Sunday, May 26, 2013

Trinity Sunday Sermon

This has been a hard week for our city and our community. The storms and tornadoes that struck Moore and a number of communities near the Oklahoma City is unsettling even for those who have lived here their entire lives. There are no easy explanations in a time like this. Adversity and trial demand of us faith that God is working his purposes even if we are unable to grasp what they may be. Especially with the death of children, faith is difficult to find. There is a simple, but beautiful prayer in the prayer book service for the burial of a child. It reads, ALMIGHTY and merciful Father, who dost grant to children an abundant entrance into thy kingdom; Grant us grace so to conform our lives to their innocency and perfect faith, that at length, united with them, we may stand in thy presence in fulness of joy. A trial like this can be an occasion to remind ourselves of a few important lessons. For example, the things of this world are highly unstable. We expect permanence from material things and even, when not confronted with mortality, act as if we are permanent and will never die. The things of this world crumble to pieces in a moment. In the face of such sudden change we have to ask ourselves where is our faith and trust placed? A second lesson is that we often assume that a happy life is a long one. We are mistaken. A blessed and happy life is one that is lived with love and devotion to God and kindness and pity for our neighbors. The author of the Apocryphal book of Wisdom reminds us of this fact when he wrote 2000 years ago that “The righteous man, though he die early, will be at rest. For honourable age is not that which standeth in length of time, nor that is measured by number of years. But wisdom is the gray hair unto men, and an unspotted life is old age. . . The good man, being made perfect in a short time, fulfilled a long time” (4.7-9,13). My friends, death often does not give us a warning of its visitation, and so while we live, we must live well, and treat our time to live as the gift that it is. Finally, it is moving to see how many people have reached out to help those who have been affected. This outpouring of love is, as Fr. Petley reminded us a few weeks ago, the way that we are to live as human beings. The expressions of care and generosity we have seen are the way we were created to live rather than the usual callousness and indifference that characterizes our fractured world. The common element in all these expressions of love is self-offering. People showing up and saying how can I help? A similar self-offering is evident in the work of Stephen Ministry. This ministry is not about dispensing advice, money or gifts. It is a simple self-offering of time and attention to someone enduring the inevitable trials of life. For all the self-offerings we have seen this week, we gives thanks to our Lord who has left us the prime example of self-offering in his cross and passion.

Turning now to today's feast, the day is set aside as a feast of the Feast of the Holy Trinity. It is not the day in which the doctrine of the Trinity should be reduced to palpable images or figures. No doubt you've heard of the ice, liquid water, and water vapour image as a metaphor for the Trinity. When we speak of the three persons of the Trinity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost—we are not speaking of different parts or changing states of God. One of the most helpful phrases on the doctrine of the Trinity comes from what is called the Athanasian Creed. It states in part, “the Catholick Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons : nor dividing the Substance.”

The purpose of this feast becomes more when we consider where it falls in the course of the church year. The Feast of the Trinity comes at the end of a long string of feasts that celebrate chronologically the life of our Lord The church year begins with Advent in December. Advent anticipates the second and first comings of our Lord Jesus. His nativity is celebrated at the end of Advent with the 12 days of Christmas. Epiphany—the manifestation of Jesus as both God and man—follows in January and February. In the next season Lent, we recollect our Lord's temptation in which he faced and overcame all the temptations common to man. The climax of Lent is Holy Week and the commemoration of our Lord's last days, his crucifixion and triumphant resurrection on Easter Day. Forty days after Easter Sunday, we remember that Jesus ascended into heaven where he intercedes for us and from where he sends his disciples the Spirit. Ten days later on Pentecost—last Sunday—the church gives thanks for the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and the church. From Advent to Pentecost we remember the events by which we confess that God entered into history to save humanity from sin and death. The crown of these successive events is Trinity Sunday. Trinity Sunday follows this yearly re-telling of salvation history in order to remind us that our belief in a Tri-une God is shaped and formed by God's self-revelation in these saving events. You see, the doctrine of the Trinity is not really the speculation of philosophers who have discovered something new about God; the doctrine of the Trinity is the inspired result of reflection on the saving events we have commemorated over the past six months.

Now, someone will ask, why does the doctrine of the Trinity matter? Isn't belief in one God sufficient? It is an adage of religious studies that you become like that which you worship. If your god is remote and distant and loves in a purely abstract way, that will shape your character and thinking about the world: empathy may not be a distinguishing aspect of your personality. In many false religions, of course, one worships a simply a self-image, a god of our own tastes, opinions and prejudices. That is why the idea of God's self-revelation is so important. Rather than imposing our own image on God, we allow God to speak for himself. The doctrine of the Trinity is so important because we believe it is who God has revealed himself to be in the person and mission of Jesus Christ. The doctrine of the Trinity tells us that the Tri-une God is an eternal community of love. Love and self-offering is not a learned behavior of God or one of God's modes of acting. Love belongs to the very substance of God in the intercommunion of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father begets and loves the Son. He gives his divine life to him. The Son loves the Father and gives himself completely in love and obedience. The Holy Spirit is the bond of love proceeding from the Father and the Son. That we worship this Trinity and believe that we are made in his image means that we are created for love and community. As individuals, families, and a community, we want to become like the God we worship, a communion of love with God and fellowman. It is not good for man to be alone, and so we are given families, friends and communities to love freely and unreservedly. We have seen such love this week, but even so, it is still only partial and imperfect. It belongs to the hope of eternal life, to see the perfection and fulfillment of this communion of love in God. The most profound image for heaven in the Bible is a city without church or temple because the city itself is the temple. The society of man is joined to the society of God—the Trinity—and it is joined in love. The Anglican theologian Austin Farrer wrote a meditation on this feast of the Holy Trinity. He had these moving words to say, “Belief in the Trinity is not a distant speculation; the Trinity is that blessed family into which we are adopted. God has asked us into his house, he has spread his table before us, he has set out bread and wine. We are made one body with the Son of God, and in him converse with the Eternal Father, through the indwelling of the Holy Ghost” (Crown of the Year 37).

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Rogation Sunday Sermon

And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it. And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life. And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.

- Revelation 21:22 - 22:5

In today’s Epistle lesson, John has a vision of the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of God which abides eternally in perfect communion and fellowship with God. It is interesting that the narrative of the Bible begins with man and woman in a garden and ends with redeemed humanity in a city. Heaven, in John’s vision, is not pictured as simply a return to the garden of Eden. There is of course the fellowship with God which is common to both, but the fact that there is a city at the end suggests that the succeeding history from Eden—the history of civilization—finds its fulfillment and perfection in this universal city. Heaven is not about erasing history. Rather, all that is true, noble, good and beautiful will find its place and perfection in heaven. It is comforting to know that the music of Mozart, the poetry of Shakespeare and the painting of Rembrandt ultimately belong to this city. In this city, all that is hateful and destructive is purged, all that is good and praise-worthy and loving is preserved and perfected.

In the book of Revelation, John contrasts this heavenly Jerusalem with what is called the whore of Babylon a symbol for the city of Rome in John’s time. The city of Rome, the city of this world, is all about power that controls, trade that accrues ever increasing material goods, and commerce that builds paper wealth. The city of Jerusalem, the city of God, is all about power that serves, trade that honors God as the giver of all, and commerce that builds the commonwealth, in the old sense of that word. In our own time we see both cities operating in this world. Although the heavenly Jerusalem has not yet been manifested, we are called to live as citizens of that city, with all that that citizenship implies.

In his vision, John also writes of a river, a river flowing with the water of life. The river “proceeds out of the throne of God and of the Lamb”. Water of course is symbolic for that basic sustenance which we need to live. Of all the things needed for human life—food, water, shelter—we can endure water’s absence for the least amount of time. Perhaps this is because our bodies are composed mostly of water. The point of the image is that from God flows the very life of our being. He is our sustenance, our life, our endurance, our future. The image also is reminiscent of the assertion in the Old Testament that a spring flowed from under the temple in Jerusalem. Writing of this river, the Psalmist says, There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God; * the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most Highest (46.4). The presence of life-giving water in Jerusalem, out of the temple, suggests that the joy God’s people receive from his presence in the temple is also life-giving. Following the destruction of the first temple by the Babylonians, Ezekiel had a vision of a new temple purified in ideal worship to God. It too has a stream following out from under it. In his vision, Ezekiel follows this stream which begins as a trickle and eventually becomes so voluminous that he can no longer stand up in it. This symbolic river transforms the salty Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is called by this name because of how uninhabitable its waters are. In Ezekiel’s vision the Dead Sea becomes a fresh water lake full of fish and other living creatures. Along the banks of this life-giving river, Ezekiel sees abundant “trees. . . whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine.” Notice the echo in Revelation of these leaves that are for healing or medicine. In John’s Gospel we also have a hint of this life giving water when Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well, “Whosoever drinketh of this water—the well water—shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” You see, in each of these passages from Scripture what we are dealing with is not literal, physical water, but a symbolic reality. The sacred writers are conveying with these images that God is like water to the soul. No doubt, you’ve heard of the figurative God-shaped hole in each one of us. Everyone has a hunger and appetite for God and the things of the Spirit. One of course sees a myriad number of ways in which people try to satisfy this thirst for the water that is God. They try anything they can to put into that God-shaped hole. Only, instead of satisfying their thirst, it is as if they are drinking salt water which only makes them more thirsty. The man who has a will to power, believes that the more authority and control he has will make him content and happy. This lust for power has led many to wade through slaughter to a throne. Materialists on the other hand seek an excess of material goods. Only, as you know, there is no end of wanting. It has never happened that the materialist announces with satisfaction, I have enough. Further, the person hungering for love will go from relationship to relationship and from marriage to marriage looking to be affirmed and fulfilled. Each of these are recipes for loneliness, unhappiness and eventually despair. Why? Because in each case, someone tries to substitute a false god for what God alone can give: the water of life. This is precisely the meaning of all the water images in the Bible. God is the ultimate happiness and satiation of our being. Christianity calls us to live as pilgrims on earth. That does not mean that we are wandering nomads, or that we are afflicted with the great vice of wanderlust. Rather, we know ourselves to be citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem. We know that their true home is in God, and can say like the Psalmist, “the Lord leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul” even in the midst of this world, this valley of the shadow of death.

This symbolism surrounding water has extended to the church’s outward order. As you entered the church you probably passed by the baptismal fount where the waters of baptism bring us to new life. Tomorrow as our young people and adults are confirmed by the bishop, each will make a promise to live into the reality of that living water by which they have been washed and filled in Baptism. And even now, we are invited to find our satisfaction and fulfillment in God as we partake of this simple meal of bread and wine. It is not a meal to satisfy our stomachs, but a feast given by God to feed our souls with his very life. My friends, when we come to learn that God can and does fill us in a way that nothing else in this world can, there is great peace, joy and contentment to be found. May we all turn to him in repentance and faith and find that water within us that wells up to everlasting life.