,
	the seed lands on good soil.
	It sinks in and grows and bears fruit.
	Not just a little, but enough to feed multitudes.

A couple caveats should be mentioned here.
While this is about something very literally growing within us,
	we must not read it too simply
	or pass on too quickly.
We should let it take root properly in our hearts.

I think it applies to the whole of our lives;
the word takes root in us, or it does not.
It also applies to parts of our lives;
	it may be that the word takes root in my heart, but not my mind, or vice versa.
	Most of us have different aspects of our lives
		and we can ask which have been fruitful, and which have not.
I would also note that Jesus nowhere says this is strictly our choice,
	whether we want to be good soil or rocky.
	Our will is a part of it.
	We have the power to weed and tend.
	We have the power to cultivate our hearts.
	But we each struggle with the patch of land we’ve been given, as well.
We have some sway in our garden,
	but we have sway in the gardens of others as well.
We play a role in the tilling and fertilizing,
	picking up rocks and spreading weeds.
Christians who speak only of planting seeds
	miss the depth and sophistication of our calling.
We live and work for our neighbors.
We bear fruit for our neighbors.
Just as we live by their labors.

Plant growth is an amazing and complicated process.
Did you know that almost no plant grows by itself?
What we think of as rich soil,
	involves countless bacteria and fungi,
	each contributing to the exchange of water and nutrients 
	between plant and environment.
One teaspoon of rich soil can contain more organisms
than there are people in the United States,
	thousands of species of bacteria,
	many yards of fungal filaments,
	not to mention thousands of tiny worms and insects.

We usually speak of an ecosystem as patch of land –
	a forest or a watershed, a swamp or a field –
	but an ecosystem can also be a tiny web of life
	smaller than your fingernail.
The God who made the stars also made tiny ecosystems
	nearly everywhere on the surface of the Earth.
Plants need nitrogen but are generally bad at getting it.
	They depend on fungi and bacteria to turn
		elemental nitrogen (N2) in the air into usable forms.
In a healthy forest, water and nutrients can be shared underground
	between different trunks, using a network of roots,
	but also shuttling staples through other organisms.

Soil is not a simple matter.
And the soil of our hearts,
	like the soil of our fields,
	is connected.
So, we can ask about how we enrich our own hearts,
	and the hearts of our neighbors.
And we can ask how we harm the soil
	in ways that harm the whole ecosystem.

I find it troubling when people sow discord.
	When they preach hatred, distrust, and fear,
		when they encourage selfishness,
		when they lie and cheat,
			encouraging you to expect and even do the same,
	these people are salting the soil.
	It may not hurt them in their own field in their own lifetime –
		usually it does, but even so –
	it may not harm them directly, but it poisons the ecosystem.
	All life is poorer.

The parable of the sower lays a burden upon us.
We are called to till and keep the garden.
	I mean this quite literally, after Genesis 2:15.
		One of our main purposes in life is to care for our ecosystem
		in ways that only humans can.
	I also mean it figuratively.
		We are asked to plant and water,
			to tend and harvest
			the ecosystem of human souls.
		We care for them, anticipate their needs,
			and cultivate the fruits of the spirit
			as God works in us light and life.
The church, like the bacteria and rhizomes,
	is responsible for shuffling nutrients back and forth between the trunks.
We care for souls and see that they live well together.


We know about our bodily goods
	and they cannot be ignored.
	We literally must give food to the hungry, water to the thirsty,
		space to the oppressed, light to those in darkness,
		and care to the sick.
	That mandate seems hard enough on its own,
		but it is only the beginning of our task.

We also speak of spiritual goods.
	They are less literal than food and water,
		but they are less abstract than you might think.
	Once we have an idea of spiritual growth,
		of the seeds and fruits of God’s Spirit growing within us,
		taking care of them becomes more obvious.
Rich soil of the heart happens when people have experienced
	faith, hope, and love.
They are virtues, but always communal virtues.
	It makes no sense to have faith, hope, or love alone.
	We must have faith IN, hope FOR, and love OF others.
	These virtues are shared from one soul to another.
		Being loved, we understand love and can learn TO love.
		We participate in faith, hope, and love,
			first passively, but then, as we come to understand,
			more and more actively.

A body is an organized composition made out of flesh.
A soul is body in the process of living.
And spirit – or breath or perhaps the Breath of God – is what activates souls.

Paul says “the body is dead; the spirit is life.”
Like any modern biologist,
	he knows that the flesh cannot hold together by itself.
	It needs breath and life to keep itself together.
		(We might say metabolism, 
while Paul would say soul,
		but we’re both talking about blood and breath,
life in action.)
The soul or the spirit holds the flesh together as a body.
	Literally.
What does it mean to be an organism,
	if it doesn’t mean you are more than a collection of flesh?
	You are a living, breathing, integrated thing.
	You do stuff in the world.

If you focus on the flesh, it will not hold together,
	because flesh just is. It does no work.
You must focus on that which enlivens the flesh.
Thus, the body is dead, but the spirit is life.
	He does not say that the spirit is alive, but that it is life itself,
	Specifically, in the context of the body.
That is how he can conclude with this:
“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, 
he who raised Christ from the dead 
will give life to your mortal bodies also 
through his Spirit that dwells in you.”

Alone we are nothing, we are dust and dirt.
When we maintain the ecosystem, when we act together in love,
	when the Spirit of God stirs up the dust,
	we become the soil in which life takes root.

And it all ties together, bodily and spiritual goods,
	because this is where we find ourselves,
		as physical organisms and as spiritual organisms,
		in community.
	We work together because we work together.


 

An academic note

For the brave of heart, I would like to add just a few words on flesh and spirit in Romans. This dichotomy seems to trip people up and it happens to be the subject of my current research. What exactly is Paul talking about? That’s been a subject of contention for two thousand years, but let me share with you my own understanding, in the hopes that it will be helpful.

Many in the Greek and Roman world, thought of our existence as a continuum, running from particular examples to universal principles. Matter and Form were not opposing armies, but part of a giant whirlwind. Matter simply means “the stuff of which a thing is made.” Meat is made of atoms, and organisms are made of meat, and communities are made of organisms. Matter isn’t a thing, it’s a relationship. Meat, or flesh, is the generic stuff of which animals are made. (“Tissue” might be a good scientific analog.)

A body is an organized composition made of flesh. This is exactly the way we use “body” for living things or “corpse” for dead things. It is shaped flesh. A “soul” is a body in the process of living – an active body. And “spirit” – or breath or perhaps the Breath of God – is what activates souls. (Spirit is the Latin word for breath.)

Paul may have been a Platonist. They thought that the spirit came first and drew matter to it, gradually moving the whole world from a state of disorganized stuff, to a state of perfect and animal-like harmony. Paul may have been more Epicurean. They thought that atoms came together in ways that led to organization. I suspect Paul was a Platonist – most early Christians were – but that is beside the point. Paul thought that the whole universe was moving from disorder and chaos (vanity and emptiness) to life and growth as an organized whole. Paul thought the cosmos groaned in travail, waiting to be born and grow into the full stature of Christ.

Paul says “the body is dead; the spirit is life.” Like any modern biologist, he knows that the flesh cannot hold together by itself. It needs breath and life to keep itself together. (We might say metabolism, while Paul would say nutrition or soul, but we’re both talking about blood and breath, water and nutrients moving around in an active body.) Spirit and soul, quite literally hold the flesh together as a body. What does it mean to be an organism, if it doesn’t mean you are more than a collection of flesh? You are a living, breathing, integrated thing. You do stuff in the world.

Posted by: dacalu | 30 June 2017

Rhyme and Reason

 

What’s argued is arguably true.

So, what is a rhetor to do

but logically fight

for what’s logically right

with arguments suited thereto.

 

Arguments dismal abound;

And better quite seldom are found;

Once articulated,

each one must be rated:

univocal, valid, and sound.

 

The logician’s weapons are few;

Ambiguous words just won’t do;

Each literal sign

must be clearly defined

or it literally cannot strike true.

 

(Though many examples are known

and moss differs greatly from stone,

none can agree

where the boundary should be;

The word “life” has a life of its own.)

 

For a strike that’s valid to land,

an argument’s course must be planned;

Given that you

hold the premises true,

you conclude just what logic demands.

 

(If I say, “if A is, then B,”

but the truth of B I can’t see,

as easy as pie

[‘cuz logic can’t lie]

then A I’ll deny, happily.)

 

An argument’s logically sound

when it’s premises clearly are found

unequivocally true

and assembled into

a pattern that’s valid all-round.

 

And so, we come to the end

of my lyric attempt to defend

rhetorical rigor,

and whose sword is bigger,

if, into such fights, we descend.

 

Better, by far, it must be,

If only we all could agree

to work these things out

without ego or doubt

and discuss things, logically.

 

(c) Lucas Mix 6/30/17

Posted by: dacalu | 22 May 2017

What It Means to Worship

Today, I had the privilege of worshiping with the people of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. Here is the sermon I shared.

 

Prayer

O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Readings

Acts 17:22-31 (Paul in Athens. “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”)

1 Peter 3:13-22 (“Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you” andHe was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit“)

John 14:15-21 (“because I live, you also will live”)

 

Sermon

What do you worship?
As with much of the language and much of theology,
	we tend to complicate things in unproductive ways.
The word ‘worship’ sounds a little Medieval to modern ears.
Many people I know would say they don’t worship anything,
	but that, I think, misses the point.
To ‘worship’ is to value highly, to give worth to,
	or, if you prefer, to recognize worth in.
The Angles and Saxons spoke of worthship as a property a person might have,
	and from that worthship, we get our modern verb.
	When we worship, we acknowledge the worthiness of the thing we adore.

In the same way, we can talk about values.
It has a religious – or at least philosophical – sound to it in modern English,
	but it’s a very every day word.
It refers to that which you value.
Any time you make a choice,
	you have preferred one thing over another,
	chosen one path over another,
	you have demonstrated that which you value more 
and that which you value less.

There’s the rub.
We speak about worship, and value,
	things like dignity and rights,
	as though they were binary.
“Either you worship God or you don’t.”
“Either you value human life or you don’t.”
And so on.
That is not the way they work.

Every time you attribute worth to something,
	you are judging it as worth more than something else,
	or less.
Every time you value something,
	you are giving it a value in relation to something else.
All virtues do not work this way.
	I am not claiming that you can only love your family
		by disregarding others.
	I would never say that.
	The Christian virtues are not comparative.
Worship and value are not virtues in themselves.
	They are ways of talking about choices.
	They are the basic language we need to get to virtues.
If the word ‘worship’ only applied to God,
	I would have no way of asking 
what you give worth to.
If the word ‘values’ only applied to preferences I myself prefer,
	I would have no way of comparing
	my values to yours.
This is a real problem.
It’s particularly difficult because we live in a society
	that bends over backwards
	to avoid talking about worth and value in a meaningful way.
Many popular figures expound their own values,
	but rarely do we have opportunities
	to compare our values with those around us,
	even our closest friends.
The monetary value of an object or experience 
is taken to be its default value
and even then, we avoid telling one another
	how much we paid.
We have to wait for an election
	to reveal the priorities of our neighbors.
	And even then, we find ourselves confused,
	and no-one seems capable of bridging the gap
		between one value set and another.
	Why did you choose as you chose?
	What do you value?
	And what do you worship?

The word ‘worship’ rightly bears some connotation of sacrifice.
	To worship often requires losing one thing of value,
		to keep another.
	In Matthew’s gospel, this is the “pearl of great price,”
		a gem so wondrous that a merchant sold all that he had,
		just so he could purchase that one jewel.
	We worship that which we value above all else,
		that which we are willing to sacrifice for.
I value my free time,
	but I value sermon writing more, at least this week.
	(We’ll see if I valued it enough.)
I value honesty, but I value compassion more.
	So, I tell the truth, but only for the sake of helping people.
	I do not tell the truth only for the sake of truth.
	There are a shocking number of unhelpful truths out there.

Diving in, we can see why abortion
	can be such a vexing political issue.
	I know no one who does not value life.
	I know no one who does not value liberty and choice.
	And yet we use these terms – pro-life and pro-choice,
		as though they summed up our position.
	The rubber meets the road,
		when we ask how much of our liberty 
are we willing to sacrifice to preserve life.
	And how many lives are we willing to sacrifice
		to preserve our liberty.
	If that question sounds easy,
		I’d encourage you to apply it to capital punishment,
		and health care,
		and the military.

Worship is a tricky business.
Nor are we honest about what we worship,
	either with ourselves or with others.
So, I’ll return to my first question.
What do you worship?
	And how does that play itself out
		from the big decisions of career and mate
		to the weekly decisions of what to do on a Sunday morning,
		to the second by second choices we make
			with our time, money, and attention.
What do you worship?
What do your neighbors worship?
What does the country worship?

It can be a difficult process to look closely.
	We often find that the values we think we have
		are not the same as the values our choices reveal.
		But how can we know unless we ask?
One the reasons I am most grateful for the church,
	is that it gives me tools to ask the difficult questions.
It gives me rituals, prayer, and meditation to look deeply at my own life.
It gives me a community of compassionate people
	willing to share in the process of reflection,
	willing to hold me accountable
	and to be creative when my imagination fails.
The community gives me options,
	new ways to think and new things to try.
I love the church.
Really.

Much of the Bible only makes sense in this context.
All of us have options for what we worship.
	All of us make choices. All of us have values.
Paul goes to the city of Athens to speak about Jesus.
	He does not say, “You have to worship something.”
	He does not say, “You are worshiping the wrong thing.”
	Both are poor evangelical strategies, and Paul knows it.
He says, “This thing that you value, let me give it a name.”
	“Let me help you know it better and worship it more fully.”

Part of my Christian hope rests in my confidence
	that this will work with anyone I meet.
God who made all things in heaven and on earth,
	who made the whole human race from a single model,
	who gives life and breath to all mortals – 
	this God gave us an ability to seek the good.
Sometimes we are confused.
We are almost always confused.
And still, at our core, all of us want good things,
	all of us know that there are better and worse ways to worship,
	better and worse things to worship.
And so, though it will be different for every person I meet,
	I can always find one thing they value, 
	that I, too, value,
	and can recognize as an aspect of that deeper worship
		I have for God.
I can always say,
	I value that, too, and, what’s more,
	I can name it for you.
I can name the source of light and life and progress and goodness and joy.
I can name the love that made all loves.
I can name the faith, the relationship on which rests all truth and knowledge.
I can name the hope that gives rise to all hope.
Jesus Christ.

I can always say that,
	but I don’t always say that.
	Perhaps I should say it more often.
I don’t say it for the very reason I mentioned earlier.
I value honesty, but I value compassion more.
	These words – truth, faith, hope, love, Christ –
	people do not think of them the way I think of them.
	They use them to mean something different.
	They have been taught to understand them differently.


I listen to what they mean by them,
	before I say them back.
I listen to the truth they have on offer,
	before I share my own truth – 
	at least when I can.
Most often I end up saying exactly what Jesus said.
“Come and see.”
Faith, hope, and love are not ideas to be grasped.
They are actions we perform,
	relationships we join,
	and gifts we receive.
It is so much easier to demonstrate
	than it is to explain.
And so I demonstrate,
	and I invite.

Faith, hope, and love take work.
They take lifting the hood of our worship and peaking inside.
They take conversation as much as conversion,
	because they are not static possessions.
They have no monetary value, because they cannot be owned
	or traded or taken away.
They must be lived.
Truth, unsurprisingly, is the same.
I don’t think you can even be given the truth.
You must wrestle it to the ground daily.
	Truth is about the relationship you have to reality
	and reality continues to change.

And, of course, Jesus Christ takes work.
	Paul tells us the world is vast and ancient and defies understanding,
		at least so far.
	If you worship the boundaries of nature,
		that which divides the undifferentiated nothingness
		into quantum foam and energy and matter;
		that which gives order and regularity to the world,
		then you worship Jesus Christ.
	Paul tells us that the world is more than physical atoms,
		bouncing around in infinite space.
	If you worship breath and life,
		that which moves the atoms,
		and moves our souls,
		giving us sensation, memory, reason, and skill,
		then you worship Jesus Christ.

Perhaps you don’t know it by that name.
	Many do not. That’s okay.
	I am honestly not invested in whether you call it one thing or another.
	A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

And yet, I share this name, because it reveals something to me
	about the most fundamental reality,
	about the true object of worship
	and the highest of values.
Jesus Christ is a person,
	someone who has feelings,
	someone I can relate to,
	talk to,
	care about.
This same immense, fundamental force
	(he said, as though ‘fundamental’ and ‘force’ 
were not grossly inadequate terms) –
this same boundary between nothing and something,
	between death and life,
	can be approached as a friend and lover.
I want to say it’s counter-intuitive,
	that we don’t naturally think this way.
That, of course, is false.
All of us think this way by default.
It is a modern conceit that the universe must be cold and mechanical,
	incapable of love and joy,
	and that the universe is all there is.
It is not counter-intuitive,
	only counter-intellectual.
It runs against the philosophy we have been sold since childhood.

You can love the mystery at the heart of the universe –
	without losing a healthy skepticism.
No true friend asks you to give up critical thought,
	whatever the popular dramas and comedies tell us.
Friendship asks for open eyes, curious hearts,
	and the fullness of our minds
	devoted to a fuller understanding.
We give up being sure
	because it allows us to keep listening and learning.


Jesus is not dead – 
	not in any sense of the word.
Not historically, or figuratively, or metaphorically.
Jesus is alive because Jesus is the life of the world.
Jesus is alive because his body drew breath,
	and though it stopped, it started again.
Jesus heart beats still.
And Jesus is alive because Jesus, that central mystery,
	is alive in the Church, here and now.
	As sick as the Church might be in any specific time or place,
	that Spirit still moves in it which gives it life.

We do not give up the critical apparatus of skepticism and science.
We embrace them fully, with the skepticism to say that they are not the all and all.
We do not worship the human mind and reason,
	we worship the reality that they perceive.

Posted by: dacalu | 19 April 2017

Arizona Schedule 2017

I have a number of public events coming up in Arizona and wanted to put all the details in one place.

Thursday 4/20 – 7-8pm – “Aliens, Astrobiology, and the Meanings of Life”

Public Talk @ St. Philip’s in the Hill’s

4440 N. Campbell Avenue, Tucson, Arizona 85728

Saturday 4/22 – 3-5pm – Theology Pub

Informal Discussion @ Gentle Ben’s

865 E University Blvd, Tucson, AZ 85719

Sunday 4/23 – 9-10am – Discussion

Informal Discussion @ St. Michael and All Angels’

602 N Wilmot Rd, Tucson, AZ 85711

Thursday 4/27 – 6-8pm – “Aliens, Astrobiology, and the Meanings of Life”

Public Talk @ Trinity Cathedral

100 W Roosevelt St, Phoenix, AZ 85003

Posted by: dacalu | 3 April 2017

Participation

Today, I had the honor of worshiping with the people of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. Here is the sermon I shared.

Collect for the 5th Sunday in Lent

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Readings

Ezekiel 37:1-14 (The Valley of the Dry Bones)

Psalm 130 (“Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord”)

Romans 8:6-11 (“But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit”)

John 11:1-45 (The Raising of Lazarus)

Sermon

Note:  Even if you are reading this, I would ask that you verbally agree (or disagree) when I ask for an amen. It’s about participation, after all.

I’m going to do two things unusual for me.
	I’m going to talk quite directly about resurrection,
	and I’m going to ask for participation from you.
Nor are these two things separate. 
Participation matters.
Can I get an amen?

Let’s try that one more time.
Participation in the Spirit of God matters.
	Otherwise, what is the point of us getting up on a Sunday morning.
	We believe that participation in the life of the church,
		in the life of the world,
		is a matter of life and death.
	And we put our hope in the Spirit of God.
Can I get an amen?

Rarely do all the readings fit so neatly together.
	Usually, some thought is necessary to see the connections,
	or to hear how the Spirit is speaking to us in our particular context.
Today it is easy.
Life and death.
Or should I say death and life.

Some of you have come to my talks on the meanings of life,
	you know this is one of my mottos:
life in the Bible should be taken more literally, not less.
It refers to concrete flesh and blood people.

The Gospel of Matthew speaks of two deaths.
	Jesus says, “Do not fear those who kill the body 
but cannot kill the soul; 
rather fear the ones who can destroy both soul and body.” (Matthew 10:28)
The death of the body seems straightforward.
	The flesh and blood, tangible expression of ourselves, 
which needs food, water, and shelter,
that body can and does die.
	On average, our bodies last 79 years in the US.
When I speak of the soul, I mean only the self.
	I could wax poetic or philosophical,
		but for the purposes of today, I mean you,
		the you you are familiar with,
		the you that is known to your family and friends,
		the you that is a person.
Christians believe that that self – that soul – exists because of two things:
	the dust of the ground – the material, tangible body – 
	and the breath of God – that is the Spirit.
The breath of God stirs the dust and makes it move.
	Notably, it is not your breath alone.
	Just as the same air that fills my lungs, fills yours –
		just as I breath with the same molecules you do –
		so we are all enlivened by the same Spirit.
It is not mystical or supernatural or strange,
	though we may treat it that way.
	It is simple livingness.
The bodily physical livingness and the psychological personal livingness –
	and neither one does well in a vacuum.
To be a person is to be a person among people.

So, we have a death of the body that ends our metabolism,
	and a death of the soul that ends our personhood.
And we are promised that our personhood is more than our body.

For the record, I do not claim it is less.
I’m not telling you about how a self may exist without a body.
You may believe in that – many Christians do – but that is beside the point.
	The livingness which is our body is clear and unambiguous.
	The livingness which is our soul, our self, is more confusing,
		and yet it is familiar to every living breathing soul on the planet.


We come on Sunday morning to nurture our selves,
	to become fuller, richer, better people,
	in harmony with others, with God and with the world.
This why you are here.
Can I get an amen?

There are, then, two lives as well.
	We can live to feed our bodies,
		or we can live to feed our souls, which are embodied.
	There is dust – which is not alive,
		and then there is the living dust, which has the breath of life
			the physical body
		and that body may become more alive through participation
			with others
			the soul.
Life from death, souls from dust, all because of the breath of God.
It is not my breath or your breath,
	but one God, one Spirit in Christ, moving us.

The basic idea is not strange.
I should not need to preach about the fullness of life,
 	which is more than the fullness of the stomach.
Anyone would agree that we must feed the body,
	but also the self, the mind, the soul.
The great mystery arises in Jesus’ claim,
	and Ezekiel’s claim,
	and Paul’s claim,
	that once the body has died, the soul,
		like a seed, can be used to grow a new body.
It’s not just that the dry bones can be ground up for mulch
	to fertilize new and different life.
Rather, the very persons that appeared dead,
	can be brought back.

It is true in this lifetime, as well as in eternity.
Have you ever lost yourself – in grief or despair or addiction or just neglect?
Have you ever started to wonder who you were?
What happened?
	Did God bring you back?
	Or a friend?
	Did someone re-member your body, flesh you out, 
and bring you back to your self, your life?

Just as we tend our bodies, so we must tend our souls,
	not because they are separate or separable, 
but precisely because they are together.
In keeping the soul alive, we have hope for a fuller life of the body.
	And through the life of the soul – that is God’s Spirit within us,
		we hope for the resurrection of the body.
Without a self – it does not matter if your body comes back.


And so, I must give a shout out to Saint Thomas,
	patron of doubters, skeptics, and pessimists.
Did you pay attention to him in today’s gospel?
He thinks the locals will kill Jesus, if he returns to Judea.
	Thomas fears he will be killed as well,
		at least his body,
		but he is more concerned about the loss of himself,
		if he does not go with Jesus
		into the danger.
Thomas is a pessimist, but committed.

Who are you, in your heart of hearts?
And what would cause you to lose your self?
More than physical death, we fear this death of the soul.
We fear that our love will atrophy,
	that that which binds us together will wither away.
That’s the business we’re in,
	tending the life that is the body of Christ,
	made out of human bodies.
We are one in the Spirit.
We have one life in Christ – quite literally.

This is what I’m doing with my life.
This is what Jesus did,
	what Abraham and Sarah, Peter and Photini, did.
We nurture a common life.
More literal, not less.
Planting seeds and watering.
The bones are mulch – dead but with all the ingredients of life.
Or perhaps I should say they are sea monkeys,
	the little shrimp that you can dehydrate
	and then bring to life by placing them in the water.
We’re like sea monkeys,
	all curled in upon ourselves,
	until the Spirit of love revives us.
We’re like sea monkeys,
	though we appear to die,
	still we can live.

I know you’ve met people that “suck the life” out of you.
And I know you’ve met people who “bring you to life.”
It’s quite literal and quite prosaic,
	but it starts with admitting it can be done,
	and then giving your heart to doing it.

Get excited about Christianity.
	Yes, we have problems, 
but we’ve been nurturing community for 2000 years.
	We came up with the university, the hospital, 
and inalienable human rights.
	We inspired Queen Elizabeth I and Martin Luther King.
	Nor do I think any of that would have happened
		because of an abstract commitment to an ideal
		or even an institution.
	Every time it was a about real people, 
struggling to live together,
		and to live fully.
	How can we live up to that?

My advice is to be more literal, not less.
Start and foster caring communities.
Invite people over to dinner from outside your family.
	It’s a great way to become closer.
	Don’t wait until the house is perfectly clean,
		or the schedule is clear,
		or you know them better.
	Eat together. See what happens.
	Give unwarranted gifts.
		That’s a hard one in our society.
		We care to much about keeping score.
		Stop.
		Just see something someone needs,
			or something that would give them joy.
		If you can easily give it, do.
	Start a conversation with a stranger.
This is, unsurprisingly, the only way to make them into a friend.
It’s uncomfortable, but if you are willing to muddle through,
	you will find you’ve both grown a little bit.

I’m going to pull rank and give you homework.
You have one week.
Do one of these things.
They are not expensive, they are not dangerous.
They take a little thought and they may misfire,
	but why not give it a try.
Can I get an amen?
I’ll list them again.
1)	Invite someone over for a meal or out to lunch.
2)	Give an unwarranted gift.
3)	Start a conversation.
Just one.
These are things worth doing on a regular basis,
	not because they are disciplines, or abstractly good, or righteous,
	but because they give life.


I have a strange relationship with Lent.
I use it as a time of reflection,
	but Lenten disciplines rarely work out for me.
	I have trouble motivating myself.
Which is funny, because I’m a bit of an ascetic;
	I love discipline.
For me, though, the disciplines I love are joy and not hardship,
	I take them on because they flow out of my inmost self
	and draw me closer to God.
So, I’ve often been more successful with my Easter disciplines,
	than I was with the same thing in Lent.
How can I celebrate the life I have been given
	by making my life more full, more bright, more wondrous?
Easter, after all, is a good season for planting seeds.

Don’t be discouraged.
Sometimes you plant a hundred seeds and only one springs up.
	That’s okay.
	We plant the seeds and water, but God gives growth.
	And even one tree is better than none.
Prepare yourself for Easter by planting seeds.
Don’t just prepare for this Easter
	Prepare for next Easter.
	Life is about planting seeds.
	Life is about participation.

Posted by: dacalu | 26 March 2017

God Calling

Today, I had the pleasure of worshiping with the people of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. Here is the sermon I shared.

 

Collect for the 4th Sunday in Lent

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Readings

1 Samuel 16:1-13 (Samuel finds David)

Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd”)

Ephesians 5:8-14 (“Live as children of light”)

John 9:1-41 (“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”)

 

Sermon

God has called you.
	Yes, I’m talking to you. Here. Now.

One of the benefits of preaching three Sundays in a row
	is that I can build on what I have said.
Two weeks ago, I talked about Abraham,
	who was a bit of a schmuck.
	He was an opportunist and an adventurer,
		perhaps a bit of a con-man.
	And he was God’s friend.
	You need a bit of a rogue to found a people,
		a bit of a con-man to convince your followers
		and the leaders of the surrounding countries,
		to recognize the nation of Israel.
	And I do believe he became a better person
		through his relationship with God.
	The Lord brought him out of Ur and into Canaan,
		but also led him to a better understanding of himself,
		and of his family.
	He was reckoned as righteous,
		not because of his perfection,
		but because of his friendship with God.
Last week, I talked about Photini,
	the woman at the well,
	who clearly led an interesting life.
	No doubt she would have been thought head-strong,
		flirtatious, and improper
		by the respectable people of Sychar.
	And she became Jesus’ friend.
	You need to be a bit impetuous
		to preach the gospel.
	You need to be willing to defy the expectations of society,
		to show people a new way.
	Perhaps being flirtatious helps
		if you’re in the business of meeting new people.
	And I do believe she became a better person
		through her conversation with the Messiah.
	I believe she found a new focus for her life.

This week we get the man born blind.
“’Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, 
that he was born blind?’ 
Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; 
he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.’”

Now, it would be rather cold-blooded for God to say,
	“Let’s make someone blind so we can show off.”
I don’t think that’s what Jesus is going for here.
Instead, in his usual, carefully focused way, Jesus is answering the question,
	“Why is he blind?”
	It’s not about “what caused his blindness?”
	but “what does it mean to us?”
How are we called to be God’s people,
	in light of his blindness?

We keep saying,
	“it’s bad that he is this way.”
And Jesus says,
	“it’s good that we can respond.”
Jesus looks forward.

I do not deny that blindness can be a hardship.
Nor do I deny that Abraham and Photini
	had each sinned in their own way.
But Jesus comes to each of us exactly where we are,
	weighs us, and puts us to use,
	bringing about the kingdom of heaven.

If anyone reveals this truth, surely it is the first kings of Israel,
	Saul and David.
Their reigns look like something written for a soap opera,
	sex and violence,
	selfishness and political intrigue,
	adultery, betrayal, and even necromancy.
Basically, Game of Thrones.

The Israelites wanted a king and this is what they got.
The books of Samuel and Kings tell the tale.
	the people said, “we want a king!”
	And God said, “No you don’t.”
		“Look, he’s just going to put your sons in the army
		and your daughters in his household,
		and take your crops.”
	(In other words, expand the national government
		and raise taxes. Things don’t really change much.)
	And the people said, “No.  We really want a king!”
		“Give us a king.”
God said, “Yes” and gave them Saul.
	King Saul was handsome and strong and self-confident.
		People liked him and he was an effective military leader.
		He protected Israel from the neighboring kingdoms.
	But Saul forgot that his righteousness and kingship
		were based on a relationship with God
		and not on his being handsome and strong and self-confident.
	And so, Saul began to neglect his relationship with God.
		And so, God began looking for a new king.
David was the second King of Israel,
	not quite so much the expected candidate,
	being a youngest son, less strong, perhaps, but more clever
	than Saul.
And, for the most part, David was a good king,
	though he did have some problems with adultery and murder.
	Game of Thrones, remember.

We can forget that
	scripture tells us our history
	and not just our aspirations.
Israel was – and still is – a byword for faith and hope.
God did a wondrous thing in creating the Kingdom of Israel,
	not because it’s founders were such impeccable
	symbols of righteousness,
	but because, in their relationship with God,
	they became part of something – 
	the recreation of the world.

Or we might consider the rise of the Church of England in the 16th century.
I remember very clearly my first year of seminary.
Bill Countryman, our Anglican Spirituality professor,
	was talking about the Tudors: Henry VIII, Mary, and Elizabeth.
He said we tell their stories not because they were wonderful people,
	but because they are members of our family.
They remind us what it means to be part of the story we find ourselves in.

I can’t count the number of people who have said to me,
	“Anglican, really? Isn’t that a branch of Christianity 
founded on Henry VIII wanting a divorce.”
	“No. It has a lot more to do with finding a path between the extremes
		of Roman Catholicism and Calvinism.”
	But that’s beside the point.
	We remember Henry for the good he did – and the bad.
	We remember him because he had a relationship with God,
		and through him, we think good things happened.

Coming back to today,
	you might think you are not the kind of person
	to be a prophet, or found a nation, or preach the gospel.
Nonsense.
	I’m guessing none of you are as messed up as Abraham or Saul.
	Don’t get me started on Moses.
		Apparently, an entitled stammering murderer
		was what it took to get the Israelites out of Egypt.
	I’m joking.
	A little.
	I think.
	I really do believe Moses was an amazing individual,
		whose faith could move mountains.
My point is that he became that – and we become that – 
through our relationship with God.
We cannot – we must not –
	think it works in the opposite direction.

If a man was born blind so that the world might learn to see,
	we respect God’s willingness to work with us,
	however and wherever and whatever we are.
This is not a cop-out or an excuse or some way of saying
	“everything is okay.”
Everything is not okay.
You are not perfect just the way you are.
And the world is not hunky-dory.

And yet, the whole idea of grace comes wrapped up
	in a recognition of our own powerlessness
	and God’s power working in us.
Knowing this removes all excuse.
Whatever seems to be a weakness,
	can be an opportunity for God,
	when we let it be – 
	when we stop letting our expectations for God
	get in God’s way.

Are you a rogue?
	God needs rogues?
Are you blind?
	God needs blind people?
Are you doubtful, neurotic, poor, rich, angry, lazy, sad, silly, serious, manic, or depressed?
	God needs you.
If Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, Peter and Photini can be servants of God,
	so can you.

This is true of many saints, by the way.
	It’s generally agreed that Saint Francis was impossible to live with.
No doubt there are many pleasant, patient, compassionate, wise saints as well,
	people passionately advocating for justice
	and infinitely fun to be around.
…well, maybe not many, but a few.
And again, that’s not the point.
They are not saints because they are perfect,
	they are saints because we can see God working through them.
You, too can be a saint.
No one better.
Really.

Step one: see that this is a possibility and talk to God about it.
	Ask, seek, pray.
Say, “God, make the world better through me”
	and see what happens.

The Pharisees thought they saw clearly
	and so they were blind.
They stopped asking and so they stopped hearing answers.
The blind man suffered,
	but God saw his suffering and used it to make the world a better place.
You can do this as well.
	You can be a witness to suffering,
	and you can work to redeem it.

Look at the world and say, “What can I do?”
	Try stuff and see what happens.
You will make mistakes.
	Bad mistakes.
	That’s what happens.
But also, a little grace, a little improvement, a little light shining through.

Maybe you’ve started already.
I think you’ve started already.
I know you’ve started already.
That’s alright, too.
Maybe you’re perfect. No worries.
	That’s not the point.
	The point is what comes next.

Posted by: dacalu | 20 March 2017

Banter with God

This Sunday, I had the pleasure of worshiping with the people of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Seattle.  Here is my sermon.

Readings

Exodus 17:1-7 (“He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?'”)

Romans 5:1-11 (“God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”)

John 4:5-42 (Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well)

 

Sermon


“Is the Lord among us or not?”
It’s a great question.
The Israelites asked it in the dessert,
	and we ask it all the time.
We find the world unsatisfactory, so it’s good to ask,
	even when we find ourselves
	annoyed, disappointed, or angry.
“Is the Lord among us, or not?”

This, first, because it is a simple psychological truth,
	which somehow escapes a great many Christian preachers.
If you are in a relationship 
and you don’t voice your concerns
it will be an unhealthy relationship.
It may not last very long.
So, if we want a relationship with God,
	we must start with honesty about our thoughts and emotions.
“God, are you with us, or not?”
We are unlikely to get an answer
	if we do not ask.
Thus, there is a long and glorious tradition of obnoxious prophets
	questioning God:
	Moses is the prime example,
		but I might also mention Job, David, Jeremiah, and Peter.

The alternative is to passive-aggressively say nothing
and then suddenly blurt out how un-happy we are
that God is silent and somehow un-God-like.
That doesn’t end well.
Read Jonah.
Or read the tale of Exodus.
	The Israelites in the wilderness don’t converse with God,
		they whine to Moses and Aaron and their subordinates.
“Testing God” is the opposite of a question.
It’s when you think you know the answer
	and say God got it wrong.

So, we start with the question.
“Is the Lord among us or not?”
Anytime you want to ask it, do.
	Pray.
	If you can’t think how to frame it,
		read the psalms for a while,
		or Job, or Lamentations, or Isaiah,
		or Julian of Norwich, or Teresa of Avila,
		or Madeline L’Engle, or Simone Weil,
		or Kiekegaard, Bonhoeffer, and King.
The Christian tradition is rife with people questioning God.
This is, after all, one of the benefits
	of a living, embodied, personal, human God.
You can talk to him.
If you’re not asking questions,
	you're doing it wrong.
Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.


Now, we come to the answer.
I can tell you what I think – of course I will – 
	but let me suggest that it will never be fully satisfying
	until you’ve heard it from God.
Whether I am right or wrong,
	your relationship with God is yours.
Go home and ask God what God thinks.
It is meet and right and your bounden duty so to do.

“Is the Lord among us or not?”
Yes. The Lord is among us,
	but never in quite the way we expect.
We’re a little insecure about this –
	one reason that Anglicans, and Christians historically,
	go around saying it all the time.
The Lord be with you.
(And also with you.)
It’s not just about wishing someone well;
	it is a declarative statement.
The Lord God IS with you.

And it holds up as you go back in time.
I’m very fond of the Elizabethan English:
	“The Lord be with you. And with thy spirit.”
God is as close as your very breath.
And even farther back, it would be
	Dominus tecum. Et cum spiritu tuo.

God is with us in our breathing,
	and in our living,
	and in our doing God’s will,
	and, as I talked about last week,
	in our faith, hope, and love.


With that in mind, let us turn to the rather long gospel reading – 
	the Samaritan woman.
For context, it helps to know that Samaritans and the Judeans
	did not get along.
The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh,
	living in the northern parts of Canaan,
	still worshipped God at Mount Gerizim, near Sychar,
	while the other tribes thought you had to travel to Mount Zion,
		to Jerusalem.
Thus, we had the kingdom of Israel in the north
	and the kingdom of Judah in the south.
Although they were one political entity at the time of Jesus,
	the religious tensions were palpable.
It also helps to know that women,
	particularly unmarried women,
	did not talk to strange men,
	a condition still common, if lamentable,
	in much of the world.
The more times I read the story,
	the more I can’t help but see it as banter,
	almost flirting,
	between two strangers at a well –
	the very well, as it happens,
	where Jacob flirted with Rachel.

For all the high theology in John’s gospel,
	he tells us very personal stories
	about Jesus as a son and as a friend.
I think we miss something if we try to make this
	an impersonal, cold interaction.
As always, I encourage you to read it for yourself,
	but at least once, read it as though you were reading Shakespeare.
	It makes a difference.
I will call the woman Photini, the Greek Orthodox name for her.

Jesus comes to the well and asks Photini for a drink of water.
She pauses and says, “How is it that you ask this of me? I don’t know you.”
And Jesus replies, “If you knew who I was, you’d be asking me for a drink.”
“And how would you get it? Are you so great you don’t need a bucket?”
Jesus says, “This water is nothing. It’s temporary. The water I can give you will quench your thirst forever.”
“Right… Okay, I’ll take your water, it would save me having to come here all the time.”
She calls his bluff – 
but Jesus delivers.
He says, “Go get your husband.”
“I have no husband.”
“That’s right. You have no husband, 
but you’ve had five, 
and the man you’re living with is not your husband.
Things have gotten somewhat serious here,
	so Photini gets serious.
“I see you speak for God, 
well this place used to be good enough for God, 
but you Jews say we can only talk to God in Jerusalem.”
And Jesus answers with similar seriousness.
“The time has passed for worshipping God on a mountain. 
“Now we worship with our very breath and with truth.”
“I know the Messiah is coming.”
“That would be me.”

It is a serious conversation,
	and it is a very familiar conversation.
It is a conversation all about trust 
and communication
and questions.
Photini models for us what it means to have a real,
	intimate, conversation with God –
	to question and to listen for the answers.
She also models the right response.
She evangelizes – once again with a tinge of humor.
	“This can’t be the Messiah, can it?  Come and see.”
And it comes at the beginning of John’s gospel,
	when he is telling us what it means to spread the good news,
	through the Disciples and Nicodemus,
	but also with wine and healing.
We are told that many Samaritans believed 
because of her testimony.
It’s worth remembering Photini, the Samaritan woman,
	and God’s willingness,
	to speak to us all directly.


Last week, I spoke about Abraham,
	who was reckoned as righteous,
	almost in spite of himself.
His salvation came about through his faith –
	his personal relationship with God –
	and through God’s grace –
	that free gift of love, light, and life
		by which God recreates the world.
Last week, I said,
	don't worry about your salvation,
	don’t worry about yourself at all.
Christianity is about God working God’s purpose out.

This week, I want to say this.
	There is a way to think about you.
	Think about your relationship with God,
		and think about how that relationship
		overflows into your relationships with others.
	Think about what it means to share your very self with God,
		to ask for what nourishes you,
		and for the ability to nourish others.
	Think about what it means to listen,
		to hear God speaking in unexpected places
		through unexpected people,
		in unexpected ways.
The water that satisfies is the Spirit of God,
	and the spirit is light and life.
	It is breath and truth.
I do not mean this in some abstract way, but concretely.
	God is in the light and in our ability to see.
	God is in our fleshy particularity,
		and in our ability to eat and grow.
	What we do at this table is a sanctification
		of the sharing and eating and growing
		we do every day of our lives.
	God is also in your breath and in your breathing,
		never farther, nor less significant,
		than the oxygen, which powers you.
	God is truth – real honest conversations,
		deep questions,
		and the longing for answers that always calls us 
into a deeper understanding of God and one another.
Come and see.
Be amazed.
Be delighted.
Be unashamed to share the water of life,
	in faith, hope, and love.
What has been given to you, in Christ Jesus,
	was meant to be given away.



 

 

Posted by: dacalu | 18 March 2017

One Note Words

A menagerie,
	legged, lettered beasties,
	feasting on their fellows
	animate in their multiplicity,
	until a single phrase, lion-like
	arches its back and roars.
Every word has a history,
	distance of time and dissonance of meaning,
	layered as a symphony,
	quiet here…    then louder, prouder, crowding,
	always puttering, fluttering, muttering a sound
		in the background
	rhyming the timing until a beat can be heard.
	Word.
No word is alone.
	Each one carries a mystery,
	consonant with countless stories
	where precedents rule,
	valences cover and reveal,
	vowels and avowals and row upon row of 
		interacting lines;
They form a grid of meaning.
	
“Talk plain,” they say.
“Be clear.”
“Say one thing at a time.”

What? Don’t be ironic, iconic, literary or literal, littoral,
	bordering on the insane?
Am I inane?
Or does every hue color the canvas,
	every hew reveal a different plane of thought
	and every thought reverberate off 
	of the cacophony
	of meanings?

One note words.
Plain talk.
Easy to say, “speak plain.”
Easy to think
	I can’t know you, can’t see you, can’t be you
	unless you use simple words,
	my words, by-words of familiarity.

My words are long and drip with weight,
	meaning soaked-in from freight of years
	and heavy use,
	like sponges worn with care.

What I want to say won’t fit 
in one note words. 
Posted by: dacalu | 13 March 2017

The Breath of God

Yesterday, it was my pleasure to worship with the people of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Seattle for the second Sunday in Lent.

Readings

Genesis 12:1-4a (God calls Abram)

Psalm 121 (I lift up my eyes to the hills”)

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 (“Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”)

John 3:1-17 (Jesus and Nicodemus, “You must be born from above.”)

 

Sermon

I do not work for my own salvation.
I work for yours,
	as I hope you will work for mine.
As we enter the second week of Lent,
	we get two obscure passages of scripture,
	both frequently cited,
	both difficult to understand:
	Paul talking about Abraham
	and Jesus talking to Nicodemus.
Both passages ask us to shift our perspective,
	indeed to shift our priorities;
to stop thinking about helping ourselves
	and start thinking about God helping others.
Let me say that again:
to stop thinking about helping ourselves
	and start thinking about God helping others.
It can be easy to stop halfway there.
	It can be easy to focus on God helping me,
	or even me helping someone else,
	but the truth is more wondrous than that.
William Temple, 
Archbishop of Canterbury during the second world war, 
put it this way:
“Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself 
than of other people, 
nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. 
It means freedom from thinking about yourself at all.”

And yet, when I say this, I recognize that I am involved in the process.
It is not enough to sit still and let God do everything,
	for sitting still is also an action I might chose.
The choice to do nothing means I have focused on myself,
	said, “I will do nothing so that God may do something.”
Perhaps there is a time for that,
	but more often, we must attend to God and neighbor,
	forgetting about ourselves
	so that, through us, and with us, and in us,
	God may continue to work
	as God has worked from the beginning.

This is the challenge,
	to let God be God in me.
Or, if you prefer more traditional language,
	to be born of the Spirit,
	to rest on grace and be reckoned righteous.

When God first came to Abram,
	the Lord promises to bless him
	so that he will be a blessing to others.
We see this as the greatest gift,
	the ability to be a gift to others –
		to have such an abundance of faith, hope, and love
		that they overflow onto others.
	Nor can we have faith, hope, and love 
in any other way.
By their nature, these gifts are shared.
	We must have faith IN, hope FOR, love OF
		something beyond ourselves.
	I might add joy,
		for we take joy in the world as well.
	It is more than simple happiness or pleasure,
		but delight in our role in the world.
	It is a recognition that we are a blessing.
And so Abram becomes Abraham.
	One letter, but one very significant letter.
	Abram becomes Abraham so that his very name
		reflects the presence of God in his life,
		in his identity.
In the same way, Samu-EL, Micha-EL, and Rafa-EL
	contain “El,” the Hebrew word for God.
It seems no accident to me that God uses the letter ‘He.’
	Like our ‘H’, it is a breath or aspiration.
Abram becomes Abraham because the breath of God
	has become part of his identity.
Sarai becomes Sarah.
God breaths on them, and in them, and through them,
	making them Godly,
	making them a blessing to others.

Which brings us to Romans,
	one of my favorite letters, but
	arguably the most abused book of the Bible.
I strongly encourage you to read it beginning to end,
	and form your own opinion.
For my part, the theme is this:
	“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” [Rom 3:23]
	You, me, and everyone else.
	We cannot recover through our own works,
		through the merits of our flesh – that is our individuality –
		or through the law – that is our ability to follow rules.
	We can only recover by the power of the Spirit,
the same Breath, breathing in us that breathed in Christ Jesus.
	“You must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God
		in Christ Jesus.” [Rom 6:11]
“Each of us must please our neighbor 
for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. 
For Christ did not please himself.” [Rom 15:2-3a]
It is important to read from beginning to end 
to see the arc of the argument.
	We are each sinful; we recover together.
In this context, the passage about Abraham begins to make sense.
He did not earn the title Father of Nations.
	He did not become the touchstone of three faiths,
	one half the people on the planet Earth,
	because he was a really good guy.
Remember Genesis: Abraham was a bit of a schmuck
	to his wife, Sarah,
	to his consort, Hagar,
	to his son, Isaac.
We remember many disturbing stories of Abraham.
And, though he did many important things,
	many righteous things,
it was not his good conduct or good intentions or luck
	that made him great.
It was the Spirit of God, moving in him.
	It was the ‘He’ that changed him from Abram to Abraham –
	It was the ‘He’ that changed Sarai to Sarah –
	that brought about Israel, Islam, and Christianity.
His greatness did not come from any belief that he possessed,
	any motion of his hand,
	any word on his lips, or
	any thought in his mind.
This is the mistake so many make,
	to make of faith an action of the mind: assent, will, choice.
Those are important to be sure,
	but they are not grace.
Grace comes by the will of God alone, acting in us,
	stirring up the dust, and making us live.
Grace is the overflowing of faith, hope, love, and joy,
	through Christ into us,
	and through us into one another,
	and through us all into the world.
Grace is the gift of the Spirit, 
which is, after all,
nothing more than the Greek word for breath. 
[Gk: pneuma; Latin: spiritus; English: breath]
God’s breath works through us,
	that same breath that was in Christ Jesus.

My greatest hope comes from the chance
	that I might be, in some way, like Abraham,
	God’s gift to the nations.
I do not work for my own salvation.
I work for yours,
	as I hope you will work for mine.

There is, of course, nothing I can do,
	in and of myself, to bring this about.
It is all God working in me.
And yet I hope…
I hope that some small action of mine might contribute.
I hope that some small will of mine might be the will of God.
I hope that I might be for someone,
	in some small way,
	what Christ has been for me,
	and what so many others have been for me:
	the very image and likeness of God.
I do this without believing in my own power.
	The only power I have is God working within me.
I do this without concern for personal gain,
	but only for that which benefits us all,
	the re-creation of the world,
	the coming Kingdom.

It is a strange business,
	this hope that places no confidence in self,
	that has no focus on self,
	but only the life of the world.
It is a strange business, seeming foolishness,
	and yet it works.
	It brings about miracles.
It is not about trying, though it is good that we try.
It is about prayer,
	letting God be God,
	and giving thanks every moment of every day,
	that we participate.
It is about the harvest,
	watching faith rewarded with spiritual growth,
	watching hope rewarded with endurance and maturation,
	watching love rewarded with deeper love,
	and watching joy abound.
It is about the choice to turn to God,
	not just with our whole lives, but with each moment.


This is what Jesus tells Nicodemus.
It is good to follow the rules of your religion.
It is good to be a good person in the world.
But it is better to put your trust in God.
	God is not an idea or an identity.
	God is not an action.
	God is God,
		and we see God in the Spirit that flows out from us into the world.
We alone are nothing,
	we together, in that Spirit, are everything.
“The wind blows where it chooses, 
and you hear the sound of it, 
but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. 
So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Our hope cannot be planned.

“For in hope we were saved. 
Now hope that is seen is not hope. 
For who hopes for what is seen? 
But if we hope for what we do not see, 
we wait for it with patience.” [Rom 8:24-25]
We wait, and we act in love, and we pray
	that when the wind blows,
	it will blow through us.


Can I be still enough, that I will not get in the way?
Can I be light enough on my feet,
	that when the wind blows,
	I will flow with it?
Perhaps.
I have hope in Christ,
	and in a multitude of saints,
	through whom that same wind has blown.
It is as close as my breath,
	despite blowing over many nations.

So, I will not ask you to start having faith.
I will ask you, this Lent, to consider what within you,
	gets in the way of the faith that already stirs you to action.
I will not ask you to start having hope,
	but to loosen your grip on that which
	holds hope down.
I will not ask you to love,
	but to see the love within you,
	and flow with it – to the benefit of the world.

Wherever you can,
	stop thinking about you,
	and start thinking about the light, life, and joy
	that makes you more than dust.
Posted by: dacalu | 21 February 2017

When to Say Sorry

I love English. We have a variety of useful words for every occasion. We can speak clearly and briefly without losing detail. Alas, not everyone uses the language as carefully as we might wish. Today, I want to talk about an overused word: “sorry.”

True sorrow and repentance are powerful emotions, but we weaken their power when we confuse them with automatic politeness. I want to speak for the word “sorry” and the tremendous power it can have when used properly.  Here are Lucas’ rules for when to say “sorry.”

A. Say, “I’m sorry” to express sorrow over events when you have no control over them.

“I was so sorry to hear about the earthquake. It must have been terrifying.”

The word sorrow conveys great and distressing sadness. Sadly, we rarely use it when speaking of ourselves, but we retain this word, “sorry” when speaking of sadness at the misfortune of a neighbor. Honesty requires that we reserve this use for times when

  • Someone else has suffered
  • We enter into their sorrow with them
  • We had no control over the events in question.

I’m sorry can mean, “I feel your sorrow with you.” Importantly, we must be careful not to minimize: “I’m sorry about X; at least Y.” Nor to blame: “I’m sorry you chose to X.” Nor to compare: “I’m sorry about X; something Xish happened to me…”  I don’t doubt that there are times to minimize, blame, and compare. I simply feel that those actions do not warrant the use of the word, “sorry.”

Sorrow, as an emotion, blocks out everything else excepting faith, hope, and love. Thus, it is often useful to say, “I’m so sorry and am here with you” (faith), “I’m so sorry; we’ll make it through, somehow” (hope), and “I love you and am so sorry this happened to you” (love). Take careful note that the hope version must be a common, non-specific hope. Otherwise it swiftly turns into judgment and problem-solving. All other additives are simply incompatible with actual sorrow.

B. Say, “I’m sorry” to express regret over something you did when you have rethought the action, would now choose differently, and are willing to make amends.

“I’m sorry I didn’t call you. I know how worried you were. Let me give you my cell number, so you can reach me if you don’t hear.”

We can be genuinely sorrowful about our own past actions, but in this case, sorrow must come with true repentance. I’m sorry I did it. I take responsibility for doing it and for dealing with the consequences.

We cannot feel real sorrow over actions that we would not change. We may feel sorrow over the situation we were in, but that is another sort of emotion – as much about feeling sorry for ourselves as for the other person. “I’m sorry” is not helpful in this situation, as it is, in effect, adding salt to a wound – complaining about how unfortunate we are to have had to hurt them.

No doubt the situation will occur. No one with power and responsibility can avoid making decisions that others find distressing. I accept that. I ask only that you not compound the slight by complaining about it.

True repentance is powerful. You have thought about your actions and so become a different person. You have paid attention and learned something from the consequences. Above all, repentance shows you care about your relationship with someone else. “I’m sorry,” can be the greatest gift you can give to someone you have wronged – but it must be sincere.

In rare cases, we revert to sorrow A. If I were a banker who had exhausted all avenues at my disposal, I might say “I’m sorry we cannot give you a loan.” That is “I’m sorry that the policies are set up in such a way that we cannot give you a loan. I think you should get one, but I cannot figure out how to…and I tried…repeatedly. I’ll be thinking about how to change the policies.” Just know that it is case A and involves events beyond your control.

Don’t be a “sorry, but.” There is never – ever – in any situation – a reason to use these two words together. “But” implies a reservation. You can either be unreservedly sorry (A) and it is out of your hands or unreservedly sorry (B) and attempting to fix the problem. Other emotions are not sorrow. “Sorry, but” most often hides an excuse for why one is not actually repentant or sorrowful. Please, don’t do

“I’m sorry if,” is also problematic. You might have done something bad but haven’t bothered to find out. Take the time and turn it into a “I’m sorry that.” Otherwise, it’s not the right time for the word.

C. Say, “Sorry” when genuinely feeling bad about very small social interactions.

I have enough British friends to add a third category. The phrase “excuse me” is considered terribly rude in some parts of the world, and the phrase “sorry” (no I’m) takes its place. British folk, in my experience, use sorry as a place holder for,

“Alas, we have an unscheduled social interaction. It requires me to enter your personal space. Compelled by circumstance, I may have to touch you or move your belongings. It grieves me greatly, but I will not intrude upon your person more than necessary with explanations. Let us contrive to ignore one another as much as possible, while muddling through.”

While not actual sorrow, it is useful.

It is useful because it is brief. Added words destroy that usefulness. Thus, it will not work if you anticipate actual conversation.

 
I will not apologize for potentially offending you. I will, however, ask you to share a better view of the word and its uses. I look forward to being sorry (B); it gives me a chance to improve myself and welcome help with that.

Thank you for listening.

Older Posts »

Categories