Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Foundation of God

 Fr. Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Epiphany III+C             
24, January AD 2016          

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10                                                                           Psalm 19  
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a                                                                              Luke 4:14-21  

 In seminary, I was taught that the collects are the harbingers of the Anglican / Episcopal theological tradition. In theory the collects for every Sunday inform our theology in the Anglican tradition.  What was our supplication or request from God together this morning a little while ago.  

This collect asks God to help us: to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works;

In our present day, Christianity is being challenged on every side.  We are seeing for the first time in our nation's history, Christianity being smeared, threatened, sued, and persecuted.  This is something novel in the American experience.  Our nation was founded on the precepts in the Bible.   John Adams our second president said this: " Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” (The supposed deism of John Adams' day was not as removed from the Christian faith as we have been told.

As we approach the choice of our next leader,, I notice a very disturbing trend over the last few decades and in both parties of our nation: the sacrifice of Truth, casual intentional deceit, untruth and manipulation. Christianity, the great tempering force for truth is told to sit in the back seat and "shut up."  The words of Jesus  John 14:6  I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me, are considered narrow and prejudicial and unwelcome. . Whatever 'political pundits may say, dishonesty is unacceptable.

. Great swaths of our nation have forgotten the principles upon which we were founded much fueled by the Black Robed Regiment, the ministers who stood for the revolution based on the Holy Scriptures because of the covenant that the king had broken with the colonists.. There is no more "the Truth", rather we are told that "that is YOUR truth".  It isn't mine.

 Much like many of our people, so the people of Israel after seventy years in Babylon, in modern Iraq had forgotten the laws of God..  The priestly offerings ceased with the destruction of the Temple Solomon built.  They had not heard the reading of the Book of the Law since that time to our knowledge, for 70 years.  When heard it, our text says: "" all the people wept when they heard the words of the law."  It is much of this same understanding that informed those who wrote our present system of laws.  When we return to our foundations, I hope it would give us sorrow.  No one likes lies, but we put up with them from national leadership.   George Santayana (1863-1952) said "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

By our original documents, it is clear that the nations' foundations are steeped in the Christian faith.   Though how  deceitful re-writes of history have been, even the atheists cannot escape God in Christ at the core of the American experience.. The glorious terrain of the virgin land of North America testifies to God.  The first verse of our Psalm reads : " The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork, to the great chagrin of evolutionary theory.   You cannot stamp out God, no matter how hard you endeavor to do it.

What was the first thing that Mao Zedong's did when he became the ruler of the budding Communist China?  He closed all of the churches and other religious buildings and forbade their literature.  The state was now God.  There are those who seek the same for the United States. All references to God are removed from public building, crosses from cemeteries, and all references to the highly religious beliefs of American history are purged from textbooks.
We are a long way from the days when Jefferson rode his horse to the capital building where several different groups held worship services on Sunday.  On top of all of this, we are warring with a sect of Islam who prescribes every act of everyday life.

Into this scenario Jesus comes. Welcomed or unwelcomed Jesus comes.  He goes into the synagogue in his home town.  As most of the synagogues did not have professional rabbis, the members of the congregation would stand up and read from the scrolls.  Jesus is asked to read, so he takes the scroll of the Book of the prophet Isaiah and turns to a passage that tells of the prophesied Messiah and reads:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me  to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives  and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
This was well enough as usual and expected.  He then sat down to teach and has the temerity to say: Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
Was this local boy for real? How dare he?  Blasphemer!
What began with a Bible reading quickly turned into a riot and some of the people wanted to take him as a mob to a nearby cliff and cast him down, however God had other plans.  In the text that follows, we read about another one of Jesus' miracles But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
Back to the collect, are we seriously able to pray this?  Christians are again dying for their faith. Houses of worship over a thousand years old are being destroyed.  In the midst of this, missionaries are telling stories of Moslems, who experiencing ISIS, are questioning their faith.    Many have reported seeing Jesus in a dream that leads them to the underground churches.    The true stories of men and women who against all of HUMAN reason, risk their lives to tell of Jesus.   The recent release of our fellow Americans from Iranian imprisonment. 

God is moving.  Let us pray for the Moslem people, that they may find the Lord of Life. Conversion requires moving from one structure of looking at reality to another. From the purely natural human perspectiveCto God=s perspective!  To quote one of my many mentors: Conversion is saying to GodCAI can never walk away from you because my life has no meaningCpurposeCor focus without you at the center of my personal history. @Conversion is truly meeting  Jesus, having a life altering encounter,  being restored to union with God who gives ultimate meaning to life itself.
The persecution is spreading.  Our Anglican Church is suffering terribly in Africa and Asia, in South Pacific and of course the middle east.  .  It is  most certainly is coming here and our choices are far more than party and much more of person..   Like the ancient martyrs we celebrate on our kalendars they many are going joyfully.  As we read in the first reading:  the joy of the Lord is your strength.  Let us pray daily too be filled with that joy.  God's strength in us is born out of joy. 
Perhaps some of you will remember this hymn.  It is in the 1940 hymnal written by a Unitarian poet, the son of a Unitarian minister, James Russell Lowell,  to protest the American war with Mexico. Although he was not a follower of Jesus as Christ, he does speak to weighty moral choices we are called upon to make at times of life.  He named the poem: This Present Crisis, we know it as Once to Every Man and Nation.
Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.

Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.

By the light of burning martyrs, Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever with the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.

Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Manifestation of God in Jesus Christ

Epiphany  2 +B       
17,  January 2016      
The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 36:5-10
I Corinthians 12:1-11
John 2:1-11

"God is LIGHT"!  Have you ever considered how many times the holy Scriptures refer to God and Light?  We are in the season of LIGHT, symbolized by the star that the three Magi followed to find the Messiah, the babe born to deliver humanity from sin and death.    When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  (John 8:12)

What was the first act of creation?  God said:  let there be light, and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)  In the Psalm we read   For with you is the well of life, and in your light we see light. (36:9) Light…Truth.  Did you know that last Friday was Martin Luther King's birthday?  What was his dream? Was it not for an illumination of Truth

.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". This fancy theological word means manifestation of God to the human five senses.  The events: the wise men, Christ's baptism with the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, the changing of the water into wine, All manifestations of God's power over creation.  The scriptures are replete with such examples, but it is not until Jesus that we see such miracles lodged in one person.   In a real sense, Jesus IS the Epiphany.  

This brings us into the story of the wedding at Cana.  Jesus and disciples were present as well as Jesus' mother Mary.  Into this all important part of this unnamed couple=s life comes Jesus.  He is attending this important family event as a guest. For a Jewish feast, wine was  essential. So, for the wine to run out at a wedding would have been a  terrible humiliation for the bride and groom.  Therefore, once his mother Mary, (who was apparently the first to notice this problem)  had brought this problem to Jesus' attention. He felt  compassion for the couple and saved them from this embarrassment.   Notice what happens: the Virgin Mary calls the problem to Jesus attention.  Jesus replies in a way we might think rudely, but not so in the Hebrew idiom.  But Mary will not hear of a refusal.  She replies to the servants in a phrase :do whatever he tells you. 

This is a  phrase that we should all internalize and determine by the Holy Spirit=s help, to live by. Jesus tells them to fill six stone jars with water. Dont you know that the servants are wondering what in the heck Jesus is having them do that for?  Then as they did what he said, the miracle happened.  There is an important principle here.  When we are obedient to God, miracles happen.  Our obedience  in faith, unleashes the power of God to do the impossible.

Jesus did  not use the opportunity of the miracle to publicize himself. He had the servants present the wine to the master.The temptation existed for Jesus to become a great public miracle man, but He avoided it.  Jesus turned the opportunity of the wedding miracle to the purpose of God.  He began the long difficult process of revealing himself, to his disciples.  It is a recurring theme from that time to this very day.  I note that John did not use the word miracle. The term used  is sign.

Why not miracle?  A sign points to something other than itself.  A miracle draws attention to itself. We are invited through this story to see God revealed in Jesus Christ, not to wonder at how water becomes wine.  The  disciples seem to be the focus of this miracle.  Imagine the feelings and questions that must have overcome the five disciples as they watched  this man Jesus demonstrate for the first time who He is.  as in this story of Jesus turning the water into wine at the wedding. Nobody knows how he did it.  We are not told. It just happens. There is mystery here. But one thing is for sure ‑ this wine was the best. It would have been given awards. The cultural custom was to serve the best wine first, and as people became intoxicated to serve the inferior. God doesn't make the inferior.  This was the wine of God's grace poured out in abundance in Jesus. The other wines just did not measure up. They were empty. Tasteless or left a bad taste. Like religion based only on what we can do, ends up that way ‑ empty. The stone water jars for purification were empty. A new way was needed, a new wine, not based on laws but grace, and as St. John tells us, "his fullness we have received grace upon grace" (John 1:16). The sign of the water turned to wine is told that we might believe. The point of the scripture reading  is that his disciples believed in him all the more following this event. I still want the signs.  I NEED the signs.  And yet....the sign is always there...The sign par excellence is Jesus.  Jesus takes the mere water of our  lives and changes us into wine, the ordinary into the extraordinary.    Have you ever noticed that in the gospels Jesus never is stingy with his grace?  Jesus turned about 180 gallons of water into wine. That's about 1000 bottles of wine, far more than many weddings could have used. And that's the point ‑ not the wine but the superabundance of grace, of love and forgiveness that's available to everyone in Jesus. It's wine that never runs out. It's wine, the wine of grace, the wine that is Jesus himself, which is the best of all.

Perhaps you have heard about the Primates meeting in England.  I must admit, the positions taken by the African primates in particular, gave me great anger.  But in the midst of the anger, the profound example of Christ Jesus in our new presiding bishop makes me ashamed of my anger.  The Bible does say, that human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.  (James 1:20) 

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said this: it may be part of our vocation to help the communion to help many other to grow in a direction where we can realize and live the love of Gods children are fully welcomed where this is truly a house of prayer for all people.  And maybe its a part of our vocation to help that to happen. And so we must claim that high calling: claim the high calling claim the high calling of love and faith , love even for those with whom we disagree and then continue and that we will do, and we will do it together. We are part of the Jesus Movement, and the cause of 
Gods love in this world can never stop and will never be defeated. I don't know about you, but that sounds a lot like Jesus to me.

There is an old Rabbinic saying, Without wine, there is no joy. Maybe this story is teaching us that Jesus brings joy to lives...a wine so rich, full and pleasing that its just not a party without him...I've been thinking about weddings being joyful; and all the anticipation and fulfillment involved; but connecting that with marriage being a symbol of the relationship between God and God's people‑, that is the connecting point!  When Christians are unhappy, it's usually because they are wanting their own way rather than God's way.  How similar to marriages!  They key to our mutual joy in Christ is, wanting his way as Lord and Savior. Jesus is our LIGHT!  He is the LIGHT of the world. John chapter one says it this way:
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.   Blessed Julian of Norwich said it this way He said not you shall not be in a tempest, you shall not be travailed, you shall not be diseased, but he said, you shall not be overcome.   Alleluia to out Light, He is Jesus.