Saturday, June 25, 2011

Who Are We?

26 June 2011 - The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter's at Ellicott Mills
Matthew 10:40-42
"Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me
welcomes the one who sent me."

Jesus identifies those of us who would be his disciples with himself, and identifies himself with God. We are created imago Dei, in the image of God, and therefore to know ourselves we need to know something about God. Enter the so-called doctrine of the Trinity.

The Holy Trinity means to describe our experiences of different dimensions of God - or different dimensions of God's being. Recognizing, of course, that God is the Ground of all Being - and therefore any attempt to describe or depict God is fraught with danger - thus the prohibition of idols or icons at the outset of the 10 Commandments. Yet, we cannot help ourselves from wondering and pondering the mystery that is our God.

The combination of the Enlightenment (new emphasis on the "individual"/rise of so-called scientific inquiry) and the Reformation (attempts to recapture the essence of being The Church/reforming or eliminating certain practices and doctrine) has led to confusion and a diminishment of our understanding of this core Christian doctrine. A high regard for logic and reasoning, coupled with a belief that we can understand and describe everything as objective truth, contributes to the so-called post-modern/post-Christian "problem."

Also there is a language problem - three "persons" in English sounds like three discreet individuals, whereas three "personas" originally indicated three different parts played by a single stage actor with the help of masks. When formulating the creeds and other core doctrine, a linguistic breakdown between Latin and Greek speaking Christians created problems.

The Holy Spirit is perhaps the least talked about dimension of God's being - and yet in a way it is the first to make an appearance. Ruach in Hebrew, and Pneuma in Greek, both can mean breath, wind, and spirit. So it is "In the beginning..." we find God's ruach hovering, blowing, across the face of the waters in those moments when God speaks creation into being! Then in Genesis 2 God breathes into a handful of dust to create the first person-ruach. So we pray that our hearts be cleansed by the “inspiration” – breathing in – of the Holy Spirit.

In Acts it is God's Holy Wind that moves the early followers of The Way to do things they may never have imagined! The Holy Spirit moves us to do things we would never think of doing - this spirit calls us and sends us. This ruach, this pneuma is not at all separate from God - it is an essential dimension of God's being - thus the analogy to breath. Spirit is God's breath, our breath, the source of life for everything that is. We "inspire" - breathe in - this breath and it is life.

The Fourth Gospel recalls all of this as it also opens with the words, "In the beginning...." The evangelist John takes us back to a time before creation (setting aside the problem of time altogether). The Word, the logos, is with God and IS God - and repeatedly we find Jesus saying, "I Am.." These repeated "I Am" sayings recall the voice from the burning bush to Moses - "I am who I am...tell them I Am sent you."

So Jesus, the logos, God, comes to dwell among us, becoming flesh and blood and moving into the neighborhood. Doing so, Jesus is that dimension of God's being that comes to demonstrate what it means and how to be imago Dei, formed in the image of God. That to be human is to love God and love neighbor, offering the Good Samaritan as an example..

Jesus shows us how to be - how to be God's Beloved, how to be imago Dei - how to claim what and who we are created to be. He moves among us, teaching, healing, feeding, welcoming all kinds and conditions of men and women. He comes to save us from ourselves and to save us for God's own self - the God who yearns for us to be his Beloved People.

Jesus also enables God to understand the Human Condition of sin, alienation, loneliness, suffering or whatever other words we might call upon to signify where we find ourselves. God in Jesus experiences what we experience every day, including the very worst we can serve up on the cross.

Jesus goes even further to help us to know God. In Matthew 25 Jesus indentifies God's very being, God's self, with the poorest of the poor, the most suffering of the suffering. Just as today in the 10th chapter he identifies us with "these little ones." "As you serve them you serve me," he says. It should be remembered that the early Christian community, long before the Church became the organizing institution of the Roman Empire, was made up principally of these "little ones," that disciples of Jesus are urged to identify with and serve the little ones of the world. So that in serving those with whom Jesus self identifies, we are serving the God of the great "I am," the God of creation, the God whose very breath and spirit give life and light and love to all that is, seen and unseen.

How we struggle to know what this means. How we struggle to accept that there is a deeper reality that remains unseen. How we struggle to trust that not all things are visible, not all things are known, that not all things can be known. And yet, God can be known in Jesus.

And as an expression of God's deep and abiding love for us, he sent Jesus. Jesus who interprets what it is we are going through, and Jesus who interprets our prayers and adoration to God.
Jesus is our "hotline" - our red phone- to God. And what we pray for is the Holy Spirit - that holy breath and wind - to blow upon us, to fill our apostolic sails and send us into the world as icons of the presence of God's love for others - all others. We pray to God, through Jesus, for the Holy Spirit. It is all about getting our prepositions right!

Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not separate from but are dimensions of God's being and mean to show us the way back to the God from whom we are likely to stray. God is at home, it is we who have gone out for a walk, says the blessed Eckhart. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are the dimensions by which we communicate with God and God with us - Emmanuel.

God as Trinity has been described as The School of Charity, The Household of Love, The Transcendent Community of perfect love, wisdom and creativity. Most of all as One God.

Even after a lifetime association, however well or intimately you know someone, you can never completely know another human being. Still less, can we completely know the extraordinary transcendent community of perfect Love. (Questions of Truth, Polkinghorne and Beale, John Knox, 2009).

And yet, it has been given to us to be those people who can and do know Jesus. What an incredible and humbling gift that is. He is here. He is with us. He is known to us in the breaking of the bread, in the giving and receiving of The Peace, in all the ways in which we let him live in us so that we might do something beautiful for God this day. To Christ be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Shalom My Friends

12 June 2011/ Pentecost - Acts 2: 1-21/John 20: 19-23
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Mount Calvary, Baltimore, MD

Make Things New That Never Were

We name you wind, power, force, and then
imaginatively, “Third Person.”
We name you and you blow …
blow hard,
blow cold,
blow hot,
blow strong,
blow gentle,
blow new …
Blowing the world out of nothing to abundance,
Blowing the church out of despair to new life,
Blowing little David a shepherd boy to messiah,
Blowing to make things new that never were.
So blow this day, wind,
blow here and there, power,
blow even us, force,
Rush us beyond ourselves,
Rush us beyond our hopes,
Rush us beyond our fears, until we enact your newness in the world.
Come, come spirit. Amen.
-Walter Brueggemann, Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth, (Fortress, Minneapolis: 2003), p.167

This day we call Pentecost is about making things new that never were. Even Pentecost is made new. Formerly an agricultural feast, then a celebration of God giving God’s people Israel Torah, the first five books of the Bible, and now it is transformed again as that day when the wind blew, or the breath blew depending on your reading, and the gift of the Holy Spirit transformed fearful, hiding, cowering people into hopeful, public, proclaiming people.

That is, there is some blowing going on: “a violent wind” in Acts, a breath in John. In my favorite Terry Gilliam movie, Baron Munchausen, the Baron has some sidekicks: one with incredible vision, one with incredible speed, one with incredible strength, and one with incredible lung-power. Gustabus can blow over an entire platoon of soldiers with a single breath! So when we read of Jesus blowing on the disciples, it may in fact be more like Gustabus than the gentle, intimate breath felt on one’s neck from the one sitting next to you.

When we hear of blowing we are to think, as Brueggeman calls us, of this Wind, Breath, Spirit of God hovering over the waters of chaos we call creation in Genesis 1: perhaps hurricane like winds and forces! The same God of Israel breathes into a handful of dirt to give life to the first person in the very next chapter, Genesis 2.

We are not to concern ourselves with the Bible making up its mind. God’s Spirit-Wind is capable of taking any form, force or character. It is the power of life, the power of creation, the power that can blow something out of nothing!

In both accounts the disciples are hiding behind closed doors – they are fearful. Jesus, God in the flesh, comes in and says, “Peace be with you,” followed by a display of his wounds on his hands and his side. As if to say, “See, here, this is what fearful people do to others. Receive my spirit and be not afraid.” Then he says, “Peace be with you. As the Father sends me so I send you.” Then he breathes on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit!” Then he adds, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Perhaps the single most misunderstood text we have. We tend to think we are empowerd to forgive or not forgive, when really the sense of it is, how do you want your forgiveness? As he teaches them to pray, forgive as you wish to be forgiven. Don’t forgive and carry it with you forever. That would be retaining the sin – it still has a hold on you. Those who feel the breath are to become a community of forgiveness, forgiving the way we would like to be forgiven.

How hard is that? Look at his hands and his side. And consider what is really being said here: get outside of this locked room! Get out in the world! It’s time to make things new that never were! No time to sit around and be afraid. It is time to blow the world into a new world of Shalom and Forgiveness. It will not be easy. Just look at me. But it is what the world needs more than anything – a community of God’s Shalom.

Shalom. That would be his word, not mine. He spoke Hebrew or Aramaic, and “Peace” is about as anemic a translation of Shalom as we can imagine. Shalom means justice and peace for all people. Not some people, not a lot of people, not most people, but ALL people! Shalom means respect and dignity for ALL people. Shalom means seeking and serving Christ in ALL people. Shalom means taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves.

One day several years ago our daughter Cerny asked me, “Dad, what’s the common good?” This was her homework assignment – to define the common good. We talked about it. I should have said, “Jesus calls the common good shalom. Jesus calls us to use the gifts we have been given to continue his work of reconciliation in the world – for the common good.”

Jesus breathes on us. God’s breath gives us life. God’s breath or spirit gives us energy! God in Christ Jesus is sending us out of doors! God sends us to bring God’s shalom to all people. God’s breath, wind and spirit empower us to serve the common good! God in Christ Jesus calls us to make things new that never were before!

This is Pentecost. It does not get any simpler than this: Time to make things new that never were!