29 May 2011/Easter 6A - John 14:15-21/Acts 17:22-31
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
“The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.”
Jesus talks about the gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul talks about God. We speak of God, Jesus and Holy Spirit as being One. We speak of God, Jesus and Holy Spirit as “Being,” capital “B”. Just where does God as Trinity live and move and have their being? What do we think of when we think of eternity? Or, eternal life? We tend to think of eternity and eternal life as more of a place than as Time. Similarly we tend to think of God’s existence, even as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to exist in Space rather than Time, in nature rather than history, as if God is a thing, not a Spirit.
Appealing to the primitive pagan mind, Paul knows that we often find it hard to realize an idea without an image in the realm of Space: As if where there is no image there is no God. So God is thought to live in shrines. We like to think we are beyond all of this, but we revere sacred images, sacred mountains, sacred monuments, sacred buildings, sacred places. Not only in religion, but all nations pay homage to banners and flags, national shrines, monuments to heroes, kings and presidents. We continue to build them year after year.
Desecration of these things of Space is considered sacrilege. Until the shrine, the banner, the place, religious or national, becomes so important that the idea beneath it gets lost and consigned to oblivion. Thus, the memorial object or place becomes an aid to amnesia. We forget why we revere the image, we forget why we are here. For instance, few people today even know what Memorial Day memorializes – begun as a day to remember those who died in the Civil War it has come to be a day to remember all who have died in all of our nation’s wars, but it has been reduced largely to “a day off” or a time to barbeque.
As to religious experience, someone has a spiritual experience at a particular well. That person leaves a stone there to remember the experience. Others go to the well, have similar experiences and also leave a stone there, until one day, a grand Cathedral is built over and around the place of the well. Now people come to worship at the Cathedral because they can no longer see the well, and no one is left to remember the experiences others had at the well. People now only revere the Cathedral, forgetting why people used to come there in the first place.
This problem of identifying God in Space and Things is called idolatry by the Bible. Idolatry is just about the only sin with which the Bible is concerned. Idolatry and Covetousness concern the Bible mightily. Idolatry is when we begin to identify reality with things in Space, until even God becomes thought of more as a thing then as Spirit and Being. Covetousness is when we want things – any things, all things – more than we want God. We come to believe only in what we can see and have. So we commit our lives to three verbs: to want , to have and to do, forgetting that these three verbs only have significance in, and are transcended by, the verb “to be.” Being must precede wanting, having and doing.
So we pursue a life of accumulating things – of wanting, having and doing things. Despite the fact that it is not a thing that lends significance to a moment, but rather a moment that lends significance to a thing, a person or a place. There is a Realm of Time where the goal is not to have, but to be; not to own, but to give; not to control, but to share; not to subdue but to be in accord. And, as it turns out, the Bible pays attention to generations and events more than countries and things; it is more concerned with history than with geography. The Bible is more concerned with Time than with Space.
As we move through the Great Fifty Days of Easter toward the season of Pentecost, we might take note of perhaps the most significant revolution in the history of religions: Israel transformed agricultural festivals into commemorations of historic events. That is, the religious festival that celebrated the spring harvest became Passover, celebrating the escape from slavery in Egypt to freedom in a new land. Pentecost, also originally a harvest festival, became for Israel the celebration of God’s giving us Torah, the first five books of our Bible. Christians, of course, further reinterpreted Pentecost as that point in Time when God in Christ sent his own first gift, the Holy Spirit, so that we might no longer live for ourselves, to complete his work in the world, and bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all. For the Bible historic events in Time hold more spiritual significance than repetitive events in nature. Our God is a God of events: Deliverer from slavery, Giver of Torah, Redeemer through resurrection, Sender of the Holy Spirit - another Advocate, to be with you forever.
To help us to experience and cherish the realm of Time and Spirit God first gave us the Sabbath. Sabbath is a celebration of Time. Sabbath is Spirit in the form of time. With our bodies we belong to space, our spirits and souls aspire to the holy and to soar up to eternity. Eternity is God’s holiness of Time. Sabbath is our entry to the world of Time, Spirit and the Holy.
Holy is perhaps the most distinguished word in the Bible being representative of the majesty of the divine. The oldest piece of music and liturgy in the world sung by the six-winged seraphim before the throne of God is what we Episcopalians call the Sanctus – Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory, Hosanna in the Highest. And what is the very first thing made Holy in the history of the world? A Mountain? An Altar? A statue? An idol? A Temple or Tabernacle? The word “holy” is first used by the God of Creation and it is applied to time: And God blessed the seventh day and made it Holy. When the world began there was only one holiness – the holiness of time, the Sabbath. Our relationship with God, and our deepest understanding of ourselves, depends upon our entering into the realm of Time made Holy, the Sabbath. There is a realm of Time where the goal is not to have, but to be; not to own, but to give; not to control, but to share; not to subdue, but to be in accord.
Yet, Time remains our greatest challenge. We tell ourselves repeatedly over and over again, we have no time. We say this ALL the time. Even though somewhere deep inside ourselves we know that time is essential to our being since it is only in time that there can be togetherness, relationships, fellowship, community, communion, love and light. We share time with others while we try to own space. To learn to share time with others we need to enter the realm of Time.
To know God as spirit, to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, to know who and what we are meant to be requires our entering this realm of Time. Keeping Sabbath is the Holy Habit that offers us a way to meet our greatest challenge and to enter the realm of Time. If we allow ourselves to enter the realm of Sabbath Time, we discover we are already with the God “in whom we live and move and have our being.” We enter eternity here and now. Eternity is not a place it is a time. And the time starts now for anyone who lets go of the tyranny of wanting, having and doing. It will be in such Time as Sabbath time that we learn what it means to love Jesus. “And those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” Amen.
“All week long we are called upon to sanctify life through employing the things of space. On the Sabbath it is given to us to share in the holiness that is in the heart of time. Even when the soul is seared, even when no prayer can come out of our tightened throats, the clean, silent rest of the Sabbath leads us to a realm of endless peace, or to the beginning of an awareness of just what eternity means. There are few ideas in the world of thought which contain so much spiritual power as the idea of Sabbath. Aeons hence, when of many of our cherished theories only shreds remain, that cosmic tapestry will continue to shine. Eternity utters a day.” – Abrahm Joshua Heschel