Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Glorious Majesty and Love of the Triune God

Trinity Sunday + Year B + 2015    Fr Robert RM Bagwell+
RCL Readings                                                                       St Paul's Church, Savannah
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31                                                                                            Psalm 8
Romans 5:1-5                                                                                                John 16:12-15

There was a priest who was trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity to his congregation and thought of all of the possibilities for a visual aid to help the congregation to understand the concept: he thought of water, ice and steam, but was afraid that he might be drifting a little bit too close to heresy.  He thought of the shamrock, but was afraid that he might arouse the focus to AGod loves the Irish best@ rather than the Trinity.  Finally, he decided that he would use an egg: the shell, the egg white and the yolk.  All three egg, but distinct in substances and character.  When Sunday morning came, he broke open the egg at the appropriate moment and found to his surprise this particular egg had a double yolk.  Boy was the yolk on the priestCthe yolkCon the priestCit=s a yolkCnow  laugh!

Each of the readings you have this morning speaks of a God who shares his life with us.  Does strike you as odd?  If it doesn't may I suggest it should.  Perhaps we've had that life shared with us for so long, we've just gotten used to the idea, like happens in some of our human relationships. But our readings go beyond this premise.  Our readings go so far as to say God LOVES us!  Now love requires both an object and a subject. This is the only Sunday of the Church Year in our Kalendar named after a doctrine.. But this is about more than a doctrine. This Sunday we celebrate a relationship:  God towards us and us towards God.  This relationship was "consummated" if you will in the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ and experienced fully on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit of God came to live in our hearts.

The doctrine itself was much wrestled over in the early centuries of the Church and is so important in our Anglican tradition that it is the first in our statements of faith in our 39 Articles of Religion. There we read: I quote: “There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost”
  It can be said that it is the distinguishing doctrine of the Christian faith.  This doctrine has been celebrated in the Church since at least the ninth century. It was a particular favorite of St. Thomas à Beckett and it is from him that the tradition of calling the season after Pentecost  Trinity season came to be a unique feature of the Anglican Church.
Have you ever noticed how many of our hymns have a Trinitarian theme?  AHoly, Holy, Holy@ perhaps the most popular, composed in the Church of England actually for Trinity Sunday, AAncient of Days who Sits Enthroned in Glory@, ACome Thou Almighty King@, AHoly Father, great Creator@Cthe myriad of hymns that only mention incidental themes of a Trinitarian nature. 

Likewise notice the ancient practice of signing ourselves with the sign of the cross and yet in that signing characterizing ourselves with a Trinitarian designation.  We even teach that the three finger tips joined together in that Aself identification, with the cross of ChristCAsignifyCFather, Son and Holy Spirit in some Catechism classes.

You may think it was alluded to in the first reading where we read: "holy, holy, holy".  But that is the Hebrew way of stating the superlative.  In English we would say: 'holy, holier, and holiest."  Christianity is a Christo-centric and dynamic theism.  As one pastor put it: The Father Purposes; the Son Purchases and the Spirit applies the Divine Will.  Orthodox theologian Thomas Hopko says:  "Whatever God is doing it comes from the Father, the Agent is always the Son who Creates, speaks redeems and sanctifies." Jesus is called the Word of God.  Episcopalian Dorothy Sayers said the Father provides the idea, the Son the expression and the Spirit the consciousness (The Mind of the Maker) Someone has written: "We don’t celebrate a doctrine of the church today, but the unfathomable mystery that is God, who chose to dwell among us, “fully human and fully divine,” and then did not leave us orphans, but gave us a continual share in God’s life through the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is this Spirit that continues to connect us to God and one another in love."

What is the Fundamental Truth Taught Here? That God fundamentally is a relating, relational being!  We are created in His image, our fundamental character is relational. God IS LOVE. We are tri-partite being. We have a body, soul and a spirit. People have sought to define the Trinity in a million waysCbut all fall short.

God is one in unity and diversity. One writer wrote: " Only the Christian worldview can hold unity and diversity together, and the reason it can is because Christian teaching is rooted in the nature and character of a God who is unified and diverse."  Divine love unifies the distinct while giving distinction to the unified. Thus, God is love in motion: dynamic, action ever moving to the beloved. 

God gives life meaning.  Without God life is meaning-less.  We have meaning in relation to others.  We are related to God by adoption.  God adopted us so God is Father to us through Christ by the Holy Spirit.  My youth group in Florida used to sing a song: "We are the Family of God."  That is who we are!   What is the Fundamental Truth Taught Here? That God fundamentally is a relating, relational being!  We are created in His image, our fundamental character is relational. God IS LOVE. We are the only faith that teaches this.  Everything we do therefore in God's name in our lives must conform to this ethic.  God is LOVE.

We are tri-partite being. We have a body, soul and a spirit. People have sought to define the Trinity in a million waysCbut all fall short. It is relationship that defines it.  God chose to be in relationship to you and me. God made you and me in God's own image, body, soul and spirit. Is the human mind adequate to understand the being of God.  No.  It is as the Athanasius creed so aptly says: "incomprehensible."  Gods tripartite being is more easily experienced.  We share in the Divine life in our hearts when we believe, when we are baptized, when we receive the Holy Communion.  When we come to this rail, let us remember it is the extension of the Holy Table, the Altar, and we are eating at God's table each week.  When we read those most beautiful words underneath the cruel tree, the cross on the rood screen, remember that as Jesus was lifted us so He lifts us up to live with him forever.  In closing: May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.  AMEN

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Fire of God Unleashed

Pentecost +C      15, May 2016     The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+

Today is Pentecost!  It is 50 days since Easter.  It is the Jewish Feast of Weeks (or Shavu´ot)Cseven weeks of seven days since Passover.  50 days after the first-fruits ceremony.  On this day the Jews celebrated the first fruits of their cropsBthe giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses (Torah)Cand on this day the Church of Jesus Christ as we know it today was born.  St. Luke even places it in the same sequence as the birth of IHS in his Gospel so that the birth of the Church in the Book of Acts parallels the birth of IHS in Luke.

Pentecost is the resurrection poured out on, shared with, infused into the life of the Church. Why did IHS go through all of thisCincarnation, teaching, suffering, dying, and resurrection anyway? Have you ever really wondered why? The answer isCto pour out the Holy Spirit upon the Church. To give us that joy, that peace, that ability to persevere. The Holy Spirit!  That wonderful, wonderful, the fearful, the often seemingly elusive, often forgotten or ignored member of the Holy Trinity! In Genesis 1 CAthe Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters@. 

The prophet Isaiah (32:15) promised that the Spirit would be poured out from on high 700 years previously! The prophet Joel (2:28-29)  saidCAafterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people, your sons and daughters will prophecy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.@  RememberCJoel lived 800 years before this happened!  Why?  Why all of this fuss?

Remember David=s prayer in Psalm 51?  ATake not thy Holy Spirit from me!@ In ancient times, before Christ, the Spirit would come for special purposes to a person and then leave. He would stay with anointed leaders as long as they stayed in God=s willCPerhaps you remember that the Holy  Spirit left King Saul. On this day after IHS had previously Aordained@Cgiven authority of the Spirit to the disciples (today=s Gospel readings)Cthey are waiting for Athe power from on high@. They were like cars without gasolineClight bulbs with no electricityCThey were believers but unable to do anything until God gave the Holy Spirit 

What was this Coming of the Holy Spirit like?  It was dramatic!  - First there was a sound of windCThe same breath that saidCALet there be@ and the world came into being.  The powerful creative breath of the Spirit of God that IHS saidCAgoes where it wills and you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.@ 

Then there was a flame of fire.  It divides and takes the shape of tonguesCone resting on each person in that Upper Room. God sharing the fire of His Spirit with them and usCto make us preachers of His wordCto share with othersCand tell of IHSBX.   For the disciples, IHS who they had known as a person was suddenly living inside of their souls.  He was really with them. As the old protestant hymn saysCAyou ask me how I know He lives?  He lives within my heart.@

To experience the Holy Spirit is the purpose, power, and realization of what it means to be a Christian.  The covenant made with each of us at Baptism and Confirmation is about the HS!  In fact no sacrament exists without the Holy Spirit!  One writer said we have it backwards. 

We think Father, Son, and Holy SpiritCAbut of the three the Spirit is the most discernible member@.  We experience the Holy Spirit!  You can feel the Spirit=s presence in a company of real believers.  It is the Holy Spirit that opens the Gospel to us!. Long before theologies of IHS or the Trinity were constructed the Holy Spirit made the Church alive!

You can see the effects of the Holy Spirit. The fire of the Holy spirit burns away all that is in us that is not IHS!  The Spirit is  like a refining fire that leaves gold behind in the crucible of God.  Sometimes that fire is the trials and difficulties we experience.  Sometimes it is the fire that sets us free to be the loving, giving, images of Jesus Christ that  is God=s purpose for every Christian. The most undeniable test that we have been baptized in the Spirit=s fire is a deepened capacity to loveC that is THE TEST PAR EXCEL LANCE!  Ever noticed how many times IHS said to love our enemies?  When the Spirit is in control when we are relying on God and not our own control, then love flows from us, IHS= love, God=s love becomes our love. Sometimes tragically, in the Church, even in this Church, there are those who are closed to the Holy Spirit, who will not respond to his prompting, who will not allow Jesus Christ to live out through them or perhaps have never received him. 

How is this evidenced?  Their lack of joy.  Their lack of obedience to the Word of God.  Their critical attitudes toward others, their need to be in control  and an unrelenting self focus.  In other words, these people who call themselves Christians are cut off from Christ and the joy of the Lord which is our strength! No wonder they don=t Aget@ what the hullabaloo is all about!  In other words, for the Christian, it is not how much of the Holy Spirit do you have, but how much of you does the Holy Spirit have? A pastor said: A you believe as much of the Bible as you live.@.  

Today is the day that God made the Church, that institution that I Timothy 3:15 says is Athe church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.@  The Church is a spiritual organism: it is not the Lions= Club, a private social club or our own little show.  We are about business much more important than those things.  We are about business much more important than our wants, our possessions or even the myriad of things our culture tells us are THE THING for us to be killing ourselves to be involved in. 

That is why it is so tragic when the Church behaves just like the world.  When Christians shut out the Holy Spirit. I think sometimes people think I=m just being difficult or crazy when I tell them to do things like, Aspeak the truth in love@ or not to gossip or be critical of people, when I tell them to forgive people 70 times 7 as Jesus commands. Why do I do this?  Because not to do such  is a DEATH SENTENCE on the Church and quite frankly on your life with God.  When we behave in these ways, we keep people from finding Christ, and we damn both ourselves and them!   You don=t have to believe me, believe God!  I promise you!  For Churches who give into the Devil and allow him to strangle the Holy Spirit to death, God will write a death sentence over those Churches. The US is covered with them. Yes, Churches DIE and CLOSE forever!

This is a wonderful Church full of many, many wonderful people.  God loves you and I love you, but this challenge to us strikes to the core. Will we allow Jesus Christ to live through us by the Holy Spirit?  Do we care? Or is this just an exercise in religious activity to make us somehow feel good about ourselves?  If we will,  the potential for our growth, our enthusiasm, our revenues and our future is as positive as is our God.  If we will not, if we go our own way of pettiness, then  God will write over us that word we read in the book of  first Samuel AIcabod@ the glory is departed.
There is no substitute for the true Spirit of God.  This morning if you have never asked to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit, you may do so simply by saying, ACome Holy Spirit, baptize me in your fire, fill me with your presence and take control of my life.@  You may pray to receive the Seven Gifts: Awisdom, understanding, counsel and knowledge, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord@  or the fruits: the fruit of the Spirit: A love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self‑control@  (Galatians 5:22) Ask, and you will receive.  Or perhaps you should once again invite Jesus Christ to come into your life as Savior and Lord.  I close with these words from the book of Hebrews describing the Church and our part in it:

ABut you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly,   to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect,  to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.   See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? ...Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,  for our "God is a consuming fire."  Hebrews 12:22-29.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Law of Love

EASTER 5  +  Year B                   Fr. Robert R.M. Bagwell+
3,  May  2015                    The Law of Love
Acts 8:26-40                                                                                 Psalm 22:24-30  
1 John 4:7-21                                                                                John 15:1-8

After a very long and boring sermon the parishioners filed out of the church saying nothing to the preacher. Towards the end of the line was a thoughtful person who always commented on the sermons."Pastor, today your sermon reminded me of the peace and love of God!" The pastor was thrilled. "No-one has ever said anything like that about my preaching before. Tell me why." "Well - it reminded me of the Peace of God because it passed all understanding and the Love of God because it endured forever!"

What do we do with the God of "knowing"? What do we do with the God who is LOVE?  This passage is both profoundly moving and profoundly challenging.

In his famous work,  The Road Less Traveled  author and psychiatrist, M. Scott Peck defined "love" in this manner:  "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." (p.81)  The Christian gospel and experience are born out of the Love of God for his errant people who by nature neither desire or deserve God's Love.

Love...the Christian gospel is a unique religion in that it claims,  in defiance of the majority of other religions of the world that "God is love."  The texts we are faced with today deal with issues of  love.  We might then expect them to be easy to listen to,  but that is not the case.  In these few verses from John's epistle the word love is mentioned 29 times! For the Christian,  love is no pushover virtue. " Love is as strong as  death," the Song of Solomon  tells us (8:6)  Love and love alone sent the sinless Son of God to death,  to die for you and me,  20 centuries later.   Jesus said to his apostles, "love one another as I have loved you."  (John 13:34)   We all want to be loved.  Most of us confuse love and like.  But love is tougher.  Love inevitably will cause personal pain and the opposite of love will always be the easy way,  the short cut,  the way of death.  Love is a Way of living and  being.  It is much easier to talk about loving than to love

 You may have noticed that Dr. Peck said that love is a matter of "the will." The marriage encounter movement has long said that Alove is a decision.@ We can will to love and if the Spirit of God is Lord in us at all, we will be challenged to a love that is above the standards and understandings of the secular world around us. St. Paul says AGod has "poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit."  This is why St. John could say in his epistle today,  "we know that we have passed out of death into live because we love the brethren.  He who does not love,  remains in death."Maybe you have noticed, some of the brethren are hard to love! This gives us the uncomfortable position of realizing the Anot to love, is a decision.@   I occasionally hear Christians excusing themselves from these standards of love of neighbor by saying things like, Awell, I=ll pray about it.@  

 Isn't it strange that we think that we have to "pray about"  things that the  Lord commands of us!  Jesus commands us to love!  He doesn't merely suggest that it might be a good idea!  We pray about the ability to do it!  I John 4:20 says, " If anyone says, 'I love God' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And he has given us this command,  Whoever loves God must also love his brother." Today if each one of us were asked, Ado you love God@ what would we say?  The answer might be, AI=m trying@ or AI hope so@ or if you are a well tried and tested lover of the brothers and sisters of the family of God, perhaps even,..@yes.@

You see,  the charism, the spiritual gift,   the job,  the vocation of the Christian is to be a lover of the people of this world for the sake of and in the Name of Jesus the Christ, God=s own portrait of Love.  To be born from above is to receive and share the love of God in Jesus. This is not an easy love.  It causes people to give up everything that this world values and to pursue it willingly. It can seem irrational:  like when pope John Paul II went to visit the young terrorist who tried to kill him and told him that he forgave him.

You notice that First  John says,  "Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him."  Such strong words John! Yet so fundamental to our motivation is this principle that we must at all personal costs seek to live it. The text says,  "let us not love in word or speech but in deed and truth."   If God is in our lives,  we will know in our hearts if we are guilty of not loving,  unless we have hardened our hearts against the Holy Spirit. Romans 12:9 says, "love must be sincere".    Have you ever seen insincere love?  The cold cordiality, "hello,  nice to see you"  Its all very civil but without any extension of the self.  And with that Oscar winning performance AChurch Face@ all shining (with gross insincerity).   

Sometimes we have insincere love when people hurt us;  Hurt is a deflation of the ego,  suddenly we feel smaller than the other  person,  put down,  devalued.  We want to get them back.  We think:  "I'll show them!"  Insincere love it about the self.  It is eros love - self satisfying and selfish. The idea of willing self to extend self for the purpose of the nurture of another's spiritual growth in such a setting is unthinkable.  And this is when the sin within us and our actions with it will separate the men from the boys,  or the women from the girls in the Spiritual life.  AMe?@  AExtend myself for >her= or him=?@  We think.

But have you ever really looked at how God tells us to love as God loves?  If not, this will come as a shocker! Turn the other cheek.;  Love your enemies; Pray for those who persecute you;  Give and expect nothing in return; Follow me;  Go and sin no more. There=s more...shall I go on? It may be a Maalox moment for some of you!  The Bible is God's manual of human relations.  Fundamentally it is concerned with Spiritual Growth. That means growth in "Godliness"  (God-like-ness) Growth into God own way of thinking, being, living.  God extended himself for our Spiritual Growth:  before he did ,  we were   spiritually dead.  Love is a matter of action.

I have counseled couples who are having marital difficulties to act in a loving way toward the other partner because love begets love and the feelings will often follow.  Marriage is after all, not about meeting my needs. That is only a by-product.  It is about meeting another=s long as you both shall live.  Amazingly, when this is followed, these people are often HAPPY!!  You may have notice the uncomfortable words of Jesus,  "If you love me,        you will keep my commandments."  Now why did he have to say that?   He says it so matter a factly, that  I must ask,  "do I love him?" 
What is the latest tally on God's score card on my keeping his commandments?  Remember that love is not "sugar and spice and everything nice."  It is a matter of the redeemed human soul.  In our own day, the Middle Eastern Christians are astounding the ISIS murderers when they display forgiveness and love to those who are committing such destruction and atrocities toward them. WOW!  I don't know if I could do that but perhaps with the Divine Love shining through it is possible. 

You may be thinking:  "how can I be so loving?  at personal cost and humility?  keeping Jesus' commandments?  Do not despair:  look at the end of the gospel. Jesus says, "I will not leave you desolate"  the word desolate is "orphans".  He won=t abandon us to this task!    He will send the Counselor (Parakletos)  that means the one to come along side us.  We cannot love like this without the help of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit living within us.  What he seeks from us is an active open will.

It is so easy to focus on the Ten Commandment sins as though they were the only real ones. But the reality is that it is the sins of the heart that destroy us and the Christian Community. It is a matter of daily discipline:  surrender to the Holy Spirit;  a willingness to do whatever at whatever personal cost to love and forgive and  walk in love, one day at a time;  day by day.  God's Spirit is the "quickener"  the one who makes us alive spiritually He is the Empowerer who give us the strength to accomplish the impossible.  The love of God.

Today we are met with a challenge that strikes at the root of our being and identity.  Are we truly loving?  Are we willing to extend ourselves for the purpose of our own or another's spiritual growth?"  or will we let that be someone else's responsibility.   I Peter 4:8 says that "love will cover a multitude of sins." 

Paul writes in I Corinthians 13 these challenging words: "Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy,  it does not boast.  it is not proud it is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."  

Let us pray this day and every day for such a love for we are God's loving emissaries sent to a lost and dying world