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Posted on Apr 1, 2018

The Ship of Faith—homily for Easter Day

The Ship of Faith

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Photo Credit: Adam Heitzman Flickr via Compfight cc

Principal Service:
Psalm 118:1-2,14-24
;
Acts 10:34-43; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11Mark 16:1-8

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

They say, the ship of Theseus was preserved for centuries. Theseus, the legendary founder of ancient Athens, was so revered that the Athenians preserved his ship. They accomplished this by removing all of the old planks as they decayed and replacing them with new ones over and over again for hundreds and hundreds of years. Which creates this paradoxical thought experiment…if all the timbers have been replaced, is it still the same ship?

This same paradox gets told as “my grandfather’s ax.” This is the ax my grandfather gave me, the handle broke and had to be replaced several times, and the head wore out and had to be replaced several times, but I would never buy a new ax, because this is the one that belonged to my grandfather.

All Saints Parish was founded 124 years ago this November. I dare say, no here this morning was there at the time. Yes, the building is still here…lovingly tended to (we replace things periodically)…but the true timbers of this ship of faith…the wood…the warp and weft of this body of the faithful…have all been replaced…many times…over several generations…Is it still the same church? Are we still the same church?

Are we still part of the same Diocese that was founded in 1784, when Samuel Seabury was consecrated as Bishop of New England and New York, the first bishop in the Episcopal Church?

Are we still part of the same church that was reformed by Elizabeth I (and many other reformers) in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries?

Are we still the same church of Gregory the great in the sixth century, Gregory who sent Christian missionaries into northern Europe, including the British Isles, and established Christian outposts there?

Are we still the same church that Paul writes to today? The church in Corinth…Which is (by the way) as close as we get to any actual witnesses at the tomb that morning. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth around the year 50, only a few decades after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus—his are some of the earliest writings we have…Mark and Luke (who wrote Acts) came much later. Are we still that church?

In many ways, the answer has to be…”of course not.” There are too many cultural and historical changes that happened between the first, sixth, sixteenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and twenty-first centuries.

On the other hand…

“I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received… through which also you are being saved…(This is Paul talking to the Corinthians, but he might as well be talking to us). “For I handed on to you…what I in turn had received…that Christ died, and that he was buried…that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures…that he appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred, most of whom are still alive… Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, he appeared to me.”

This is what I proclaim, says Paul, and “so you have come to believe.”

Paul had an experience of the resurrected Jesus. And so did many others. Which he then told others about.

And did you notice that all we heard today was someone else’s report about Jesus’s resurrection?

We didn’t actually see Jesus this morning…just heard about the resurrection from others. This young man in the tomb, Peter, Paul, the writers of our hymns…me…

Thousands of people down through the centuries. I bet there are some here who have had an experience of the resurrected Jesus…

This mysterious figure sitting in the tomb, robbed in white, tells us that Jesus isn’t here, and then says, “but go and tell the others…He is going ahead of you, and you will see him, just as he promised.”

Go and tell others, and you will see him. There’s a connection between telling others and seeing Jesus.

They must have done that, because not long after this people start telling stories about meeting strangers on the road. Strangers who open up the scriptures to them, and then when they invite him to eat, he takes bread, and blesses, and breaks it, and Jesus is revealed as real and present in their midst, which is just what we do today in the Eucharist…modified to be sure, but in essence very much the same as it was 100, 500, 1000, 1500, and almost 2000 years ago.

They must have told the story, because soon others see the Risen Christ in locked rooms, and on a beach, and on the road…wherever they are feeling lost, and hopeless, whenever their hearts are breaking, or sometimes they’re just going about their day…laughing with those who laugh, and weeping with those who weep…and in the midst of that daily existence…Jesus is revealed to them. And what we have inherited is their testimony…and these ritual practices…

This ship…this church…is the same, because these traditions…open us up to be able to experience of the Divine in our own lives…they help us see God acting in the world…they help us learn how to be human…(which is not as easy as it sounds)…they teach us how to live in community…how to truly belong…our traditions recognize that we are going to get it wrong…we’re going to mess up all of this up, and make mistakes…and so our traditions help us heal the wounds…and bind up the brokenness…And we’ve been at this…doing it very imperfectly…for a very long time.

Gustav Mahler is often credited with this quote. Apparently, he did say it, but he was quoting it from a German translation of Thomas More. I’ve googled it and can’t find the true origin of the quote, but that doesn’t make it less poignant, or less true…

“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”

We are not here this morning, to simply commemorate something that happened some two millennia ago…we are not worshipping or preserving the ashes of some long deconstructed ship…we are the tenders of a flame… We are the keepers of a light that shines in the darkness…and the darkness cannot overcome. We are the tellers of tales, and the singer of songs…songs and stories that tell of the power of life over death, of hope over fear, of love that embraces all and never ends…

“You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified.  He has been raised. He is and is not here. Go and tell others…tend the flame…shine the light…he is going ahead of you…you will see him, just as he told you.”

Amen.

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Posted on Mar 18, 2018

Breaking hearts—sermon for 18 March 2018, Lent 5

Breaking Hearts

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Photo Credit: Jeannette E. Spaghetti Flickr via Compfight cc

March 18, Fifth Sunday in Lent:

Psalm 51:1-13 or 119:9-16;
Jeremiah 31:31-34Hebrews 5:5-10John 12:20-33

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

“And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’?  No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”

This is a different approach to Christ’s passion than in the other, synoptic Gospels. There, in Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus prays something similar to this…but the core question is different.

On the night of his arrest, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have Jesus, alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, in great distress, praying “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me,” (Matthew 26:39). It’s a real plea. It’s only in John—where Jesus is revealed at the beginning to be the Divine Logos—the Word of God—where this question is rhetorical.

Should I say, “Father, save me from this hour?” No, it is for this that I have come.

But if one of the primary lessons Jesus is trying to teach us, as I pointed out last week, is how to be human (so that we can reveal the divine within), then this has to be a real question, I think. Do I really have to go through with this?…Are you sure?… It’s a very human appeal that is encoded into one of our most beloved prayers.

We use the contemporary language version of the Lord’s Prayer here most Sundays. It’s the version that was developed in the wake of Vatican II in the 60s and was revised again in the 80s [Praying Together,
English Language Liturgical Consultation Copyright © 1988]. There’s a line in it that used to be, “Lead us not into temptation,”  but now goes, “Save us …. from…the time of trial.”

There are many very excellent linguistic and theological reasons for this change, but there are two aspects that are relevant today.

1. We need to be clear—no matter which version we are using—that when we come to this line, we’re not proclaiming that God intentionally leads us into any kind of temptation, or sets up tests for us to undergo. God is not some kind of mad scientist concocting various bizarre mazes for us rats to run just to see what will happen.

2. Trials and tests and challenges are inevitable in life…heartbreak and failure just come with the package.

In praying to be saved from the time of trial we’re not asking to be given a pass. “God, can you just write us a note, so we don’t have to do this?” No. We’re praying that when the storms come…and they will…that no matter what God will be with us and will save us…just as God saves Jesus (God’s own self). So in all of the other Gospels, when Jesus comes to this point—this very human point of, “really? Are you sure?” And asks, “if it’s possible, let this cup pass from me,” he always follows it with what? “But not my will, but yours”…or “not what I want but what you want.” Of course we also say this in that prayer we pray every week. In fact it comes right at the beginning….”Your kingdom come, your will be done—not ours—Gods.” And as Jesus points out today…we still have to go through it…the seed still has to die—in order to bear fruit. The trial will come. We will have to relinquish our control…empty ourselves…turn it all over to God. I think it’s a nod to the reality that in our path back to God—our path to becoming human our hearts will be broken.

Author and teacher, Parker Palmer, writes: “There is no way to be human without having one’s heart broken.” [The Broken-Open Heart: Living with Faith and Hope in the Tragic Gap, by Parker J. Palmer]

In learning to become human, our hearts—our seed—our deepest self will be broken. But Palmer points out, that there are at least two different ways for this heart-core to break.

The first is that it can be broken so that it shatters into a thousand shards, what he calls, “sharp-edged fragments that become shrapnel aimed at the source of our pain.” This kind of broken heart is an unresolved wound…that “we carry it with us…feeding it […], sometimes trying to ‘resolve it’ by inflicting the same wound on others.”

The other way of having a heart broken is this. Palmer, says, “Imagine that small, clenched fist of a heart “broken open” into largeness of life, into greater capacity to hold one’s own and the world’s pain and joy.”

This is when heartbreak becomes a source of compassion…when our capacity for empathy is enlarged.

And it’s also biblical. There is a beautiful midrash—rabbinic interpretation—of the portion of Jeremiah we read today, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

The interpretation goes like this: “A disciple asks the rebbe, “Why does Torah tell us to ‘place these words upon your hearts’? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?” The rebbe answers, “It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in.”

Parker Palmer, concludes: “In Christian tradition, the broken-open heart is virtually indistinguishable from the image of the cross. It [is] on the cross that God’s heart [is] broken for the sake of humankind, broken open into a love that [we, as] Christ’s followers are called to emulate. […] The cross-beams stretch out four ways, pulling against each other left and right, up and down. But those arms converge in a center, a heart, that can be pulled open by that stretching, by the tensions of life—a heart that can be opened so fully it can hold everything from despair to ecstasy. And that, of course, is how Jesus held his excruciating experience, as an opening into the heart of God.”

What should I say? Father, save me from this hour? No it is for this that I have come…I have come to show you how to have your heart broken open so that the Word falls in, so that you can expand your capacity to hold everything…

We’re about to enter Holy Week. And the liturgies from Palm Sunday to Easter morning—and especially the liturgy of the Triduum (Maundy Thusday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil) have evolved over centuries to give us some experience of this…to help guide us through this time of trial…to give us some practice having our hearts cracked open and expanded. If you’ve never experienced the whole thing, I encourage you to set aside the time to do so. It can be a deeply transformative experience. If you regularly participate in the Triduum liturgies, you’ll know that each year is a little different. This year Chris and Jessica and I have planned services that emphasize these themes of sacrifice and expansiveness—of emptying, giving over—and the slow but persistent growth that emerges from going through…and turning ourselves over to God, so that God’s will be done.

Father, what should we say, save us from this? No, it is for this that we have come. To know you, and to know the fullness of life, the fullness of your love, the fullness of our humanity…to hold with you in our broken-open, God-centered hearts all that you love.

Amen.

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Posted on Mar 11, 2018

Becoming Human—sermon for 11 March 2018, Lent 4

Becoming Human

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Photo Credit: Tom Simpson Flickr via Compfight cc

March 11, Fourth Sunday in Lent:

Psalm 107:1-3,17-22;
Number 21:4-9Ephesians 2:1-10John 3:14-21

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

When Thomas Merton met Thich Nat Hanh in 1966. He noticed that the young monks in the Buddhist monastery didn’t do much meditating, instead they did a lot of gardening and dish washing, so he asked Thich Nat Hanh about it…how did they teach meditation to the young monks. Thich Nat Hanh, who like Merton had a wry sense of humor smiled and said, “We don’t teach meditation to the young monks. They are not ready for it until they stop slamming doors.” (Rohr, Contemplation in Action p. 79)

How many of us still need to learn that lesson?

Since we’re all gathered here, it’s safe to say that something in us is interested in “being spiritual.” We want to experience God, the Holy, the Divine…we want to understand what it is that we’re doing here…we want to live out our faith…work for reconciliation and peace and justice…bring about God’s reign in the world……and we often want it so badly…and work for it so hard, that we don’t realize that we’re still slamming doors.

Last week, the Israelites were at Sinai…receiving the law…the covenant with God…and then they set out again into the desert. They’ve been out there a long time…a very LONG time…wandering…they’re close to the promised land…but not quite there…and they’re still slamming doors—metaphorically.

“Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” There’s no food and no water, and this manna stuff is awful!

It’s a very human—a deeply human—response. “Come on, God…We’re doing all this stuff down here…what are you up to?” (slam!).

We’re in quite the state here…need a little help (slam!)

And now with the poisonous serpents?! Thanks a lot, dude! (slam!)

Ok, Ok. We give. Enough with the poisons serpents.

All legitimate complaints, no doubt. But then this story gets really weird…so there must be something else going on…

God says to Moses, “make an image of this poison serpent…the thing that’s hurting you…the thing that is tormenting you…the thing that’s really a very thinly veiled metaphor for that part you that you refuse to recognize…put that up on a pole and if someone feels a little venomous…they can look on it and live.”

It’s an image that Jesus picks up on…”Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

That phrase…”Son of Man”…we hear that a lot. It’s how Jesus refers to himself in all of the Gospels…in fact the Gospel writers put this self-description into Jesus’ mouth over 80 times. Clearly, it’s important.

The original Hebrew phrase (ben adam literally Son of Adam) was “simply an evocative way of saying, ‘human being” (Jewish Annotated New Testament p.63). The prophet Ezekiel uses it this way over 90 times. But between the time Ezekiel was writing (during the Babylonian exile in the early 6th century BCE), and the time the book of Daniel was compiled (around the 2nd century BCE), its meaning had expanded. Daniel uses it as a term for a divine being who comes at the end of the age to judge the world. The Gospel writers use it in both of these senses…”human being”, and “heavenly judge,” and in another messianic sense of “one who is to suffer and die.” So when we hear Jesus use it today, we’re not quite sure how he means it.

Is it, “end-times judge,” or “suffering messiah” or “the human one” It’s hard to know…But here at least, its linked to this image of being something that is lifted up…the thing we can look on and live…but like the serpent…its also something that torments us…something we have a LOT of trouble seeing in ourselves, and admitting to our selves.

The problem with much religion, says Franciscan teacher and author, Richard Rohr, is that we spend so much time “desperately trying to become ‘spiritual’, when the Christian revelation [is] precisely that you are already spiritual (“in God”), and your difficult but necessary task is to learn how to become human.” (Naked Now, p. 69).

It’s Jesus’ humanity…his humanness that is lifted on the cross. And it’s our own broken, finite humanness that we often have the most trouble with.

The author of the letter to the Ephesians (probably not Paul, BTW), writes, “For we are what he has made us created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

We are what he has made us—fully human AND in the image of God…fully human AND already spiritual “In Christ Jesus”…made for good works, which God prepared to be our way of life…

That’s an integrated life…fully human AND revealing the divine in us and through us…but in order to truly reveal that divine light, we have to stop slamming the door on our humanity…and on the humanity of others.

“It is in our humanity,” Rohr goes on, “that we still are so deeply wounded, so needy, so unloving, so self-hating, and so indeed of enlightenment. We seem to have spawned centuries of people trying to be spiritual and religious, whereas our record on basic humanness is rather pitiful.” (Naked Now. p. 69)

We’re still slamming doors.

We live in a split and fragmented world. We live among people who cannot accept or forgive certain parts of themselves…we are people who have trouble accepting or forgiving certain parts of ourselves…when we look on the cross, that’s what we see…those parts of ourselves that can’t forgive…that wants vengeance, that requires someone else pay for our own brokenness. We see our humanity broken and doing the breaking…pierced and piercing…

Richard Rohr again: “Divided people…cannot accept or forgive certain parts of themselves. They cannot accept that God objectively dwells within them (or others). This lack of forgiveness takes the form of a tortured mind, a closed heart, or an inability to live calmly and proudly inside your own body.” (Naked Now. p. 160)

We need to empty our cup. We need to stop slamming doors. We need to seek and embrace our humanity because it is through our humanity that we will come to find and know our connection with God. It is through our humanity that we will come to see and to know that we don’t have to strive after, or work so hard to find a connection with God, because our connection with God is always present and unbreakable.

So how might we do that? How might we learn to leave the doors of our soul open, and begin to accept and nurture our own blessedly finite, gracefully broken humanity?

I’m glad you asked. Here are some practices—some further Lenten disciplines—for you to consider, to help you along your journey towards God…and towards your own humanity, again courtesy of Richard Rohr.

“If you want other to be more loving, choose to love first.

“If you want a reconciled outer world, reconcile your own inner world.

“If you are working for peace out there, create it inside as well.

“If you notice other people’s irritability, let go of your own.

“If you wish to find some outer stillness, find it within yourself.

“If you are working for justice, treat yourself justly too

“If you find yourself resenting the faults of others, stop resenting your own.

“If the world seems desperate, let go of your own despair.

“If you want a just world, start being just in small ways yourself.

“If your situation feels hopeless, honor the one spot of hope inside you.

“If you want to find God, then honor God within you, and you will always see God beyond you. For it is only God in you who knows where and how to look for God.” (Naked Now, 161)

Amen.

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Posted on Feb 25, 2018

Faithful Responses—sermon for 25 February 2018

Faithful Responses

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Photo Credit: fdecomite Flickr via Compfight cc

February 25, Second Sunday in Lent:

Psalm 22:22-30;
Genesis 17:1-7,15-16Romans 4:13-25Mark 8:31-38

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

 

A story is told that in the mid 1960s—during the years of dramatic escalation of the Vietnam war—that almost every night, in front of the White House, often alone, holding a candle, rain or shine, stood an elderly man named A. J. Muste. Muste was a Dutch Reformed minister who had been an activist for years—he was instrumental in organizing workers during the Lawrence textile strikes in 1919, and for decades had embraced pacifism and non-violent resistance. In his eighties, he took up this candle-light vigil in front of the White House. A reporter is supposed to have asked him once, “Do you really think you’re going to change the policies of this country by standing out here holding a candle?” To which Muste is said to have replied, “Oh I don’t do this to change the country. I do this so the country won’t change me.” Link

How do we respond faithfully to the Gospel?

How do we respond faithfully to all that goes on in the world?

We have two examples of very different responses today—Abraham and Peter.

Abraham is 99 years old, and God says, “walk before me, and be blameless and I will make you exceedingly numerous,” and Abraham does what? The text says he, “falls on his face.” Well, that’s one response. We presume that he does this because he’s in awe, or in worshipful adoration…and not because he tripped or had a stroke. This profoundly worshipful response is the one that we expect from Abraham…He’s the one who is generally silent, faithful, and goes along. But it’s not the only way that he responds to God.

In the verses that are not in our reading…he falls on his face again. This time, it’s because God explains that God will bless his wife Sarah, “and will give you a son by her…so that she shall give rise to nations; rulers of peoples shall issue from her.” And Abraham, the text says, “threw himself on his face and laughed.” So that’s another response. And just a couple of chapters earlier, when God makes a similar promise, Abraham’s response is a question, “How will I know?” A range of faithful responses.

Peter has a whole range of responses as well. Today’s is just one. Jesus begins teaching about what he has to do…what he has to give up…how he has to empty himself for the sake of reconciling all of creation with God, and Peter can’t get his head around it…it’s too far outside of what he expects the Messiah to be like and to do. His response is to take him aside and rebuke him, which leads to Jesus rebuking Peter as well. Is what Peter does a faithful response?

Before you answer that, consider the whole range of Peter’s responses to Jesus: He drops everything and follows Jesus, he jumps out of the boat tries to walk on water, he wants to build structures of Moses and Elijah, in one story he cuts off someone’s ear as they try to arrest Jesus, he also denies knowing him, runs away, sneaks a peek inside the tomb, but then locks himself in the upper room, gives up and decides to go back to fishing…and still with all that he is also given power to heal, to preach, to be a leader in the early Jesus movement. Peter also falls on his face…but it’s usually not because he’s throwing himself down in awed wonder at God, more often it’s because he trips and falls on his face. Are those all faithful responses? I think they are.

Both Abraham and Peter are faithful responders to the Gospel message…to the Good News that God is absolutely committed to being in relationship with us no matter how many times we fall on our faces or why. And what makes them faithful responders, is this—that no matter what the initial response is, they continue to be in relationship with God. They continue to seek after, and long to be changed by, God. If, after he had been rebuked Peter thought, “that’s it! I’m done.” And had walked off and we never heard from him again…that wouldn’t be faithful…If Abraham had laughed and turned around and spent the rest of his life ignoring God…dismissed it all as a complete fantasy? Not faithful. But because they both continue to be open…open to being surprised by God…open to being changed by God…open to the kind of transformation that only God can bring about…that makes all of their responses faithful.

In his letter to the Romans, a bit further on from the part we heard today, Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds—it’s one of my favorite verses—It might have been one of A.J. Muste’s favorites as well—“I’m not doing this to change the country. I’m doing this so the country doesn’t change me.” What are you doing? Or what do you need to do (or maybe not do) so that the country doesn’t change you? What are you doing (or not doing) so that God can be the one in charge of your transformation?

I look out at the world and I know there are so many absolutely vital, and important and pressing issues that we face—gun violence, systemic racism, and systemic sexism, addiction, immigration, consumerism, climate change…it goes on and on and on. And each and every one of them cries out for faithful responses. Each and everyone of them needs faithful people to show up and be part of effecting change…be part of making a difference for the good in all our lives.

I also know there are many, many different ways of responding faithfully to all of those issues. And just because someone doesn’t respond the way you would, (or the way you think they should) doesn’t mean it’s not faithful…What makes it faithful the continually turning back to God. Continuing to be in relationship with God. Continuing openness to being taught, and instructed, and changed by God into the people God needs us to be in this time and place.

If we can do that, then we will be better equipped, and better able to discuss and challenge, and resist, and pray, and march, and hold candles, and fall on our faces…As long as we continue to be in relationship with God, and one another. As long as we continue to be open to change, open to being corrected by one another, and transformed by God, then our responses will be faithful.

Maybe you don’t need to hold a candle in front of the White House…maybe you do…but this Lent, I encourage you to learn from Abraham and Peter, and take to heart, Paul’s admonition:

“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2).

May we all have the courage, and the strength, and the faith to do that.

Amen.

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Posted on Feb 18, 2018

Subtraction—sermon for 18 February 2018—Lent 1

Subtraction

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Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds Flickr via Compfight cc

February 18, First Sunday in Lent:

Psalm 25:1-9;
Genesis 9:8-171 Peter 3:18-22Mark 1:9-15

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

We’re still hearing voices.

That same voice that we heard on the first Sunday of Epiphany, the voice we heard last week…it echoes again today.

Noah hears it. Jesus hears it…(maybe we do too).

We’ll hear it once more at the end of Lent…Just as we’re about to enter Jerusalem in triumph. Just as it looks like everything is going to be great! Just before all our hopes get crushed, and we are left with nothing but that empty, black pit—the reality of our denial…our betrayal.

Jesus hears that voice and is immediately driven into the wilderness. From this wilderness he begins a journey—a journey he keeps beaconing us to accompany him on—and we do…a ways…but it’s hard…and we fall, and fail…Because the journey moves from this voice declaring “You are my Child, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased,”—it moves from being bathed in this glorious proclamation, to a voice in agony, crying from the cross, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me!”

The journey moves from hearing God’s voice, and knowing God’s presence, to knowing only God’s silence…sensing only God’s absence. Of course, there’s more to the story than that…but confronting that absence is a crucial part…

Meister Eckhart, the 13th century German mystic, said: “God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction.” [Source]

God is not found by adding anything, but by subtracting.

That’s what this journey is…it’s a process of subtracting…of letting go…of clearing out what is not needed…and discovering, and holding onto the only thing that is needed.

We have to remember that this is also the journey God takes with us…this is God’s own journey. We heard the story today of how God established a covenant with Noah, and every living creature—(I think that’s really interesting—that early covenant is not just with us, but with every living thing). God establishes a covenant yet remains aloof…somewhat apart from all us creatures. God’s got that reminder in the sky (I think that’s really interesting too…apparently God needs reminders). But you know the rest of the story…and you know that remaining aloof doesn’t work out so well. So God, in Jesus, does something radical. God subtracts. God gives up…God empties…Describing this in a letter to the church at Philippi, Paul says “Though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but emptied himself,…taking human form…humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8).

Jesus emptied himself…God empties God’s self…even to the point of death…even to the point of non-existence…for us…for the sake of all of us creatures…because it’s out of that black pit of nothingness that Easter, and ultimate reconciliation, is birthed.

The spiritual journey is more about subtraction than addition.

There’s a pretty well known Zen story, about a student who goes to seek out a master.

The master invites the student in and offers tea. As the student talks about how excited they are about working with the master…and how influential the master has already been the students life…the master gets the tea pot and two cups…and the student goes on about all their studies, and accomplishments, and struggles…and the master begins pouring the tea…as the student talks the master fills the cup to the brim, and then keeps pouring, and the tea begins to overflow and pours down the sides of the cup and over the table and onto the floor…and the student—still talking—finally realizes what is happening and thinking the master may have lost it says, “Stop. What are you doing? You’re spilling it everywhere.” The master stops. Looks at the tea cup, and then at the student and says…”You are just like this tea cup…you’re already so full of all your own ideas…I can’t teach you anything until you empty your cup.”

The spiritual life is more about subtraction than addition…What do you need to do to empty your cup? What do you need to let go of? What do you need to clear out of your life?

In Lent, as in our whole spiritual life, we begin with that reminder that we and everyone (everything) else is a beloved child of God, and along the journey we shed or lose or deny or betray that belovedness…until we are aware only of God’s absence. God walks this path with us…picking us up when we fall, healing us, teaching us…and emptying God’s self out…for us…relinquishing all the power that God has until all that is left…all that remains…is love.

Amen.

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