Saturday, February 28, 2015

Bearing with One Another - 5. Gathered Together at the Foot of the Cross

God’s grace – love and mercy –
meets human frailty, brokenness, and sin
at the Cross

Imagine with me: We are standing at the foot of the cross. Jesus is hanging there, dying. Who are you in the cast of characters gathered there?

The First Last Word

Gatherd at the foot of the cross, we hear Jesus speaking the first last word from the cross, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)

We need to hear that before we can hear anything else.
Have I like Peter denied Jesus?
Have I denied my neighbor created in God’s image?

Have I, like the other disciples, abandoned him?
Have I abandoned my neighbor?

Am I like the handful of women standing witness, but powerless?
Have I refused to use what power I have
on behalf of my neighbor?

Am I one of those who condemned him to die?
Have I condemned my neighbor?

Am I one of those who nailed him to the cross?
In what ways have I nailed my neighbor to the cross?

One way or another, I am each of these. And so are you

My fingerprints are on the hammer and the nails.

I am guilty. Me.

I am the one who does not know what he is doing.

I am the who does not do what I know.

Things done and left undone.

I am the one who has failed to love God
with all my heart mind, body and soul.

I am the one who has failed to love my neighbor

I am the one whose mercy
falls far short of the mercy of God

I am the one who needs to hear Jesus say,
“Father forgive.”

The irony is I can only truly dare to look at the extent of my own complicity in the reign of sin and death, violence and greed, if I am first able to hear, in the deep places of my spirit, Jesus speaking his mercy, his forgiveness. Even before I know I need the forgiveness – like the Centurian, who too late recognizes that he has helped to crucify an innocent man, let alone the Son of God.

The Last Last Word

Receiving that word, I am able to pray with Jesus his last Last Word from the cross, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) It is a prayer taken from Psalm 31 (vs 5). We also pray it in Compline.

Into your hands I commend my spirit. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). But, if that God has already declared his love and mercy I can dare to do so.

And dare is the right word.

Because one of the things that must happen if I stay at the foot of the cross, is my own dying. My own dying to self. As we will hear Jesus say in tomorrow’s Gospel,

"If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves
and take up their cross and follow me.
For 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.”

I can do that because I believe that such dying to self is a dying into the hands of the merciful Father who will not let what is truly me be lost.

What needs to die?

Certainly we will all eventually die physically. On our dying day, we hope to be able to say with Jesus, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” But, if we are going to enter fully into what God desires for us, we need to do some dying along the way.

What needs to die? All the ways I nail God and others to the cross

My sense of my own rightness

My desire to make myself out as somehow innocent.
Or, at least, less guilty than others.

There is always the temptation to justify oneself or one's group
and point to the fault (fingerprints) of others.

But that is the way of Adam blaming Eve
and Eve blaming the Serpent.
It is the way of the Pharisee,
“God, I thank you that I am not like other people:
thieves, rogues, adulterers,
or even like this tax-collector." (Luke 18:9-14)

Judging others

Focusing on others' fingerprints

          and excusing mine

My own certainty that I know right from wrong

My defensiveness

My every failure to love,

My indifference

My hardness of heart toward others

Minimizing the pain, suffering and anguish of others
whose pain suffering and anguish is inconvenient

Thinking and speaking of others with disdain and contempt

Thinking of others as ‘other’

Every allegiance and loyalty – family, nation, political conviction, career

It all has to die.

It might not all stay dead. But, it must die if it is to be resurrected –
chastened, refined –
and lived in light of Christ.

God is love. But, that love is not sentimental or ‘nice’. Julian of Norwich, that great exponent of God’s delight, understood that God’s love is not sentimental or simple affirmation. It also entails the promise (sometimes experienced as a threat?) of transformation:
He [Jesus] says: I shall completely break down in you your empty affections and your vicious pride, and then I shall gather you and make you meek and mild and holy through union with me.
This is why it is misleading to say, “God loves you. Period.” It might be true enough as far as it goes. But it does not go far enough to be sufficiently Christian. God intends our transformation. God intends that we learn to die so that we can truly live.

Everything must die. Everything must be put in the crucible and melted down by the refining fire of God’s severe mercy. The dross must be removed – however dear to me it is – so God can heal me and restore me to the life for which he created me.

This is hard. It is a kind of religious extremism. But this is what it means to take up my cross, deny myself and follow Jesus.

So, here we are – all of humanity – gathered at the foot of the cross.
The Church is the community of people 
who have heard Jesus speaking his first word,
“Father forgive.”
And we need that forgiveness because we know
that it is our fingerprints on the hammer and nails.
We know, as we will hear again on the Sunday before Easter,
that we have responded to God
(and those created in his image)
with words and actions akin to
“Crucify him!”
And we know we need to die
to the tendency to use the hammer and nail
to crucify one another.
We need to die
and commend our spirit
into the merciful hands of the Father.

Finally, though we continue to walk in the valley of the shadow of death, now we recognize that that shadow is a shadow cast by the cross. And that shadow is cast because of the light of resurrection glory on the other side of the cross. The reality of death has forever been changed.

If we know that, we can know freedom. Among other things we are free to bear with one another with open hearts – even when we disagree.

Next: Free to be Wrong


Bearing with One Another

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Bearing with One Another - 4. Three Movements of Mercy

Lord have mercy
Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy

The appeal for mercy is a recurring theme in our worship. Pay attention next Sunday to how many times mercy occurs in the liturgy. Mercy is an central theme because Christians understand that at the heart of everything is One who is Mercy. It is also a central because we are aware of our need for mercy. Certainly, we need God’s mercy. But our relationships or communities only flourish by our mutual extending of mercy to one another. This is true when things are going well. It is all the more true when they are not.  It is true when we mostly agree. It is especially true when we do not see eye to eye.

On Ash Wednesday, we were reminded of our need for mercy as we heard again, “Remember that you are but dust and to dust you shall return.” 

In the last post, I suggested that one aspect of grace was the sheer giftedness of our being and of creation as well as the gift of God's love and, indeed, the gift to us of God's very self. Mercy is the other aspect of grace. On Ash Wednesday we read or heard Psalm 103 which addresses three movements of mercy.

Mercy = Empathy

We are but dust and to dust we shall return. We humans are beings of wonder and beauty. Created in the image of God we are creatures of courage and creativity. But, we are also finite, fallible, fragile, and fearful. We can be confused and anxious. We bruise and break and bleed. And, sooner or later, we, and those we love, will die – sometimes peacefully; often, not so much. “Our days are like the grass; we flourish like a flower of the field. When the wind goes over it, it is gone, and its place shall know it no more. We are but dust and to dust we shall return.”

The good news of God’s mercy is that he understands. “For he himself knows whereof we are made; he remembers that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14). And “As a father cares for his children, so does the LORD care for those who fear him.” We are but dust. “But the merciful goodness of the LORD endures for ever.” Learning to rest in the assurance of that merciful goodness is what the life of faith is about.

Assured of God’s merciful goodness, we can extend a similar mercy to others. We can seek to attend carefully to the realities of their lives. We can patiently seek to understand their perspectives. We can reverently listen to their stories. We will remember that everyone we encounter is bearing secret burdens (as well as secret joys).

Mercy = Healing

We bruise and break and bleed. We are subject to disease, accidents, and aging. We hurt each other – physically, emotionally, spiritually. All of us bear wounds and scares of things done to us and things left undone. Our relationships and communities are also often fractured and in need of healing.
In Psalm 103:3, we are assured that God “heals all your infirmities; He redeems your life from the grave and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness; He satisfies you with good things, and your youth is renewed like an eagle's.” That is a hopeful thought. 

One of the most distinctive things about Jesus’ ministry was his healing. Our wholeness and harmony matter to the Mercy at the heart of all as embodied in Jesus and demonstrated in his mercy. 

We are not guaranteed full healing this side of the realization of the kingdom of God. But, we do expect to experience a foretaste of that healing in this life.

Having received the assurance of God’s intention to heal us and having experienced a foretaste of that mercy through Jesus, we can extend similar healing mercy to others. We can seek to be a healing presence to the woundedness of others. We can seek to be peacemakers in the midst of broken relationships and fractured communities.

Mercy = Forgiveness

We need forgiveness. As we pray when confessing our sins, “We have not loved God with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.” We ignore and disobey God. We ignore the needs of others. We have been wounded by others. And we have done our share of the wounding. We confess Jesus as the way, but fail to live the way Jesus is.

But, God, who is Mercy “forgives all your sins” (Psalm 103:3).

The Psalm continues,

8 The LORD is full of compassion and mercy,
slow to anger and of great kindness.

9 He will not always accuse us,
nor will he keep his anger for ever.

10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.

11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.

12 As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our sins from us.

When we know God is eager to forgive our sins like the father of the Prodigal Son, when we have received that forgiveness and experienced it in the deep places of our hearts, we can begin to forgive others as we have been forgiven (Colossians 3:13).  Such forgiveness addresses all the slights, offenses, and hurts we receive at the hands of others. But, it also is also part of forbearing with others – forgiving them for being other than we are. It might even mean celebrating that otherness.

We are but dust and to dust we shall return. We need understanding, healing and, forgiveness. God is full of mercy. Our need and God’s mercy meet in the person of Jesus Christ. And, most especially, they meet on the cross. We will gather at the foot of the cross of mercy in the next post.


Bearing with One Another

1. Broken Love

2. A Life Worthy of the Calling

Monday, February 23, 2015

Bearing with One Another - 3. Grace First and Last

The first word for Christians is grace
The last word for Christians is grace
And every day
along the way is

This is important to remember even in Lent. Perhaps especially in Lent
when we dare to more carefully and honestly look at
the ways we fall short of the glory of God,
the ways our compassion falls short
of the perfect compassion of God,
the ways we fail to love as God has loved us,
fail to forgive as we have been forgiven,
fail to bear with one another,
fail to lead lives worthy
of the call to which we have been called.

Reciting the Great Litany yesterday, we recounted the ways we are in need of God’s grace.

I suggest there are two main aspects of grace – Delight and Mercy.

Grace = Delight

Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the meaning of life? The Christian answer to both of these age-old questions is the same – Love

As Julian of Norwich observed,
Do you wish to know the Lord’s meaning in this? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why did he reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this and you will never know different, without end.
God is love.

All of creation is a gift of God’s love.
God created everything for the sheer delight of it.
And God delights in his creation.
At the end of the creation account in Genesis,
God looks at creation with delight and declares that it is “very good.”
God delights in the whole wild, three-ring circus of creation –
from sub-atomic particles to super novae
and everything in between.

And that means, on a fundamental level,
God delights in you.
God delights in me.
God delights in those we find hardest to bear.
God delights in those who find us hard to bear.
And God delights in those with whom we disagree.

As Jesus famously said of himself,
“For God so loved the world
that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not perish
but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Jesus did not say God so love the world –
“except for you”
or “except for this person or that person.”

God’s love is the foundation of our very being
and he is forever pouring it out
like the shining of the sun or the falling rain.
There is nothing we can do to change that.
But we can choose whether or not to receive
and embrace that love
as demonstrated in Jesus
and live in in light of that love.

Julian of Norwich sums this up,
“For we are his bliss,
because he endlessly delights in us;
and so with his grace shall we delight in him.”
And with his grace we shall learn to delight in others,
however unbearable
or disagreeable they might seem.

When I remember that God endlessly delights in me
and am able to rest in the assurance of that delight,
I am better able to remember that God delights in others,
I am better able to bear with others,
I am better able to engage those with whom I disagree
with patience
and understanding
and forbearance

We are God’s bliss.
God endlessly delights in us.
That is grace. It is the word we need to hear first and last.

But, we know that while that is fundamentally true,
it is more complicated than that.
We also know that not everything about us,
not everything we do, is delightful.
We humans have made a mess of God’s good creation.
We have made a mess of ourselves.
We have fallen well short of the good pleasure of God’s delight.
Taking an honest look at that is what Lent is about.

That is why we need to know that other aspect of God’s grace – Mercy.


Bearing with One Another

1. Broken Love

2. A Life Worthy of the Calling

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Bearing with One Another - 2. A life Worthy of the Calling

In the last post I affirmed that humans are made for love in community, but that our ability to love is broken. What might an unbroken love worthy of the name look like? One of the places in the New Testament where that is illustrated is in the fourth chapter of Ephesians which begins with
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Before we go any farther, note that the chapter begins with “I therefore.” Any time we see a “therefore” in the Bible, we should ask, “What is the therefore there for? What came before that this is building on?”

In this case what has gone before in Ephesians is the declaration that in Jesus Christ, heaven and earth which have been so separated by sin and brokenness have been made to rhyme. And, with that, the disharmony of humankind exemplified by the divide between Jew and Gentile has been harmonized.  And that the Church has been created to be the community living the harmony of that new humanity in all its rich variety rooted in “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with the fullness of God.”

Based on that, Chapter 4 begins with “Therefore lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” And what does that look like? Like humility. Like gentleness. Like patience. Like forbearance – bearing with one another. Let’s face it, this is a tall order. Some of us are more bearable than others. And all of us can be unbearable sometimes. But it is learning to bear with one another in all of our unbearable-ness that we learn to love as Christ loved us, to love as we were made to love.

It is in learning to bear the burden of one another, especially those we find unbearable that our compassion moves in the direction of being like God’s (cf. Matthew 5:43-48 and Luke 6:35-40). As Paul puts it in Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Ephesians 4 portray further what a life worthy of this call looks like:

To lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called
means to live

with all humility
and gentleness,
with patience,
bearing with one another in love,
making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit
in the bond of peace.

To lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called means
to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of       Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

To lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called means

speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

To lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called is to

put away your former way of life, your old self,
corrupt and deluded by its lusts,
                       and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
and to

clothe yourselves with the new self,
created according to the likeness of God
in true righteousness and holiness.

To lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called means

putting away falsehood,
let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors,
for we are members of one another.

To lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called means to

Be angry but do not sin;
do not let the sun go down on your anger,
and do not make room for the devil.

To lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called means Christians must

give up stealing;
work honestly with their own hands,
so as to have something to share with the needy.

To lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called means to

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths,
but only what is useful for building up,

Put away from you
all bitterness
and wrath
and anger
and wrangling
and slander,
together with all malice,
be kind to one another,
forgiving one another,
as God in Christ has forgiven you.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)
 The Church is called to be the community gathered in the power of the Holy Spirit where our broken loves are healed. It is not easy. It requires some effort on our part. But, we cannot hope to do it without the grace of God. More on that beginning tomorrow.

Bearing with One Another

1. Broken Love

2. A Life Worthy of the Calling

3. Grace First and Last

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Bearing with One Another - 1. Broken Love

This is the first of a series of Lenten posts on bearing with one another when we disagree. As a bishop, I am particularly interested in how we bear with one another in the Church, but this has relevance in all of our relationships.

We are made for love, made for relationship, for community. Giving and receiving love in community – the community of marriage and family, of friendships, of the neighborhood, of the nation, etc. – is basic to what it means to be human.

But, if we are honest with ourselves, we are not very good at it. There is a deep brokenness in all of our relationships. Divorce, estrangement from family members and friends, racial and ethnic tensions, divisiveness in politics, and wars between nations are all evidence of this brokenness. Even at our best our love limps and falls short of what we intend. All of our loves, all of our relationships, all of our communities are in need of healing.

The root of our fractured love and broken relationships is described poetically in the first chapters of Genesis in the Bible. Adam and Eve disobeyed God, who is Love, and, doing so, created a schism between themselves and God. This resulted in division between Adam and Eve and then the schism of brother against brother leading to murder.

It was to heal this schism between humanity and God and among humans that Jesus came into our midst  taking on our humanity, teaching, healing, dying on the cross, and rising again. Jesus established the Church as the community of new creation and fills it with his Spirit to bear witness to that healing.

Christians have not always done a good job of leading a life worthy of this calling to which we have been called. Lent is a good time to take a fresh look at that vocation and rededicate ourselves to learning to live it more truly. It is precisely to relearn love that God calls us into the community of the Church. This includes loving one another when we disagree.

Tomorrow we will look at a passage from the Letter to the Ephesians that describes the kind of community of love to which the Church (and, by extension, humanity) is called.

Bearing with One Another

Thursday, February 19, 2015

I’m Converted, But I’m Not Converted That Far

An Ash Wednesday Sermon
Year B, , 2 /18/15
Joel 2:1-2,12-17; Psalm 51:1-17; 
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

E. Stanley Jones was a missionary in India. While there, he established a Christian Ashram. An Ashram is a sort of spiritual community and retreat center. Jones recounted this story: 
In the Ashram, we gave the servants, including the sweeper, a holiday one day each week, and we volunteered to do their jobs for them. The sweeper’s job included the cleaning of the latrines before the days of flush toilets. No one would touch that job but an outcaste [the lowest of the low in the Indian caste system], but we volunteered.
One day I said to a Brahmin [upper caste] convert who was hesitating to volunteer: ‘Brother, when are you going to volunteer?’ He shook his head slowly and said: ‘Brother Stanley, I’m converted, but I’m not converted that far.’
“I’m converted, but I’m not converted that far.” You’ve got to appreciate the honesty. Here we are again - Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. This is the time in the spiritual rhythm of the church year when we take an honest look at the state of our faith and ask ourselves, How far am I converted? Is my conversion limited? What limits it? What holds me back from loving God with my whole heart, mind and strength? From loving my neighbor as myself? Do I live each day shaped by the knowledge that God’s kingdom has broken into the world and into my life; God’s kingdom of love, truth and joy; justice, freedom and peace. I’m converted, but I’m not converted that far.

Where am I storing my treasure? Am I caught up in the madness of accumulating more and more or am I learning to let go, learning to give more and more? I’m converted, but I’m not converted that far.

Am I dying to self so I can enter more fully into the joy of God and live for others? Do I see every person I meet, every encounter, as a gift? I’m converted, but I’m not converted that far.

Do I receive each day with expectancy? Have I made peace? Is there forgiveness I have yet to give? Forgiveness I have yet request or accept? I’m converted, but I’m not converted that far.

In the reading from 2 Corinthians, we are told that, for our sake, God made Jesus to be sin - he who knew no sin. Jesus took on our humanity and, in so doing, took on the end result of human sin disconnectedness, brokenness, suffering, and death. He defeated Sin and Death and everything in-between. Now, by the power of his victory, in him we can become the righteousness of God.

To be the righteousness of God means to live according to our original purpose - right with God, right with one another, to be free to live in the direction of our truest joy.

This is the Gospel. This is the Gift (which is what grace means in the passage). But, we are free to live into that gift or to not live into it. We can receive it in vain - to no effect. We are converted, but not converted that far.

Paul encourages us - entreats us - to be converted farther, to become the righteousness of God.

Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation. The gift is free, but the full experience of it depends on openness and preparedness.

I want to suggest briefly five things we can do to enter more fully into God’s purpose for us:

1. Pray – Set aside five to ten minutes a day during Lent for prayer. Try doing Morning Prayer. If your time is too tight for that, try doing the Daily Devotions on pages 137 – 140 in the Prayer Book. Or try sitting quietly and repeating the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”
2. Read the Bible – Pick up one of the Day By Day booklets (or some other Lenten devotional guide) and read the lessons each day along with the meditation. Read the Gospel of Mark during Lent.
3. Find someone you can talk to about what you are learning in prayer and scripture.
4. Act on what you know – serve others, love with abandon, seek the welfare of the least of those around you. Develop a specific “action plan” for serving others during Lent. Serve the poor. Give more financially to aid the poor. Think of people you know who could use some encouragement and visit them or send them a card.
5. Reconcile. Seek reconciliation with a person who you need to forgive or of whom you need to ask forgiveness. Or reach out to a person from whom you have grown distant.

During Lent, let us never forget that the gift of God’s grace is free. But let us look carefully at where we have fallen short, and at what hinders us from receiving more of the gift and from living it more with those around us.
We will be reminded again, in a few minutes, that life is short and that we are not our own.

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

We are converted, but not converted that far.

Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.