Monday, December 25, 2017

The Restoration of Man through the Incarnation of God

Christ+Mass Eve 2017                                      The Rev. Robert RM Bagwell+
24th December                                                                       Feast of the Holy Nativity

In Paul’s letter to the Church in the city of Philippi, the second chapter, we read these words:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, 
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2)

This encapsulates the very heart of Christmas: God humbling himself before the human race that He Himself created; God in human flesh; God born in a stable without a midwife, a clean hospital room or any assistance outside of her husband Joseph.

For the last seven months I have attended the twelve step program AA to gain and have gained a lot of very practical spiritual insight.  It is clear to me, the wisdom of Fr. Samuel Shoemaker as he placed his hand to the plow of forging this program along with Dr Bob and Bill W. that by God’s grace continues to transform lives across the world.  What a wonder that brokenness in the lives of a small group of men birthed healing grace into the lives of millions.   This mode of living which I call “12 Step Spirituality” is taken from a paradigm of the life Christ came to give us.    A friend of mind said that by way of explanation, that the real task that the founders of AA were trying to deal with was not chemical but spiritual.  One of his mentors said that it is really “Spiritual Maladies Anonymous” but if it were called that no one would come! 

It will still be a long time before every knee shall bow and every tongue confess His Name, but while we wait that day, he is still reaching out with his healing touch, his tender voice and kindness of understanding. His name foretold: “Emanuel” meaning “God with us.”  Rather than the human race reaching out to God, God reaches out to the human race!  The Apostle Paul wrote these words: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8 New International Version (NIV) 

Something profound occurred.  God took notice in the garden.  God saw from the beginning with the advent of a granted free will, humanity was “powerless over sin.”   God decided to do something about it from the beginning. God sent a Son. You know what you can call this? intervention.  What occurred on this “Holy Night” was an intervention by the Son of God into a human race careening toward destruction, ultimate and eternal.  Interventions are an act of love toward someone cared about deeply.  Interventions do not always go well, but Jesus entered into this Divine action willingly and counting the cost. There is an old Christmas hymn called “Ring the Bells” that contains these lyrics: Born to die that man might live Came to earth new life to give Born of Mary, born so low Many years ago.  Jesus was born to die.  That was the cost. It wasn’t the way man thought it would happen.  Humanity didn’t think they needed to be changed inside but “only” appease God in outward ritual. 

The Jewish people for centuries had longed for a Messiah, someone who would come and make all things right, just and peaceful.  This Messiah would of course make things as “they” would have them.  They longed for wholeness, a wholeness that God alone can give.
Bethlehem was so much more than it appeared. We commemorate in many ways, but without Bethlehem, there would not have been a cross.  Without a cross, there would not have been a resurrection and without a resurrection, the human race would be doomed to die in its sins.  Do not pass go, do not collect eternal life (if you’ve ever played monopoly). 
A fascinating aspect of this story is that Jesus, Emanuel, was born in a place where lowly animals ate and slept a place that was dank and smelled no doubt.  The first visitors were shepherds who held a very low position on the social scale of the day.  What made the King of Kings, the Lord of Heaven and Earth allow himself to be born of a common nobody woman in a place where the animals were kept?  It was love.  It was the power of His love.  His love was power.

Will we let his power move us? Without it, we are powerless.  Only Christ a power greater than ourselves can change that. That powerful love acted on our behalf and now we act in response

We do not “act tonight “as though the event was yet to happen. we “recapitulate” this event, at least that is what theologians call it.  We live it again.  We walk their walk.  We talk their talk.   We affirm something profound by our presence here– God has come to earth.  God has broken through the veil.  God has given the most precious of gifts – his only Son.  History has been split into the time before HE CAME and the time since HE CAME.

The Christian has also been split in two:  the time before Jesus and the time after HE CAME into the heart and live and changed ev.  That is why for two thousand years this birth is celebrated.  God with us is in us by Jesus and his birth.  God is holding us as surely as Mary held the baby.  God did something about our dilemma that we both could not and would not solve.  That self giving of God would eventually come to a cross.

We speak often of God “acting” in history.  Even when things go badly in nature, the insurance companies seek to blame the Creator, by calling catastrophic tragedies, an “act of God.”  But on this night, God not only acted in history, God entered history.  And God IS HERE.  This night began something in the human soul and above all in the human heart.   His Name - Jesus - Savior tells us what he came to do.  It tells us what we need– God to save us from ourselves, from those things that destroy us and our capacity to live in love.  His titles tell us what he came to be for us “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

The wonder of Christmas is God’s giving of God’s own person if we will but open our hearts to receive that person – that love – this JESUS!   God has moved – toward us!  In the most unthreatening, and the most peaceful of ways, God reaches out to you and me.  Not as judge, not as jailer, but with the outstretched arms of an infant.  Those open arms still stand tonight.  Does that MOVE YOU–TOWARD HIM--toward the light--toward the life--toward the Prince of Peace? I pray that this Christmas will be like no other for you – again Christ Jesus is here.  God has given us PEACE. GOD has Moved toward you.  May we be moved from our deepest core toward Him.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Third Sunday after Easter             The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Year A + 30, April 2017
Acts 2:14a,36-41                                                                                                      Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17
1 Peter 1:17-23                                                                                                                 Luke 24:13-35

Perhaps you’ve had a moment of “enlightenment”–a moment of incredible clarity and understanding.  In some circles it is called a “Damascus road experience” after the experience of St. Paul.  One of my preaching mentors called it, “the shock of recognition.” I like to call it an “ah ha” moment.   Today we have another profound experience we know as the Road to Emmaus, an Emmaus Road Experience.  Jesus had a pattern of seeking to bring about just such moments of clarity and recognition.  Each week, as we read the Words of God and look into the texts placed before us is it God we are looking for?  Jesus in these written words: yes, but more are looking for God to be working in us.

The text begins that first Easter afternoon. We are told that these two unknown men are moving from Jerusalem to Emmaus. While they proceed a stranger joins them as they walk. It is Jesus, although like Mary Magdalene in the garden that morning, they do not recognize him.
They are discussing their brokenness and their disillusionment and this stranger innocently almost humorously asks:  “What things are you talking about?”  Jesus loves to ask questions, in fact, Jesus asks more questions than anyone in the Bible.
They are so grieved that their personal angst pours out to this stranger. I think the two on the road were kept from recognizing him so that he could explain it to them first..

Notice how he does it.  He goes back to what they already know–what they already know and believe. What they have already experienced about God and of God is the foundation for what they are about to encounter in the risen Christ.

Jesus said: “Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’  Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”  (Lk. 24)

He returns to the Bible and explored Messiah prophesied from Moses and all of the prophets.  It was a moment of enlightenment.  Familiar texts that they had seen and memorized in Sabbath School suddenly are understood in a completely new way!

Does not God do the same to us?  When in a moment did something about God, Christ or the Bible itself give you an “ah ha” moment? The Bible is God’s Word to us–a love-letter yes but more–a message to be investigated.  When someone writes a letter to us, we look for how it speaks about that which will affect us. Theologian Walter Brueggemann says that God’s word to us is “endlessly ‘strange and new’.” I have found it so.  It is the living word of the living God inexhaustible in its message. 
What Jesus was doing on this road is to show that the whole of the scriptures from Genesis through Malachi spoke of him, over and over again. Why would Jesus “keep them” from recognizing him?  They were unprepared to recognize the person who was among them while He was alive. 

Remember the interaction with the disciples, his words and theirs, when he calmed the raging sea? “He replied, “‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’” (Mt. 8:26 & 27) 

These disciples had already decided what God was like.  What the Messiah would be like and do and of course the Messiah would never have a shameful death at  the hands of the Roman dogs.  Would they be ready to accept a Risen from the dead Messiah?  Jesus had to show them!

Aren’t we also a bit that way?  I know I am.  If there is a problem I get so focused on the problem, that I can’t even begin to imagine that God has a solution in the works, or a purpose in allowing things to come out of us that need fixing. 

If Jesus as God crucified had to go through what he went through to fix us,  should we not also, even living under the forgiveness of his blood also find a way to greater God-likeness through the circumstances of our lives? 
Hebrews chapter 5 says: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Don’t we do the same? When has God been behind the scenes, in a circumstance or another person, trying to teach us, to change, shape and mold us?
The climax of the chapter then comes as they press Jesus to stay with them and there is no Sheraton Inn nearby. They sit down at table and notice, it is Jesus who is orchestrating this scene not the home owner as was tradition. 
We read: When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Why the breaking of the bread?  Over and over it is in broken-ness that the shock of recognition comes to be. Broken expectations litter the landscape of the post-resurrection stories. 
Brokeness litters the expectations of our lives!  But in the broken-ness of the hopes, dreams, even the body of Jesus the insecurity of disappointment opened them to receive the good news and a new hope. It is in the broken-ness, the times of uncertainty and disillusionment in our lives that God can come in and make a difference in us.  

Notice what they said “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”  They were hearing with their ears, but not their hearts.  It is in the experience of the breaking of the bread that the revelation comes. So IMAGINE... William Blake said “imagination is Evidence of the Divine” Peter Gomes of Harvard Divinity School said: “imagination is the way that liberates us from the tyranny of that journey , which is essentially a retrospective: looking at what happened, how sad it is and how woebegone we are.  Eucharist is the meal that breaks the power of that paradigm. “ Imagine a new paradigm as Jesus gave those disciples and us by the new life the Resurrection provides.  Don’t you know that God in Christ imagined what would be before it was?   So my brothers and sisters may we free our minds so that God may work his imagination in our lives changing by the Resurrected Jesus.  AMEN

Saturday, April 22, 2017

He is Risen!

The Feast of the Resurrection + A           The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
16, April 2017                                                   All Saints’ Hampton Parish, SC
Acts 10:34-43                                                                                                                                        Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4                                                                                                                                    John 20:1-18

Christos Anesti the orthodox say to one another on this day. Alithos anesti  is the reply given by the other person.  The >79 Prayerbook gives us an English translation.  
Alleluia, Christ is Risen and the reply The Lord is risen INDEED Alleluia !  Lets practice the Easter greeting this morning. Alleluia, Christ is Risen@ AThe Lord is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!

Good news.  We all LIKE good news. But do we understand how good this news is?  Even the disciples, Jesus= closest friends Peter and John says that Athey did not believe for as yet they did not know the scripture that he would rise from the dead.@ (Jn. 20:9)

Sure our culture sees Easter as commercially B and not the Feast of the Resurrection!  But it is still difficult even with bunnies and baskets, bonnets and bow, baby chicks and chocolate, to divorce ourselves completely from the events that the Christian Church has proclaimed for two millennia.  Those events have transformed human history and the world.

Easter: a pagan word, yet it connotes a profound mystery, an earthly transformation, a metamorphosis from what was, frail weak and limited to another mode of being: power, transformation and Resurrection!  Former Franciscan Priest, Brennan Manning once said that God didn’t redeem humanity to make “nicer men with better morals, but brand new creations. “  That is what the resurrection from the dead accomplished.

The cross is the meeting place between God and humanity. However it is profoundly more. At the foot of that cross is a level playing field.  No earthly riches, no important earthly family, no position or fame is of any import.  The cross of Christ was and is the grand equalizer and what is the point of that equality?  Forgiveness…forgiveness.  Coupled with that fundamental principle is the other and the two go hand in hand: recreation.  Resurrection makes these two principles necessary to Gods salvation of humanity possible. It takes us the heart with this immortal verse about the heart of our God.  Perhaps you’ve heard it?  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)  This verse so moves everything that is perhaps the best known Bible verse in the world.  At St Paul’s in Savannah, where I assist, below the great crucifix, the carved figures of Jesus on that cross and Mary and St John at its feet staring up at their dying son and friend, and below the figures in large gold letters we read: for God so loved the world.  The world is filled with so much pain and suffering that people are filled with fear and despair.  That has not changed, however when the disciples and Mary Magdalene went to the tomb that morning and found it empty, the remaking of the world was initiated. Jesus did not rise from the dead to make new life possible, as was said by  The Rev. Tullian Tchividjian, Jesus was raised from the dead to make new life actual for those who believe. 

Through this resurrection all of God=s salvific strains of grace have gone into motion.  We say in the creed and in the Baptismal Covenant, Awe believe in the resurrection of the body.@  That is no small statement.  How many religious faiths around the world believe in the Aresurrection of the dead.@ It is a bold claim of the Christian faith.  But it is not a rejoinder of that faith, but rather it is the core of that faith.  In the Nicene Creed, the creed normally used in the Mass, we say Awe look for the resurrection of the dead@.  Are we nuts?  Or do we know something that many in the world do not?   Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have testimony and the experience of two millennia of people who claim that the receiving of this man=s free offering into their personal lives and histories has changed their lives forever.

What do we claim about this man Jesus of Nazareth who we have the temerity to call God=s Messiah for the whole world?   We are not saying that God reanimated the cells in the body of the dead Jesus.  We are not saying that Christ was raised as in the stories of Lazarus being raised.  Christ is raised to die no more.  We are not saying that our immortal souls live on forever.  That pales in comparison to the resurrection.  We say we believe in the resurrection of the BODY!
Resurrection is a statement about the character of God.  It states that He does not and will never stop loving God=s creation.   It says that Jesus Christ is the victorious one who has conquered death.  The disciples did not believe in the resurrection because they believed in Jesus@ says theologian Martin Marty, Athey believed in Jesus because they believed in the RESURRECTION! A If you take the Christian faith seriously, it will inevitably lead you to Easter. 

Without Easter Christianity falls.  Paul said Aif there is no resurrection your faith is vain.@   There are many good proofs as to why one would believe in it, but this is not the time for such proofs. Many seeking Aproofs@ are more seeking information than faith.  Many who seek information, even if convinced would not believe in Christ. And this Christ demands an answer to His claims.

In a new motion picture, award winning Chicago Tribune journalist has a life jolting experience.  He and his pregnant wife and their daughter are out at a restaurant when his daughter begins to choke on something. The film opens with him receiving a promotion and his family of three (soon to be four) seemingly enjoying all that life has to offer a young upwardly mobile family. However, a crisis in a restaurant leads to an encounter with a follower of Christ and the course of Lee’s life forever changes. He and his wife are both professed atheists, however the encounter with the nurse who saves their daughter shakes her to the core.  The woman said, “I wanted to go somewhere else for dinner, but something told me to come here”.  As an addendum she says that God told her to be there.  This begins the wife’s search.  

Lee is determined to disprove the resurrection of Jesus. He exerts great effort and talks to a number of experts in different disciplines. He talks to skeptics and believers. Meanwhile, his wife is drawing closer to Christ and embracing her new Christian faith. This isn’t what Lee bargained for and he’s angry and tortured. What is displayed in the film is sometimes ugly and for good reason, this all happened. Furthermore, to go from atheism to belief is not something that will or should happen cleanly. Lee is conducting an investigation and it is not going as he thought and that ticks him off, especially at his wife, who now has a relationship with someone else…Jesus.  In a dramatic scene at the office one of Lee’s colleagues, responds to his sarcastic despondency saying: “at some point you have got to ask yourself, how much evidence do you have to have?” In the basement workshop, where he has charts and chalkboards and interviews and questions as well as evidence he had gathered over approximately two years, in exasperation he says: “ok God, you win!” and the story of his redemption begins which would eventually take him to a status of a world class proponent of the Christian faith.  I have been through that same struggle in my own teen years and finally gave up and chose what seemed the most authentic and genuine thing: Jesus.  

Today and every day we are confronted with the same choice and the same evidence.  Will this Jesus be the center of our lives for this life and the next, or will we protest and refuse.  But for those who know him and celebrate him, today is the day that changed the world. Alleluia, Christ is risen: the Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

In the Name of the Father and of the glorious and risen Son

and of the Holy Spirit.  AMEN

Sunday, February 26, 2017

God Manifest in Glory

Epiphany  VII+A       
26, February  + 2017         
The Rev. Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Exodus 24:12-18                                                                                                 
Psalm 2or Psalm 99
2 Peter 1:16-21                                                                                                         
Matthew 17:1-9

After getting all Pope John Paul II's luggage loaded in the limo (and His Holiness doesn't travel light) in NYC, the driver notices that the Pope is still standing on the curb. "Excuse me, Your Holiness." says the driver, "Would you please take your seat so we can leave?""Well, to tell you the truth," says the Pope, "They never let me drive at the Vatican, and I'd really like to drive today.""I'm sorry but I cannot let you do that. I'd lose my job! And what if something should happen?" protests the driver, wishing he'd never gone to work that morning."There might be something extra in it for you," says the Pope. Reluctantly, the driver gets in the back as the Pope climbs in behind the wheel. The driver quickly regrets his decision when, after exiting the airport, the Supreme Pontiff floors it, accelerating the limo to 105mph."Please slow down, Your Holiness!!!," pleads the worried driver, but the Pope keeps the pedal to the metal until they hear sirens. "Oh, my God, I'm gonna lose my license," moans the driver. The Pope pulls over and rolls down the window as the patrolman approaches, but the cop takes one look at him, goes back to his motorcycle, and gets on the radio. "I need to talk to the Chief," he says to the dispatch. The Chief gets on the radio and the cop tells him that he's stopped a limo going a hundred and five."So bust him," said the Chief."I think the guy's a big shot," said the cop."All the more reason.""No, I mean really a big shot," said the cop."What'd ya got there, the Mayor?""Bigger.""Governor.""Bigger.""Well," said the Chief, "Who is it?""I don't know", said the cop, "but he's got the Pope driving for him."

We are now at the end of the Epiphany season, what in the previous Prayer Book was called Quinquagesima Sunday. It is a culmination of all of the revelations of God in Christ Jesus in this season of Manifestation (which is what the word Epiphany means.)  The whole of the life of Jesus is filled with manifestations, or as I call them in this sermon: glimpses of glory. Earlier in the traditional season of Epiphanies, the Virgin Mary tells her son: “they have no more wine”. Then, after this she instructs the servants to: “do whatever he tells you.”  Doing is something we are good at, but on the Holy Mountain, the voice from heaven says: “this is my son whom I love, listen to Him!” 

Listening is not necessarily something we are good at doing.  In this age of the Western world, we are bombarded constantly with sound.  We have instruction in Public Speaking; however, we don’t have lessons in listening! But this isn’t an issue just in our age, but in the ancient world.  Early in Christianity, we have a hermitic tradition, continuing the Hebrew tradition of meditation.  The idea of being still to hear the still small voice of God in our day is difficult. It is all the more complicated by our self centered egos. Often when someone is speaking to us, we are thinking of the next thing that WE are going to say, which is obviously so much more important. When we listen, we are not in control and in some sense, we are submissive: Listen to Him!  When from our human perspective we really focus and listen to someone, we honor them, we show their words have importance, we show that they have importance. In this season of the Epiphany, we have manifestations particularly pointed out: the coming of the Wise Men, the Baptism of Jesus and the turning of water into wine. But as significant as these are, the whole life of Jesus is replete with manifestation after manifestation, which the church signifies by a feast day of the Church. The Older Testament epiphanies, we do not celebrate, but today, we read of God taking Moses up to the mountain, it says that the glory of God was like a devouring fire.  Some of these are the Annunciation, the birth manifested to the shepherds, the Presentation in the Temple, the warning to flee into Egypt and the finding of Jesus in the temple when he was twelve. Over and over again we see this in the gospels and I want to suggest to us this morning, that when we embrace the Lord Jesus Christ, God manifests in our lives, and through our lives.  The fabric of God’s plan for humanity has continued on even when we think we may have screwed it up. 

The transfiguration says clearly that Jesus is the Messiah; that no matter how seemingly good, or meritorious other religions may seem, this Jesus is the Areal thing@. Jesus, in a profound act of love for the inner circle of disciples, Peter, James and John, includes them on the final Acheck@, the final Ago ahead@ for the mission that would lead to the cross..  He includes them as God gives his blessing to the mission and they see for a moment the glory of God shining out from within the very person of Jesus.  This glory of God, the Hebrew word, Ashekinah@ is what God wants to place in the souls of the human race.  That glory that was lost to us by the sins of our first parents; that restoration of the wholeness and completeness of that image of God that he has bestowed upon each of us. In Hebrew, the word for glory is “cabod”, like in Washington Irving story of Icabod Crane and the headless horseman.  Icabod means the glory has departed.  The Hebrew word translated into Greek gives us the word glory, however, cabod is a presence, not just light and power but something that can be felt and experienced.  It is said that later when Moses would meet with God in the Tent of Meeting in the Tabernacle, his face would shine when he came out. That same glory God has placed in our hearts.  The verse on my face book webpage says: “For God who said let light shine out of darkness has caused His light to shine in our hearts to give us the knowledge of His glory displayed in the face of Christ.”  That light is in you and me and we live it out in “thought, word and deed, to quote the Prayer book. We prayed at the beginning of this service: that we might “be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.”  If we will let the Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit shine from our hearts to the world that so desperately needs God!

Webster=s dictionary defines transfiguration as Aan exalting glorifying or spiritual change.@ A church growth consultant that I read a few years ago spoke about what it is that the church is selling. What is the Aproduct@ if you will that we offer to the world?  We offer an exalting glorifying and spiritual and life change.  Life change!  If our lives are not beginning to change to be conformed more and more to the image of Christ, then we are missing something. That is partially why we live together in this body that Jesus both established and paid for with his own blood, this body he calls the Church. That was Paul=s experience, the experience of the other disciples and all of those who so freely abandoned Judaism and other religions in those early years and caused them to follow Christ.  It was the power of transfiguration.  St. Francis de Sales once said. AWe cannot help conforming ourselves to what we love.@  It has been an experience over the ages that as people come to really fall in love with Jesus the Son of the living God, they change.

I was speaking with the husband of one of my patients who told me of the next door neighbor’s son who had gone to prison on drug related charges and came out talking about God and how his life had changed.  He is now trying to reach my patient’s grandson who is perilously close to going down that same path.  The light cannot help but shine out into the darkness.

Transfigured in the Greek word is Metamorphoo Perhaps you heard the word in biology class?  Probably our most familiar use is with the caterpillar who after the cocoon becomes the magnificent butterfly!  It refers to the real essence of a thing.  We sometimes say "God sees our hearts" and indeed he does.  Our hearts are the REAL person that we are.  When Jesus was "transfigured" before the disciples, the glory that is God was manifest. . The transfiguration says clearly that Jesus is the Messiah; that no matter how seemingly good, or meritorious other religions may seem, this Jesus is the real thing. Jesus, in a profound act of love for the inner circle of disciples, Peter, James and John, includes them on the final Acheck@, the final Ago ahead@ for the mission.  He includes them as God gives his blessing to the mission and they see for a moment the glory of God shining out from within the very person of Jesus.  This glory of God, God wants to place in the souls of the human race.  That glory that was lost to us by the sins of our first parents; that restoration of the wholeness and completeness of that image of God that he has bestowed upon each of us. .  It is like someone with cataracts having them removed.  Or that old former slave trader John Newton writing Amazing Grace: "was blind but now I see!" 

This morning as we come to Him at the rail, receiving our last communion before the rime of spiritual “boot camp” we call Lent, let us remember who we are because of who He is!  Let us pray that God will let the Light shine through us like living stained glass windows.  Let us listen for the voice of God in our hearts and keep on listening.  Let us pray that we: be changed into his likeness from glory to glory. We serve a Living God and the Christ of Glory. Let us pray for ourselves as well as for others to use a discerning faithfulness as we leave this house, to go to mission that God has called us to do, and as our collect said:  with faithfulness, awareness and love.. God is still speaking, are we listening?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Living and Shining in His Light

Epiphany II+A        17, January 2017      
The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Isaiah 49:1-7                                                                                                              Psalm 40:1-12 
1 Corinthians 1:1-9                                                                                                     John 1:29-42

What would have happened if on the first Christmas or more accurately the first Epiphany, if there had been three wise women instead of three wise men?
They would have: asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby cleaned the stable, brought more practical gifts, and made a casserole.
I begin this sermon today with a question, “what are you looking for?”  What possessed you to get out of your warm and toasty bed on a cool and quiet Sunday morning?  The holidays are over, there are no external pressures bringing you here, yet here you sit. What are you looking for?
We are a destination based culture.  When is the last time you got into your car and said to yourself: “now where do I need to go?” In our culture, time is the measure of worth.  When we spend time with people or at a task or function, we ascribe worth to them.  But to expand our perspective, the real question Jesus asked the two future disciples was a more existential one:  what are we seeking this morning and every morning.  The culture is certainly seeking escape from pain, loneliness, meaninglessness and emptiness.  The culturally prescribed quick fixes are often distractions.  Fun, food and fillers of time.  There are all kinds of fans: sports, music, TV and movies or whatever happens to be the drug of choice.  Some may keep such busy schedules so they don’t have to think about it. But all of these things cannot answer the question of life: “What are you looking for?” Acknowledged or not this culture is desperately seeking.  There is a deep hunger for something to make life meaningful. Few ask the question “why?”  What causes the emptiness, the addictions, the obsessions and self destructive behaviors so rampant now that we don’t have to worry about planting, harvesting, hunting or fighting each day for survival.  To those people, and we all know them, sometimes it may be us, but to the question Jesus says: Come and see.
Spiritual emptiness takes away personhood, human dignity and a thirst for the good that satisfies.  In their place grow the three great human distractions:, what Christian author Richard Foster used for the title of one of his books:  Money, Sex and Power.  Yet even we followers of Jesus often follow that path that ultimately cannot bring satisfaction to we spiritual beings who happen to have human bodies.
Epiphany is an encounter with revelation.  It isn’t merely like viewing some artist’s masterpiece in a museum, but it commands a response from the person who sees it.
John himself was an Epiphany.  How are we introduced to John the Baptizer? At the beginning of this chapter, we read: There was a man sent from God whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.  John has been called a “fore bearer”, that is bringing a message of greater things to come!
I don't know if you thought about the collect we just prayed so I want to look at it again.

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, .... Amen.

We have just asked God to let us shine out like Jesus Christ shines out.  Even more so that our lights may shine because we have been illuminated by God's word and sacraments. What will be the result of this?  We prayed that people seeing Christ in us to the four corners of the globe, may worship and obey Jesus.  Think about that for a moment.  Through us and our lives God is calling out to others.  If you look at my Facebook page you will read these words of Paul to the church at Corinth: :For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.  2 Corinthians 4:6  This is the season of "theophany". Theophany is the "manifestation" of God to the human 5 senses and Epiphany means manifestation.  The events: the wise men, Christ's baptism with the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, the changing of the water into wine,  and may I add, with our Baptist brethren's song: when Jesus came into (our) hearts.

Jesus isn't just the good news, we are called, to be lights of good news to those on this planet around us!  We are in the season of the year of Manifestation, we call it Epiphany. Which means literally, manifestation  You are called, I am called, but why Jesus said in another text: You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

And following a verse we are familiar with at the offering: In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5

Wait a minute:  I thought that Jesus was the Light of the world.  In Colossians chapter one Paul writes: "

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Just put your name or mine in place of the word them.

Christ in you.  Christ in me. Glory.

I think many of us go to church, perhaps read our Bibles and pray, but do we ever expect to hear from God?  Perhaps God is trying to speak to us even now, but we're not expecting it and so we really don't listen. But we just heard:  Christ in you, the hope of glory Christ in you.  Christ in me. Glory. The United Church of Christ started an evangelism campaign several years ago with the headline "God is still speaking", and he is, but are we hearing?  Are we listening?  Over and over the Bible talks about a "call", calling and the "called, but somehow we don't get the message.

Jesus calls out a people unto himself.  The Greek word is "ekklesia" which the English translators translated as the word "church".  It means "the called out ones" in the original language.  That is us!  In the gospel text we read more about calling.  When Andrew hears who Jesus is, immediately he goes to find Simon, both had been followers of John the Baptist and so the proclamation of the gospel begins.  As it has always been as Andrew said "come and see".  . 
There are people in every town or city who have yet to hear the good news of Jesus.  This country is full of cultural Christian.  Jesus and his church are not called to be "a religion" but a life.  Jesus is life.  He calls us to new life, we listen, he and he transforms us and then we received his glory, his manifestation.  Each day we must remember that. A pastor once said: "we must preach the gospel to ourselves every day because we forget it every day." When you screw up, remind yourself, when you make the same mistake over and over again remind yourself , when we lose our tempers or gossip or whatever pet sin we live with and wonder why, remind yourself of the gospel.  It is not us in Christ that is the hope of glory, but Christ in us! 
When Christ said "it is finished", he meant it!  We cannot add or subtract from His finished work.  We can only engage in His work for those who have not b yet been called, or heard yet or been asked to 'come and see' --those who have yet to see his Epiphany glory. It has been said that the gospel is one beggar telling another beggar where the bread is.  We are illumined by His word and sacraments; will we let the light shine out of us? We are surrounded by beggars seeking something to fill up their empty souls.  Will we let Jesus shine: in, with and through us? If not, who will?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Christmass I + A+          2017                    
The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
1, January                                                                                         
The Holy Name of Jesus
Numbers 6:22-27 Psalm 8
Galatians 4:4-7+Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 2:15-21

What is in a name?  In my youth, I was encouraged to look for the meaning of our names and how that name given us was a foretelling of how God might use us in our lives.  In our day, we often see prospective parents pouring over “baby books” to pick out the most novel and perhaps meaningful of designations for their child to be.  Some are and have been culturally so of a certain mind that names are “made up” out of thin air for the sake of “uniqueness” or even for the certain sound of an ethnic origin.  Is this anything like what we see in the Bible?

In the Biblical record, names were much more profound and even a part of Divine fore-telling.  In a very popular protestant tool for evangelism called the four spiritual laws, the first principle in sharing the message of Jesus is: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. While not a complete telling of the gospel, it opens the door to the fact that God cares for us as we read in the letters of Peter. (I Peter 5:7)

What do our own names mean?  Have we ever inquired? Are they a Divine foretelling of the Truth our lives are to represent and fulfill? In the Hebrew tradition, a name is so much more than a designation to differentiate one from another. It contains hopes for the child, wishes for what the child should become.  Shortly after I was ordained someone gave me a course of Dale Carnegie's How to win friends and influence people in order to boost my morale.  In that course I was taught a principle listed as number six: "Remember that a person's name is the sweetest and most important sound in any language." I have never forgotten that and am still trying to embody the methods he suggested to help remember a name.  That is significant.  To come in the “name of” means to come in the authority of who or whatever as in blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. One of the reasons that those who reacted against Jesus so strongly was that they were motivated by a rejection that God Almighty was Jesus’ Father. I once saw a placard that read: Jesus is Lord of Humanity not a Name for Profanity.  I have taken to interjecting my own two cents in a context when the Holy Name is carelessly uttered.  When someone says "Jesus" at a moment of exasperation I interject: He is Lord of ALL!  It gets my point across and people usually gave a little laugh like someone when they've been caught doing something that they shouldn't have The Holy Name Jesus is all-powerful because of the Person who bears it is King of Kings, Creator and Lord of Lords. The Holy Name Jesus is all-powerful because of the Person who bears it is King of Kings, Creator and Lord of Lords. Jesus said: 

You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (Jn 14:14)  Jesus means Savior and Christ means: Messiah the Deliverer.  However, it is not merely in this one verse Jesus says such things, but at least 19 other times in the four gospels! We honor His Name because of His command.  For most of our entire lives we have heard people and prayers in Jesus Name.  We honor His Name because of His command. For most of our entire lives, we have heard people end prayers in Jesus Name, or in the historic traditions, Through Jesus Christ our Lord. This is why St Paul was able to write to the Philippians: " the Name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven, on earth and under the earth." (Philippians 2:10)We have a hymn i our hymnal that begins "At the Name of Jesus Every knee shall bow, Every tongue confess Him King of glory now..." recalling this prophetic text. 

In our gospel we have the earthly parents going in obedience to the Law of Moses to the temple for the circumcision of Jesus.  In fact, this feast day used to be called the Feast of the Circumcision.  What is the connection?  It was upon this occasion that every Hebrew male received his name from his parents, when he was accepted as a full son of Abraham and recognized as a full member of the Jewish Community  It was on the eight day, the text tells us. The church historically saw a strong connection between the sacramental rite and baptism. The books say that God replaced a bloody sacrament like circumcision (also imaged by the blood of the cross) with an un-bloody one that makes a child a full member of the Christian Community.  Notably, historically children were baptized on the eighth day and many baptismal fonts have eight sides.  All of this is to remind us of the connected-ness of the Hebrew tradition and the Christian tradition intersecting.

Jesus came in God's time. In the letter to the Church at Galatia Paul wrote: "When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman born under the law in order to redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive the adoption and children.  And because you are children God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying "Abba! Father" So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. (4:4-7)

Jesus came to save the oppressed and the oppressor alike.  You may have noticed that the first reading is that of the Aaronic blessing, given by God of Aaron and his sons.  God says in this passage: So shall I put my Name upon the Israelites and I will bless them. (Numbers 6:27)  So God has done with us.  When we receive the gift of God's salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord, we are given a new name: Christian.  So God has put the Name of Jesus upon us and has come to live within us.

On this day we remember that we are God's kids.  God has exalted our brother Jesus as Messiah/Christ.  Our tradition teaches us to bow our heads when the Name Jesus is used in worship or read in the lessons.  As a former Baptist Christian, this was a custom that impressed me profoundly.  In the Episcopal tradition, what we do with our bodies is supposed to be a reflection of what is going on in our hearts. This morning we celebrate who Jesus is and also rejoice that we have been privileged to share that Name above all names.  In John's letters we read: Beloved now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed we hall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (I Jn. 3:2) Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to enable us to believe and to call Jesus Father, Our Father.  That my sisters and brothers in Jesus is what is in our names by the  greater Name Jesus.  Today, we celebrate remembering that we are God's children bought by Christ Jesus who loves us with an everlasting love. AMEN