Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Christmas: Eternity
Rob Gieselmann, Dec. 24, 25, 2015

As a boy growing-up  in Vero Beach, Florida, I would ride my bike the two blocks to the beach to watch various Apollo spacecraft launch.

Vero Beach is just one hour south of Cape Canaveral, so even during daytime, you could spot the white light of the thrusters propelling each craft into deep space, and when NASA would launch at night, the sky around the rocket would light-up bright orange. I would stare in awe, at the greatness of it all, the heavens, of-course, but the endeavor, as well – the quest. That mere human beings might imagine themselves reaching beyond the sphere, traveling to the moon, and beyond. It is as though the human soul is a natural repository for the quest for God, to reach beyond ourselves, physically to apprehend the transcendent. Sir Francis Drake, Ferdinand Magellan, and all the European explorers; Sir Edmund Hilary, and Mt. Everest,
and even Teddy Roosevelt, who explored uncharted segments
of the Amazon River following his little stint at the White House. And not just the expanse, but the minute, as well. Just last week, European physicists announced that they had observed traces of the tiniest particle yet discovered: a heavier version of the Higgs Boson.

Exploration, and …
When you explore God’s universe, you explore God.
For the Almighty is tucked sideways into each crack and crevice, into each star and black hole. And I have to ask, isn’t the number one job of the church – yours and mine exploration? To stand at the precipice fundamentally and literally peering into the black, shimmering with both stardust and light, and wonder - Where is God? Who is God? We have to ask the question, and we have to seek the answer.

                  Explorers each of us … Week before last, NPR
 aired an interview – I didn’t catch the interviewee’s name – but the fellow was talking about space exploration – We need to seek, he said – and I am paraphrasing, here. We need to go to other suns and solar systems, way beyond where we’ve already been. Isn’t that us, he asked, at our best? Once we were committed to exploration – the space race – our best and brightest, worked for NASA – But somewhere along the way, we lost that drive. Now our best and brightest, he observed sardonically, move to Silicon Valley to create the latest iPhone APP.
**And there were in the same country, shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. Shepherds, looking into the expansive darkness, staring equally into eternity, wondering at the wonder of it all, when suddenly, the black split into two, a door from another dimension opened, and a ten foot angel stood before them.

That angel announced the birth of a baby – a baby - And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  No really, the shepherds saw heavens bifurcated, a ten foot angel standing in front of them, and the sign is a baby? In a dirty manger? Yes, a baby, and theologians call it, the scandal of particularityI call it, “Casablanca theology.” You remember, Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine. Of all the barns in all the towns, in all the world, the Word of God was born in Bethlehem? Shepherds stared at the stars. Wise men stared at the stars. And we, too,  stare at the stars. Explorers, one and all.
Immanuel Kant  said, the sight of a starry sky annihilates
                  us as physical beings. Tears us away
                           from the earth, and throws
                                    us into the infinite.
Novelist, Julien Green, experienced religion first as a boy, at night, in his bedroom. [Looking through the windowpane,]
I saw thousands of stars shining in the sky….[and] God spoke directly to me, in that vast, confused tongue which words
have never been able to render. Staring at stars, for aren’t you and I linked heart and soul to the heavens, inexorably to star and eternity – And yet, the sign given is dirty and dirt, earthly, a child of dust, just like you and me. And there it is:  Right there. Peace. On Earth.  *I have observed in this life, a world of people who live so very, very afraid. People are afraid of death. Or of being poor, or economic crisis. Or environmental cataclysm.  Americans are afraid of ISIS – the polls reveal that a vast majority of Americans deeply are afraid of terrorism – Then there are those people afraid of elections, that Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders might actually win. Hollywood refracts our fear onto the screen – so many movies are dystopian – they reveal of a world of chaos, and instability. Failed politics, and worse, failed religion. But I am here to tell you, that on this night, as that baby was born at that particular time, among a people who were so similar to us – they, too, lived afraid –  The message of the angel reverberates across the deepest heavens. Be not afraid. For the promise itself is eternal: I bring you Good News. For all the world. No longer is God relegated to the expanse of eternity, but you may observe God here, on earth – first in that one little manger, at that one little place in time, on that one little scrap of earth.  For unto you is born this day in the City of David, A Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest ,and on earth, peace,  good will toward all.

Why I am Episcopalian:
Ascension Mission
Epiphany 1C, Jan. 10, 2016

1. Episcopal Jokes.
Three men in hell.
After a few thousand years, they start talking –

Why are you here? What did you do?

Hindu – vegetarian for life, but hungry, ate a half-pound burger at Bad Daddy’s.

Muslim – no pork allowed, but oh, that sweet smoky bacon – dipped in maple syrup … I couldn’t resist, and well …

Episcopalian – he just sighs, and looks dejected. There I was at a dinner party – everything laid out perfectly – china, crystal, flatware – they served the salad, and not thinking, I ate my salad with the wrong fork …

**You know you’re Episcopalian when the preacher says something funny, and you smile real loud …

You know .. when you’re willing to pay up to $1 for a church meal …

Seriously … Why am I an Episcopalian Christian?

2. This past week, I found my self reading excerpts from several authors I’d read in the past -

·      Rob Bell, for one. Bell is an evangelical that evangelicals like to hate.
o  In his book, Love Wins, he argues that hellif it exists at all – is much smaller than we can imagine – because love wins in the end, God’s grace, that God, and Scripture testifies to this fact repeatedly, plans to bring people from all the ends of the earth into the fold – which by the way, is what Acts hints at with Samaritans – outsiders – receiving grace.
·      Philip Yancey – another evangelical, in his book, What’s so Amazing about Grace, tells the story about one of his best friends, Mel White.
o  White disclosed to Yancey that he was gay. Yancey doesn’t understand. He hadn’t really known anybody gay …
o  But Yancey watched and learned. He observed and had conversations with other gay Christians – these people lived and worshipped and prayed and sang hymns just like you and me – and finally Yancey realized God’s grace shows-up there, too – is far more extensive than Yancey had imagined.
·      Presbyterian Frederick Buechner, in his memoir, The Sacred Journey, spoke about his own father’s suicide, when Buechner was just a boy.
o  Buechner would tell people, My father died of a heart attack. But he wrote, That seemed at least a version of the truth. He had had a heart. It had been troubled.
o  One day he walked by his brother’s door – his brother was weeping openly, something Buechner had not really been able to do – and hearing his brother’s tears pinged his own soul – and he realized the depth of his own loss and despair – but also that God equal in pain over both his and his father’s pain. Again – the grace of God.

RECAP: The evangelical discovering only a tiny hell.
                  Another evangelical who gets that God accepts everybody.
         and a Presbyterian who realizes God feels the pain we feel –

3. When I was a new priest, non Episcopalians would remind me that the Episcopal Church was formed because of divorce, and I would bristle.

You remember - Henry VIII, and all – wanting a male heir, and thus a divorce, he abandoned the Roman Catholic Church so he could leave his wife.

I would answer our critics defensively, and say, no, that’s not it at all – It wasn’t Henry, but Elizabeth who finally separated us from the Romans.

But these days I have to ask, why should I be scandalized because of Henry and divorce? Wouldn’t I rather be in a church borne of human failure than in one that is built upon the illusion of perfection? Wouldn’t I rather serve a God who accepts and understands my failings, and believe me when I say, there are many?

4. Jewish scholar and Rabbi Abraham Heschel distinguishes between one’s sin and one’s relationship with God:

sins affect God’s attitude temporarily – [sins] do not alter your relationship with God radically.

God’s love … is eternal – so it is inconceivable that sin, the work of humans, could destroy what is intimately divine and eternal? Your relationship?

5. We call God Father, and so we should. Parent, and what parent among you would deem your relationship with your child irreparably fractured because of anything your child has done?

Why do we insist as Christians on sending those we don’t understand to hell?  Scripture repeatedly speaks to the universal nature of God’s salvation –

         that it is for all the world to see.

And the same the Holy Spirit that, as a dove descended on Jesus at baptism –
is the same Spirit of flames on the heads of
the disciples at the day of Pentecost –

And the same Spirit the outsiders – the Samaritans – so scandalously received -  

And the Same spirit that seals you in
baptism as Christ’s own forever.

Forever. Christ’s own, and neither life nor death nor angels nor principalities, nor the present nor the future shall separate you from the love of God.

Not temporarily, not until you do the next bad thing, not until you doubt – but forever.

The old Latin – dictum …
vocatus atque non vocatus Deus aderit

… whether you call on God or don’t call 
on God, God will be present with you. … 

6. Why am I an Episcopalian? or at least why do I stay Episcopalian?

Baptists are literal about the Bible.

Catholics are literal about authority.

Episcopalians are literal about grace.

We believe God loves us no matter what

7. Your Vestry and I met in retreat this weekend. We talked about Ascension, and who we are and where we are going.

We reminded ourselves of how far this congregation has come – how much healing has taken place – and how much love and compassion happen here.

All Grace, all the time – and now, the question is, whatever will we do with all that grace …
 if not look for ways to give it away. Intentionally.

To those in this community – who are bound by a faith without love.

Knoxville is a religious place – the very buckle of the Bible belt …

         But is it a town of grace?

We have a mission, here. A purpose. To give grace – free grace – away.

And your vestry and I plan to look for ways to do this. And I hope you will, too.

So yes, Episcopalians love to sing in four-part harmony.
Yes, Episcopalians think their priests should visit them in the hospital even when they don’t tell the priest they’re in the hospitals.

Yes, Episcopalians believe in prayer but hate praying out loud.

But most of all, Episcopalians are Christians who live the love of God – imperfectly, but persistently. Grace.

Whatever will we do with all that grace?