Thursday, May 27, 2010

In the joy of the dance

In speaking of the Trinity, there always comes a point when words fail us. Supposedly, Saint Augustine of Hippo was walking along the beach one day, puzzling over the doctrine of the Trinity, when he came across a little child who was running back and forth with a bucket, pouring water from the ocean into a hole he had dug in the sand. (I myself remember spending hours of summer days engaged in exactly this activity.) Augustine asked the boy, "What are you doing?" The boy replied, "I'm trying to put the ocean into this hole." Augustine abruptly realized that he had been trying to put an infinite God into his finite mind.  Lets take a moment and allow the rest of our reflection to be in that place beyond words, imagining that joyful dance and our part in it, in gratitude to the God who invites us into the divine dance with one another.

This Sunday we celebrate this funny kind of day called “Trinity”. It’s the only day of the Christian calendar that celebrates a particular doctrine of the Church. It is not about Easter or Christmas. It is not about a saint or a martyr. It is about what we believe in terms of doctrine. And what is doctrine all about? It is about the relationships we keep and how they have worked out over time. For example we acknowledge that there is one God who is known in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How do we know God is there? Because God has through time revealed himself to us as human beings. We know and understand him best in the earthly life of his Son Jesus who came and showed us who God is. And we have become aware that God has a mission: to draw in all those who will believe in him through Christ so that they can live with him in the new creation forever. God has revealed that he is not only the Creator and the Redeemer of this creation, but that he through his Spirit, sustains and maintains his creation, his universe. And I have to stop in this moment and acknowledge the bucket in my hand as I run back and forth, trying to fill my particular whole with water from the ocean. That it why I am draw back to my relationship with God and with the Church so that I might marvel and wonder enough that I might be of some use to both God and my neighbour.

You might be wondering why I might take the time to consider doctrine and what it might mean to us. After all sermons need to breathe and to bleed at least a little do they not? Why should I care about the Trinity? Doctrine should cause us both as individuals and even more so as a community to consider carefully how it is that we encounter the other, whether it be God or another person. The doctrine of the Trinity should remind the Church that we are not just a collection of individuals but rather we are a tightly knit community bonded (and occasionally crazy-glued!) together by God. That the peace bought for us between God and us and even salvation itself is not found apart from a relationship with God and with the Church. God nourishes community because that is his desire not ours. When we were yet still powerless and helpless, Christ sacrificed himself that we might be forgiven and then raised from the dead that we might live and be empowered to participate both in the new creation and in the kind of life that God lives. God shows us his love for in the dying and rising of Christ and through all that begins the new community of the Church which he creates and enables to be and to do.     

What does the Church need to do?

We need to tell the world the truth – that God delights in his creation and that they are invited to come and to receive all that God has to offer. We need to tell the world that God takes delight in and enjoys his creation. We need to be people who are going to claim the promises that have been made by Christ, (1) that the Spirit will be sent to us and will be with us forever, (2) that the Spirit will teach and remind the Church of who Jesus is, (3) will bear witness to who Jesus and thus to who the Father is, (4) that the Spirit will convict the world in terms of sin, righteousness and judgment. In short, we communicate the truth reliably and by the work of the person of the Holy Spirit and allowing God to be God.

And in all this we need to admit both to ourselves and to God that we don’t always know the way and we don’t always have the answers. We as a community need to admit that we need to be led by our God into those spaces and places where we can faithfully serve and proclaim that Jesus is Lord – and that to the glory of the Father.  We can celebrate that the presence of God through the Spirit is not bound to whether we always understand everything and know every bit of doctrine. The God is with us through the Spirit to continue guiding, encouraging, empowering and emboldening the Church to be the Church. Together God and the Church work towards that new creation and that new day in that new kingdom where those who participate in it will know the full reign of God.

In this moment we are a people who are on the way to that time and that place. And we are being led and sustained by the Spirit to participate in that great dance between the hole and the ocean, doing our part to make God’s presence know and felt. And this dance is not a futile act, never being able to contain the waters but as a moment of pure joy and worship in the act of making all things new again.    

Friday, May 21, 2010

And also with you!

Breathe on me breath of God
fill me with life anew
That I may love what thou dost love
and do what thou wouldst do.
There is a story told of a little boy who went faithfully with his parents very Sunday to Church as became well versed in the liturgy. He especially liked it when he got to talk. The clergy would say to the congregation “The Lord be with you” and the boy would loudly proclaim, “And also with you!” one evening the family went to take in a showing of the original Star Wars movie. And when the teacher, Obi wan Kenobi said to the young Luke Skywalker “May the Force be with you,” the young lad in the audience shouted out “and also with you!”
Without the coming of the Holy Spirit where would the Church have been? If the Spirit had not come on the Church thee people would have been left in confusion, under threat from outside their group who opposed them, having being betrayed by one of their own and most of all they would have been left in growing fear that they were about to be killed themselves. They would have remained as long as they could have behind closed curtain and locked doors waiting to be gotten and dealt with by those who opposed Jesus. Could it be that is why we are allowed to see Jesus in the room and breathing on his disciples?  So why suddenly did they become bolder and stronger, willing to preach the risen and ascended Jesus and taking risks and putting their lives on the line?

They must have found and awful lot more than forgiveness for their lives. They must have found a deepening relationship with God. The Easter season is more than just about Jesus rising from the dead and returning to the Father, completing the incarnational cycle. Resurrection moves people not just into repentance which leads to the forgiveness sin and thus potential relationship with God. The risen life of Christ also necessarily moves people into personal and public vocation concerning the kingdom. And to enable this to happen,  Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to not only be with but also within the Church to continue doing for the Church what had been done for him – empowering ministry. We are made three simple promises by Jesus according to the Gospel:

1.       That the work of Christ will continue on an everyday basis through the Church and be enabled to do greater things than Christ has done because he is at home with the Father enabling us to do it.  

2.       That prayers will not only be heard, they will be answered in order that life and mission in the Church is sustained and maintained. Thus the Church needs to stop and realize that God’s work done God’s way, will know God’s supply.

3.       That the Church will not be orphaned but that the Spirit is sent to be alongside and with the Church for the rest of eternity: that the Church, that we as his Church, his Body, will never be abandoned and left orphaned.  

The Spirit moreover marks us as Christ’s own and enables us to be in community with one another in ways that we could not have otherwise imagined – we are God’s slaves, his sons and daughters. All of us are adopted – chosen by God. And we are called to be filled with the Spirit so that we can show whose children we really are. Speaking to people in another language not about how bless some people were in that moment. God cleared away the things that were getting in the way of us boldly telling the nations of the earth how Great God is and what God has done for us in Christ to bring us home too.

The Spirit within us as Church compels us to tell all of creation about the good news of God in Christ and that Christ lives and is Lord. While we like to have our programs and people to do things, and we like our rules, our theology and our liturgies what the world needs most is for the Church to be the Church. For the Church to show its heart and declare boldly that Jesus is Lord to the glory of the Father. The Church needs to show its lives that are filled with the Spirit and are being lived out faithfully and with hope for what is to come in the present and in the future. 

Let us recognize that this same Spirit is here in the Church today and the power to propel us into proclamation is still there – the power to demonstrate that Jesus is alive and is Lord is available to the modern Church as it was to those early believers. That is worth something in terms of celebrating so let’s go live it. And the Lord be with you!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Can you celebrate being left behind?

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking upward to heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1.11)

Can you celebrate that we have been left behind? I cannot help but reflect the words of those men dressed in white and how they encouraged those Men of Galilee to move forward again now that Jesus had departed; but forward into what though? Here they are after spend three years with the man they thought was going to restore the mighty kingdom of Israel and now he’s gone and they are left standing there, gawking in awe and wonder and what has been. The men in white encourage the Men from Galilee to look around them now and to begin to move back to a point where they will be bless and will be sent to take up the proclaiming of the coming kingdom, caring for the poor and the sick, clothing the naked, releasing the captives proclaiming sight to the blind and declaring the year of the Lord’s freedom and salvation from debt and slavery.

Lest we think they did nothing until that moment when the Spirit came on that morning of the Feast of Pentecost, let’s keep in mind that they weren’t just twiddling thumbs. They were praising God for all that had happened, worshipping in the Temple and actively praying. So what did they have to pray about? They needed to pray about what’s next: what is it that God wanted them to do. In prayer they decided to have someone take Judas Iscariot’s place among the Twelve.  They reminded each other of the things that Jesus did and said. They began to see that they could be together and be with one another as Jesus had commanded them to. They read and considered the scriptures together. They told stories and laughed together. They made meals and celebrated their fellowship together. They strengthened the bond of affections with one another.

And when the Spirit came, he did not just come to bless a group of individuals, he came to the community of Jesus whom he not only blessed but empowered for what was next – to proclaim, and restore and heal as Jesus had done and to do so together in Jesus’ name. The Spirit came to move the Church into what it needed to do: draw the world to Christ so that the world could declare Christ as Lord. It does mean that there were struggles and hardships, attacks made by wild animals and angered people. It does not mean that there weren’t things that needed to be overcome or shipwrecks to be survived. This doesn’t mean that there weren’t trials and stonings, whippings and beatings that had to be endured. There was all that and more! We can celebrate that we have been left here so that we can actively proclaim the good news that God has acted through Christ to make all things new and bring them to perfection in Christ, through who all things were made. Our challenge in this moment and through the warm days of Spring and into the summer is to remember who has given us life and be ready when he sends, to go with him wherever he leads. Welcome to the party that is the kingdom of God and welcome to the long, green season!  

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Not left as orphans now

There is a lot of angst in the life of the Church at this moment. People are worried that the Church will leave them alone. People are afraid that there will not be a church for them to go to, to have children baptized, to get married in or to bury family members from. And because there are so many apparent threats to the longevity of the Church people naturally worry if the Church is going to be there.

Maybe it’s time that we considered the ancient Church and all that they went through in establishing themselves in the life of the wider world. After all, look at the people Jesus called to be his disciples: fishermen, carpenters, tax collectors and even a thief who was ready to martyr himself to get what was coming to him. Not many of them were respectable, or learned, or incredibly rich. In fact, when the Church began, all they had was each other and the city thought they were drunk because of the way in which they were acting. And they had one thing more that the rest of the world did not have: the presence of Christ to embolden them in their lives and work. In this moment as in that moment we are assured of Christ’s continuing presence amongst us that we are offered his love and his trust to live out each and every day for him. In addition, we also carry the hope of new life and the new creation forward because we have a home and a Father we are heading towards.

We do not make that journey alone. We have the Paraclete, the One who is called alongside us by God to help us, to remind us of the things and life in Christ, and to enable us to effective proclaim Christ as our Lord. And oddly enough in the going and living of the life we are called to live, we get to know Jesus better. We don’t always know where we are going to be led or what we are going to be asked to do. Those things can change ever so rapidly. Nevertheless we can know who leads us through it and to do the thing God has asked us to do. We are called to witness to the reality of the resurrection of Christ to the rest of the world. The primary work of the Church is to make it know to the world that Jesus is our Lord and they are invited to come and see him and to know him. The Spirit emboldens and enables the Church to do this very thing: We are called to make it know in the world that he is raised from the dead and that he is Lord.

We live our lives in the power of the Holy Spirit we also live in the great anticipation of the gathering of the community of God. And maybe it is time that we stop worrying about the quantity of worship and started concentrating on the quality of our worship. We need to stop worrying about how many are in worship and what has been put in the plate and start thinking about how much God has given to us and therefore how we are going to respond and what worth are we going to assign to our relationships both with God and with each other. We are not called to be heroes but to be faithful followers, living the common life with uncommon courage and extraordinary love through the comfort of the Holy Spirit. So even we don’t know where exactly it is that we are going or where it is that we are being drawn to.

How will the Church go on? The Church needs to live like the oil lamps of yesteryear. The oil is not consumed all at once. It is consume drop by drop, as it is drawn from the reserves through the wick to the air where it is burnt. Each drop takes its turn and in doing so brings the burning of a lively flame. The Church needs to be aware of being drawn and used to shine God’s grace and glory on this world. And in this moment we through prayer, through bread and wine, through seeing and sharing with each other, seek to know Christ’s presence that we would know it and be blessed as we move with him to make the Father known in this world. We are not alone and we were not left as orphans. Thanks be to God for that.