mystery| John 16:12-15

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today in the Gospel of John, Jesus tells his followers, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”

He’s saying goodbye on the eve of his Passion, aware his disciples aren’t ready to bear IMG_1900the truth of his life. Nor has the Spirit come to help them.

This tells you something true about Christian theology, too: we can only approach it through what we know and who we are. And in our effort to understand anything, we must rely on the Spirit of truth to guide us.

Today is Trinity Sunday, a day when churches often invite seminarians to enter their pulpits. It’s a standard practice: asking the lesser experienced to explain the inexplicable and bear the unbearable so that everyone else can sit back and watch them flail their way toward heresy. The implication is no one really knows what they’re talking about on Trinity Sunday.

In our tradition, Trinity is another name for God. It’s why we began our service today, saying Blessed be God, and followed it up with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The doctrine of the Trinity has always been caught up in quarrels, hammered out in arguments. The danger is mistaking the wordy doctrine for the lived mystery. The Trinity, you see, expresses the actual life of God, a mystery we confess to believe in every Sunday when we recite the Creed.

And yet we know only a little of this mystery. And what little we know, we know by and through the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, inspiring us to return again and again to God our maker, calling us into the communion of Christ – calling not only you and me into its fellowship but the whole of creation.

The point of the Creed isn’t memorization, though. It’s to draw our lives into the triune life of God. It’s not meant to explain everything, as if all you need are definitions to live by. No, it’s meant to draw the whole of your experience into the loving care of God.

In reciting the Creed – in approaching any subject, really – it’s a good practice to remember how little you know. Think here of your own life, how sometimes you’re a mystery even to yourself – and then go ahead and admit how often you’re also a mystery to other people, and they to you.

Thomas Merton once asked, Who am I? and answered, My deepest realization of who I am is that I am one loved by Christ.

Whenever you start wondering who other people are and what they’re about, you’d well to remember how much God loves them. That’s a start. Read more

hallo | Acts 2:1-21

Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.”

Nine in the morning is when the Spirit struck the hour of Pentecost, sounding out Screen Shot 2019-06-10 at 9.04.58 AMthrough many tongues, the birth of the Church. And to some, it sounded like folks were misbehaving.

It began with a crowd: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, you get the idea. Visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs.

It’s an ancient story from the Acts of the Apostles, one that lives today whenever and wherever the Spirit goes to work. A story of one room opening onto the world, one language giving way to all languages.

I confess I would love to have been there. Not so much to witness the fire and the wind, as to hear the wild chorus of all those words transcending their speakers.

I have a lifelong habit of tuning my voice to the sound of whoever I’m talking to. Without knowing it, I’ll begin speaking in a British accent to someone from England. Or what I imagine is a German accent to someone from Heidelberg. I’ll swing my voice toward Paris if I’m talking to a Frenchman. Mind you, I’m only the one who enjoys this wayward tendency.

I love listening to foreign films, too, snagging the subtitles while trying to take in the lovely sound of another language. And sometimes while I’m listening, I’ll take my eye off the subtitles and try to sound out the spoken words not knowing what they mean. I do this alone. I’d never ever do this in a crowd. I’d be afraid of letting anyone know how much I love sounding like somebody else.

Years ago, I watched The Blue Angel, a German film featuring the great Marlene Dietrich. She sang, memory tells me, but truthfully every word she spoke in German was music to my ear. Read more

in |John 17:20-26

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.

Those words – words Jesus prays in our gospel today – arrive at the end of what’s known Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 3.42.29 PMas The Farewell Discourse– the Goodbye Talk Jesus gave to his disciples just after the Last Supper on the night of his crucifixion.  It draws to an end here with a prayer, and not just any prayer, but a prayer resetting the terms of reality. Both his and ours.

Very often when we pray together, we think we have to be other than we are. But, by way of this prayer, we’re to know that even though the Word Made Flesh ascended into heaven, and will one day make a place for us with him, for now the Incarnate Life of Christ continues to dwell among us because he abides in us and we in him. Not as we imagine ourselves, but as we really are.

So, imagine, then, being the disciples gathered round him in this farewell prayer. They see him – the Word made Flesh – face to face, a face they’ve come to know and love, and they see their own faces, too. (That’s important: their own particular faces.)

One thing I love about church-going is coming face to face with other people caught up in the hope of prayer. Your faces flesh out the words we say. Your faces lend incarnate weight to the prayers we offer. Together we embody our abiding life in Christ. Read more

waiting man | John 5:1-9

The earth has brought forth her increase; may God, our own God, give us his blessing . . . and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.

Today is the Sixth Sunday of Easter: a day we stand in awe of what God has done for us IMG_1700
through the risen life of Jesus Christ. Some also call today Rogation Sunday: a day we stand in awe of all God has done for us through the life of all creation.

Standing is the posture of the Risen Lord, a posture meant to grace our lives with hope. You can hear something of that force in our gospel today. A man waits by living waters. He waits outside them on a mat not complaining at all. But then Jesus sees him and asks, Do you want to be well?  And the man answers with all the reasons why he can’t be well, why nothing ever works out for him.

Notably, the story doesn’t tell us what ails the man exactly. We only know he’s waited for thirty-eight years ailing among the blind, the lame, and the paralyzed. You get the feeling maybe he doesn’t belong there. On his mat. And when he answers Jesus, we learn he’s made his way toward living waters before because he admits he’s tried and failed to get there. People get in his way. On the surface, he seems a man sinned against by all those others. Read more

muddy hope| luke 24:1-12

These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb.

Yesterday morning, a good dozen of us gathered outside in the memorial garden to say Screen Shot 2019-04-21 at 2.16.39 PMprayers on Holy Saturday. We stood over gravestones remembering those we love and see no more. It felt right to be there, outside under a blue sky with the birds and the bees getting ready for Easter Sunday in a garden of memory.

Two roses in full-blown blossom kept company with us. I spied a pair Georgia Bulldogs, too, engraved in stone, their red caps bright as the roses.

We sang, Morning has broken and blackbird has spoken; and overhead, high in the trees, an old crow cawed, “Tomorrow, tomorrow.”

Today is that tomorrow, and Easter is come again: a hidden tomorrow in all our days. In the Gospel of Luke, we hear that women came to the tomb, and found it empty; that a pair of angels (two men in dazzling clothes) told them why and how they remembered the words of Jesus and told the disciples what they knew, and that Peter heard them and ran to see for himself.

When those ancient women came to the tomb, they came ready to attend death, and found themselves suddenly useless, their spices irrelevant. They came looking for Jesus and found something else entirely: a stone rolled away and an empty tomb.

Yet somehow that nothing they found, that confusion they felt, became everything they needed. The pair of angels were there to remind them that this emptiness was something Jesus prepared them for. Hey, the angels said, it’s like he said it’d be, remember. 

And feeling useful again, they left, and became the first to try and talk about Easter. If Peter is any measure, they succeeded, because right off he ran to the tomb. Only later would people say he was competing, aiming to be first. I’m guessing, at the time, the women understood why he ran. They knew his grief. Read more

With Good Friday | John 18:1-19:42

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to IMG_0657his mother, “Woman, Here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple,”Here is your mother.”

How to be with another person is a question that stirs throughout John’s gospel. Always in John there is the language of abiding, most especially talk of who abides with and in God.

But tonight, in John’s Passion narrative, it’s all-too-evident that abiding isn’t always a comfort. Being with another person is difficult. Sometimes the greater comfort is running away, or can seem to be. Peter has run off after denying he had anything to do with Jesus. And Pilate, resisting it all, wants nothing to do with anyone, and so hands Jesus over to be crucified.

Fear and pride and resistance to others – these things often find us on the run.

But something strange happens in this story. Right there, in the terror of the moment, a handful of friends stand beside Jesus on the cross, among them Mary his mother and the beloved disciple. And seeing this gathering of friends still with him, Jesus arranges an adoption of sorts, giving his mother to the disciple, and the disciple to his mother. Read more

beautiful offense | John 12:1-8

Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

Judas is deadly serious in our gospel today. So serious, you can’t help but give him a Screen Shot 2019-04-07 at 12.46.51 PM
hearing. Seems only fair. So bear with me while I try.

The way I see it, Judas wants Mary to quit wasting expensive perfume on the body of Jesus. He also wants Jesus to quit wasting time with Mary. He’d rather the two of them step away from the woman and take care of the poor. But Jesus is unmoved.

If you’ll notice, our narrator is full of insider talk offered up in a pair of parentheses. It’s John’s way of whispering to you in the middle of the story, like kicking you under the table.  In theatre, it’s called an aside. Within that pair of parentheses, John whispers what he wants you to know. Judas, he says, is about to betray our Lord. And by the way, don’t be fooled by his concern for the poor – he’s a thief who stole from the common purse.

John lets you in on this information because he wants you to keep an eye on Judas, to watch out for him. Very often, when somebody whispers an aside, they’re telling you something no one else in the story knows. Makes you wonder if Jesus and Mary also know Judas is a thief.

I’m guessing they don’t, but even if they did, it wouldn’t change a thing. Mary would still fill the room with perfume and anoint the feet of Jesus with her hair, and Jesus would still receive her odd ministry.

Though Judas poses no obstacle to their way of seeing, he may well get in our way. You see, the trouble with keeping an eye on Judas is this: you just might miss something beautiful at work in this story.

In the novel A Room with a View, written by E.M. Forster in 1908, a pair of well-behaved elderly sisters go to Italy and stay in a villa with other guests, among them a man and his son (men they’ve only just met). The father and son learn that the sisters love flowers, and one day on a wild impulse, the two men set out to decorate the sisters’ room with violets.

These are characters very much shaped by the Victorian era, so you’d expect the sisters to be offended by the sneaky gift of violets left in their bedroom. But one of them declines to think in that direction and raises a lovely question. “Have you ever noticed,” she asks, “that there are people who do things which are most indelicate, and yet at the same time – beautiful?” [1]

Have you ever wondered whether things that offend you might also be beautiful? Even necessary. Read more

tenderness | Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Then he said, A man had two sons. And the younger of them said to the father, Father, give me that share of the fortune that belongs to me.

Those words are from a slightly different translation than the one proclaimed a moment 1012073_800562819959942_170395354_nago.  They make you wonder if the prodigal only wants what belongs to him (not what will one day belong to him), like saying, Father, give me that share of the tune that belongs to me..

We all want what belongs to us, what God gave us at birth, which is our very selves.

How to come into that inheritance – the whole of who you are – may well be a question at play in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but it all ends in the same place. Whether the Prodigal runs off with what belongs to him – or with what will belong to him – he still manages to squander it all so completely he is lost.

And very likely, the other brother – the one who stays home and never leaves, the one who lives entirely within his father’s fold – is also lost.

Charles Peguy was a French poet who died in the First World War, and who also wrote memorable lines about this story. He believed it was the word of Jesus that had lasted the longest, the one everybody knows. Read more

paper | Luke 13:31-35

This morning while I was on my way to church listening to the radio, I caught the tail IMG_0801.jpegend of a conversation with Barbara Brown Taylor. Her new book is called Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others. Her premise is that God can be found and met in the faith traditions of other people.

I’m a devout Christian who believes God is present to and in all life. And I remember a time when it was easier to talk in church about other faith traditions.

My favorite religious poet is a Muslim: a thirteenth-century mystic named Rumi, and I have met God in Christ often through his words. Today, I’m comforted by these: “Out beyond our ideas of who’s right and who’s wrong, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.”

Until now, I have never named the blessing of Rumi while standing in a pulpit. It seems such a small confession alongside the inter-religious anger that governs so many today, in every faith tradition, including our own. My appreciation is made of words on paper found in books I keep at home. Read more

crowd | epiphany 1

The voice of the Lord is upon the watersthe God of glory thunders. 

According to the Psalmist, the God of Glory thunders. And since those words precede our stagereading of the Gospel today, it’s tempting to hear something of that same rumble in the words God speaks at the Baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan. Thunder, though, aint exactly what you want to hear when you’re in the water, is it?

Thunder clears the pool.

We hear those words from the Twenty-ninth Psalm every first Sunday after the Epiphany, a day when we always remember the Baptism of Jesus. Those words are meant to make us all tremble, if only a little, as we remember that strange day when a sinless man – Jesus – descended into the sins of many, as if repenting them all.

Today it’s Luke’s turn to tell that story. And Luke has his own unique way of telling it.

Matthew and Mark have it Jesus entered the River Jordan all alone, coming wet from the water, the heavens immediately opening, the Spirit alighting on him like a dove, with a voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved son and with him I’m well pleased.”

Luke gives us pretty much the same words and the same holy dove but in his telling, Jesus isn’t the only one getting baptized that day. Apparently, while John the Baptist was waiting on the arrival of Jesus, he was busy doing what he did: baptizing whole crowds of people.

You get the feeling Jesus may have had to stand in line for his turn in the river, and that when he finally did enter the water, there were others already there kicking up the mud, whole hoards of broken people coming alongside him in the murky water. Read more