Thursday, February 19, 2015

Remember that you are Dust

Ash Wednesday+B                  2015          The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
March 5th
Joel 2:1-2,12-17                                                                                                                Psalm 103    
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10                                                                                      Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

There is no day like Ash Wednesday.  Here we are all for the moment on the same level, acknowledging things we had rather not think about much less speak of, and yet here we are!   ARemember you are dust, and to dust you shall return?@  I don=t know about you, but that=s not very uplifting or complimentary and is true.  Today, the powerful and the weak, the meek, the arrogant and the humbleBthe rich and the poor, all must ultimately acknowledge the pretense that many spend their whole lives protecting: we A..are dust and to dust we will return.@

This liturgy is very moving even under the best of circumstances, but for some of us who have experienced a life-threatening illness or a near death experience, it can be abruptly disturbing.  Ash Wednesday is not about comfort.  It is about startling reality.  Today we acknowledge that life is both the good and happy times as well as the not so good and difficult times.  We liturgically observe what psychiatrist Scott Peck wrote: Alife is difficult@.  A corollary to that statement made a wonderful bumper stickerBAlife is difficult, handle with prayer.@ 

That is what we are here today to doBto prayBfor ourselves, our families, our nation and our world.  It is all too evident in those arenas that we are dust.   But in the acknowledgment of today=s pain and difficulty, there is a word of hope...especially on Ash Wednesday. It comes from the apostle Paul who wrote, speaking from the Lord=s Divine inspiration: Abehold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.@ABehold,.. now is the day of salvation.   Notice that this day is not about the sweet bye and bye, but about the here and now of our lives. Ash Wednesday and indeed Lent itself is a voyage into self-discovery.  It's existence is first recorded in a seventh century document. In the last several decades the concept of Adiscovering who I am@ has been very popular in the secular culture. Fo r the Christian, the season of Lent is just such an offering of opportunity. We offer a structureBan opportunity to covenant with God on the journey to Awho we are@ and "who we are becoming.".

I don=t know how some of you regard your spiritual histories, but  when I begin to reflect on the present, it sometimes draws me to the pastBto what made me come to love Jesus Christ, to what forged the relationship that I have enjoyed, sometimes taken for granted and have grown to depend upon since Jesus Christ first entered my life.

This opportunity afforded us each Lent may be easily brushed off.  Somehow, we may think that development of the interior lifeBwhich by the way is the basis for the whole issue of self-esteemBcan wait until later.  Right now, our jobs demand attention.  Our spouses and children demand our attention.  Our bills, our maintenance of our own private worlds demand our immediate attention, but have we been in error in our priorities?  God=s call to us is very specific in Lent.  We veil our beautiful things to remind us that God=s glory is veiled from our eyes. We fast from enjoyingBtaking for grantedBGod=s self-giving. Out of time we enter timelessness in the eternal cycle of God=s redemption. 

We may actually allow ourselves to be redeemed this Lent.   Lent may be about self-help with God=s help.  Who could ask for more? One writer noted that Lent, penitence and abstinence are not for God's sake but for our own! It reminds us of who we are. The same writer called repentance the foundation of our joy.  Lent is an invitation to return to our first love for God.  It is an invitation to discover the living God perhaps for the first time. Lent recalls us to our roots as Christians.

We place a mark on our foreheads.  Let us look at this as a reiteration of the cross of oil placed on our foreheads at baptism, a cross of ashes that is a visible "birth mark".  I have been born into Jesus Christ.  But it is our own sign of mortality, we know that life is limited, our time is short, our actions are limited.  Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.  Lent is modeled after Jesus= forty days in the wilderness.  That means it is an exercise in endurance and spiritual growth.  You mean Jesus had to grow spiritually?  Yes, according to the Bible and according to His full humanity, he did develop spiritually. (Luke 2:52)  Lent is an invitation to a way of living and being.  Christianity was first called Athe Way@.  Sometimes we replace Athe Way@ with a religion that does not give a way but a religious observance that is a substitute for Jesus= Away@.  This has never been the intent of the Church, but sometimes it happens.

We are challenged to Atake on@ in Lent.  ATake on!@ you may say, I=ve got so much going now, I can=t get it all done! Then Lent may be calling you to Alet go@.  Take on what matters.  Let go of what on your death bed, will not matter at all.

Today we make real the baptismal covenant promise that we have made over and over again in public services: Awill you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?A If you are like most of us, you have somewhat mindlessly read the words, AI will with God=s help.@  Today is the opportunity to make a choice.  The choice is to choose or not to choose.  Either we will take God and his Word seriously or not. The prophet Joel exhorts the people of his time to urgency.  The time is short.  Do we indeed know how much time we have?  Have not the last two years taught us that there are no guarantees. If we would enter more deeply into that which will endure, we are urged to do it now!  If you will, we are urged to take advantage of the salvation living that Jesus Christ offers. How sad that so many Christians live outside the life of God until their own self-sufficiency proves inadequate.  Lent saysBAsh Wednesday says, choose sufficiency in God.  God is not dust.  God will not return to dust.  God makes our dust Divine through Jesus Christ our Lord.  May God make for you a deeper, fuller experience of living His live in you this Lent and may you come forth strengthened and renewed for Divine purpose.  

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Light of God in our Hearts

Epiphany  VII+B          February 15, 2015          The Rev. Robert R.M. Bagwell+
2 Kings 2:1-12                                                                                                              Psalm 50:1-6
2 Corinthians 4:3-6                                                                                                          Mark 9:2-9

Have any of you seen the movie ADave@? In the movie ADave@, a man who looks very much like the President, is hired as a double.  Later when  the President has a heart attack and lapses into a coma, he is persuaded to remain in his role with the possibility that the President might recover.

Only one problem, he could not hide his true self.  Bits and pieces of ADave@ manifested themselves over and over.  The country excitedly thought a bout with death had brought them a new more delightfully human president.  Because of his secret identity, APresident Dave@ was able to do great good and bring reform.  This theme is an old one from AThe Prince and the Pauper@, to ASister Act@.  When each of these characters is revealed for who they really are, people say AAh, ha!@  It all makes sense now.

Epiphanies are about "enlightenment", "revelation", and LIGHT.  We began this season with the light of a star after the light of angels. This is the final "epiphany". It is a vision of the ultimate reality that God will finally accomplish in Christ Jesus.  It point out that God is here and is doing something in our midst.  Elijah is taken up into glory, Paul writes in one of my favorite verses, published also on my web page, of the glory God has placed inside the heart of the Christian.  Scripture repetitively associates light with God.  From Genesis one where he said: let there be light", through repeated manifestations of light in the plagues against the Pharaoh in Egypt,  the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night in the flight out of Egypt and the seven branch candle stand in the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle. Scripture also notes our fear of the darkness.  Darkness is associated with ignorance, falsehood, human evil and fear.  We humans often fear the dark.  Satan blinds with his lies and deceit. Light is associated with joy, happiness, peace and safety, as well as understanding and clarity. Darkness does not have substance.  The Psalmist tells us that God's Word is a lamp for our feet and a light upon our paths. (119:105)  Then later John writing in his epistles says: "This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all." (I Jn 1:5)  The story of Jesus begins and ends in light.  The glory of angels, the Epiphany star and Jesus being caught up into the Light of the Father.  But this light is not exclusive to Jesus.  This light he shares with us. As we just read this morning: " For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”[a] 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 Cor 4) We have become in Jesus Christ, creatures of Light, not human light, but God's Light.  God, the Holy Spirit fills us with God's Light., God's glory IN US.  We walk around as little Tabernacles of Light. Life-giving Light.

Have you ever wondered why some are so antagonistic to God or even nonchalant? Paul gives us some insight. He tells us that the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to prevent them from seeing the Light of the gospel and the glory of Christ. Our world is replete with false Gods. Lucifer is called the God of this world, but all the distractions that people find to fill up the God-void in them are as well. The contention of the Christian faith has been one that it is not God  who must be foundCman=s search for GodCbut that God is eagerly, earnestly seeking human beings to bring humanity to HimselfCGod=s search for humankind. One of the Old Testament writers cries out: ACan a man by searching find God@? The resounding answer of scripture to this question is no!  Yet St. Augustine said nearly 2000 years ago that there is a God shaped void in every human soul that can only be at peace in Him. There then is something in everyone that instinctively has a consciousness that God is there whether they believe it or not.  Who then can know God? The person that is open to Him, open to his self revealing, who will see  God=s daily actions in the world around us. That is why and how God uses us to bring our light into the lives of others that through us, God may bring his glory into their lives.  Perhaps this is why Jesus took these threeCPeter, James, and John to see His transfiguration. I believe that God only reveals to us as much as we are ready, willing and able to receive.  Yet without God=s manifestation to us, we may doubt that He is really there.  God appointed different means to reveal Himself in history

The Law was part of God=s plan in a process of revelation and salvation. St. Paul said, Athe Law was God=s schoolteacher to bring us to Christ@.  Even as now, this church, this service we attend, the programs we run, the newsletters we print, the sermons preached and the hymns sung all are designed to point us and bring us to Christ.   The gospel today is the event that coined the phrase "a mountain top experience." So Moses is with Jesus in the manifestation on the Mount in today=s readingCHe who represents one of the two marks of God=s authenticity upon the people the Law. It would be as if George Washington or Abraham Lincoln showed up from the dead. They say something fundamental about who we are as a people. LaterCGod sent prophetsCmessengers reminders to the people of God=s love and concern for them.  Prophets had one primary message. AReturn, return, returnCto God'  Elijah was the greatest of these. Humanity seems to have a case of chronic, spiritual amnesia when it comes to God and spiritual things.  Prophets were an authoritative voice for God and the people knew it, reminding them of God.  What they said tended to happenCusually right awayCbut sometimes in the prophetic futureCespecially with Messiah and the teachings of God=s future kingdom. Commentators speculate that this epiphany was to prepare the disciples for the events of the crucifixion soon to come.
This event was an epiphanyCA manifestation of GodCa uniting of heaven and earth in a momentCa revelation of JesusC From this moment on the disciples would never mistake Jesus to be an ordinary manCHis veil had been lifted if only for a moment. Jesus was God=s SonCGod revealed!  The voice of the Father spoke and affirmed it! Sometimes we may doubt that God is present in our lives.  Often this happens when times of hardship are upon us.  When Abad things happen to good people.@  When did doubt afflicted the prophet ElijahCAfter a harrowing confrontation with JezebelCthe evil Queen.  He despairingly looked for God: first  in a strong wind, an earthquake, and a fireCall dramaticCthen a still small voiceCand God was only in the still small voice.  It is such a danger in our driven society, all the noise, all the busyness, all of the schedules, to lose God because we don=t look for him, see him or hear him.  Other things are in the way.  Is that not darkness? Think for a moment: where is God present in my world?  If we are not looking for God to act in the still small voices, kindnesses, love and generosity of others, why should we expect him to act at other times and in other ways? "Church is not where we worship.  Church is who we are.

As we approach LentCLet us give God the opportunity to manifest Himself in usCto us!!  Lent is a time for us to be transfigured.  We may take on voluntary disciplines to draw us closer to God. God wants to reveal himself to us and to unbelievers just to say: AI am here and I love you.@   God has spoken. Have we heard him?  Or have we let other gods:   in our driven society, all the noise, all the busyness, all of the schedules, separate us from the one who wants to bear us up and build us up.  Have we made time and space for God?  Do we gather here in this temple to that end?

If our human fleshly veils were lifted this morning and who we really are was revealedCwhat would be seen?  Undoubtedly some things we would not mind others seeing and some that we wouldCGod has spared us thatCbut Lent will give us the opportunity to be transformed so that our own transfiguring will find in us the character of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is within us. Bishop Philips Brooks said that AChrist is the perfect man,@ and then reiterated that this means that as far as we personally fall short of Christ, we fall short of being fully human.  It is in our best moments, not in our worst, Brooks says, that we are most genuinely ourselves.  Let us pray that, this Lent he may be revealed in us and that our truest selves, most reflective of the new person in Christ who desires to live more fully in and through us may be seen.  This year as we prepare  to have a Holy and Spiritually deepening Lent, may we  find a greater healing as we are transfigured in the glory of Jesus.

In closing, Paul wrote these words about the gospel to the Church at Colossi: " I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 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."  (Colossian 1: 7-14)