Saturday, June 16, 2012

Pentecost 3

In today’s gospel lesson we have a story within a story.  Not too unusual – we’ve seen it before.  But these are interesting to try and piece together – are they even meant to be pieced together? Hmmmm. 

One story has Jesus back “home” – we don’t know if it is his actual house, or Simon’s, we know he’s in Capernaum but the text in the verse before this passage simply says “home.”  And his family is in a tizzy – they are there to restrain him. 

Then we have the story of the Scribes who have traveled there to discredit Jesus and his ministry so far.  You see, this is our first Sunday in Mark in a while – we’ll be here until late July.  We’re only in chapter 3, but already Jesus has made enemies.  The Pharisees and Herodians are already out to get him, and here we have the scribes weighing in against him.  Usually these groups are at odds with one another, but Jesus has definitely united them against himself.  The enemy of my enemy and all of that… in only 3 chapters! 

So here’s Jesus and the disciples trying to eat – and they cannot even do that without first the family and then the scribes, with the crowd milling about – sounds like chaos, doesn’t it?  We’re Episcopalians – we like order and decorum.  That’s part of what makes Mark so challenging – it’s all so sudden and dramatic – a bit over the top for us.  It’s kind of the reality TV version of the Gospels – lotsa drama!

So we have two stories – two groups out to get Jesus – one sees him as crazy, the other sees him as demon-possessed.  Maybe these two stories are not as far apart as we originally thought. 

Jesus deals with the Scribes first – the ones who state he is serving demons – and he answers their argument in such a way that they don’t answer back.  He puts them smartly in their place and shuts them down.  And he talks about the Unforgiveable Sin.

The Unforgiveable Sin strikes some fear in our hearts doesn’t it?  We like our confession that is all-inclusive and that we will say in a few minutes – we confess that we have sinned in thought, word and deed, by things done and undone, known and unknown – very comprehensive – what could we be leaving out that is unforgiveable?  Jesus says that blasphemy can be forgiven, then turns around and implies that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgiveable.  He actually says it in three Gospels: her, Matthew and Luke.  It must be really important then.  How could we blaspheme against the Holy Spirit? 

The Scribes are calling what is good evil – is that it?  Not seeing the good in Jesus’ ministry – not recognizing God’s work in the world around us?  That may be close but not quite there.  You see the Scribes take it that next step by calling it evil.  That means they are so entrenched in their viewpoint that they cannot recognize the goodness of healing and teaching.  The Scribes have no love for Jesus – and there is the rub.  They are beyond redemption because they cannot recognize the salvation he offers.  They feel no love or need for forgiveness.  They cannot receive forgiveness because they will never ask for it.  Clear as mud right? 

I think this whole concept is well illustrated in the Robin William’s movie: What Dreams May Come.  I love that movie.  It’s pretty old now.  It is a beautiful illustration of Heaven and the after-life.  In the story, he and his wife survive the deaths of their two children.  His wife sinks into a deep depression, but with his love and medical treatment, she emerges.  She is an artist who paints breath-taking scenes.  Then he dies in a tragic accident.  He goes to heaven and explores there.  He is reunited with his children – it is stunningly beautiful.  But his wife has no one to save her from herself and she commits suicide.  She does not end up where he does. She is lost in the darkness and ugliness of the Unforgiven. 

Let me be very clear here.  The suicide is not the unforgiveable part – I’m sure you’ve heard that before – very old Catholic teaching.  We do not believe that.  We believe that even after death, a person can ask for forgiveness and receive it, so suicide is not unforgiveable.  It’s the ‘not asking’ that is unforgivable.  God cannot forgive what is not confessed.  Remember Paul?  Neither life, nor death,, nor principalities, nor powers – nothing can separate us from the love of God.  We believe that our loved ones go on with God after death – therefore we continue to pray for them in their continuing relationship to God. 

In the movie, his love saves her again – he helps her to ask for help and to feel love again.  It is a really good movie. 

The unforgiveable sin is the one not confessed – the belief that it need not be forgiven, or cannot be forgiven – the belief that God will not or cannot forgive.  In CS Lewis, it is the ones who move further and further away from the bus stop and become more and more isolated. 

That brings us around to the second story happening here.  Jesus expands our idea of family.  Sometimes we are far away from family – Jesus shows us here how to find a healthy family – we don’t have to be lonely and alone, even if we’re far away.  Sometimes our families are toxic – Jesus gives us permission here to make a new one based around him. 

A family truly based around the will of God will help us to never commit the Unforgiveable Sin.  They will help us to see what it is that we need to confess and receive forgiveness for.  They will help us to see the Christ in each other, and ourselves so that we can be family to others.  True families speak hard truth to each other when they seek God’s will.

As we gather here for a peaceful orderly meal, let us give thanks for this family gathered.  Amen.  

Monday, June 4, 2012

Trinity Sunday 2012

So today is always an amusing day for those who like tap-dancing.  There are some people who only come to church on this particular weekend – just so they can watch whomever the poor soul is who is preaching on the Trinity. 

You see, there is a very fine line drawn in between what is acceptable to say about the Trinity and what is unacceptable, a heresy.  The metaphors always fall short.  There are no specific Biblical references for the Trinity.  It is difficult at best and dangerous at worst.  It is one of the main doctrines that set us apart from our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters.

Yet the Three-In-One is a mystery that explains how we mere humans understand God.  It is as simple as that.  Since sometime in the 4th century, we have struggled to say exactly how this notion is…yet we know it to be so.  ANY attempt to explain further than that gets mired down in the functions of the Three, the faces of the Three, and loses the unity of the One.  We know God as the Holy One revealed to Israel.  We know Jesus Christ as the Holy One by his ministry, death and resurrection.  We know the Holy Spirit as the Holy One who creates and renews the church and the world continually throughout time.  We refer to them in tradition as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  A Trinity that is a Holy Reality that embraces us all – gives each of us an entrance into thinking about the One God in different ways.  Each of the Three gives us an entrance into the One.

There are many other Trinitarian phrases used:
·      In 2 Corinthians 13:13: Grace of Jesus Christ/Love of God/Communion of the Holy Spirit
o   In the same passage: Source/Christ/Spirit
·      In hymnody we get many: Almighty/Christ/Spirit
o   Creator/Redeemer/Sustainer
o   Wonder/Love/Praise
·      From academia: Lover/Beloved/Love
o   Life giver/Pain bearer/Love maker
One of the discussions this year at General Convention will be the Expansive Language model, which does not replace or reduce, but instead expands the traditional model to: Father/Son/Holy Spirit, One God, Mother of us all.  There are others that reject any parental language at all – too problematic.  

The difficulty at the core of the idea of Trinity is that it is a Holy Mystery.  We cannot define it because it is impossible to define.  We cannot say more because we cannot say more.  We must use our imaginations and listen to our hearts/minds/and souls.  We know the Trinity to be true, but we cannot say exactly how.  We know the Trinity to be a Holy Community of the Creator, Jesus the Christ and the Advocate promised.  Beyond that, we are left tongue-tied and tap-dancing. 

I will finish by offering up this prayer:
  Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as we ponder the mystery that makes you Three in One, may we be distracted by your love, displayed as you parent your children.  
  May we be diverted by the sight of you as you subdue your own will to do your Father’s bidding, giving your life for all God’s people. 
  May we be stopped in our tracks by the playful whisper of your Spirit rippling through lives, touching and caressing, healing and restoring.
  And in view of all this, may we be compelled to mirror the Trinity at work in the world around us: A world that needs to experience good models of parenthood; A world that needs to see that offering service is not submissive but powerful; A world that needs to see wholeness as possible if we will only act in the triune name of God to parent, serve, and heal your people.  Amen.  (found by Pearl Down Under at