Friday, October 9, 2009

My thoughts on B033 and D025

I know I'm alittle late on this. Only two months and some change.
This summer the Episcopal Church approved two resolutions regaurding its ministry to gay and lesbians. The church deceided to open up the floor to gay and lesbian priests to be ordained bishops, and gay and lesbian couples can have their marraiges blessed.
Now, as a gay male, I'm only partly pleased with the results. Of course, when the appointed time comes I can get my own relationship blessed, and if I'm ever ordained a priest in the church and if I do well, then I could possibly even get a pretty big promotion. Of course, I believe that the love of Christ is inclusive to all humans, and I believe the Episcopal Church is doing a good job for the most part in practicing the inclusion as a whole.
Now, in reguards to its relationship with its neighbors, the Episcopal Church is flunking. Just last month the Archbishop of Canterbury issued a statement that the USA branch of Anglicanism might face a reduced status in the Anglicanism.
The whole thing is a load of crock, if you ask me. I already know what second-class feels like in California, and I don't need that in Global Anglicanism. I think both parties are being selective.
First off, I know Rowan Williams has a lot on his plate. I wouldn't want the job, and if I did then some of the African bishops might be in trouble. But I don't think he is being fair. He would reduce the status of TEC and not the Church of England or Canada who have been progressing in a smiliar direction? He would favor the more conservative folk when GAFCON can ditch the Lambeth Conference for their own special gathering? I have heard more UnChristian statements out of Peter Akinola than any neo-Christian Episcopalian. You can support the death of practicing homosexuals and still be a practicing bishop? Its beyond me...
Second, TEC. Maybe its because I'm not getting married anytime soon, but I think the church should have waited at least two more General Conventions. Episcopalians should know that things move at glacier speed in this church. Gay rights in the church has only been going for forty years. And even in the secular world gay rights are only just now starting to catch on. Society is slowly catching up. And even though the Episcopal Church is a slow church, apparently it is also brash. And, if it really is a fully inclusive church, then provisions must be made for those who hold more traditional views on sexuality and marraige.
I could go on, but I just needed to get that out.

Sermon for 3rd week in Easter

Don’t tell Tim or Vern, but I got off fairly easy this Sunday. While I was preparing for this sermon, I was amazed at the broad list of things I could potentially speak on from the readings appointed for today. The readings all give the same message: God, love, Jesus, death, repentance, forgiveness. But it would be too easy to just leave it at that. And I can’t disappoint Tim and let you all off the hook that easy either.

The readings I want to focus on this morning are the lessons from Acts and the Gospel of Luke. Again, they both carry the same message and mirror each other quite well. That would be because Luke’s Gospel and the Book of Acts were originally written as companion volumes for a Gentile audience; they offer an account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and a history of the early church in relation to what was written in the Old Testament. Luke’s writings were split into two different books when the Ecumenical Councils decided to organize the canonized books of the Bible.

Luke is a great story teller. In fact, the Gospel reading is actually Luke’s account of Jesus’ appearance to the eleven disciples which we read in Johns Gospel last week. Mark had nothing to say on the matter. John does a little better, as we read last week. And all Matthew had to write was “Now the eleven went to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted” (Matt 28:16-17). Luke was probably that annoying guy at work who likes to tell you how the clock was made. He likes detail. He likes to engage his reader and is an excellent narrator.

In Acts, the story picks up right after Peter heals a crippled man outside the Temple. You could almost confuse Peter for John with how many times he says the word “You” in reference to the Israelites and their leaders. And that’s exactly what I want to focus on. Not anti-Jewish comments. But the distinctions made in Luke’s writings.

First off, Peter makes the distinction between himself and Israelites. He distinguishes between those who wanted Jesus dead, and Pilate who wanted to release him. Between God, and those who wanted Jesus dead. He next differentiates the “Holy and Righteous One”-Jesus- to the murderer who was released instead. Then between Peter and John who as was with him at the Temple, to those who wanted Jesus dead. Alright Luke, we get the picture. Then to appeal to the Israelites to repent, he addresses them as “friends” or as the Greek has it. “brothers” instead of those darn Israelites who wanted Jesus dead as verse four started out.

Luke’s Gospel gets a bit more interesting and this time Jesus does more of the distinguishing. Prior to this in verse thirty, two of the disciples who had just broken bread with Jesus went to go tell the news to the other disciples that he was alive. Jesus now makes his third and last appearance in Luke’s Gospel before his ascension. Poor Jesus. I can’t think of a worse way to be welcomed back from the dead. Jesus greets his disciples as friends, “Peace be with you”. But they reply-probably as we would-with, “Ah! It’s a ghost!” Being taken as Casper the unfriendly ghost forces Jesus to explain his physical scars and body are that of a resurrected body. Casper does not have such a body. Even after seeing his hands and feet they are joyful, yet disbelieving. And Jesus, in his understanding that they are afraid and do not understand that he is really alive, eats with them to prove his physical body and perhaps bring reality that his is risen indeed and confirm he is not Casper the Holy Ghost.
All the things just mentioned could be interesting sermon topics. We could think about ghosts and the paranormal as it is a personal interest of mine. We could talk about atonement for sins through God’s grand clean up plan for the world and our mission to
evangelize. Or how Jesus is revealed to us as the risen Lord when we gather at the Altar for the bread and wine as he was revealed to the disciples when he broke bread and ate fish. Or we could ponder the possible significance between Jesus eating fish and Jesus breaking bread back in verse thirty. To stay in continuity with Vern’s sermon last week, I’ll stay with the doubting hearts and joy of the disciples.
It’s moments like this in scripture where I fully understand that God works through most mundane and odd things. At times, I’d really like to give the disciples a break and play the “we’re only human” card. Then, at other times I’d rather like to see humanity get a break from its own ignorance and stupidity. We can’t be that dumb to miss the risen Lord. Are we? I suppose we do have the advantage over the disciples in that we do believe without seeing. As Vern pointed out last week, the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus. At least not until Jesus revealed himself to them and “opened their minds to understand the scriptures” as the Gospel states. Sure, they were human. But even more, they were willing and obedient to be appointed Jesus’ witnesses of his love and passion to all the nations. The Gospel doesn’t bluntly say that the disciples finally get it now. But when foot-in-the-mouth Peter testified that they were Jesus witnesses later in Acts and astonished the people with the healing of the crippled man, I’m pretty sure they do get it now.
One common theme which I feel link these two readings together is the reactions of the people who witnessed the healing at the temple and the disciples who saw Jesus resurrected. The “it’s too good to be true” complex. Doubt versus joy. Jesus poses the question to his disciples “Why do doubts rise in your hearts?” I’m sure we could give the answer, “Well, Jesus. It all has to do with this or that”. And I’m sure he would respond back to us, “Well, okay. Now, really…why do doubts rise in your hearts?” It’s easier to talk about doubt. One doesn’t have to look very hard to find it. However, one thing we can conclude from the lessons: in the mist of doubt, there is always joy. A good Anglo-Catholic friend of mine advised me once during my own doubtful months last year “We are meant to seek out joy in doubtful times. Its an advantage we have as spiritual beings”. Joy is more than simply making the best of it or faking it until you feel it. Joy happens in the moment where Jesus reveals himself to us. Joy is accepting that all the doubtful things which surround us can be used for something greater than we can imagine. It is an acceptance which transcends all doubt and assures us of God’s hand at work among us.
In all our individual experiences we have come to this point where Jesus has revealed himself to us in prayer, the breaking of bread, in service to others, in facing our own fears and doubts which set us back. We have our ghosts which haunt us, fingers that we point, doubts, fears, and joys. Jesus met the disciples as they are. As people who doubted, had fears, and were sometimes a little less than bright. And Jesus continues to meet us just as we are. As people who doubt, have fears, and who are sometimes a little less than bright. In our own journey, like the disciples, many of us in our past isolation from the Episcopal Church doubted that we would ever serve in such a faith community as Grace. In a world of uncertainty we have all lived in fear, leading us at times to run off course contrary to what would be best for us. Jesus continues to not only reveal himself to us, but also to assure us. And that assurance can transcend all doubts in us leading to joy. And of this we are certain. And we are ourselves are witnesses to this. Amen.

Sermon for 22nd Week after Pentecost year B

Pslam 8
Job 1
Hebrews 2

What is man that you are mindful of him? The Son of Man that you should seek him out? This question has been asked and answers have been sought out by many intelligent people through out history: Who are we? In Western thought where the emphasis is on the individual, we ask this question on a much more personal level: Who am I? And when we ask this question in the context of Psalm eight, who am I that God even cares? The question turns theological. When you look at humans who have a nice long history full of war, murder, violence and mistrust compared to a God who created “vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, and planets in their courses”, who are mortals that God should consider us or look at our direction? It seems that this is an occurrence in the Old Testament where there is actually a positive response to such a question. “You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor, subjecting all things under their feet”. But can this really be the full answer? Not that I can come up with a better answer than anyone else in the past thousand years, but sometimes I feel like my crowing with honor and glory might have gotten lost via Episcopal Postal Service. But, that might just be me.

The answer to “what is man that you are mindful of him?” may still be at least part of the answer given by the response of the Psalmist. You have made them “for a little while”, says the Psalmist, little lower than the angels. “For awhile”, possibly implying that our status as humans might be temporary. (Thanks be to God…)

In this transitory life we all know too well the moments where Jesus relates to our moments which are anything but honor and glory. Moments which are also only “for little awhile” but seem to last a lot longer. And of course, as it said, we can’t possibly know or feel what good and bad are if we don’t know them both. Nor can we can know glory without having experienced suffering on some level. In today’s reading from Hebrews the writer seems to suggest this. Jesus, who in verse nine, is “now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone”. Now, since Jesus suffered doesn’t that mean the rest of us get a get out of jail free card? Not necessarily.
As the Buddha said, Life is suffering. Attachment to life causes suffering. Let’s boldly face it; we are collective individuals who suffer. Often it is the experience of our own suffering which aids us in making the mistakes we do, locking us in our patterns of behavior going around in circles as we try to find our identity. Other times, as wise man once said, Stuff happens. But suffering is indeed apart of our human identity and experience; which is exactly why Jesus had to suffer, it comes with the territory. It’s apart of the Incarnation. In becoming human, Jesus assumed every part of human identity; the good, bad, and ugly. And, by his grace, we in turn as Christians make the attempt to live out his nature given to us in baptism. When we read the Gospels, not only do we learn that Jesus assumed and experienced the same suffering that we experience, but he overcame his suffering by his identity. He suffered with his identity and suffered with purpose and reason. This is his glory and honor.
Now, what about us? Those who are sitting in the pews who are fully human but aren’t fully God? Job is a perfect example, a mere mortal whom God cared for. Though we just started the first chapter in the lectionary today, I’m sure I wouldn’t spoil the ending in telling you that Job either symbolically or literally went through more than what the average person should, and that it all worked out for him in the end. Job suffered, and though it would seem that his crowning with honor and glory came at the end of the book, I think Job would say different. He, like Jesus, set a prime example. Not necessarily that he never cursed God, but he was aware and secure in his identity not to curse God, and he accounted his glory and honor just in the fact that he was alive and breathing.
Even if it is “for awhile” the honor and glory we have as humans is the glory and honor which God has showed forth in our creation in blessing us with “memory, reason, and skill” and in making us caretakers of our planet. God gave us something which the heavenly bodies do not have: Identity. Identities which can love God back, and love each other on our own free will. This is why God looks past our faults despite the fact most of the time we know better.
If there is anything which can help us understand our individual identities here on Earth it might be this quote by French priest Teilhard de Chardin. “You are not a human being in search of a spiritual experience. You are a spiritual being immersed in a human experience." Keeping this in mind has helped me personally in those major and trivial moments where I’m not sure what the hell is going on. We have all had those moments where we ask on some level, “Why is this happening?” And most of the time we can’t find an answer. We might try to come up with answer and might succeed. But I think if we’re really honest with ourselves, we might have to admit that we came up short. But what else can you expect from spiritual beings trapped in limited human form?
In living our faith we must be mindful of our selves. If we are aware of our identities then we can be aware of Christ who dwells within us. We may not have the “why” of our long term eternal purpose and why God cares and loves us. But that almost doesn’t matter. We can know “what” and “who” which are equally important.
Imagine that your life on earth came to end, and finally you are in the next realm with Jesus, free from your mortal body and clothed in celestial brightness just as you were created. And Jesus asks you, “So, what did you learn”? You reflect back on your life and all that you had experienced and all whom you came across and loved. You search out your identity. And the answer to his question just might be the same answer to why God is mindful of us in the first place.