A comprehended god is no god.

A comprehended god is no god.

A wise saying by saintly John Chrysostom

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sermon for 17 July 2010 given at St. Thomas the Apostle – Hollywood

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer. +

I want to thank you, Father Davies, the Vestry, my Discernment Panel, all of you, for your help this past year. Your daily prayers and your financial support have helped me make it through my first year of seminary.

I’m afraid I brag a little about St. Thomas – our liturgy, Father Davies’ sermons, our music, and the warmth and love found in this place. I can echo Jacob in our first reading, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and the gate of heaven.”

Recently, an artist friend of mine told me that he had once considered becoming a Roman Catholic priest. He was encouraged by his priest, went through all sorts of interviews, attended various trainings, and at some point, he was told that he would have to undergo some psychological tests.

My friend’s mentor let him know that, among other things; he would be given a blank piece of paper and instructed to draw a house. “Whatever you do,” said the mentor, “don’t draw the house with a closed door.” “Why not?” asked my friend. Apparently this test was once used to root out those “unfit” for ministry. To them a closed door might signify secrecy, fear of rejection, and that my friend might be hiding something... that he was gay.

On the way to the Psychologist’s office my friend decided what he would do on the test. He was given a pencil and clean white sheet of paper. He carefully drew a beautiful country home with details inspired by medieval churches and cathedrals: Oriel & leaded glass windows, grouped chimneys, pinnacles, battlements and shaped parapets. When it came to drawing the door – he created massive double doors… one door open and one door closed!

The door is an important element of any building - a symbol of passage. Doors can represent places of metamorphosis. We wait behind some doors in the dark, not knowing what to expect, until the timing is ripe, until we are made ready.…

Today’s Psalm makes it clear that even when we are completely in the dark, God is there with us, to lead us, to hold us:

If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; 0 even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.

The Psalmist is aware that metamorphosis can be scary. Often, when it is darkest, God is at work preparing us for the next stage.

Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb.

The Rt. Rev. Richard T. Loring, late Bishop of Springfield, in an Easter sermon, suggested that we live three lives, yet one life. Our first life is in the envelope placed in our mother’s womb. We are warm and comfortable and fed. We know nothing of the life to come. Had we the ability to think, we could not even imagine the use of another life.

Bishop Loring asserts this first life exists as a preparation for the next. We grow eyes, ears, a tiny mouth, hands and feet, lungs to breathe with, all of which are useless while we live in the envelope in the womb. God creates the wonderful miracle of our body because we will soon need it.

I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.

Without our permission or desire we are suddenly compelled to leave the warm body of our mother in a way that is hard and painful, and that may seem like death. The envelope that was home, nourishment and protection, is discarded.

Now what is the purpose of this second life? Similar to the first, we are meant to develop the instruments that will be needed in the next. In this second life our soul unfolds. Echoes of our creator ring in our senses. What happens if we listen? Mary Oliver, in her poem, The Summer Day, suggests that the act of paying attention is the essence of prayer:

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean –

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down –

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

In Baptism we are sent into the world in witness to God’s love and encouraged to grow into the fullness of God’s peace and glory. It would appear that many of us are still like children stumbling toward God. Our attention span is short.

To grow spiritually is to pay attention to the Spirit - for all who are led by the Spirit are children of God.

We, all of Abraham’s children, look for the glory yet to be revealed. All of creation groans in labor, you and me included, inwardly groan as we wait for our adoption.

Rabbi Rosove, at Temple Israel, speaks of Tikkun. Tikkun is the Hebrew word for repair, restoration. This is our great hope. God will come and restore… Shalom to the earth and to us... wholeness and complete peace… this is our inheritance as children of God. Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of heaven as present and yet to come.

Matthew writes of the kingdom of heaven in terms of someone sowing good seed in his field. I don’t believe this story is about a few people who call themselves righteous going to heaven and others called evil burning in hell.

This is not in the heart of God and the world is not so black and white. We are not so black and white. We’re complex creatures. Everything God created is good and created with purpose.

I invite you to think of your heart as the field in which soul unfolds… where wheat and tares grow. The wheat and tares are two sides of a coin. The wheat is our conscious self, the tares are our shadowy interior. God doesn’t root out the tares because they are part of us. Instead, we are meant to bring our shadows into the light. Others can help us as mirrors. Mirrors raised in relationship allow us to pay attention to our shadows, examine them, and struggle with them so we can grow whole. Restoring our soul brings relief and releases creative energy.

We co-create the kingdom of heaven with the Holy Spirit… not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves in service. These past few years I’ve been blessed to be a Lay Eucharistic Visitor. I trust that God is with me as I walk through doors and share burdens.

I recall visiting someone in a nursing home; I’ll call her Joy. She was very sick… and missed her family. One day she told me she was going to die. It was hard to understand her because of a tracheotomy. I asked her if she feared she was going to die. “No,” she said, “I know I’m going to die today.”

I believe it’s possible to know. I reminded her that the staff had finally been able to reach her sister and that she would arrive the next day. She was so weak. Didn’t she want to see her? Again she told me that she was going to die and tears came down her cheeks. I respect the beliefs of those I encounter. If we pray I ask them what they want to pray for. I asked her if it would be OK if we prayed for her live one more day. She whispered, yes. We prayed together.

The next day I went to her room, not knowing what to expect, I stood outside the door. The nurses where changing the bedding. I didn’t see her. Then I saw her legs. When I entered the room, I saw her sister, brother-in-law, and nephew. The look on Joy’s face was like the shining sun.

We all have doors or portals to discover. James Joyce said that “A man of genius makes no mistakes; his errors are volitional and are portals of discovery.” We make no mistakes; our errors are volitional and are portals of discovery.

Jacob was running from his past, his relationship with his brother was heavy on his heart. In the dark morning hour he discovered that the God of Abraham is not some distant deity, but the God of Jacob – very personal and intimate. God entered the portal of his dream, not to berate him for cheating his brother, but to be his God. Listen with Jacob to what God said, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go and will not leave you.”

So tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?