Sunday, May 27, 2018

Holy Trinity

May 27, 2018

Isaiah 6.1-8; Romans 8.12-17; John 3.1-17

+ When all is said and done, at the end of the day, I can say this about myself: I am actually fairly orthodox in most of what I believe.  I don’t say that pridefully. I’m not bragging. I’m just saying…

Yes, I know. I’m pretty liberal.  At least socially.

But theologically, I’m pretty cut and dry. It would be hard to find a major heresy in most of my thinking.

OK. Yes, I’ll admit I’m somewhat of a universalist. I do believe that, eventually, we will all be together with Christ in heaven. I really do believe that. I do not believe in an eternal hell.

But the rest of it is pretty much straightforward. I believe in the Incarnation of Christ.

I believe Jesus is the Word of God made flesh.

I believe prayer does make a difference in this world.

I believe in the Resurrection.

I believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist.

And let’s not get into my view of Mary and the saints.

But, then, there’s the Trinity. 

Sigh.

The Trinity.

I’ll make it simple for you. I don’t know what it is for certain. I don’t know how it works.   But somehow I know it works. And I think that is where most of us are with the Trinity.

Most of us, let’s face it, don’t give the Trinity a lot of thought. For me, it’s a mystery. Which is not a bad thing.  I love the mystery of our faith. And let me tell  you, there is nothing more mysterious than the Trinity.

God as Three-in-One—traditionally seen as the Father, or Parent or Creator, the Son or Redeemer and the Spirit or Sanctifier.

I know, I know.  It’s difficult to wrap our minds around this concept of God.

The question we regularly get is: how can God be three and yet one?  How can we, in all honesty, say that we believe in one God when we worship God as three?  Aren’t we simply talking about three gods? (We’re definitely not, by the way—just to be clear about that)

Whole Church councils have debated the issue of the Trinity throughout history.  The Church actually has split at times over its interpretation of what exactly this Trinity is.  Even as recently as the 1960s, when Episcopal Bishop James Pike denied the Trinity and was brought up on heresy charges, it has been an issue for us as the Church.


We can debate it all we want this morning. We can talk what is orthodox or right-thinking about the Trinity all we want. And I will admit, I probably have been heretical in some of my thinking on this issue.

But, for me, I think it all comes to down to how we experience God in our own personal lives. Now the word I use for this experiential understanding of the Trinity is tri-personal. If we look at our relationship with God in a tri-personal way, maybe—maybe—it sort of, kind of, maybe makes a bit more sense.

One tri-personal God—a God who cannot be limited in any way, but a God who is able to come to us and be revealed to us in a variety of ways.  We can go on and on about theology and philosophy and all manner of thoughts about God, but ultimately what matters is how we interact with our God.

How is our relationship with God and with each other deepened and made more real by this one, tri-personal God? How do become closer to God?

This is our primary responsibility: our relationship with God. How can all this talk about God—how can this thinking about God—then deepen our relationship with God?

Our goal is not to understand God: we will never understand God.  God is not some Rubik’s Cube or a puzzle that has to be solved.

Our goal is to know God.  Our goal is to love God.  Our goal is to try to experience God as God wishes to be experienced by us.

Because God does know us. God does love us.

And, more likely than not, we have actually experienced our God in this tri-personal way more than once in our lives.

I personally have experienced God in a variety of ways; certainly I have experiences God in that tri-personal way countless times.  I have known God as a loving and caring parent, especially when I think about those times when I have felt marginalized by people or the Church or society or by friends and colleagues. And let me tell you I have definitely been clinging to the parental aspect of God in these last few months since my mother died.

I have also known God as my redeemer—as One who has come to me where I am, as One who knows my suffering because this One also has suffered as well. And this One has promised that I too can be a child of this God who is my—and our—Parent.    I have been able to take comfort in the fact that God is not some distant deity who could not comprehend what I have gone through in my life and in this limited, mortal body.  God the Redeemer knows what it was to be limited by our bodies.  There is something wonderful and holy in that realization.

And I have known the healing and renewal of the Spirit of God of my life.  Certainly we, at St. Stephen’s have experienced and continue to experience this Spirit’s presence in the life and renewal we are celebrating in our congregation.  We have known in a very real way the healing and renewal of the Spirit of God here among us.  And, I don’t need to tell you,  it is wonderful.

In our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, we get a real and beautiful glimpse of how God seems to work in this kind of tri-personal way.  We hear,

“When we cry Abba! Father! It is the very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit…


So, The Spirit helps us to recognize this parental relationship with God. It then goes on,

“…that we are children of God [like Jesus], and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,”

Here is the tri-personal relationship at work.  We can also see our place in this relationship.  The Spirit helps us to see our place, as fully-accepted, fully-loved children of God, alongside Jesus, reaping the same rewards Jesus himself was able to reap, doing so because of Jesus.

So, in this one fairly short, but truly wonderful scripture, we see it all working together well, like a well-oiled machine.  In a sense, we, as children of God and heirs with Christ, are essentially being invited to join in with the work of God. We are essentially being invited to part of this Tri-Personal relationship.
 We are being invited to join into the work of the Tri-personal God.

It reminds me of that ikon by Andrei Rubelev that I have put out in the Narthex this morning. We are being invited to join in to the work God is doing.  And I think that is why this icon is so important to me.

We are constantly being invited to the table of God. We are called to sit down at that table with this tri-personal God, to join in that circle of love and, as followers of Jesus, to share that love with others, then we are truly celebrating what this Sunday is all about.  We are sharing the love and work of our tri-personal God.

We are saying to God, as Isaiah did in today’s reading from the Hebrew scriptures:

“Here I am!”

So, no matter what the theologians argue about, no matter what those supposedly learned teachers proclaim, ultimately, our understanding of God always needs to be based on our own experience to some extent.  The mysteries of God do not have to be a frustrating aspect of our church and our faith.  Rather they should widen and expand our faith life and our understanding and experience of God and, in turn, of each other.

So, today, as we ponder our tri-personal God—and we should ponder this tri-personal God in our lives—as we consider how God has worked in our lives in a tri-personal way— and who God is in our lives, let us remember how amazing God is in the ways God is revealed to us.  

God cannot be limited or quantified or reduced.

God can only be experienced.

And adored.

And pondered.

God can only be shared with others as we share love with each other.  When we do that—when we live out and share our loving God with others—then we are joining with the tri-personal God who is here with us, loving us with a love deeper than any love we have ever known before.



Saturday, May 26, 2018

Gin Templeton has been working hard on the last stained glass window in the nave at St. Stephen’s. Here is the beautiful butterfly for the plate dedicated to the memory of my mother. The window will be blessed and dedicated on June 10. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Pentecost

May 20, 2018

Ezekiel 37:1-14; Acts 2.1-21

+ My guess is you you’re probably sick of me mentioning my small amount of Jewish Ancestry. As some of you know, I took my DNA test last November and found out that I am partly Jewish. Which, for me, was incredible and wonderful!  And made so much sense to who I am.

But since then, I’ve really run with it.  And I’ve really embraced it.  And I have to say that my own faith, my own perception of Christianity has changed a bit as a result of this discovery. Seeing scripture, theology,  even these feasts of the Church through a Jewish lens is actually amazing! And I have been enjoying it greatly. It’s sort of like it’s all brand new to me!

Let’s take today, for example.  Yes, we are of course celebrating Pentecost today.  It’s a very important day in the life of the Church. Today is essentially the “birthday” of the Church.

But, in Judaism, the feast of Shavuot is being celebrated this weekend.  Shavuot is a wonderful and important Jewish feast. It is now 50 days since Passover.

The word Shavuot is Hebrew for “weeks.” The belief is that, after fifty days of traveling after leaving Egypt, the nation of Israel now has finally arrived at Mount Sinai. And on Shavuot, the Torah, the “Law,” the 10 Commandments were delivered to them by Moses.

So, in a very real sense, this is an important day not just for Judaism, but for us as well.  The Torah, the 10 Commandments, are important to us too.  

Our feast of Pentecost is very similar in many ways.   It now 50 days after Easter.  The word “Pentecost” refers to the Greek word for 50.  And it’s connection with Shavuot is pretty clear.

Shavuot is this  feast on which the early Jews offered to God the first fruits of their harvests. Now that is particularly meaningful to us Christians and what we celebrate on this day of Pentecost.  It is meaningful that the Holy Spirit came among us on this feast in which the first fruits were offered to God.  After all, those first Christiana who gathered in that upper room in our reading this morning from Acts, were truly the first fruits of the Church.  And let’s not forget that those first Christians were also Jews, gathering to celebrate the festival of Shavuot.  God chose to send the Spirit on those first followers of Jesus on just the right day!

Still, like nuclear power or electricity, God’s Spirit is sometimes a hard thing for us to grasp and understand.   The Spirit can be elusive and strange and sometimes we might have a hard time wrapping our minds around the Spirit.

But it is clear from the words of Jesus before he ascends back into heaven what the role of the Spirit is for us:

 "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Although Jesus’s prophecy from God might no longer be among  as it was when Jesus himself was with us physically, the prophecy does remains with us in the sending of God’s spirit.  Jesus will leave—we will not be able to touch him and feel him and listen to his human voice again, on this side of the veil.  But God is leaving something amazing in Jesus’ place. Jesus is gone from us physically, but in the Spirit Jesus is still with us.

In a sense what happens with the Descent of God’s Spirit upon us is the fact that we now have the potential to be prophets ourselves.  The same Spirit which spoke to Ezekiel in our reading this morning, which spoke to Isaiah, which spoke to Jeremiah, which spoke to Moses, which spoke through Jesus, also can now speak to us and be revealed to us just as it spoke and was revealed to those prophets from the Hebrew Bible and through Jesus.  That is who the Spirit is in our midst.

The Spirit we celebrate today—and hopefully every day—and in our lives is truly the spirit of the God that came to us and continues to be with us.  It is through this Spirit that we come to know God in ways we might never have before.  

God’s Spirit comes to us wherever we may be in our lives—in any situation or frustration.  God’s Spirit is with us, as Jesus promised, always.

Always.

For those of us who want to grasp these experiences—who want to have proof of them—the Spirit doesn’t fit well into the plan.

We can’t grasp the Spirit.

We can’t make the Spirit do what we want it to do.

In that way, the Spirit truly is like the Wind that came rushing upon those first disciples.

So, how do we know how the Spirit is working in our lives?  Well, as Jesus said, we know the tree by its fruit.  In our case, we know the Spirit best through the fruits God’s Spirit gives us.

Remember what the feast of Pentecost originally was? It was the Jewish feast on which the first fruits were offered to God.

In a sense, what happens on our Pentecost, is God returning those fruits back to us.  On the feast of Pentecost, we celebrate the fruits the Spirit of God gives to us and we can be thankful for them, and, most importantly, share them in turn with those around us.  The Spirit comes to us and manifests itself to us in the fruits given to us by the Spirit.

We often hear about Pentecostals—those Christians who have been born (or baptized) in the Spirit.  They are the ones who speak in tongues and prophesy and have words of knowledge or raise their hands in joyful praise—all those things we good Episcopalians find a bit disconcerting.  These Pentecostals—as strange as we might find these practices—really do have a lot to teach the rest of us Christians about the workings of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

I remember the first time I ever attended a Pentecostal church.  Rather than being attracted to that way of worship, I was actually turned off. Partly my reason for doing so, is that by that time in my life I had, in fact experienced the Spirit very profoundly in my life.  

For me, the Spirit of God came to me not in a noisy, raucous way, but rather in a quiet, though just as intense, way.  The Sprit of God as I have experienced it has never been a “raining down” so to speak, but rather a “welling up from within.”

The fruits of the Spirit for me have been things such as an overwhelming joy in my life.  I have known the Spirit to draw close when I feel a true humbleness come to me.  When the Spirit is near, I feel clear-headed and, to put it simply, happy.  Or, in the midst of what seems like an unbreakable dark grief, there is suddenly a real and potent sense of hope and light—that is the Spirit at work.

When the future seems bleak and ugly, the Spirit can come in and make everything worth living again. We experience God’s Spirit whenever we feel joy or hope.

As Jesus says in today’s Gospel, the Spirit of God is a Spirit of Truth. We experience God’s Spirit when we strive for truth in this world, when truth comes to us.

In turn, we are far from God’s Spirit when we let bitterness and anger and frustration lead the way. We frustrate God’s Spirit when we grumble and mumble about each other and hinder the ministries of others in our church, when we let our own agendas win out over those who are trying also to do something to increase God’s Kingdom in our midst.  We deny the Spirit when we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

No doubt everyone here this morning has felt God’s Spirit in some way, although we might not have readily recognized that experience as God’s Spirit.  But our job, as Christians, is to allow those fruits of the Spirit to flourish and grow. For us, we let the Spirit of God flourish when we continue to strive for truth and justice, when stand up against the dark forces of this world. The Spirit of God compels again and again to stand up and to be defiant against the dark forces of this world!

On the feast of Shavuot, the scripture we heard from Ezekiel today is read. Again, remember, those first followers of Jesus on that first day of Pentecost would have heard this scripture that same day as well.  It is an amazing scripture and an amazing vision. In it, God’s Spirit revives the bones in the valley.  What appears to be dead and lifeless is given life by God’s life-giving Spirit.   And that reading ends with these very powerful words that speak so clearly not only to the Jewish people, but to us as well. Ezekiel says,

Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

God’s spirit is placed within us so that the graves of our lives may be opened, and we can stand in that place to which God has lead us.  That dynamic and life-giving presence of the Spirit of God speaks loudly to us.

Certainly we have seen God’s Spirit at work here in our congregation as we celebrate a bountiful harvest—the growth and vitality here. We see the Holy Spirit at work in the ministries we do, in the love we share with others, with the truth we proclaim as Christians, even in the face of opposition. We experience this Spirit of truth when we stand up against injustice, wherever it may be.

This is how God’s Spirit comes to us.  The Spirit does not always tear open the ceiling and force its way into our lives.  The Spirit rather comes to us just when we need the Spirit to come to us.  Though, often the Spirit comes to us as fire—an all-consuming fire that burns way all anger and hatred and fear and pettiness and nagging and all the other negative, dead chaff we carry within us.

So, this week, in the glow of the Pentecost light, in the Shavuot glow with the Law written deep in our hearts, let us look for the gifts of the Spirit in our lives and in those around us.  Let us open ourselves to God’s Spirit and let it flow through us like a caressing wind and burn through us like a purifying fire.  And let us remember the true message of the Spirit to all of us.

Whenever it seems like God is distant or nonexistent, that is when God might possibly be closest of all, dwelling within us, being breathed unto us as with those first disciples.  On these feasts of Shavuot and Pentecost—these feasts of the fruits of God—these feasts of the fire of God—let us give thanks for this God who never leaves us, who never stops loving us, but who comes to us again and again in mercy and in truth. Amen.




Saturday, May 19, 2018

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Here's an article from today's Fargo Forum in which I was interviewed by April Knudson about the first Mother's Day without Mom.

7 Easter / The Litany for Women in our lives

The Sunday after the Ascension

May 13, 2018

John 17.6-19


+ I know it seems strange to say this on this beautiful May morning—on Mother’s Day, but you all know we are still in the Easter season, right? I know. Easter, way back on April 1, seems like ages ago already. But for another week, we are still in the Easter season, still saying out Alleluias, still lighting the Paschal candle at every Mass.

I don’t know if I can say we’re still basking in the glow of the fire lit at our Easter Vigil.  But, it does definitely seem like there is a winding down.  A winding down of the Easter season.

Certainly this week, in our scripture readings, we see this slow movement away from the Easter season toward Pentecost, which is next week.   For the last several weeks, we have been basking in the afterglow of the resurrected Jesus. In our Gospel readings, this resurrected Jesus has walked with us, has talked with us, has eaten with us and has led the way for us.  

Last Wednesday night at Mass, we celebrated the Eve of the Feast of the Ascension.  In that Mass we commemorated the ascension of Jesus.  Now, he has been taken up. And with that we find a transformation of sorts happening.  With his ascension, our perception of Jesus has changed.  No longer is he just a wise sage, the misunderstood rebel, the religious renegade that he seemed to be when he walked around, performing miracles and upsetting the religious and political powers that be.

He is now something much more.  He is more than just a regular prophet.  He is the Prophet extraordinaire.  He is more than just a king—a despotic monarch of some sort like Caesar or Herod.  He is truly the Messiah.  At his ascension, we find that he is, in a sense, anointed, crowned and ordained.  And he now sits at the right hand of God.

At his ascension, we find that what we are gazing at is something we could not comprehend before.  He has reminded us that God has taken a step toward us.  He has showed us that God loves us and cares for us. He has reminded us that God speaks to us not from a pillar of cloud or fire, not on some shroud-covered mountain, not in visions. But God is with us and speaks in us. We are now empowered to be God’s prophets.   

The puzzle pieces are falling into place.  What seemed so confusing and unreal is starting to come together. God truly does love us and know us.

And next week, one more puzzle piece falls into place. Next week, we will celebrate God’s Spirit descending upon and staying with us.

For the moment, we are in this plateau, caught in between those two events—Ascension and Pentecost—trying to make sense of what has happened and trying to prepare ourselves for what is about to happen.  But things are about to really change.  We are caught between Jesus’ ascent into heaven and the Spirit’s descent to us.  This week, smack dab in the middle of the twelve days between the Ascension and Pentecost, we find ourselves examining the impact of this event of God in our lives.

And God has made an impact in our lives.  We, those of us who are fortunate enough to experience the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, at least liturgically, in our Sunday readings and in our liturgy, find ourselves constantly confronted with the meaning of these events from God.  We are faced with the reality of them and what we should do to make sense of them.

I’m not certain there is a way we can make sense of the Ascension, but I can say this: if we only see the ascension as some kind of mystical event and don’t see it as a mirror for ourselves, we’ve missed the point.  The commission that the ascended Jesus gave to the apostles, is still very much our commission as well.  We must love—fully and completely.  

Because in loving, we are living.

In loving, we are living fully and completely.

In loving, we are bringing the ascended Christ to others.

And we must go out and live out this commission in the world.

When we do that, the ascended Christ is very much still acting in the world.

When we think about what those first followers went through in a fairly short period of time—Jesus’ betrayal and murder, his resurrection and his ascension—we realize it was a life altering experience.  Their lives—their faith, their whole sense of being—was changed forever.  They would never be who they were again.

We also have had life-altering experiences in our own lives.  Oftentimes, when those experiences happen to us, we find ourselves reeling from them.  We find ourselves simply moving through the life-altering events with bated breath. Only later, when everything has settled down, do we have the opportunity to examine what had just happened to us.  And it is then that we realize the enormity of these changes in our lives.

(And yes, I’m preaching to myself here, as well, of course)

For those first followers of Jesus, it seems like they didn’t have much of a change to ponder their life-altering experiences. As soon as one life-altering experience happened, another one came along. Just when they had experienced Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, they encountered this outpouring of God’s Spirit in their lives.

The waters, it seemed, were kept perpetually stirred.  Nothing was allowed to settle.

That is what our ministry is often like. One day, very early in my career, I came to that realization myself.  Ministry is perpetually on-going.  There is never an ending to it.  It’s always something.  One week brings another set of opportunities, set-backs, trip-ups, tediums, frustrations, joys, celebrations.

Ministry truly is a never-ending roller-coaster ride of emotions and feelings. There are moments when it all seems to be useless and pointless.  There are moments when one is, quite simply, frightened.  There are moments when one feels so overwhelmed by the fact that one is simply not qualified to be doing the work. These are things those first followers of Jesus no doubt struggled with.  

And we all struggle with these doubts in our own lives.  Yet we, like them, are sustained. We, like them, are upheld.  We, like them, are supported by the God who welcomed the ascended Jesus, whose work we are doing in this world.  In those moments when our works seems useless, when it seems like we have done no good work, the God who brought Jesus back still triumphs.

Our job, in this time between Jesus’ departure from us and the return of the Holy Spirit to us, is simply one of letting God do what God needs to do in this interim.  We need to let the Holy Spirit work in us and through us.  We need to let the God who brought Jesus to heaven be the end result of our work.  When it seems that we have failed, we need to realize that, above us, the Ascension is happening.  

All we have to do is look up. All we have to do is stop gazing at our dirty, callused, over-worked hands—all we have to do is turn from our self-centeredness—and look up.  And there we will see the triumph.  And as we do, we will realize that we are not failures. There is no failure with a God who calls to ascend.  

Jesus has ascended.  And we have—or will—ascend with him as well.  He prays in today’s Gospel that we

“may have [his] joy made complete in [ourselves].”

That joy comes when we let the Holy Spirit be reflected in we do in this world.

So, let this Spirit of joy be made complete in you.  Let the Spirit of joy live in you and through you and be reflected to others by you.  When we do, we will be, as Jesus promises us,

“sanctified in truth.”

We will be sanctified in the truth of knowing and living out our lives in the light of ascension.  We will be sanctified by the fact that we have looked up and seen the truth happening above us in beauty and light and joy .

I would like to close my sermon today, on this Mother’s Day, with a prayer for all the women of our faith and our lives. I have freely adapted this “Litany of Women” from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals]

A Litany to Honor Women

Let us pray
We walk in the company of the women who have gone before, Mothers of the faith both named and unnamed testifying with ferocity and faith to God's Spirit of Wisdom and Healing.

They are the judges, the prophets, the martyrs, poets, artists, healers, lovers and Saints who are near to us in the shadow of awareness, in the crevices of memory, in the landscape of our dreams.

We today walk in the company of Deborah,
who judged the Israelites with authority and strength.

We walk in the company of Esther,
who used her position as Queen to ensure the welfare of her people.

We walk in the company of whose names have been lost and silenced,
who kept and cradled the wisdom of God.

We walk in the company of the woman with the flow of blood,
who audaciously sought her healing and release.

We walk in the company of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who said “yes” to God, who carried within her God’s Word, who  cradled in her arms the broken body of her Son.

We walk in the company of Mary Magdalene,
who wept at the empty tomb until the risen Christ appeared.

We walk in the company of Phoebe,
who led an early church in the empire of Rome.

We walk in the company of Perpetua of Carthage,
whose witness in the third century led to her martyrdom.

We walk in the company of Julian of Norwich,
who wed imagination and theology proclaiming "all shall be well."

We walk in the company of the women of St. Stephen’s, past and present and future, both named and unnamed, who have stood up, spoken out and ministered boldly in the Name of the One who called them.

We walk in the company of Joyce, who endured, who persisted, who stood tall against disappointment and adversity, and who ended her journey on this earth with strength and dignity, comforted and welcomed by her God.

We walk in the company of you Mothers of the faith, who teach us to resist evil with boldness, to lead with wisdom, to heal and to love God and others by both word and action.

Amen.






Tuesday, May 8, 2018

100 Days

Today is the 100th day since my mother died. Here is a poem marking the occasion:




Sunday, May 6, 2018

Rogation 2018

Thank you to Janie Breth for this photo of today's Rogation procession/blessing

6 Easter

Rogation Sunday
May 6, 2018

1 John 5.1-6; John 15.6-17

+ Yesterday, I did something that was very difficult for me: I buried my mother’s ashes. For any of you have went through such a thing—a delayed burial, months after a loved one has died, you know the weirdness of such an event. There’s kind of a delayed reaction.  What I was surprised by was the intensity of my emotions. There was a weird finality to it.

And seeing that little deep square hole dug in the ground felt just like an equally
deep wound right inside me. Just when you think you might be moving on, when you think the harshest days are behind you, here is a new wave of really awful, fresh emotions.

Luckily, for those of us who cling to our faith, these are not moments of despair.  These are not moments of feeling completely abandoned by God and our loved ones. They are just moments of loss.

I will say that my alleluia this morning, and actually throughout this whole season of Easter, has maybe not been as joyful as I would like.

I recently came across a quote I wrote in a notebook from a book I read several years ago called The Holy or the Broken by Allan Light.  The book is about Leonard Cohen’s very famous song “Hallelujah,” one of those truly enigmatic, amazing songs that one just cannot escape in our culture right now. The quote from the book came from the Reverend Sandy Scott, a Presbyterian pastor from Saskatchewan. She says,

“There are days, I am sure, when you and I and even great King David could only muster a cold and lonely Hallelujah. It may be that the cold and lonley Hallelujah is a turning point that marks our salvation, because we know only God can save us from some of the situations we find ourselves in. The cold and lonely Hallelujah is a surrender to the mystery and backhanded glory of God.”

The backhanded glory of God. That, in a nutshell, sums up exactly what so many of us have known as we journey through grief and loss and pain.  

And for me, one of the things I have been clinging to this week is working on the sermon for today.  Because, as you all know, our scriptures this morning deal with one of my two favorite preaching subjects.

OK.  Most of you have hearing my sermons for a long time now.  You know I am a pretty simple preacher.  I have about two subjects I pretty consistently preach about. And those two preaching subjects are?

That’s right.

Love and baptism.

And in our scripture readings for today, we get both.  (I’ll spare you baptism today in this sermon)

You know, for all my preaching about love, you’d think I was some kind of hippie or something.  Yes, I love to preach about love.

Today, we get a double dose of love in our scriptures today.  

Jesus, in our Gospel reading, is telling us yet again to love.  He tells us:

“Abide in my love.”

A beautiful phrase!

And St. John, in his epistle, reminds us of that commandment to love God and to love each other. Now, as you hear me preach again and again, this love is what being a Christian is all about.

It is not about commandments and following the letter of the law.  It is not about being nice and sweet all the time.  It is not about being “right” all the time.  It is certainly not about being morally superior!

It is about following Jesus—and following Jesus means loving fully and completely.  And following Jesus means obeying him and doing what he did. And what did he do, what did he preach?   He preached:

Love God.

Love each other.

Yes, I know.  It actually does sound kind of…hippie-like.  It sounds fluffy.

But the love Jesus is speaking of is not a sappy, fluffy love.  Love, for Jesus—and for us who follow Jesus—is a radical thing.  To love radically means to love everyone—even those people who are difficult to love.  To love those people we don’t want to love—to love the people who have hurt us or abused us or wronged us in any way—is the most difficult thing we can do.  If we can do it all. And sometimes we can’t.

But we can’t get around the fact that this is the commandment from Jesus. We must love.

For me—maybe I’m just simple.  Maybe I’m just a simple priest, up here in North Dakota.  I am at this incredible congregation that, on first appearances, might seem like some quirky little congregation. But underneath it all, it is this strange, powerful spiritual powerhouse of a congregation. And it is a congregation that embodies solidly this command of Jesus to

“Abide in my love.”

Maybe not perfectly. Maybe not in a classic sense. But certainly in its attempt to do what we are called to do.

Call me simple but abiding in Jesus’ love leaves no room for homophobia or racism or sexism or any other kind of discrimination.  You can’t abide in love and live with hatred and anger.  It just can’t be done.

When Jesus says “Abide in my love” it really a challenge to us as the Church. And, as you hear me say, again and again, the Church IS changing.  And it should!

The Church of the future, whether we like it or not, has to shed those old ways of abiding in anger and fear and hatred.  The Church of the future needs to constantly strive to abide in Jesus love.  If it does not, it will become an antique.  It will become an outmoded, hate-filled cesspool.  And if it does, then that’s the way will be.

Now, for me, I won’t stop following Jesus.  Because if that’s the place the Church becomes, I know it is not the place Jesus is leading me to.  And hopefully none of the rest of us either.

And if that’s what the Church becomes, it will, in fact, stop being the Church. If the Church becomes a place of hatred or anger, I doubt many of us would remain members of that church.

This is why the Church must change.  This is why the Church must be a place of love and compassion and radical acceptance and inclusion.  Because the alternative is too frightening for me.

This coming Thursday, we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus.  On that day, he was physically taken up from us.  But what he has left us with is this reality of us—his followers—being the physical Body of Jesus in this world.

We can only be that physical Body of Jesus when we abide in his love.  When we love fully and radically.  There’s no getting around that.  There’s no rationalizing that away.  We can argue about this.  We can quote scriptures and biblical and ecclesiastical precedence all we want.

But abiding in love is abiding in love.

And abiding in love means loving—fully and completely and without judgment.

To be Jesus’ presence in the world means loving fully and completely and radically.

Call that hippie-like.  Call that heresy or a simplistic understanding of what Jesus is saying or part of the so-called “liberal agenda.”  I call it abiding it in Jesus’ love, which knows no bounds, which knows no limits.

So, today, and this week, abide in this love.
Let us celebrate God by living out God’s command to love.  As we remember and rejoice in the Ascension, let our hearts, full of love, ascend with Jesus to God’s side. Let us move from the backhanded glory of God, to the full and wonderful glory of God.  Let them soar upward in joy at the fact that Jesus is still with us.  And we when we love—when we love each other and God—Jesus’ spirit will remain with us and be embodied in us.

Alleluia!