Posted by: dacalu | 3 June 2018

Stepping Back

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 for the Day

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth: Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Readings

1 Samuel 3:1-20 (“Here I am”)

Psalm 139 (“Lord, you have searched me out and known me”)

2 Corinthians 4:5-12 (“We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ”)

Mark 2:23-3:6 (““The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath”)

 

Sermon


Welcome to the Season after Pentecost.
If the fifty days of Easter form a great Sunday every year,
	then we are now in the great Monday.
So, what do we do after we worship.

I’ve been talking a great deal about passion and love and about openness.
We must love God with all our hearts,
	and be drunk with love,
	and get carried away.
It sounds pretty good, right?
	A little scary, but doable.
It can be easy to get caught in the first stage of the love affair,
	but I told you there would be more to it.
We have been asked to love God
	with all our heart, and with all our mind, 
and with all our soul, and with all our strength.
On Monday, and throughout the week,
	we do the work of living into that.
We put our heart and head and hands
	to the task of love.
And it is a task, a joyful task, but work all the same.

Standing before God, we can be our fullest selves.
With one another,
	sometimes we need to be more careful.
Our job during the week
	often means stepping back so that someone else can step forward.
When we want others to shine,
	sometimes we need to get out of the way.
When we want God to talk,
	sometimes we need to be quiet and listen.

Some of you may be familiar with active listening,
	the ability to be quiet that empowers others to speak.
That’s what I’m taking about.
 
Today’s sermon is about stepping back.
This is not a retreat.
	It is not ground given grudgingly, ground lost, or appeasement.
	Rather, it is space that we voluntarily give up to let someone else grow.
We have quite a few parents here.
	Can you think of a time when you allowed your children
		to make a choice, even a wrong choice,
		so that they would know how choosing works?
Teachers have to do it as well.
	Do you remember a time when a teacher or a mentor
		Stepped back and said,
	here, it’s your turn.
Stepping back means giving someone space to be their fullest self
	before God and neighbor.

We have many names for this in Christianity:
	self-denial, selflessness, humility.
In God, theologians call it kenosis,
	the emptying of self.
It does not make God, or us, smaller;
	it just means scooting to the side a little.
	Sometimes we can be most expressive,
		most expansive,
		most truly ourselves
		by stepping back.
We express ourselves by the spaces we create.
Think of a mother opening her hands for a hug,
	or a friend providing a shoulder to lean on.
Think of cupping your hands for communion.
Getting out of the way can be the most profound 
	way of sharing our hearts and minds.
 
I want to give you examples,
	but I must be clear they are examples.
There is a time for exhortation – changing people’s minds –
	and a time for demonstration.
That’s the difference between witness and judgment.
	A witness speaks about herself.
	A judge speaks about someone else.
	A witness expands himself.
	A judge hems someone else in.
There is a time for both, but I think we must witness first.
On Friday and Saturday, we can have judgment and justice,
	but first we must listen and share.
	First, we must step back.
No one can tell you how to step back,
	they can only demonstrate.

I am a vegetarian.
	I think there are many reasons not to eat meat,
	but one of the biggest involve stepping back.
I take up less space in the food chain.
	I only eat one tenth as much soy,
	as it would take to feed a cow or pig for my supper.
That’s a terrible over-simplification.
	The ratio ranges from one sixth to one eightieth depending on the animal, 
	but you get the idea.
I don’t think eating meat is inherently wrong.
	Jesus ate fish.
I think we have a good agricultural system that can feed everyone.
And yet, choose to take less, so that others have more flexibility,
	and so that we, as a community, have the option to consume less,
	pollute less, and eat more wisely.
A popular bumper sticker says
	“live simply so that others might simply live.”

This is really important.
	I don’t do these things because they are moral imperatives.
	I do them because they create space for others.
	They recognize God’s desire for the world to flourish,
		not just me.
The world is radically interconnected,
	and, to some extent, I am my brother’s keeper.
I am not responsible for the choices he makes, 
	but I am responsible for seeing that he has choices,
	and that some of them are good.
I make things harder on myself so that they will be easier for others.

Mature love requires this stepping back,
	so that others can step forward.

I fear we have fallen into a trap in the United States.
	We are desperate for consensus about justice.
	We want to force others into our kind of justice,
		our kind of community.
	We want them to express themselves the way we express ourselves.
	But community doesn’t work that way.
A community can be more than the sum of its parts,
	because each of us shines differently.
We belong together because we do different things differently.
	We even show God’s grace differently.

And so, on Monday, we must step back
	and listen to one another,
	empty ourselves for one another,
	so that by Sunday we can be a community.
Even our concepts of justice and community.
	Perhaps especially our concepts of justice and community,
	may need to be relaxed 
so that others can bring their own concepts to the table.

Sometimes we even need to give up our own sensibilities and let God be God.
Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; 
let it be with me according to your word.’ (Luke 1:38)
On the Mount of Olives, Jesus asked God to take away the crucifixion, then said
	“Not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
These were not easy acts.
	They required immense faith and trust.
	But they created something.
	They created a space for God’s will.
	They also created space for the will of fallible humans.
		In the short term, Jesus’ trust was not rewarded.
		In the long term it changed the world.
 
This is why we preach Christ, and him crucified.
Or, in the words of today’s epistle:
“But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear 
that this extraordinary power belongs to God 
and does not come from us.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; 
perplexed, but not driven to despair; 
persecuted, but not forsaken; 
struck down, but not destroyed; 
always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, 
so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.
For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, 
so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 
So death is at work in us, but life in you.”

Christians step back to demonstrate that love that was Jesus’
	in giving his whole self to us and for us,
	so that we might live more fully.
We have the Bible and theology and community norms.
	We must have these things.
	But we must also remember that they were made for us,
		and not we for them.
This is what it takes to love neighbor more than law,
	and God more than self.
In hope,
	and trusting in God’s grace
	we step back as individuals,
	so that we might step forward as a community.
Sunday will come again,
	but first there is this Monday, and this week,
	of looking for ways that we might create space for someone else,
	and encourage them to shine forth.

 

 

 

Advertisements
Posted by: dacalu | 27 May 2018

Trinity, Baptism, and Participating in Love

Today, I had the pleasure of worshiping with the people of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Seattle on the occasion of Trinity Sunday and a baptism.  Here is the sermon I shared.

 

Prayer for Trinity Sunday

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Readings

Isaiah 6:1-8 (“Here am I am; send me.”)

Psalm 29 (“Ascribe due honor to God’s holy Name“)

Romans 8:12-17 (We are children of God and, if children, then heirs also.)

John 3:1-17 (Nicodemus visits Jesus. “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.”)

 

Sermon

 

A cautious man would use baptism as an excuse 
to avoid preaching on the Trinity.
The Trinity is one of the most contentious, 
confusing, and dubiously Biblical
of the core doctrines of the church.
I am not a cautious man.

We’re not sure exactly what the Trinity means,
	But we are committed.
We set aside one Sunday a year to talk about it.
It appears in the Creeds and the Catechism.
It forms the very heart of our baptismal rite.
The Book of Common Prayer and many theological councils
	have affirmed that the most essential parts of the service
	are the believer, water, and these words.
“I baptize you in the name of the Father,
	and of the Son,
	and of the Holy Spirit.”
This follows from the Great Commission,
	a passage from Matthew 28, where Jesus tells the disciples
	to go forth and baptize in the name of the Trinity.
And most of the mainline churches have agreed to mutually recognize
	all baptisms done in this way.
The Trinity makes a difference
	in how we think of ourselves
	and the unity of the church.

I am not a cautious man, but I am a scientist,
	so, I’d like to start with an experiment.
I want to take a poll and ask you about your prayer life.
	Raise your hand if, when you pray, you chiefly pray
		to God the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
	Now raise your hand if, when you pray, you chiefly pray
		to God the Son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
	And now raise your hand if you chiefly pray
		to God the Holy Spirit.
In my travels, I have found 
rather sizeable portions of the community
that pray to each of the three,
with God and Jesus coming in first and the Spirit a close third.
 
Now and, I suspect, in the days of the early church,
	people pray to all three, and have relationships with all three.
	As a community we worship all three.
	And yet we say that we worship one God.
	They are the same.
So, at a very practical level, the Trinity reminds us
	that God is bigger than our personal knowledge,
	or our personal experience.
	We need the wisdom of others
		to fill out our picture.
As I said a couple weeks ago:
	God is all that, and more.
We, in the church are constantly discovering that God
	is greater than we can comprehend,
	and that God’s power, working in us
	can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

God is everywhere,
	everything is holy,
	but we have trouble seeing it.
And so, the church is in the business of sanctifying the world,
	making holiness more visible.
I joked that the theology is something like a do-it-yourself book
	good for helping us deal with life and meaning,
	very important, 
nearly impossible to understand, 
and something you can start working on today.
And I said that the church would always provide seven easy steps.
	The church calendar has seven days in the week
		and seven seasons, even seven-year cycles.
	All time is holy,
		but we forget,
		so, we set aside the seventh day,
		and the seventh season,
		and the seventh year,
		to remember.

We also sanctify the world through seven sacraments,
	or, for those more Protestant in their theology,
	the two great sacraments – Baptism and Eucharist –
	and five other rites, commonly known as sacraments –
	Confirmation, Ordination, Matrimony, Reconciliation, and Annointing.
I told you, it’s always seven easy steps.
And Baptism is the first.

 
I should, then, explain Baptism.
I fear it is as great a conundrum as the Trinity.
It means more than we know.
	It is a mystery too deep for words.
Augustine described all sacraments
	as an outward and visible sign
	of an inward and spiritual grace.
Speaking of the holy and the sacred,
	I would also call it a concrete, visible sign
	of an ubiquitous invisible grace.
God loves us all,
	truly, madly, and deeply.
	God loves the baptized and the unbaptized,
		the Christian and the non-Christian,
		the good, the bad, and the indifferent.
	Baptism does not make us more beloved.
And yet, we do not know that we are beloved.
	We have trouble recognizing God’s love and acting on it.
	We have this ritual as a concrete sign
		that these specific people 
		are beloved,
		not only by God, but by the whole church.
	They remind us that we are beloved,
		indeed all people are beloved.

Is baptism, then, only a symbol?
	Is it just a psychological reminder 
of something that already happened?
No.
You may as well ask whether there is any significance 
to the words “I love you.”
Every time you say it – and mean it – something happens.
It is not just a reminder; it is an act of love.
Communication participates in the love that brings it about.
Baptism participates in the grace it celebrates.
	It is God’s love made visible in the world.

This is why I will always be a supporter of infant baptism.
If you wait to understand God,
	if you wait to understand the importance of grace,
	the importance of the gift,
	the meaning of it all,
	you will wait too long.
None of us fully understands God’s love for us.
 
God does not wait for our understanding.
God does not wait for us to be worthy.
God loved us first,
	truly, madly, and deeply.
And we must not risk any confusion,
	as a church:
	God’s love is unconditional,
	freely given,
	for all.
If you have been baptized,
the church has taken the time to say,
“This applies to you, specifically.”
I would be happy for everyone to have that in their past.

We must not baptize those who will see it as an imposition.
Communication is always a two-way street.
But, if their parents can tell them,
	“God loves you, specifically.
	The church accepts you, specifically.”
Then I think it is a good thing.

But perhaps you are asking what is Baptism, actually?
	What kind of gift is it?
The Bible gives us two images: forgiveness and adoption.
Forgiveness, first.
	Last week, I mentioned passionate love,
		and the difficulty we have letting our guard down,
		being truly open,
		being fully ourselves,
		and letting God be fully God in us.
	We need to be shown love, before we can love.
	We need to be shown faith and hope before we can believe.
	We need to be shown passion before we can be truly passionate.
Jesus Christ accomplished this.
	In the language of Romans,
		“while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
	Or first John,
		“We love because he loved us first.”
As my friend John Powless put it,
	“God loves you,
		no matter what,
		even if,
		and anyway.”
 
I don’t know what holds you back.
I cannot name your sin for you,
	your stumbling block or trespass,
your debt or obsession or failing,
falling short of the mark.
Only you know what holds you back from
	accepting God’s love
	and loving your neighbors
	truly, madly, and deeply.
I can only speak to what I know, 
and testify to what I have seen.
That I feel a need for forgiveness.
That nearly everyone I have ever met,
	seems to lacking something.
And that baptism and forgiveness help.
They help us understand that we are forgiven. 


And adoption.
That is the greater mystery.
Forgiveness is letting go of something bad,
	something were holding on to.
Adoption means getting something new,
	something better than you asked for
	or understood.
Adoption means becoming part of God’s family.

‘Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 
“Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” 
And I said, “Here am I; send me!”’
Being adopted means we have a place,
	a purpose,
	a plan for our lives.
We belong somewhere.
That may sound like an imposition,
	but it brings happiness like nothing else,
	to have a context.

Jesus said, “What is born of the flesh is flesh, 
and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
He did not mean that any of us are not flesh.
	He was embodied.
	He did not mean that any of us are not Spirit.
	We all move by the will of God.
	But, there is a difference.
 
If we focus on our physical selves, our physical context,
	we will die with our bodies.
	We will decay.
If we focus on our spiritual selves, our spiritual context,
	if we accept adoption,
	see that we are already loved,
	and respond with love,
	We are eternal.
It is not just a psychological reminder 
of something that has already happened.
It is participation.
	True life can be found in community,
		with God and neighbor.
	True life is lived in loving.

The Trinity reminds us that a Christian alone is no Christian.
Even God alone is no true God,
	for God is love.
God is all that, and more.
God is everywhere and we are blind to it.
But God has given us one another.
	God has given us forgiveness and adoption.
	God has given us sacraments and community.
	So that we might catch the barest glimpse
		of overwhelming glory.

 

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.

 

Posted by: dacalu | 8 May 2018

Grace Moves

This Sunday, I had the pleasure of worshiping with the people of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Everett. Here is the sermon I shared. You can see it on YouTube, as well.

Prayer for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

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 10:44-48 (“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”) 

Psalm 98 (“Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.”)

1 John 5:1-6 (“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God”)

John 15:9-17 (“abide in my love”,  “love one another as I have loved you”)

Sermon

I have been thinking about a particular tension in Christianity this week,
	a tension made particularly visible by today’s readings.
God made all things and is present in all things, 
	but God is also specially present in the church.
The whole creation can be called children of God, 
and yet we can speak more specifically 
of Israel or Christians as the children of God, 
and more specifically still of Jesus 
as the only begotten child of God.
We speak of baptism as adoption into God’s household.
So, I must ask: were we God’s children already, or not?
Similarly, we speak of Jesus as saving the whole world, 
but also saving the faithful;
as redeeming the cosmos, 
but more specifically redeeming those who set their faith in him.
Are all saved or only some?
And, in my own work, studying the meanings of life, breath, spirit, and soul, 
I can say that God’s breath moved over the waters, 
enlivening the world, 
but more specifically stirred up the dust 
in God’s creation of animals, 
and more specifically still, turned the mud into humanity.
I can also say that in baptism, we are filled with the Holy Spirit
	and become part of the body of Christ.
Does the Holy Spirit move everywhere or only in the faithful?

Which is it?
Is God everywhere or is God here?
 
We need to be careful.
If we say that God is everywhere,
	We can discourage people from faith and the church.
		Why do we need a special way of being and believing?
We can also send the message that God supports suffering and evil.
And yet, if we say that God is only here, in this church,
	Then we might close our eyes to what God is doing
		in the wider world.
	We must never fall into the trap of thinking we own the Good News,
		or that nothing new will be revealed.

I want to say that baptism is right and good and joyful,
	without claiming God only works through baptism.
I want to say that the Episcopal Church has somehow gotten it right,
	without denying that God can be found elsewhere.

How do I find that balance?


I think the answer is in today’s Gospel.
Grace moves.

We think of grace and family, salvation and spirit as things:
	present or absent, true or false.
In reality, they are processes,
	actions in the world.
Grace flows from God into the world, through us.
	This makes us part of the process.
	We are adopted so that we may adopt others.
	We are saved so that we may save others.
	We are brought to life so that we may enliven others.
Grace flows from God, through Christ,
	and we, as the body of Christ, are part of that process.

‘Jesus said to his disciples, 
“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; 
abide in my love. …
I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, 
and that your joy may be complete.”
There is no such thing as static love,
	only love moving and being moved.
 
At the risk of sounding cliché,
	I will say that love is like a river,
	constantly flowing from God.
Being in love is like being in the river.
Baptism marks us as God’s own,
	as we wade into love.
But the outer sign of baptism
	can mislead us,
	because we dry off again afterward.
True baptism, inner baptism, stays with us forever.
It allows us to walk into the desert and bring the water with us.

And here I will turn very literal for a moment,
	because you and I are made of water.
	In every cell: water.
	Our blood: water.
	Our food and drink are full of water.
Literally, biologically, we are always in a state of flux.
	Air and water and food move in us and through us.
That’s what it means to be alive.

And so, figuratively again, I can say that we are made of love.

We say it every Sunday.
Some of us say every day.
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

It is true that one forgiveness leads to the other.
	If you forgive your neighbor, God will forgive you.
But it is also true that the two are intertwined.
	They are two aspects of the same act:
	God reconciling the world.
Forgiveness is love in action.


So, I can say that sacraments like baptism and reconciliation
are concrete and visible signs
	of a grace, which is everywhere, but not always seen.
Grace is everywhere, but Grace does more than sit there.
	Grace moves.
 
I have no desire to preserve the church as an object:	
	a bounded community, a set doctrine, or even a fixed set of actions.
I would die for the church as a process:
	a moving community with changing theology that responds to the world.

I am not yet ready to see God
	present in all things, 
	so I focus on God, breaking into all things through the church,
	and through concrete acts of love.
I am not yet ready to see all creation as children of God,
	so I focus on my role in adoption and reconciliation.
	Those are things that I do –
		things that we do –
		while we participate in the process.

Jesus said, “I have called you friends, 
because I have made known to you 
everything that I have heard from my Father.”
We have not been called to simple obedience.
	There are no boxes to check that will guarantee grace or salvation.
We have been given more – and less.
We have been given a mission – to bring joy, peace, and love to all creation – 
	and asked to lay down our lives
	for that same vision
	that Jesus died for – grace, relationship, oneness with God.

It’s a tough job.
	It requires more than simple obedience.
	It requires creativity and flexibility.
	It requires stepping into the river and getting carried away.

It is the kind of thing one does for a friend.
It is also exactly the sort of thing on which friendships are founded.
Have you ever noticed that asking for a favor – or doing a favor – 
	deepens a relationship?
Every time you’re there for one another
	you strengthen your bond
	and deepen your trust.
 
When’s the last time you truly risked something for a friend?
Or leaned on them for a genuine need?
Those are not easy things,
	but they may be the only ways to truly form a friendship.

When’s the last time you asked God for a favor?
When’s the last time you did something really dangerous or difficult for God?
It’s scary,
	but I think it may be necessary
	if we want to get caught up
	in the dynamic process
	of God’s purpose working itself out.
We may need to get carried away.


 

Posted by: dacalu | 11 April 2018

The Original Easter Egg

Last week I went to see Ready Player One. I delighted in the escapism and the eighties nostalgia.  Coming out when it did, it got me thinking about Easter eggs, both religious and virtual.

For those of you who are not gamers, an “Easter egg” is a secret feature of a video game. The first Easter egg appeared in the Atari 2600 game Adventure. Atari chose not to share information about designers, but Warren Robinett left a clue for truly adventurous players. If they found the hidden “gray dot” and carried to a specific location, they could enter a bonus room discover his name.

Easter eggs became a popular feature in video games, often revealing inside jokes, special clues, and even whole new levels. (I’m particularly fond of rat man’s hiding places in Portal.) In addition to the countless Easter eggs that practically define Ready Player One (movie and book), there is a special one that drives the plot.

 
 

Spoiler Alert – If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book…

 
 

Our hero, Parzival, receives a solitary quarter by winning a bet. Deep in virtual reality – in a game within a game – when all seems lost at the very end, Parzival redeems the coin. It is the ultimate Easter egg and it earns the name honestly; it brings Parzival back from the dead.

Christians will find a great deal to talk about in the movie, both good and bad. It involves community, real-life relationships, and genuine sacrifice for others. It also has inequality, power, and vain-glory. But I’ll leave all that aside for one central message.

Just as Ready Player One earns the title of true Easter egg, through a bonus life, so it can be a great metaphor for Christian resurrection. Too many of us, both Christians and non-Christians, complain that Jesus’ resurrection is inconsistent with the laws of physics. It breaks the rules.

I do not think this is true. Nor do I think most theologians do. No Christian denies the basic rules of the game. No one denies that humans die. We do not see them again in this lifetime. The Bible says it again and again. We are playing a game with very consistent rules.

Christians don’t claim the rules are different, only that they are incomplete. The designer has added Easter eggs: secret features, special clues, and hidden levels. And yes, there are even some wonderful inside jokes, when seen from the right perspective. The greatest Easter egg, the original Easter egg, appeared when Jesus of Nazareth died at the hands of humanity, a perfect witness to unfailing love in the face of hate. Death did not end him, his quest, or his significance. (“Death shall have no dominion.”) Jesus returned to the game of life. And in that moment, Christians say, the game suddenly took on a whole new meaning.

The rules still apply. We live and die.  And yet, by falling into that unfailing love – by acting in ways that seem pointless or even foolish – we level up. The game can be played differently. Christians believe in extra lives, not in place of the rules, but in addition to them.

Many will say that the game doesn’t work this way. These specific Easter eggs don’t exist.  I can respect that. What I cannot respect – what makes no sense – is the idea that a game cannot have Easter eggs…or that we are in a game so boring and predictable that we understand all the rules – flawlessly.

Relativity was an Easter egg. Quantum mechanics was an Easter egg. The history of science is nothing but a long series of inside jokes, secret rules, and hidden laws. We know that we do not know. And so, we go around bumping into walls and looking in dark places and trying new things, sometimes pointless and foolish. 99 times out of 100 it pays to follow the rules you know. Every once in a while, it pays to disbelieve, just for a moment.

The story of resurrection is not just about belief. Nor should it be believed without question. Jesus’ resurrection is also about disbelief, a willingness to accept that the rules we know are just a piece of a greater quest – a more satisfying, deeper, and more bizarre game than we knew.  Curiouser and curiouser.

The Christian story claims that this reality is nothing more than level 1. We learn the rules because they will be necessary for what is to come. But we must never lose hope that somewhere, somehow, through the pointless and foolish moments of playing the game, we will discover a secret room (or two…) and learn the name of our Creator.

Posted by: dacalu | 26 February 2018

Not Accounting but Encounter

This Sunday, I had the honor of worshiping with the people of St. Stephen’s, Laurelhurst. We celebrated the second Sunday in Lent.  Here is the sermon I shared.

 

Prayer for the Day

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Readings

Genesis 17:1-16 (God gives Abram and Sarai new names and promises they will be the ancestors of nations)

Psalm 22:22-30 (“My soul shall live for him; my descendants shall serve him;”)

Romans 4:13-25 (“Therefore his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness.”)

Mark 8:31-38 (“those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”)

 

Sermon

What do you value?
Our society teaches us to measure everything.
	We measure our power and influence with dollars and cents.
		I'm willing to bet most of you have at least a rough idea of
			how much money you make each month,
			and how much money you have in the bank.
		We're even willing to ask the question, "how much is she worth?"
			A quick search on the internet reveals that 
Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates are each
"worth" between 90 and 110 billion dollars
Mark Zuckerberg is "worth" about 70 billion
Oprah Winfrey is "worth" about 3 billion
and Queen Elizabeth II about half a billion.
			And, while we know that people have more value than
				their financial value, I doubt any of us would bat an eye,
				to hear people described this way.
			I am surprised just how many websites and articles
				I could find on the topic.
			People care about how much money other people have.	
	These days we also measure 
the number of "friends" we have on Facebook,
the number of followers on twitter.
	In academia, it's all about how often our articles are cited,
		the exclusivity of our journals and our universities.
	Even in the church, it comes down to ASA - that's average Sunday attendance -
		pledging units, and annual budget.
None of this is wrong.
	It's good to measure and know.
But…
But we can easily fall into the trap of thinking that the things we measure
	are the only important things.
They are not.
 
What do you value?
It's tough to even think of the right words.
I don't want to stop measuring.
I want to be sure that measuring doesn't get in the way of seeing and doing.
So, here are three suggestions.
1)	Measure different things
2)	Measure quality as well as quantity
3)	Live in hope

First: Measure different things.
	It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that things are worth what we pay for them,
		but we must not count money alone.
	
I have to go to Reno next month for a conference.
It would be false economy to drive instead of flying.
I would save a couple hundred dollars,
but I would spend 2 more days in travel.
	On the other hand, I'll be using jet fuel and creating a bigger carbon footprint.
	
In another example, many restaurants have chosen to use plastic utensils
		instead of washing metal utensils.
	How could it be cheaper to make plastic, inject it into molds, package it,
		ship it, use it once, and then throw it way,
		then to simply wash a fork?
	It has to do with economies of scale (and our cleanliness obsession).
	The point is that there is far more labor involved in plastic,
		but it still costs less, financially.

	It matters what you measure.

	Jesus asks us to think about how we spend our lives,
		our hours and days, but also our freedom and identity.
	What things should we measure?
		Not just dollars per hour.
Our time spent in prayer.
		Our time spent creating joy and enjoying creation.
The number of people we help each day.
		The number of people we like and love and support.
		The strength of our communities.
		The strength of our bond to God and one another.
 
	I could tell you about recent research on happiness.
Time spent with close friends
		is one of the best predictors of personal happiness.
That misses the point, however.
	Personal happiness may not be the most important thing to focus on.

In our drive to maximize personal happiness,
	we are starting to let other things slide,
	things like group identity, stability, and loyalty.
I fear that we are spending too much of our common identity
		to achieve individual goals,
		both in the country and the Episcopal church.
	There is value in sharing ideas about what is real and what is right.

	We must spend some time thinking about sustainable community,
		and what we are willing to sacrifice as individuals,
		in order to have a common life as a group.

	I do not pretend that this is an easy balance to find.
	Personal integrity and group loyalty will always be hard to negotiate.
	I only suggest that we keep both in mind as we make our choices.

	So, if we are to measure things,
		let me suggest hope, faith, and love,
		relationships that invite us into a deeper understanding
		of ourselves, our neighbors, and our world.

Second, measure quality as well as quantity.
	Is it better to have 50 friendly acquaintances or 5 close friends?
	Is it better tobe  accepted in a large group
		or beloved in a small one?
	I cannot answer those questions,
		but I think we should be careful how we ask them.

	In academia, it has become popular to measure
		how many students have memorized a list of facts,
		instead of asking how much those facts change their lives.
	I suppose the church works this way on occasion as well.
		It is not enough to teach the Lord's prayer 
and the ten commandments and the creed to our children,
if we do not also pass on love and service.
 
	It is harder to measure real discipleship,
		because all of us disciple differently,
		all of us have different relationships with God.
	Some are called to go, like Abraham and Moses.
	Others are called to stay, like Jesus and John.
	Some are called to speak, like Miriam and Magdalene.
	Others are called to silence, like Mary.
	
	And so, if we are to measure quality as well as quantity,
		let me suggest that we need to cultivate genuine judgement,
		listen with our hearts as well as our minds,
		praying, deliberating, and seeking wisdom.

Third, we must live in hope.
	So often, we start with a list of things we want 
and ask whether we have enough to buy them.
	It might be better to start with a list of things we have
		and ask what God can make of them.
	It's a different perspective.
	It emphasizes opportunity and possibility,
		in place of scarcity and limitation. 
	This is not a philosophy of abundance.
	Sometimes God gives us an abundance; sometimes not.
		Sometimes there really is too little of what we want.
		Sometimes there really is too little of what we need.
		I think it's important to recognize that.
	Then we can be honest with ourselves
		and think clearly about the real cost of our actions.
	A philosophy of hope accepts limitations,
		but focuses on the good that can be done,
		rather than the good that cannot.
	I truly believe that we always have good things we can do,
		righteous things, glorious things, helpful things.
	They are seldom the things we want to do, the things we set out to do.
	They are the good that can be done.
	Let us do it.
 
Abraham and Sarah were promised success, fame, and descendants,
	but I don't think they left Ur because they were opportunists.
Okay, I'll be honest.
	Given the rest of their story, I think they were opportunists.
Still, it was not reckoned righteousness because they were savvy bargainers, 
	good gamblers, or clever entrepreneurs.
It was reckoned righteousness because their relationship with God
	was more important than
	basic calculations about money and opportunity.

If we reduce our religion to law - as many Christians do -
	then we are no more than opportunists.
God sets forth rules and if we follow them to the letter, we get our prize.
I have called this the Vending Machine God
	and, with reference to Heaven and Hell,
	Carrot and Stick Christianity.
If our faith is no more than enlightened self-interest,
	we must admit that we are selfish, but not enlightened.
Worse yet, we must admit that God set up the system in such a way,
	that the church operates in such a way,
	that we raise our children in such a way,
	that they will, ultimately, take care of themselves.
There is no good news there,
	no faith, no hope, no love, and no true religion.
In fact, there is nothing that we could not get far better in a self-help book
	and some behavioral economics.
At best we make heaven a commodity,
	and the obvious choice for any selfish individual if she only has the wit to find it.
Christianity is not that.

Christianity is the opportunity to value something different than the world values,
	to choose quality over quantity,
	and to live in hope.
God offers us suffering and persecution
	because it is better to honestly listen and engage with those we hate -
	and who hate us -
	than it is to live alone.
It is better to spend our lives on love,
	than to bury them in selfishness.
It is better to serve all than to focus on self.
 
What do I value?
	I value people and relationships,
	because life - real life - is lived at the intersection of I and thou.
	Life alone, wealth alone, even knowledge alone
		is nothing but possibility
		until it becomes actuality in the life of others.

Don't worry; there is a place for hermits and introverts.
They can live at the intersection of self and God.
We believe that God, the light and life of the universe,
	is a person: the God of Israel, Jesus of Nazareth, and Holy Wisdom.
We can have a relationship with that God.

And we can have relationships with generation upon generation
	when we read and write and pray.
You don't need to be an extrovert and evangelist - 
	though I think the Episcopal church could use more of both.
You need to be a disciple of God and a true friend to all you meet.
And none of that makes sense unless you listen.

True love takes curiosity,
	endless joyous openness to the wondrous nature of creation
	and the people in it.
True love is not exhausted by being spread broadly,
	or being unreturned.
	It was never a one-way affair.
True love is participation.

And so, I do not give my life in the expectation that God will replace it 
with something better.
I give my life, because it is in giving that we receive.
They are one action. Openness to God. Openness to neighbor. Even openness to self.

I don't know how to say it better, 
for it is not the wisdom of the world,
and our language really is not built for it.

I can only say that it is not about accounting;
it is about encounter.

This lent, I hope you will take a close look at what you value.
What do you give your life to?
And what is your life that you would be willing to lose it
	in the greater life of Christ -
	in the hope and promise of resurrection?

 

Posted by: dacalu | 16 February 2018

Being Wrong and Being Right

This evening marked the start of something new, a tele-compline for the Society of Ordained Scientists. We live in distant places, so it’s good to check in every once in a while.  I shared this brief reflection.

What does being wrong feel like?
Journalist Kathryn Schulz asks this question in her 2010 book.
What does being wrong feel like?
	It turns out being wrong feels exactly like being right.
	The troubling thing is not being wrong but finding out we're wrong.
	That can be immensely difficult.
	We don't like discovering our errors,
		so we develop defense mechanisms to keep them hidden.
It's not all that surprising, once you think about it.
	We avoid painful things
		and finding out we're wrong is painful.
What we really want is defense mechanisms against being wrong.
	That takes community and methodology.
	It takes people we're willing to be vulnerable with,
		arguments we allow to change our minds,
		and openness to change.

Enter science.
	Science can provide exactly this kind of environment.
	One of the things I love most about science is its ability to self-correct.
Mind you, this is not the self-congratulatory, triumphal worldview
		of popular imagination.
	As much as I like Star Trek - and I do love Star Trek -
		that is an ideology of everlasting progress through human ingenuity.
I'm not talking about science as an idea, but science as a concrete community:
	trained, focused people with a common language and purpose.
For me, that means a very real group of astrobiologists
	and a very real group of evolutionary theorists.
Real people with real strengths - and weaknesses.
People with foibles, but people I have grown to know and love,
	who hold me accountable to our common ideals of knowledge.
 
Christianity can work the same way.
It need not.
It doesn't always, but it can.
Once again, it is not the self-congratulatory, triumphal worldview
		of popular imagination.
	As much as I want to share the good news,
		as much as I like the idea of Christendom -
a truly, pervasively Christian culture -
		as much as I romanticize the marriage of Church and State
			in the best Victorian novels,
	that is an ideology of how church should work.
I'm not talking about Christianity as an idea, but church as a concrete community:
	trained, focused people with a common language and purpose.
For me, that means a very real group of Anglicans
	and a very real group of ordained scientists.
Real people with real strengths - and weaknesses.
People with foibles, but people I have grown to know and love,
	who hold me accountable to our common ideals of knowledge.

If I'm wrong,
	I'd much rather find out about it now, than later.
	Later is always more embarrassing.
So, I like to poke at my beliefs from time to time,
	argue both sides,
	and convince myself that I'm right.
I value my scientific and religious communities.


A challenge arises when we come to evangelism and proselytization.
In my experience, people do not come to the church because they are wrong.
	What does it feel like to be wrong?
	It feels just like being right.
	Even if they are wrong, this approach simply will not work.
People come to the church because something in their lives feels empty or broken.
	Some relationship in their lives doesn't work,
		either with neighbors, with God, or even with themselves.
Our job with them is exactly the same as our job with one another,
	to be there.
 
Our job is to build the relationships of trust that form real community.
Our job is to create common language and common standards,
	that allow us to correct one another and be corrected.
It's daunting.
No, truly it's terrifying to allow someone in your life who can correct you.
It is not something we should do lightly.
But, it is something we should do,
because it's worth finding out.
Truth is worth the work.

Even more important, I think we must work to be the kinds of people,
	and the kinds of communities that people trust.
That requires discipline and self-restraint.
It requires asking more questions.
	Not just "is this true?"
	but "is it useful?"
	"Will it make sense to others?"
	"Is it kind and just?"
Because being right is about more than truth,
	it is about community, about faith, hope, and love.
This Lent, I hope you will find yourselves often wrong.
I wish for you a community of trust and purpose.
And may we all discover that we are a little less wrong
	than we used to be.

 

Posted by: dacalu | 11 February 2018

The Glory of God

This morning, I had the pleasure of worshiping with the people of St. Stephen’s, Laurelhurst for the last Sunday in Epiphany – celebrating Transfiguration.  Here is the sermon I shared.

 

Prayer for the Day

O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Readings

2 Kings 2:1-12 (Elisha watches Elijah carried to heaven in a chariot of fire)

Psalm 50:1-6 (“Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, God reveals himself in glory.”)

2 Corinthians 4:3-6 (God “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”)

Mark 9:2-9 (The Transfiguration)

 

Sermon


What should we do when we see God?
We have this person Jesus,
	beloved Son of God,
	God from God, light from light, true God from true God.
Jesus is both God and approachable.

And yet there are moments, rare moments, when we see the glory of God.
The Old Testament is somewhat ambivalent about this.
In places we hear that no-one can survive seeing God face to face.
	The fullness of God's glory is too much for us to handle.
Other passages suggest that Moses saw God face to face on Mount Sinai,
	and returned glowing so brightly he had to wear a veil.
Apparently, God is radioactive,
	and so are those who come too close to God's glory.

So, Jesus was something quite remarkable,
	both fully God and fully human.
Jesus is approachable.
And yet here we have this moment,
	this strange interlude on another mountaintop,
	when the glory of God is visible,
	in the face of Jesus.
For the first time, the disciples see Jesus in context,
	shining like the Sun,
	with Moses on one side and Elijah on the other.
Moses and Elijah, the two people
	who had seen God close up.
Moses and Elijah had power.
The context of Jesus is this intense power
	flowing from God into the world.


We face a strange dilemma as humans.
We want knowledge and power,
	but we resist learning and empowerment.
In the abstract, it sounds nice to know.
	In practice, it requires learning that we were wrong.
	Knowledge cannot be simply passed from one person to another.
	We must fight for it.
	We must seek out knowledge and find it.
	We must find a place within ourselves to keep it.
	And often that means replacing something else.
	Knowledge is hard.

In the abstract it sounds nice to have power.
	We want control over our surroundings, 
over our neighbors, 
over ourselves.
	We want our wills to work in the world
		and, we hope, to make it a better place.
	In practice, power comes from power.
	It is true in faith as it is in physics.
		Nothing comes from nothing.
	We cannot gain power without getting it from somewhere.
	We must encounter power in others,
		before we can have it ourselves.
	We must become empty,
		so that God's power can flow through us.

And so, we face this choice.
Do we seek out God, knowing that God will empower us?
	Or do we hide?

Elisha makes this incredibly brave choice 
when he follows his teacher
into the presence of God.
"Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!"
I'm not sure, but I think he's swearing.
How many of us have been brave enough 
to sit vigil with someone who is dying,
to walk with them to the very edge of life?
It is a profound experience.
It comes with knowledge and power.
Elisha walks to the very edge of life with his father and mentor,
	and watches God take him up.
Elisha makes this incredibly brave choice 
when he asks for a double share of Elijah's spirit.
 
To be filled with God's glory is a difficult thing.
The last line from today's epistle 
is just the beginning of an admonition about power and glory.
'For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," 
who has shone in our hearts 
to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God 
in the face of Jesus Christ.'
	It continues.
 'But we have this treasure in clay jars, 
so that it may be made clear 
that this extraordinary power belongs to God 
and does not come from us.'

To ask for knowledge
is to ask for a task in the world.
To ask for power
	is to ask for responsibility.
To ask for spirit and glory
	is to ask to represent God in the world.

Don't get me wrong,
	it is the best thing we can do with our time.
It is light and life and joy.
It is also trouble, with a capital T.
It means changing ourselves
	and changing others.
It means work.
 
And so we have this interlude.
On the last Sunday before Lent,
	we recall the glory of God,
	manifest in Jesus.
We recall our strange and wonderful ability 
to see God face to face in Jesus.
We recall the glory we are called to and the hope that is ours,
	that under the dirt and over the water and through the fire,
	the world is glorious.
God loves us:
	In Jesus,
	In water and wine,
	In wind and storm,
	In church and society.
God makes us glorious and wonderful and filled with light.

We are the ones that veil our faces.
We are the ones that shy away from the mountain.
We are the ones who refuse to look
	deeply into the face of God,
	shining from one another.

God wants more for us.

In Lent we prepare for the great unveiling,
	the vision of God,
	which we cannot yet bring ourselves to ask for,
	yet desperately need.

The church year gives us a signpost
"Transfiguration. No glory for the next 48 days."
	We will fast from Alleluias, take on disciplines, give up treats,
	all so that we can be closer to God.
All so that we will be ready to see him face to face,
	when he rises from the grave.


For now, take stock.
In the last few days before Ash Wednesday,
	I invite you to do the hard work of looking for God's glory.
Where do you see God breaking into the world?
Who's face shines with the radiance of grace?
And, perhaps most importantly, 
what can we do stop ourselves from covering it up?


It's easy to let glory pass us by.
It's easy to say that it was just emotion,
	or imagination,
	or a trick of the light.
It's easy to pretend that glory doesn't matter -
	the true glory of seeing someone face to face,
	the true glory of being seen,
	the glory of God.
It's easy to pretend that we only encounter God
	rarely, on the mountain top.

But the message of Christ is that the glory of God is everywhere.
It hides behind human faces.
It lurks in the wilderness.
It abides in the city.
It rests in our hearts.

There will come a time to share that glory.
There is a time to speak,
	indeed to sing about the love of God.
There is a time to shine forth,
	but first there is a time to see, 
	to look and listen,
	to hear the voice of God.

In the words of the psalm,
	"Be still, and know that I am God."
We want to know and do and change,
	but first this,
	this moment of contemplation.
We want to go forth,
	we want to fix,
	we want to make,
	but first this.

Close your eyes for a moment and listen.

(wait 30 seconds)
 
That is the Transfiguration:
	the still in the storm,
	the eternal now that precedes every future.
We do not need to wait for God;
	God already is.
We need to wait for ourselves.
We need to give ourselves a chance,
	to truly absorb the glory of God.

Posted by: dacalu | 18 January 2018

At the Border of Seen and Unseen

Last week, I was honored to preach for one of the Eucharists at the Society of Ordained Scientists‘ North American Retreat. This year, we met at Richmond Hill in Richmond, Virginia to talk about our calling as ordained scientists. That discussion was led by Bp. Nicholas Knisely.  I preached from a simple outline, but I’ve included the main points here.

Collect for the Society

Almighty God, Creator and Redeemer of all that is, source and foundation of time and space, matter and energy, life and consciousness: Grant us in this Society and all who study the mysteries of your creation, grace to be true witnesses to your glory and faithful stewards of your gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Readings

Genesis 1:1-5 (The First Day)

Psalm 29 (“Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name”)

Acts 19:1-7 (The baptism of repentance)

Mark 1:4-11 (John baptizes Jesus)

Sermon

It can be hard to preach when you’re in the process of changing your mind.
Nick’s talks this week have me thinking and changing,
	but that’s part of what I wanted to say today, so it’s fitting.
I’d like to share with you two dualisms and a monism:
	that is two ways of dividing the world – 
neither of which I entirely agree with – 
and some thoughts about how to pull it all together.

We have a reading from Genesis about the First day,
	and that has me thinking about Philo,
	who may have been the first to suggest a dual creation.
The first day was, for him, a creation in light of ideal forms.
The other days, the material creation, began to work out the details
	of concrete physical things.
This dual creation inspired similar schemes in Augustine and Aquinas
	and eventually the familiar mind and matter of Descartes.
I think it also lies behind the line in the Nicene Creed about God
	creating all that is, seen and unseen,
	the invisible order and the visible stuff of creation.
I do not think there are two kinds of substances – mind and matter –
	but I do think we live at the boundary between the two.
I think we live at the intersection of the mental and the physical.
I also think that we, especially as ordained scientists,
	live at the boundary of the known and the unknown,
	the seen and the unseen.

Our readings from Acts and Mark also provide a dualism
	with two kinds of baptism:
		the baptism of John and baptism of Jesus,
		the baptism of water and the baptism of spirit,
		the baptism of repentance and the baptism of new life.
I’m not sure how best to interpret these passages
	and I don’t want to suggest that I have the best way,
	but I’d like to share my own thoughts on the two baptisms.
I see John’s baptism as reactive.
	It brings repentance and forgiveness.
	John’s baptism is all about turning away from what is evil.
But that is not enough.
It is not enough to turn away from the evil; 
we must turn toward the good.
We must orient ourselves in God and Christ.
Jesus’ baptism is proactive.
	It brings adoption and inspiration.
	It leads to growth.
It does more than save us from the evil;
it empowers us in the good.

The two can never be fully separated,
	but I think it’s useful, in both science and theology,
	to think about renewal in both ways.
We do more than falsify bad theories;
	in some mysterious way, we find good ones.
With C. S. Lewis, I think that there are infinitely more ways of being right
	than there are of being wrong.
When we focus too much on atonement, repentance, and salvation,
	we develop an anemic faith,
	one that can resist the bad,
	but cannot embrace the good,
	one that can deny the past,
	but not reach forward into the future.
Atonement, repentance, and salvation are crucially important;
	they are not the full end of baptism.
There must be more.
There must be a movement of the Holy Spirit in us.

And once again, we, particularly as ordained scientists,
	live at the boundary,
	where we are rejecting the bad, but also embracing the good,
	turning away from bad ways of looking at the world,
	but also promoting good ways.
Skepticism is not enough.


Some of you may be familiar with a book by Bill Countryman,
	Living on the Border of the Holy.
It speaks of our calling as Christians to live on the borderlands
	between the secular and the sacred,
	between life as we experience it and life fully in the presence of God.
We cannot cover the ground for people,
	nor can we act as an intermediary between them and God, 
	but we can be guides for others as they travel unfamiliar territory.
We can reorient them when they get lost,
	help them up when they stumble,
	and point out some areas where it’s easy to get bogged down
	or stopped altogether.

There is only one world,
	and all of us struggle to find our way in it.
Science and faith can be valuable tools for that, 
	when we use them rightly.
Ordained Scientists have a calling to help people in that process.


What do you do when you find yourself in sudden darkness?
	Call out?
	Light a match or turn on a flashlight?
In my mind, science is like a flashlight.
	It is this wonderful tool for dealing with darkness.
	We should always carry it with us and try it out.
And sometimes, a flashlight just doesn’t help.
	It shines over the edge of a cliff, or onto a black surface, or the battery runs out.
	Sometimes we need other tools and other strategies.
	We need to be prepared when our flashlight is not enough.
After all, sometimes the best response to the darkness
	is to let our eyes adjust.
And sometimes we can only lie down and sleep until the dawn.

The borderlands can be like that,
	the strange region between seen and unseen, visible and invisible, secular and holy.
They require patience and clear thinking and a variety of tools.
I think ordained scientists can help people use their flashlights,
	but I also think we are here to help people when the flashlight
		isn’t enough.
Science is narrow.
Faith must be broad enough to encompass the whole world.


I love God and I love the world that God has made.
This love keeps me looking.
It motivates my science and my theology as I try to understand,
	and nothing could stop me from my investigation.
Would you stop from following your beloved?

We know about relationships.
We know that they require both curiosity and commitment.
A relationship with curiosity but no commitment, cannot grow.
	It lacks the bonds that hold people together.
	It lacks the shared responsibility and care
		that make two people one.
A relationship with commitment, but no curiosity, grows brittle and frail.
	How can we say we truly love someone 
        when we no longer know who they are?
Our relationship with God and creation must be like this:
	committed to curiosity
	and curious about commitment.
We must be always looking and listening to hear.
We must be always responding and sharing what we have.

So, I would commend to you both curiosity and commitment,
	as you negotiate the borders of seen and unseen,
	and as you help others along the way.
Posted by: dacalu | 17 January 2018

Unapologetic Forgiveness

A friend of mine wrote to me recently asking about the concept of forgiveness.  Specifically, he wanted to know about whether we should forgive people who have not apologized.

For me this highlights a difference between several different things related to forgiveness: letting go of the offense, removing the consequences, and restoring the relationship.  All three are important, but I would defend the first as particularly important as a Christian virtue (and Jewish, Buddhist, and Taoist).

This first type of forgiveness, the unilateral willingness to let go of the offence is an important first step in the process of reconciliation. Equally important, it is essential to personal spiritual health, even when reconciliation is impossible.

With that in mind, I’d like to suggest a number of related concepts, and the words I use for them.

Forgiveness: the one-person act of a victim letting go of the offense. This requires naming what was done and accepting that it happened, then letting go of a personal need for balance, reparation, or punishment.  It does not mean that previous trust is restored. It does mean that the victim is willing to move forward.

The failure to forgive, whether active (holding a grudge) or passive (avoidance), keeps us bound to an event historically. It encourages us to think of ourselves as victims, our neighbors as offenders, and the world as antagonistic. It acts as an emotional and spiritual anchor by sucking up energy that could be devoted to curiosity and compassion.

Forgetting the offense is not forgiveness, but avoidance. It requires ignoring the motivations and circumstances of a neighbor. In a healthy, honest relationship we care about motivations and work to prevent the same circumstance from happening again.

True forgiveness never involves a restoration of trust without new awareness. That sets both people up for repeated failure. Instead, it’s important to accept the event and move forward with a deeper understanding of expectation, motivations, and weaknesses.

Repentance (Metanoia): the one-person act of an offender turning away from a wrong. This requires naming the act, accepting responsibility, and knowing that in the same circumstances it would not occur again. It requires a feeling of loss with a desire (if not always the ability) to make up for the offense in some way. It also requires some acknowledgment that trust has been broken and expectations are different.

Repentance always involves deep personal change. It means nothing unless our fundamental decision making process has shifted.  I try to use the word “sorry” only when I am repentant – when I have recognized a change I want to make in myself and have started the process of transformation.

In my book, Thinking Fair, I talk about “conversion” as this type of fundamental change.

Reconciliation: the two-person act of restoring trust which begins with both forgiveness and repentance. A sincere apology signals repentance and may be the beginning of reconciliation. It is only the beginning, however. True reconciliation incorporates the “offense” into a deeper mutual understanding.

A number of other words relate to forgiveness, without being quite the same thing. Amnesty and absolution involve the removal of formal consequences in civil and religious communities (respectively). Payment, reparation, and remittance refer to the restoration of balance.  When based on repentance, they can be great tools for reconciliation. When imposed, they can equally be used for avoidance or even revenge.

In the Bible, Jesus speaks of forgiveness as the unconditional, unilateral act of letting go. He forgives those who torture him and tells his disciples to forgive those who persecute them. There is nothing transactional in this, neither requirement or expectation of repentance. The act of forgiveness is good in itself; it frees the one who forgives. It also frees the forgiven, by promising the possibility of reconciliation.

I would end by saying that true forgiveness is no easier than true repentance. It reshapes the way we look at the world and makes us new people. Sometimes God gives us grace to make giant leaps – to forgive horrendous crimes or truly rethink our own choices. Most of the time, though it happens by tiny steps. It’s worth starting now, by letting go of the little annoyances of the day, so that in time we may work up to the kind of change that Jesus asks – and demonstrates.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

Categories