Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Wonder with the Hen, the Lion, and the Puppy in the Everlasting Basket

The Trinitarian Basket
(with an inner and outer beast)
Nicodemus comes to Jesus in darkness, curious and confused. Jesus speaks of being recreated from beyond. This busting up of expected categories seems to further blind and perplex Nicodemus. Nicodemus is a Pharisee, and they're not the evil villains we sometimes make them out to be yet they seem to really like their silos, everything in its place. He is looking for a sign. A good concrete thing to put in its place. Whereas if he had found the freedom to wonder, to let go, to play along, he could have known that god is everflowingly lifegiving. The text doesn’t tell us how Nicodemus responded, but the silence speaks volumes.

Fourth-century pastor and Trinitarian theologian Gregory of Nyssa cautions us: concepts create idols, wonder understands. It is Trinity Sunday and the questions of the day are some of the oldest questions in Christianity. How do we fit together the Hebrew scriptural roots with the experience of Jesus as eternally foundational and alive historically and a part of us now? Gregory of Nyssa is wise when he warns us: concepts create idols, wonder understands. I don’t know what you think or feel about any point of trinitarian concepts, but I am glad you are here. And I invite you to wonder with me about a hen, a lion, and a puppy in an everlasting basket.

There once was a basket that was just the right size for three friends, and everything they loved. It had room enough to embrace, and somehow room to dance, and somehow room to spread far far out, and never feel far apart. In this everlasting basket is one God. God the hen, God the lion, and God the puppy. 

Jesus gives us the image of a mother hen. He offers us the parable where we are nervous chickens are running around the yard and the great wing of god the mother hen gathers us. I imagine this Hen brings us ‘our daily bread’. Hens as an image for the creating god are even more fantastic if you imagine a hen that's always making eggs! Yet I have a deeper reason, that I don’t think Jesus knew about - at least not the way we do. Fossil records and genetics tell us that inside the history of a chicken is a dinosaur. A chicken is a reminder of the extraordinary expansiveness of time and space and the re-creativity of god. For all the kind and benevolent imagery of that mother hen with her wing, the word dinosaur comes from the word meaning terrible and fearsome and the definition of the holy isn’t only placid peacefulness but a kind of trembling in fascination awe. This chicken is a symbol of the essence of God’s love and tremendous power. But also a reminder that God's time and being is beyond our limited scope.

In the everlasting basket, where there is a hen, then maybe we can wonder about Christ as a lion. If you're wondering why I've chosen a lion, you need to read the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. That Christological fable where the Christ figure is Aslan. The great but not tame lion, the king of all Narnia. He is enchanting and he is fierce all at once. When Aslan is on the move darkness and frigid-ness come to an end. There is no fuzziness about whether or not Aslan is a Christ figure in the Narnia series. So a lion is a good image for the being of beingness that is Jesus the Christ.

The last creature in the Trinitarian everlasting basket is a puppy. To really understand the biblical idea of Holy Spirit we actually have to forget most of the ideas we have that go with the word spirit or as some of you may remember the translation ghost. The Spirit of God is animated, always loudly breathing hardly ever stationary. Like a puppy. They are full of energy anyone who's had a puppy or spent time around a grown-up dog who does not know that they are not a puppy, you know about the force of passion and energy I am speaking of in a concrete way. There is no divisiveness or tepidness or contempt in the Spirit of God. Furthermore, animals in my life who have known that I have been in grief have come to my side stayed with me. Maybe you know this experience too. Active tangible drive and empathy of a puppy is a good image for the is-ness of the Spirit of God.

I would be remiss if I didn't name that what the personas of the Trinity share is the be in the being-ness of God, the is in the isness, the will of willingness. Each of my animal pals have a bee sticker to remind us of that essence, the be of being commonality and also to remind us of the community that the Trinity are in their are-ness. Like bees.

So why does wondering about the Trinity matter? It matters because there are foxes in the farmyard. The Trinity matters because it seems so dark, and around us there is a frozen wasteland of numbness and uncaring that unconfronted will continue to break and destroy us. We bind ourselves to the strong name of the Trinity, not for ourselves alone but for each other. The Trinity matters because it models God’s intention for the whole creation: it is and it practices fluid tangible love. Categories create idols, wonder understands. The hen, the lion and the puppy, they're held in an everlasting basket that is as close as an embrace and is his big and broad as the universe. There is room in that basket for you room for your hope room to never feel alone. Room to act concretely against distortion and polarization.

In the baptismal font I have 5 different kind of stickers for you. There are chicken and lion and puppy stickers. There are also dinosaur stickers and bee stickers. As you leave today I invite you to take just three stickers, it is, after all, Trinity Sunday, and we're brought to you by the number 3. I want you to make a choice. Choose one image that comforts you choose one that challenges you and one that could motivate you. Take your 3 stickers and wonder have some prayerful curiosity about what we can do to release perilous certainties, to build fierce relatedness, to wonder about how we are well-equipped to partner with God to become his beloved community.

Categories may be temporarily satisfying, but they are the source of so much human-made terror. And nothing in who we are called to be in union with, nothing that is union with each other and the loving God of all seems to be about exclusive categories. The Holy Trinity, one God is at work in our wondering, our courage and our darkest struggles. Let us live our way into our questions with wonder. One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, love you and are on the move with you, with us, with all. Amen.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, Washington
May 27, 2018

Monday, May 14, 2018

Everything: Psalm 1 and Thresholds and Caregiving in Community

The only high school graduation gift I really remember, and still have is this book you may remember called ‘All I Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten’. I'm not entirely sure the title holds true for me, or anyone else anymore. Life is so complex and daunting, but then I hear of friends giving kindergartners lessons on how to blow your nose and think, oh yeah, that is really important. So maybe.

Our Psalm today is Psalm 1 . Somebody, somewhere, some time, was led to put this psalm first. It is a prelude of sorts, intentionally written, or reshaped to serve as a prologue that informs us about the book that is to come. Psalm 1 is a preview that proclaims that the whole Psalter is to be instruction for life together. How do we pray as we journey into the borderlands and promised lands in troubled times? The answers this book travels through are a road trip dialogue between God and humanity that is as scenic and complicated as life itself.

Taken as a whole, the sacred song of the Psalms is this: we are called to be a community whose foundation is the God of compassion. The Psalms keep their eye on the destination, which is the ultimate reign of God. A reign which is not of raw brutality but steadfast love. It is motherly compassion and an ideal commitment of the beloved friend, neighbor, or caregiver.

Psalm 1 and 2 belong together and they open this library by summarizing this collection of poetic songs and prayers as everything you need to know. To emphasize this point the first word of Psalm 1 basically begins with the Hebrew version of the letter a and the last word begins with the Hebrew version of the letter z. Kindergarten stuff. However, there are two words we need to consider a little deeper comprehend today’s Psalm.

First is happy. There is a part of happy that is utter joy, warm cookies delight. But there is also a side of how we use the word happy that is saccharine shallow vapidness. The part that is a smiling dayglow glitter emoticon. There is a part of happy that is an unattainable goal that shames our doldrums and griefs and steals the satisfaction and the holy from the daily reality of life.

What is translated in the prayer book as happy is elsewhere sometimes translated as blessed. It is that wish or prayer for well being we utter when we say bless you. It is the naming of the glowing centeredness and glad purpose with which we desire you leave this Eucharistic liturgy with. However, there is also a way in which blessed gets used as implying privileged or prosperous. A way in which the idea is that if you follow the rules God is pleased and you get not only your allowance but also a bonus. Which isn’t the way the God of Jubilee works. Isn’t evident in the God who is on the side of the least the last and the lost. And it is really difficult to find in the life of Jesus who we understand to be the very essence and image of God.

So to begin this Psalm in deep understanding if you want to imagine, grabbing a pencil, and crossing through the word happy, and write Centered Gladness instead. But hold on to that pencil. Because the second word to reconsider, is law. Imagine crossing it out too and now write instead torah. The Hebrew text says torah, and a sort of straightforward translation of the word would be instruction. Torah is not just recited text, it is more accurate to think of Torah as a way of life. The difference between law and Torah is rather like the difference between knowing about Jesus and following Jesus. Torah is the instruction of God as learned through people dwelling with text and teaching and tradition and each other. It is holy and communal knowledge of what makes the difference between a healthy society and one that is lost and broken and fragmented. The torah wisdom way that leads to divine gladness and not wickedness, is dwelling day in and day out with a rooted community.

Today we are celebrating our graduates, Sending your loved ones out into the world is what we have been striving for it brings us gladness and delight and it is oh so difficult too. I think this time of the year is a good time to remember that caregiving Does seem to require a Divine sort of countenance. The ones we love may not make the choice you would make the first time or the second time or the evertime, but still we love you support you hold you in prayer and welcome you home again. Like the psalms, there are moments of thanksgiving and praise and lament moments of orientation when you think you have it all figured out, and then the disorientation when you have no idea what is going on. Maybe all we needed to know we could learn by studying and praying the Psalms.

So friends we are sending some of you out across the Cascade curtain and one Whitman graduate across the pond. And there are two things that I want all of us to remember from our Psalm today. The first is that you are never alone or unloved. You are made for community and welcome in this community (in the broadest understanding of this). I urge/invite you to make a deliberate effort to find a sacred community to be a part of a place where you can give and receive a foundation of steadfast love across generations and peer groups. Now I really want that to be a church and I absolutely want that to be an Episcopal or Anglican one, because I'm a bit partisan. I urge it because part of my story in my college years is that getting involved in the church community being lured there by free dinner on Sunday night gave me a beloved community when I felt lost and all alone. Thanks be to God. Furthermore, studies show that the correlating factor for success in high-pressure collegiate studies is participating in an active spiritual community.

The second bit of advice I want you to take from Psalm 1 is that there is wickedness and villainy out there, but you already know that. I want to remind all of us that sometimes we can miss how evil creeps in by casual forms like ‘everybody's doing it’ and ‘nothing I can do really matters’. More than that I urge you to use your voice STAND UP SPEAK UP ACT UP. Name cruelty and injustice when you see it. Pursue gladness for all with your whole self. Because the divine wisdom of the ages is that true happiness, real blessedness doesn't come from a momentary selfish high but from loving yourself and your neighbors as much as God loves you.

I cannot stand here in this place today and not make a brief mention of the Acts lesson as well. Of how in the mystery of the lectionary, which is a set three-year rotation of readings, chosen a while ago by a committee far from here, and they not only gave us this Psalm for today but also the Acts lesson which is about choosing a new collaborative leader. And so are we. Our prayer for St. Paul’s, which we have taken to heart is rather like the Psalms. It is built out of the personal and communal, it is thanksgiving and wisdom and lament, and its hope is on the goal and the purpose of this community - the reign of God made real in real time. As we all journey across this threshold, will you take it home with you and pray it? How could you adapt it to be for yourself, or for all who graduate or make discernment decisions at this time?

Spiritual author Kathleen Norris once said she didn’t read the paper because every reality that would be in the paper is already present in the Psalter which she prays every single day. Maybe it is rather like kindergarten lessons for a centered and glad life today. All we need to pray and live to journey in the Jesus movement. Love God, care for people, name evil for what it is and FIGHT IT, give thanks for blessings, and don’t bury your feelings. 

So graduates and congregants, parents, friends and loved ones, go forth, pray, cry, laugh, give thanks, act up, and learn fervently JUST AS THE PSALMIST SAYS. Take to heart the word of God this day, be blessed and guided and rooted. Be centered in the holy community of Jesus Christ wherever life leads you. And always, always, love as you are loved, all the time and everywhere.


St. Paul's, Walla Walla
May 13, 2018