Archives for May 2005

Trinity Sunday (A) – 2005

May 22, 2005

Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

“Give me a simple religion,” we sometimes yearn. It’s an odd prayer. If someone calls us “simple” we are very offended. Certainly there can be nothing simple about God. It would be very odd indeed if complicated humans and a complicated God met together in a “simple faith.” In a few minutes we will say the Creed together. The Creed is a table of contents to the important teachings found in the Bible. The Creed is full of rather complicated notions. God is “Almighty,” the “maker of heaven and earth,” the maker of “all that is,” whether seen or unseen. Our first reading today drew us into the mystery of a God who creates and sustains and who made us in his own image. The truths we learn here are beyond simplicity, beyond the world of facts. They pierce into the mystery of a truth beyond our understanding.

“We believe in one God.” “We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ.” “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord.” Sunday-by-Sunday we gather together and profess the faith of the church. Together, as one family, we embrace for ourselves as individuals, a list of concepts that point to truths which no words may encompass. We read the signposts pointing us in the right direction to God and away from concepts that might harm us and make us less than we were intended to be.

Something deep within us affirms the words we recite. Each of us is an individual with our own unique features, fingerprints, mannerisms, talents, and “personality.” We’ve been gazing at this person in the mirror since we were tiny children. Our Western culture influences us to assert and demand our individuality. “It’s my life and I’ll do as I please with it,” we shout when we lose our tempers. We’ve been doing that ever since we threw our baby food at the wall.

Yet we also yearn to be loved and to be part of someone or a collection of “someones.” At school we wanted to be popular, to have friends, to be admired. Then comes love! How appropriate it seems to tell someone that we live for them; that they are the most important “other” in our lives. How tragic it is when we are judged to have used someone else to satisfy our own selfish desires; when we have dominated, abused, and rejected a love given to us in trust. In the Marriage Service, we are told: “The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy.” Notice the words “union” and “mutual.

Perhaps our need to say we are unique, special, autonomous beings and our need to be united with others is practical evidence that we are made in the image and likeness of God? If this is true, it is true because God made us this way and what God makes is good.

God the Father Almighty, our King Jesus, the Life-Giving Spirit—to use the language of the Creeds—are certainly individuals to an extraordinary degree. Each has a distinct role, by nature or personality, and as lovers of all that has been made, seen or unseen, including us all. Strangely, their personalities, their perfect personalities, create unity as they share together love. Love belongs to God, is created in God and is shared by God. We should be grateful for love, and greet it wherever it is found, as God’s gift and not as something we manufacture. Love humbles us. For God’s love may be found well beyond the “individualism” of our personality, family, race, religion, language, politics, causes, or culture. Truth and justice, as God’s features, always draw us together and never divide us into individualism: “It’s my life and I’ll do as I please.” While love impels us to strive for truth and justice it does so in a manner that reflects the long-suffering, loving, forgiving kindness of the God whose loving diversity creates oneness and wholeness.

“Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.”

So St. Paul speaks to each of us on this Trinity Sunday. Finding order and agreement is not a political process after all, but what happens when we open ourselves collectively and individually to the God of love and peace. This we symbolize when we share the “Peace” with one another. In the Gospel reading, Jesus commissions us to go into the world telling everyone what it means to discover oneself as a person, an individual, and how our personality and individualism is celebrated most forcefully when we live in unity with each other as people possessed by the God who is unity in community and community in unity.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

 

— The Rev. Anthony F.M. Clavier was, until recently, the dean of the Institute of Christian Studies for the Convocation of American Churches in Europe. He is now interim rector of Christ Church in the Auvergne, Clermont-Ferrand (France), a church in the Convocation. 

7 Easter (A) – 2005

You will be my witness

May 8, 2005

Acts 1:6-14Psalm 68:1-10, 33-361 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11John 17:1-11

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In his commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, Joseph Fitzmyer says that this is the “programmatic verse” of Acts; it sets the scope of the spread of the Word of God, the goal that the commissioned apostles are to attain as they bring that Word from Jerusalem “to the ends of the earth.”

And, in fact, this verse might also be said to set the program for the Christian life; we who are followers of the Risen Christ are also called to be his witnesses wherever we go.

What’s that? You say that this commission was just for the apostles? If that is so, the witnessing would have come to an end centuries ago. Do you think that Peter and John and James ever heard of the town or city we have gathered in today? Oh, but then perhaps it’s the job of the bishops, the successors of the apostles to be witnesses? Or perhaps the role of witness is meant for all of the ordained clergy?

Think again, my friends! The commission is for all us. “You will be my witnesses.” The commission is for all us who are called to take part in the royal priesthood of all believers. Just as Jesus said, “Follow me,” he also said, “Be my witnesses.” So we had better be about doing just that!

And what is a “witness,” anyway? Webster’s definition says: “One who has seen or heard something and who can give evidence for its occurrence.” And also: “One who signs his name to a document for the purpose of attesting to its authenticity.” It would seem that the testimony we must give does not call for mere hearsay. But then, how are we, living in the 21st century, in a place that the apostles never even heard of, to be witnesses to something that happened 2,000 years ago, in a place most of us have never seen? Sure, we’ve read the Bible; we know the story, but does that make us witnesses? Can we, as Webster says, give evidence of the occurrence of these things? We weren’t even there!

Let’s look more closely at what Jesus said. It’s true that the apostles had been witnesses of all that Jesus said and did during his earthly ministry, but what Jesus says in today’s reading is, “you will be my witnesses.” Our testimony is about him, not just about what happened long ago and far away. We are to give evidence about what we ourselves have heard, seen, experienced. We can’t be witnesses unless we have met the Risen Christ — unless our lives have been transformed by him. If we could in good conscience go before a notary and sign a paper attesting of the presence of God in our lives and in the world, then, and only then, can we be his witnesses.

This is something that we, as Christians, probably do a lot more often than we know. St. Francis of Assisi said it well: “Proclaim the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” How many persons in your own life have been witnesses, silent or otherwise, to you? We might recall our parents and other role models in our lives who have inspired and encouraged us, both by their words and by their examples, in our lives in Christ. We are called to do the same, and this call is not issued just to teach us individually, but also to us as members of the Body of Christ — and more specifically, to us as members of this congregation. We should be seriously considering how we are called, in this place and at this time, to be his witnesses.

Probably we don’t think of ourselves in that way. Nevertheless, if the Lord Jesus calls us to be witnesses, we’d better not think of this as something optional. But what we do? How can we get started? It would appear from today’s reading that two things are necessary.

First of all, of course, we can do nothing through our own power. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,” Jesus said. As we await the glorious feast of Pentecost next Sunday, let us pray earnestly for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all of us, both corporately and individually. It is only when we are clothed with power from above that we can do the work he calls us to do.

The second thing that we must do is reflected toward the end of the reading from Acts: “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.” The communal prayer and harmony reflected in the stories from the Acts of the Apostles should serve as a model for our own church community. Any disunity in the Body of Christ will always be an obstacle to the effectiveness of the witness we bear. As the Lord Jesus prayed on the night before he died that we might all be one, so we must pray and act as one.

In the Baptismal Covenant, which we will renew next Sunday, we are asked, “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” We must be wholehearted in this commitment, in order to be his witnesses.

Let us pray: May the love of the Lord Jesus draw us to himself; may the power of the Lord Jesus strengthen us is his service; may the joy of the Lord Jesus fill our souls, and may we be his witnesses wherever we may be. Amen.

 

— The Rev. Barbara Beam serves the congregations of St. Nicholas’ Episcopal Church, Noel, and St. John’s Episcopal Church, Neosho, both in the diocese of West Missouri.