Benediction Online

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Is Jesus the Big Bang?

Isaiah 61:10-62:3 
Galatians 3:23-25;4:4-7 

What if Jesus is the Big Bang? I understand that scientists can theorize -- and have empirical evidence to back their theories -- about what happened one second after time zero, the so-called Big Bang, but there is no consensus on what actually happened. Could Jesus have been the Big Bang as well as the Christmas child?

At Christmas we heard the reading from Luke about Mary and Joseph finding no room in the inn, and the angels appearing to the angels who then went to Bethlehem and found, as the angels had said, a babe lying in a manger. This morning we heard the wonderful poem which starts John’s Gospel – John’s account of the coming of Christ. You’ll notice that it doesn’t say anything about babies or angels or shepherds. Instead it goes straight to the heart of the matter

The logos or Word, which is also the light, who is God’s one Son, was there at the very beginning of Creation. Christ is not an afterthought. God did not wonder what he was going to do with recalcitrant humanity and suddenly have the brilliant idea of having and sending a son. From the very beginning, the Word was with God and the Word was God.

And all things were made through him. All things. Every single thing in the universe was made through him. Isn’t that amazing!

So was he the Big Bang? It’s dangerous for us to declare that a scientific gap proves the intervention of God, because when that gap gets filled, God will be seen to be redundant at best, or simply non-existent. However, there is no doubt from this gospel reading that
what came into being in Christ was life itself. The Word or logos is life which is also light.

Perhaps the thing that is so amazing about babies of any species is the new life. We can’t make life – we can make things that move and things that fly and things that talk and event things that seem to think – but we can’t make them live. Life is a miracle. Life is here because of the Word, the Christ.

So Christ is in all life and Christ is in all persons. Our baptismal vows call us to seek and serve Christ, the life and the light in all persons. We are the people who have promised, and continually promise over and over again, to seek and serve Christ in all persons. Not some people, not most people, but all persons.

This is very inconvenient. We would much rather serve those people we like, those people who like us. But no-one is made without the logos. There is no life without the Christ and we are the ones who have promised to serve the Christ in all persons. It would have been much more convenient if John had simply told the story like Luke and not pointed out that from the very beginning nothing was made except through the Christ.

Christmas is so much easier if you just stick to the nativity scene and think about cuddly sheep, and a cow in the background, and hay in the manger, and shepherds falling all over themselves with excitement like so many children under the Christmas tree, which, just as inconveniently, does not seem to be a part of the story.

Until you get to the part about light. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Martin Luther is said to have lit the first Christmas tree with candles so as to make it look like the stars in the sky!

When you light a candle, you tap into an ancient and nearly never-ending cycle of life-giving energy. Plants make food through photosynthesis. The chemical energy of photosynthesis in plants is then passed up the food chain, for instance, to grazing cattle and then on to tallow in a candle. When the candle is lit in the gloomiest of nights, it releases the sunlight and returns the complex fat or wax molecules to the form in which the plants found it in the first place – water and carbon dioxide that can be incorporated into living things all over again.

And here’s the amazing thing: the Word, the logos, the Christ is in all of that. The logos is in the photosynthesis and the sunlight. “Without him was not anything made that was made.” The life and the light was all made by and through the Word.

Why was it made? It was made because God wanted it. Because God is infinitely creative and infinitely loving and the divine creative loving created a cosmos to dance with in loving creativity.  As humans we have a special place in the cosmos. We are made to become the adopted daughters and sons of God.

Was the Big Bang just for us? Probably not. There is so much to the cosmos that even the most brilliant of us can only faintly begin to comprehend, and there is far more of it than we can enjoy, it rather suggests that there’s a lot more to creation than just humanity coming to know God. But it is part of it. As the reading from Galatians says, “God sent his Son, born of a woman, so that we might receive adoption as children.

We who have enrolled in the reign of God are the children of God. We take that rather for granted these days with our interconnection as humans being sentimentally articulated as “We’re all God’s children”. But just think about it again. This is awe-inspiring, as Isaiah says
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

That’s what it means to be the children of God. We are heirs with Christ, the first-born of many, many siblings.

Christ became human and moved in with us, so that we might become Christ-like. We do that by enrolling in the project of God’s reign, asking to be part of the work that God is doing here, and then by serving all whom God sends to us.

There are just two rules for the children of God: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

With thanks to Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek for his sermon, “The Word, the logos, the Christ” and

J.B. Stump, “Cosmic Question” Christian Century Dec 26, 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012


Isaiah 9:2-7 
Titus 2:11-14 
Luke 2:1-14(15-20) 

So here we are. Finally. After all the preparations and the rushing around, the advertisements and the carols playing over and over in crowded stores, we have arrived at Christmas Eve. And we have gathered here in this church because tonight is the night. The night that prophets foretold and angels heralded. The night that has been the stuff of myth, of story and of song ever since. The night when God was born in baby flesh.

We have gathered here because we want something more than the lights and glitter and wrapping paper. We want the real thing. We want to believe in the child who is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and who will bring endless peace. We want to touch God in human form. We want to hear, no,  we need to hear, “good news of great joy for all the people.” Heaven knows, good news has been a little short recently.

We are still reeling from the tragedy in Newtown, and just this morning we heard of firefighters shot and killed when responding to a fire. The country hovers on the brink of a fiscal cliff and our representatives cannot agree what to do. We could certainly use the peace which is the promise of Christmas.

But can we still believe this promise, after so much time has passed? It is nearly three thousand years since the prophet Isaiah promised that this child would bring endless peace, it is more than two thousand years since Jesus Christ was born, and we are still waiting in a world of wars and rumors of wars.

Sometimes we are given a gift that is totally unexpected. It’s not something that we would have asked for, it’s not something that we wanted, but it turns out to be exactly what we needed. When I was about eight, my parents gave me the best Christmas present I have ever received. It was the Ladybird Junior Science book of Pulleys, Levers and Engines… it opened up a whole new world for me and made me understand so many things in a totally new way.

The gift of Jesus was not what the Jewish people had asked for, it was not what they expected. Jesus was not the political, military savior that they hoped for. Instead, Jesus’ ministry was to bring peace and healing and to show us what it means to live a holy God-centered life. The peace that he brought was not national peace, a resolution of the conflict with the Roman occupiers. It was something much more subtle. For those who looked beyond the surface it opened up a whole new world and enabled humans to understand things in a totally new way.

Perhaps humanity has not yet learned to unwrap the gift of Christmas. We have not yet learned to engage with the real gift of Christ in a way that leads to peace and joy - that gift is the gift of a loving co-creative relationship with the divine. Jesus showed us a new way to relate to God, not as an angry punishing king who expects impossible things of us, but as a God who was willing to become human, even to come as a helpless baby so that we might find our way to a peace-filled and joy-filled relationship with the divine.

This relationship is not about feeling warm, content and “in the zone”; it will push us beyond our limits. It will challenge us to let go of selfishness and greed, to stop holding anger and bitterness, to find ways to connect with those who are different from us. It will challenge us to work for gun-control, to end hunger and homelessness, and for equal treatment of all of God’s children. But it is the only way we will truly find fulfillment because we were created to live with God at the center of our lives.

That is what draws us on and that is why we are here this evening, so that we can meet with the God who loved us enough to become a human with all our limitations… and we are in the right place, because this is one of the many places where the daughters and sons of God gather with the angels to worship the All-Compassionate God, and this is one of the many places where God gathers with his people. God is here.

But we may not see her. No-one looking for a Messiah that night in Judea would have thought to look in a dirty stable in Bethlehem. It took a crowd of angels to persuade the shepherds to make the trek into town to see the baby. Without the angels they would just have gone on watching their sheep, telling stories, gossiping and trying to stay warm. They were ordinary people doing ordinary things. We are often so busy doing the ordinary things that we miss the moment when the grace of God appears in our lives.

So I invite you to put aside your skepticism. Whether the story of Christmas is a myth or a historical fact is unimportant. Whether we are singing the carols you wanted to sing is immaterial. Now is the time to open the eyes and ears of your heart. Now is the time to let go of the anxious thoughts and plans, the questions and fears and still yourself. Still yourself so that you can open up to God in a new way. Expect to meet with God in an unexpected way.

Tonight as we continue with our service, as we pray and sing together, the God of extravagant love is present, ready to embrace each of us. How will you respond? Will you say, yes here I am, meet with me, or will you shut down and turn away?

I encourage you to accept and unwrap the gift of loving relationship which is offered to you tonight. I encourage you to take one step, whatever that might be, towards God. There is always more. Until we become fully Christ-like, there are always places in us waiting to be healed and transformed.

Now let us, like the shepherds, hasten to Bethlehem to see the child who is born tonight, God in baby-flesh.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


I don’t know about you but I can’t accurately remember what anyone said to me last week, let alone last year. So I find it highly unlikely that when the gospel of Luke was written the author knew exactly what Mary said after her cousin Elizabeth greeted her as the mother of her Lord. It’s much more likely that the song we call the Magnificat was written later and put into the mouth of Mary by the author.

In which case, it’s not just the spontaneously happy song of a pregnant woman, but an expression of what the writer, and the Christians he was writing for, thought Jesus was all about. This is important, because it gives us a sense of what those early Christians understood Jesus to mean. We can think of it as a hymn of the early church.

We call it the Magnificat because that is its first word in Latin – “my soul magnifies the Lord”. My soul magnifies – makes bigger, amplifies. Or as the writer of John’s gospel would say, “glorifies”. When we praise God we are not patting him on the back for a job well done, we are making him bigger, magnifying him in our hearts and minds. When we turn to God in praise our own concerns get smaller, we can lose ourselves in God –as John the Baptizer once said, “He must increase but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) As we worship we find that we are feeding and rejuvenating our own souls because praise is the fundamental energy of the universe

So the first movement of this hymn is praise and worship – for God “has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” This is not miserable sinner language – this is acknowledging that in comparison with God we are lowly. When put in the mouth of teenage unwed mother-to-be, it suggests that God looks with favor on those who the world considers worthless – and that is the direction the hymn is going – but here it is just saying that God looks with favor upon us even though we are mere mortals. I can’t think of a much better reason to praise and worship God than because she loves us unconditionally and extravagantly with all of our humanness – our faults, our limitations and our pride. It would be easy for her to write us off instead of wrapping each one of us around with love.

So when the hymn goes on to say “His mercy is for those who fear him” it can’t be using fear in the sense of being afraid. The God who delights in us does not want us to be living in fear. When the Bible talks about the fear of God it’s usually talking about keeping the law, which was the way faithful Jews showed their love for God. We think more about living holy lives – lives which are modeled on the way Jesus lived and on Christian teaching. The Common English Bible translates this verse He shows mercy to everyone…who honors him as God.”

Those of us who have enrolled in the reign of God, those of us who have found ourselves, like Job, face to face with the immensity of the divine, those of us who have fallen into the hands of the living God know God’s mercy in a way which is still foreign to those who have not yet turned towards him. So perhaps we can turn it around and say “Everyone who honors God knows his mercy.”

In the second movement of this great hymn, God changes the natural order of things. God reverses the structures that we are used to. God scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. God brings down the powerful and lifts up the lowly; he feeds the poor and leaves the rich empty.

It’s a vision of hope and encouragement to those who are at the bottom of the pile. We may look at those who are doing well financially, those who get their way in the political processes of the world and think that God is favoring them – in fact we have a tendency to think that when things are going well God is blessing us – but in fact God’s view of things is exactly the opposite of ours. God lifts up the lowly, and feeds the poor.

If we take this seriously, then it is a call to us to do the same. We are called to be imitators of Christ, to live out his resurrected life in the world, continuing the healing of individuals and social structures that he started. We are called not just to feed the hungry but to change the social organization that makes some people very rich and leaves 20% of Americans wondering where there next meal is coming from. We are called to change the structures of society which allow mentally ill young men to live without effective treatment and to get their hands on weapons. We are called to change the structures of society which repay violence with violence, and argue that arming more people will lead to less guns being fired.

We’re not going to achieve this by sitting passively, hoping that something will happen. We are going to have to make phone calls and write letters. We are going to have to badger our elected representatives. It is easy for us to forget and move on to something else, but if we want real change we have to keep at it and not get discouraged.

For God does not get discouraged. The final movement of the hymn points to God’s faithfulness. God is faithful. We come and go. We pay attention and then forget, but God remembers God’s promises.

It’s almost Christmas, and we are ready (or not) to celebrate the great gift, the great coming of God amongst us. The coming of Christ is the ultimate sign of God’s love and faithfulness to us. God will never let us down.

But more important than sending our Christmas cards and emails, buying gifts for loved ones, decorating the house and baking the cookies – more important than all that is renewing our commitment to love and faithfulness. Let us take the hymn of Mary, the Magnificat to heart and live its message – turning to God in praise and then bringing God’s reign to this world.

The gift that God longs for is our love, expressed in service to each other and in a commitment to work for social justice.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

Sunday, December 16, 2012

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Canticle 9
Philippians 4:4-7

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, but we are still in Advent. We are still in the season of preparation. Last week, Betty brought in a painting of the nativity and I asked her to put it away until Christmas Eve, because the church’s rhythm is different from the world’s. In the midst of all the excitement and preparation for a one day bonanza, we are called to wait and prepare our hearts in quiet anticipation of the coming of the Christ. We are living a paradox.

A paradox. Paradox is something that seems contradictory. The spiritual life is full of paradox. That’s not easy for us because we want things to be clear, we want to know the rules so that we can obey them and get it right. But it isn’t that simple. The Jews of Jesus’ time tried to live a rule-based religion of ethics and they found it nigh impossible.

There’s a paradox in today’s readings. From Zephaniah we have a wonderful prophecy of healing and homecoming:
“I will save the lame and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you”
And Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord always…
But then we have John the Baptizer preaching thunder and brimstone, “one who is more powerful than I is coming…. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

On the one hand tidings of comfort and joy, on the other hand a reminder of the consequences of turning away from God.

We are living today with the deep grief of the paradox in our culture. On the one hand we are in the season of celebration, of giving and goodwill when we especially focus on small children and their joy. And on the other hand we have seen a young man intentionally mow down twenty small children and their teachers, bringing tragedy and heartbreak that will continue for a lifetime. As a nation we are creating inspiring leaders, social activists and people of goodwill, and at the very same time we are creating young people who destroy and kill innocent children. We talk peace and brotherhood and at the same time we refuse to ratify international treaties. The bright lights of American society have a dark underbelly.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. But how can we celebrate the coming of a God who allows these things to happen? If God is all-compassionate and all-powerful, why didn’t She intervene to stop this happening?

Why doesn’t God stop the killing in Syria, the terror in Iraq, the fighting in the Congo, the taking of children as soldiers in northern Uganda?

It’s a paradox.

For us to turn to God and know the co-creative relationship of his adopted sons and daughters, there has to be an alternative. The alternative is that we go our own way. For countless generations, the majority of people have gone their own way, and in the process we have created a society that has moved further and further from God’s paths. Humans have contributed to a sin matrix which keeps us trapped in cycles of violence and despair. Every individual one of us is connected to every other one, and we contribute to the sin matrix and are shaped by it. 

The only way out is through the path that Jesus took. The path of loving non-violence. Non-violence in our words and thoughts as well as our actions. The only way we can get free is though enrolling in the reign of God and accessing the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us and release us. That is why Paul tells us to rejoice – because we are free from the sin matrix.

But being personally free is not enough. It’s a paradox. We can only live out that freedom as we work to bring freedom to others. John the Baptizer told his listeners to live ethically and lovingly. The new way is not one of rules and regulations. It is Santa Claus who keeps a list of good and bad behavior, not God. God looks on the heart. God sees the anger and the bitterness, the things we hold on to and fail to forgive. God sees the self-righteousness and pride. Even as we seek to transform our hearts into the Christ-like consciousness that is our birth-right as the daughters and sons of God; even as we seek to transform ourselves, we are called to live lives of service to others. If we are freed from the sin matrix through the power of Christ but hold on to that as a personal entitlement then we are not in fact free.

The hope that we hold is that all creation will be freed from sin. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas – we are getting ready for a celebration of love and giving, a celebration based on the self-giving of God to us. At the same time, we are preparing for the liberation of all creation in the second coming of the Christ. At that time Christ will come with “His winnowing fork… in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." The chaff is the sin, the pain and darkness, all the strands we hold of other’s guilt, all the anger and the recrimination. Our hope is that all of that will be burned away. All the things that led up to this week’s tragedy in Sandy Hook and that lead to wars and hunger and homelessness will be burned away and the goodness and love will be all that remain.

Will this happen suddenly one day? Or will it happen incrementally as more and more of us enroll in the reign of God and choose to live our lives in service to the Holy Spirit and to each other?

I don’t know.

I do know that just as there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents and leaves the sin matrix, so there is deep grief in the heart of God over this senseless tragedy. God is incarnate in those who took great risks to save the lives of the children, in those who are supporting the grief-stricken. God is incarnate in those who have now been galvanized to work for gun control and changes in video game law.

Even in the darkest places God is becoming incarnate. We are God-with-flesh-on for one another. It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas, Soon the bells will start,
And the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing, Right within your heart.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Our hope is in the eternal God of Love

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

I have a hard time using those little ear-bud head sets they give you on airplanes so you can listen to the movie. I really need something that covers my whole ear but I worry that if I were to take and use those I would miss a significant announcement like, “please put on your oxygen mask” or “please take off your seat cushion and prepare for a water landing”.

As a result, when I fly, I often watch bits of movies with no sound. Sometimes I understand what’s happening, sometimes I don’t. One movie I watched silently several years ago has stuck with me. As I understand it, an asteroid is about to hit the planet and everyone on the East Coast is moving to higher ground because the impact will create a devastating tsunami. One woman has the opportunity to leave in a helicopter with her colleagues but there isn’t enough room for everyone. She gives up her seat to someone else – a child or a disabled person – I forget which, and goes to be with her father who for some reason can’t leave New York. The last scene is of them standing calmly on the beach watching a wall of water approaching.

I think it sticks with me because I wonder what I would do. Would I give up my seat in the helicopter? And if I did, would I stand calmly on the beach waiting for the tsunami to come? Or would I find myself running for my life even though it was hopeless?

Today’s Gospel reading is the third in a series. Two Sundays ago we heard about the disaster of the end times. Last week we heard about the stability of the kingdom of God which is right here and right now as well as not here and not yet. Today the two come together. The end times and the kingdom of peace and righteousness are combined in this reading from Luke. Here, we are told to be hopeful when we see the end times because we know that our redemption is also coming.

That’s why this reading comes at the beginning of Advent, the season of preparation. This month is not only a time to get ready for the coming of the Christ-light, but also to consciously prepare ourselves for the return of the cosmic Christ.  “Be on guard” says the gospeller, “so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly like a trap.” So Advent is a time for re-examining our lives and our hearts. Are we “weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life”? or are we ready to welcome our redemption?

This is one of Jesus’ themes – stay awake, be alert because you don’t know when and how the Kingdom of God will break through into this world. Catching the glimpses of God’s presence and her hand at work in our lives is one of the important skill sets of the spiritual life. The more we can cultivate the knowledge of the presence of God, the more we will see our redemption breaking through because our redemption IS the presence of God. This is what we long for, and this is what we are promised – the experience and knowledge of God’s presence. Our redemption is the fully realized reconciliation with the divine.

It has become quite popular to ask what would you do if you knew you only had one year to live? Or one month? The question before us today is what would you do differently if you really thought that Jesus was coming again?

The great reformer Martin Luther was asked the same question, “What would you do if you heard that Jesus would return tomorrow?” Martin Luther said that he would plant a tree. For in all likelihood, the rumor would be untrue. After all, Jesus said that no one knows the hour or day when he would return. No one but the Father. So why not plant a tree and plan for the future? Then if Luther was wrong and Christ did return, he would find Luther taking care of the earth.

Being alert, staying conscious, means taking responsibility for ourselves and our environment. It means living in such a way that we do not leave a trail of things that have to be sorted out or cleaned up. It means staying current with our relationships, not procrastinating when we need to ask for forgiveness, not nursing anger or grievances, because there may not be time or opportunity in the future. We don’t know when Christ will come with power and great glory – whether for us individually or for the entire creation. We don’t know when the end times will be upon us.

What would it take for you to be able to stand calmly on the shore watching a tsunami coming?

Now is the time to cultivate that, whatever it is for you….. Because if you have cultivated the ability to stay calm and centered, confident in the love of God, hopeful that your redemption is near – if you can look pain and death in the face with serenity - then you will be able to weather the storms of your end times in a centered way, and to be a center of peace and healing for those around you when we experience communal disaster.

The challenge of Advent is that we, the Church, are called to be preparing our hearts and reinvigorating our spiritual practice at a time when the culture around us is rushing around in a frenzied panic of buying, eating and drinking. It is deeply counter cultural to truly follow the call of Advent. It is counter-cultural to center on God and not on all there is to be done.

But our hope is not in Christmas presents. Our hope is not in shopping until we drop. Our hope is not in being on Santa’s nice list.

Our hope is in the eternal God of Love, who continues to hold and cherish us every moment of our lives. Our hope is in the reign of God which is solid and everlasting. Our hope is that Christ is coming and we will meet him face-to-face.

And in the meantime, lets us pray with Paul,
“may the Lord make us increase and abound in love for one another and for all... And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.