Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lent 2C

Preached by the Rev. David Fly at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, February 28, 2010

“At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. But for today and tomorrow and the next day I must go on, since it would not be right for a prophet to die outside Jerusalem.’” (Luke 13.31)

Reading this passage always reminds me of a very powerful dream I had when I was a boy. I can still remember it clearly to this day. In the dream, I was alone and drifting into the darkness of space. The only lights were the minuscule stars so very far away. As I continued to drift, I became smaller and the stars began to disappear. Finally, I was only a tiny dot against the blackness of space. The darkness surrounded me and the silence was overwhelming. I knew I was coming to an end and I had to struggle to the surface of wakefulness to save myself.

Dreams get interpreted in lots of different ways. For me, that dream was a coming of age in which, for the first time, I faced my mortality. I realized that there would come a time when I would die and I was frightened. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross suggests that somewhere deep inside, we are convinced of our own immortality (and that is certainly true for adolescents). To be confronted with the prospect of our own death can be a shattering experience that becomes as hard to shake as it was for me to shake that boyhood dream. When illness touches our lives, when friends and family die, it’s as if we too are moving into the darkness and the stars are beginning to fade.

Less dramatically, though powerful nonetheless, each of us have experienced those little “deaths” as we move into situations that seem too big for us or demand too much of us, and leave us feeling small and inadequate. There are times when decisions are called for and we alone must make them. When that happens we are moving into our own Jerusalems and experiencing the pain of decision-making that Jesus faced as he moved into the city at the end of his life.

As we face the uncertainty and insecurity of our lives we look to the life of Jesus as a model of living in the face of death. His life becomes a pattern for living into the puzzles that each of our lives presents us. It is not we who ask questions about the meaning of life, rather it is life that asks us questions and in responding to those concrete, real, daily questions we find the meaning in life. Let me give you an example. When I was a college chaplain, eighteen and nineteen-year-old students would wrestle with the question: “Who am I?” I used to respond, somewhat facetiously, “Get a job and for at least 8 hours a day, you’ll know who you are!” In other words, as we enter into the reality of daily living, we will be confronted with situations and questions that call forth who we are in very concrete ways.

The Pharisees came to him and said, “Leave this place, because Herod means to kill you.” How often have we been tempted to “leave this place” (this vocation, this painful situation, this relationship) because we feel that we are inadequate to the task or that we are taking on something more than we can handle and don’t want to risk the little death that might be in it for us? But Jesus understands that he would not have been in this place had he not been called there. So he responds, “Go tell Herod not to try and trick me. I will stay in this place and do what I have to do.” Jesus stands his ground. There is nothing particularly heroic about what he does. Jesus simply understands that to be true to himself, he cannot run away. He is faithful to the task at hand. We’re not called to be heroes either. We’re called to be faithful to the situations in which we find ourselves. If we leave, we may never discover the reasons we were called to those places by God’s Spirit.

“Today and tomorrow, I must go on,” says Jesus, “and the third day attain my end.” Today and tomorrow, we must go on, however inadequate or mortal we feel, making those decisions that life brings us: decisions to go on loving when love seems to fade; decisions to change when change is laid upon us; decisions to be faithful when we are tempted to be faithless. We are on a journey that has an end and a mission to accomplish.

Jesus “goes up” to Jerusalem and there he meets his end. It is in the end that we find the powerful reason for his going on – for our going on. Because somewhere, at the end of it all, love is the answer to our daily quest for meaning, but it can seldom be discovered without Good Friday. Love isn’t abstract and it doesn’t come cheap. It very often leads us to suffering before it leads us into glory. And meaning is found in loving our way through all the little deaths that befall us.

Jesus gives himself over to that which calls him: “Let your will be done, not mine.” His mortal life drifts into the darkness of space, stars flicker and fade, and death has its way with him. Like the end of a day, night comes, black night, with no stars. He is alone. The only sound is silence. To enter into this moment with Jesus is to enter into our own “dark nights,” our own dreams of meaninglessness, our own feelings of impotence in the face of greater odds.

Darkness. Darkness gently penetrated by light. Night pushed away as dawn approaches. Dawn comes and birds sing like angels. A new beginning invades what we believed to be that end. Going on in the face of darkness has brought the light. The Resurrection is God’s final affirmation of Jesus, his willingness to journey onward with all the odds against him.

Learning to live means learning to “go on.” It means willing to have our hearts broken by the things that break the heart of God. We must move on into the darkness, up to our own Jerusalems, knowing that, although we are afraid, he is with us, and that if we weep, the one who wept in Gethsemane understands. For in the darkness, there is light, and in the shadow of death, there is life everlasting. One of my favorite songs goes like this:

It’s the heart afraid of breaking

That never learns to dance.

It’s the dream afraid of waking

That never takes the chance.

It’s the one who won’t be taken

That cannot seem to give

And the soul afraid of dying

That never learns to live. Amen.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Last Sunday Before Epiphany - Year C

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, February 14, 2010

Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory.

We are the Body of Christ. We see the face of Christ on each other.

Sometimes when an idea, no matter how amazing, becomes familiar, it loses its power to amaze us, to hold us in awe.

We are the Body of Christ. We see the face of Christ on each other.

We use those words all the time, I know I certainly use those words all the time. And yet when we look at each other we see … well … each other. And that combined with the ease with which we toss these words around makes them seem not only less than amazing but less than real … more of a metaphor.

And that’s why this morning’s Gospel reading is so incredible. This morning’s Gospel reading invites us to hear those words with ancient ears. Ears that hear how awesome and life-changing and even terrifying they are. And for that we must hear this story not with our own ears that have heard it so many times before, but with the ears of Peter and James and John, who were raised on very different stories.

“The Lord said, ‘you cannot see my face … for no one shall see me and live.”

Those were the words that God spoke to Moses in the wilderness. Moses, who had led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and endured their incessant whining and complaining. Moses, who was ready to keep dragging those people forward to the promised land in spite of everything. Moses, who had done everything God had asked no matter how bizarre. I mean really, what was up with that God keeping hardening Pharoah’s heart stuff and making Moses job that much harder.

If there was ever someone that God could have thrown a bone to it was Moses. And Moses just has one request, “Show me your glory, I pray.” Moses says to God. But God says, nope. “You cannot see my face, for no one shall see me and live. But go stand in this cleft of a rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I’ve passed by, and then I will take away my hand and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

The glory of God, the face of God, was never to be seen. Because no one could look on it and live. God appeared in a burning bush, a great cloud. To Elijah, God appeared in the “sound of sheer silence.”

God has the people build a temple to be God’s dwelling place on earth. But even that doesn’t let the people look on God. For God is too big for the temple. Isaiah tells us that God is so huge that the temple is filled to overflowing just by the hem of God’s robe. But the temple is what God has given them. And so once a year, one person, the high priest, is allowed to go into the innermost part of that temple, the Holy of Holies, where the presence of God resides, to make sacrifice on behalf of the people. And even then, the high priest does not see God face to face, but merely enters into the divine presence the same way Moses did when he entered into the cloud.

When we tell each other to “see the face of God, the face of Christ on each other” even if we really ponder those words in our hearts, that probably at best gives us a strong feeling of love and connection and frankly more often than not seems like just a nice sentiment.

But if you were to say those words to Peter, James and John. “See the face of God on each other.” That’s like saying stare directly into the sun. In fact, it’s not. It’s not like anything. There are no words to describe the combination of ecstatic joy and terrifying obliteration that phrase invites them into.

And so what we miss in hearing this morning’s Gospel, precisely because we have used these words and heard this story over and over and over again … is how earth-shatteringly improbable … how break-open-creation, this changes everything this story is.

Peter, who a week before had confessed Jesus as the Christ of God, goes with James, John and Jesus up the mountain. And this incredible thing happens. Jesus’ face changes, and his clothes change and become brilliant white. And all of a sudden Moses and Elijah are there with him. And listen how Luke describes it:

Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory.

Moses, who had been as faithful as anyone to God, asked to see God’s glory and God said, no … but I’ll show you my backside. For generations upon generations only one person had been allowed once a year not to look upon the face of God but to even enter into the divine presence.

“No one shall look on the face of God and live” says the scriptures. No one … until now. Something about the person of Jesus made God’s glory accessible to humanity. Jesus was a face of God we could actually see and live.

What happens on that mountain is a unique event in the history of the world. It is a watershed moment in the relationship of God to humanity. Peter, James and John their whole lives had heard the scripture from Isaiah read in the synagogue, “Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” And to them it had probably seemed just as removed from them as our scriptures so often seem to us.

But not then. The glory of the Lord was revealed. And they saw it. And they lived.

And then they didn’t know what to do.

And so they fell back on the only thing they knew. The presence of God needs a house, it needs to be contained, controlled, hidden away. God lives in the Temple, so Peter reasons we have to build temples here. But then God comes to them in the old, familiar way, in the cloud, and says, “No… not this time.” God is no longer an object like the ark of the covenant to be locked away and enshrined and cowered at from a distance. God is a person. God is someone to be in relationship with. To eat and drink with. To laugh and cry with. To follow and question. To dance and spar with. To live with and to die with.

And so they went down the mountain with Jesus. And they told no one – how could they. People would have thought they were nuts. They probably didn’t even believe it themselves. A God whose face you could gaze on. A God you could touch. A God who could touch you.

We are the Body of Christ. We see the face of Christ on each other.

We use those words all the time, I know I certainly use those words all the time. And we should use them because they are deeply and profoundly true. But we must be careful that in using them so much that we lose the incredible reality behind them.

When we say we are the Body of Christ. When we say that we see the face of Christ on each other. When we gather at this table and when I say “Be what you see, receive who you are,” we are not talking about some watered-down sentiment, a “Godishness” that is to God what Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness” is to truth.

When we say we are the Body of Christ. When we say that we see the face of Christ on each other, we are saying that there is a power and a love that resides in each and all of us that is blinding and awesome and devastating and ecstatic. What we are saying is that when we gather together as Christ’s body in this place, and whenever two or three are gathered in Christ’s name we are setting loose powers that are cosmic in dimension. Powers that our ancestors trembled before and that we should tremble before too.

What we are saying is that when we quote Paul telling the Philippians that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. When we talk of us being in Christ a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things and never ends we are not just talking about comfortable words that help us through a tough stretch but a power working in us that truly can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

We can look in wonder at where we were a year ago as Christ Church Cathedral and where we are now. We have traveled a long way and already things are happening here that we could scarcely imagine just 12 months ago. But believe me when I tell you that all that has happened is just the beginning of what can happen when we truly open ourselves up to the power of Christ in ourselves and the face of each other. When knowing that we are staring into a thousand suns we still embrace the invitation to be the Body of Christ … to see the face of Christ on each other.