Monday, May 20, 2019

Navel Gospel: Incarnation in the Middle of our Lives

Current good data on the sociology of religion in the United States shows that about 75% of Americans claim they are affiliated with a religious congregation. It also shows that about 88% of Americans believe in God with varying degrees of certainty. You may know already that people who have no religious affiliation are a growing portion of the religious landscape. However, I suspect that this is less of a new thing and more of a people feel more empowered to be honest about it thing.  Still, it might be interesting to know that among the folks who have no religious affiliation, around 60% of those people claim to believe in God with varying degrees of certainty. 

Now, most of the people who belong to some sort of congregation or religious group in the USA belong to one of the three Abrahamic religions. That means churches that claim themselves as Christian, that means Jewish Synagogues or Temples, and it means Muslim Mosques. All of which share the roots of belief that there is one Lord God of the universe. The survey takes that idea very much for granted. The survey takers are asking about belief in God assuming that means one unified power, They are not asking about multiple lowercase-g gods in any shape or form. But this assumption wouldn’t have flown in the historical context of all of our Scriptures today. All of them that we read: the Acts lesson, the Psalm, the section of Revelation and the Gospel all trust and believe that there is one God of the universe. Yet for their neighbors, that wouldn't have been taken for granted at all. 

The context of this Psalm is one where there was the belief in plenty of lowercase-g gods of all sorts and they were connected to places and people. You could add and subtract like comic book superheroes. Sometimes you see evidence of this in the Old Testament and even in some of the scenes in Acts as the good news mission, the Jesus movement mission moves out into the wider Mediterranean world. Now there may have been people who on their own were inspired to believe that there was one unified highest power that created the universe and loves the universe but it was by no means a majority opinion. 

So this Psalm today Is breathtakingly daring in its scope. The sky is praising Yahweh, the waters are of God, the whales and octopus just the same. All the weather, all the hills, and the deserts, and the trees: they clap their hands in praise of the One divine and all God’s critters have a place in the choir. That's world-changing revelation. We are not alone. We are to be one with each other and God. 

And then you come to the New Testament where the experience of the people around Jesus was that this one Lord God of the Universe is revealed most clearly in the life and death and resurrection of this one person - Jesus. That this God became incarnate as a backwater day laborer, that's a whole other form of stunning. Incarnation is a word you probably hear said and sung only in church circles. The basic definition is something - usually very Other - embodied in a human. In Christianity in particular, if we're hearing about the Incarnation we're hearing about Jesus. We're exploring how we know him and what it means that the material world can bear all the weight of divinity. 

For me one of the distinctive characteristics of the Episcopal church and the Anglican tradition Is its incarnational focus. What do I mean by that - well I mean that we prioritize the Gospels: Matthew Mark Luke and John, the sacred stories of how Jesus lived, what he taught, what he said was most important, how he died and how he rose again and who Jesus meant for us to be when he commissioned us as disciples. We're a tradition where you can see very clearly this priority of the Gospels and how we read it in worship. The other lessons are read from the lectern or the Psalm said altogether, but the Gospel has a special book, sometimes the book is brass covered. 

And we carry the book out into the middle of the congregation into the middle of our lives. There are churches where it is hugged tightly as it is brought out, like it is the most precious thing. And there are churches where the book is kissed and touched by the congregation, however it is more common that some people will bow or cross themselves to set their intentions to truly hear and take in this good news. We are a people who put all the special we can muster into the proclaiming the stories of the Incarnation of the one Lord of All in Jesus of Nazareth. 

Another way in which we are Incarnational is related to that  - it is that we put plenty of time and talent and treasure into our spaces and our accouterments. The practical effect of good incarnationalism is that it matters what we do with our bodies and with our material things and with our spaces. We trust that this attention to the material leads us into the mysteries of faith that words cannot express or explain. Today in our Gospel reading we heard a snippet of something we just heard during Holy Week.  Here in the very center of John, you have the special great (last) supper and the mandates Jesus gives us and the cleansing he offers. 

It might be said that John more than any other gospel is caught up in the whoa of this incarnation experience of this one God of the universe being fully human in Jesus. And today right here at the center of the work of the sacred Storyteller of John, the author reverently invites us into the center of Christology, into what Jesus means in our lives. How does the God of all greet us: with humility. How does God respond to all of our failures and betrayal: with forgiveness What does God ask of us: that we love all as much as God loves all. 

It's right there in the center at this gospel with all its circular layers right here in the center of our proclamation in the center of our nave which is like navel - as in your belly button-  so the center of yourself. And it can be summed up, all our lessons can be summed up with one of Presiding Bishop Curry's most popular quotes: if it isn't about love then it isn't about God. That is the heart of our lessons today. Proclaiming Jesus as our Lord as one and the same as the loving forgiving Lord of all creation and the healing Spirit of God. Whoa. 

Today the lessons are a summons to humility, the letting go of our expectations, and assumptions, and in that new space letting belonging and forgiveness rise up. Perhaps the task before us this week is to listen to our friends and neighbors who are in that -none zone - which here in Pemberton is over half. Listen with love for schedules and stresses, hurts and misunderstandings, goodness and commitments. Listen with love to how God is speaking because God can speak through the wind and the rain, sunshine and sharks (#finsup). God is speaking - are we listening with love? Where we go - we are to be one with the incarnate Lord of all. What we hear - we are to be one with the incarnate Lord of all - Jesus the Christ. 

Grace Episcopal Church
Pemberton, New Jersey
May 19th, 2019

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