Saturday, November 28, 2015

Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent
Year A  ~  November 29, 2015

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life…  
+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity
NOW in the time of THIS mortal life. Not after We die, not at the end of time, but NOW –  in time – in THIS time, the TIME OF THIS MORTAL LIFE.  Anglicanism’s greatest liturgical scholar, the Benedictine monk, Dom Gregory Dix called the liturgy the “sanctification of time.” For pagans, time is the enemy. Time wears us down and wears us out. In the end, time kills us. To be a creature of time is to be mortal.
Christ makes time holy. Liturgy sanctifies time. That is the Work of the People. Before our mortal eyes, time is shot through with Life, the inevitable darkness bathed in light, even NOW in the TIME OF THIS MORTAL LIFE. Therefore, one post-communion prayer says We have beheld your Resurrection, O Christ our God, We have seen the true Light.
Now, in the time of this mortal life, we cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light and the time of this mortal life becomes the Last Day, the Day of the Light Immortal.  The works of darkness we pray for grace to cast off are not so much out own squalid little individual failures but the gloom that seems to surround us and infect us collectively, the gloom that can penetrate our consciousness unto the despair that tells us darkness is the ultimate reality and death is the end. God gives us grace to put that off now and put on instead the “armor of light.”
This is a curious phrase, though, because we think of armor as a protective covering – a garment we put on to shield us from wounding assault.  A “chink in our armor” is the last thing we want – a flaw that will prove out undoing. But I think the metaphor should be reversed. We need not so much to keep the darkness out as to let the Light in! That is what our religion –epitomized by the Holy Eucharist – is supposed to do – not to shut out but to let in. To let the Light into our own hearts, to be sure, but also – and more importantly – to let the Light into the world. Liturgical worship is an opening for transfiguring Light. THAT is the sanctification of time, THAT is what the Eucharist does.

There are implications on every level of reality: the disarmament – to be sure –  of our own armored individual egos, but also the real subversion of the reign of darkness in political relationships, and the glorious illumination of the cosmos unto ages of ages.
Leonard Cohen, the great religious poet of our time, put it this way:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government --
signs for all to see.

I can't run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they've summoned, they've summoned up
a thundercloud
and they're going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in. 

You can add up the parts
but you won't have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Sermon for the Solemnity of Christ the King
The Last Sunday after Pentecost B  ~  November 22, 2015
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar
King is what you call me.
For this I was born, and for this I came into the world,
to testify to the truth.

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity,
Pilate goes on to ask “What is truth.” A very modern question, isn’t it? In our world in which everything is relative – including the most obvious of facts, our own perception. Reality is not as it seems. And yet, in a wonderful way this very relativity can open the way to the Truth to which the Godman testifies.
The Collect says the nations of the world are “divided and enslaved by sin” which is a redundancy, because sin is the very condition of division and enslavement itself. To say that we are divided by sin is like saying “I I will be killed by mortality.” It is just two ways of saying the same thing. Sin is our sense of division and everything we do as a result. It is a failure to apprehend the Truth of Jesus’ testimony. To be freed is to be brought togetherrestored, in the Collect’s words, to a life of communion as opposed to the death of division. That is what it means by the gracious rule of Christ the King.
Here is another paradox, since rule by a king is pretty much the opposite of freedom. I you are brought under somebody’s rule, you are their subject, and insofar as you are somebody else’s subject, you are not free. Yet the gracious rule of Christ the King is the definition of real freedom. To serve you is perfect freedom, as our morning collect has it. Division is slavery; Communion is freedom and we call it the Kingdom of God.
Christianity – and other ancient religious traditions – teach that Communion is actual reality – the Truth in our Lord’s expression. Sin is our preference for division, based on the illusion of separation. There is US and there is THEM and we will love the people like us, and kill – or dominate – the others. But the truth we thus deny is that we all share a single life, a life of interconnected being. Pilate has no clue about that. He is an imperialist, which means that he sees the world as a collection of separate nations or ethnic groups, which his own nation, Rome, gets to rule and exploit. The first Cæsar (as every first-term Latin student knows) advised conquerors to divide in order to rule (divide ut regnes.) The subject nations oppose that rule. They would rather go their own way – separately – or do the dominating themselves. That is what is behind Pilate’s skeptical question, which follows immediately on the passage we just heard: What is Truth? That’s just a way of saying that each nation has its own idea of what’s right; truth is relative and the strongest will get its way. History will be written by the victors. The truth is what Rome says it is.
Force is one way to achieve unity; division into local ethnic groups is another. When imperial force abates, there comes ethnic cleansing and genocide. The Feast of Christ the King celebrates the dissolution of empire and nation alike. XP RX celebrates God’s way – love – that frees us from both imperial dominion and national separation. Pilate, the imperialist, called Jesus King of the Jews and so wrote in his own hand in three languages. Jesus points out that king –  the only word that Pilate understands – does not name His authority. Still, our Collect uses the Apocalyptic title, King of kings and Lord of lords. These are not just superlatives; they are negations. King means someone with absolute authority – the Sovereign, the lawgiver who is himself above the law. The King of kings implies a lawgiver above such sovereigns, a King who effectively destroys the sovereignty of all kings, making them His subjects. So a King of kings actually negates kingship – “King is your word…my Kingdom is not the kind you mean.”
Nor is XP RX a worldly emperor – a new Cæsar, subjugating local kings by force. XP RX is neither a super-king nor a local ethnic champion of a particular people. He is the Witness to the Truth – and the Truth itself – the Ultimate Reality that underlies all being: Love. Awareness of this Reality is the Holy Spirit, elsewhere  called Buddhahood, being awake. Reality is not division but relationship, now sometimes called inter-being. Relativity (not to be confused with relativism) means that we are all inter-related. Insofar as we are at all, we are part of one another, we participate in one another, we are united, we are one. That is the Truth, the Logos, the Word, the Dharma, the Kingdom that is not of this world, the Kingdom of God and of His Christ. And He shall reign for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Sermon for Pentecost 25
Proper 28 B  ~  November 15, 2015
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar
Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.
+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity, 

If you look at the back of the dollar bill, you will see the Great Seal of the United States, whose reverse includes a truncated pyramid topped with an all-seeing eye. The pyramid represents the New World Order, of which the motto speaks, and the Eye is God’s, overseeing our building of the just society on earth, under the other motto: approves our undertakings. While it is debatable whether these features were drawn from Freemasonry, in the not-so-secret lore of that society, the pyramid stands for the Temple of Solomon. The Temple, in turn, represents human society. It is truncated because it is unfinished. Our calling is to finish it – or at least to continue its construction under the All-seeing Eye of Providence, according to the rational principles represented by the architect’s instruments, the square and compass. Such was the optimistic outlook of our Founding Fathers: God is the Great Architect, and we are in the process of fulfilling His plan. He approves our undertaking.
    Today, we hear from the Gospel less encouraging words about the Temple, still under construction when Jesus said that it would not be completed, but destroyed – not a stone left on stone. By the way, if you google the Western Wall, you can see the stones to which our Lord referred. They are enormous. The wall is the first few courses of the foundation of the Temple rebuilt by Herod the Great, like many successful tyrants, one of history’s great builders. The Temple of Herod was bigger than anything else in the Roman Empire, aside from the pyramids of Giza.  To say that it would be completely torn down was outrageous.
    In another visit, our Lord seemed to identify His own Body with the Temple: destroy this Temple and in three days I will rebuild it. That saying has been one of the sources of the notion that Christianity replaces Judaism. Christ’s Body replaces the Temple. Vatican II repudiated this doctrine, and St. John Paul II acted out the repudiation by praying at the Western Wall, touching the very stones that Jesus said would be thrown down. Well, they were thrown down when the Romans destroyed the Temple in A.D. 70, but that doesn’t mean that Judaism was superseded. Christ as the Living Temple – destroyed and then rebuilt in three days – is the extension of the Covenant to all flesh, not its replacement.
    In the apocalyptic passage that follows today’s Gospel, Jesus refers again to the Temple. Don’t worry too much about rumors of wars and natural disasters, but when the Abomination of Desolation is set up where it ought not to be, then look out! This Abomination – or sacrilege – refers to the intention of the Emperor Caligula to erect his statue in the Temple. He was killed by his own personal guard before he could do so, but the meaning is clear: human power seeks to supplant divine. Although built for divine glory, the Temple itself can be defiled and turned against God. Then it will be destroyed.
    So what about completing the Temple, as the Masons suggest? What about a new world order of which Providence approves? Better be careful! I think that’s one lesson from today’s Gospel – even the grandest building in the Empire, which they are still working to finish, will soon be thrown down. If the Temple stands for just society on earth, the unfinished pyramid can mean either that it is under construction or that it is being demolished. However reasonable they may seem to us, we had better not confuse our plans and projects, with the Kingdom of God. They might instead turn out to be the Tower of Babel. Unless this Temple really does stand for ever-increasing justice in human society,

Not one stone will be left … upon another; all will be thrown down.



Saturday, November 07, 2015

Sermon for Pentecost 24
 Proper 27 B  ~  November 8, 2015
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar
… whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil…
+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity,

Whoever saves one life saves the world, entire.”  Perhaps you remember this central theme of Schindler’s List. It is a quotation from the Talmud – the collection of commentary on the Hebrew Scripture. I thought of it as analogous to the Widow, who contributed to the Temple everything she had, all she had to live on. Let me explain.

I think our Lord’s observation is more than an endorsement of the principle of progressive taxation. I think it has to do with His whole mission to destroy the works of the devil, and that is why it is paired with today’s Collect. The works of the devil are what we call Sin. Separation and alienation and death, which comes with it. One sign of that separation is possession – our insistence that we own things. One ancient Church father went so far as to say that is the essence of sin. The first sense of mine vs. yours  is the Fall!  Jesus has come to destroy that – to destroy destruction and to re-create the world in love. That means self-sacrifice. In our Lord’s case, the Sacrifice was perfect, that is He sacrificed everything.

So did the widow, didn’t she? Everything she had, all she had to live on. Her sacrifice was more than the percentage-tithes of the rich, who gave out of their abundance, but kept most for themselves. Her gift was more because it was complete; unlike the wealthy givers, she was all in.  THAT destroys the works of the devil, just as the one who saves a single life saves the world entire.  The Widow’s perfect sacrifice is one with Christ’s. The devil is powerless against her willingness to give all she had, her whole living – that is her very life. Her all in gift destroys the works of the devil. Anyone who does likewise joins in that liberating work.

Every act of complete self-sacrifice is the same moment of redemption, the re-creation of the world by the Death and Resurrection of Christ. Our Lord’s remark invites us to think in new dimensions – or rather outside the dimensions of ordinary consciousness, beyond the confines of time and space. In space, we seem to be separate individuals; and ordinary consciousness cannot escape the sense of time – past, present, and future. But both these categories – time and space – are in a sense illusions. Space and time exist within God – within the eternal present.  In the mind of God, every moment and every event in history is the same present moment. At least, so we are assured by theologians. For that reason, Whoever saves one life saves the world, entire, and this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.

Last Thursday, we commemorated one of our own, Anglican theologians, the Christian socialist and wartime Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple. Touching this Mystery, he wrote:

We are led of necessity to believe in an eternal knowledge, to which the whole process, endless though it may possibly be, is present in a single apprehension. For the omniscient mind, every episode is grasped as an element in that glorious whole of which it is a constituent part. Everlastingly in the life of God, death is swallowed up in victory. It is in the absolute perfection of that eternal experience, in which the whole process of time is grasped in a single apprehension that the ultimate ground of all that happens in history is to be found. To those who have seen in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ the manifestation of the eternal omnipotence, this experience can already be in a small measure shared through faith.


O God of light and love, you illumined your Church through the witness of your servant William Temple: Inspire us, we pray, by his teaching and example, that we may rejoice with courage, confidence, and faith in the Word made flesh, and may be led to establish that city which has justice for its foundation and love for its law; through Jesus Christ, the light of the world, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Sermon for All Saints
 November 1, 2015
On the Occasion of Holy Baptism
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar 

In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.

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

St. Mary’s grief-stricken reproach reminds me of the disciples in the boat, when Jesus slept during the storm. “Don’t you even care?” I suppose, at one time or another, all of us have the same doubt. Why does God permit all this suffering and death. The answer is today’s Gospel. In the preceding verses, not read, we learn that Jesus purposely delayed coming to Bethany. The whole purpose was to answer our question.

Given the popularity of ghosts and zombies at this time of year, the raising of St. Lazarus of Bethany may need to be rescued: it is not one more creepy Hallowe’en story. Lazarus is not a zombie; he represents all the baptized. Baptism is dying and rising again. All the saints participate in this Resurrection. That is what the raising of Lazarus is about, and why it is appropriate on All Saints day. Of course, as the Fathers observed, Lazarus would still have to die again and await the final resurrection at the Day of Judgment, and so do we – even the baptized

The point is that Baptism transforms our physical death into a door, annihilation into a passage into new and larger life. The waters of Baptism are the Red Sea, standing like walls on both sides of the paschal road to freedom. The sea, blocking escape from Pharaoh’s pursuing army, meant FINAL destruction to the Israelites. God’s Holy Spirit – the strong east wind that God sent to make the waters recede and stand like walls on either side – turned it into the path of life.

Even so, Jesus wept, too. I think the point is that God’s Son is not merely a Healer of temporary illnesses, but the Victor over death itself.  What is true of Lazarus is true of all the baptized: though we die, yet shall we live. As He summoned Lazarus from the tomb, so He summons all who are called to Baptism.  He addresses all the saints with the words: Lazarus, Come Forth.

When Lazarus died, he went into the tomb alone. When he walked out of the tomb, he came into the community of his beloved family, which had adopted Jesus, Who wept with them. Likewise, we all pass through the Waters of Baptism alone, to come up out of the water into the Blessed Company of All Faithful People, which  we call the Communion of Saints,  the indissoluble community in which death is no longer relevant or even significant, except as a sign of liberation. Even the baptized will die. But that is only a matter of appearance.

So, every baptized person shares something with St. Lazarus. Like him, we face death having already died: died and come out of the tomb, like him. Death no longer has dominion over us. God has turned our eventual corporal death into our ally, as the water of the Red Sea became the ally of the Israelites.

Still, we are tempted to share Mary’s complaint. Why would God permit this kind of thing? Doesn’t God care? The raising of Lazarus is the answer: Lazarus died so that God’s glory might be revealed. God cares allot more than we think. More than to be satisfied with a few particular healings. Enough to remake the whole creation.

In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died… and their going from us to be their destruction
But the baptized have died already, with Christ, and God has raised us, with Him, to Life Immortal. The power of death, like the power of the Red Sea, is now our usher and guide into the new life of ineffable joy. To follow the saints in all virtuous and godly living, in the words of the Collect, is to join them in the Paschal Journey across the Red Sea on dry land.  That journey, begun at baptism, is participation here and now in what the Collect calls the ineffable joys God has prepared for those who love Him, because virtuous living is the power of life-giving love, and Godly living is the Life of the Most Holy Trinity, the Life of ineffable joy. This new life is not some reward we get later if we succeed in heroic exploits, following the moral examples of the saints; rather it is the life we enter into right now, with them, by virtue of our Baptism, our entrance into the Communion of All Saints, the blessed company of all faithful people.

The Lord is Glorious in the Saints!
Come, Let us Adore!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sermon for Pentecost 22
Proper 25 B  ~  October 25, 2015
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar
That we may obtain what you promise, 
make us love what you command.
+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity,

Long ago, commentators noticed that the cry of the blind man resembled the Jesus prayer: Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me and Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.  So, this healing miracle may be interpreted as a figure of the spiritual life. I can’t resist the temptation to regard this formal similarity as permission to interpret the story as an allegory. [I say temptation, because allegory was out of favor fifty years ago when I was in seminary, and doing what I am about to do produces guilt-feelings such as I might experience if I considered shop-lifting, but here goes!]
· Bartimaios keeps repeating his demand, over and over, just like practitioners of the Jesus Prayer.
· Bystanders rebuke him and try to get him to stop, just as our thoughts interfere, whenever we try to pray the Jesus prayer.
· Jesus summons the blind man, whereupon the bystanders turn into supporters.
· Bartimaios throws off his cloak – everything he has – and comes to Jesus.
· Then he receives his sight, the mystical vision.

Let’s go through these one by one.

· The New Testament enjoins us to “pray without ceasing.” On one level, the practice of the Jesus Prayer fulfills that literally: constantly invoking divine aid, just as the blind Bartimaios persevered in his loud appeal, despite the scorn of the onlookers.
· If you attempt this kind of prayer you hear immediately from the bystanders, advising you to shut up. Distractions pour in to consciousness. In traditional language, these thoughts are demonic. Not necessarily diabolical, but demonic. Nowadays, we would say that they are sub-conscious. The fathers say, just ignore them. Don’t let them vex you. They can’t hurt you. Just keep on saying the prayer. Follow the blind man’s example.
· Then, eventually something happens. The demons turn into angels, assisting us in our spiritual process. “Take heart,” they say. The Master is calling you. Or some such encouragement. That is very nice to hear. The danger is that these angels can be just as distracting as the demons. The pleasant feeling of their consolation is not the goal. Ignore them too, and keep on saying the prayer. Adepts report that, with perseverance over a long time, the prayer eventually seems to say itself. Some unconscious part of ourselves – or some Other – is praying within us. This is called the Prayer of the Heart. Maybe that is the allegorical meaning of the advice to “take heart.” The Prayer itself descends into one’s inmost core, operating at every level of conscious and sub-conscious being.
· Then comes the grace to Love what Jesus commands. His command is to come to Him, and we can leap up, discarding everything. To a beggar, the cloak was not just an outer garment: it was a bedroll and a roof. It was all he had, a necessity to bare survival. Throwing it off is throwing off everything – not just material possessions, but emotional and even spiritual consolations. To come to Jesus, as the blind man did, the cloak must be left behind. When we can love doing so, and only then, can we receive what He promises.
That is, we receive our sight again. Apparently, Bartimaios could once see and then lost his sight. Maybe that is true of everyone in some way. Maybe it is related to the mysterious pronouncement of a few weeks ago that no one can enter the Kingdom of God except as a little child. At the risk of sentimentality, this may have something to do with immediacy of perception and innocent wonder at the beauty of Reality. Anyway, the last state is better than the first; the sight one receives again is better – incomparably better – than the sight that was lost. One who receives sight again, like Bartimaios, sees Reality as it is. Bartimaios  sees Jesus; he sees God.
Finally, by the way, I can’t think of any other people Jesus healed  whose name we know – except for Lazarus. We know the names of some of their parents, but not their own names. So let’s get really allegorical and notice the meaning of the blind man’s name. Actually, even Bartimaios is a patronymic – Son of Timaios, but it was his name. Tim-aios means precious, or costly, or valuable, dear. So Bartimaios is the son, the heir of what is valuable and precious – what is MOST precious in the world. In his inmost self, Bartimaios is the most exalted of God’s creatures, the Image of God, human consciousness, which is to say created matter conscious of itself. But, somehow, that consciousness is impaired, darkened, blind.
Jesus is here to cure that blindness, to restore the sight and to bring to consciousness what never was seen. Jesus also tells Bartimaios – as He tells many He heals – “your faith has healed you.”  In other words, our co-operation is part of the miracle. Bartimaios has to persevere, ignoring the bystanders, even the encouraging ones. Then he has to jump up and leave everything behind. Active human participation is part of personal salvation and cosmic redemption. In order to obtain what He promises, we must co-operate with grace, growing to love what He commands.



Saturday, October 17, 2015

Sermon for Pentecost 21
Proper 243 B  ~  October 18, 2015
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar
Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.

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

It seems to me that this pronouncement, which ended last week‘s Gospel, may really belong to today’s, introducing the status-reversal of the Kingdom of God. Long ago it was observed that the Apostles’ request was to occupy the places of the bandits crucified with Jesus.  We interpret this to mean that they had no idea what they were asking. They were just young and ambitious and concerned about status. Well, thank God we are smarter and more mature than they were!
On the other hand, don’t I often say to myself that I want to be close to Jesus? Do I really mean it? This is Bonhoeffer’s point about the cost of discipleship. I usually think of being close to Jesus as pleasant and desirable in every way, but in the world, to be close to Jesus means to share His suffering. Being close to Jesus is no picnic! And when I think it is, I am like James and John.
Jesus asks them whether they could really want what they asked for:  to be right next to Him where He was going to be, to be baptized with the baptism wherewithal He would be baptized.  Maybe they did just want glory in the sense of worldly status. Jesus’s point was that status in the Kingdom is just the opposite of what the world thinks of status. Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.
Moreover, even this status of last who will be first, Jesus says, is not His to determine, but belongs to those prepared for it. This is impenetrably mysterious, since all power in heaven and earth is given to Him, Maybe this is a way of telling James and John to stop thinking in these terms at all, since they cannot possibly understand it. At their stage of preparation, they can’t transcend the paradox: even seeking the last place would be an attempt to secure the first, which puts them back where they started: looking for glory in the world’s terms.
In the Roman Empire, no one was more last than those who were crucified. No lower status could be imagined. But in this world the Roman Cross is the glory of God. Pilate’s inscription identifying Jesus of Nazareth as King of the Jews unwittingly confirmed His glory. The Cross is His glory, That is what He has “revealed among the nations,”  that is the Name –  the reputation, the story – that in today’s Collect we pray the Church may persevere in confessing,  Jesus Christ the King, in Glory on the Cross.
Another Collect refers to Jesus Who entered not into glory before He was crucified. The Cross is what Divine Glory looks like, in this world. The Cross is not a barrier or gate to glory; it is itself the beginning of Glory in eternity. The Cross is the throne of God, as seen from this world. Jesus entered not into Glory before He was crucified, but He did enter into Glory the very moment He was crucified – not three days later. When He was lifted up on the Cross, as He foretold, He drew all to Himself.
Fulfilled is all that David told
In true, prophetic song of old:
How God the nations’ King should be,
for God is reigning from the Tree.



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