Sunday, May 16, 2010

Still Here

John’s Gospel is impossible to really understand.
That’s because he didn’t write it to explain things.
He wrote it to blow our minds with strange and wonderful ways
of imagining God, ourselves, and our relationship with God.

In today’s lesson, Jesus says that he and the Father are one,
that he lives in the Father and the Father lives in him.
Right away that’s hard to grasp.
Then he prays that we -- that’s you and me --
that we may be one just like Jesus and the Father.

Obviously we are not the same.
We live in different bodies and different places.
We each have our own different life story.
We have different thoughts and feelings.
We look different.

But Jesus prays that, underneath all the differences,
we might be connected by something we have down deep
in common.
The way that happens, he says, is that he lives in us,
and the Father lives in him.
So we all have the same Christ – not just ruling over us,
but living inside us.

That is the most amazing thing of all – the idea that Christ
should live in us just as God lives in Jesus.
We cannot begin to understand such a thing;
yet in Baptism, we welcome Christ into our lives,
and in Holy Communion we experience that bond
each week.

We cannot wrap our minds around this holy mystery.
But there may be little part of it
we might be able to understand in a way
that will help us live each day.

So I start by asking: where do we find Christ inside ourselves?
In the midst of all the thoughts and feelings
racing, chattering, and swirling in the chaos of myself,
where do I find Christ?

It’s John’s Gospel that says Christ lives in us;
so it helps to see how John describes Christ.
In John, our Lord is not an angry prophet.
He is always the serene, balanced, observer and interpreter.
He is the embodiment of wisdom.

Remember when they brought him the woman caught in adultery
and demanded to know whether she should be stoned.
He did not jump up and shout “you hypocrites.”
Instead he sat in silence writing in the dust with his finger
then said, “Let the one of you who is without sin
cast the first stone.”

In the Garden of Gethsemene, the mob came to arrest him.
Jesus went out to meet them and calmly said,
“Who are you looking for?”
They replied “Jesus.” He said, “You’ve found him.”
And that threw the mob into complete confusion.
Even at his trial and crucifixion, Jesus remained balanced.

In John’s Gospel, Christ is the eye of the storm,
or as T. S. Eliot put it, “the still point of the turning world.”
There is something stable at the center of reality.
So much is constantly shifting and changing
inside us and around us.
Things always seem to be falling apart.

And yet 14 billion years after the Big Bang,
we still have an orderly cosmos.
Something holds it together.
There is something in the universe preserving a balance,
holding things together.
It is a sane center inside the madness,
a calm compassion inside the violence.
That is what John means by Christ
– the Christ who became flesh in Jesus.

This serene center, this wisdom, this Christ also lives in us.
He lives in us deeper than our conscious minds.
The late psychologist, John Firman, said that there is in each of us
“a deeper source of wisdom and guidance,
a source that operates beyond the control
of the conscious personality. . . .”

There is something in us deeper than our thoughts and feelings,
something that holds us together no matter
what kind of experience we are having at the moment.
This center of our souls is so connected to the center of the universe
that they are truly the same thing.

In the 14th Century, the German mystic, Meister Eckhart, said,
“there is something in the soul so closely akin to God
that it is already one with him.”
And Lady Julian of Norwich, said that the soul and Christ
are already bound to each other.

Parts of our personalities split away from our souls.
We are not always true to ourselves,
and that’s where we get into trouble.
John Firman said that our psychological distress
comes from disregarding that deep wisdom
we already have inside.
But a part of us, the central part of us,
the most important part of us
is already one with Christ.

When St. Paul found that he had lost all the other things
that he had counted on to make him secure and important,
he said, “I have been crucified with Christ, and yet I live --
No not I -- It is Christ who lives in me.”

The wisdom and serenity of Christ depend
on his capacity for a special kind of love.
We usually think of love as an emotionally intense approval
of someone who is what we need them to be
or they are how we think they ought to be.
That kind of love can flip in the blink of an eye
when the person does not live up to our expectations.

But Christ – both in the universe and in us – has a different kind of love.
John used a special word for it. Agape.
It means appreciating someone for just for being here.
It does not judge. It accepts unconditionally.
That love is the force that keeps this world turning.
That love sustains our life.
Because Christ lives in us, we can love like that.
We can love people the world rejects.
We can love ourselves – each and every part of ourselves.
We can forgive ourselves and each other.
We can be the still point for ourselves and each other.

It’s like in our lesson from Acts, when after the earthquake,
the jailer is about to kill himself.
Paul calls out to him, “Calm down. We’re still here.”
That’s the voice of Christ and we can say it to ourselves
and to each other in any situation,
“Calm down. We’re still here.”

When we are true to the core of our being,
when we are true to Christ,
that is precisely what we do.
Oh, we forget more often than we remember.
We forget who we are, forget Our Lord.
We judge and condemn each other.
We judge and condemn ourselves ever more harshly.

But Christ is still there, still the center.
And we can still choose to remember,
still choose to look at ourselves and each other
through his eyes.
We can love the whole creation the way the Father loves Christ,
the way Christ loves us -- unconditionally.
There is such peace in that, such balance,
to be rooted in a love that does not shift,
in which, as it says in James,
“there is no variableness, no shadow of turning.”

In Baptism, we welcome the Christ who is already here.
We promise to live out of that center,
to let deep wisdom guide us
instead of our passing moods.
With every Holy Communion, we deepen that connection
opening our hearts to his mercy
and our minds to his sanity.

Glory to God whose power working in us
can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Whence And The Whither: A Night Bird's Flight From And Into Mystery

During the Dark Ages in England,
Anglo-Saxons would gather at night in a mead hall
to keep safe and warm by the hearth.
The halls were large one-room stone buildings with windows
high up for ventilation.

In those days, one Anglo Saxon said,
“Our life is like a bird that flies in through one window
of the hall and then through another
back out into the night.
For that brief moment, we see it.
It comes and just as suddenly it is gone.
We do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”

Such is a life. For a short time, we see it.
It flies in from the darkness of the unknown,
then back out into that darkness.

The Anglo Saxon who compared life to the night bird said
that if this new Christian religion can tell us something more,
give us some sense of things, some hope,
then we should listen to them.

Where do we come from? Where do we go?
The German theologian, Karl Rahner, said
these are the two great questions:
the whence and the whither?
“Whence comest thou? Whither goest thou?”

Where did the universe come from?
“The Big Bang,” we say.
But where did the matter and energy that blew up come from?
And where is the universe going?
It has a story. It has evolved into an orderly cosmos,
produced life, intelligence, creativity, art -- even religion.
What is the universe becoming?
What are we becoming?
The ultimate source of things, the ultimate source of our lives,
is as mysterious as a moonless midnight
on the moors of 7th Century England
– the darkness from which the night bird came.
The ultimate destiny of our lives and of this universe
is just as unknown and unknowable.
The great whence and the great whither.

Our reason can give us hints about our origin and our destiny.
The miraculous and wonderful order of creation
tell us that there is some rhyme and reason to it all.
The direction of evolution from inanimate slime to amoebas
and on to greater and greater complexity, creativity,
and intelligence
– that trajectory says something about our destiny.

But we cannot prove our origin or our destiny with facts.
When it comes to the big questions, the whence and the whither,
all answers are matters of faith.
Faith is a belief we choose to accept.
It’s a decision we make in our hearts.
It’s the attitude we take toward the mystery
from which we come and to which we are going.

Karl Rahner said that our name
for the whence and the whither of life is “God.”
Calling the mystery “God” is a way of saying we trust it.
We believe the mystery is friendly,
that the unknown which made all this
will not abandon its creation.
We believe the mystery loves what it has made
and will bring the universe to a good end,
will bring us to a good end.

As wonderful as this world is,
we know it isn’t what it ought to be.
There’s so much disappointment, so much sorrow,
so much pain.
Most of all there is death.
We lose the ones we love
and knowing our own death is sure as the sunset
makes us wonder if our brief lives even matter,
wonder if we will be forgotten
so we might as well have never lived.

If we think that our destiny is death,
then we are apt to feel despair.
St. John the Divine lived in a time of despair.
Christians were being slaughtered wholesale
by the Emperor Domitian.
Even Nero had not done anything like this.
The Christians who survived were selling out the faith
to save their skins.
So the religion, to which John had devoted his life,
stood on the brink of extinction.
Now he had been exiled to the lonely island of Patmos
where he lived as a hermit in a cave.
John was likely on the verge of despair
when he had a series of visions.
His visions swept through his consciousness
like a night bird flying through an Anglo Saxon Hall.

His visions were images and words from the Hebrew Bible.
They were a mix of something old and something new.
They weren’t all happy thoughts.
Many of his visions were nightmares.
Who wouldn’t have nightmares given the horror
of the persecution?
He had dreams of war, famine, and disaster.

But then came the final vision he describes in today’s lesson.
After all the death and destruction, John saw a new heaven and a new earth.
The God who created heaven and earth in the first book of the Bible
did it again in the last book.
Only this time he made it better.

The creator had not forgotten the blueprint of life.
He had not forgotten the design of beauty.
He had not forgotten us.

“See the home of God is among mortals.”John heard a voice say.
“He will dwell with them. . . and . . . be with them.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain
will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

“The first things have passed away.”
This life we are living is a rough draft.
This world is rough draft.
The real life is yet to come.
That is our destiny.

Then in John’s vision, the Lord says,
“It is done. I am he Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”
God is the whence and the whither, our source and our destiny.
We came from God. We return to God.
And what is the God?

We must not say too much because God is a mystery
dark as a moonless midnight on the English moors.
But God is not a cold and barren darkness.
God is not a lifeless or a killing darkness.
The God John met in his visions
is the same God revealed in the man Jesus
– a God of life and love, of healing and mercy
– a God who does not cast us out,
but redeems and embraces his children.

Brothers and sisters, we have to pay attention to the things of today.
As one of our closing prayers says, we have to do
the work God has given us to do.
But as we live in the here and now,
we need to know where we come from
and where we are going.

It’s like driving through Ely.
To know which way to turn,
it makes a difference
whether you are coming from Caliente or Lund,
and whether you are heading for Elko or Tonopah.
To live well in the here and now,
we need to know where we come from
and where we are going.
We believe the God of love, hope, light, and beauty
is our Alpha and our Omega,
the beginning and the end.

Glory to God whose power working in us
can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.