It's 1:19AM here. I've finished my sermon I'm preaching tomorrow morning at Abbey Lane URC. I've never been this close to not finishing a sermon, and my frantic haste by the end has made me lose some objectivity. I can't tell if it is brilliant or bumbling. I'm a little worried that I may have lost sight of a theology of the cross. By the end it became sort of a situational sermon, sort of a goodbye and thank you to Abbey Lane. I'll report on how it went after the fact.
ALL THINGS SHALL BE UNITED AND HOLY IN CHRIST
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD.
There is a great division. A division as real as the severing of John the Baptist’s head. A division wider than the English channel. Greater than the divide created by the Great Wall of China, greater that the Grand Canyon. A division more vast than the Gobi desert or the Pacific Ocean. A division greater even than the space that divides Galaxy from Galaxy. This is the division between humanity and God.
It is an understandable division. God, after all, is the IAMWHOIAM. God doesn’t need a name to put in relation to reality, for the act of reality itself is of God. Even when we put names to God they are supremely exalted ones. The unpronounced tetragrammeton- Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey, El-Elyon-God most high, El Shaddai-God Almighty, and Adoni Tzavot-The Lord of Hosts. The Psalmist sings of God’s unimaginable power and dominion when he writes, "The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof/ the World and those who dwell therein."
We who dwell therein, in contrast, are mere creatures; called into being by God’s Word, God breathed, marked forever with the image of our creator, yes, but creature none the less. We are finite, with limited vision. Yes, there is a definite division between heavenly things and earthly things, Things of God, and things of Man, of Spirit and of dust.
When Moses went up the mountain to receive the 10 commandments from God his face became bright, seared with the holiness of God, reflecting the holiness of God. To prevent this sanctity from spreading and becoming a deadly contagion amongst the people he would wear a veil.
Second Samuel Chapter 6, today’s Old Testament reading, which wasn’t read today because when I was planning the liturgy I didn’t see its connection to the other readings, deals with King David transporting the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem. The Ark, which according to the Epistle to the Hebrews contains Manna from Israel’s trek in the wilderness, Aaron’s staff, and the 10 Commandments given to Moses by God upon that holy hill, is seen as representing the very presence of God. The Ark is much more than just a box containing holy things, but the throne of God. God was thought to, at least symbolically, sit between two golden cherubim atop the Ark’s lid. In today’s reading Uzziah, the son of a priest, saw that the Ark was tipping as it was being transported to Jerusalem, and reached out his hand to steady the Ark. God struck him dead instantly. As I said, there is a great division between us and God.
Psalm twenty four, which I read for the scriptural sentence this morning, also has a connection to the Ark. This Psalm is thought to have been sung while the Ark proceeded into the Temple. Listen to the divisive challenge of these words, "Who shall ascend the LORD’s hill?" "Who shall stand in his Holy place?"
When I think about how people treat holy things my mind wanders back to childhood. My family and I spent three weeks in Egypt. There I remember touring a great mosque (Mohammad Ali Mosque) in Cairo. Before entering that holy place our feet were wrapped in cloth bags so we would not pollute that Muslim sacred space. Holiness isn’t something to be easily trodden on, it is not a gentle playmate, but a fierce, transcendence in the presence of which we must take off our shoes and make ourselves ready to experience God.
The best biblical example of this great division that I can think of can be found in the Book of Leviticus. This book is probably the most systematic working out of purity laws found in the Bible. Everything is covered there, from dietary laws, to how to deal with menstruation, to how to distinguish if you are pre-maturely balding, or have leprosy. All these laws and regulations can be summed up as an attempt to keep separate "the sacred and the profane, the impure and the pure" things of life and things of death, heavenly things and earthly things.
Yet in Paul’s letter to "the saints who are" he says to us in the form of an early Christian hymn that God’s plan was, "set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." In some ways we have the whole gospel right here in these 11 verses of Ephesians. Because God loves us we have been graced with redemption. This forgiveness of our trespasses comes through Christ’s blood. Because of this we are, and shall become, holy and blameless before the LORD. We are made Children of God. We will all be united in worshiping God.
All this starts with Christ. —If you will remember last time I preached here I mentioned an image of Christ from the mind of Karl Barth, the image of an hour glass. If God is the top half of the hourglass, and we are the bottom half, Christ is the center that unites the two halves. In Christ we see God.
In Christ/ the great IAM is given face and form, bones and blood.
In Christ/ Dustman and Deity are made one and holy.
In Christ/ the sinner, tax collector, and prostitute, are gathered in as God’s people. In Christ/ the stigmatizing uncleanness of leprosy is cured and the menstrual blood, that strange mixture of life and death, is stopped after 12 continuous years of flow.
In Christ/ we are "redeemed through his blood." In Christ/ we are "graced with forgiveness."
In Christ/ life overturns death.
In Christ/ all things shall be united and holy. In Christ/ we may come before God and worship.
Now let me be clear, as I talk about unity I am not talking about indifference. I am not talking about the lines blurring between "light and darkness, dusk and dawn, cruelty and compassion, good and evil." No, in Christ there is difference, darkness is made light, dusk emerges into dawn, cruelty is raised up and finds the high ground of compassion, and evil is transformed into good.
Nor when I talk of unity am I affirming some sluggish centrism where kinder gentler Tories live in a constant photo op with their perky smiling families or where muscular more military Labor party members hug nuclear weapons tight to their chest. No. Unity calls for a bold prophetic approach. After all John didn’t get his head chopped off for his half-measures, but for his giving of the full measure to God. If we take Paul seriously we have to act prophetic, we have to live into an Eschatology of Unity.
Let me unpack what I mean by an Eschatology of Unity. Eschatology means "dealing with end things." Dealing with where this whole wild ride known as history is going to, is headed toward. So, believing that God’s ultimate purpose is to unite all things in Christ is to have an Eschatology of Unity.
Why is this important? Because how we view God’s "plan for the fullness of time" will effect how we live, how we see the Spirit, and how we will respond to our high calling as Children of God.
For example, if we look to an end where evil is punished and good rewarded, where Jesus trades his meek donkey in for a war horse, where the prince of peace wades through the bodies of the wicked, we’ve went off track. With such a view the church quickly falls into a paralysis, spending all of its time trying to figure out who’s in and who’s out, who’s holy and who’s profane, and that’s a recipe for disaster. As my pastor back in Cheyenne always says, "when you draw a line in the sand to say who’s in and who’s out Jesus will always be on the other side of that line" ministering to the outcasts and the sinners.
If we look at the world through the eyes of an Eschatology of Unity then we find ourselves in line with the prophets and visionaries of every age. We find Zechariah looking forward to a day when every bell rings out the words, "Holy to the LORD," and the very scrubbing pots become holy vessels of worship. We find Isaiah looking forward to a day when, "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The uneven shall be made level and the rough places a plain." A day when "the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together." We too shall echo the words of John the author of Revelation; "there shall no more be anything accursed."
And you know what. No matter how inspiring, compelling, foolish, and utterly impossible, these words may sound, I believe them. More than that I see them today! In occasional flashes. In glimpses. Yes, the Spirit occasionally blows a little Galilean wind our way.
Over this last year my understanding of the global and universal nature of the church has blossomed. I have worshipped with people from 5 continents (maybe even 6! I unfortunately can’t tell the accent of an Australian from that of a Scotsman.) I’ve seen the healthy Eccumenicism of the churches of Saffron Walden. They are respectful of what each congregation is, and mindful of how they are connected to the whole. I guess that’s the blessing of being a stranger in a strange land. When your own tree disappears you can finally see the forest. I have went from being a Lutheran in the United States to being a Lutheran lent to an ecumenical British organization, lent to an Anglican Diocese, worshipping at the United Reformed Church.
And yes, I feel the Holy Spirit blowing here. When I think of the joint project you and the Salvation Army are endeavoring on, I smile. I feel the wind of God interspersed in the winds of change that are evident here by the construction back behind us. I think of the positive message of Christian Unity you are sending to Saffron Walden, which will combat the reputation that the Church has earned for bickering over minute points and trivialities.
They say Christians are known for the way they love one another. And I have to say I’ve felt loved here. I have seen Christ here, in your welcoming, in the friendships I have formed here, in your inviting me to preach today in this pulpit. Christ has told us to offer a cup of water in his name, and this church has done that for me. The water happened to be boiling and contained a tea bag, but you did it.
We will work toward unity, knowing that we have already been united in Christ, and that, despite all the upheaval that points to the contrary, we are headed toward a time where we shall be united in worship and praise of the LORD. A+A
Saturday, July 15, 2006
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Sunday, July 09, 2006
Did a RYPpers service today. Hard core Trinity stuff. I started off with a latin Gloria! I nailed it, or at least it sounded like it should. That's saying a LOT for me, as I never have a clue what the first note out of my mouth will be, and the rest of the bit I sing will be higher or lower in relation to that first note.
I'm pooped, and next week I lead worship at the URC.
I'm pooped, and next week I lead worship at the URC.