Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sermon 7th Sunday after Pentecost 2014




“The coming of the Kingdom starts, not with a grand spectacle, but a hidden presence.” Thus says Dale Allison in his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel.
These past weeks we have been hearing a lot about growth and seeds and things seen and unseen. The Sunday lectionary has jumped around a bit, because Matthew uses a structure for his writing which is not easy to follow if you are not reading very large chunks at once. So he starts one story, interjects another, wanders around a bit and comes back to what he was saying. It is actually the way most of us have conversations, but you have to jump of you want a few concise verses to read in Church!
So the Gospel has a lot of snippets of the Kingdom – a mustard seed, yeast, treasure, a pearl of great price and the allegory of a net of fish. From this we may draw comparisons with small beginnings, growth, unseen action, worth, sacrifice and final judgement. In fact, each of these snippets is a sermon in itself – Matthew is rich with imagery, much of which takes a lot of unpacking and none of which does well with over-simplistic interpretation.
So let’s go back to this idea of the Kingdom of Heaven starting with a hidden presence. That seems to bring us to the heart of some of the things which we have been talking about here at San Pablo over the past few months.
We have talked a lot about Outreach, about the mission which we share to the community in which we are placed. We have thought about what God might be doing in those around us, in a hidden and unnamed way which people might refer to as “spirituality” or “higher being”. We have thought about how important it is to acknowledge that presence and still small voice as something real and important in every human being – whoever they are. Something which is in the essence of creation, which God gives to God’s people, every single one of us.
Then we have talked about that inner life of each person here – that life which seeps out into the world around us. We have talked about being so transformed by that life hidden in God with Christ that we simply overflow with God’s love, even when we are not being deliberately evangelistic. We have remember how we are each growing to that place where our actions are transformed and governed by our life in Christ to the point where we become living examples of Christ and how even through reconciliation after reconciliation, communion after communion, turning after turning we will always be journeying towards that time when that hidden life is our whole life.
We have talked about the inner life of this community, how we must live towards and recognize Christ in each other – even when that is challenging. How we must look at the other as one in whom God is working, but also be aware that sometimes we are called to be agents of change and betterment of relationships between people.
The kingdom starts in a hundred thousand inconspicuous moments of encounter with God and we are asked simply to notice those first shoots, to believe that the bread will rise, to be willing to hand all that we are over to this most precious of stories and make it one with our own.
Remember how a couple of weeks ago I said that Paul keeps getting excited in Romans 8 – it is almost as if he is bubbling over inside with excitement and it gets the better of his formal rabbinic style. He says in our reading today,
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This to me is the climax of Romans, and perhaps of Paul’s writings. Nothing, nothing, nothing will be able to pull us away, gnaw us away or even apathy us away from the love of God – whether we like it or not, whether we believe it or not and whether we want it or not.
That reality should come as an immense relief to us – because it is not just true today it has been true and it will be true for us. Even in your darkest moment, somehow, God was there. Whatever is to come, you are surrounded by the love of God. And that is true not only for you but for everyone else who you encounter – even those who are kicking and screaming their way through this life – everyone has the potential to be able to receive this love, to know this love.
But not to understand this love. We cannot understand because when we try to understand, when we try to own God’s love in clever formulas, or long words we make it less than it is. This is why this one sentence jumps out in Romans – it is simply poetic – it does not try to explain why or how – it just is. This love is hidden and real – yes it jumps out and dances and catches us in its fire but in essence it is mystery because this love is God.
At the end of the Gospel passage today Matthew uses the phrase “scribes for the kingdom”. It is entirely possible that he was talking about himself, but it is also possible he was saying that those who participate willingly in the Good News of Jesus are themselves scribes for the Kingdom. The scribes are those who hold the story of the people, those who have the ability to write for good of for evil. Those whose words give life to the work of God with God’s people.
Knowing that nothing will separate us from love, knowing that God always hangs on – what story are we going to tell. Where are we going to notice the hidden presence of God in our world and how might that be written into the great narrative of which we are all a part.
The Church has a bad reputation for shouting – telling others what they should do, how they should be, who they should love – but what if we are in the business of gathering up lives and stories into this great fabric of love, weaving together the world around us, carefully, gently, slowly , piece by precious piece bringing those whom God will never let go of to a knowledge of that love.
Nothing will separate us from the love of God, let’s commit to listening and discovering what that really might mean – if we dare to believe it.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

trinity sunday 2014



I wonder how exciting it was to be among the disciples whom Jesus gave the commission to go and tell the story of the Gospel to the whole world. My guess is that you could not be in that group and not be at least a little fired up and ready to go out and make a difference in the world.
Of course, we rationalize, they had Jesus standing right there – if Jesus was standing right here we might find ourselves a little more enthusiastic about getting on with the job of sharing the story.  But here we are, back at Trinity Sunday, the week when the sermon is bound to contain examples of things which are three, but which can be seen as a unity, which kind of explain a complicated doctrine, but not really.
Trinity Sunday is often a bit of a let down. As a preacher I have done my fair share of trying to find satisfactory illustrations of the Trinity but there is always a hole there, always something of the mystery which cannot be expressed by physical objects. God in three persons, one. One substance but three. Coequal, coeternal…you get the point. This is the Sunday when we get to use the big words and yet often fail to deal with the reality of a God who is engaged and exciting.
Trinity Sunday is a sort of homecoming. We celebrate the unity and diversity of God in white, the color we use for all festivals but then we turn and begin ordinary time. The Trinity is the beginning of our ordinary, of our every day, of who we are as Church. The liturgical color changes to green. Not some sort of drudgey color but the color of new life and growth. The color of days surrounded by sunlight and happiness. This is our ordinary.
Our ordinary is rejoicing in a God who lives in community, who dwells in unity and invites us along in an eternal dance of light and love. Our ordinary is to be so in love with, so caught up in the story of Jesus that it just spills out of us, because there is nowhere else it can go. That is, I imagine, what those first disciples experience. Something which took all of them, something which became all of them, something which filled them in a way in which they have never been filled before.
Last week I spoke about the unpredictable Holy Spirit – the beautiful but sometimes roaring Spirit of God which inhabited those first disciples. Too often we forget that, our green goes from vibrant life to a dull memory of a celebration long forgotten.
Of course, life is not always easy, we have real problems, we have things we do not agree on –but then where do we turn. Do we imagine we live in a shadowy world of religious irrelevance or do we begin to believe that this story which we carry does more to unite us, more to make real a dancing lively Trinity than we could ever believe.
We have lost so much confidence in  the power of God in Trinity – that God is anything real at all or makes a difference. The Church, churches, individuals are all so caught up in our own stories that we forget to engage, be changed by and be empowered by the story which Jesus sends us to tell.
Of course, the great story of the Gospel must intertwine with human lives, of course it must be lived and not just spoken – but how many of us have real confidence in the power of the Gospel to transform, how many of us can seize the Good News as something which we can carry with us and which will change lives.
Too often we are caught in denominational politics and apology. Well, we think, we cannot tell so and so because they might not like the Church. Either we think that will devastate us, to have someone we care about not care about the things we do, or actively reject them. Or worse, we think to ourselves that there are a lot of things about our church which we do not like and so how can we sell that to others? We become embarrassed, not only because to follow through with the Gospel in our own lives is deeply radical but also because the place where we express faith is not something which we would want to share for fear of rejection or, actually, putting someone off the faith.
If this is the case, if any of this is the case, then we are failing miserably. We are failing to take up the great commission to  take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Now, I know all too well that one size does not fit all but what are we doing to provide a variety of styles and offerings in our churches to which we can genuinely invite people. How often do we ask these two questions – first; who would I like to invite to come to Church, and secondly; what needs to be here to help them make that first step into Christian community.
There is a more radical question to ask and that is do we invite people to Church as a first step of faith at all. Do we expect someone with little formal faith background to walk into an Episcopal Church and make sense of it.  What is there here in our worship which speaks of anything beyond ourselves, that untouchable presence, that excitement of God in Trinity? What is it that tells those who we invite in that this is a place of excitement, of  heaven touching earth? That these, we, are people who are deeply engaged with the story?
We are building kingdom, but are we sure we are building God’s Kingdom and not something else which is more “us” shaped. What does God’s kingdom here on earth even look like? What does Jesus actually say and do? How do we live as those whose ordinary is completely extraordinary?
Sometimes we come to this table broken and barely holding on – but most of the time we are challenged not just to receive comfort but to be sent in to the world as those who have been changed by this pause in time. This moment where into creation, God enters and makes real to us His presence in Bread and Wine. What difference does that make? Do we just feel a bit better for a few minutes before the world swallows us up again or is there something else, some energy, some renewing and redirection of our stories, and our stories in Christ?
I would challenge all of us to go from this Trinity Sunday with a renewed sense of the importance of our task. This is not something to do when we have more time, of when  the kids are older, or when we have done this and  that. This is something which we are called to today and every day – to make sense of the story of Jesus Christ in our own lives and to notice that story being played out, often without the words of faith, in the world around us.
This is our story and this must be a song, a song which fills us and lets us dance with the God of Trinity. Supremely lovely, filled with Grace and with the confidence and presence of the Holy Spirit.
I bind unto myself today, the strong name of the Trinity. Christ be with me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ within me,  Christ  above me, Christ beneath me, Christ in friend and Christ in stranger. Let that be real in you, let that be compelling and in the name of Christ go forth Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that He has commanded you. Amen.

trinity sunday 2014



I wonder how exciting it was to be among the disciples whom Jesus gave the commission to go and tell the story of the Gospel to the whole world. My guess is that you could not be in that group and not be at least a little fired up and ready to go out and make a difference in the world.
Of course, we rationalize, they had Jesus standing right there – if Jesus was standing right here we might find ourselves a little more enthusiastic about getting on with the job of sharing the story.  But here we are, back at Trinity Sunday, the week when the sermon is bound to contain examples of things which are three, but which can be seen as a unity, which kind of explain a complicated doctrine, but not really.
Trinity Sunday is often a bit of a let down. As a preacher I have done my fair share of trying to find satisfactory illustrations of the Trinity but there is always a hole there, always something of the mystery which cannot be expressed by physical objects. God in three persons, one. One substance but three. Coequal, coeternal…you get the point. This is the Sunday when we get to use the big words and yet often fail to deal with the reality of a God who is engaged and exciting.
Trinity Sunday is a sort of homecoming. We celebrate the unity and diversity of God in white, the color we use for all festivals but then we turn and begin ordinary time. The Trinity is the beginning of our ordinary, of our every day, of who we are as Church. The liturgical color changes to green. Not some sort of drudgey color but the color of new life and growth. The color of days surrounded by sunlight and happiness. This is our ordinary.
Our ordinary is rejoicing in a God who lives in community, who dwells in unity and invites us along in an eternal dance of light and love. Our ordinary is to be so in love with, so caught up in the story of Jesus that it just spills out of us, because there is nowhere else it can go. That is, I imagine, what those first disciples experience. Something which took all of them, something which became all of them, something which filled them in a way in which they have never been filled before.
Last week I spoke about the unpredictable Holy Spirit – the beautiful but sometimes roaring Spirit of God which inhabited those first disciples. Too often we forget that, our green goes from vibrant life to a dull memory of a celebration long forgotten.
Of course, life is not always easy, we have real problems, we have things we do not agree on –but then where do we turn. Do we imagine we live in a shadowy world of religious irrelevance or do we begin to believe that this story which we carry does more to unite us, more to make real a dancing lively Trinity than we could ever believe.
We have lost so much confidence in  the power of God in Trinity – that God is anything real at all or makes a difference. The Church, churches, individuals are all so caught up in our own stories that we forget to engage, be changed by and be empowered by the story which Jesus sends us to tell.
Of course, the great story of the Gospel must intertwine with human lives, of course it must be lived and not just spoken – but how many of us have real confidence in the power of the Gospel to transform, how many of us can seize the Good News as something which we can carry with us and which will change lives.
Too often we are caught in denominational politics and apology. Well, we think, we cannot tell so and so because they might not like the Church. Either we think that will devastate us, to have someone we care about not care about the things we do, or actively reject them. Or worse, we think to ourselves that there are a lot of things about our church which we do not like and so how can we sell that to others? We become embarrassed, not only because to follow through with the Gospel in our own lives is deeply radical but also because the place where we express faith is not something which we would want to share for fear of rejection or, actually, putting someone off the faith.
If this is the case, if any of this is the case, then we are failing miserably. We are failing to take up the great commission to  take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Now, I know all too well that one size does not fit all but what are we doing to provide a variety of styles and offerings in our churches to which we can genuinely invite people. How often do we ask these two questions – first; who would I like to invite to come to Church, and secondly; what needs to be here to help them make that first step into Christian community.
There is a more radical question to ask and that is do we invite people to Church as a first step of faith at all. Do we expect someone with little formal faith background to walk into an Episcopal Church and make sense of it.  What is there here in our worship which speaks of anything beyond ourselves, that untouchable presence, that excitement of God in Trinity? What is it that tells those who we invite in that this is a place of excitement, of  heaven touching earth? That these, we, are people who are deeply engaged with the story?
We are building kingdom, but are we sure we are building God’s Kingdom and not something else which is more “us” shaped. What does God’s kingdom here on earth even look like? What does Jesus actually say and do? How do we live as those whose ordinary is completely extraordinary?
Sometimes we come to this table broken and barely holding on – but most of the time we are challenged not just to receive comfort but to be sent in to the world as those who have been changed by this pause in time. This moment where into creation, God enters and makes real to us His presence in Bread and Wine. What difference does that make? Do we just feel a bit better for a few minutes before the world swallows us up again or is there something else, some energy, some renewing and redirection of our stories, and our stories in Christ?
I would challenge all of us to go from this Trinity Sunday with a renewed sense of the importance of our task. This is not something to do when we have more time, of when  the kids are older, or when we have done this and  that. This is something which we are called to today and every day – to make sense of the story of Jesus Christ in our own lives and to notice that story being played out, often without the words of faith, in the world around us.
This is our story and this must be a song, a song which fills us and lets us dance with the God of Trinity. Supremely lovely, filled with Grace and with the confidence and presence of the Holy Spirit.
I bind unto myself today, the strong name of the Trinity. Christ be with me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ within me,  Christ  above me, Christ beneath me, Christ in friend and Christ in stranger. Let that be real in you, let that be compelling and in the name of Christ go forth Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that He has commanded you. Amen.