Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Spirit of Truth

Pentecost 2009 – Acts 2: 1-21/John 15: 26-27, 16:4b-15
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
The Spirit of Truth
“How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language.”
The Fourth Gospel as explicated by Archbishop William Temple in his Readings in John’s Gospel (McMillan and Co, London:1952) helps us to hear what is at stake in the story of Pentecost.

Our attention must be drawn to our Lord’s own description of the Spirit, the Holy Comforter, as the Spirit of Truth. Temple observes, “…one way of summarizing the purpose of Christ’s coming is to say that He came in order that the Spirit might come. That inward power of God converting desire itself is a result of the disclosure of the love of God and the response which it wins. So the Son is the cause of the Spirit’s coming; He sends Him. Yet, it is no less true that the Spirit proceedeth from the Father; because the Father is infinite love the personal activity of that love ever goes forth. Not only in Jesus Christ does the Spirit of Truth touch the hearts of men. He spoke to and through Plato, as the early Christian Fathers fully recognized; and has spoken through many a seer, poet and prophet both within and outside the Canon of Holy Scripture.” P.275

This makes me think that we often see the Pentecost event in far too literal a fashion. Hearing the The Spirit of Truth, each of us, “in our own native language” need not be restricted to Parthian, Egyptian, French, German, and all the languages we are tempted to have read on Pentecost morning.

Why can’t we find the Spirit of Truth in the language of poetry, prophecy, mysticism, as well as Philosophy, Science, Painting, Music and so on? Within each human language exist multiple languages, all seeking to help us hear more clearly what the Spirit of Truth sent by Jesus, proceeding from God the Father, means for us to hear.

Hear what people throughout time, from different cultures and different backgrounds have had to say about the life of the Spirit:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!
Isaiah 6th Century BC Israel

The Master has no possessions.
The more he does for others, the happier he is.
The more he gives to others, the wealthier he is.
Lao Tzu 5th BC China

Turn your attention within, for the fountain of all that is good lies within,
And it is always ready to pour forth, if you continually delve in.
Marcus Aurelius 2nd Century Greece

Thank God! You hadn’t the means or you may have been a Pharaoh.
The prayer of Moses was, “Lord, I am in need of thee.”
The way of Moses is all hopelessness and need
And it is the only way to God.
Rumi 13th Century Persia

One may never have heard the Word “Christ,”
But be closer to God
Than a priest or nun.
Thomas Aquinas, 13th Century Italy

God and I have become like two giant fat people
Living in a tiny boat.
We keep bumping into each other
And laughing.
Hafiz 14th Century Persia

The earth looked at him and he began to dance.
Mira knows why, for her soul too is in love.
If you cannot picture God in a way that always strengthens you,
You need to read more of my Poems.
Mira 16th Century India

It’s the old shell trick with a twist:
I saw God put Himself in one of your pockets.
You are bound to find Him.
Tukaram 17th Century India

O, feed me this day, Holy Spirit, with
The fragrance of the fields and the
Freshness of the oceans which you have
Made, and help me to hear and to hold
In all dearness those exacting and wonderful
Words of our Lord Christ Jesus, saying,
Follow me.
Mary Oliver 21st Century America

The importance for us to listen to all these languages of humanity comes from the Why of the Spirit being sent to us: to bear witness to Jesus, so that we also may, indeed must, bear witness since we have been with Jesus “from the beginning.”

We are to be Co-Witnesses with the Holy Spirit – this is our calling! We are with Him from the beginning in our Baptism where we are incorporated into the Body of Christ. We become God’s Beloved as Jesus is God’s Beloved. We are called to testify!

Pentecost means we each must find our own voices, our own languages, with which to proclaim the goodness of the Lord, so that everyone may hear in their own native tongues the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Pentecost means hearing The Spirit of Truth in all its languages throughout all time so that all that we say and all that we do bears witness to the Truth and gives Glory to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


17 May 2009 Easter 6B * John 15:9-17
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
Ubuntu – pronounced oom-boon-too – a Bantu South African word that means “I in you and you in me.” According to Archbishop Desmond Tutu: A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed. One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu - the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality - Ubuntu - you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.
In a word, this is what Jesus has been talking about in his farewell discourse in John’s gospel. It marks a shift in our relationship with Jesus. He calls his disciples friends. They are no longer called servants, even if this is the most often used title for the disciples, but friends. Not simply to be nice to one another or to raise the level of comradeship, but because for Jesus to be a friend is to be one who does what our Lord commands. We are called to be friends and we have been called to build up friendship among ourselves and, perhaps just as importantly, with those beyond the fellowship of our worshipping community. We are called to a life of Ubuntu.

Our job is one of response. We do not choose Jesus. Jesus chooses us. And Jesus appoints us to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the father will “give you whatever you ask him in my name.”

So why, we may ask, are our prayers not always answered? The usual stock answer is, “We get what we need, not what we desire.” Sure enough, our collect is suggestive of this, saying that we “may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire.”

We can all agree, we desire an awful lot. Beginning with the perennial pageant hope for world peace, and ending perhaps with the power ball number in the Mega Million Drawing!

Yet, all this getting what we pray for and bearing fruit that lasts, and even joy that is full and complete, depends on our response to Jesus choosing us and appointing us. Simply put, do we accept being chosen? And if so, how do we respond?

Our response is meant to hinge on our understanding of two actions of response on our part: to abide in Christ and to keep his commandments.

Abide is not a word that gets much use these days. It may help that in the Greek text it is a word derived from the same root as “to dwell.” Which helps in understanding why it is we are meant to abide in Christ, not simply with Christ. As one professor of preaching once remarked, it is all in getting the correct preposition!

We are to dwell in Christ, just as Christ came down out of residence in the Godhead where he had dwelt in all time before creation and came to “dwell among us” as John has it in chapter 1. The closest liturgical expression of this is in Eucharistic Prayer 1 of Rite One in our Book of Common Prayer:
“And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.”

This is what it means to abide. Note the first person plural: that he may dwell in us and we in him. Not that he may dwell in me and me in him. This is difficult for our highly individualistic, post-enlightenment minds to get around. He seeks to dwell amongst us so that we might dwell in Him.

Thus the importance of being friends, friends who love one another as He loves us, laying down his life for His friends. This is meant to be the default setting, the operative place from which we live – as one Body in Christ, one body with one another. Ubuntu. So if we are Ubuntu with Christ, one with God, whatever we ask for will already be one with God.

In contemplative prayer we spend time in what is called “practice” attempting to connect with this mutual indwelling relationship with God in Christ. Regular practice of contemplative prayer, twenty minutes once or twice a day, helps us to identify that sense of mutual indwelling with Christ - ubuntu.

As Sally Chiroff observed the other evening, once this place is experienced, it seems natural that that is the place from which we are meant to live our lives, thus being able to bear fruit that lasts. We tend to think of this place of mutual indwelling as some place to which we retreat from daily life. Sally said, “Perhaps we are meant to live there all the time, and from time to time step out of that place back into the world as the pattern.” I could not have said it better. It is what our prayers and gospel are all about.

We sense that we are just too busy and too scheduled and too programmed to do this, when the truth may be that until we live into this mutual indwelling, we have no idea how to arrange our lives to reflect the kind of friendship Jesus offers us. He chooses us, we are meant to respond. Will we take the time to respond? That is perhaps the central question of faith. Given that we stand to obtain promises which exceed all that we can desire, it seems to make sense to at least give it a try!

So it is we pray, “Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we [might love] you in all things and above all things….” All things. That would be every thing. It’s asking a lot, but it just might work. Jesus thinks so. How about you? Ubuntu. Amen.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

One Voice Calls Us By Name

3 May 2009/Easter 4B * Acts 4:5-12/1 John 3:16-24/John10:11-18
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills
“The wrath of God is his relentless compassion, pursuing us even when we are at our worst.”
-Maggie Ross, The Fire of Your Life [Paulist Press, NY:1983] p. 137
In Acts, a lame man has been healed, and Peter and John have been hauled before some sort of ecclesiastical court to explain why the lame man is not still lame. Our gospel narrative begins way back in Chapter 8 where Jesus is accused of being possessed by a demon, then in Chapter 9 he heals the blind man by the Pool of Siloam.
Then comes one of the great “I AM” passages, “I am the good shepherd,” which we have a portion of this morning, and which ends:
“There was again a great division among them because of these words. Many of them said, ‘He has a demon and is mad; why listen to him?’ Others said, ‘These are not the sayings of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?’”
Which perhaps asks the central question, “Why listen to him?” Why listen to Jesus? Why do we listen to Jesus at all?
After all, there are so many others competing for our attention. There is, of course, the president and all his official and unofficial spokespersons now issuing almost daily speeches and announcements to direct our attention away from the country’s problems and instead focus on their agenda. Then there are mayors and governors all demanding we listen to them. There are corporate interests trying to convince us to use more and more of their products. There are commercial interests on TV, in the paper, on the radio, and calling us at home every day trying to market and sell more things, more services, and put us deeper into debt. There are family members unhappy with the family, there are neighbors unhappy with the neighborhood, there are immigrants looking for some shred of dignity, there are talk show hosts who know it all, and of course every lay person, deacon, priest, and bishop trying to convince us that they know what is best for the church.
Like those at the end of the story and those in the Acts of the Apostles who are offended by what Jesus says and does, or even what is done in his name, there are all these competing interests and voices trying to get us to turn away from Jesus and turn our lives over to them instead.
Lord, you have spread a table before us in the presence of those who trouble us. Lord, we know that you want us to listen to you. Lord, if you are listening for just one minute, just for one second of one minute, can you please shut out all the competing voices, interests, merchants, politicians and commentators for just a few minutes of silence? Lord, can you please still the waters, can you please make us lie down in green pastures, can your rod and your staff please, Lord, comfort us, touch us, protect us and heal us? Lord, please give us the time, the place, and the space to listen to you!
When we look and listen to the shrill voices that surround us on all sides every day, we begin to know the plight of the one who gave us the Twenty-Third Psalm. And if we are paying attention at all, we will stop and listen for the Good Shepherd – the Beautiful One. We will stop and listen for Jesus. And what we will hear if we are listening closely is just two words: “I am.”
For people of faith, for people of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus, those are the only two words we need to hear: “I am.”
Jesus says, “I am.” The people of God have heard these words before. Standing barefoot, in front of a bush that burns and is not consumed, we hear a voice and we ask, like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, “Who are you?”
The answer comes back, “I am who I am. … I am what I will be. … just tell them I AM sent you.”
The one who says “I am,” also says, “I know my own, and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for my sheep.”
Let’s pause for just a moment and understand what is being said here. We are known. We all want nothing more than to be known. We spend a lifetime looking for relationships, reflecting on experiences, searching for someone who knows us, or even more fundamentally, we search to know ourselves. There is no doubt about it, the most fundamental human condition is a desire to be known.
All these other voices competing for our attention do not really want to know us. They can’t possibly know us. But there is one who does. The one who says, “I am,” wants to know us. In fact the one who says, “I am,” already knows us just as the Father knows him.
God knows us. And in that knowledge, we know God. If we really let ourselves hear what Jesus is saying, we can come to know God. Not a lot of propositions about God, not things about God, but we can experience the reality that is God.
This naturally frightens us. But such fear is not mere sentiment, but rather manifests itself in a way of life, as the First Letter of John speaks about it – a way of life that shows we respect the majesty and power of the God who says, “I am” - a life that ought to lay down its life for another.
As verse 16 says: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuse help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
For those who listen to Jesus, the shepherd becomes the Paschal lamb slain on the feast of the Passover to save us from our sins, and we are the sheep of his pasture. We are poor sheep like those he tends and leads beside still waters. We become his people, his body and blood for the world.
There are many competing voices. But only one voice calls us each by name. Only one voice knows us by name. Only one voice speaks the great, “I am.” That voice is Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.