Archive for June, 2009

He Is Saying, “Peace, Be Still”

June 26, 2009

Proper 7B – St. Paul’s, Durant. I Samuel 17:32-49; Psalm 9:9-20; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41.

 One of the humbling aspects of being at the Lambeth Conference of Bishops last year with brother and sister Anglicans from around the world was hearing their stories of faithfulness and real heroism as Christians in the midst of very difficult circumstances.

 Whether that was a bishop from the Sudan trying to preach the Gospel in a land whose wars never seem to end; or a bishop from Pakistan facing imminent danger from the Taliban; or a bishop from Polynesia worrying about whether the fact of global warming will ultimately cause his little island to disappear under the waves of the Pacific, due to melting glaciers and rising levels of the sea in that part of the world.   

 Their situations are desperate! But the amazing thing to me was how they continually drew upon the resources of our faith to sustain them in their times of testing. They would cite texts like our first one this morning, and the unlikely victory of the young, relatively untested David against the seasoned warrior, Goliath.

 “Yahweh, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine,” David said. And so it was.

 Or the assurances in today’s Psalm that “Yahweh will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in time of trouble/ Those who know your Name will put their trust in you, for you never forsake those who seek you, O LORD.”

 Or the catalogue of suffering Paul endured while doing the work of an apostle and evangelist; “…beatings, imprisonments…sleepless nights, hunger…” and all the rest of it, making him “…sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

 Dear friends, I have seen Christians like that – at the Lambeth Conference, and around the world. And I can tell you that the words of these biblical passages are as true today as on the day they were written!  True in their lives; true in their ministries.

 And I thought this week how instructive today’s Gospel is in this regard. It’s a familiar story to us: Jesus and his disciples are in a fishing boat crossing the Sea of Galilee when a “great windstorm arose” whipping up the waves and threatening to swamp the boat.

 I’ve been on that body of water and I can tell you that conditions can change in a matter of minutes as it’s found surrounded by hills and is not very deep, so a simple change in wind direction can add a chop to the water and bounce you around pretty good, even on a larger vessel than Jesus and his friends were in!    

 Jesus was either exhausted or relatively unconcerned because he was asleep in the back of the boat and, touchingly, Mark tells us, “asleep on a cushion!” “Teacher, do you not care if we are perishing?” the disciples shout. Jesus wakes up, calls for Peace and Stillness and – the text tells us – “there was a dead calm.”

 This story has been used in a variety of ways over the years and a number of ancient commentators were fond of pointing out that the Church itself has often been depicted as a boat. Even our church architecture sometimes reminds us of the construction of a ship, and the fact that the part of the church building you are sitting in is classically called “the nave.”

 And the Church itself has passed through many times of turbulent waters. From the early conflicts we see in Paul’s letters, to the great split between East and West in 1052, to the Reformation when the Catholic and Protestant churches broke apart, to the establishment of The Episcopal Church on these shores free from the control and Establishment of the Church of England. Complex issues that we confront today. Christians are no strangers to turbulent times in the Church and in the world.

 Whether it’s the kind of pain you’ve gone through here at St. Paul’s in recent months, to the struggles of the Diocese of Iowa to respond to the many challenges before us when congregations can no longer provide the kind of financial support they used to, to the challenges The Episcopal Church will face at this upcoming General Convention, not because of the potentially controversial issues we will have to confront but because the economic downturn which challenges us as individuals and our congregations and our dioceses are also causing us to make very difficult choices on the national and international level as well.

 Certainly my budget has been slashed in 2009 and the next three years looks even bleaker. You may be facing that in your own households or in your places of employment.

 But when I think of my sisters and brothers in the Sudan…or Pakistan…or Micronesia, all I can hear is their faithful telling of the stories of the young David…the songs of the Psalmist…the heroism of St. Paul…and Jesus, in that little boat, saying “Peace. Be still.”

 The problems we face are real enough. But they do not compare with what our forebears in the faith have gone through or what many of our fellow Anglicans live with every day of their lives.

 Let’s just try to remember, when we feel ourselves buffeted about in a storm-tossed sea,that we have the same resource available to us that those original disciples had. We have Jesus in this boat with us.

 And he’s no longer asleep. He is saying, “Peace. Be still.”



The Triune God: Powerful, Loving, Intimate

June 9, 2009

We gather to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity today. When Christians say that we understand God as Trinity, we are not saying, of course that we believe in three gods. Or that the one God is somehow “divided into three parts.” What we are trying to say, among other things, is that we have experienced that one God in three ways – ways we have identified as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 And, also, that there is a complexity, a multifaceted reality, about the very nature of God, in which we need to be saying several things at once about this awesome Being. Things which may, at first glance, seem to be contradictory but which, we have come to believe, are all true about God. I think our Readings from Holy Scripture this morning are attempts to identify those different aspects of God.

 First of all, we have the Exodus account of Moses encountering God in the wilderness. And it’s an encounter with the power, the transcendence, the wholly “otherness” of God.

“Moses, Moses…Here I am…Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground…And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” (Exodus 3)

 Well, this may be our first experience, our first encounter with God as well. I mean if this God we worship is the Creator, and ultimate Sustainer, of this entire world; indeed of the  vast Universe in which our whole galaxy is just a speck of microscopic dust, this is indeed an “awesome God!”

 Taking off your shoes, or falling on your face (as, for example, Muslims do every time they pray!) is probably a pretty appropriate thing to do. It’s why we Christians kneel sometimes to pray, and at certain times in our liturgy. We are to be in awe of God!

 And the temple worship of the Jewish people, the whole sacrificial system, the Hebrew Bible itself on which Jesus grew up majors in this understanding of God. They would not even pronounce God’s name out loud lest they be taking it “in vain.” To see God face to face was to risk almost certain death.

 But Jesus of Nazareth, in whom we have experienced God, emphasized another aspect, another “nature” of the Divine. A nature so different from the one we’ve just been talking about that he tells Nicodemus in the Gospel that you almost have to be “born all over again” to get your mind around it.

 “Very truly,” he says, “I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen, yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?” (John 3)

 Godloves the world, Jesus taught. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life!” What Jesus was trying to say, and to hold in tension with the awesome, transcendent nature of God which he took for granted, was the loving nature of God. Jesus wanted us to understand, not only the power of God, but the compassion of God.  He wanted us to know that God was not “against” us, but always, and for ever “for” us…as human beings created in the divine image. God so loved…that he gave…

 Power…complemented by…love. And St. Paul, writing some twenty years later to the Christians in Rome, takes it one step further. He says, “…all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” 

 “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry ‘Abba, Father’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ…” (Romans, chapter eight)    

 Paul is emphasizing…intimacy. You know, you can have power over someone and not have any real relationship with them at all, not care about them in the least. And you can love someone without being particularly intimate with them. Power is simply the ability to act and power “over” someone else is the ability to act in such a way as to have influence over them.

 Love, at its simplest, is not an emotion at all. It is a decision. A decision to put the best interests of another ahead of your own interests. But intimacy implies a connection…and even more than connection, a relationship, even a kinship. “When we cry ‘Abba, Father’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ…”

 At its simplest, I think that’s what the Church – through her creeds and liturgy – is trying to say when we confess God as “in Trinity of Persons and Unity in Being.” We’re trying to say that the One God is the transcendent Power which created and sustains the Universe. But at the same time that Power is guided by Love. The guiding principle of God’s power, and the guiding principle at the core of creation, is none other than the power of love itself.

 And because of that, God wants to be in relationship with each and every one of us. And that relationship is to be one of intimacy. For the God who spun out the heavens, the God who became vulnerable in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, is the same God who is as close to you as the next beat of your heart, and the next breath you take!

 One God: powerful, loving, intimate. One God: creating, sustaining, sanctifying. One God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.