Benediction Online

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Shining with the Radiance of Christ's Glory

Isaiah 62:1-5
1 Corinthians 12:1-11

At first glance today’s readings seem like a motley bunch, almost as though the creators of the lectionary were getting tired so they threw in three of their favorite passages with little regard for how they mesh.

But then we pray the Collect and suddenly the pieces come together and make sense! “Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth.”

The writer of the gospel of John focused on Christ’s glory. The wedding at Cana is the first time that Christ’s glory was seen in his adult ministry – according to John the first act of Jesus’ ministry – the first sign of his glorious power - was when he turned water into wine. Living as we do in wine country, we know a little of what it takes to make a great wine, and so this is an especially appealing miracle to us. 180 gallons of excellent wine, just like that!

I suspect that John had more in mind than letting us know that Jesus liked a good party. In the Eucharist we use wine as a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice for us – the giving of his life – and our participation in his death and resurrection and the new covenant with God. So here, at the beginning of his ministry, we see the water that the Jewish people used for purification being turned into the wine which represents the blood that purifies us. It hints at the coming Covenant, and where better to do so than at a wedding?

Marriage is a covenant between two people - a covenant of love and fidelity. It has long been used as a metaphor to describe the relationship between God and humanity. Just as it is in the first reading, that beautiful prophecy from Third Isaiah,
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.

Let’s savor those words for a moment. Yes they were written about Israel but we are the spiritual descendants of Abraham so they apply to us too - and not just to us as a group but to each one of us individually as God’s beloved, ‘as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.’ Wow! God rejoices over each of us as young lovers rejoice in their beloved.

But wait, there’s more. “you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.” Each one of us is so intimately known by God that She gives us a new name, a spiritual name, a name that reflects who we truly are, and we are like jewels in her hands. That’s something to remember next time you feel down. You are a jewel in God’s hands. You are God’s beloved.

Let’s hear that collect again - “Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth.”

We are to shine, like jewels, like brides in the first blush of young love, with the radiance of Christ’s glory. That shining comes to us and through us as we are illumined by God’s Word and Sacraments – as we are transformed and transfigured – into the Christ-like beings that we were created to be.

Last week I talked about Jesus’ submission to God’s will as he chose to be baptized even though he was God. Today we see two more examples – Jesus does what his mother says even though initially he thinks it’s premature to show his power, and the servants do what he says even though it probably seemed foolish. I’ve been thinking more about submission to God this week. The examples we have are ones that we can see – times when Jesus is obedient to his calling – but what I am talking about is much more an inner attitude. It is an attitude of surrender to the divine. That attitude will show up in your outer life, but it doesn’t start there. So you don’t have to wait until you are sure that God is telling you to do something – the idea is to be surrendered to Spirit at all times.

Perhaps that inner surrender was what Paul was talking about in his letter to the Corinthians when he said that no-one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. Obviously anyone can say Jesus is Lord and not mean it, but to say “Jesus is Lord” from the heart requires inner submission to Jesus’ lordship.

Having surrendered to Christ we get to shine with the radiance of God’s Glory – but there are as many different ways of doing that as there are people. Each one of us is given our own manifestation of the Spirit. Jesus manifested the Spirit in the miracle of water turned into wine – we manifest it in our loving care of others, in our social activism, in prayer and in active service.

The whole point of our shining with the radiance of Christ’s glory is that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth. This is not about us. The path of discipleship is not a feel-good solution to the anxieties of everyday living. Hope, joy, peace and blessing are side effects. The goal is that Christ may be glorified, that God may be known by all people. The Prayer Book talks about reconciliation with God. That is our goal.

We surrender to Christ, just as Christ is surrendered to God the Creator and the Holy Spirit in a mutual dance of submission and obedience. By our own inner surrender we become part of the dance of the divine and as we are transformed by that dance so we begin to shine with the light of Christ - not our own light, but Christ’s light – and as we shine so others are drawn in to the reign of God and the light increases.

Isn’t that an amazing vision? We are not only deeply beloved of God but we are an integral part of his plan to bring the whole of the cosmos into intentional relationship with Godself.
So let’s close by praying together the Collect for today:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Obedient unto Life

One of the most important days of my life was the day when I got to “fly up” from the Brownies to the Girl Scouts. I don’t remember much about it but I think two Brownies made an arch and those flying up ran through the arch and then around the outside of the circle before getting their “wings”. It was a day I had longer and hoped for – a day when I was ontologically changed – the very core of my being changed. Never again would I be a Brownie – now I was a Girl Scout.

I mention this because it was the one of the most important rites of passage or initiations of my life. In today’s gospel, Jesus experiences an initiation. One which has a little more cosmic significance than my flying up to Girl Scouts! He gets baptized.

Immersion in water was commonly used in the Jewish tradition of the time for purification. So it made a lot of sense that John baptized those who were repenting of their sins. As they chose to change their way of life so they would be immersed in the river as a symbol of their purification. John’s baptism of repentance is a bridge between the purification baths required both for new converts to Judaism and to remove certain kinds of uncleanliness, and Christian baptism in which we are joined with Christ in his death and resurrection.

Why did Jesus get baptized? After all, the writer to the Hebrews tells us that although Christ was tempted like we are, he did not sin. (Heb 4:15). If he did not sin, he did not need to repent. If he did not need to repent he did not need to get baptized. So why do it?

Some theologians have argued that Jesus was adopted as God’s Son at this point. They argue that when the voice from heaven says "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." this is proclaiming that now Jesus has become God’s Son. The tradition that we belong to says that Jesus was God made flesh from the moment of conception. So God-made-flesh comes to the man John to be baptized.

This is the first time we see Jesus as an adult. No longer is God-made-flesh a baby or a boy arguing with his teachers. Jesus is an adult. His baptism marks the beginning of his adult ministry. After his baptism he goes into the desert and spends time in deep spiritual work, and then he emerges to preach the reign of God. So this is important. Its importance is emphasized by the voice from heaven. This voice only speaks three times – here at Jesus’ baptism, at the transfiguration, and shortly before his death.

If Jesus was fully human he had free will, which means he could have chosen not to live a selfless life of preaching and teaching. He could have chosen to become a fisherman or to set up a carpentry business in Capernaum. He could have avoided confrontation and lived a quiet long life. But that’s not what he did. I think we tend to take that for granted. We are so used to the idea that Jesus lived and died and rose again for us, that we don’t think about whether that’s what he wanted to do.

The early church understood this much better than we do. In Romans, Paul writes, “by the obedience of one [man] shall many be made righteous.” (Rom. 5:19) and the early hymn found in Philippians says “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!” Jesus was obedient to his calling.

I think that in today’s gospel we see that obedience. Jesus’ choosing to get baptized even though he didn’t need to is the first time that we see him obedient to his calling to be fully human even though as God he doesn’t need to do this. As God he doesn’t need to repent and be baptized. As God he could have simply stepped down from the cross, or even disappeared before he was arrested, but instead he chose to remain with his human limitations. “being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself.”

Words like obedience and submission are very unpopular in our culture. Yet they are a profoundly important aspect of our spiritual lives; one which we see here modeled by Christ. The human Jesus chooses to align with the divine Christ. The human Jesus chooses to be baptized and in so doing indicates that he is willing to be obedient to the intention of God, that he is willing to “submit” to God’s will.

This is very different from my initiation into the Girl Scouts. That was not about submission in any way shape or form. I was ready to be done with little girl things and to get on to the exciting stuff of learning knots and going camping.

But I suspect that spiritual initiation always involves obedience and submission, because it involves a step away from our human inclinations towards comfort and laziness, and a step deeper into our alignment with divine purpose. Many of us long to come closer to God and yet we are held back by our own unwillingness to be obedient to our calling. We imagine that it means giving up things that we like, and doing things that we’d much rather not.

There is certainly some truth in that… we remember Jesus’ words, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt.16:24). But that’s only part of the picture. Each one of us was made with the potential to be Christ-filled and Christ-like. We are at our most fulfilled when we are following our calling, when we are obedient to the voice of God, when we submit to the highest plan for our lives. Do you really think that the God who loves us extravagantly and unconditionally would ask you to do something that was not going to ultimately make you more fulfilled and joyful?

Baptism by water and the spirit is the full initiation into the Christian church. But when we celebrate the Eucharist together we are re-upping the submission and obedience which led us to the waters of baptism and to participation in Christ’s death and resurrection. When we come to the Eucharist we are saying, yes I choose to be part of the Body of Christ, I choose to follow my calling to be part of God’s reign, I choose to repent and turn away from those things which prevent me from fully following Christ.

Submitting to our calling rarely means taking big heroic actions. It rarely means going off to a foreign mission field. Much more often it means continuing the quiet work of cooperating with Spirit to clear out of the way all the blocks which prevent us from fully loving God and our neighbor as ourselves. So as we approach the tablet together today let us do so in submission to our calling to live as the daughters and sons of God and to bring God’s reign on earth.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Arise, shine

Today will be longer than yesterday. Today we will have more daylight than we had yesterday – one minute more. Tomorrow we’ll gain another minute. The light is coming back. Slowly and almost imperceptibly the days are getting longer, the dark of winter is over.

And today we celebrate the Epiphany –of the Christ child, the light of the world. We get the word from the Greek epiphaneia which means “a manifestation or striking appearance.” In modern usage, an epiphany is a breakthrough which seems to come out of the blue, but only after a problem has been considered for some time. In other words, you have to do your homework before you get an epiphany.

The manifestation of God in the form of a human child, shown in today’s Gospel to the three wise men from the East, did not happen suddenly without any preparation. Six hundred years before Jesus, Isaiah had declared “Arise, shine for your light has come” -words which we now take to refer to Jesus the Christ. It seems that the writer of Matthew wanted us to make that association as he has the magi bringing gold and frankincense just as Isaiah says. The Jewish people had been preparing for the coming of the Messiah for centuries.

We don’t know how long the three men from Iraq or Iran had been preparing for their journey. But it was probably quite a while. Although our Christmas card and carols give the impression that the shepherds showed up the first night with the magi rapidly on their heels, it was probably a year or more before they arrived in Bethlehem. According to Matthew’s account, Joseph and Mary must have found a place to live and stayed in Bethlehem for long enough for the amazing star to appear at Christ’s birth and guide the star-gazing Easterners to his crib-side.

Their epiphany seemed to come out of the blue – an astonishing star, perhaps a comet, appears in the night sky and leads them to take a long journey to find the child it portends. Amazingly they interpret it as having to do with a child and specifically with one who has been born the King of the Jews. What did they do to get so wise? Probably they had been studying prophecies as well as astrology for many years before.

I suspect that we sometimes look for an epiphany in our own lives without having done the preparation. I know that that was what Advent was about and now we can move on to glorious light and revelation… but not so fast. The work of advent is never done – we long for the moments of epiphany when suddenly, apparently effortlessly we have a new revelation of the divine – but these rarely come unless we have been doing our own spiritual work.

Most of us don’t need to learn astronomy or prophecies in order to prepare for the possibility of epiphany. Most of us have much humbler paths, but they are not necessarily easier. Our paths are in the daily living of spiritual lives, the daily turning to Christ, daily finding things which block the Christ-light from shining in and through us, and the daily work to remove those blocks in cooperation with Spirit.

“Arise, shine,” says the prophet, “for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” This is in a whole different category from “this little light of mine”… “Your light has come does not mean” that we get to be shiny and get noticed by everyone around us. This light is God’s light which can shine in and through us. There is nothing that we can do to bring this light into our lives. It’s pure gift. The light of God came into the world in Jesus Christ – he is the human embodiment of divine light. Because of his gift, it is possible for us to shine with the light of God, and in fact it is our calling to shine with God’s light, because we are called to be the sons and daughters of God and to imitate Christ.

But the light itself – that is God. Our job is to do the work of preparation. Our job is to invite the Holy Spirit to work in our lives to remove all the blocks, the hindrances, the – dare I say it – sin, that prevents the Christ light from shining clearly.

And why should we do it? It’s not for the moments of ecstasy, it’s not for the times of joy when the light suddenly blazes in a new way, it’s not for the moments of epiphany, wonderful though they are. It is because the world needs us.

God so loved the world that He sent his only begotten son. That’s what it’s all about – and we have a role in the redemption of the world, in bringing all things into reconciliation with God. Amazingly, as the daughters and sons of God, we are part of God’s plan for salvation! It is through you and me that God has chosen to bring about the completion of her work.

On the face of it it doesn’t seem like a very smart move. But that’s our God for you! Despite their learning and wisdom, the three wise men didn’t think to look for the Light of the World in the tiny city of Bethlehem – they went to the court, where you would expect to find a king. But God didn’t choose to become human in the center of power, God chose to become human in the modest outskirts of Jewish society.

We don’t live in the centers of power. Few of us have influential friends. None of us have the money to change the cause of elections or influence politicians. But all of us have been given the power to become the children of God. All of us have been given the power to manifest the light of God. All of us are called to bring peace, healing and yes, even salvation to the world - always remembering that it is a gift given to us, a gift that we are given to share. A gift that grows in the sharing.

And the time is now.

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.