Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Religion is to be Connected: Part 3

The Gospels are not the same.  Even the ones that look so much alike and are thus called the "synoptics" have interesting differences. Matthew's gospel begins full of dreams and visions directing Jesus' adoptive father Joseph where to go and when to move. Luke's gospel begins the story through Mary's experiences. Both get us to a humble birth acknowledged by stars and celestial choirs.

 Mark seems to be the earthiest and is for sure the one without birth narrative but just take a look at how Jesus displays his power and you have nearly as much of an reality of cosmic proportions as found in the others' beginnings.

The fourth out does the other 3 gospels without question. The prologue, John 1:1-18 is as cosmic and grand and expansive as any calmed storm or multiplication of food, any angel choir or guiding star.

1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. 4 What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

That scale, that dimensionality is maintained throughout John's gospel.  Jesus is always as big as the Word such that John can consistently portray the relationship Jesus has with God as no less than Father and Son, as the two being One.

Together with Mark's outlining, Matthew and Luke show us a Jesus becoming as "big" as God, big enough to sit at His right hand in heaven.  So that there is a determination and authority that grows as the team approaches Jerusalem.

In the fourth gospel that proximity and measure has been seen-to before any starlit birth, or prodigious temple lingering or descent into the Jordan to be baptized by John; before any miracle or argument or prayer.

The connection that Jesus has when he takes, breaks and blesses the bread in the upper room, when he prays from Gethsemene, whenever we hear him talk about being "the way, the truth, and the life," is always the same size and always in oneness with God.

According to John, only Jesus as the Word dwelling among us is connected like Jesus is connected.  Using the perspective of the fourth gospel you could say that only He practices true "religion."

Here's the Easter message from the point of that oneness.  Even in the fourth gospel Jesus hangs on a cross and dies.  In other words, the connection he shares with us as "the human one" is just as real. So what God raises is not just God's self or Son, it is all humanity, all creation, all light, all dwelling, all connections.

Easter is not just the good news that God raised Jesus from the dead, it is the perfection of our religion, our connection with God.  When God raised Jesus we all became connected in a way like no other.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Religion is to be Connected: Part 2

There are lots of ways to name when people come together in worship: churches, families, gatherings, assemblies, communions, parishes, dioceses, conventions, temples, synagogues, mosques, ashrams, monasteries, convents, basilicas, cathedrals, meeting houses, daoguans, candis.  And those are many of the names we use when worship is in one way or another "institutionalized."

I used to meet my friend Rev. Sam Buice at the Duncan Bridge over the Chattahoochee, where he had parked his truck and drive him to where Blue Creek Rd. crossed over the same Chattahoochee before he would climb into his kayak and paddle his way down stream.

The last thing we'd do before his embarking was open our prayerbooks to read Morning Prayer together.  A little less institutionalized, especially if you need a building for it to count, but adequately structured to be on the above list.

These types of gatherings often have to be understood by some under the "spiritual but not religious" banner exactly because the institutional pieces are so cumbersome or pressing.  Most everyone, even those of us who make a living by way of and for the institutional church go alone to the woods in some way but can still share the experience with others.

Yes, many of us have a practice of private devotions, private prayers, private meditation but we are also ready to share from those sources of strength and refreshment.  Indeed, many of us cannot wait to talk about our experiences from in and around those privacies.

In other words, connections matter.  Just like the word religion means our being tied back to God, our individual, personal, spiritual epiphanies and prayers urge us to be with others, to share, to celebrate.

It happens enough to warrant mention that lots of spirituality suffers the absence of others.  Churches, temples, daoguns are a hedge that the institutionalizing grows against the idiosyncrasies we create when we keep our spirits to ourselves.

So I have little problem with the recent FaceBook meme that preferred thinking about God while kayaking over being in church yet thinking about kayaking.

Based on the experience my daughter and I had paddling and double portaging the Oconee between Simonton Bridge and the NFS boat ramp near Hwy 15 and Ward Road north of Greensboro I'd say for several reasons God was mentioned more than enough.

Good or bad, it was more of a religious experience than we intended.  In the end the best part of our "adventure" was what we shared, how we enjoyed and struggled together and still now how we are connected in a way we were not the day before.

I hope our religion has us saying the same about our Advent connections.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Religion is to be Connected: Part 1

Episcopal parishes are named in a wide variety of manners and customs.  Some are given the name of a saint because the date of their founding coincides with that particular saint's commemoration.

Others are affiliated with particular saints because of some ethnic or historical connection.  Some take the first name on the list "Christ" like our kindred in Savannah, St. Simon's (ironic?), Kennesaw, Norcross, Augusta, Cordele, St. Mary's (?), Dublin, and Valdosta. Are there others?

Along with the "Christ churches" are those using one of the other titles bestowed on Jesus: Immanuel, Redeemer, [Our] Savior, King, [Christus] Victor, and Good Shepherd.  There are others.

Advent falls into yet another category that uses significant events or actions of God in Christ to which to pay tribute.  Include with us Epiphany, Nativity, Resurrection, Atonement, or Incarnation.

There are other smaller groups, for instance those relying on some connection to or an event in the life of St. Mary, the Virgin; Assumption, Annunciation, Immaculate Conception, Our Lady, Holy Family.  There are others also.

Also worth noting are those parishes named after the Trinity or some member of the Trinity in particular the third person: Holy Spirit, Holy Comforter. There are also others here.

Lots of ways to name Episcopal parishes and all of them expressions of connection.  By way of "All Saints (yet another name!) we are connected to a long history of exemplary witness in leadership, in scholarship, in missions, and in martyrdom.

By way of its name, our parish is connected to an expression of hope and memory, to an admission to judgement and the acceptance of redemption, to a yearning for completion and reward and to an expectation that even more is soon to happen in our connections with God.

This past Easter Sunday and the days that follow it are the best expression I know of how connected we are to each other and to those before us and to those after us.

Not only have we been joined by some of our number who seldom attend, we have seen extended families filling pews with children and siblings living far away.  Even the way the church fills and forces us to sit closer to each other implies that connection.

Easter is the day that all these connections need to start.  Without Easter there wouldn't be any saints, any notable attributes, any remarkable Marian moments,  any attention on God's sustaining us with a comforting spiritual presence.

Connected is what the church hopes to be.  Connected with God is what the word religion means.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The "Ayes" of the Beholder

I love the way this parish "does Easter."  I especially love how magnificent the flowers have been, rising to heights named in our Sunday gradual psalm as the "horns of the altar." Wow!  What beauty we are given to enjoy!

There's a beauty in all these resurrection events that are the stuff of our Sundays up to Pentecost.  If Jesus had really been there to play by the accepted rules of engagement -- think Peter's sword wielding or Judas' hand forcing or even worse the crowd's vehemence in shouting back to Pilate -- he would have had and he did have every reason to stand on the temple steps with his arms akimbo and spit while saying "I told you so."

The beauty is that he does nothing like that at all.  Instead he stays close to his disciples in their confusion and keeps doing the very same things he was doing before he died.

Look at that moment in Emmaus  "When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them.  And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight." (Luke 24:30-31 RSV)

Do I need to recall the feeding of the 5000 for you?  Or perhaps your remember the upper room.
took, blessed, broke; took, blessed, broke; took, blessed, broke.

I think it is a beautiful thing that Jesus just keeps being Jesus, glorified for sure but still the one who faithfully led and taught and healed and fed.

His leadership is toward a total reorientation of sacrifice,  His teaching is that love is vehicle of God's blessing.  His healing restores those society had excluded.  His feeding is with bread taken, blessed and broken.

I have advocated for our church family to act like we've been raised with Jesus, to take on the posture of belief before we are even able to fully believe, to receive the gift of God's making us worthy.  I have advocated for these things because there is a magnificent beauty in us that we would otherwise squeeze down, cover in shame, and sink into self pity.

I get it that we do not deserve the gift of resurrection.  I don't get that we keep acting like the only way for us to enjoy it is to be physically terminated.  Like my favorite line from Bishop Alexander, "why do we keep acting like the jury is still out?"

Instead, let's allow and behold Jesus the beauty his heart desires, the beauty of his fulfilling sacrifice, the beauty of his consistent presence as one who takes, blesses and breaks.

As we stand to pray and celebrate on these Sundays we can let Jesus take us.  Our standing honors his intent by heading the right direction.  We can let Jesus bless us with a presence that calls us friends, brothers, sisters, beloved, worthy.  We can let Jesus break us to become more than we can imagine doing or becoming on our own.

Alleluia! Christ IS risen! The Lord IS risen, indeed! Alleluia!