Monday, April 25, 2011

Spirit Power & Infinite Hope: Easter and the Ghost Dance

For a sermon at Pyramid Lake a text would not work, so this is just an outline. It comes from something I learned from a Bible Study for Community Organizing -- how to do a power analysis of a Scriptural text. In this sermon I portrayed the drama of Holy Week, enacted around the world for millennia, as a ritual unmasking of the power struggle that goes on perpetually in world affairs, in history, and in our daily lives – the struggle between two kinds of power: Dominating Power which conquers, dominates, and ultimately kills vs. Spirit Power (or relational power) which empowers, enlivens, creates, and gives birth.
Two examples of Spirit Power – the life of Jesus “anointed with the Spirit and with Power” who promised that “the Holy Spirit would descend upon us and we would receive Power” and the Ghost Dance of Wovoka.
In Holy Week, Domination Power thought it had won, when it had done all it can do – kill. But Spirit power gives life and is the source of what Dr. King called “infinite hope.”
Easter 1 – 2011
The Resurrection is about Power
There are 2 kinds of power:
Dominating power –
The one who exercises DP takes power from another Ex: governments, bullies, empires
In NT, that would be Rome.
DP is sterile
Spiritual power – relational power
It is energy – it is the power to empower
Power to heal, power to reconcile, power to give hope
In, NT that would be Jesus – look how he used power
Spiritual Power is fertile

Domination power is afraid of relational power
because relational power cannot be dominated
Wovoka and the Ghost Dance
Jesus and the Cross

Holy Week is about relational power going head to head with dominating power
Having loved his own
Washing of the feet
Going to the Cross
Forgiving from the Cross
Dominating power thinks it has won when it has killed

The Resurrection is the victory of Relational Power
n Not the power to kill but the power to give life.
n HS came upon Jesus and restored his life – that’s power.
n The Holy Spirit will come upon you and you will receive power
That’s what it means to be raised with Christ.

To be a Christian is not to believe a story – but to live in the power of the story
To reject the dominating power in 2 ways:
1. Not to exercise it
2. Not to submit to it
To live into Relational Power
How do we live into Relational Power today?
Poverty – how do we come together to help each other support our families?
War – how do we come together to make peace in a world at war?
How do we overcome racial and religious prejudice that divides us?
Addiction – how do we come together to support people
who want to be free from the bonds of addiction?
Family violence and conflict – how do we find the love to heal the wounds
in our most important relationships?

This is the Holy Week we live every week – our struggle.
There will be Good Fridays.
MLK: “In this world we must accept finite disappointments;
but we must never lose infinite hope.”
Even death is a finite disappointment.
Our infinite hope is in the spiritual power of God.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"The Great Bright Dream Of Procreating And Perishing

Archibald MacLeish rewrote the story of Job as a modern play in verse.
He called it J.B.
After J. B.’s children are all killed in a single night,
the stunned father is looking for the meaning in his tragedy.
He says: If I knew! If I knew why!
What I can’t bear is . . . the blindness . . .
Meaninglessness . . . the numb blow
Fallen in the stumbling night.

The disciples must have felt that way on Good Friday.
For them, the crucifixion was an unmitigated disaster.
There was no meaning in it – just catastrophe.
It was the death of the messiah, with his mission,
as they understood it, utterly defeated.

It’s hard for us to hear the Passion Story
the way they experienced it
because the meaning of Jesus’ death has been
drummed into us since Sunday School 101.

Jesus suffered on our behalf.
He suffered so we wouldn’t have to.
Jesus took the bullet.

A simple, clear, heroic meaning.
There is definitely something to that interpretation.
If that interpretation brings you closer to Christ,
I wouldn’t want to interfere with it.
In fact, I believe, with a few corrections,
there’s a lot of truth in it.

But the idea that Jesus suffered so that we wouldn’t have to
is not to be found in the Gospels.
It did not become the Christian party line
until a thousand years later.
Jesus didn’t say “I am going to the cross so you won’t have to.”
He said, “Take up your cross and follow me.”
That’s different.

We can’t see the death of Jesus through the disciples’ eyes
if we start out with the interpretation before the event
and skip the moment of meaningless disaster.
We have to start where they did, saying with J. B.
If I knew! If I knew why!
What I can’t bear is . . . the blindness . . .
Meaninglessness . . . the numb blow
Fallen in the stumbling night.

The New Testament authors struggled for decades
to find meaning in the Passion.
They did not come up with just one answer.
There are stammering starts at several different answers.
Theologians ever since have continued to try to make sense of it.

The Passion can mean one thing to you
and something else to me.
None of us has a lock on the Holy Mystery of salvation.

Today’s Epistle lesson gives us one way to understand it.
St. Paul gives us a poem that captures the whole life,
death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Paul had heard the words of Jesus quoted,
“Take up your cross and follow me.”
So he said,
“Have the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
Do as he did – and what was that?

“Though he was in the form of God,
he did not count equality with God
as something to be grasped,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave
being born in human likeness.”

Religions usually involve a lot of escapism.
Life is hard.
Human beings are vulnerable.

We get sick.
We get in trouble.
We die – and we don’t like that.

We’d rather be like God.
We want out of this hard life.
We want to be hunky dory day in and day out.
We don’t like being human.
We want to be gods -- above it all.

But what happens when the God we want to be like
chooses to be human?
What if God does not hang on to his safe cushy perch
above the changes and the chances of this life
– but chooses instead “to live and die as one of us.”

Then the way to godliness isn’t to run away from life.
It isn’t to be spiritual with a blissy smile.
It’s to live this life, as it is, with all its ups and downs,
all its joys and sorrow, all is victories and defeats.
It’s to live a human life and die a human death.

But that’s not the end of the story.
Paul says that because Jesus plunged into humanity,
God exalted him to the highest heaven.
The Christian way is not salvation from suffering,
but salvation through suffering.

Elsewhere Paul wrote,
“Just as the sufferings of Christ overflow into our lives;
so too does the encouragement we receive through Christ.”
And in another letter,
“(I want) . . . to partake of his sufferings by being molded
toward the pattern of his death,
striving toward the goal of resurrection from the dead.”

Some theologians say that means that God makes us suffer
because it’s good for us.
I don’t believe that.
I believe life is just the way it is.

Buddha said that life is made up of
“10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows
inextricably woven together”
so you can’t have one without the other.
The question is: what do we do with that?
Jesus chose to live into it all the way
right through disgrace, defeat, suffering, and death.

That is the way of salvation.
That is the way to union with God
– not by avoiding real life, but by living it.
The cross didn’t just happen in 30 A.D.
The cross happens today.
The cross happens in our lives each day
– sometimes in big ways; sometimes in small ways.

The cross means that this life with all its joys and sorrows
is not an illusion to be seen through.
It is not a fallen, degraded realm to be despised.
It is the path to God.

In Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Gilead, old pastor Ames
is nearing death, looking forward to heaven,
but also looking back on his mortal life. He says:

“I know all this is all a mere apparition
compared to what awaits us,
but it is only lovelier for that.
There is a human beauty to it.

And I can’t believe that when we have been changed
and put on incorruptibility that we will forget
our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence,
the great bright dream of procreating and perishing
that meant the whole world to us.

In eternity, this world will be Troy . . . and all that has passed here
will be the epic of the universe,
the song they sing in the streets.”

How we understand the Cross of Christ
is desperately important
because it is our cross too.

Paul says that if we bear it with faith, if we bear it with hope,
if we bear our cross with courage and with compassion
for those who suffer around us,
then it becomes the gateway to heaven.
This mixed life of 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows
is our true sacrament.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Grande Grace - Mild -- With Room For Cream

On Lent 5, we hear about Lazarus.
His story falls on Lent 5 because in John’s Gospel,
this is the tipping point.
Raising Lazarus pushed Jesus’ opposition
over the edge into a murderous plot.
This is the point at which they realized
what a revolutionary change Jesus was ushering
into the world.

What do you suppose life was like for Lazarus
before he fell ill?
Scripture doesn’t say.
So it probably wasn’t remarkable.
It was probably typical – an ordinary life.

I asked a friend this week, “How are you?”
He answered honestly. He said “Mixed.”
His life was somewhat afflicted but generally ok.
That’s how life usually is.
That’s how Lazarus’ life was.
Then he got seriously sick and life was a lot worse.
So his sisters sent word to Jesus.
They wanted him to come and heal their brother.
They wanted him to restore Lazarus from illness back to his mixed life.
Sigmund Freud said the goal of psychoanalysis is to cure mental illness
so the patient can resume a life of “ordinary misery.”
Mary and Martha wanted Jesus to restore the balance,
to put Lazarus back the way he was.

That is what a lot of our religion is for.
We have gotten used to life as it is,
settled into our ordinary misery,
and when that balance is threatened
we want Jesus to set things back the way they were.
We don’t harbor much hope that things can be dramatically better
than they have always been.

We are a bit like the righteous pagans
in Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Dante had the greatest respect for the virtues
of great pagans who lived before the time of Jesus.
They were good. They were even noble,
but in the Divine Comedy, Dante consigned their souls to limbo
– neither the punishments of hell nor the joys of paradise.
The righteous pagans had lived and died without any concept of heaven,
no idea that union with God is possible,
no hope to see the beauty of the divine and be lost
in wonder, love, and praise.
So Dante relegated them to limbo, the mixed state,
because they failed to imagine anything better.

I don’t know where righteous pagans go when they die
and neither did Dante
but he was making this spiritual point:
It is very hard to achieve what we cannot first imagine.
If we cannot imagine that life might be utterly new,
if the best we hope for is the way things were,
then we erect a barrier to what Jesus wants to give us.

So Mary and Martha called Jesus to come quick
and set things back the way they were.
But he didn’t do it.
He waited for two days until Lazarus had died
and all hope to put things back the way they were
was gone.

That’s when Jesus arrived with something better.
He replaced Lazarus’s ordinary life with a miracle.
What happened to Lazarus after that?
We don’t know for sure.
His name is not said again.

But there may be an answer – at least a theory.
No one knows who wrote the 4th Gospel.
Tradition gave it the name of John,
but it pretty clearly wasn’t John the Son of Zebedee
and brother of James.
We don’t know who wrote the 4th Gospel,
but there is a respectable group of scholars
who think it was Lazarus.
It may be that the mystical Gospel,
the loftiest poetry and the truest knowledge of Christ,
came from this man who had seen the other side.
We don’t know that.
But I cannot imagine that Lazarus resumed his ordinary life.
From that day forth, he knew the life giving power of Jesus
-- not as an idea, but an experience; not a theory, but a fact.
Lazarus knew what Paul meant when he said,
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has gone. The new has come.”

But is that what we want?
The self-help books and the psycho-pundits on the talk shows
all have techniques to tinker a little with our lives
-- countless ways to make a little adjustment here
or there so we might, with luck and hard work,
make ourselves 3% happier --
but without changing anything too much.

On any given day, 3% happier may be
about as much as we think like we can stand.
So we pray for that, and many a time
that’s what Jesus does for us.
“I’ll have a Grande grace, the mild brew, not bold,
with room for cream.”
But sometimes Jesus may have a venti grace in mind
and our cup won’t hold it.
We need a different cup.

Jesus wants better for us than we want for ourselves.
Jesus wants better for us than we can imagine,
but it’s natural for us to be afraid of it.
Room has to be made to hold so much grace.
The ordinary things that make is feel safe,
the things that give us our hints of well-being,
have to fall away to make room
“for the glory which is yet to be revealed.”

Holy Week is the story of that falling away.
It is a story of death – like the death of Lazarus
– the kind of death that opens the way to new life
– not to old life refurbished, buffed and refinished
– but utterly new life – a new creation.

This makes a difference for how we understand
what happens in our life all the time.
It changes how we understand what is happening
when the ordinary things that make is feel safe,
the things that give us our sense of well-being,
fall away.

And that is all the time.
As Joni Mitchell so wisely said,
“Something’s lost and something’s gained
in living every day.”

When life is falling apart,
in big ways or in little ways,
how do we understand it?
It’s hard to lose the things that make us happy
-- jobs, homes, people, relationships.
Even though he knew about resurrection,
Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus
because the Lazarus who came out of the tomb
would not be the same man who went into it.
Even Jesus missed the old Lazarus.
So naturally, when we lose what we love, we grieve.

But we do not suffer without hope.
Peter says,
“After you have suffered for a little while.,
the God of all grace who has called you
to his eternal glory in Christ
will himself restore you, support, and strengthen
and establish you.”
Paul says,
“. . . (T)he sufferings of this present time are not worth
comparing to the glory about to be revealed . . . .”

There is a Zen adage that goes,
“The barn has burned.
Now I can see the moon.”

That’s a new meaning for a barn burning.
When the barn is burning in our lives,
we do our best to put out the fire.
But when the barn has burned, we look for the moon.
When Lazarus has died, we look for the resurrection.
When we lose the things that make us happy,
we look for the glory of Christ to make us ecstatic.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Change Your Course

In Ephesians Paul says,
“Once you were darkness.
Now in the Lord you are light.
Live as children of light.”

A navy ship was out at sea when the captain saw the light
of an oncoming ship.
He radioed a message:
“This is the USS (whatever his ship’s name was).
Change your course 10 degrees to starboard.”
The answer came back. “No. Change your course.”

The Captain was offended so he radioed back.
“This is Captain John Williams of the United States Navy.
Change your course.”
The answer came back,
“This is Willie Brown, seaman second class.
Change your course.”
The captain was really angry now.

He radioed back,
“This is an Iowa class battleship.
Change your course.”
The message came back.
“This is the light house.
It’s up to you.”

Brothers and sisters, the world needs you.
The world needs you because you are the light.
You are the lighthouse.
When people see the light of Christ in your lives,
that’s what they have to steer by.

But where do we need the light? Where should it shine?
There is an Islamic story about a famous fool,
Mullah Nazradin.
A friend saw him one night crawling around
on the sidewalk under a street light.
The man said, “Mullah Nazradin can I help you?
What is the problem?”

Nazradin answered, “I dropped my keys
and I am looking for them.”
His friend began looking around too.
Eventually he said, “Where were you standing
when you dropped your keys?”
“In my bedroom inside the house,” Nazradin answered.
“Then why aren’t you looking in your bedroom” his friend asked.
Nazradin replied, “The light is better out here.”

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.”
He meant for us to shine in the world.
The light isn’t for the church.
Our mission is to be the light out there
where people live.

In our Old Testament, Samuel anointed David.
He poured oil on David’s head.
In those days, oil was used in lamps.
It burned. It was energy. It gave off light.

The Bible says from the time he was anointed,
“the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David
from that day forward.”
So David was anointed with power,
the energy kind of power like electric power today
– power that gives off light.
We were anointed at our Baptism for the same thing,
for God’s Spirit to come mightily upon us
empowering us to be the light of the world.

But where did David serve the Lord?
Not in the church for there was no church.
Not in the temple for there was no temple.
Not in the synagogue for there was no synagogue.
All those things were centuries away.

David anointed to serve the Lord as a political leader.
David served God in the public affairs of his people.

Filled with the Holy Spirit,
David made a difference in people’s lives
– not by showing up for regular worship
but by fighting for freedom and justice in Israel.
That’s where David brought the light of Christ –
in the public square where justice was at stake.

Now let’s look at our Gospel lesson.
Jesus is the world’s true light.
That’s what we see whenever Jesus heals a blind person,
as he did in today’s lesson.
Jesus brought light into the darkened lives of the blind.

But where did Jesus heal the man?
He wasn’t in the Temple. He wasn’t in the synagogue.
Not once did Jesus ever heal a blind person
in a place of worship.
Jesus was on the road, the public highway.
He said, “I am the light of the world” and showed that man the light.

Are you getting my point?
What we do here in Church is necessary.
It’s where we recharge our batteries.
But the Christian life happens when we carry the Christ light
out into Las Vegas.
You do that in your homes and at your jobs and in your neighborhoods
when you act in ways that are shaped by faith.

Yesterday, a lot of Episcopalians were on the Strip
for a rally against Human Trafficking.
That was one rare occasion of our shining the light for justice.
It is too rare.
When I represent the Episcopal Church at Las Vegas Interfaith,
where we join hands with other people of faith,
to make this a better place to live,
it is always Fr. Bernardo, Fr. Hilario, and myself.
Rarely anyone else.
It is rare when we shine the light for justice in Nevada.
So I was grateful for yesterday.

Such things are not rare in the Philippines.
The Diocese of Santiago speaks out boldly on issues of justice
– especially land reform and government corruption.
The Episcopal Church in the Philippines gets its hands dirty.
The Church there organizes agricultural cooperatives.
It forms businesses to give people jobs.

Episcopalians there don’t just provide houses of worship
where they find other Episcopalians.
They form cooperatives and improve people’s lives
in towns where there are not any Episcopalians;
then the people in those towns say,
“Thank you. Now can you send us a church?
We like what we see in you.”

We carry the Christ light into the world
by being visibly Christian at home,
at work, and in our communities.
We carry the Christ light by having the mind of Christ,
by modeling everything we do on his example,
and then living that way in Las Vegas, Nevada, year 2011.
When we fail to live our faith in the world,
the world is left in darkness.
Without a lighthouse, people we know
and people we do not know,
crash into the rocks.
Our children and other people’s children crash into the rocks.
The ship of state crashes into the rocks.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world . . . .
Let your light shine before others,
so that they may see your good works
and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

May we follow the good example
of our brothers and sisters in the Philippines.
May we follow the words of Jesus and of Paul.
“Now in the Lord you are light.
Live as children of light.”

Brothers and sisters, be the lighthouse
saying to the battleship, “Change your course.”
Call out to this world -- hell-bent as it is for destruction,
“Change your course.”

Brothers and sisters, stand for justice.
Show mercy to the suffering.
Welcome the stranger.
Care for the outcast.
And do it all in the name of Jesus.

Let Las Vegas know the Body of Christ is here.
The Light of Christ shines here.