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

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, the women 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

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