Archives for May 2007

There is Pentecost, Day of Pentecost (C) – 2007

[RCL] Acts 2:1-21; or Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17, (25-27)

Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunami waves fascinate us. Their destructive force seems to come out of nowhere to wreak havoc upon man and nature. Television gives many people the chance to watch their devastation from a safe distance, so that they mean only fantastic images in the mind’s eye. A different experience falls to those subjected to any of these natural forces first hand.

Suddenly comes a new respect for the immense power residing in nature, real and dangerous – a power that before had no meaning or existence, so hidden and remote did it remain from the predictable routine of daily life.

Such an experience changes lives. In an instant the world is turned upside down by the tremendous release of energy through water, air, fire, and earth. An unrecognizable landscape and devastated communities are left in its wake.

Science helps us to understand the systems behind this release of energy. But the world continues to be caught by surprise by its many manifestations. We are continually reminded of our fragile existence within creation.

Another power, a creative power of an altogether different dimension and magnitude informs our faith. It is this power that changes lives at Pentecost.

It is the power that was received by a small, insignificant, and unsophisticated group of men and women gathered in Jerusalem waiting for a promise to be fulfilled. The horizons of their world were limited to the countryside of Galilee and Palestine until the spirit opened their hearts and minds to a greater world beyond.

Nothing could have prepared them for the magnitude of their enlightenment, as they responded to this world-shattering experience of the supernatural creative spirit of God. To stand in its path was to catch fire with divine love. In an instant their world was turned inside out by a tremendous rush of creative power released into their hearts and minds, souls and bodies, manifesting as flames about their heads.

This inrush of creative energy, that unifies more powerfully than natural powers tear apart, poured itself out among them. The eyes of their hearts were opened to a completely different category of experience, unknown to the world.

They saw a new world, through new eyes. The differences of culture and language that separated one from another crumbled before this unifying power. Suddenly each could speak and hear, with the same understanding, the stories of God’s deeds of power.

As the power of nature opens us up to the enormity of its scale and its ability to destroy, so too the power of the Spirit opens our hearts to a new relation among men, a new intimacy with God. Man-made bridges crumble before natural disasters; the Spirit built bridges beyond time and space, between slave and free, man and woman, Jew and Gentile.

It is this power, the power of the Spirit of God, that changes lives at Pentecost. This supernatural power that sustains creation, reunites what has been torn apart, reconciles the alienated.

The spirit of Pentecost rushes into the world as if out of nowhere, and breathes life into the midst of death.

This is Pentecost, the outpouring of God’s spirit upon the disciples, then and now.

Then and now, when the spirit rushes in and breaks open the old naiveté to reveal the magnitude of God’s connecting power, there is no returning to the old frame of reference. Lives are changed forever: their lives and our lives. Hearts are broken open to a dimension of relationship newly reconciled through the death, resurrection, and ascension of the Son to the Father in eternity. There is no end to the horizon of God’s embrace. Disciples see things differently, know things differently, hear things differently, and are sent forth as apostles to share what they see, and know, and hear.

God opened the way and taught their hearts, and now other languages, other voices, other experiences are no longer foreign to our own. All are one in God’s love through the power of his reconciling spirit.

For God’s power has been received and has revealed the unity of creation, which exceeds beyond our capacity to comprehend, and beyond the power of nature and man to destroy.

Suddenly the systems of oppression that bind and imprison seem insignificant compared to the marvelous freedom the spirit of God breathes into man, this fragile beloved child. Now filled with the power of God, he is made capable of extending God’s mercy, God’s compassion, God’s forgiveness to the blind world. For he is made to see through God’s eyes that a new covenant has indeed replaced the old, and a Chosen people are chosen to deliver the good news: that God calls all into this freedom of his spirit.

Year after year on this day, we remember how the first disciples, newly baptized by the spirit, became apostles and were sent forth, sent out, sent beyond the comfortable yet confining horizons of Galilee. They were sent into the noisy urban world of the diaspora, the pagan world of Rome, where for the first time, “others,” those unlike themselves, could be seen and heard not as alien, suspicious, impure, and other, but as “self,” beloved children of God.

We are reminded of the creative energy of God, which overwhelms the destructive powers of man and nature so that we too might learn to discern the spirit as it rushes through our own world, reconciling, reuniting all of creation through us, within us, for us.

The spirit leads us into a new frame of reference, in the divine dimension of love, where slaves are made children, visions and dreams speak of a reality that does not conform to a world dark and bloodied by the violence of our blindness. The spirit sent forth creates the world anew, if we can but see it.

Skeptics and cynics may sneer, disbelieving, in their attempts to recall the living back to the old dead world of isolation and suspicion, of “us” and “other,” where slaves fall back in fear, where suffering is a meaningless mist of pain, and faces are nameless, soulless shadows against an unchanging heaven.

There are times when even those alive in the spirit, become weary of the world, and like Philip, need encouragement.

How is their longing to see the Father to be satisfied? How might we see Jesus?

Peter tells the skeptics, the cynics, the amazed and perplexed that this Jesus, through his spirit, is now to be sought right in the midst of destructive forces. When the world may seem as if the sun has turned dark and the moon to blood, look there for men and women going quietly about God’s work, creating order out of chaos, offering compassion to the suffering and hope to the desperate. In ordinary and extraordinary ways, at the scene of natural disasters and the most unnatural ones, the spirit of God rushes in to heal and mend, to recreate anew.

There is Pentecost.
Whenever, in the depths of the most destructive forces of our own hearts,
We discover a more creative force compelling us toward
Reconciliation, toward kindness, toward forgiveness.
There the spirit is rushing in,
Giving us new eyes to see, new ears to hear,
New voices to speak God’s love.
There is Pentecost.

Written by the Rev. Mary H. Ogus
The Rev. Mary H. Ogus is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Clinton, NC.

Unity, 7 Easter (C) – 2007

May 20, 2007

Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

The readings today are a good example of how amazing, wonderful, and alive the written word of the Holy Scripture is. Although it was recorded at a different time in a different place by people of a different culture, it is still relevant to our lives in the church and the world today. If you wonder if the church is relevant today, let me invite you to think about two things: unity as the glory of God, and unity as the hope for a Godly world.

In our first reading today, we hear how Paul and Silas free the enslaved spirit of a young girl, resulting in their own enslavement. They came to Philippi in Macedonia, a risk in itself, because the Scripture describes it as a Roman colony – not exactly friendly ground for followers of Christ. And even though Paul and Silas are Roman citizens, they allow the community in Philippi to make assumptions based on what they represent, not who they are. They allow themselves to be punished for giving freedom to a girl who is being used by her owners for financial gain. Theirs is an example of how unity in mission results in freedom.

It is ironic that Paul and Silas are then imprisoned for freeing the girl. Afterward, it is amazing that their actions – praying and singing for all to hear – move their jailers to set them free and join them as baptized members united in Christ. Interesting that slavery and imprisonment led to unity and enlarging the community of faith. They found unity in the midst of controversy.

Is it possible that we might find unity for the church and the world in the midst of our controversies? Is it possible that we might learn something from those we have been imprisoned or marginalized by our judgments, assumptions, and actions? Certainly, this is the hope of the resurrection and Christ incarnate. And it leads to the question, “What does it mean to be united?”

The unity that enlarges the kingdom of God is not meant to be a unity that makes us all the same. Unity is not meant to impose the “melting-pot” mentality that destroys cultural, theological, and social distinctions. Rather, the unity of God’s kingdom celebrates the diversity of God’s creation.

The unity of the gospel requires us to live into the diversity of God’s creation. It requires us to be reconciled with love and compassion to a higher purpose – one that results in unity.

Today’s gospel reading invites us into unity coming from being with God just as God is with us. This awareness of God in our lives and in all of creation, though understood in many ways by different cultures and religions, has one unifying product: shalom. As our Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori describes it, shalom “has to do with the restoration of all creation to right relationship with God.”

God’s unity comes from relating to one another inclusively, affirming each person’s expression of God in them and God with them. It is God’s call and prayer for us all to unite in mission – to release those imprisoned by poverty; lack of education; gender inequality; environmental injustices; and lack of adequate health care.

The prayer that Jesus prays in the gospel is one of unity and witness to the love of God in the world: “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and they know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

When you read the Gospel of John in Greek, you realize how similar the words “one” and “in” are to each other, but more important is how repetitively they appear, making it almost impossible to miss the point. And just as in our reading from Revelation, it is God’s glory that comes through when we are united in God’s love.

It is love, the agape love of God, that when given away freely, draws us into a community, uniting us as one. This is the love that makes us a serving community united in one accord and mission. This is what showed through in Paul and Silas to the community in Philippi. This love is what shines through each of us as God’s children. Can you imagine how bright the beacon of that love is when we are all shining together – beaming with love through our actions – one in mission?

This is the unity Jesus prays for in our gospel today. This is God glorified in Revelation. This is the unity that celebrates the diversity of all creation.

Jesus said, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes, take the water of life as a gift.
The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Amen.
Come, Lord Jesus.

 

— The Rev. Debbie Royals, of the Pascua Yaqui tribe, is the regional missioner for Native Ministry Development in the Dioceses of Los Angeles and Northern California, and is the Indigenous People’s Network Chair for Province VIII. 

The good news of rogation, 6 Easter (C) – 2007

May 13, 2007

Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22–22:5; John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9

Today is Rogation Sunday, when the church has traditionally offered prayer for God’s blessing on the fruits of the earth and the labors of humankind. The word “rogation” is from the Latin rogare, “to ask.”

Historically, the Rogation Days are a period of fasting and abstinence, asking God’s blessing on the crops, for a bountiful harvest. Ancient pagan observances of robigalia included processions through the cornfields to pray for the preservation of the crops from mildew. And Christian honoring of Rogation Days has varied over the centuries: from observance on the fixed date of April 25 to great outdoor processions on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension Day. Elizabeth I of England ordered the “perambulation of the parish” at Rogationtide, a custom still observed in many places.

This brings to mind an image of our processing down the avenue, declaring everything within the geographic boundaries of this parish to be specially set apart and consecrated as holy, pronouncing to every soul we encounter the liberation offered through the mediation of Jesus Christ, and staking our claim for the working out of the plan of salvation and the bringing of God’s kingdom here in earth.

And of course, in older days, the clergy had the responsibility of what we used to call the “cure of souls” within the parochial boundaries. That is, everyone within these lines was technically a member of the parish. Every institution was a chaplaincy concern. Not just every Episcopalian, every single person. And Rogation Sunday was a time to “beat the bounds” – to walk around the boundary of a parish – to be certain you knew just where those boundaries were and who was inside them.

Bookstores abound with resources for setting and keeping healthy boundaries. These books tell us when to say yes, and when to say no. They encourage you to “take control” of your life and to “stop hiding from love.” The objective is becoming separate, individual, and autonomous.

Now, healthy boundaries are a good thing. They help us live more fulfilling lives, respecting others and respecting ourselves. They help us overcome depression, codependency, and anxiety, and to avoid unnecessary anger and hurt.

And yet, as good as healthy boundaries can be, and as useful as they are – Jesus appears to be telling us something altogether different about boundaries. In the Gospels, his message is not about keeping a healthy balance between work and home, not about maintaining respectful distance from others. No. Jesus says he is the vine, and we are the branches. We are part of him, and he is part of us. Knit together, or grafted to one another. And if you do not understand what this means to us, do not let your hearts be troubled, as Jesus promises that the Spirit will come and teach us everything we need to know. The one who healed the sick will cure us of our ills as well. For Jesus, it’s all about being in relationship, connected, a part of the larger body, walking together in the Way.

The image Jesus offers of living a separate, autonomous life is horrifying: those who do not abide in him will be thrown away like a branch, to wither, be thrown into a fire, and burned.

You may remember this famous quotation: “No man is an island, entire of it self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.” John Donne, the poet and priest who wrote those words some 400 years ago, seemed to understand. For Donne, as for Jesus, boundaries are an invention of foolish humankind.

For instance, what happens in a family when one member falls ill? Everyone is affected. Each member may also catch the disease; people get involved in the sick person’s care, things change – for everyone. Even if you are a child, if your little brother gets sick, you may not have new responsibilities – but you are sure to notice a difference in your mother’s ability to be attentive to you.

We are all part of one vine, all connected, all interrelated. When we realize this, we stop trying to work for our own selfish gain at the expense of others, for we know that harm done to anyone is ultimately harm done to ourselves. When we admit we are part of the true vine, we begin to draw nourishment from each other, instead of competing and fighting with each other.

This is not to say that the kinds of things we call “boundary issues” don’t have merit, or that “healthy boundaries,” as society understands them, are not good things.

If the Israelis and Palestinians realized they were part of one vine, they’d stop trying to hack each other out of existence, realizing that their violent efforts only serve to sever them from their common humanity and prolong the cycle of violence and oppression.

If politicians, or Christians, or any of us realized we are all part of one vine, we would search out ways to cooperate with each other and serve the common good, instead of championing partisan interests.

We in the church can perhaps understand this best, for Jesus tells us he is the true vine, and his Father is the vine grower. We are part of him, and he is part of us, and we are – all of us – rooted in the dirt, the same earth that connects us to every living thing: every plant, every person, every molecule, and every rock.

Everything we think or do affects this world – sometimes in small ways, sometimes in very big ones. Every time we cry, the world cries with us. Every time we laugh, the world laughs along. Every time we sin, the world is damaged by our actions.

But when we do our best, when we try to respect others, when we seek to follow in God’s ways – then the vine thrives, more shoots are sent out, leaves appear, and then, in God’s good time, the rich harvest of fruit comes: grapes for eating, for drying into raisins, for fermenting into wine, seeds to be planted for harvests yet to come.

This is the good news of Rogation Sunday, of Earth Day, of Mothers’ Day, of every day. This is the message of the angels, as brought to earth in the person of Christ Jesus. This is the hope for our salvation, the fruit of our inheritance, the future of our children. This is part of what the Holy Spirit has come to teach us, and accepting it is part of our collective healing.

We are all of us part of the one true vine. May we all come to rejoice in that revelation.

 

— The Rev. Barrie Bates is associate rector of the Church of the Ascension in New York City.

A love that fills us, 5 Easter (C) – 2007

May 6, 2007

Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

Think about filling up a cup with water. You can fill it only so far, right? Once it has been filled to the brim, what happens when you try to add more water to it? It overflows, of course. The same is true of a sponge that, submerged in water, becomes so saturated it can no long absorb and begins to shed what cannot swell it further.

Can we apply this scientific truth to the human spirit? Can we imagine someone becoming so filled up, so saturated with something, that she or he can’t take in any more? Like a filled-up cup that can only overflow onto others, beginning to fill them?

God’s love is like that, isn’t it? Picture God’s love overflowing from the filled-up one to the nearby one who benefits from the overflow. In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus saying to his followers, “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” The love that our Lord called them to display has a special definition: Jesus-like love.

For those who knew him best, it was his love that produced their love for others. It was like water overflowing from the filled-up glass. Jesus’ love filled them up, and yet he kept on loving them, pouring move love into them, so Jesus’ love could overflow onto others.

In the same way, Jesus’ love fills us up so we can let the continuing love that God sends to us overflow onto others. Thereby we can fulfill his commandment: “Love one another – just as I have loved you.”

Jesus’ love is God’s love – gracefully and freely given, with no strings attached. Sometimes we think of this love as “the peace of God that passes all human understanding.” And yet in another sense, in today’s Gospel, Jesus helps us understand much of that peace-giving love. For God gave us Jesus to show us what divine love looks like in human form.

God gave us Jesus, who is love, as God is love, so we could see it – see it not so much as a feeling, or excitement, or emotion, or the longing of one person for another – but rather love that is known by the life and teachings of one who shares the same humanity with each of us. God’s love is in fact Jesus, the person: love in action; love in life.

It is the love that fills us and overflows from us. It is the sacrificing love of the cross, the exemplary love of the Good Samaritan, the care-giving love of the Good Shepherd, the inclusive love that reaches out to outcasts and the under-served, the difficult love that embraces our enemies, the forgiving love of the prodigal son’s father.

The prayer we attribute to St. Francis focuses on this Jesus-like love. It reminds us that love can make us instruments of God’s peace – the very active expression of God. It gives love rather than hatred. It is love that seeks faith over doubt; love that lives through hope rather than despair; love that promotes joy in the midst of sadness; love that allows us to die to self so we may be born to eternal life.

As soon as Jesus had given his followers this new commandment – to love one another even as he had loved them – he gave them one thing more. He gave them a test to determine if they were indeed overflowing love onto others. The test was to examine the response of those within reach of the overflow. He said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Many of us know this from the words of the popular hymn “They will know we are Christians by our love.”

As we think about the quality of our lives, as we step back to see how others might view us through our actions, what will they see? Will they see in us what Jesus commanded? Will they see that we are so filled with God’s love that it overflows onto others?

Of course, this testing is not only about us individually. Does God’s love fill our congregations enough that it overflows to others? How effectively are we acting for the benefit of those in need of God’s love in action?

How aware are we that God’s love – Jesus-like love – fills us? How well do we help it overflow onto others in the form of active care for others? How well do we measure up to the test by which everyone will know that we are Jesus’ disciples because of our carrying out his command?

“Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

 

— The Rev. Ken Kesselus, author of “Granite on Fire” (Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, 1995), is retired from full-time, active ministry and lives with his wife in his native home, Bastrop, Texas.