Tuesday, April 19, 2016


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.

Sunday, April 17, 2016


Easter is the season of miracle and resurrection.
Acts tells us the miracle story how Peter raised Tabitha from the dead.
Do we believe such a thing could happen?
Some people refuse to believe in miracles
            because they are unscientific.
They think science says miracles are impossible.
But since the early 20th Century, science has not been so arrogant.
Science today tells us that hardly anything is impossible.
Some things are just extraordinarily unlikely.

Miracles are unlikely but can we still believe in them?
It is extraordinarily unlikely that an explosion like the Big Bang
            would sort itself into an orderly cosmos.
It is super unlikely that such a cosmos would generate life.
That such life should evolve to become sentient, aware, self-aware,
            intelligent, creative, and spiritual is beyond belief.
The fact that we are here this morning is so amazing
            we should not raise an eyebrow at the miracles on scripture.

A miracle is – an extraordinarily unlikely moment of grace.
Unlikely, yes, but I have experienced such moments – not often, but sometimes.
You may have experienced them too.
When all hope seems lost, things miraculously come round right.

We may call it luck.
We may just shake our heads and think the situation was not
            as grim as we had thought.
Or we may say, “thanks be to God.”

Whether we call those extraordinary moments of grace
            gifts from a loving God
                        or just the luck of the Irish is up to us.

The real problem with miracles isn’t science.
It’s theological.
If miracles happen sometimes,
            then why don’t they happen all the time?

I did my pastoral internship one summer at a hospital in Boise.
Every summer there,
            a child will drown while playing in an irrigation ditch.
My greatest fear was being on call
            for the emergency room when that happened.
In August, it did.
I sat with the young father while the doctors tried
            to resuscitate his 12 year old daughter.
It seemed like forever.
I went with him to see her body.
I held him as he cried.
And all I could think of was the words of Jesus,
            “Talitha cum. Little girl, rise up.”
But she did not rise up.
There was no miracle.

Robert Schuler, the television preacher of positive thinking
            used to say, “Expect a miracle.”
But the very nature of a miracle is that it is unexpected.
It’s what usually doesn’t happen.
He thought we could make our own miracles
            by having an optimistic attitude,
            that we could conjure up the power of God
            to do our bidding if we just think happy thoughts.

But that is a shallow way to think about God,
            it isn’t psychologically healthy to live in that kind of denial,
                        and it usually doesn’t work
                                    because miracles usually don’t happen
                         – except when they do – and that’s the problem.

If we could say God doesn’t get involved in our lives
            or there is nothing God can do about sickness, death, and disaster,
                        then we could just write God off and get on with it.
We might believe God exists.
We might even go to church.
But we wouldn’t expect God to actually do anything.
God might be God but he wouldn’t be good for much.
Problem solved.

Then in desperation we pray anyway -- or someone prays for us --
            and grace breaks into our lives in some unforeseen way
                                    at some unforeseen time.
What are we to do with that?//

The Bible does not try to make the world simpler than it really is.
It does not say that whatever happens is God’s will.
If we assume everything that happens is God’s will,
            we are not talking about the God of the Bible.

Throughout Scripture, we hear over and over
            that God is not at all pleased
                        with the way things are going on earth.
If God’s will is already happening,
            how come Jesus teaches us to pray “thy will be done”?
If this is already God’s kingdom where things are God’s way,
            then why do we pray “thy kingdom come”?
Isn’t God’s kingdom, God’s will what we are waiting for in the final act?

So as C. S. Lewis says, for now our world is “in enemy hands.”
How it came to be this way is another story,
            but what matters is that’s the way it is now.
God is not yet making the decisions in this world.
A lot that happens is painful, tragic, and wrong.

But the Bible also says God is involved in our lives.
God is always present, always caring, always tugging things
            in the direction of the good.

It’s a lot like being the parent of a teenager or a young adult.
Do you as a parent have influence? Yes, some.
Are you in control? No you are not.
We are involved – hopefully in a good way
             – but that is not the same as being in charge.

God is involved now.
And we can open the door to let God be even more involved.
We can open the door to allow God into our lives
            to do more of the good things God already longs to do.
That’ s what prayer is for.
That’s what hope is for.
That’s what faith and trust and working for God’s cause
            are all for.
We can align our lives with God’s will
            and that helps.
We can be God’s agents behind enemy lines.
We can give God more of an opportunity to work.

But we cannot turn over the whole world to God.
We don’t have that much authority.
So God’s grace breaking into the world remains a miracle.
It remains what we don’t expect.
It surprises us.
But it happens sometimes
            and because it happens sometimes,
                        there is always hope.
 There is no situation in which we cannot hope for a miracle.
But any expectation that God will do a specific good thing
            at a specific time isn’t something we can count on.

We have a bigger hope than the kind of miracle
            that happened when Peter prayed for Tabitha.
We have the hope of resurrection in our lesson from Revelation.
That is more than hope. It is you can take it the bank assurance
            because of one simple fact.
God alone is eternal.
Only God and the things that are of God last forever.

We are of God. All that is good and beautiful and true is of God.
But pain, suffering, injustice, and evil are not of God
            so they do not last forever.
Death does not last forever.
Death itself will die.

Then comes the resurrection.
All that is of God comes back from the grave like Jesus
                        and with Jesus.
All that is beautiful, good, and decent comes back.
God who made it to begin with can raise it up.
That little girl in the Boise hospital will live
            and her father’s grief will end.
And so will yours and so will mine.

We will not be raised back to this life like Tabitha in Acts
            – not to this life with its endless frustrations and disappointments.
We will be raised into the presence of God
            where we “will hunger no more and thirst no more
                        and the sun will not strike (us) or any scorching heat
                        .  . . He will guide us to the waters of life
            and . . . wipe away every tear . . . .”