Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Love of Three Persons in Unity

The Rev. Robert P. Travis
Trinity Sunday Sermon – 
8 and 10:30am Eucharist Services, Church of the Ascension, Knoxville TN
RCL Year C 5/26/2013

Scripture Text: Proverbs 8:1-4,22-31, Psalm 8, Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

Sermon Text:
I'm so excited that I get to preach to you on Trinity Sunday.
I'm serious.
Many preachers dread this day,
because they think somehow Trinity Sunday
requires the preacher to explain how God
can be three in one and one in three.
But I don't see it that way.
The Trinity is of crucial importance to Christian belief,
but we don't have to understand how it happens,
though many people have spent thousands of hours
arguing about how it happens,
we just need to understand why.
In a way it's sort of like the Eucharist in that way.

So let me dive right into it and tell you the Trinity is important because of Love.
Our shared belief,
our Holy Scriptures tell us that God IS love.
And that is only possible if God exists in a loving relationship
of equality within Godsself.
That's why the Trinity is important,
so if you want to tune out now,
because you get it,
that's fine, bask in that love for the next few minutes,
if you want to understand this better, listen up.

From the beginning to the end of Scripture,
God reveals Godsself as more than one person.
From the very creation we see
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
active in creation,
God even says “Let US make human beings
in OUR image.”
And we see that “In the image of God, God created them, male and female, God created them.”
But I'm not going to talk about how
God is both male and female today,
though I have some interesting thoughts on that,
and we see one of the feminine images of the divine in
our proverbs reading today.
But I'm not going to talk about that,
because on Trinity Sunday there is so much one could say.
It is that important of a doctrine,
that I find we need some focal point,
in order to get perspective.
So we hear about God living in unity though made up of three persons all through the scriptures,
through thousands of years of revelation
to his people in many places.
And all the way to the Revelation to John of what is to come,
we see them active together.

A couple of weeks ago I spoke about the importance
of unity in marriage,
and how our unity in marriage is not possible,
without God as the third person in the marriage.
That has to do with the nature of love that I mentioned earlier.
Other monotheistic religions,
while understanding the oneness of God,
and all that goes with it,
God's majesty, transcendence and power,
seem to lack a deeper understanding of God's love.
A friend of Jackie's who grew up as a muslim,
and is now spiritually seeking expressed this to us
clearly when he told her how compelling
the message of Christianity is to him,
because it is the religion of love,
focussing on God's love for us, and for Godsself.
That depth of understanding of God's love is not possible,
if we do not see God as Trinity.

Let me explain,
We all know that God loves us as a parent,
and that Jesus loves us because he became one of us,
and that the Spirit loves us, because He continues to live
in and with us, strengthening us and comforting us.
But love in all of those cases is based in inequality,
we are not God, we are creatures of God.
And God in all three persons may care for his creation,
but God's love for us will always be less,
than one could have for an equal.
Look at us, at the way we love as husbands and wives,
and as parents and children.
Our love for our children is intense,
and amazing, and seems to grow the more children we have,
changing us all along the way.
But our love for our partners is based in equality,
as we give love to each other,
without the relationship of dependence
that children have for us,
there is greater risk.
Our partners in love have a choice,
our children do not.
And in that greater risk,
is also greater reward.
For in knowing that the other person is our equal,
and yet chooses to love us,
we thrive in a belovedness that strengthens us,
and expands our love out into other relationships.

And love is only pure when it is focussed outward.
You all probably know couples who are so close to each other, but have no outlet for their love,
whether that is through children,
or other people in the community.
When that happens the love can grow overwhelming,
and unhealthy.

In God, Love focussed outward between Father and Son,
requires and is even fulfilled in a third equal
with whom to perfectly share that love.
For in the greatness of God's love,
we his creation could not fully receive it in ourselves.
That third person who can fully receive and dwell in God's love is the Holy Spirit.
One blogger priest I read described it this way:
Of the deep and abiding relationship of God and Jesus
is born the Holy Spirit,
that powerful spirit arising from and enfolding this powerful, prodigal love of each for the other.
God’s love for humankind,
and Jesus’ love for God are each irrational;
neither conforms to our human definitions
or expectations of love.
Each is selfless, and excessively generous.”1

And here's the other thing about God in Trinity,
we exist and are even dependent on time,
but God's relationships within Godsself are not bound
by time, because God is eternal.
So any statements we make like the previous one,
which talk about birth or coming into being,
are not accurate except in how we experience them,
in our own time.

It's hard to think about eternity,
and yet I was reminded of this illustration I saw at my Allergist's office, that was trying to give a sense of
the greatness of the number 1 trillion.
It said, if we “think about seconds going back in time,
1 million seconds ago = 12 days ago.
1 billion seconds ago = 30 years ago.
1 trillion seconds ago = 30,000 B.C.”2
That gave me a sense of how huge a trillion is,
and of course, eternity is much, much longer backwards,
and forwards than a trillion seconds, or even a trillion years.

In part that is what is going on in our reading from Proverbs.
The writer has a revelation of the eternal relationship between
Wisdom and the Lord.
Proverbs is written long before Jesus' incarnation,
And many followers of Jesus,
see the second person of the Trinity, or Jesus,
as evident in all the references to Wisdom there.
But even with that divine revelation
you can hear how challenging it is for the Proverbs writer,
to describe the eternal relationship
between wisdom and the Lord.

Ages ago I was set up,
at the first,
before the beginning of the earth.”
And of course that reminds me
of the opening to John's Gospel,
in the beginning was the Word,
and the word was with God,
and the Word was God.”
That passage describes how intimately they worked together,
in creation,
but also the love between them.
I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world,
and delighting in the human race.”

So we hear in the Gospel reading from Jesus,
that same one who delighted in us
before he came to be one of us.
I still have many things to say to you,
but you cannot bear them now.”
Indeed how could we ever bear them?
how could eternity come into our time-bound selves?
How could infinite love, come into our very finiteness?

It is only through the gift of the Holy Spirit,
coming to live within each one of us,
as even Jesus in the flesh could not,
that we can truly participate in the great love of God,
which Jesus, The Father and The Holy Spirit,
have shared forever.

And that comes back to what we've been emphasizing
from the pulpit for months now,
through the power of that same Spirit.
The Spirit of Truth is all about relationships,
for there is nothing truer than love,
and that is the truth that the spirit is guiding us into.
Listen to how that love is expressed in unity.
He will not speak on his own,
but will speak whatever he hears . . .
he will glorify (Jesus) because he will take what is mine,
and declare it to you.
All that the Father has is mine.
For this reason I said that he will take what is mine,
and declare it to you.”

The relationship we are offered by the Holy Spirit,
is the way we participate in the Love of God,
He is what empowers us to be Christ's on going presence
and work in the world,
as Fr. Brett talked about last week.

And as that Blogger Fr. Sam writes:
How do we know we are truly in love and harmony with God, with ourselves,
with our neighbors
and with all creation?
The short and honest answer is, we can’t know.
That’s what distinguishes faith from knowledge
in all relationships.
Our status in relationship is always a matter of trust.
But we’re not completely rudderless.
We’re not flying blind.
We’re inheritors of a long experience and a wisdom multiplied many times over
by successive generations in relationship with God,
all bequeathed to us in an unending story.”3

We may not understand how God can live in perfect
unity, while being three distinct persons.
But we can live out of the Love that
the Trinity shows us,
and in fact that is what we must do,
if we are to follow our Lord Jesus Christ.

1Sam Portaro, from “Spirit” in Veni Credo Blog.
2World Magazine, August 15, 2009 page 10.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Your Ordination

The Day of Pentecost
John 14:8-17
Your Ordination
     Welcome, my friends, welcome, to the celebration of the Church's birth. Welcome, welcome my friends to the day of Pentecost. Welcome, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, welcome, to your day, to the day of your ordination. Before I forget or go any further, let's pause for a second and applaud our music director, Jim Garvey and all who helped him make this special day so joyous and festive!
Indeed this is an occasion for celebration. It is considered the birthday of the Church. Being a Greek word meaning 50, Pentecost celebrates the Holy Spirit's coming 50 days after the resurrection of Christ. Forty days preparing His disciples through His various appearances and 10 days of His followers waiting after His Ascension. Yet this day also connects far back to ancient Israel, to the times of the wheat harvest, which were held 50 days after the slaying of the Passover lamb, as well as in Biblical times and in Judaism today, the celebration of the revelation of the 10 commandments following the Passover.
     Yes, this is a very special day, and in our times, we celebrate it in many ways. We wear red, the color symbolizing a Holy Day as well as the Holy Spirit itself, and the tongues of fire which descended upon the apostles. We read our Gospel lesson in different languages as a way of remembering what happened when the Holy Spirit filled the disciples on that special day. Obviously, we decorate our church and don a very festive tone. In my opinion, this is absolutely one of the most important days of remembrance for us as Christians, but at the same time, unfortunately, it is one of the most misunderstood as well.
     For it is from this day and from this very Scripture that the false idea and belief comes that if we only have enough faith, or ask in just the right way, Jesus will grant absolutely whatever we request of Him, whatever our little hearts desire. As if the reason I didn't get the power ball last night and hit the jackpot is somehow because I didn't ask in the right way or with enough faith! At the same time, and much in the same way, today's celebration, today's remembrance of the Holy Spirit filled disciples as they were given the ability to communicate God's Good News in Jesus to all walks of life, to all people, somehow gets twisted and morphed in our time into a whole worship style, even a whole separate theology, based almost solely on attempting to temporarily channel the Holy Spirit as demonstrated by dancing, laughing, crying, screaming, babbling nonsense, and writhing about. When sadly, and ironically, this all misses the entire enormously important point of this day; that the Holy Spirit is already and is always, here.
     You see friends, when you think about it, Pentecost, this very day, is both the end of the story and the beginning at the same time. In a very real sense, the entire story, the entire summary of God's attempt at having a relationship with Creation, with us, for all of these years, all leads up to this precise moment, where the deed is already done, the sacrifice is finally made, the debt is paid, and we are given the keys to the kingdom and the responsibility to continue on. But that's not what we remember is it? That's not the way that we usually think about these things. I mean, just go ahead and throw out the Old Testament, throw out the majority of God's story and just consider the New Testament and our own liturgical calendar and even there it becomes very clear.
     On a very basic level, in Advent, we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ, of God into this world, and we celebrate that coming in Christmas. Then, we suffer with Christ in Lent through His sacrificial crucifixion, and immediately rejoice at the gift of our forgiveness and eternal life because of His Resurrection at Easter. Truth is, for most of us, the story stops there. In general, we are Christmas and Easter Christians, and that is a huge problem, because that means that the story ends there, and truly I believe that this is the reality for most believers today. As if somehow, God suffered, sacrificed, loved, labored, and sought, so that we could just kick back and coast because now it's all good.
     But that's not the end, is it? You see, Jesus doesn't just come back, He isn't raised from the dead just to show us that it's real and prove that it happened. No! He hangs out for 40 days and actively prepares His followers for the next step in God's story. He prepares them for Pentecost. He prepares them for the Holy Spirit. He prepares them for action, for a new way of life.
     That, Brothers and Sisters, is the real point of this day. That is what we are supposed to be celebrating. Today is about remembering that You ARE the Church. Today is about remembering that You Have the Power. Today is about remembering that Each of YOU are left with the decision of either continuing in or ending the work of God, the story of God in this world.
     That is what Jesus is really saying in today's Gospel lesson. He's saying that He is in the Father and the Father in Him, and that through His actions and His sacrifice, and through our belief in Him, we are given the same intimate relationship, and today, we are given the Holy Spirit. We don't need to try and channel the Spirit in order to demonstrate that we have it, because the truth is, that it abides in us and that is something that we cannot change. That is the reason the gift of tongues is not really about babbling and prophesying through gibberish, but rather it is about going out and bringing the light and love of Christ to all people of this world, in whatever language, to whatever race, culture, sect, people. Pentecost is about the end of Jesus's work on earth, for the time being, and the beginning of our work through the Holy Spirit for the sake of Christ.
     While, even though I love it and believe in it, I know that often times our church tradition makes this point difficult to see with our hierarchy, our collars, our dresses, and our altar rails, but today, I truly hope that you are each reminded of the reality and truth of who you are in and through Christ Jesus. Today, you must know, that everything comes down to you and your work with the Holy Spirit. Because it is about You and what you do with the gift you have been given, through your prayer, through your action, through your love, so that you might be the hands and feet of Christ in this world.
     You know I have to admit that originally all this talk of Pentecost being our ordination day truly made me want to make you all stand right now and say one of the ordination prayers or take some of the ordination promises from the BCP, but uh, then I realized that that was probably not the best idea and somewhere a Bishop would have something to say about that, and that I love this church too much to follow in the footsteps of the Wesley Brothers just yet (Besides the Methodists don't have communion often enough for me anyway!). But I still very much want that point to be heard right now. You, my friends, each ARE priests and ministers of God, ordained by the water of your Holy Baptism and marked by the Holy Spirit. We together are the priesthood of all believers. So today, I want to remind each of us to truly take the promises we all have made in our Baptismal Covenant seriously. Take your call and spiritual life seriously. For each of you truly have the Spirit in and with you always, and you have been charged with the incredible work of bringing Christ into this world through your life and love, and in turn, this world to Christ. Now, all that is left, is for all of us to go out there and do it.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Gift of Unity from Fathers to Mothers

The Rev. Robert P. Travis
Seventh Sunday Easter Sermon – 8 and 10:30am Eucharist Services, 
Church of the Ascension, Knoxville TN (Mother's Day, and Baptism) 
RCL Year C 5/12/2013 
Scripture Text: Acts 16:16-34, Psalm 97,  Revelation 22:12-14,16-17,20-21, John 17:20-26

Sermon Text:

Well, happy seventh Sunday of Easter!
Or as believers and non-believers in our country
know it today, happy Mother's Day!
There are not a lot of things we are unified on
as a country these days,
and even the hallmark holidays are not practiced
by everyone,
but I'm pretty sure that anyone who forgets their mother
today is in the dog house.

I'm going to do something very unusual,
later on in this sermon,
given today's importance to so many,
but first let me look at the gospel reading.

As Fr. Howard said last week,
we have been looking for the past few weeks at the Farewell
Discourse of Jesus with his disciples,
and the gospel today is the end of that great prayer,
that Jesus prayed aloud in the presence of his disciples,
in a way his last words to them before his passion.

Because of that timing,
it has a high level of importance to people,
as we are inclined to see it as Jesus' prayer for us,
before he went to his death and resurrection.

When we look at this portion of the prayer,
we see that Jesus repeats himself a lot,
which from my own experience, I can say,
when I repeat myself in prayer,
it speaks to fervent feelings.
So I'd say those things that Jesus repeatedly asks of his father,
he wants really badly.
Or at least he's really concerned about them.

He asks,
on behalf of those who are with him,
and those who will come to believe in the future (that's us)
“that they may all be one. . .”
then a little further on
“that they may be one, as we are one.”
and again,
“that they may be completely one.”

Jesus wants our unity in God, with him.
And we don't have to look far to see
why he was so concerned about that.
In his own time,
his own people were divided into factions,
Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes among their names.
Before his time Israel was divided into two kingdoms,
and eventually the Northern Kingdom people of Israel,
Samaritans, became so different in practice,
that the Jews did not even regard them as God's people,
even though the Northern Kingdom represented eleven of the twelve original tribes.
And after Jesus established his church through his disciples.
How have we done on the whole unity thing?
I'd say not very well.
From what I know about the history of the church,
division has been pretty constant throughout,
no matter how much unity is encouraged,
or even how violently uniformity has been enforced.

But perhaps we've been going about it all wrong.
Unity and uniformity are not the same.
And indeed the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
while perfectly united, are not uniform.
They are distinct persons,
but you'll hear more about that in a few weeks
when we celebrate Trinity Sunday.

It seems to me that division and lack of unity,
are part of the human condition,
physicists might say that they are in fact
part of the very matter of which we're made.
In physics I think the state that pushes everything apart
is called entropy.
So Jesus is praying for something that seems to
go against everything we experience,
that we would all be one
as He and the Father are one.

Of course unity starts in our experience of home.
And any of you who have children,
or any of you who have children will know
that children will play the parents against each other.
They try to divide us to get what they want,
but what they need deeply,
is for us to remain united as parents,
so that the family can be a stable place of unity.
A safe place in which a person can grow and thrive.
And yet as much as husbands and wives
want unity, and believe in it when they get married,
everything seems to conspire against our wishes to stay together, to stay united in marriage.
And that shows us why marriage is a holy union,
which cannot be accomplished just with two people,
but needs God in the midst to cement the unity.
If marital unity is about equals,
it's a kind of lateral unity.

And then there's the disunity between generations.
A sort of up and down, or vertical unity
that also seems to elude us.
You don't have to go far to find evidence of older people,
criticizing the ways of the younger generations,
or vice versa.
Listen to this quote I found:
"I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today,
for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words...
When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and
respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint" (Hesiod, 8th century BC)

Was that the late, great Andy Rooney,
or maybe George Carlin?
You could imagine many older people saying that today,
but actually it was written by Hesiod in the 8th century BC.

And G.K. Chesterton observed that this disunity between the generations seems basic to our nature.
He said:
"I believe what really happens in history is this: the old man is always wrong; and the young people are always wrong about what is wrong with him. The practical form it takes is this: that, while the old man may stand by some stupid custom, the young man always attacks it with some theory that turns out to be equally stupid."

Laterally, vertically, we can't seem to be unified.
So how could Jesus hope for unity?
This just reminds me of the great faith we must have,
that “with God all things are possible.” (Matt. 19:26)
That's why Jesus turns to his Father,
and in his great wisdom asks for unity among us.
Because he knows, God knows,
that we need help with this almost more than anything else.

To make unity even more difficult
Jesus was about to leave his disciples,
and shortly thereafter send them to all corners of the world,
with their own individual impressions
of what his life meant and means,
and how what he came for is the Gospel,
the good news for all the peoples of the earth.
Jesus is naturally concerned,
as God was throughout the history of Israel,
that the world needed to be redeemed,
and brought back into relationship with Him,
and how could the world hear about him,
if his own followers could not be unified
in telling people about him.
Jesus prays “As you, Father,
are in me, and I am in you,
may they also be in us,
so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
So that the world may believe.

And yet today we have
over 40,000 different Christian denominations.
And I know plenty of people,
who do not believe in the Gospel,
because of the disunity among Christians.

But that is not a problem I am going to ask you
to address today.
What I am going to ask of you,
relates more to that generational thing,
to sharing the gospel with the future,
since you received it from the past.

And this is where it gets odd,
given that it's mother's day.
But you know,
when I'm greeting people on Mother's Day,
I see all these men I don't see so regularly,
and they tell me they came because their wife,
the mother of their children,
or their mom wanted them to come.

As I was reading the lesson from Acts we heard today
I was struck particularly by the response of the jailer,
to the wild events around Paul and Silas' imprisonment.
When the prison doors opened,
his job was on the line.
Actually, he was about to kill himself,
because he would have been killed anyway
if his boss had found out that the prisoners
escaped on his watch.
But Paul shouts to him, “Do not harm yourself,
for we are all here.”
The jailer who had been listening to their singing,
and praying through the night,
and experienced this earthquake,
was shocked by his prisoners staying put
though they could have escaped.
Something struck him,
that these guys were the real deal.
And much like any guy,
when he sees the truth,
the authentic reality,
he wants to be a part of it.
He asks them how he can be saved.
And here's the part that struck me like a freight train.
Paul and Silas tell him that if he believes,
he, and his household will be saved.

This man is the head of a household,
a father, a husband,
and maybe the boss of household servants.
The story ends that this man cleaned up Paul and Silas,
and listened to them tell him and his family
the Good News, and he and his family were baptized.
And the response was that the whole household,
rejoiced that he had become a believer.

Today we are witnessing a similar event,
not to call you out Mike and Jennifer,
but Mike is a believer,
and today we are baptizing his fourth child.
I am certain,
that the whole Borth household rejoices,
that their daddy is a believer.
And that he comes with them to church all the time.

So I know this is strange to say,
since it is mother's day,
but somehow I believe that mothers
who are present with their husbands would be glad to hear this.
Dad's have a big role in the sharing of the faith,
with the next generation.

These days, with all the cultural changes that have gone on,
in the past two generations,
as good as many of those changes have been,
I know the role of the man in the family
has become somewhat unclear.
And I know that many guys don't
see their role as so important,
certainly when it comes to the raising of their children,
and especially when it comes to the development
of their children's faith lives.

Sure, we see it as important to play games and be fun,
to be coaches, and mentors,
and even to teach them life and business skills.
But sharing the faith?
Bringing the kids to church?
Surely that's more important for mothers to do.

Don't you know guys who think that?

Many dads say that they meet God more in nature,
anyway when fishing or something.
And while that may be the case,
I think what they're really saying is that
they don't think their role in church is important,
and while many of them would die for their kids,
and they don't think it's important to their kids faith
for dad to come to church.
But the testimony of scripture says otherwise
and so does sociological science.

There was a study done in 1994
based on a wide-ranging census,
that said “It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance
at or absence from church of the children.”

“If both father and mother attend regularly, 33 percent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at all.
If the father is irregular and mother regular, only 3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59 percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost.
If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to the church.
Let us look at the figures the other way round. What happens if the father is regular but the mother irregular or non-practicing? Extraordinarily, the percentage of children becoming regular goes up from 33 percent to 38 percent with the irregular mother and to 44 percent with the non-practicing, as if loyalty to father’s commitment grows in proportion to mother’s laxity, indifference, or hostility.”
So dads, if you want to give your wives a good Mother's Day present, this year and every year,
and you know you both want your kids,
to grow up to worship the Lord your God,
show her you care by coming with her
and the kids to church all the time.
And if she can't come,
bring them yourself.
Your role in your the development of your kids
faith life is more important than you can imagine,
for clearly they will do as you do.
And your role in the unity of the church
across the generations is more important than
perhaps you thought in the past.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus,
and you will be saved,
you and your household.”