Posted by: dacalu | 12 June 2018

Service to All: Christianity

In my last post, I argued from American law and civil ethics that businesses should provide their services to all comers (within the bounds of the law). Now I would like to present the argument from Christian theology.

The Christian Gospels are surprisingly clear in their expectation that Christians will be kind and helpful to all – good and bad, Jews and gentiles, Christians and non-Christians. I don’t know how to be clearer than this extended passage from Matthew (5:38-48).

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Luke 27-38 says much the same thing: “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

We are told not to judge, lest we ourselves be judged (Matthew 7:1). God will sort out the good from the evil (Matthew 13:24-43). Our job is only to serve all. In fact, we are to treat others as we wish to be treated (Matthew 7:12).

Some Christians argue that this only applies to Christians, but Jesus explicitly extends it to religious outsiders (Luke 10:25-37, the Parable of the Good Samaritan) and those who waste their gifts (Luke 15:11-32, the Parable of the Prodigal Son). Jesus forgives the people who have sent him to torture and death (Luke 23:34).

The rest of the New Testament amplifies this message of returning good for evil. (Romans 12:14-21; I Thessalonians 5:15; I Peter 8-13). God gives to all; so should we.

Other Christians argue that we should not encourage evil doers in their evil-doing. I agree as far as this goes, but it comes nowhere near refusing to aid them until they stop doing evil (John 1:10-13; Romans 5:8). God served first, so that we might repent. Christians are called to serve preemptively. The only way to serve God is to serve others and the best way to serve God is to serve all. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9:35 (See also Luke 22:26 and Matthew 20:24-28) “We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” I John 4:19-21 (and also 7-18) Jesus’ strongest condemnation – and only promise of eternal suffering – comes in the context of a rich man who does not care for the poor man on his stoop (Luke 16:9-31, the Rich Man and Lazarus).

Truly and without judgment I do not know how anyone could read this and not come to the same conclusion. Christians are called to serve all. I recognize others of goodwill, intelligence, and learning disagree with me. Still, I cannot wrap my head around any position but absolute, unconditional, self-sacrificial service.

I am likewise baffled and, honestly cannot avoid judgment, of those who wish economic liberty and success while claiming Christian martyrdom. The New Testament is equally (if not more) clear that economic success is incompatible with Gospel living (Mark 10:17-31, Luke 16:13; 18:18-25, Matthew 6:19-21; 19:16-26). If Christian virtue leads to economic ruin, this is a blessing (Matthew 5:11). If your faith costs you nothing, it is not true faith. Christians are asked to serve without recompense (Luke 14:12-14). You cannot serve God and wealth. This does not mean the US should force the choice, but it does mean that Christians should expect it. And, they should turn the other cheek.

Even if same-sex weddings were against Christian teachings (I don’t think they are), even if they were evil (I don’t think they are), Christians would still be obliged to serve people having them. They would not be obliged to support or celebrate them, but they would be required to serve them in any generic way, to render support as asked.

I do not know what this religion is that chooses abstract propositional and moral norms over people. I do not know the religion that values heterosexuality over love of God. (I cannot draw any other conclusion from someone who will bake a cake for a male-female secular wedding but not a same-sex secular wedding, a male-female Christian wedding but not a same-sex Christian wedding.) I will defend the right of all to religious liberty. Both my American values and my Christian values demand it. But we must be clear about the religion we are protecting. In the case of Masterpiece Cake shop, it is a religion of intolerance and economic success, not one of service to all.

I will continue to preach Christ, and him crucified – the preemptive, self-sacrificing servant.

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Posted by: dacalu | 11 June 2018

Service to All: America

A discussion has opened in America about the extent of religious liberty. I think it’s tremendously important. And, I think it’s difficult. That’s why I’ve tried to set forth my own position here. It rests on my beliefs about personal responsibility and social accountability. In that sense, I believe it is a profoundly conservative argument. It is also informed by Christian theology, but that must wait for a second post. For now, the American argument.

In the US, we have a strong commitment to religious freedom, enshrined in the first clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” In the words of Thomas Jefferson:

“The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Notes on the State of Virginia

Jefferson’s statement makes clear that religious liberties may be limited when they run into the liberties of others, even their economic interests. We must come to terms with the relationship between religious and financial liberty – as is made clear in prohibitions of alcohol, drugs, gambling, and prostitution. We regularly stop people from economic activity in areas deemed immoral or, at the very least, not in the public interest.

Many economic activities lead to a limitation of religious freedom. A religious pacifist (e.g., a Quaker) may refuse to enlist in the Army. She might even choose to leave the army. What she cannot do is remain in the army and draw benefits from that relationship (pay, billeting, …) and at the same time disobey orders due to her pacifism. And, it must be noted, her pacifism must be broad and clear. She cannot pick and choose when to be pacifist. I have great respect for the pacifist and great respect for the soldier. I have little respect for those who claim to be both.

A man who believes it wrong to drink alcohol (e.g., Methodist, traditionally) may refuse a job as a bartender. He may choose to quit such a job. What he may not do is remain a bartender and refuse to serve drinks. More to the point, he cannot claim a religious objection to serving some customers and not others. He cannot choose when to be a teetotaler.

The current division in the US arises between those who see business as a personal right and those who see it as a social responsibility. I see it as a social responsibility. It comes with limitations.

Our economic freedom neither is nor should be absolute. It is limited by the economic interests of others. We believe that no-one should be prevented from opening a business because of their religion (e.g., Jews). Nor should they be turned away from the businesses of others, effectively stopping them from their own economic endeavors.

Customers can discriminate; providers cannot. If you provide a service, you must provide it to all comers (under the law). You can choose not to provide a service, or you can choose to provide it to everyone. What you cannot do is provide it to some but not others. Your objection must be broad and clear.

A business must be blind to the customer. They must choose their services before deciding who may and may not receive them. A baker may, for any reason, refuse to provide cakes with two grooms on top, regardless of who asks for it. But, if they provide unadorned (or generically adorned) cakes, they must provide them to whoever is willing to pay.

Notes:
1) I don’t believe businesses should have the right to freedom of religion. Alas, the Supreme Court does, so they do under US law. That said, their freedom of religion ends where the religious and economic freedoms of others begin. Right now, we’re figuring out how to draw that line.
2) When you charge money for religious services, they become economic services. I say, don’t do it. I can marry whom I please and I will not charge money for it. Religions get around this with donations, I’m happy with this arrangement. Significantly, it means that the donation goes to a religious charity and is subject to the relevant laws. I’d be delighted to hear about a bakery run as a religious charity. Religious liberty is not in question; economic liberty is.
3) In the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd., et al. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission et al., the US Supreme Court ruled that the CCRC had, in the treatment of the complaint, discriminated with regard to the religion of the baker. They did not rule on whether the couple in the case would have had the right to service had the CCRC acted in accordance with the law. In other words, they punted. The ruling notes, in alignment with my own thoughts, that, “Colorado law can protect gay persons in acquiring products and services on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other members of the public.” It is worth noting that court allows such a law to be constitutional; it does not say that gay persons have such a right beyond the reach of Colorado law. I believe the latter in addition to the former. For the record, the ruling makes clear that the baker’s objection was to the use toward which the cake would be put, not the properties of the cake, itself. He would not sell the couple a wedding cake such as he would provide to a same-sex couple. No indication of gender was requested for the cake.
4) Religious liberties may be limited in the described fashion. From the same case: “The Court’s precedents make clear that the baker, in his capacity as the owner of a business serving the public, might have his right to the free exercise of religion limited by generally applicable laws.” “while those religious and philosophical objections are protected, it is a general rule that such objections do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and in society to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services under a neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law.”
5) Masterpiece Cakeshop’s actions were consistently discriminatory based on intended use, not the specific goods provided. “The investigator found that ‘on multiple occasions,’ Phillips ‘turned away potential customers on the basis of their sexual orientation, stating that he could not create a cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony or reception’ because his religious beliefs prohibited it and because the potential customers ‘were doing something illegal’ at that time.” “Phillips’ shop had refused to sell cupcakes to a lesbian couple for their commitment celebration” The justices did note that same-sex weddings were not yet legal at the time of the events in question.
6) The baker argued that artistic expression in baking constitutes a form of protected free speech. The Supreme Court agreed with lower courts that this was not the case under Colorado law. Interestingly, the opinions written by Kagan and Gorsuch pry into this question. Those interested in the debate might enjoy reading them. I agree with Kagan.

Posted by: dacalu | 10 June 2018

Love over Power

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

 

Prayer for the Day

O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; 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 8:4-20, 11:14-15 (Israel asks for a King)

Psalm 138 (“When I called, you answered me; you increased my strength within me.”)

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 (“we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen”)

Mark 3:20-35 (A house divided cannot stand, and the unforgivable sin)

 

Sermon

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a king?
I don’t know about you, 
but sometimes I look at our government
and I think about the foolishness of the President,
the inefficiency and incivility of the Congress,
the sometimes-arbitrary decisions of the Courts,
and I say, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a king?”
It would be nice to have someone raised to govern,
	who felt a moral obligation to serve the whole country,
	someone smart and kind and thoughtful,
	who didn’t have to pander to business or the electorate.
Then, of course, I remember that we’ve tried kings 
and they rarely work out well.
They pander to business and the aristocrats and the masses.
They are not reliably smart and kind and thoughtful.
Our system of President, Congress, and Courts
	was set up for precisely this reason.
If you give too much power to any one person,
	they will be tempted to abuse that power,
and so we make a point of taking greed, stupidity, and inefficiency
	and spreading it around.
Still, the whole circus can get tiring,
	and even today,
	we say to ourselves,
	“Wouldn’t it be nice to have a king?”

For some reason,
	when we see abuses of power,
	we look to greater power for a solution.
I’ll bet you all know the story of Robin Hood,
	who defended the common people
		from the terrible Sherriff
		until Good King Richard came back from the crusades.
The real King Richard was not that good,
	but the story is powerful.
We see these stories all the time.
	Daddy Warbucks in Annie.
	The true king in Tolkien - again and again.
	Dumbledore in the early Harry Potter movies.
You didn’t know the king was paying attention,
	but he was, and now he’s stepping in 
		to reward the good and punish the wicked.
 
Americans aren’t too fond of kings,
	and so we’ve largely replaced this trope of Royal intervention
	with the Cavalry
	or peace through superior firepower.
But we still have the same mindset.
	Fight fire with fire.

I confess, this has been a very popular mindset in Christianity.
	God is the king of kings and lord of lords.
And that is a good thing, in some ways.
	Earthly powers are not the only powers.
It is a bad thing when we worship God
	because God is powerful.
It is a bad thing when we think that God is simply a bigger tyrant.
That, after all, means worshiping power.

God is not a Mafia Don who rewards loyalty and punishes disloyalty.
Christianity is not “fire insurance.”

No. No. No. No. No.

Christians know that there are other things to value, better things.
God is not power; God has power.
God is love.

Despite all claims of omnipotence –
	and I do think of God as omnipotent –
	God consistently refuses to overwhelm us with force.
God makes the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Jesus consistently refuses to overpower those around him.
	He did not take up the sword,
	even when they came to crucify him.

Our readings today tell us that we don’t have to listen to the priorities of the world.
We don’t have to want what other people want.

We can choose to use our power for the sake of love,
	and not spend it acquiring more power.
We can live for the sake of loving.
	And we can build our societies around
	love of God and neighbor.
 
Too often we succumb to fear,
	and try to scare others to make us less afraid.
Too often we succumb to doubt,
	and make others doubt themselves, so we feel better.
But, fear cannot drive out fear.
	Doubt cannot drive out doubt.
If we want to escape fear and doubt,
	greed, stupidity, and inefficiency,
	we must turn to something else.

Norton Juster, author of the Phantom Tollbooth, put it this way.
“Since you got here by not thinking, 
it seems reasonable to expect that,
in order to get out, 
you must start thinking.”

Christianity works the same way.
It is a new response to an old problem.
It is a change.


The Israelites wanted a king.
	They wanted pomp and circumstance.
	They also wanted a military leader to make them feel safe from their enemies.
The Israelites complained.
	“All the other nations are doing it.”
And God’s responds like a good parent.
	“If the Philistines jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?”
To which the Israelites say “yes.”
It didn’t turn out well.
The Israelites responded to violence with violence,
	fear with fear,
	inequality with inequality.
And, for the most part,
	they got exactly what we would expect,
	more of the same.



 
The people in Corinth were worried about success.
	I suspect they wanted clearer rules about how to behave,
		whom to trust and how to order their community.
	I suspect they also wanted proof of God’s power
		through physical success.
	If God is a great king, why does he not shower us with favors, 
		as Earthly kings do?
And Paul responds by saying that God does shower us with favors,
	but perhaps the ones we expect.
	God grants us repentance and reconciliation.
In word of Galatians, God gives us
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
	goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Those may not sound like the solution to problems
	of power and insecurity.
They are not the traditional solutions,
	but they are far more effective.

“Even though our outer nature is wasting away, 
our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 
For this slight momentary affliction 
is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 
because we look not at what can be seen 
but at what cannot be seen”
Don’t worry if you are not doing well by earthly standards,
	health, wealth, and popularity.
They are valuable, 
	but less valuable than faith, hope, and love.
You don’t have to want what other people want.


There has been some debate about the unforgivable or eternal sin
	mentioned in the gospel reading.
What is it that cannot be forgiven?
In today’s reading from Mark, Jesus says this.
“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins 
and whatever blasphemies they utter; 
but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit 
can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”
I do not know, but I think he had this in mind.
 
The Gospel begins with a simple message of repentance.
The world may be unsatisfactory.
	We may be in debt.
	We may be in conflict our neighbors, in conflict with ourselves.
	We may have sinned and fallen short – by our own standards.
And yet, we can change,
	we can choose to do different things,
	we can choose to value different things,
	we can become new people,
if we first accept that God can change us.

Christianity offers us something genuinely new,
	a chance to value ourselves less
	and others more.
It is not just changing our circumstances;
	But changing our very selves.

I’m not the only one to find the world unsatisfactory.
	We know that the priorities of the world are messed up.
	We know that the pursuit of health, wealth, and popularity
		and above all the search for ever more power
		leads to violence and conflict.

The Gospel is much like the first of the 12-steps.
	You must recognize that you have a problem
		beyond your abilities
		and accept that God can solve it.
	You must accept that Jesus and the Holy Spirit
		have the ability to fundamentally change you for the better.
Those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit,
	the spirit of Jesus,
	denied his power and his goodness.

But here’s the catch.
	We must accept that God solves our problem in God’s own way.
	It does not involve overwhelming force.
	God is subtle and sophisticated.
		God works through us.
		God works through our weakness and our frustration.
 
We don’t have to want what other people want.
We don’t have to want the same things we have wanted all our lives.
In many ways, the world is messed up.

I do not imagine my imagination is sufficient to fix it.
	I trust that God’s imagination is.
	And so, I pray for God’s imagination.
I do not trust in my own faith.
	I trust in yours, and ours, and in God’s faithfulness.
	And so, I pray for faith.
I do not love love as I ought.
	But I love the God who works love in me,
		and in you, and in the world.
	And so, I pray for love.

“the Spirit helps us in our weakness; 
for we do not know how to pray as we ought, 
but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 
And God, who searches the heart, 
knows what is the mind of the Spirit, 
because the Spirit intercedes for the saints 
according to the will of God.”

We don’t have to want what other people want.
We don’t need a king to solve our problems,
	even a heavenly one.
What we need is a new heart, and a new soul, and a new faith,
	to see God, who is everywhere,
	working right here.

 

Posted by: dacalu | 5 June 2018

Drunk with Love

On Sunday, I had the pleasure of worshiping with the people of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church for the Feast of Pentecost – the celebration of Christ sending the Holy Spirit and founding the Church. Here is the sermon I preached.

Prayer for Pentecost

Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Readings

Acts 2:1-21 (Descent of the Holy Spirit, “other sneered and said ‘They are filled with new wine.’)

Psalm 104:25-36 (You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; and so you renew the face of the earth.”)

Romans 8:22-27 (the “Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”)

John 15:26 – 16:15 (“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth”)

Sermon

It’s dangerous being an academic.
	I suppose it’s dangerous being a perfectionist.
	I am.
Every time I say something,
	particularly from the pulpit,
	I want to add caveats, addenda, provisos.
	I want to frame it very carefully, lest you misunderstand what I mean.
Truth is tricky.

But there’s something infectious about genuine zeal.
At the core of Christianity, there is a passion for love,
	real, sacrificial, rush-right-in and do it kind of love.
So, I’m learning to be less cautious,
	less self-conscious about preaching the Gospel.

Did any of you watch the Royal Wedding: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle?
I did not stay up until four am to watch it live,
	but I caught the highlights on Saturday,
	and I listened with great interest to Michael Curry’s sermon.
Michael is the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church,
	a fitting choice for an American marrying into British Royalty,
	and a Spirit-filled preacher.
I hope you’ve heard him preach before.
And I hope you’ll listen to this sermon,
	because his love of the Good News
	is undeniable.
It’s infectious and emotional,
	and it makes you want to say, “Alleluia! Praise God.”
Even if you’re an Anglican.

Can I get an amen?

Can I get an Alleluia?

I know, I know, we’re Anglicans and we don’t do that sort of thing.
	We don’t get carried away
	and we don’t shout in the pews
	but every once in a while,
	it’s worth it.
Love is worth getting carried away about.

Can I get an Alleluia?
 
Love is a tough subject.
I want to caution you about how sentimental our society has become,
	how much we glorify and fear both sex and romance.
But none of that makes any sense unless you first,
	truly, madly, deeply fall for someone.
If you’re anything like me, you have your own romantic sound track.
	We have within us this ability to love wildly.
	I suspect that’s why we have so many songs about it.
“As Time Goes By” (1931)
“At Last” (1941)
 “All You Need is Love” (1967)
“Glory of Love” (1986)
“Haven’t Met You Yet” (2009)
“Stand by Me” (1961)
If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
Or the mountains should crumble to the sea
I won't cry, I won't cry
No I won't shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

Take a moment and think about your own sound track,
	or your own wedding,
	or your own love.
What was it like, at first, to fall in love?

Christian love is something like that.
It is a romance, that starts by going just a little bit crazy.
	Well, let’s be honest, often more than a little bit crazy.
	It’s passionate, and immediate, and ridiculous.
True love has no proportion.
In the words of the Song of Solomon:
“love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. 
Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. 
Many waters cannot quench love, 
neither can floods drown it. 
If one offered for love all the wealth of one’s house, 
it would be utterly scorned.”


Frequently, when people first meet,
	they drink to lower their inhibitions.
Often, we are too guarded to show ourselves to one another,
	and so, we need help – friends, activities, even alcohol –
	to be our true selves without filter,
	so see and be seen, 
without all of the careful caveats and defenses.
 
When the people accused the disciples of being drunk,
	I do not think it was just because they were babbling.
	After all, people really did understand them in many different languages.
	They appeared drunk because they were without caution,
		and without fear.
	They spoke their hearts
		in defense of a man who had just been crucified.
	They made themselves vulnerable.
	God lowered their inhibitions so that they might be their full selves,
		and so that God might be fully God in them.

And here, another caution is necessary, because
	we are a little too attached to alcohol in the United States
	and in the Episcopal Church.
I am not speaking in praise of alcohol.  Heaven forbid.
I am speaking in praise of that honesty and openness,
	which we, in our insecurity, so often turn to alcohol to find.
The disciples needed no alcohol to be carried away.
Neither do we.


As love deepens, it becomes more nuanced.
Romance can ripen into marriage.
	Passionate attraction can become passionate commitment.
We celebrate marriage in the church
	because in it we see God’s love echoed,
	real, sacrificial, rush-right-in and do it kind of love.
It is infectious and emotional,
	but it is also wise and humble.
“Love is patient; love is kind; 
love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. 
It does not insist on its own way; 
it is not irritable or resentful; 
it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Cor 13)

And yet, that love should be no less passionate.
It is still one of the primary reasons we make the choices we do.
And we must not be ashamed.
Love moves us.
 
Every kind of love is like this.
What could be purer than the love of a mother for a child?
	Except for those whose relationships with their mother is strained…
		Or with their child.
That always makes Mother’s Day a challenge in the church.
The Bible refers to a Father’s love for his children repeatedly.
	Good for some, rough for others.

Love is tough,
	because, at the end of the day, it cannot really be talked about;
	it can only be demonstrated.
What does “passion” mean 
to someone who has never met a truly passionate person.
What does “love” mean
	to someone who has never been loved
	or has never been in love themselves.

It is not enough to talk about Jesus.
It is never enough to talk about Jesus
	or God or the Spirit.
We must live our love.
It must be audible in our voices, in our gestures, in our very being.
It must be visible in our actions,
	in the choices we make.

We must be ready to break out in song,
	like a teenager in love,
	or a drunkard,
	or a true believer.
We will make fools ourselves – like all of the above.
We will be dangerous, while our love deepens and matures.
That is why it is so important to have a Church.
	The church helps us grow into our love.
But just like marriage, it means nothing without the passion at its heart.
	It need not be romantic; not all love is.
	It need not be selfless at first; love seldom is.
	It needn’t be perfect.
	But it must be a real, sacrificial, rush-right-in and do it kind of love.
 
"Come, Thou Font of Every Blessing"(1757)
Come, Thou font of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I'm fixed upon it
Mount of Thy redeeming love


Seek the passion first.
Open yourself to love
	and look for the kind of relationship with God
	that spills over into song…
	and action.
Look for the kind of love affair that makes you a better person,
	not just with your beloved,
	but with everyone you meet.
Risk being yourself
	in the context of one another.
Nothing is scarier
	and nothing is better.
That’s the love worth sharing.
That’s the love worth being a fool for.
That’s the love worth dying for.
Passion, with commitment and humility,
	always trying to be better for the sake of someone else.


We cannot do this by ourselves.
That is the great lie of Modern ideas about love,
	and, for that matter, community, genius, prosperity, faith, and hope.
These are not things within us.
They are gifts and grace.
You cannot make love happen, no matter how hard you try,
	though sometimes you can deny it.
You cannot force faith or hope,
	but you can let down your guard
	and let them in.
And you can, with very little effort,
	let them out again.
You can sing in the street.
You can be madly, deeply, foolishly in love with God.
 
Pentecost is a gift, but it is also a responsibility.
There are seven and a half billion people outside those doors.
	Each and every one of them speaks a slightly different language.
	Each and every one of them must encounter God in their own way.
	Every love is unique, every faith, every hope.
There are seven and a half billion ways to approach God,
	each with its own time and place and language.
There are billions of fools,
	just waiting to fall in love
	with Jesus Christ,
	the only person grand enough, open enough, and foolish enough to love them all.
I guarantee that at least one person,
	won't have the courage,
	if you don’t show them the way.
I guarantee that at least one person,
	will not have the language,
	unless you speak first.

Find the love within yourself.
You may find it in a friend; remember that friend.
You may find it in a song; sing that song.
You may find it in labor or nature, study or solitude.
Seek that first.
Find the love within you and then let it spill out.

“the Spirit helps us in our weakness; 
for we do not know how to pray as we ought, 
but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 
And God, who searches the heart, 
knows what is the mind of the Spirit, 
because the Spirit intercedes for the saints 
according to the will of God.”

Let us be drunk with God
	and drunk with love.
We are all fools,
	but let us show the world what we will be fools for,
	and why we would settle for nothing less.

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.

 

 

 

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?

 

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