Sun, 16 June 2019
Acts 2:1-11; John 7:37-52; 8:12.
God is love; the Father is love when He creates us and the world we are called to serve; the Son is love when He sacrifices Himself for our salvation; the Holy Spirit is love when He comforts, sustains, and strengthens us so that we can live in imitation of and in participation with them in this unifying love.
In our tradition, Pentecost is also known as Trinity Sunday, and it is important that we celebrate not just the coming of the Holy Spirit, but the way that all three persons of the Holy Trinity act out of one will, one essence, one “love” if you will. It is this love, variously referred to as grace or energy or gifts or living water, that allows us to grow beyond our fallen nature and selfishness and become vessels of that grace so that can unify ourselves with and in it and then share it with others. We acquire that grace not for ourselves only – for selfishness and the hoarding of love separates us from its source – but rather so that we can share it with others and draw them into this same transformation; the transformation of fallen and separated humanity, divided by passions and greed, into the family of God, the Christian nation, people who have become one in love as God is One in love. Not losing our individuality, but with all our blessed gifts directed efficiently towards their proper purposes.
Looking at the Epistle reading for today, it is worth asking what languages have to do with any of this. In general, a common language represents the healing of Babel.
But what is that language? Is it Hebrew? English? Binary code? Enochian? None of these are good enough. It isn't about the language, it is about the unity it allows. The pre-Babel language united the people, but it did not make them holy. That is the whole point: their unity was evil so God divided them so that the would have to work their evil separately, thus limited the damage it could do.
But there is something more we can learn from the focus on language and the ability of the Apostles to speak in ways that their hearers could understand.
Understanding is more than grammar. It's more than vocabulary. It's even more than learning the stories of the people who speak it. Understanding requires quieting our own minds and learning to hear the things people say. Listening is hard thing, it requires incredible humility. Without that, we hear only enough to manipulate, to demonize, to justify, to argue; but never enough to really know. Never enough to really love.
And this is why the Holy Spirit is tied into this process. We acquire the Holy Spirit when we empty ourselves of our passions and completely give our lives over to knowing and loving the other. And when we do that, we are able to communicate – commune! - with them at the deepest level.
In that love, we can share the source of love. This is what the apostles did at Pentecost. And because grace motivated and sustained their efforts, they were able to share the most important thing of all to the people around them: the Gospel. The words of transformation. The words of redemption. The words of love.
And when they heard it – when they were loved and drawn into its source, they separated themselves form all the things in their lives that were not good and holy, and joined themselves to the new humanity – the family of God (also known as the Church) – through through Baptism and the Holy Eucharist (the mysteries of union!).
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40 And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
It is hard to really listen. It is hard to really know someone else. It is so hard to love. One day, it will come naturally, through the grace of God.
But for now, we have some rules to guide us, most especially, the golden rule; “love your neighbor as yourself”. When we recognize that this call to imagine ourselves as not just our neighbor, but our enemies as well, and then treat them the way we want to be treated, then we have a guide to behavior that will allow us to live the life of love as we are being perfected by God's grace through the mysteries of repentance, and Eucharist.
May God strengthen us as we learn to love through the grace of God.
Sun, 2 June 2019
Sunday of the Man Born Blind
I strongly encourage you to spend time studying scripture. Not just reading it; it's not like a novel that is easy to follow or a textbook that lays everything out and then footnotes the hard stuff; it requires effort. And part of the effort is asking questions. We've talked about this before: the Bible, like Orthodoxy and everything else worthwhile, can handle scrutiny. Asking questions - not out of a desire to attack or discredit, but out of a desire to understand and even test – is the way our rational mind learns. Our subconscious mind learns through the repetition of ritual and story, but the rational part of our mind learns best from active and continuous dialogue. And here at St. Mary's we are creating a culture of safe, loving, and productive dialogue; so that we can fulfill the desire of God “that all be saved and come to the knowledge of God.”
I love this Gospel, because one of the obvious questions is asked straightaway; “why was this man born blind, is it because of his sin or his parents?”
Awesome. And our great teacher gives the answer, and he does it by stepping outside of their worldview and shifting it from sin to the power of God. It's a beautiful thing.
But there are other questions that come up to. And one of the most pressing and most obvious is; “if God has that power, and he used it on this random blind guy, why didn't he use it on …; why doesn't he use it on ….” And so on.
These are great questions. They are questions motivated by hearts that are broken with grief and a desire to bring comfort to people who are hurt and suffering.
There is an answer, but in order to give it, I need to come at it sideways, with a parable.
Why a parable? … Why make one up?
From our own experiences: the melt down on aisle four.
Hungry child. Knows what is required to end that hunger. Demands that the parent end the hunger. Now. There is food in the shopping cart; it is there so that dinner can be made. No; the demand is more insistent. In a toddler, it takes on the form of the melt-down. But what if the toddler had words? What would they look like? Love! Where is the love? A child in need! Feed the child! If you love, you must feed the child!
Some in the store may even support this: “please feed the child!!!”
But what happens if the parent gives in to the tantrum?
Greater long term success and and satisfaction is found in learning about self-control and deferred gratification (not to mention the fact that bad behavior has negative consequences) than in satisfying cravings and hunger pain as soon at they show up.
The good parent will soldier on, make dinner with the child (or while he sits in time out watching it being made), and then be reminded – at dinner – about the regular cycles of the household rhythm. Eventually, when the child is hungry, he will not need to be reminded that dinner will come, that the love of the parent is real and that she really will take care of the child. It will all be automatic. The refusal to disrupt the plan and rhythm of the good household around the short-term desires of the child will be understood as necessary, or at least, acceptable.
The parable isn't perfect, but it provides a good start to understanding why good healed this blind man, but doesn't answer every request immediately and in the way we demand. Even when we insist that love requires such a response.
God healed the blind man for the same reason he accomplished all of his miraculous healings: so that we would know that we could trust Him that dinner really would be shared with all who desired to eat once it was actually time for that dinner to be held.
God has healed our diseases; God has granted us all immortal life.
Right now, we're in Aisle Four and hungry; we seem a long way from home and forever away from dinner time.
That doesn't give us license for us to have a melt-down on aisle four.
Christ is Risen, He is ascended into glory, and we will join Him there when it is time.