Thursday, February 16, 2012

To Find the Christ

Epiphany Last, February 18, 2012, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church

Imagine a small mirror with the face of Jesus pasted on it, but with the face itself cut out, so that when you look at it your face is framed by the hair and shoulders of Jesus.  It sounds simple enough, but there is profound truth in the simple exercise.  Who is in the mirror?  You, yes, but also Jesus.  In the mirror you look like Jesus, and in a real way, it reminds us that Jesus often looks like you.  If Jesus sometimes looks like you, who else does He sometimes look like?  In truth, Jesus has hidden himself all over the world, at school, at work, at play, in lots and lots of other people—in fact, in everyone.  He appears in them—just for you.

In today's Gospel lesson Peter, James and John go up on a mountain with Jesus, and Jesus is transfigured there.  He goes all shiny and white, and Moses and Elijah, people from the Old Testament, come and talk with him.  It's a wonderful thing...they never knew that Jesus could be that way, but now they know.  They found a treasure, so to speak, and after the resurrection they realized what they had.  Then they wanted to talk about it, just like Jesus said.  They realized how hidden Jesus had been, and how He suddenly revealed Himself to them.

How does He reveal Himself to you and me today?  Finding Him is not really all that hard.  Things that make you smile, things that make you want to be good, things that make you feel like helping other people, things that make you excited about what is good in the world all point to His presence.  So go looking for these things, and then go talk about those things with other people, help them find these treasures as well.

Today is Mission Sunday, a day when we celebrate all the good things that are happening around town partly because of the time, talents and treasures of St. Christopher's Church.  This idea that Jesus hides Himself for us to discover helps us orient ourselves rightly to what this day really means.  We celebrate these ministries around town not just because we are doing these good things, though we are, we're just glad that good things are happening, and that we get to be a part of them.

My brother-in-law, Karisse's brother is a missionary in Africa.  He wrote in an e-mail about a year ago:

A blessing of being a missionary that few acknowledge is this:  The cross-cultural experience provides so much instruction concerning our Lord's Kingdom!  Given the original Greek text itself [not just the copies thereof that we possess] and possessing the very-best linguistic and exegetical skills on earth, I would NEVER have come to understand the meaning of Acts 15 . . . EVER!  Comprehension came only AFTER getting to know the Imaniya.  Through common grace, the image of our God is spread out across the kaleidoscope of humanity.  No one culture reflects all the facets of that image and; of course, even the sum does not reflect it perfectly.  However, exposure to many cultures and their expressions of worship, their understandings of what discipleship is and their definitions of truth gives one a much richer picture of who our Lord really is.  When I was fresh out of seminary, I could have done as a young man recently did; namely, refuse to work with a mission or national church that did not stress his interpretation of Calvinism and the place of women in the church and home.  Now I've come to realize that we are often seeing reflections from difference angles, refracted through diverse lens, of exactly the same Lord.  May I never judge another until I have stood where he is standing and looked through the same lens that he's accustomed to using.  Arden Almquist hit the nail on the head when he wrote [the book] Debtor Unashamed, his profession that he owed more to Africans than they did to him.  From them he had glimpsed perspectives of deity he would have totally missed in Chicago.

Mission is not first something we do, it is something we discover, something revealed to us, and then it is something we do in response.  We do not support these missions and ministries because we have something they don’t and need, which may actually be true, or because we feel sorry for people, though we might, or because it is our duty to help the poor and needy, though it is, or because we want to feel good about ourselves, which I hope we will.  All these things may be true, but they must not be the primary motivation for our action and generosity, because all these reasons are ultimately selfish and ego-driven.

We support these missions because in them we find goodness and holiness, and service to the world.  We support what they do because, like my brother-in-law, by means of participating in them we go breathlessly from discovery to discovery of different facets of the face of God.

This is another act of hunting the divine fox, to borrow words from Robert Capon, of teasing out of the maze of living, another heavenly surprise, and then, overjoyed at the pearl of great price we have found, we give ourselves to it.

So how should we then live?

Live expectantly:  Live in quiet expectation, willing to be surprised.  Anywhere you find goodness you have found God.

Live humbly:  Know that this is gift, purely, entirely gift, that you did not merit, and cannot earn, Which sets you delightfully free!

Live openly:  With your hands and hearts open to receive—whatever it is that the Good Lord gives, even if it is disguised under the wrappings of pain, for only by accepting everything in your life is a gift can only learn to see rightly.

Live generously:  Give of yourself, give of your time, talent and treasure, give of your heart.  You can never out-give the infinite heart of the God who lives within you.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Divine Fiber Optics

Epiphany 5, February 5, 2012, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church

This morning we baptize a little girl named Trinity.  I first met Trinity she was in her mother's tummy.  At that time her grandmother was very ill and in the hospital.  But her grandmother got better, and Trinity, almost as a sign of hope, was born.

Trinity, what a propitious name!  We normally reserve discussions of the Trinity for Trinity Sunday, and preachers around the church will wrestle with ways to cram what is in all senses a mystery into the small confined spaces in our heads.  Not this morning.  Trinity is a very fitting name.  If the word means anything to a Christian it must mean love.  Trinity, that holy community of the godhead, in which each person, distinct yet fully unified, dances with the others in a glorious dance of love, spinning out of the joy and love they mutually share, the very creation of which this little Trinity is a part.

That is a lot of big churchy words that I don’t even understand, so let’s break it down.  Out of love Trinity is born, of the love of her father and her mother, they were God's helpers in the creation of this beautiful little girl, created ultimately out of the loving, productive, and all-encompassing love of God.  The first thing we can say about Trinity, indeed, about us all, is that she is God's creation, brought forth through human parents by the love of God, and incredibly loved and desired by God.  This comes before original sin, this comes before evil, this comes before willfulness or pride or hurting one another or stealing toys or cookies.  This is first, primary, foundational and essential.

Now, Trinity came to the point in her tender life when she figure out that if she cried at just the right time she could make things happen.  Suddenly her own ideas about the world emerged, sometimes in opposition to the ideas of others.  She had discovered—her free will.  But that free will, like with all of us, began to distance her from those she loves.  There was what she wanted, and then there was what others wanted, and they weren't always the same, sometimes they were even mutually exclusive.  Oh, what to do!  Well, we all know what gets done!  “MINE!” –Oops!  The second thing we can say about Trinity, indeed, about us all, is that we messed it up.  But that does not obliterate or destroy the essential and primordial goodness that resides deep within.  It covers it over, it obscures her vision of it and ours.  It makes it hard for her to live as she once did, in innocence.  Baptism is the initiation of a journey back to the goodness within.

The third thing we can say about Trinity and indeed all the rest of us, is that we are on a journey back to the source, back to the love of God, known deep within our being and then lived out between one another.  It is a journey of learning to wash away all that clutters the view of that good, divine love that lives at the core of each of us.  It is learning to forget and remember, forget that which obscures, and remember the source to which we are called.

Maybe you could liken it to fiber optics.  God is the source light, we are the ends of the chords.  Anything that obstructs that light is our sin, and must be taken out of the way.  But the essential light is always there, the spark of divinity deep within each and every one of us, and indeed, in everything.  In baptism we recognize that God has already placed her little fiber into His glorious light, we ask God to wash away all that might obstruct a total and free transmission of light, and we promise to help her let her light shine brightly as she grows up.

In summary, Trinity, and the rest of us start out good, mess up and get broken, and get called onto the path back to the loving light deep within.

But it's a bigger concept than just baptism.  If we remember that at the core of each of us is something incredibly good, we can value each and every one of us as a potential window into the heart of God.  That goodness just might peek out at us at any moment, and we will see, first hand, up close and personal, the presence of the love of God.  Then we know that the hurt we dish out to one another is not the real us, but something else, the brokenness that we have chosen.  So we can hold one another's offenses lightly, and forgive easily—just as we have been forgiven.  And we can fearlessly, even recklessly, love one another and the world for Christ's sake.

Then we can look for God right in the midst of life.  We see Jesus in the midst of life in the Gospel today.  He heals the sick, He teaches the truth of God, and He casts out demons.  We baptize in the midst of the community this morning.  If the life of God is just under the surface of each of us, then it is just under the surface of all of life.  God will show up as a bit of wonder in the midst of things—in the grocery store, and at school, the office and at formation, at PT, and in the doctor's office—even the dentist's office, under the rug at home, and in the eyes of your puppy who just relieved himself on your rug—

Until we finally see that the one who sees not God everywhere sees God truly nowhere.