Saturday, June 27, 2015

Sermon for the Pentecost 5
Proper 8 B  ~  June 28, 2015
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar
                                                                 
God did not make death…righteousness is immortal.

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity,
I have posted a somewhat longer commentary on today’s readings on my blog (billteska.blogspot.com). For now, let me observe that the first readings in Track 2 often function as antiphons, setting out a theme in which to interpret the Gospel. In this case, the theme is that
God did not make death,
And he does not delight in the death of the living.
For he created all things so that they might exist;
the generative forces of the world are wholesome,
and there is no destructive poison in them,
and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.
For righteousness is immortal.

So then, why doesn’t God do something about all the suffering in the world? If God is good and omniscient, then why allow all that random and undeserved suffering? Last week, I suggested that one way God deals with it is to calm our anxieties about it. This week, we see Him at work actually doing something about human suffering.
Does this help? It shows that God CAN help if He wants to, so why not help everybody? What are we to do with this? For us prisoners of time, I think, there is still no answer to Job’s question other than the miraculous calming of the seas of our own inner anxiety about the problem – with the addition of the Mystery of the Cross. We are finite and we don’t see the whole picture. That’s one (not very satisfying) observation. A somewhat more interesting one has to do with time and eternity, and their intersection on Calvary.  We say that God is outside time. We are in it, and that is the problem. Our suffering occurs within time. In the eternity of God, suffering is already overcome and healed – and has been from the beginning, “from the foundation of the world.” The days of creation are not measures of time. Time began when Adam and Eve left the Garden. Time is an aspect of the Fall, and all our suffering occurs in time.
So the Incarnation means that God enters time – the fallen world – to save and recreate the world. In entering time, God accepts its limitations. He can’t fix everything instantly. He can do only so much. He can encounter only so many people. He can’t help everyone, at least not in the way He helped the hemorrhaging woman or the dead girl, because He has accepted the limitations of time and space. This doesn’t mean that God is indifferent, and that is what these miracles show. They also show that His first priorities are the weakest and lowliest, which is what females were – as they still are in so many places. He calls them daughter and chooses them to be healed out of all the sufferers in the area. He is still working in time, though, and the limitations He has accepted prevent this kind of intervention beyond the local setting. As long as He is operating in time and space, He can’t fix everything.
God’s rescue of Creation happens in time. What we see seems to us to be partial. I suggest that it cannot be otherwise, because time and space are intrinsically limited.  But that temporal re-creation is pointed toward the cosmic and eternal re-creation: the Victory over Death on Calvary, where time and eternity intersect.
One thing that strikes me about today’s Gospel is that Jesus’s touch seems to heal independently of His awareness. “Who touched me?” He asks. Eternal God acting in Time can’t seem to help healing everyone He touches – if they are willing. That is why there is such a mob around Him all the time.  But those local, spectacular healings are only a small part of what God is doing here.
Perhaps the secrecy that Jesus tried (unsuccessfully) to impose on the witnesses of these miracles was intended to permit Him to get to Jerusalem for the cosmic Event, rather than spend His limited time on local, piecemeal repairs. Our suffering is temporal. Salvation is eternal, but it is going on in time. God has come to sanctify time, but apparently that does not happen instantly, in our time-bound perspective. 
Let me conclude with an analogy that seems related: modern physics asks us to contemplate the speed of light as absolute. Everything else is relative to it. Also, the faster you go, the slower time moves, so that time stands still altogether at the speed of light. As an Episcopal astrophysicist once told me, a photon reaches our vision in the same instant in which it left the Big Bang!  The photon, travelling - by definition - at the speed of light, experiences no lapse of time. Rudolph Steiner thought that light is the same as Spirit. Given what we are discovering about the relationship between light and life, let us not be too quick to dismiss that as merely analogy. To say that God is Light and the creedal dogma that Christ is Light from Light may be an analogy, a figure of speech. But then again it may be more than we know.
In any case, we can say that, in encountering Jesus Christ we encounter the Absolute and the Eternal, the Source of Life and Light, Who is and was and is to come, Who, by entering time,  has saved us from suffering and death even though, in time, we still experience it.

AMEN
MARANATHA

COME, LORD JESUS!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Sermon for  Pentecost 5
Proper 8 B  ~  June 28, 2015
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar
(first preached at Chjrist Church Bayfield, June, 2012, 
not preached in 2015, but suggested as background commentary)
                                                                 
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. The Bl. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that the arc of history bends toward justice. 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, leaving that potentiality unfulfilled 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 about 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, withdraw and confer   among themselves, and then announce that they would reserve judgment.  A few months later would appear scientific papers, 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. Righteousness is immortal.
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, shortly after the Resurrection, 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.”

AMEN
MARANATHA

COME, LORD JESUS!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Pentecost 4, Proper 7, June 21, 20015

Pentecost 4
June 21, 20015  É   Proper 7B
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and He delivered them from their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper
and quieted the waves of the sea.
                                                                       .                  
É  In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

I have no doubt that this incident really happened – that the Son of God commanded the tempest to subside, so that He could go back to sleep. My only question is whether that is the extent of the meaning – a display of the power of incarnate God.  So, what follows is not an exercise in demythologization, but a reflection on what the incident may mean in addition to the Divinity of Christ.
The lectionary pairs this passage with God’s derisive reply to Job.  In poetic terms, God seems to say that Job can’t see the whole picture, and so he should sit down, shut up.  This approach was, in turn, ridiculed by Voltaire in his novella, Candide, in which the philosopher Pangloss (meaning “all tongue”) assures the naïve Candide that this is the best of all possible worlds.  At the time, everyone was aghast at the Great Lisbon Earthquake and tsunami of November 1, 1755, which destroyed the entire city, killing as many as 100,000 people, including the crowd gathered in the Cathedral for the All Saints’ Mass. If God really loves us and if He can still the tempest on Galilee, then why did He permit all those people to die, including those who died because the Cathedral fell on them as they worshiped Him? This is known as the problem of theodicy – and I don’t really want to pursue it now. We can talk about it at coffee hour, but my view, for now, is that God’s answer to Job is all we’ve got: there is more to all this than you are aware of.
So, what about the storm and the sleeping Jesus?  The disciples are afraid they are going to die, so they rouse Him.  Their anxiety is obvious in their accusation that He doesn't care.  Isn't it interesting that this is Voltaire’s accusation, pretty much?  Obviously, God doesn't care about those 100,000 Lisboans.  So, the Godman wakes up and says "Peace, be still!"  And then the storm quieted down.  But what if He were rebuking not the storm, but the disciples' anxiety?  "Sit down and shut up," again.  “Chill and let Me sleep!” Could it be that the disciples' fear was an exaggerated reaction to what was really happening?  Maybe the storm that needed calming was within their own hearts.  Maybe the sea whose waves He quieted was their own consciousness. Maybe, as they looked back on the incident, they remembered feeling really afraid, and then comforted by His words, which they later remembered to have calmed the external source of their fear, when in fact He had calmed them down. “Peace! Be still!” may have been our Lord’s reaction to His rude awakening. But as the story was retold over the years until Mark finally wrote it down, the danger of the storm became the main thing, not the disciples’ anxiety. In other words, maybe the story reifies and objectifies what was going on in the consciousness of the disciples themselves. Maybe their memory projects their inner state onto the sea.  Jesus seems to suggest as much in His question: "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?"
I believe in miracles.  I see no reason to reject the literal sense of the story.  But, one might also ask, which is more miraculous: turning a dangerous storm into a dead calm, or pacifying anxious hearts?  Which is more difficult, to cancel an earthquake, or to win our love in spite of it? The Collect says that God “never fail(s) to help and govern those whom (God has) set upon the sure foundation of (divine) loving­kindness.”  What is it to be set there, if not to surrender our anxieties?  What is the faith that the disciples, in Jesus’s words, still did not have, if not trust in God's unfailing lovingkindness, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding? What is the case against that lovingkindness, if not the entirely reasonable complaint of Job, who thinks God ought to do better? God’s answer comes from the whirlwind, that is, from violent creation itself, from the storm, from within the very earthquake:

"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements-- surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

É
AMEN!
MARANATHA!

COME, LORD JESUS!

Pentecost 3, Proper 6, June 14, 2015

The coming of the  Kingdom of God is the subject of the Gospels in this season.  When Jesus speaks of it, He speaks in parables only —  metaphorical images that give us a feeling for the reality that is beginning to appear.  The Kingdom of God is like a seed planted that grows into a plant producing much fruit, or even into a tree.
The significance of this image is that the seed grows by itself, without any human help– once it is planted.  I interpret this to mean that the Kingdom of God comes upon us from without.  It does not come naturally out of our world, but it is given by God.  The seed, for example, is not of our making.  Nor is the promise.  It contains.  There is very little that we can do — nothing.  In fact if we can do to make the seed grow or bear fruit.  The mere fact that we, ignorant as we are of what we are doing, are clever enough to plant the seed does not mean that we are the source or beginning of the process.

Nevertheless, we do have a role to play: we must plant the seed: we must be willing to cooperate in a small way, with God's intentions here.  In fact, our cooperation is indispensable, even though it has next to nothing to do with the process of germination, sprouting, growth, and fruition.  Still, the whole process needs us.  God will bring the , kingdom.  That's a promise.  We have to trust that promise enough to cooperate with it, in however small a way.
The seed itself contains everything necessary for the future harvest.  All we do is put it in the ground.  True enough, without that effort the seed would never germinate and grow.  But the planting, though necessary, is only a small part of the process.  Our human effort is not, itself, the creativity.  The, kingdom of God is entirely the gift of God.  Still, it can occur only with our cooperation.  That doesn't mean that we can take credit for it, any more than the farmer can take credit for the incredible transformation of the seed into the plant and harvest.
The agricultural parables show the kingdom of God as a process in time.  The time from planting to harvest may be understood as human history —history of the material creation.,  History is a tale told by us humans.  "Human", Adam, means dirt.  We are the material creation brought into self-consciousness, and history is the story we tell about ourselves.  That is the way in which we plant the seed.  That is our small contribution to the process of the Coming of the Kingdom of God.  The Promise of the Kingdom, like the fruit of the plant, can’t happen without the consciousness of the dirt itself, but with the addition of that consciousness, there is what we call history.  Salvation happens in history.

Not a particular history, perhaps, but in the fact of history itself.  I do not propose any particular theory of history a la Hegel or Marx, but just that salvation is historical — it occurs in time, just as the plant germinates and grows to fruition in time.  It is not a deliverance from time, but the sanctification of time.  The inner life of private struggle for mystical transcendence is good and it is part of the Christian life, but it is not its end. The end is the Kingdom of God come, as we pray, on earth as in heaven.  And that Kingdom is communal: interpersonal communion, extended to all flesh.  We understand salvation not as the individual Vision of God, but as incorporation into the living Body of Christ.
Salvation is communal.  It has to do with relationships among people.  It is coming together into communion.  That communion can happen in this world in history only.

The agricultural parables show us that the earth and its history are not to be escaped.  They are not merely the backdrop or the theater of our individual struggles for perfection.  To be left behind.  Once we have transcended our ego.  And ego-transcendence. The earth and its history are what the Kingdom of God is all about.

The agricultural parables show us that human life in this world — human history — the history of material creation becoming conscious of itself and its relationship to its Creator, is the vehicle of salvation.  We are not saved from the world and its history, but we are saved in it and for it.  And through us, the creation itself is transfigured and saved.


Corpus Christi June 7 2015

Corpus Christi
 June 7 2015
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

Alleluia. You bring forth bread from the earth, and
wine that makes glad the human heart. Alleluia, Alleluia.

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

I would remind you of something, I'm sure I’ve mentioned sometime in the past.  The popularly influential Jesuit paleontologist and visionary theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once found himself alone in the Gobi desert, without the bread and wine necessary to celebrate Mass.  He invoked the Holy Spirit on the entire cosmos, in their place.  You can read this meditation in his essay called "Mass on the World".  Although, perhaps, not entirely orthodox in the small sense of the term, the Eucharistic theology was entirely orthodox in a larger sense: the Body of Christ realized in the Eucharistic Liturgy, represents the Transfiguration of the whole world.
O bottomless mystery, and endless paradox!  It can be compared to the notion of law and sin as separation, which we considered on Pentecost: the law is not itself sin, but in setting us apart the law convicts us of sin, in that it creates in us the consciousness of separation.  Likewise, the bread and wine that we consecrate are set apart from the rest of the world, to be made holy, yet, at the same time, they represent the world. This holiness-as-apartness is for the sake of consecrating the world; it is necessary to holiness-as-wholeness.
We witness this out-pouring of the Spirit at every Eucharist. As we invoke the Holy Spirit on our bread and wine, the whole world becomes the Body of Christ on our altar, every time.  God, through the mouth of the Holy Prophet Joel, said that in latter days.  "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh."  This promise is fulfilled at Pentecost.  But the event of the Tongues in Jerusalem was only the beginning. The fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy is an ongoing event, the Holy Spirit’s pouring upon us continues in all time after Pentecost.  This is anything but ordinary time, in the ordinary sense of the word as quotidian or hum-drum. This time of creation’s drenching in the Holy Spirit is extraordinary to say the least. "All flesh" means all creation separate from God.  All flesh means creation understood as entropy and stasisAll flesh is lifeless matter, tending toward more and more separation.  What cosmologists now call "dark energy" pushes everything apart from everything else, in a struggle with gravity that seeks to pull it back together.  If dark energy wins, everything continues to get farther apart from everything else ad infinitum. Every atom, every particle utterly separate and alone and lifeless.  If gravity prevails, everything eventually collapses into a black hole as in the beginning: the whole universe compacted into something about the size of a baseball, no complexity or diversity, just a uniform and incredibly dense plasma, equally lifeless.  Either way current cosmology promises us nothing but death.
The Body of Christ is the Cosmos brought to life by the Holy Spirit, poured out on all flesh in these latter days.  The Church born on Pentecost, is the firstfruit; the End Result — what Father Teilhard called the "Omega Point" — will be the whole cosmos transfigured, spiritualized in the sense of being made alive by the Holy Spirit, so that — as Paul wrote — God shall be All in all.
Anciently, the Paschal cycle ended on the day of Pentecost.  Later, Western custom observed the first Sunday after Pentecost, as the Feast of the Holy Trinity, and our time sees the increasing observance of the second Sunday after Pentecost, as the Solemnity of the Body of Christ.  I think this is appropriate, since the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh, which began at Pentecost, started the process of revelation in which the Holy Spirit leads humanity into all truth, which we celebrate on Trinity Sunday.  And then, on Corpus Christi, we celebrate the transubstantiation of flesh into Body, as the Holy Spirit, poured out on all flesh, incorporates all material creation into the Divine Society of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Second Person is God's Word, and the Third Person is God's Spirit, or Breath.  As we must expel breath in order to speak, so in our analogy God sends forth the Holy Spirit in uttering the creative Word, All three Persons act together to create the cosmos when God says: "Let there be light.
Now is the New Creation, when God speaks a second time, saying of all creation, "This is my Body."

ALLELUIA!
YOU GAVE THEM BREAD FROM HEAVEN
CONTAINING IN ITSELF ALL SWEETNESS.

ALLELUIA! ALLELUIA!

Trinity June 1 2015

Trinity
June 1 2015      
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of
the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
                                                                       .                  
+ In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

It is customary to observe that Trinity Sunday is the only, Prayerbook feast dedicated to a doctrine instead of a Biblical event or person.  While this is strictly true, it could also be argued that the Feast of the Holy Trinity celebrates the ongoing fulfillment of our Lord’s biblical promise to send the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth.  The event it commemorates is a process.
Jesus commanded us to baptize all peoples in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  We noticed that the Creation story in Genesis told of God, God’s Spirit, and God’s Word.  Pondering all this, the Church eventually arrived at an open-ended and partial understanding of God, which we expressed in the philosophical terms of the time (the Fourth century), not without enormous controversy.  One of the greatest minds participating was Hilary of Poitiers, who wrote:
We are compelled to attempt what is unattainable, to climb where we cannot reach, to speak what we cannot utter.  Instead of the bare adoration of faith we are compelled to entrust the deep things of religion to the perils of human expression.
Trinity Sunday celebrates the historical event of the Church’s experience of this compulsion by the Holy Spirit. 
To say anything at all ran the risk of error.  To say nothing was impossible, because of the Holy Spirit.  As on the First Pentecost, when the Apostles could not keep silent, but found they had to speak in many languages, so their successors were "compelled to entrust the deep things of religion to the perils of human expression."  The dogma of the Most Holy and Life-giving Trinity was the result.  This Festival celebrates not only the dogma itself, but the event of its development.
    Hilary spoke of    the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as "and the infinity of endless being, the perfect reflection of the divine image, and the mutual enjoyment of the gift."  He also insisted that the Three Persons were really distinct, but only in their origin.  Each person participates completely in the other two: a total permeation of each one by the others, so that they differ only by the relationship of origin: the Father has really generated the Son without losing anything of His Nature.  The Son and the Spirit have received and contain in Themselves everything of the Father, equal to Him in every way.  The Life of the three Divine Persons is a "dancing within one another," as St. John of Damascus would say 400 years later.
    The gradual revelation of the inner Life of God, though ultimately incomprehensible, is far from meaningless.  The dogma glorifies God as Infinite Community, in which the Persons are united in Infinite Love.  This could be what the Apostle meant when he said "God is Love."  Since it is also a matter of dogma that human beings are made in the image of God, it is suggested that our life as God’s image means communal life, what one modern Greek theologian called "being as Communion."  All humanity — and through us all creation — are called to be one as Jesus and the Father are One, that is, neither losing our distinct identities nor separating from one another in any way.
Today we celebrate the Divine Unity in Trinity; next week, we celebrate the incorporation of all creation into that “Infinity of endless Being” in the Feast of the Body of Christ.
HOLY! HOLY! HOLY! IS THE LORD OF HOSTS,

WHO WAS AND IS AND IS TO COME

Pentecost May 24, 2015

Pentecost
 May 24, 2015
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth.
.
+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

Pentecost celebrates the giving of the law on Sinai marked by thunder and lightning flashes.  It is no coincidence that the Holy Spirit fell upon the Apostles on the same feast, with the sound of a mighty wind and flashes of flame, which we call tongues, identifying the Light of the Spirit with the new capacity to address all peoples in understandable language.  It is tempting to see a contrast or opposition between these two events: Law on Mount Sinai, Spirit on Mount Zion.  This may be a mistake.  After all, we affirm in the Creed that the Holy Spirit "spoke through the prophets," the chief of whom was Moses.  What Moses brought down from the thunder and lightning on Sinai was the gift of the Spirit, Who spoke through him.
It was Paul who noticed the paradox: the law convicted us of sin.  Some gift!  Without the law, there is no sin, Paul observed.  This is a paraphrase of an old Roman adage: without law, there is no crime, woith which Citizen Paul would have been familiar.  I always thought that was all it meant.  Without the law, human beings don't know right from wrong.  We have no notion that we ought to do the things the Law commands and not to do the things it forbids.  We had to be taught the difference between right and wrong.  But is that all?  Is Paul's observation that without the law, there is no sin, simply a theological adaptation of the Roman adage?  I got to thinking about that in the context of the notion of sin as separation. 
The children of Israel are supposed to obey the law in order to fulfill their part of the covenant with God, Who freed them from slavery.  They are to be God's people.  A holy people.  A people set apart, separate from other people.  That is what makes them holy.  That's what it means to be holy, to be set apart, and the Law is what distinguishes them from everybody else.  But hold on!  If sin is separation and apartness, then it seems as though holiness, defined this way –  the consciousness of being apart from others and carefully maintaining distinctions by ethical norms and ritual practices – is sin itself! 
Isn't that what Paul was wrestling with in his Epistle to the Romans?  The paradox is precisely this: the law sets us apart, and thereby imprisons us in sin, which is the condition of being apart. No wonder Paul kind of pulls out his hair, rhetorically, asking “does that mean that the law is sin?  God forbid!”  Yet, the very holiness the Law produces brings also a sense of alienation: a communal identity of separateness.  We needed a notion of holiness, but it wasn't enough by itself.  The Law had to be fulfilled, not only in the sense of being observed, but in the sense of being completed.  Christ had to nail sin to the Cross — He had to nail apartness and separation to the Cross, publicly, and finally destroying alienation — what Paul called the dividing wall of hostility. Thus Christ brought a new kind of holiness to creation: the holiness that is not apartness and separation and distinctness, but the holiness that is wholeness and communion: what the Apostle called Grace.
As Paul says in another place, the law was our pedagogue unto Christ.  We had to have the gift of the Spirit in the form of Law, in order to develop the notion of justice and communal oneness as our part of the Covenant with God.  But in the fullness of time, when we were ready, — when the pedagogue completed the service of bringing us to the Messiah — we found ourselves no longer under the constraints of observances and practices intended to set us off from other people.  Now, we were brought together with all peoples into the universal Communion that overcomes the apartness (sin) that the Law illuminated at the very same time it was making us into the Community of God's people.
The law is not sin – God forbid!  — But the law "convicts us."  Of sin — not so much that the law reveals our own hopeless inability to fulfill the law, but that the law convinces us that we are separate from all other peoples.  In that way, the law brought sin into clear view, in such a way that Paul could also say that whoever is under the Law is under a curse.  Apartness and alienation are, in fact, a curse — a curse that the Law reveals. 
But at the very same time, the Law was teaching us to honor God, and our parents, to renounce human sacrifice and other idolatrous abominations, to sanctify time instead of place, and to respect one another in a minimal way. It also taught us to reboot the economy every fifty years. Among God’s holy people there were to be no permanent classes of haves and have-nots no castes, no hereditary privilege.
Law and spirit are not opposed. As the Law came down on Pentecost, so did the Spirit. And Moses successors, the Prophets of Israel, through whom the Spirit spoke, increasingly proclaimed the Law more than a mere ethnic marker to set a particular people apart from everybody else: the Law of Moses was to make them a Light to the Nations – holy in the sense of separate, so that they could act on behalf of everyone else, to make humanity holy in the sense of whole, in Jesus the Messiah.  There would be no more distinction between Jew and Greek, male and female, slave and free.  All are one in the New  Israel created by the Fire of the Holy Spirit
Israel was to be a Light to Enlighten the Nations. The Fathers called the Spirit Light, and Light illuminated the Apostles, when Jesus Christ cast fire upon the earth as He had promised, causing them to preach the Good News to all peoples.  This good news is God's intention to unite with all creation, through a new, unified humanity.  The ancient fathers called this process divinization.  Here is what St.  Basil of Cæsaræa said:

Through the Spirit’s aid hearts are raised on high, the weak. Are led by the hand, and those who are reaching forward in life are led on to perfection.  Shining on those whose hearts are purified and stainless, the Spirit makes them truly spiritual through the intimate union they have been granted.  As when a ray of light touches a polished and shining surface, and the object becomes even more brilliant, so too souls that are enlightened by the, spirit become spiritual themselves and reflect their grace to others.

The grace of the Holy Spirit enables them to foresee the shape of the future, to penetrate mysteries, to discern the meaning of obscure realities, to receive spiritual blessings, to focus their minds on their heavenly citizenship, and to dance with the Angels.  This is their joy on ending and their perseverance in God unfailing.  Thus, do they become like God, and most wonderful of all, thus do they themselves become divine.

ALLELUIA! THE SPIRIT OF GOD FILLS THE WHOLE WORLD, COME, LET US ADORE.

VII Easter May 17, 2015

VII Easter
 May 17, 2015
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

God is gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
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+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

When the Son became flesh He did not leave the Father. He did not go anywhere. Hold that thought. For now, how about this: GLORY means the Holy Spirit.  When Jesus says that He gives us the Glory that the Father gave Him, He is speaking of the Holy Spirit. Glory, here means something more than reputation: it is the Light that shone round about the shepherds outside Bethlehem.    
Eastern theologians called this visible Glory the Uncreated Light.  It is not the essence of God, but neither is it a creature of God. It is energy that proceeds out of God’s essence, as the warmth of the sun proceeds out of the sun itself. This seems to me close to the notion that God is Light.  At least in some sense, light and God are connected.  Is this merely metaphor?  Maybe not. The shepherds saw something, and so did the Apostles on the mountain of the Transfiguration. I understand that modern physics regards matter and energy as a kind of continuum.  In a sense, all matter is nothing but energy organized into patterns. Some of this energy is visible, some isn’t. This brings us to the Mystery of the Ascension, when the visible energy of Jesus’ risen Body became invisible.
The Ascension is an aspect of the Incarnation. If God became human, and if in the flesh of Jesus Christ dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily as St. Paul teaches, where is He now? What happened to this Body after the Resurrection?  The Ascension into heaven and enthronement on the right hand of God is the dogmatic answer. But what on earth (!) does that mean?
A few years ago, I said that it was easier for the ancients to wrap this up because of their view of the cosmos as three-storied: earth where we live, Hades underneath (where, before Christ, all the miserable shades of the dead were imprisoned), and then heaven – up above, where God is.  So we affirm as a matter of creedal dogma that the Son “came down” from heaven, and returned thereto to sit at the right hand of the Father.
But where is this heaven? I was mistaken about the early theologians, because using the philosophy and science of their own age, they recognized that heaven was not a place. After all, God is outside time and space. God has no location. God is not up there above the clouds or among the stars. So where is He? He is everywhere and nowhere. The categories of place, as found in the biblical three-storied cosmology, do not apply to a pure Spirit. It is a mistake in thinking to ask where God is, just as it is a mistake to ask what is north of the North Pole. The category just doesn’t apply. Just as He did not go anywhere when He came down from Heaven, so He did not go anywhere when He ascended to the right hand of God. That is what the 4th-Century theologians taught. OK, so what happened to Jesus’ Body and what do we mean when we say that He ascended into heaven?
Perhaps it has something to do with light and glory. As the ancient Mothers and Fathers used the cosmological categories of their era, we are free to do the same, and our modern physics is not entirely useless here. Probably more helpful to Christian dogma, in fact, than the three-storied universe. If all matter is energy, it means that creation is light organized by myriads of patterns, maybe we can say that the Resurrection of Christ had something to do with the previous pattern of His Body taking shape in a new and incorruptible way, so that it could be seen and heard and fed, but was also capable of being several places at once and passing through locked doors. One scholar has suggested that our modern imagination is open to this kind of weirdness, at least in our science fiction: “beam me up, Scotty.” Maybe what is beamed up to the Enterprise is the pattern of light. What the Hindus call the “subtle body.” Not the molecules themselves, but the pattern of their organization. The scholar suggests that Captain Kirk might better command, “fax me up, Scotty”!
Then there is the unrecognized Lord cautioning Mary Magdalene not to touch Him, because he was “not yet ascended to the Father.” What does this mysterious warning  mean? After the Ascension, she would be welcome to touch Him? And what about the Holy Shroud of Turin, which seems to have been imprinted by a burst of light.
Glory. The Holy Spirit. The images of chariots of fire and floating up in a cloud were the best the eye-witnesses could do to describe the Glory they saw.  What is even more mysterious is the apparent fact that the Apostles did not experience the Ascension as a loss.  You would think that they would have been devastated by this disappearance.  Quite the opposite, however, they all experienced the Real Presence of the Risen Lord even more intensely. A later teacher, Leo the Great, would observe that the Lord’s visible Presence was transferred to the sacraments: now that He was ascended, they could touch Him.
The ancient theologians compared this experience of continuing Presence to the dogma that the Son never left heaven when He came down from heaven, because heaven is not a place. It is a relationship to the Father. That relationship was not broken when the Son “came down from heaven.”
 Likewise, the Presence God established with creation in the Incarnation did not end with the Ascension. The symbolic journey of the Son back to the Father, now clothed with human flesh, is a way of saying that God’s Incarnation is permanent, the marriage with Creation indissoluble. Jesus did not go anywhere. Heaven and the right hand of God are not a place, but a way of being – a way of being that has to do with light and glory. The account in the Acts underscores this Mystery by telling us how the angels ridiculed the Apostles for gazing into the sky. The Ascension is not about going   anywhere, it is about the transfiguration of the world.
After the initial resurrection appearances, the Apostles were ready to go back to their previous, ordinary life.  Peter announces that he is "going fishing."  But after the Ascension, their reaction is just the opposite: the Apostles wait, as a community,  for the Holy Spirit — the Glory that Christ became — to descend upon them in the holy city, as it were in tongues of fire (light again), and then they go out and  change the world.  The Ascension transformed them into completely new people. Our new Collect gets it right, I think:
 …Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that He might fill all things:
The Ascension is the completion of the Resurrection, as the Lord’s Glorified Body unites with all things – ta panta – all the energy bound in what we call “matter,” speaking from within the limits of our sensory perception. The Collect goes on to ask that God will give us new organs of perception: faith to perceive that, according to His promise, He abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages.
This faith is the new Apostolic capacity to perceive the Glory of God – the Light that fills the whole creation –  the gift of the Holy Spirit, Who bestows that capacity, and Who is that Glory. The grace to see the universe suffused with the Divine Energies, the Body of Christ as Light filling all things. As the post-Communion prayer from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom has it: “We have beheld your Resurrection, O Christ our God, we have seen the True Light, we have found the true faith, we have received the Heavenly Spirit.” And as St. Paul says to the Corinthians:
… we all, with unveiled face, beholding the Glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Alleluia!
Christ the Lord
ascends into heaven.
Come let us adore Him.
Alleluia!

VI Easter May 10, 2015

VI Easter
 May 10, 2015
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

You have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding… which exceed all that we can desire.
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+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

What God has prepared for us surpasses understanding. We can’t even imagine it and so we can’t desire it. God’s promises outdo our knowledge and our love. They exceed all that we can desire, insofar as desire is the longing to get something. As I desire to get the lilacs, blooming now in their fragile glory. I want to pick them and take them home.
The lilacs also make me think of Frankenstein’s monster. We err when we think of the story and the movie as comical. It is natural to laugh at what might otherwise terrify us, but what is really frightening about Frankenstein is what the monster reveals about humanity. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly’s story is entirely serious: a horrifying look at human nature.
I have always felt sorry for the monster – at least as portrayed by the great Boris Karloff. The monster himself is pitiful. He is innocent. He is trying to do his best. He is trying to become human – as each of us is, unless we have given up to depravity. He is also a blank slate, free of sin. He knows nothing. Imitation is the fundamental human trait, and the poor monster is trying to become human by imitating humans. He sees a little girl. He immediately loves her beauty. He wants to relate to her as a human being relates to delicate, beautiful things. He desires to be like her. What is he to do? He sees that this perfectly innocent and beautiful creature is picking flowers and throwing them into the lake. (Innocent though she be, she is not free of original sin. She desires the beautiful flowers, so she picks them.) Imitating her, the monster does the same. He grabs the little girl and throws her into the lake.
This is tragedy. This is our predicament – at least in part. The monster is, in a way, better than the little girl, because he doesn’t want to possess her – he want to be like her; he wants to imitate her humanity. She is a flower – more beautiful even than the flowers she is killing and throwing into the lake – and he does as she does.
But the little girl – the little human – desires the flowers in the sense that she wants to get them.  To get them and to have them just as I want to take the lilacs home. This is her response to beauty; in her desire, she ends up killing the beauty that she loves, and she teaches the monster to do the same. That is what is wrong with desire.
Desire in this sense is the urge to fill up something we feel we lack. Desire is also our response to beauty: our longing to unite with it, to be it. One way to do that is to try to possess it and to devour it, which doesn’t work.  I want to pick the lilacs and take them home and put them in a vase, in which I know they will be beautiful only for a couple of days. But I still want to do it. I want the lilacs. This desire to possess and to devour and consume the beautiful is what the ancients called eros. Socrates said the lover, in this sense, is always needy. We desire what we do not have. We don’t desire what we DO have, but what we don’t have: what we need. In colloquial English, we use the word want to mean both: what we lack and what we desire.
But when we try to fulfill our desire, we find that we cannot. Satisfaction is a let-down, as Mary Shelly’s friend, John Keats, observed, telling his skylark,
…thou lovest, but ne’er knew
love’s sad saiety. 
Sad satiey. So-called fulfillment of desire is not fulfillment at all, but a disappointment. Then the desire – the need – returns and pretty soon we are on the road to addiction. That’s what Frankenstein is about, among other things. We can understand that. We have all experienced it.
What we cannot understand is what God has prepared for us: such good things as surpass our understanding, exceeding all that we can desire. If we could desire them, in the erotic sense, they would disappoint. To obtain these unimaginable promises is not to get them, to snatch them and devour them, as our first parents snatched the forbidden fruit, as the little girl snatched the flowers, as the monster snatched her in his attempt to be like her, as I want to snatch the lilacs; to obtain the promises of God is to love in another sense that does not know “love’s sad satiety,” to love in the sense of caritas or agape, which is to say self-forgetful, self-giving love. What the Neo-Platonist fathers of the Church called the attraction of like to like.
According to Plato, opposites do not attract, as in a magnetic field, but like attracts like. We are, in our deepest reality, the image and likeness of God, Who is perfectly beautiful – Who indeed, IS Beauty,  and so we are attracted to God – not as I am attracted to the lilacs, desiring to possess by devouring and thus to slake my desire, but to become one with God in some other, unimaginable sense, by self-giving, self-transcendence.
This is to obtain the promises that exceed all that we can desire. But it is not something that can be done in the sense of being accomplished or completed. We cannot ever obtain union with God in the sense of getting it, for God is infinite. The more we behold of the Divine Beauty, the more we are capable of enjoying it, world without end. God is infinite and we are finite; but God has made us capable of infinite growth. God has prepared for us such things as pass our understanding. That is the great insight of our holy father Gregory of Nyssa. Who saw eternal life – in prayerbook language – as endless growth in the knowledge and love of God. Here is what he relates from his dying elder sister, Macrina, in their dialogue on the Soul and the Resurrection:
Our rational nature came to birth for this purpose… a kind of vessels and voluntary receptacles for souls were fashioned by the Wisdom which constructed the universe, in order that there should be a container to receive good things, a container which would always become larger with the addition of what would be poured into it.  For the participation in the Divine Good is such that it makes anyone into whom it enters greater and more receptive.  As it is taken up it increases the power and magnitude of the recipient,  so that the person who is nourished always grows and never ceases from growth.  Since the fountain of good things flows unfailingly, the nature of the participants who use all the influx to add to their own magnitude (because nothing of what is received is superfluous or useless) becomes at the same time both more capable of attracting the better and more able to contain it.  Each adds to the other: the one who is nourished gains greater power from the abundance of good things, and the nourishing supply rises in flood to match the increase of the one who is growing.  Those whose growth is not cut off by any limit will surely continue to increase in this manner.  Then, when such prospects lie before us, do you complain because nature proceeds by the road which is ordained for us towards its proper goal?  Otherwise our course cannot reach those good things, if we have not shaken off from our soul this heaviness which weighs us down (I mean this earthly burden).…  But if you have some fondness for this body and you are sorry to be on yoke from what you love, do not be in despair about this either.  For although this bodily covering is now dissolved by death, you will see it woven again from the same elements, not indeed with its present coarse and heavy texture, but with the thread respun to something subtler and lighter, so that the beloved body may be with you and restored to you again in better and even more lovable beauty.

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

V Easter May 3, 2015

V Easter
 May 3, 2015
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
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+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity
We are born into a sense of alienation — apartness.  This sense of apartness is what we call sin.  The opposite of sin is love.  John tells us that God is love.  I think this is more than a metaphor.  Being is life in love.  In fact life is love.  Almost the same word, in German: lebe, liebe.  .  Without God there is no life, which means that without love there is no life.  So, in Adam — the symbol of apartness, all die.  The New Adam destroys apartness — In Christ shall all be made alive.  Interpersonal communion in love is life.  The only life.
Today’s Collect prays for know-ledge: that we may so perfectly… 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.  But this complete knowledge of Jesus Christ is not information that we receive and understand, or a creedal affirmation about Jesus that we accept.  Complete knowledge of Jesus Christ is the experience of God as love.  How do we experience that?  By loving.
John tells us that anyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  That is a pretty radical thing to say.  Anyone who loves.  Anyone.  For love is the opposite of sin and death — love destroys apartness; love is eternal life.  To love completely is to know Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life.  This is so, even for those who do not know His Name.  That's why Karl Rahner cal-led them "anonymous Christians," Christians who do not know the Name.  Because they love, they are born of God and know God, even if they don’t k now His Name.

This is the Gospel: Good News indeed!  All who love are born of God and know God… for God is Love.  Furthermore, Love is victorious and invincible.  All who love are ultimately immune to death.  Christ’s death overcomes the ultimate apartness, trampling upon death by death, and bestowing Life — that is, the Communion of Love — upon all who had been subject to death.  As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. Speaking symbolically, the stronghold of death is the place where there is neither love nor life – the place of utter apartness, which is to say nothingness. By breaking into that stronghold of non-love and non-life, God has freed Adam in whom all die, and united him to the Body of His Son, in Whom all are made alive.
Having died to sin – having gone to utter apartness – once, Christ will never die again, death has no more dominion over Him. Nor over any who love. Christians are privileged to know this Good News – to think of ourselves consciously as enjoying eternal life right now – to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. That doesn’t mean that Christians are the only ones in that blessed state. All who love are born of God and know God. We may not even be the only ones who have the joy of consciously considering ourselves dead to sin and alive to God, as understood in these terms. All we know for sure is that we are among the blessed. As John says: God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
John tells us nothing about those who do not confess that Jesus is the Son of God. He just says that all who love are born of God and know God. And that those who say they love God but do not love their neighbors are liars. Even if I confess that Jesus is the Son of God, I do not abide in God if I do not love, for God is love. So whatever I may think I am confessing, I am not actually confessing Jesus as the Son of God if I do not love. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. To be perfected in love, perhaps, is to live more and more in conscious awareness of abiding in love. Maybe that’s what Paul means when he advises us to consider ourselves dead to sin: to be aware that we are beyond the reach of apartness and alienation. Perfection would be constant awareness of abiding in the love of God. Fearlessness is the sign of that perfection, because perfect love casts out fear.
As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

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

Easter 4, 2015

SERMON FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
April 26, 2015
HOLY TRINITY & ST. ANSKAR

…the wolf snatches them and scatters them…
+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity.
The wolf scatters. The Good Shepherd gathers. I want to suggest a possible interpretation of this famous metaphor: a Trinitarian one about human consciousness.  All the world religions seem to be about getting together, overcoming our apartness, our sin, the Teutonic root of which means apart.  Sin is, first of all, not a misdeed but a state of consciousness.  Our misdeeds arise out of our congenital sense of being apart.  The Wolf scatters us.  The Wolf drives us apart; the Good Shepherd gathers us. The Good Shepherd brings us together.
In the parliament of the great world religions, Christianity has to offer the revelation that apartness is overcome not by dissolution into the One, but by interpersonal communion as revealed in the Most Holy And Life-giving Trinity.  The gathered flock is one, but there are still many sheep. As individuals, we go astray.  "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way."  That is the definition of individual.  What if this silly, ovine scatteredness is about our self-consciousness? Not our transgressions, but our sense of being apart?
The wolf scatters. The Good Shepherd gathers.  How does He gather?  By "laying down His life for the sheep.”  The Blood of Christ overcomes our apartness.  The Blood of Christ makes Communion.  Blood is life. The Blood of Christ is the Life of Christ. Since Christ is one with God, His human Blood is the Life of God, the Life God now shares with us, and through us with the whole cosmos. The Blood of Christ is the Life of the New Creation. 
John the Divine says that, as Christ laid down His life for us, so we ought to lay down our lives for one another.  Obviously, John did not mean that we all ought to try to get ourselves crucified!  At least not literally. I think what he did mean was that we ought to renounce our sheepish, individual sense of life as separate, scattered selves in favor of the Life of interpersonal Communion.  Probably that is what Jesus meant when He said that those who are willing to lose their life will find life. What they find is Eternal Life in the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit, which is to say the Church, Christ's Body , now living on Earth in history, quickened by His Blood, and at the same time already participating in the Life of the Three Divine Persons by the same Spirit — the Spirit that filled The Holy Apostle Peter, causing him to inform the high priests that “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
Does that mean that perdition and destruction await those who do not know the Name? I don’t think so. Just the opposite, in fact. Jesus is quite clear that He has plenty of sheep “who do not belong to this fold.” But they listen to His voice and he knows THEM by name. Still, it is only through the One Who gathers – through the Good Shepherd – that we can be saved. Salvation means perfect health – the wholeness that the cured cripple symbolizes. Wholeness means gathering as opposed to scattering. Whatever their cultural and conceptual framework, any who gather in love gather in the Name of the Good Shepherd, Who defeats the Wolf’s scattering depredation. To be whole is to be gathered. That is what it means to be saved.
We are not saved by any other Name. We are not saved by defining ourselves as other than anyone else. We are not saved by holding ourselves – or our group – apart. We are saved by the Good Shepherd who overcomes our apartness and gathers us into one flock together with sheep of all those other folds, who also listen to His voice and follow Him, though they may not know His Name.
ALLELUIA!
CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD,
TRAMPLING DOWN DEATH BY DEATH,

AND BESTOWING LIFE ON ALL IN THE TOMBS!

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