Saturday, May 17, 2014

Pentecost 5 Proper 8B , July 1, 2012 ~ The Hemorrhaging Woman and the Dead Girl

Sermon for the Pentecost 5
Proper 8 B  ~  July 1, 2012
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar
God did not make death…righteousness is immortal.

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity,

Archbishop Tutu is fond of saying that we live in a moral universe. There is an objective moral law, just as real as the laws of physics —maybe more so, since they seem to keep changing. What is right may not always be so easy to figure out either — and our apprehension of it is according to our own imperfect understanding. But the right itself is objective. That's one way to interpret the declaration that righteousness is immortal. What is right does not pass away with persons or cultures. Even if some science-fiction, doomsday, apocalyptic scenario were to happen, and our planet and everything on it were destroyed, righteousness would not be destroyed, because righteousness is immortal. Righteousness does not depend on us. It is of God.
Another way to understand what it means to say that righteousness is immortal is to say that death is not an aspect of what is right, what is just, what is fair. Wherever it comes from, death is most definitely not a just punishment imposed by God on sinners. That is nonsense, just as the idea that the generative forces of the world are somehow unwholesome or poisonous  God did not make death…righteousness is immortal. In other words, death is not God’s will and death is not just.
But we still die. In fact all people die. Some of us die surrounded by family and friends, full of years, and at peace. But most of us do not. The majority of people lead miserable lives, characterized by suffering and oppression. Sad, pathetic lives. Lives cut short, like Jairus’ daughter's, lives whose potential was never reached. But then, who ever does fulfill their potential? The whole of life is a series of decisions, forks in the road in which we have to take one or the other and taking one means not taking the other, and forsaking it forever. Nobody ever lives up to their full potential. Still, some lives are more pathetic than others.
And that isn't fair. It isn't just; it isn't right. "Life isn't fair".  No, it’s not.  But that's the mystery of iniquity. That's the contagion of death that has mysteriously crept into the world. And God didn't make it. Nor did God ordain that life shouldn't be fair, but just the opposite that life should be fair because righteousness  –  that is justice –  is immortal.
The Son of God came to fix that: to destroy the “works of the devil”, to destroy death and unrighteousness. That is the subject of today’s Gospel, in which Jesus saves two dying people. It is really significant that both of these people are women. That is, people of no account, of no public significance. Life is draining out of both of them. The incident of the woman with the chronic hemorrhage is inserted, like a parenthesis, into the story of the comatose girl. Blood was life itself to the ancient Hebrews. Bloodshed was necessary for covenants and for atonement, but – paradoxically – human blood was also defiling. Anyone who came into contact with blood became unclean for a time, as did anyone who touched a dead body.
That is why the woman was so afraid. She had touched Jesus. No woman would ever even speak to a man, much less touch him, in public. Moreover, Jesus was considered a Rabbi, a holy man – especially untouchable! For a woman known to be constantly defiled by a hemorrhage to touch a Rabbi would be a real outrage. It would make Him unclean. It was entirely reasonable for her to fear that He would be angry with her for contaminating Him. Instead, He praised her and called her “daughter”, and told her that it was her faith that had saved her. Faith and fear, again. The woman trusted enough to overcome her fear of offending the Rabbi, but her fear remained. Jesus cast that out, too.
Notice that the woman did not say to herself: “Well, I have an affliction, and it’s not fair, but then life isn’t fair, so I will just have to learn to live with it.” There are plenty of advisers who would have told her so. Then as now there were plenty of sages counseling her to develop the serenity to accept that which she could not change, to give up her striving to be whole.  But that is not the attitude Jesus praised as “faith”.  What He praised was her refusal to give up hope that things could change: her trust in the goodness of God, her trust that God is not content with the unfairness of life. This trust not only heals her, but it causes the Godman to call her “daughter”.
This is the second time this word occurs in the passage. The first is when the desperate Jairus asks Jesus to save his “little daughter”. On the way to do so, Jesus is delayed by the woman He calls “daughter”, meanwhile Jairus’s daughter dies. The counselors of despair advise Jairus to give up, but Jesus says “Do not fear, only trust”. Faith and fear again.  I notice that this pattern occurs also in the Raising of Lazarus, in which Jesus delays while Lazarus succumbs. The latter story, in the Fourth Gospel, makes it explicit that the delay was intentional,  in order to reveal the “Glory of God”, but in both stories the bereaved people take a negative attitude toward Jesus: Martha reproaches Him for being late; the mourners at Jairus’s house laugh at Him scornfully, when He says that the daughter is only sleeping.
But God did not make death; God sent His Son  to destroy it. He does so, however, in private. He puts the scornful mourners out and takes only the parents and the closest disciples – Peter James and John  –  into the room of the dead girl. Then He ignores ritual defilement again, taking her by the hand, and restores her to life.  But was she dead, or – as Jesus Himself has said – only asleep? It is the scornful mourners who say she is dead, not Jesus. But then Jesus strictly commands the witnesses that no one should know about what had happened. Why, if she had only been sleeping, as He had just said?
It is also a little hard to imagine how the witnesses were supposed to obey this strict instruction. Were they supposed to bury the girl alive? Forbid her to go out? Everyone knew she had been sick to the point of death. Jairus was a well-known public figure, who had sought Jesus’s help in the middle of a big crowd, and everyone knew that Jesus had gone to the house even after the report of the daughter’s death had come. Then there were those mourning people Jesus had put out of the house. Some of them, presumably, had actually seen the girl die. How could the fact that she was now alive be kept from everybody, so that “no one should know of it”?
Perplexing. Maybe it points to another theme of the whole passage: faith and fear. God cannot compel faith. For if it were compulsory, it would not be faith, just as we do not hope for things we can already see. In John’s  Gospel, Jesus’ observes that if people did not believe the prophets, neither would they believe if someone rose from the dead.  Dostoyevsky elaborated: the doctors and scientists would crowd around the resurrected person, confer   among themselves, and then announce that they would reserve judgment.  A few months later, a scientific paper would appear, redefining death. The resurrected person was never really dead, but only in a previously-unknown kind of coma. Resurrections, of course, do not happen. So, the raising of Jairus’s daughter occurs in private. Dead people do not wake up, and when the girl appears again among the living, skeptics are free to believe what Jesus said to begin with “the child is not dead but sleeping”.
Both of these victories over death were private. The woman was anonymous in the crowd. No one, not even Jesus, knew what had happened. He just felt that “power had gone out of Him”. He didn't know who had been healed until she came in fear and trembling, fell down at His feet, and told the whole story. I suppose the people pressing close to them in the crowd might have heard something about what the woman thought had happened, but in the large, excited crowd, only a few. The healing, though not exactly private wasn't really that public either, even though it occurred in the middle of a big crowd. What really happened was known only to the woman. The woman could not doubt that she had been healed, but then, she trusted to begin with, and as Jesus said, it was her trust that healed her. Everybody else could easily ignore it. So even in these two spectacular displays of divine power over death and injustice, people remained free – free to doubt the activity of God in the world, free to resign themselves to the supremacy of death and to the loathsome cliché that tells us “life isn’t fair”. Whatever else we may think about these incidents, It seems clear that He didn't want the news to get out .
Why? I can think of two reasons. The first is that the Divine project of liberating the creation from death, is much larger than these local victories. These are signs of what is going on, but what they point to is vast beyond imagining. The Victory over the usurper death will take place on an even more mysterious, cosmic level. As the Godman travels around Galilee and the Decapolis He cannot not help undoing death wherever He goes. But these healings and resurrections and exorcisms are almost incidental. They help to establish His reputation and to lend authority to His otherwise fairly-conventional teaching (as Nicodemus said to him in his nocturnal visit, “we know that you are a teacher sent from God because no one not of God could do the wonders you do") but the point  of these healings is that they are signs: signs of God's will to set creation free from death altogether, for God did not make death and God's righteousness has nothing to do with death.
The second reason I can imagine for Jesus’s insistence “that no one should know” is that God will not interfere with our autonomy. God will not force us to hope by doing wonders that we MUST acknowledge. Divine love requires that God remain incognito in the world, for otherwise, we would be deprived of our freedom, and thus we would no longer bear the Image of God.  God is not like the American strategist in Vietnam who thought he could save the village by destroying it. God will not destroy His Image in order to save it. Indeed, even God cannot free us by violating our freedom.
So, even the Resurrection on the Eighth Day occurred secretly: not just in private, but in secret. There were no witnesses to the actual Event, only to its consequences. People like Mary Magdalene saw Him alive again, but they did not see Him rise from the dead.
Nevertheless, those who witness the results, like the Woman with the hemorrhage, Jairus and his wife, Peter, James, and John, may – if they wish – celebrate the mysterious hope that the bondage of death is undone. Those who are willing to live in this hope may come together to rejoice, and to join in the common effort to advance God’s justice, which has nothing to do with death. For “God did not make death…and righteousness is immortal.”


Pentecost 3 Proper 6B, June 17, 2012 ~ The New Creation

Pentecost III
June 17, 2012
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:
everything old has passed away;
see, everything has become new!

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

Paul's great passage about reconciliation gives me the opportunity to pick up my favorite current theme, and add something to what I said last time, when the subject was the nocturnal visit of St. Nicodemus to our Lord. You will remember that the learned and sympathetic Pharisee was puzzled by the notion of being "born from above". A clue to what that means is found elsewhere in the writings of the same author — or at least of his school of early Christian theology — where, in one of the epistles attributed to him, St. John says
God is love.
Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
Born of God, you see. Maybe that is the birth from above of which Jesus spoke to Nicodemus in John's Gospel. If so, it means that love — the fruit of the Spirit, Who blows wherever She will — is spiritual rebirth. I think that has something to do with ego-loss. Self-forgetfulness. Love is more than simple kindness or generous disposition towards others. It is more mystical, and in a sense more frightening than that. It has to do with the loss of our life, in fact our soul, with the loss of whatever it is that, if we tried to hold onto it we lose it, but when we lose it, we find real life and our real soul. Hanging-on to our little sense of self, to our little egos — is what Paul calls the flesh.  Today he tells us:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.
Well, the word of our version renders as human is none other than this flesh,  so in my interpretation this passage could read this way:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from the point of view of ego-delusion; even though we once knew Christ from that deluded point of view, we know Him no longer in that way.
Could this mean that — from time to time at least — Paul has experienced a new consciousness of which he is no longer the center? It is extremely difficult to explain this to those who have never experienced it. In fact, the attempt to do so may well appear to be lunacy:
For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God;
if we are in our right mind, it is for you.
The original Greek is helpful and maybe even illuminating here: the word our translation renders as "beside ourselves”   [exesthmen] Is related to our word ecstasy. It can mean out of one's mind or beside oneself, but it can also mean something mystical: astonishment, amazement, “a displacement of the mind from its ordinary state and self-possession”.  Self-possession. There we go. Paul is referring to a transformation of his sense of self as a result of his relationship to God in Christ. I think this is also what he means by reconciliation [katallassw],  which we will get to in a minute.
Paul says that he is "beside himself", as regards God. That is, for a time Paul finds himself outside his old, limited, ego-centric consciousness — the sense of individual self into which we are born, which he calls flesh.  When dealing with fellow mortals, he has to revert to that consciousness in order to appear not to have lost his mind, because that is exactly how ecstatic people seem to others. For the sake of those with whom he is trying to communicate, he must keep up what he now sees as the pretense of the flesh— the illusion that we are separate beings — while at the same time trying to convince everyone that they are really a new creation.
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a New Creation: everything old has passed away;
see, everything has become new!
That's where our lectionary leaves it today, but Paul goes on to talk, rather excitedly — even ecstatically — it seems to me, about reconciliation, which is really what all of this is been leading up to, even though our lectionary omits it entirely, and skips on to the next chapter next week! Here's how Paul concludes this passage:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us with Himself through Christ, and has given us the  ministry of reconciliation; that is in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us… For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin Who knew no sin so that in Him we might become the is righteousness of God.
Sin is alienation –  our self-definition as OTHER than everyone and everything else. This is the exact opposite of the Divine Consciousness of the Three Persons, which is Love. Sin is the opposite of Love. It is the state of individuality into which we are born. In Christ, God has come into that state with us, so that we might become the righteousness of God: so that we might join in the society of Perfect Love which I've called the Divine Consciousness. We cannot enter the kingdom of God until we have been born from above — until we exchange sin for love, flesh for spirit, ego-delusion for self-forgetfulness.
"See, If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation." The old translations render it — mistakenly in my estimation — as an individual transformation: "If anyone is in Christ HE IS a new creation."  What's wrong with this is that it is precisely the overcoming of individuality that Paul is talking about as the New Creation — the reconciliation provided by God in Christ — we are reconciled with God and with one another. I think this means more than simply being forgiven by God and forgiving one another. It is a metaphysical change, in which we are no longer in Paul's ironic phrase "in our right minds" — our worldly, or fleshly, or ego-diluted perspective, but we are "beside ourselves” or “out of our minds” — those fleshly minds, those ego-minds. We are out of those.
We usually think of reconciliation under the influence of our atonement doctrine: we need, individually, to be reconciled to God, because of our misdeeds, and the blood of Christ makes that possible by paying the penalty due for our sin. Indeed, the Latin word from which our word reconciliation comes can be used in this way, although the Greek is not. In a more humanistic sense, we also think of reconciliation as laying down old enmities and grudges, and forgetting about other people's offenses against us. It means all these things, but looking into the roots of the words uncovers at least the possibility of an ecstatic and mystical meaning. The Greek word we translate as "reconciliation" is related to the word meaning other as in alien. It means to change into something else, to exchange one thing for another, to interchange ­and by extension, it means to restore to favor, that which had fallen out of favor. Reconciliation in the sense of “restoration to favor” is one of the ancient meanings, but at the deepest root there is always the notion of change. Transformation. Exchange. Restoration. Interchange. I want to propose that reconciliation can mean becoming interchangeable with one another — that reconciliation means really loving your neighbor as yourself. 
Reconciliation in Latin adds another interesting connotation: coming together again, implying that some kind of previous togetherness had been lost, which is now restored. That, in fact, is the usual meaning of reconciliation, isn't it? Usually, reconciliation goes hand-in-hand with forgiveness. But I want to suggest that it may mean much more, all-important though forgiveness may be. I suggest that reconciliation is an actual change in being, which is why Paul calls it "the New Creation”. The New Creation in Christ:
Let me read the passage, substituting my own interpretation of the words:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old is passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who interchanged reconciled us with Himself through Christ, and has given us the commission to make you aware of it  ministry of reconciliation; that is in Christ God was changing the world into Himself reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting the message of this transformation reconciliation to us… For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be alienated ego sin who never had any such delusion knew no sin so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
The cancellation of trespasses is part of the reconciliation – the interchange of Being –  but it is far from the whole thing. The reconciliation of which Paul writes seems to be liberation from the prison of ego – the flesh, as he called it — as we are incorporated into Christ which means into the Mystical Body in which we are all one. The flesh is transformed – exchanged for the Body: the New Creation that is the Body of Christ. In the old, worldly, fleshly, consciousness of self — from the perspective of ego — this kind of talk is crazy: the lunatic raving of one “beside himself”, but in this new, ecstatic understanding, in which everything old has passed away — in which Paul has experienced the new level of consciousness in Christ — it is the Message of Reconciliation: the incredibly Good News that we have been changed — brought into the Eternal Communal Self: The Most Holy and Life-giving Trinity: we are "reconciled" in the sense of being brought into that Divine Being — together.


Pentecost 2 Proper 5B June 10, 2012 ~ New Garments

Pentecost II
 June 10, 2012
Christ Church, Bayfield

 I was afraid, because I was naked…
if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands…
+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

The Gospel today tells us of Jesus' combat with evil, life against death, expressed metaphorically as a combat with an evil spirit. Jesus has come to undo the works of the devil, the evil one, the mystery of iniquity, whatever it was that happened to Adam and Eve in that first story. Jesus work is not entirely out of the blue, either. God had been working for endless ages to bring humanity to the point at which Jesus could do His work.
Let's think of the Redemption as a process. Not an instantaneous event, but a continuous series of events. Let's also recognize that this process is what is important about the story of the Fall. We hear about the beginning of that process of Redemption in today’s first reading. Notice the first thing that Adam says when God asks him why he was hiding "I was afraid… I was afraid because I was naked." God asks him how he knew that he was naked and then, without waiting for an answer, deduces that Adam and Eve must have eaten of the forbidden fruit. But why would the knowledge of good and evil make you ashamed to be naked in front of God and to be afraid? There's something underneath the surface meaning of this. What is this nakedness that Adam and Eve suddenly realized was their condition? How is it related to the knowledge of good and evil?
First of all, it may help to remember that "knowledge" means a lot more than simply recognition. Knowledge of good and evil isn't simply the ability to tell the difference between good and evil, right and wrong, and it's not just about disobedience to divine command. Knowledge of good and evil means a thoroughgoing awareness of them, and an intimate relationship with good and evil. The human beings had come to the conscious awareness that there was such a thing as good and evil in the world, and as God had told Adam and Eve, that kind of consciousness goes hand-in-hand with the awareness that they were mortal, the certainty that they were going to die: on the day you eat… you shall surely die — you will be sure that you will die. But  look what happens next, as the story continues in a part we didn't read today.
The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.
In other words God immediately sets to work to make provision for our nakedness, our vulnerability, our awareness of death, and our fear of it, by providing Garments not made with hands. God still loves us. And this isn't the end of the story but just the beginning of the process of redemption.  Maybe what we traditionally call "the Fall” was really a necessary part of becoming human, of creation becoming conscious of itself, of living into the image of God. No less an authority Than St. Augustine of Hippo seem to think so. He called the Fall "happy"! O Felix Culpa, “O happy fault, that merited such a Redeemer.” This Redemption in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the New Adam, was the culmination of a process of divine activity that began when God fashioned clothes of animal skin for the naked Adam and Eve: when God set about to take away the terror that went along with the awareness of mortality, of fashioning what St. Paul called a house not made with hands.
The “Day” in which we live – our era of consciousness – is still the day of certain death. But we meet here today, on Sunday, the first day of the week, the first day of creation, to celebrate the mystical truth that God has changed this Day of death  — the era in which we “will surely die” — into the day of Resurrection — The Eighth Day of the Week. The EIGHTH Day of Creation. Now, an ordinary week has seven days, and then the next week starts over again, in endless cycles. To speak of an Eighth Day of the week is a paradoxical. And that is the point. The Eighth Day of the Week is a time outside of time. The day whereon eternity and time overlap.
This season after Pentecost, the season in which we live, in which the Holy Spirit fills the world, refers not only to our annual liturgical cycle, but also our historical era – the time after Pentecost, in which we are called to proclaim to the ends of the cosmos the Good News that the Reign of God has replaced the reign of death. In the words of one of our Eucharistic prayers, this Eighth Day of Creation, this season after Pentecost, is the time in which we are called "to complete His work of Redemption, and to bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all."
The six days of creation correspond — remarkably closely one might add — to the eras of billions of years from the Big Bang (“let there be light”) until now. The seventh day, the holy Sabbath, upon which God rested from His labors, corresponds to Holy Saturday in which the Godman, having bound the “Strong Man” by His Victory on Calvary, took a little siesta in the House of the strongman — death — whom He had bound and whose house He had despoiled. Then on Sunday, creation woke up new. The holy women who “came to the Tomb very early on the first day of the week, before the sun had risen, while it was yet dark”, encountered at that empty Tomb, not the dawn of the first day of the week, but the Dawn of what the ancient Fathers and Mothers of the Church called the Eighth Day of Creation, our Day in which God is bringing to fulfillment the sanctification of all.
The good news of this Dawn is too good to be true. Maybe that's the significance of exorcism — why exorcism was so prominent in the Gospel accounts of Jesus' ministry. It is not so much individual liberation from demonic possession, in the sense of that old movie, as it is undoing the mysterious forces that seem to impel us all to embrace our consciousness of death as the ultimate reality: in other words, to worship death if it were God. Jesus cast out our fear because we are naked, our inability to hope that this "day in which we surely die" is also — at the very same time — the Eighth Day of Creation, the Day of Resurrection. Satan means “adversary”, the prosecuting attorney, the little voice inside every single one of us that tells us that death is the end of our story and that everything else is hokum — wishful thinking. This is what Jesus – Perfect Love – casts out. Jesus cast out our anxiety: the fear we know because we are naked.
So, our Day is no longer only the Day in which we will surely die, it is also the Day of Resurrection, in which  — O Happy Fault! — our last state is better than our first: we are actually better off than before the Fall, because death no longer has dominion over us. Our awareness of the certainty of our own death is overcome by the new awareness that we will live forever. We need no longer fear because we are naked. Our fear has been cast out by the incarnate Love of God, Who sews for us new garments, not made by hands.

Trinity Sunday - 2012 ~ Nicodemus and Birth from Above

We are all born of water, in a flood of water, amniotic fluid. “Born of water” means natural birth, in which we become individuals – separate from our mothers.
But to enter the Kingdom of God, we must undergo another birth: we must be born “from above”, born of the Spirit.
I think this opposition refers to two kinds of consciousness: individual and personal. I am born, naturally, as a new center of awareness, in which  I appear to myself to be the center of the world. Everything revolves around Me.   In its extreme, known as solipsism, this can be the view that the entire world is an illusion of my own imagination.  This is what Jesus and Paul refer to as “flesh”. It is not merely our material nature, but the sense of myself as ego. Flesh = ego.
Spirit, by contrast, is the growing consciousness of participation in the community of other centers of consciousness. It is not all about ME. It is about US. This is what Jesus tells Nicodemus is the “birth from above” that must happen before one can enter the Kingdom of God. Because the Kingdom of God IS that community of other subjects: the society of individuals-in-the-process-of-becoming-persons. Now Nicodemus, as an eminent religious teacher himself, ought to have known this – and he probably did. But the Gospel uses him as a foil for Jesus’s expression of the basic truth of Being as Communion.  Poor Nicodemus is in the dark (he comes “by night”), but he honestly wants to be enlightened. He doesn’t get it. He thinks Jesus is speaking literally, as many since him have thought about spiritual birth, imagining it to be an instantaneous experience, marked by some extraordinary phenomena, like speaking in tongues.  At worst, this misunderstanding of “spirirtual rebirth” reduces it to a kind of possession of the individual ego: something “I have”. “Born again” means my own individual relationship with God, which is pretty close to the opposite of what spiritual birth really means.
But IC doesn’t even say “born again”, but rather “born from above”. That is a metaphor, I think for being born into the Beloved Community – the Community of Love, the Community of the Most Holy and Life-giving Trinity, the Mstery to which this Sunday is dedicated.

As I say constantly, individual is the opposite of person. Just as Spirit is the opposite of flesh, not in the sense of immaterial/material, but in the sense of ego-consciousness opposed to communion-consciousness. The Kingdom of God IS communion, therefore, it is really a no-brainer to observe that one cannot enter it unless one has been “born from above ”, because being Born of the Spirit IS entrance into the Kingdom of God, which is also called the Communion of the Holy Spirit.  This points us, again, to the Trinity. The Spirit, descending at Pentecost, opens this Divine Community to all flesh, transfiguring flesh into spirit, beginning at Jerusalem, that is beginning with human beings.  An individual’s spiritual birth is the dawning awareness that life is not something I have, but something in which I participate, along with others, the beginning of the growing awareness that life itself is communal.

The Church’s ceremonies symbolize this. The newborn is brought to the font, where she is immersed in water, reënacting – among other things – her material birth. But at the same time, this bath reënacts the passage through the Red Sea, from slavery to freedom. From death to life. From the death that is the inevitable end of life as an individual, to new and eternal life in the beloved community of persons. This passage is a result of the activity of the Holy Spirit (God sent a strong East Wind to drive back the waters, which stood as walls on both sides of them, as the Children of Israel passed through on dry land. Here, again, is something that a learned Pharisee might be expected to “get”. ) So, in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism the Church marks the “birth from above”, of which Jesus speaks to Nicodemus. It is a birth, in the words of the old rite, “which by nature we cannot have”.  Our natural state – our natal state is individual – flesh; the invincible life of the Spirit comes “from above”, that is, entirely from outside my ego-consciousness. Baptism is entry into the Church, which represents the Kingdom of God. Baptism is the beginning of participation and increasing identity in the Beloved Community. No longer “I” but “We”.
And the “We” includes  ta panta, “all flesh”.

Spiritual birth – birth from above – also admits us into a new relationship with God, who is no longer only the dread Adonai or the majestic but awful God of Hosts, nor the terrifying Lawgiver thundering on Sinai, nor even the Beneficient Shepherd, leading Joseph like a flock and David beside the still waters, but ABBA, papa! As Paul says, it is the Spirit within us that addresses God that way. The Spirit within US. Not within ME, but within US. Among us, really.

My Father in Heaven, Hallowed be your name…Give ME today My daily bread, forgive ME my sin as I forgive..lead Me not into temptation, but deliver ME from evil.

This horrible parody illustrates, perhaps, the opposition between flesh and spirit. It’s not all about ME! Flesh would pray “My Father”, the Spirit – praying even within us little individual egoists – prays “Our Father”.
The Spirit among us cries ABBA. And if we do too, it is because we have been so taught by the Son.  This word expresses the relationships within the Community of the Three Divine Persons –  the relationship the Son and the Spirit have to the Father. By teaching us to address God as they do – as  ABBA –  the Son invites us to participate in that Divine Community, the Kingdom of God, and the Spirit gives us the capacity to do so. The Orthodox refer to Communion as “participation”. Indeed, the Eucharistic liturgy celebrates our participation in the Life of God. It is not by chance that, right before Communion, we address God as taught by the Son and moved by the Spirit:  “ABBA – Our Father.



Pentecost May 27, 2012

 May 27, 2012
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.
+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

Advocate is a legal term meaning your lawyer, the one who argues on your behalf against the prosecutor, the adversary, the word for whom in Semitic languages is Satan. So, the Advocate is our defender against Satan, the accuser.

I think Satan's accusation amounts to saying that we are fools to believe that there is any reality beyond what we can see. "What you see is what you get", and you're an idiot if you believe otherwise. That is the accusation of the adversary. Our defense is the Spirit who testifies along with us, the Spirit of Hope.
As Paul says, hope is about — precisely — that which we do not see. If we could see it, we wouldn’t need to hope for it. The Advocate is the Spirit of hope, as opposed to the Satan of despair. The Advocate says to us —  to each of us in the inmost depths of our hearts —  that there is something to hope for: something Unseen. Satan (the ruler of this world) says "what you see is what you get".  Paul says:

For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
In hope we are saved. that is why, as the Lord tells us today, it is in our advantage that He should ascend out of our sight, otherwise, we would have no hope, and there would be no future. For the redeeming work of the Incarnation to be completed, the Holy Spirit must come into the world. The Spirit of Hope must come to testify to Christ — to the cosmic sovereignty of Love. But the Spirit CANNOT come unless Christ goes “to the Father”.

The Spirit's testimony corroborates our own, but it is independent of our testimony, and more widespread. The Spirit testifies universally, in fact. Hence, the distinction between the Spirit's testimony, and our own. We testify "also", because "we have been with Him from the beginning." That is our inner longing has impelled us into the Society that lives in His Name. We now live consciously in that tradition, of which the Godman is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. But we, who have been with Him "from the beginning", have not been told everything. Jesus says clearly that He has things to tell us that we are not able to bear. There are levels of reality and consciousness that are simply beyond us, right now; but the Advocate will lead us into all of that. And not us alone. There is no reason to imagine that the same Advocate is not at work throughout the world — throughout the whole universe, in fact.

The Advocate, Jesus says, “ will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.”
1.   Wrong about sin: the mistake is to imagine that sin is anything other than a failure to love, that sin is the transgression of code of behavior; while sin really is the despair that thinks Love is not the Ultimate Reality. What is what —  I think  — what the Godman means by saying of the world, "they do not believe in me"
2.   Wrong about righteousness: righteousness is a way of life, a path. The path to God presumably, the path that Jesus takes to the Father, the "right path", that the world rejects. "He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His Name's sake". " The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous in the way of the ungodly shall perish." Maybe the mistake of the world is also to imagine that "righteousness" is one unique path. We can testify to our own path and its righteousness (our hope that it is leading us in the right direction), but the Spirit testifies to much more, according to the same Gospel passage.
The Godman says that the world is mistaken about righteousness, "because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer." What can this possibly mean? How does the fact that Jesus has withdrawn from our immediate sight prove that the world was wrong about righteousness? This is pretty opaque, but how about this: hope in that which is unseen is a positive virtue, a state of spiritual consciousness higher than the supposed "righteousness" of following orders, and higher even than the immediate association with the Godman in His earthly Incarnation. Insofar as the world imagines that the right path is the path of certainty, either in following rules or in the material presence of Jesus, it is a mistake. This mistake is corrected by Jesus’ disappearance. As long as He was visibly present, there was no need for hope — in fact no possibility of hope. The Advocate could not come, Jesus says, as long as Jesus Himself was with us. The Spirit of Hope is given only after He goes to the Father, after He has taken that “Path of Righteousness”
3.   Wrong about judgment: God's judgment has two sides: condemnation and vindication. The world is wrong about judgment because it seems to the world that Jesus has been destroyed while in fact it is the would-be destroyer who has been destroyed. Jesus is vindicated in that the ruler of this world has been condemned. That ruler is none other than our old adversary, Satan — the prosecuting attorney, the spirit of hopelessness who tells us "what you see is what you get, there is no more, hope is just self deception, and your story is over when you die." Or – worse – God is going to GET you, when you die - But that spirit has been condemned by the judgment of God, and the ruler of this world is cast out, in Jesus’ words, as the Advocate, the Spirit of Hope, pours into the world. To the hopeless world, wrong about judgment, this Spirit is a sign of imbecility or intoxication. "They are filled with the new wine." But to those who accept the Good News proclaimed to them in their own language, the new Hope is the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy:
`In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.

All flesh.  Here is the distinction again between the particularity of our own tradition and the universality of the testimony of the Spirit. The Holy Prophet Joel proclaims that God will pour out the Spirit upon all flesh, and then goes on to say that — as it were in addition — your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams. You (we) are going to get the Spirit, sure enough, but don't think it's only you, because "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh."

And our own sacred tradition clearly places this universal prophecy in the mouth of Peter, as an explanation of Pentecost.

Now Pentecost. Looking back, There are three levels of meaning to Pentecost: life renewed, Torah, and the illapse of the Holy Spirit. I think it may be possible to connect them with the three ways in which the world gets it wrong.
Originally, beginning fifty days after Passover, the ancient Hebrews celebrated the feast of the first fruits of the growing season. The Earth again yields sustenance. It is time for rejoicing, because God has blessed us with continuing life. This festival of fertility and renewed life came to be associated with God's covenant —  His deal with humanity through Moses on Sinai: you obey my commandments, and I will set you up in the promised land of fertility and prosperity. So the feast of Pentecost became the commemoration of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. The Law is divine guidance in the Way of Righteousness. But the Law, which is a reliable guide, is not to be confused with the Lawgiver. The Law, written in stone, must not become a stone idol which we serve in place of God. God Whom the Holy Apopstle John says IS Love.  All the Torah (the Law and the prophets) hang on the commandments to love, which we have been considering this season:
·        love God and love your neighbor, and
·        it is impossible to love God Whom you have not seen if you love not your neighbor whom you have seen, and
·        Those who say they love God but hate their neighbors are liars, and
·        The only way we can love God, in fact, is by loving our neighbors.
That is the Spirit of the Law, as distinct from the letter written in stone. The commandments written in stone are gracious, as far as they go. But to imagine that the whole Path of Righteousness —  the entirety of our journey to God — is accomplished by obeying these commandments is to have a heart of stone. Several places in holy Scripture we find the metaphor of writing the Law on our hearts. God promises through The holy prophet Jeremiah that our hearts of stone will be replaced with hearts of flesh — living flesh upon which the Law of love may be inscribed.

Clearly, this is the third meaning of Pentecost as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. So, in summary,
·        Pentecost is the feast of the first fruits, of the renewal of creation, Pentecost celebrates the sovereignty of life and love over death, throughout the cosmos, Pentecost celebrates the hope that Love is stronger than death, the hope that is the opposite of sin, which would have us believe that death rules, which is what the world thinks, which is why Jesus says “they are wrong about sin.”
·        Pentecost is the celebration of the giving of the Law on Sinai, the opening of the path of righteousness, which the world gets wrong by imagining that the Way of the Righteous means obeying rules.
·        Pentecost is the Transfiguration of the cosmos by the Holy Spirit, which is the real meaning of the Judgment of God.

God pours out the Spirit upon "all flesh", replacing stony hearts with hearts of flesh, and writing upon them the Law of Love. The illapse of the Holy Spirit is not confined to the Apostles, or to the baptized (as we heard in our course-reading of the Acts, two weeks ago). The Spirit goes wherever She wishes. So now all these Galilean disciples begin to proclaim the Good News of the Reign of Love in foreign languages. The great miracle of Pentecost is trivialized by reducing it to glossolalia — speaking in tongues. The important fact is that all those people from all the cultures of the earth heard the Good News in a language they could understand.

This means a lot more, I think, than faithfully translating the terms of our own cultural tradition into foreign languages. The Spirit of God fills the world. That means that the Good News becomes intelligible to all peoples and cultures, according to their own cultural paradigms, religious traditions, habits of thought, world-views, and so on. We testify to the Reign of Love, according to our own cultural tradition, but the Spirit of God testifies too, independently of our testimony.

For the Spirit is poured out upon all flesh. So we have in Pentecost a progression: fertility celebration of the first fruits, celebration of the life-giving Law on Sinai, and the pouring out on all flesh. But that is not the end of the story. From now on, looking forward from Pentecost, living in the "season after Pentecost", it is our mission, as the Collect says, to proclaim the Gospel “to the ends of the earth.” Perhaps that task is larger than the mere the delivery of a translation of the Good News as we understand it in our own tradition, perhaps — no, probably — it means the realization of the Beloved Community of all flesh, upon which — as on this day — the Holy Spirit has poured Herself, in Jerusalem.

VII Easter May 20, 2012

VII Easter
 May 20, 2012
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

This proclamation is found in one of the earliest Christian writings: Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. Almost no one disputes that the Holy Apostle Paul actually wrote these words, sometime in the middle of the' 50s, the sixth decade of grace. It is the basis of what came to be known as the "recapitulation theory of the atonement." Christ is the New Adam. Adam means dirt, in Hebrew , as human means, in Latin. Adam means all humanity. Christ recapitulates Adam in the sense of starting over, from the top, and getting it right this time.
The Byzantine Easter Troparion, which I use as a doxology at the end of these Paschaltide homilies, ends with the phrase "… And bestowing life on those in the tombs." That means everybody who has died. It does not say "bestowing life on some of those in the tombs," but simply "on those in the tombs." The only qualification for the bestowal of life is residence in the tomb. Likewise, the Pascha nostrum, from I Corinthians, which we use in its full form during Paschaltide in place of the Agnus dei, says:”… For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." Not some: all. All shall be made alive in the new life of perfect, communal love, which is what we mean by life in Christ.
Paul's simile points to an unmistakable tendency of the early Church to regard salvation as universal. At a minimum, it means that whatever Christ accomplished for us is not confined to an exclusive national minority. In other words, though salvation may be "of the Jews" — as Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well — it is not confined to the descendents of Abraham according to the flesh. That's at a minimum, a minimalist interpretation. The plain sense of the phrase means that everybody is freed from death by God's action in Christ.
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

All. Not some: all. As death is universal in Adam, so life is universal in Christ. Salvation means health. Salvation means rescue from the ultimate ill health of death. Salvation has to be be universal, because death is universal. Human life — life in Adam, which means life under the yoke of mortality — inevitable decay, death, and corruption unto nothingness —is replaced by life in Christ. No one is excluded, not even the most wicked, because "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."
So what about Judas? What about the most wicked of men? The exalted rhetoric of Paul's mystical insight is too much for us. It was too much for many of his own contemporaries, who also contributed to the New Testament. Clearly, it is possible to exclude oneself from the happy Company of the all who shall be made alive.  "Judas turned aside to go to his own place," according to the Acts. Theologians have wrestled with this ever since. Like the elder brother of the Prodigal Son, Judas preferred to isolate himself from the conviviality of the Banquet. He preferred "his own place". Like human life, life in Christ is voluntary, not compulsory. We can take our own human life, as Judas did. But the universality of the Victory of the New Adam means that we cannot really kill ourselves.

Thus, the necessity of hell, not as a prison of everlasting punishment, but as merciful, divine respect for our own freedom. The Father will not compel his elder son to join the banquet. The door is open, he is welcome, but the father will not force him to come in. As in Adam, no one can opt out of death, even so in Christ no one can opt out of life. But we are free to opt out of the Banquet, and to isolate ourselves in our own place. Universal salvation in Christ means, I think, that the door remains open to us forever. We do not have the capacity to cut ourselves off from God's mercy — to cause the father to shut and bar the door to the banquet. All we have is the capacity to refuse to walk through the door, which remains open forever.

Meister Eckhart said, "what burns in hell are our attachments". As long as I prefer the flesh — that is my ego, my sense of self as separate from others — I choose not to join the Banquet. Even God cannot force me. But, because Christ has destroyed death, I cannot choose not to live. All I can do is to choose to abide in him outer darkness, where the mythological flames of my voluntary hell — my own place — burn away the attachments that I prefer to the self-forgetful conviviality of the Banquet.

Alleluia! Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death,and giving life to all in the tombs. Alleluia!

VI Easter May 13, 2012

VI Easter
 May 13, 2012
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

Today's collect is phrased in a way that requires careful interpretation, I think. When we ask God to pour into our hearts love for God, we seem to be asking God to excite feeling toward himself/it is hard to think of a way to find a corporate or communal meaning to the word hearts: it seems to be speaking of us as individuals.  Our hearts considered as our individual spiritual centers. It seems to be asking God to set up a bilateral relationship with each of us, independently of all the rest of the people.

Last week's epistle made it clear that the love of God is about God's love for us, and that our love for God is really love for God — whom we have not seen — only insofar as it is love for our brothers and sisters. The collect goes on to ask that we may love God in all things and above all things. But if St. John's insight is correct, it is not possible to love God "above" all of our brothers and sisters — or even any particular one of them. Our love for them is our love for God. If the collect is asking God to help us develop that capacity, then that's fine. But our own inner, spiritual life of adoration can very easily turning into an idolatry of our own imaginings.
As you have probably noticed, homilies are often structured like a bad-news /good-news joke, and today is an example. The bad news is that everybody's a sinner; everyone fails to love perfectly. The good news is that God loves us anyway, our failures do not cause a God to love us less, and God loves us — every single one of us — so much that He is getting things ready to delight us in ways that surpass anything we can desire or imagine. He is going to do this for us, together, all of us and not just for some of us, as individual exceptions.

There are exceptions, I think: those who near perfection in love in this life find themselves (according to reports) in a state of blessedness. The closer their love of brother and sister is too perfect, self-sacrificing love, the closer they approach the perfect reflection the divine image. I think this may be what Jesus meant when he said "be the perfect even as your father in heaven is perfect." These saints, however, are not removed from the human community. Quite the opposite, they approach perfection in their love of other people. They're salvation — there wholeness, their perfection — is not the triumph of her heroic individual, but a perfection of the image of the communal, Triune God.

Every human being is called to that perfection. The Easter Troparion, which I use as a doxology at the end of these Paschaltide homilies, ends with the phrase "… And bestowing life on those in the tombs." That means all the dead. And the Pascha nostrum, which we use in its full form in place of the Agnus dei in Paschaltide says:”… For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." Not some: all. All shall be made alive in the new life of perfect, communal love, which is what we mean by life in Christ. I think salvation has to be universal, because death is universal. Human life — life in Adam, which means life yoked with the inevitability of decay, death, and corruption unto nothingness — shall be replaced by life in Christ. No one is excluded, not even the most wicked, because "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."
If our Eucharistic celebration is a foretaste of this heaven, it means that everyone is included. Everyone is equal, everyone is welcome, everyone is beloved, and not only us human beings, but all things —ta panta — in which, the collect prays we may grow to love God.

Alleluia! Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death,and giving life to all in the tombs. Alleluia!

V Easter May 6, 2012

V Easter
 May 6, 2012
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us                           and sent His Son to be the atoning Sacrifice for our sins.

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

John the Divine, John the Theologian, John the Beloved Disciple,  makes it clear: love is everything. Whoever loves is born of God and knows God. He also makes it clear that he is talking not about our love for God, but our love for one another. Not that we loved God, but that God loved us. He doesn't even mention our love for God until the very end of the passage:
… those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
 I take this not as a description of duty — those who love God are obliged to love their brothers and sisters also — but as a simple statement of fact if somebody loves God it must mean that they love their brothers and sisters also, because without love of neighbor, there is no love of God.
Jesus said, The second commandment, to Love our neighbor as ourself, is like the first. This means that it is equal to the first — it is the same as the first.
Whoever says he loves God but does not love brother or sister is a liar.
John knows nothing about our love of God, except in our love of our brothers and sisters. There is in fact no such thing as human love of God except in our love of one another.
So, we have to understand today's Collect carefully :
Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that we may steadfastly follow His steps in the way that leads to eternal life

Truly to know God is everlasting life. But It is too easy to think of this as a matter of believing the right things about Jesus in order to get the reward of everlasting life as a result of our knowledge. St. John makes it clear that true knowledge of God is found in love — love of our neighbor. With that interpretive key, the petition "to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the Way the Truth and the Life" and "steadfastly follow His steps in the way that leads to eternal life"  must be understood as a prayer to follow His commandment to love one another as He has loved us, which means without limit, even unto death. The footsteps of Christ lead to Calvary.
John goes on to talk about the "atoning sacrifice" of Christ:
… not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins…
As you know, I think there is a big problem with the notion of atonement or expiation, as bequeathed by the Middle Ages to Western Christianity — both Catholic and Protestant. As Timothy W are, now the Metropolitan Kallistos, asked packed house at the Greek Cathedral in Oakland a couple of years ago "to whom would such a price be paid"? So, I looked up the passage and, as usual, found something interesting. The verb translated as "atoning sacrifice" is related to the word for mercy: as in Kyrie eleison.  One form of this word is the name for the covering of the Ark of the Covenant, the "Mercy Seat". On the Day of Atonement, this covering was sprinkled with sacrificial blood, changing it from the Seat of Judgment to the Seat of Mercy. Clearly, the Blood of Christ is the propitiation for our sins, in the language of the religious imagination of Temple worship him. St. John, however, enlarges that imagination.
Our sins are our failures to love one another. God is not mad at us for that, and we don't have to do anything to appease God. The "atoning sacrifice" is not something we do for God, but something God does for us. The Sacrifice of Christ cancels our failures to love, absorbing them, or — better yet — filling up our lack of love with the love of God. Not that we loved God but that he loved us. This perfection of what is lacking in our love for one another also makes it possible for us to love one another.
Beloved, as since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
Hear the word ought does carry the sense of an obligation. We are obliged to love one another because God loves us; but if God's sacrificial love for us imposes an obligation on us, it also confers at the same time the capacity to fulfill it. The Cross — the new Mercy Seat — is the expiation of our sins in that the Cross perfects human nature:
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and His love is perfected in us.
The perfection of divine love in us — in our love for one another — is not just the way to eternal life: it is eternal life and the knowledge of God.
Whoever loves is born of God and knows God    
Whoever! Think of it! And consider it along with that mysterious little announcement in last week's Gospel:
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.
We do not know who those other sheep are, but it is safe to say that they are not to be found among those who say the correct things about Jesus' Identity. They are, after all, "not of this fold". What we do know is that
Love is from God; whoever loves is born of God and knows God.
Alleluia! Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death,and giving life to all in the tombs. Alleluia!

IV Easter April 29, 2012

IV Easter
 April 29, 2012
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

There is no other Name under heaven by which we must be saved.

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

“Name” and “saved”. The thread running through today's propers is the idea of the "name", which Peter links to “salvation”. This can cause unnecessary trouble. These two words, need to be unpacked.
·          The Collect describes the good Shepherd as the one who "calls us each by name," and prays that we may "follow where He leads".
·          The religious authorities, having arrested Peter, ask him by what "name" he has done what he has done (openly proclaiming the Resurrection, and healing a cripple).
·          Everybody's favorite Psalm, arguably the world's best-known poem, sings about leading us in the right path for the sake of His Name.
·          The Epistle tells us this "… this is His commandment, that we should believe in the Name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another…"
·          And finally, in the Gospel, our Lord speaks of knowing His sheep and the sheep knowing Him, echoing what He said earlier, in a part of this passage that we did not read, where He describes the Good Shepherd as the One Who : "… calls His own sheep by name and leads them…" 
Which brings us right back to the Collect. If we are the Good Shepherd’s sheep, He knows our names — our personal names. That means he knows everything about us. That is the significance of the word, "name". It is shorthand for a person's identity, especially public identity — how the person is known in public, the person's reputation.
The same is true of the Name of Jesus. It is shorthand for everything that is known about Him — and maybe everything that is not known, as well.
·         All the stories that were circulating about His healings and exorcisms,
·         His teaching about love and forgiveness, His condemnation of mercilessness and moral hypocrisy and the love of money,
·          His solicitude for the poor and the despised, and above all,
·         His defeat of death by His own self-sacrifice on Calvary: all of these mighty acts are contained in His Name, which, Peter says, "saves" us.
But there is more: because His Name refers to His whole Identity, the Holy Name of Jesus also refers to Emmanuel, God-with-us. In other words, it refers to him to that which we can never know, but only adore: the perfect union of infinite divinity with finite humanity, in one single Person, named Jesus — Yeshayahu — which means, literally, "God saves."
In our course reading of the Acts of the Apostles, we didn't hear the first part of the story, in which Peter had healed a disabled man. That is, Peter had restored him to health, made him whole. When he says to the court of temple officials that
"there is no other Name under heaven by which we must be saved"
 he is talking about healing. The root meaning of "salvation" is "healing". We are used to the convention that "salvation in the Name of Jesus” means that the Name of Jesus is our ticket to heaven after we die. But, as Peter's explanation of the healing miracle suggests, it really means that health and wholeness is found in the Name of Jesus. We hope and trust that this new wholeness includes our personal survival of biological death, but the Name is neither a magic formula, which, if uttered, will cure the sick, nor a password to get us into heaven. The Name of Jesus is His reputation, His story, His "narrative", as it is currently fashionable to say. The word, Jesus, means  “God saves”. That Is Jesus’ identity: God's saving act, and that means healing. The restoration of wholeness. We are so used to thinking of "being saved" as being rescued from something unpleasant (such as being fried eternally in the flames of hell) that this root meaning of salvation as perfect health can be obscure.
The religious authorities ask Peter to explain how he was able to restore the disabled man to wholeness, by what authority, by what name. His answer is: "in the Name of Jesus". When he says that the only name given under heaven by which we must be saved is the Name of Jesus, it is in the context of this question about healing. As the disabled man was "saved" by the Holy Name, so are we. We too are healed, made a whole. Now, the first-person plural — we — is a little bit ambiguous here. It can mean every one of us severally, as individuals, but it can also mean all of us together, which is what I believe it actually does mean. The healing of that man in Jerusalem was a sign of collective healing. "The Name by which we must be saved" is the Name that saves us all, together. Salvation is corporate, not individual. We are saved as individuals by being cured of our individuality. Salvation — wholeness — is communal. Salvation is moving out of individual life into inter-personal life; salvation is Participation in the Community of salvation, which is to say Communion with the Inter-personal Deity.
By itself, the fact of the fortunate man's restoration to individual wholeness in his own body, is not of much importance, except to himself — probably not important enough to attract the attention of the religious authorities. It would have been a curiosity, but not an occasion for a summit conference. Perhaps the fact that they did take an interest signifies that healing (salvation) has ramifications for the whole society. They noticed healing because it was publicly linked to the Name of Jesus. The Name of Jesus displays the power of God making all creation whole —healing all that ails the community of God's creatures.  God certainly can repair the disfiguration of the disabled individual. But that restoration to wholeness — that salvation — is really significant as a microcosm of the salvation of the whole disfigured creation, our restoration to the common life intended by God in the first place: communal salvation in the Name of the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. The Church is the beginning of that common life, and it is the Church that proclaims the Name and live in the Name.
In the Epistle, the beloved disciple John tells us that God's commandment is "… that we should believe in the Name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another…" To believe in the Name of Jesus is to trust the Church's story about Jesus, as summarized by Peter. To do anything in His Name, means to act on the basis of that story. To live in His Name is to make that story the center of our own personal consciousness.

This But it doesn't end there, because life in His Name is life together. Salvation in the Name of Jesus is the healing of our separation from one another, growing out of the illusion that there is such a thing as "individual life", and the growing into the sense that we are all beloved members of one Cosmic Organism, which we call His Body. In short, to believe in — to live in — the Name of Jesus, is to love one another.
The Good Shepherd knows each of us as individuals, and calls us by our individual name. He calls us by our names. By myself, I have no name. I get my name from others. My name is how others know me. My name is a sign of relationship — of personhood, as opposed to individuality. The Good Shepherd not only calls us by our name, but also, for the sake of His Name, He leads us in the right paths. He leads us as a flock, not as individuals. In fact, He leads us, by our personal names, away from our natural condition of individual separation from one another and into the "right Path" of communal being, beside the still waters of trust in His Name , making us to lie down in the green pastures of love for one another — love for all the other name-bearers, whose names are know him to Him, Who also prepares for us a table — the Eucharistic table — in defiance of death, Who anoints us with healing oil and our cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life, as He leads us — together — to dwell — also together — in the House of the Lord, forever.
Alleluia! Christ is risen from the dead, tramplingdown death by death,and giving life to all in the tombs. Alleluia!

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