Posted by: dacalu | 15 May 2018

Making Sacred

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

 

Prayer for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

 

Readings

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 (Choosing Matthias to replace Judas among the Apostles)

Psalm 1 (“Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked”)

1 John 5:9-13 (“God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”)

John 17:6-19 (“As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them”)

 

Sermon

God is great.
No really.
God is tremendously, unspeakably, beyond words great.
If you like technical, theological words, you can say God is ineffable and transcendent,
	but those are just fancy ways of saying
	you don’t have the words to say something meaningful.
God is all that, and more.

This means, 
	and I say this with all seriousness,
	that all evangelism is, at its core,
	God for Dummies.
Theologians call it apophatic, the via negativa, and the great cloud of unknowing.
In other words, we have some ability to say what God is not, 
	but very little ability to say with any confidence
	what God is.
We say that God is all-good because we cannot conceive of God doing
	those things we judge bad.
We say that God is all-powerful because we cannot imagine anything else
	having power over God.
We don’t actually have a very good grip on all-powerful.
	Most people, I think, get some picture of the incredible Hulk in their minds.
	They take a person with muscles and add more muscles
		until no more will fit.
	And the result is monstrous, because muscles don’t work that way.
	God is really something different.
		God is not a human with more muscles, more human-like power.
	God has God-like power 
and God’s muscles would make no more sense on a human,
than human muscles would make sense on an ant,
or an ant’s muscles would make sense on a bacterium.
	There is a profound problem of scale.
	And we have neither the right kind of muscles nor the right kind of brains
		to wrap our head around the problem.
 
God’s goodness is even more strange.
	If you are anything like me, 
you are utterly baffled by the injustice and suffering of the world.
	They don’t make sense.
	And nailing someone to a tree in an attempt to fix that,
		strikes me as worse than foolishness.
	It’s nonsense.
So, we must not pretend that saying God is all-good or all-powerful,
	represents some amazing insight on our part.
It is, rather, a very humble claim,
	that things don’t really make sense once we start speaking of God
	as bad or subordinate to something else,
	so, we’re going to be getting on with things,
		while we figure that one out.

God is all that, and more.

This is why Jesus is so miraculous.
We think that this man, Jesus,
	who fit neatly into a human package,
	no Hulk-like muscles, no extra arms or legs,
	was God incarnate.
Phenomenal, cosmic power small enough for us to interact with:
	small enough for us to love and listen to,
	small enough for us to follow and understand,
	small enough for us to have power over.
This is at the core of the Christian message.

God is all that, and more
	AND God is fully present in this man Jesus.
	“For in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”
Jesus was “God for Dummies”
	or, if you prefer, “Divinity for Sheep.”

Faith and theology are,
	like many things on the do-it-yourself shelf,
	very important, nearly impossible to understand, 
and something you can start working on today.
Sound good?
 
It gets daunting.
We think it’s terribly dangerous and difficult and maybe we should call in an expert,
	if we can find the right one.
Or we think it’s easy and anyone can do it
	and promptly glue our hands together,
	while falling off the roof.

Christians have to negotiate the hard middle ground:
very important,
nearly impossible to understand, 
and something you can start working on today.
After all, you have to start somewhere.

Let me suggest that most of the church is set up in such a way as to get you there
	in seven easy steps.
It is not, alas, seven steps to perfect understanding and perfect life,
	but seven steps to navigating the unfathomable
	goodness and power of God,
	in the midst of a confusing but fascinating life.

Or, I might put it another way.
I like to say that God is everywhere, so everything is holy.
We’re very bad at seeing God, so we need help.
We set some things aside, so that we can focus on seeing God in them.
	We call these things sacred.
Everything is holy. Only some things are sacred.
And yet, we have sacred things
	so that we can learn that all things are holy.
 
All food is holy, because God feeds us through plants and animals,
	and, usually, human work has gone into 
making the food attractive, edible, and nutritious.
The bread and wine of Eucharist are sacred,
	because God is more visible there,
	and because we set them aside to reflect on them.
The accessible God, Jesus, said, “do this.” 
	And we do.
The trick is, he never said, “do only this.”
	Instead he said, “do this in remembrance of me.”
The bread and the wine are a gateway into holiness.
	They are not an escape from the world,
	but a key into the world as it truly is,
	full of God.
The Eucharist reminds us and empowers us to feed the world
	throughout the week.
It connects us to God concretely, 
so that we too can know that we are good and powerful.
It connects us to the physical created world,
	and to our neighbors, with whom we break bread.

God is holy. The world is holy.
The church sanctifies. The church, when we do our job, makes the holiness visible.

God is all that and more.
We don’t have to hunt down the elusive holiness,
	store it safely behind closed doors,
	and protect it with ritual.
We don’t dole it out carefully, lest the power and goodness of God
	go astray or run out.
What a silly idea.

Instead, we have to work
	to convince ourselves and one another
	that God is there, all the times,
	in all places and in all people.
 
Jesus was misunderstood
	because he never competed with the world.
He never forced others to be wrong, so he could be right.
He never overpowered them,
	even when they overpowered him.
He saw the light of life in all people and
	by his actions
	helped us to see it, too.

God put Jesus into the world so that we might see the God who was already there,
	but too big, too blinding, too permanent for us to notice.
Jesus, in turn, sent the apostles into the world to see the truth
	which was present from the beginning of the world,
	the logos, the way, the truth, and the life.
And the apostles are the church.
Each of us is sent our own way, to our own part of the world
	to make visible what was invisible,
	to lift up what has become obscure,
	to make sacred what has become profane.
Where-ever we go, God was there first,
	if only we have the faith, hope, and love to see.


At first, the task will seem overwhelming.
The world is so big.
How can we make sense of it?

One piece at a time.
Start with a week.
	The week is divided into 7 parts, 
with Saturday set aside for rest
and Sunday set aside for praise.
	Whenever time seems overwhelming,
		when work gets the better of you,
		when you cannot figure out how to get it all in,
		remember this.
	The week is divided into 7 parts, 
with Saturday set aside for rest
and Sunday set aside for praise.
	God is never more than 5 days away.
 
If a week is too much, 
	Start with a day.
	Pick up the BCP and say morning and evening prayer,
	Or daily devotions.
	God is never more than 6 hours away.
If you want shorter increments, I’m happy to talk with you
	about breathing prayers and invocations.

Is a week too little?
	Does it not seem big enough to ward off the school year,
	or the tax year, or a really big birthday?
No problem. The church calendar is here for you.
	Roughly one seventh of the year is set apart,
		for self-reflection, discipline, and rest.
	We call it Lent.
	Another seventh is set aside for praise: Easter.
	Fifty days out of every 365, we celebrate the Resurrection.
As we come to Pentecost, next week, 
we reach the end of the Season of Easter,
	the end of our 50 days.
Next comes the long slog of Ordinary Time, 
the work-week of the church year.
Like the work week, it is our opportunity to take the light and life
	found here in the sanctuary,
	out into the wider world.
We share the wisdom of Saturday and the joy of Sunday
	in the work of Monday through Friday.

Is a year too little?
	Take a sabbatical – a seventh year reflection.
	Even if you don’t have time off work, 
		you can take it as a chance to spend a year reading the Bible,
		talking to Jesus, or praising God.
	Perhaps you’ve heard of the Jubilee year,
		the seven of sevens, 
when the Bible tells us to forgive all debts
and start anew.
 
Pick any time frame you want,
	from milliseconds to millennia.
	The church can put it in context.
	Christ can put it in context.
Do we have to use these customs?
	No.
	But we should never be overwhelmed by time or space.
	“The Earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it.”

Time is holy.
We must learn to make it sacred.
And we have the opportunity to share our vision
	of holiness with the whole world.
That is our calling,
	and that is our joy.

 

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