Sunday, May 30, 2010

Trinity Sunday Year C

The Rev. Melanie Dickson Lemburg
Trinity Sunday Year C
May 30, 2010

In her book Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor tells several anecdotes to her Atlanta friends to explain her decision to leave a large Episcopal church in the city to take up the call as rector of a small church in a small town in northern Georgia. She writes, “When my friends in Atlanta asked me how things were going in north Georgia, I told them that I was living in a Flannery O’Connor story. I would spend one afternoon visiting a septuagenarian who lived in an octagonal house that her late husband had built for her, eating kiwis that she grew on her clothesline and listening to her reminiscences of Isadora Duncan. The next day I would take communion to a man who was back in the hospital for the third operation on his knee, which was crushed when his pickup truck rolled backward and pinned him against his trailer. After church on Trinity Sunday, I came out to my car to find a miniature Three Musketeers candy bar on the hood. Underneath it was a note from the deeply eccentric woman who lived across the street from the church. ‘One for all and all for one,’ the note read. ‘Happy Trinity Sunday.’[i]
So, Happy Trinity Sunday. Our readings for today speak of all the hosts of heaven singing Holy, holy to a great God seated upon a throne. They resound with might and eminence and mystery. Jesus speaks of the Spirit of Truth which will come to guide the disciples and us into all truth, and he reemphasizes his relationship with the Father and with the Spirit. But they also dance on the edge of poetry and lyric as they speak of that relationship:
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race."
I’d be willing to bet that in the course of your life, you’ve heard at least one theologically sound sermon on the doctrine of the Trinity, that consists of phrases like: “ that the one God exists in 3 persons and one substance—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is one, yet self-differentiated; the God who reveals Himself to humankind is one God equally in 3 distinct modes of existence, yet remains one through all eternity.”[ii] Or “that the Latin word personae which we translate as person (as in the 3 persons of the Trinity) is the same word used to talk about the masks that actors used to portray different characters in the theater.” Or perhaps even: St. Augustine compared the Son and the Holy Spirit to processes of human self-knowledge and self-love. He wrote that the Son came from an act of thinking on the part of the Father and the Spirit was a result of the mutual love of the Father and the Son.
But instead today, I want to talk about the implications of the Trinity in our daily life. What significance does it have for us? This has been a busy season in the life of the church. We had two funerals last week, and we are getting geared up for lots of work and some fun in our upcoming Iron Chef competition. In the midst of our busyness, in the midst of life, today we stop and remember the important truth that our God is a relational God, a God who created us specifically to be in relationship with God and whose three different aspects exist in a kind of playful, joyful dance that really makes God more accessible to us. We remember that all of God delights in us, too, and invites us to participate in this joyful, playful, delightful dance with God.
So instead of talking theology or doctrine today, let’s talk poetry. I once read a poem that captured the notion of Trinity for me in a new and different way, and in my rediscovery of it, it has captured my imagination about how my life with my family, my prayer life, and all aspects of how I am in this world in relationship to God and others could be different. It is called Playtime by Michael Hare Duke.

It takes a kind of courage
To find time for play…

Thank God for the dreams
in which we mount our fiery imaginations
and ride off into the misty mountains.
Night takes to task the busy day;
but why am I ashamed to claim the right to conscious play
within the waking world?

When I can sit and let my mind catch fire
I understand how God sang for fun
calling out of nothing all creation.
Wagtails bounce and flip their feathers
salmon leap,
the world turns, the planets wheel,
tiny or vast
orchestrated into a joyful tune,
the models of all making.

Dreams, imagination and God’s laughter in creation
invite me out of my industrious solemnity,
to take the task of playing seriously
until my marred manhood
is recreated in the child I have denied.[iii]

Where have you encountered God’s laughter in creation in your life this week? (I have encountered it in the laughter of my children, in quiet times with my husband, in petting my old,sweet, needy, co-dependant Golden Retriever.) Where have you tasted God’s delight in your life? That is the Trinity at work in your life and in the world: indefinable, unbridled laughter and joy that cannot be contained and that delights in you and creates, redeems, and sustains all relationships. That is what we remember, celebrate, and savor this day.

So. Happy Trinity Sunday. Let’s have a little fun today and do something you may have never done before. Eat chocolate in church. I have mini Three Musketeers for everyone that I will pass out now, and I encourage you to eat yours while you pass the peace. May it feed you to look for God’s laughter in creation in your life in the coming week as you witness the delight of the Trinity at work in the world. All for one and one for all!
[i] Taylor, Barbara Brown. Leaving Church. Harper: San Francisco, 2006, o. 67.
[ii] Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. ed. F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone. Oxford: 1997, p 1641.
[iii] Playtime by Michael Hare Duke. Resources for Preaching and Worship Year C. Ed. Hanna Ward and Jennifer Wild. Westminster: Louisville, 2003, p 174.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pentecost 2010

Pentecost—Year C
May 23, 2010
A while ago, I read somewhere that there is a Jewish story about creation that says that God breathed out and created all that there is, and then God breathed in and retreated from creation, removing God’s self from what God had created. When I first heard this, I was very disturbed to think about God retreating from creation, but since then, I’ve come to understand that perhaps the crafters of the story were trying to show that God poured out God’s being, God’s abundance, God’s creativity, God’s joy upon creation and then God stepped back so that we could do with it what we would will. God breathes out and creates; God breathes in and grants freedom.
Today is the feast day of Pentecost, when we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit. In Acts we see the gift of the Spirit, the very breath of God, which comes upon the gathered community in a most ordinary moment in the extraordinary force of something like both wind and flame. God breathes out God’s Spirit upon them and that inspires in them unity despite ethnic differences when all testify in their own languages to the power of God and the good news of the resurrected Christ. After God breathes out God’s Spirit upon the gathered believers, Peter testifies to the crowd that gathers and looks upon them in both derision and wonder, and he shares with them the good news of God’s presence in the world through Jesus. The onlookers then ask: “What then should we do?”. Peter tells them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call." God breathes out and creates; God breathes in and grants them freedom. About three thousand respond to the gift of the breath of God that day and join the ranks of the believers. Once captivated by the breath of God in God’s great exhalation at Pentecost, the followers of Jesus Christ live their lives within the rhythm of God’s breath: God exhales and creates meaning and purpose; God inhales and grants them space and freedom to respond how they will. The story of Pentecost concludes with the following choice made by the believers in the freedom of God’s Spirit: “They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” God breathed out and created their community; God breathed in and granted them freedom to respond in how they chose to live together. And they chose communion, gratitude, and generosity.
And so it is with us. In so many ways, God breathes God’s being, God’s abundance, God’s creativity, God’s joy out into our lives, and then God breathes in so that we may have the freedom to respond to the breath of God in our lives and in our world.
God breathes out and it is a gentle, cooling breeze to our beleaguered souls and bodies. How will we respond?
God breathes out and it is fire and wind that purge and refine us, making our impurities pure. How will we respond?
God breathes out and it is a brush of air that tickles us and plays with us, stealing something and making us chase it, and inviting us to laugh at our folly. How will we respond?
God breathes out, and suddenly we discover that God is breathing for us, filling our hearts and lungs with life when we have lost our own breath. How will we respond?
God breathes out and it is the stillness of the wilderness with no whisper of wind stirring, when we are desperate for a brush of wind or breath to give us respite and relief from the sun beating down upon us in the barren landscape. How will we respond?
God breathes out and it is the sweet breath of a new baby, the cool brush of a mother’s lips on a feverish forehead, the sweetness of a lover’s mouth poised for a kiss. How will we respond?
God breathes out and it is the violent wind of a storm that can fell mighty oaks, and it is a light breeze that allows a bumblebee to drift lazily along on a glorious summer day. How will we respond?
God breathes out into the waters of our baptism, into the bread and the wine, into our prayer and into our song. How will we respond?
God breathes out into our sorrow and our grief, into our loss, and even into death. How will we respond?
God breathes out and it is a bunch of red balloons tied to the wrists of children and sent out into the world as our model and our witness. How will we respond?
The breath of God has brought us, through various ways, to this place, to this community, and then it blows us back out into the world to share the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and what that continues to mean for our lives. How will we respond?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Easter 6C sermon

Easter 6C
May 9, 2010

When the weather is nice, I like to sit out on the shoo-fly to write my sermons. I often find myself looking out over the hundreds of cars driving by on Hwy 90, all that life that goes streaming by, and I look out at the broad, smooth expanse of the water. It’s a peaceful, holy place for me in spite of or perhaps in part because of all the traffic flowing by.
I’ve been thinking about peace a lot lately—thinking about what peace is in general and what it is specifically to me. Many people think that peace is the absence of conflict; it can be equated with tranquility, and for those of us with small children, it is often coupled with “quiet” (as in “Can I please just get five minutes of peace and quiet?”), and it is in short supply, especially at the end of the day. For me, both physically and spiritually, peace is a kind of deep breathing that dispels the tightness in my chest and belly and even the tightness in my soul that is anxiety, stress, and a fearful and troubled heart.
In our gospel reading for today, we see Jesus speaking to his disciples in the gospel of John’s rather long farewell discourse. He is responding to a question from one of the disciples, and even as he gives them the bad news that he is not going to be with them for much longer, he gives them the good news that God will be sending the Holy Spirit to teach and remind them. He also gives them the gift of his peace saying: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
As I was thinking about this peace that Jesus gives his disciples (both his disciples then and us, his disciples now), I began to wonder…Is Jesus saying that his gift of peace is an antidote for troubled and fearful hearts? Or is he giving them the gift of his peace coupled with a command to them: “do not let your hearts be troubled…[or] afraid”? Is peace a free gift that will strengthen our hearts through its reception or is it an either/or situation—Jesus gives us peace in which we can choose to dwell or we can allow our hearts to be troubled and afraid?
As I was pondering this out on the shoo-fly, I thought about how I could banish the fear and trouble from my heart to make room for Jesus’s peace, and I began to imagine going after the fear and anxiety with a stick. I quickly realized that that’s not peace!
And then I remembered one of my new favorite songs from my Happening experience. It’s called Deep Peace by Kirk Dearmen; it’s a Celtic blessing and it brings me a little closer to this mystery that is peace. It goes: “Deep peace of the running wave to you, Deep peace of the silent starts/Deep peace of the flowing air to you. Deep peace of the quite Earth./ May peace, may peace, may peace fill your soul,/ Let peace, let peace, let peace make you whole.” [1]
Peace is a free gift of Jesus and it comes into our hearts when they are undefended and longing for peace
The Anglican priest Herbert O’Driscoll writes this about Jesus’s gift of peace in John 14:27: “The word Jesus would have used at that moment is shalom, a much richer and more complex term. ‘Peace’ in this sense does not mean tranquility, lack of challenge, or restfulness. We can experience the peace of Christ without any of these things. Experiencing the shalom of Christ is to taste moments when in an almost inexpressible way things seem to come together for us. The shalom of Christ comes when we experience the conviction that in Christ everything somehow makes sense.”[2]
Or, our hymnal says it slightly differently in hymn 661: “The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod. Yet let us pray for but one thing—the marvelous peace of God.”
The story from Acts gives us a picture of what this peace, this shalom of Jesus looks like. In the story, we see Paul being obedient to a vision that he has that compels him to travel to Europe. He ends up in Phillippi, and seemingly by chance, he finds himself on the outside of town near the river. There he encounters some women who’ve gathered there, and he sits down with them and begins to teach them. Among this group of women is Lydia, who is a wealthy, successful head of her own household in Phillippi. She is a dealer in purple cloth which only the wealthy could afford, so she had access to most of the movers and shakers in town and perhaps beyond. As she is listening to Paul, the writer of Acts says that “God opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” She and her whole household get baptized and then she urges Paul and his companions to come stay at her home with her.
What this story tells me is that in God’s shalom, nothing is a coincidence. It also shows me that when Lydia’s longing for a relationship with God encountered the grace of God, the offspring of that union were both peace and an abundance of generosity.
So what does that mean for us this day?
We too are offered the gift of Jesus’s peace, Jesus’s shalom into our hearts and lives. That does not mean that our lives will be conflict free. And it does not mean that we will always be perfectly tranquil. What it does mean is that we can rest in the assurance that in Christ, everything somehow makes sense. And it means that when our longing for God encounters the gift of God’s grace, then the results are both peace and generosity. In that way, we are made whole.
“Deep peace of the running wave to you, Deep peace of the silent starts/Deep peace of the flowing air to you. Deep peace of the quite Earth./ May peace, may peace, may peace fill your soul,/ Let peace, let peace, let peace make you whole.” [3]

[1] From Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi’s Camp Bratton Green Songbook: 1999 Expressions of Praise Music; CCLI song no. 2198338; CCLI license no. 2260158
[2] O’ Driscoll, Herbert. Prayers for the Breaking of Bread. Cowley: Cambridge, 1991. p 87.
[3] From Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi’s Camp Bratton Green Songbook: 1999 Expressions of Praise Music; CCLI song no. 2198338; CCLI license no. 2260158

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Easter 5C sermon

Easter 5C
May 2, 2010
Once upon a time, there was a man named Peter. Now Peter was a Jew, one of God’s chosen people of Israel who kept God’s laws about certain things, such as food and clothing and how they kept their bodies, as a sign of their special relationship with God. Peter had also witnessed some mysterious and life-changing events when he heeded the call of Jesus of Nazareth to leave behind his fishing business and to follow Jesus as he travelled around Judea. Because of what he had discovered through his friend Jesus, Peter dedicated his life to telling other people about who Jesus really was and how they could be a part of the salvation that Jesus offers to everybody.
While Peter was out doing this work, spreading the good news, he spent some time with a friend in another city. On this one particular day, Peter was waiting on his friend to fix him something to eat, and he fell into a trance. “He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’” But Peter didn’t want to; yes, he was very hungry, but some of these animals were forbidden for him to eat by the laws of his faith. When Peter protested, the voice responded, “ ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane’. This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.”
As you can imagine, Peter was very puzzled as to what to make of the vision. But then some non-Jewish men showed up at the house looking for Peter, and while he was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘ Get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.’” Now at this point, Peter had to make a decision. He could continue to hold fast to the laws and the beliefs that he had followed faithfully his whole life, trusting in himself that he was right and knew the way he was supposed to proceed. Or he could heed the call of God to do something different, to trust that God knew what he needed to be doing and would not lead him astray. So he went with the men.
Well, it turns out that one of their friends whose name was Cornelius had had a vision too, a vision about Peter and where to find him, so Cornelius had sent them to find Peter and to bring him back to his home. When Peter went into the house, he was breaking some of his peoples’ most sacred laws, the laws that helped them know that they were special to God and set apart from the people of other nations. And when it came time for Peter to speak, God opened Peter’s heart, and Peter said, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” And he told them about Jesus and how to be a part of the salvation that he offers to everyone. “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.” Now this was amazing! Up until now, only Jews had been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Again, Peter had to make a choice. He could refuse to believe what he had witnessed because it was contrary to what he had believed, what he had known for so long, or he could respond to God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to these people and embrace them as his brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of their heritage. So Peter and the other believers who were with him baptized everyone in the name of Jesus Christ, and he stayed with them for several days.
After a time, Peter returned to Jerusalem, where the people there had heard of all that happened to him while he was away. And, boy, were they angry! They criticized him for going to non-Jews and eating with them while he was away. But Peter didn’t yell or argue or spout theology; instead Peter told them the story….He told them of his vision, of God’s words to him, of the arrival of the three men and the spirit’s words to him about them; he told them about going to Cornelius’s house and about his own vision; he told them about how God had opened his heart and he began to speak and how the Holy Spirit fell upon the people there just as it had fallen upon Jesus’s disciples in the beginning. He said to them, “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us…who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, there was dead silence. And they had a choice. They could choose to stick to their beliefs, to their position that Peter had done wrong. They could choose to not listen to this new way of being in relationship with God because it threatened them, and they knew that they were right. Or they could give themselves over to Peter’s story and his experiences with the presence of God; they could trust that God was leading all of them in this new direction, and they could follow willingly. And this is what they did, praising God and saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
What Peter and the other followers of Jesus learned is that being a Christian is not about a one time conversion, from sin into new life. They learned that we are being called by God, again and again, to convert from following our own will, our own path, our own beliefs, to following God’s path, God’s will, and God’s salvation. They learned that even though they had been doing something for hundreds of years, God was calling them to do it a new way, and they had to choose to follow God’s new way. I wonder…What would have happened to the Christian movement if Peter had not allowed himself to be converted by God? What would have happened if his friends had not allowed themselves to be converted by Peter’s story?
I wonder….what would it be like if something like this happened to us today, those of us who live in a world where we are constantly subjected to the individual’s opinion of what is right, in almost every situation? I wonder…What would our lives be like if we let go of some of our certainty that we knew what was right, what was best, and allowed ourselves to be converted by God to God’s way? I wonder….What would our lives be like if we laid aside our certainty our own experience, our own voice should take precedence over all others, that we have all the answers to all the problems and everyone else is wrong (unless they think just like us), and we trusted the experience, the story of the other? I wonder…What would our lives be like if we believed that God can convert us through the stories and experiences of other people, and in that conversion, God’s love and salvation runs rampant through this world like wildfire?
I wonder…What would our homes, our work, our church, our friendships, our politics and government be like if we submitted our rightness, our will, our surety to God and allowed ourselves, our beliefs about everything to changed by God, and then act accordingly?
Would we finally be able to fulfill Jesus’s new commandment that we love one another as he has love us?
I wonder….?