Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Unending Sacrifice of God for Us

Corpus Christi  +  Year C       The Rev Robert R.M. Bagwell+
29, May 2016                                          Pentecost 2
Acts 11:1-18                                                                          Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6                                                                   John 13:31-35

In the Church Catholic in the West, this Sunday is often celebrated as "Corpus Christi" Sunday.  Today is a celebration of the Body of Christ.  It mirrors the Maundy Thursday celebration, where we are focus more on the events leading up to Good Friday than: do this in remembrance of Me.

This is most appropriate for us to consider, as holy mystery that we celebrate each Sunday with such varied names as: the Lord's Supper, the Holy Communion, the Mass, the Holy Eucharist and the Divine Liturgy.   As with the other Dominical Sacrament, Baptism (that is a sacrament commanded by Jesus) this Sacrament has a multiplicity of meanings. Some of the meanings overlap such as death and resurrection but both always have the intent of bringing us closer to Christ.

Why then has this sacrament been the point of division among the various Protestant Churches? Why do theologians "strain at a gnat and swallow a camel", (as Jesus put it) when they discuss this sacrament?  The Book of Common Prayer calls it: the principal act of Christian worship. Why for something we do every week of the year do we never talk about that which is so fundamental to our worship of Jesus Christ?
Perhaps this is because it is such a mystery. Yet such mysteries are worth learning even with the questions they may pose.   I want to first look at the collect.  O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth: Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Put away from us all hurtful things?  I don't think God exactly does that primarily because hurtful things give us personal growth.  Perhaps Thomas Cranmer thought of more destructive things to the body and soul.  To give us those things which are profitable for us is exactly what he did in the Holy Communion.
The Collect used for this feast of the church customarily is found in the Prayaerbook on page 252 and was composed by St. Thomas Aquinas. God our Father, whose Son our Lord Jesus Christ in a wonderful Sacrament has left us a memorial of his passion: Grant us so to venerate the sacred mysteries of his Body and Blood, that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit of his redemption; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. 
In our few minutes together this morning, I would like to unpack this a bit.   This first thing we will look at is the words of St. Paul in Roman' chapter twelve.  Paul wrote to the church at Rome:  I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual (act of) worship. Do not be conformed to this world[a] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Transformation is what the new birth is about.  Christ in us the hope of glory (Col. 1:27)  Sacrifice is at the heart of the Christian gospel: Firstly, Christ's sacrifice for us and secondly, our sacrifice for Christ.   Some think going to church is a sacrifice.  Some think we go to church to get; more specifically we go to church to give.  Worship means to give worth to.  Some high churches begin the Holy Eucharistic prayer with the phrase: Pray brothers and sisters that my sacrifice and your may be acceptable to God the Almighty Father.   This doesn't mean just the offerings of the bread and wine which represent the fruits of our labors, but the offering of ourselves, as the Prayerbook says: We offer and present unto you ourselves our souls and bodies.  What we gain from the Eucharist is much more than we give. Christianity retains a living theology of sacrifice that conveys God’s universal truths.
The absolute claim of God on us as He is Creator God and the inability of humanity to meet that need or claim in our own persons tells us that someone has to pay. . Humanity needs an acceptable sacrifice. Indeed even in the very human realm, if we talk about those who made the ultimate sacrifice and if it was by free choice, we are astounded!  Sacrifice is costly even in human love of another person, sacrificial love for children or love of a cause. It is necessary for humanity to express love for God, devotion and worship in outward rite or act because as John wrote:  "God is Love.  In First John chapter four we read: God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.19 We love because he first loved us.
The word sacrament comes from the Roman Empire.  Before the soldiers went out to fight they took an oath to Caesar.  They swore to faithfully execute their charge unto death.  In the case of our sacraments, it is God who takes the oath of covenant with us as we do back to him as we receive Jesus Christ as Savior and in His sacraments.  Each time we receive, we renew our oath and reaffirm that we believe God’s oath.  When we say: "lift up your hearts" and respond "we lift them up unto the Lord" it is called an anamnesis. This is our lifting up of Christ's sacrifice to the Father as a remembrance (anamnesis) of what Christ did for us!
Sacrifice took several forms in the Old Testament: a gift to God of gratitude, a sacrifice to win the favor of God; a fellowship meal consuming of a sacred meal which contained the strength of the god supposedly and gives the god=s strength to the worshippers , or the sharing of table fellowship with the god an offering for sin, acknowledging the nature of sin and its significance. Yet Christianity’s roots of sacrificial understanding began with some different presuppositions.
In Genesis 22: 6-14 we read of father Abraham taking wood for a burnt offering and placing it on his son Isaac, and he himself carrying the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, Father? The fire and wood are here, but where is the  lamb for the burnt offering? Abraham answered him, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son. As they went on, they reached the place God had told Abraham about, (which is now the temple mount in Jerusalem) they built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. Abraham bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.  Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son as God had commanded him, but  the Lord=s angel called out to him from heaven, AAbraham!  Abraham! Do not lay a hand on the boy@. ADon=t do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son. When Abraham looked he saw in a thicket  a ram caught by its horns.  He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called that place the LORD Will Provide.   God provided a sacrifice for sin; yes, it had to be paid for but, God provided the sacrifice.  Such was never heard of in any religion! We see this ultimately in Jesus-I Corinthians 5:7 says: Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeastBas you really are.  For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Christ our Passover. 
The lambs were sacrificed in commemoration of God=s deliverance in Egypt. Christianity celebrates when the Lamb of God was sacrificed for our deliverance from the penalty of sin. We celebrate this in the Holy Eucharist: a word meaning, thanksgiving used very early in the New Testament church.  They came and we come to say thank you to God and especially Jesus. In the catechism we read: Q. By what other names is this service known? The Holy Eucharist is called the Lord=s Supper, and Holy Communion; it is also known as the Divine Liturgy, the Mass, and the Great Offering. It is called the Lord’s Supper: it was a meal.  It is the Christian family reunion meal, we come to see Jesus in the bread and wine and in one another.  It is called the Holy Communion (I Corinthians 10:15) commune with God and his people, the Eucharist (the Greek word for thanksgiving, participation fellowship (the Koinonia).  We commune in the body the blood of Christ. Paul said to the Corinthian Church: Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?  It is a way we sacramentally share in the sacrifice for usCunite ourselves to God and one another.  This is an act of worship and one by which we gain strength from God by feeding on the sacrifice.   It is called by the Orthodox Church of the East, the Divine Liturgy: leitourgia, a word that means work.  This is the work of worshiping God!  It is a work of proclamation of Jesus’ death. I Corinthians 11 says: as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes. Death?  Yes, death we celebrate the death of death and the death of our own slavery to self. Remember what we read in Romans chapter twelve, Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God=s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God‑‑this is your spiritual act of worship. The second question, in the BCP on page 859: Q. Why the Eucharist is called a sacrifice? A. Because the Eucharist, the Church’s sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, is the way by which the sacrifice of Christ is made present, and in which he unites us to his one offering of himself.  Way of Christ’s sacrifice is made present and unites us to His one offering of Himself. 
We become what we eat!  That is why we Episcopalians as well as all of Catholic Christendom receive this communion with the awe and reverence that we do.   ABut I don=t understand it?  Jesus said take eat, not take understand.  Believe and we will receive God’s Blessing!  Expect nothing and we are bound to receive it....The Catechism continues: Q. What is the inward and spiritual grace given in the Eucharist? A. The inward and spiritual grace in the Holy Communion is the Body and Blood of Christ given to his people, and received by faith. This spiritual eating and drinking brings to the object of faith into the believer.

The basis of the Holy Eucharist is the Incarnation. God has broken into this world making human flesh into God-flesh. We believe that by the Holy Spirit He makes bread and wine His body and blood we Anglicans do not ask HOW. Paul writes of this in the aorist tense of the Greek language. The aorist tense refers to something that occurs in actual time in history, but which effects continue throughout all of eternity. We participate in a mystery a mystical communion with the Divine a, once and for all sacrifice whose benefits make it according to the Greek text a continual sacrifice and benefit. Paul wrote: Christ our Passover is sacrificed not WAS sacrificed for us. It is as though every minute of every day the benefits of Christ’s Jesus’ sacrifice are given to us.

Today we are united to Christ, priest and victim, the offerer and the offered in the Mass, the Supper of the Lord, the Communion, the Eucharist, the literal broken body signified by the Broken Bread and the blood signified in the cup.  This is the Christian strength: and willingness to follow in Christ’s example, by Christ’s power in Christ’s body.  It is a willingness to be broken for the sake of even those who do not care.  This is the Christian faith. This is catholic, universal religion.  This is Jesus our sacrifice God’s payment for our sins, debt, and penalty.  Today, come and worship the Lamb whom Revelation 13 calls the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world...  Come let us worship.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The One Who Bears our Sorrows and Scars

Easter 3 + C + 2016               The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell
10h April                        St Barthomew's Church, Burroughs, GA

On a particular day, the students came walking into Dr. Smith=s seminary class. On the wall was a huge target and on a nearby table many darts.  Dr. Smith said they were going to do a practical exercise for the spiritual life.   Dr. Smith told them to draw a picture off someone that they disliked or someone who had made them angry, and he would allow them to throw darts at the person=s picture.  One woman drew a picture of another young woman who had stolen her boyfriend. Another one drew a picture of his little brother. Another person drew a picture of a former friend, putting a great deal of detain into the drawing, even drawing pimples on the face!  

The class lined up and began to throw the darts. Some of the students threw their darts with such force that their targets were ripping apart.  As the artist of the picture with the pimples looked forward to his turn, he was suddenly filled with disappointment. The students were told to return to their seats because of time limits.   He felt great anger because of this. He had not gotten to throw his darts! He looked up as Dr. Smith began to remove the targets pictures from the wall.  Underneath each target was a picture of Jesus. The pictures of Jesus were mangled.  Holes and jagged marks covered his face and even his loving eyes were pierced.  Dr. Smith only opened his Bible and read from Matthew 25: Ain as much as you have done ti unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.@

And as Saul saw a great light on the road to Damascus, he heard a  voice saying ASaul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?@  And Saul replied, Awho are you, Lord?@  And he said, AI am Jesus whom you are persecuting....@

The second statement in the opening collect asks God this one thing: Aopen the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work;....@What does this mean, Aopen the eyes of our faith?@  I thought you had to be able to see in order to have faith to begin with !  I mean, isn't the object of Afaith@ something that is apparent to all?  Apparently not, at least according to the Bible. In the first reading the Apostle has his eyes opened to see not the one in whom he believed but the one whom he was trying to destroy !  How=s that for a faith experience!  It is indeed from this very incident that the phrase Aa Damascus road experience@ comes down to us in the vernacular of our day.   Jesus is known in the blinding on the way. More about this momentarily.The gospel reading has Jesus known again in a way we saw earlier this year in another incident.  Peter is once again not having a very successful experience fishing.  Indeed it is curious that he is back fishing for fish at all! Yet swimming in doubt, disillusionment and guilt, there the disciples sat. The light had gone out of them in their grief..But we just read in the Psalm: Weeping may spend the night, *but joy comes in the morning . (Ps 30)  They see a man on the beach. He instructs them to put the net down on the other side of the boat.  ( I notice that Peter didn't=t even argue this time.) And as they obeyed,   Jesus is made known to them in the catching of the fish. 

There is a lesson here for each of us today.  It is about Jesus alive and active in our lives each day, but it is about that Jesus hidden under the forms of those persons or circumstances in whom we do not expect him.    It is about finding Jesus in those whom we hate and we assume that God hates.  It is about seeing our own blindness to God=s eyes of faith.We read in our own Catechism: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?"  How quickly say: I will with God's help!  (BCP 1079, p. 305)It is about finding Jesus Christ even in the events that seem to blind us but lead us to greater sight than we had before. Everything God does is out of the abundance of His love. The apostle John wrote: This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  I Jn 4:10  Peter later wrote: Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  (I Peter 5:7)

Jesus is hidden from his disciples until he chooses to be revealed.  Where we see the works of JesusBhis healing handBhis mercyBhis unconditional love...there we will find him. But do we want to find him?  Do we want to experience Jesus Christ in our day to day journey?  And if not, why not?This ongoing discovery of Jesus in our neighbor,  Jesus in our spouse,  Jesus in our employer,  Jesus in ourselves is the purpose of the Christian journey.As I have related to many people over the years,: the only way we can show God that we love him is by the way we treat our neighbor.  We like to isolate the two.  We love God in the privacy of our pew, bedroom or in nature. But the real worship takes place after the pew.  The pew is only the preparation.  The worship is in the seeing of Jesus in least of these whom he has made. Again, what says the Baptismal Covenant?  AWill you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?@ This will change the lives of others. I would like to add this:  this is even true in our worship in church.  Too often someone will say "how was it" like a play or movie.  The question we should ask of ourselves is how did I do in worshipping Him?It has been said that next to the evidence for Jesus= resurrection, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus has convinced more skeptics of the truth of the Christian faith, than anything else. 

He was a person of no small significance.  That a man like him who had once vigorously persecuted the church, would himself be converted and then be persecuted himself is nothing short of amazing. But it didn=t stop there.  Saul, who was renamed APaul@, became the primary author of the Newer Testament record and that was primarily written from prison!  Rather than saying Awhy Jesus am I in prison@ he found Jesus in the prison and wrote God=s love letters to the world. God was in the confinement so that we might have the book we use to this day!

This is the way of faith.  It is often been said seeing is believing, however in the realm of God for we human beings, SEEING IS BELIEVING. In my college years a contemporary Christian song came out entitled: Through His Eyes of Love. The chorus was through His eyes of love, see yourself the way He does, you're perfect through His eyes of love.  Once we have learned to see ourselves in our weakness, faultiness, brokenness and our daily sin, then when we see what great mercy God has extended to us, we may begin to look at others with Jesus' eyes of love.

Jesus saw Paul who affirmed and presided over the killing of Christians and said: I have chosen you! John Newton, the dishonest ship captain, who traded in human flesh for a living would find Jesus and write: AI once was lost, but now I=m found; was blind but now I see.@ What are the eyes of faith?  They are the ones that see Jesus because they know how desperately they need him!  Been there?  I certainly have.

In our hymnal there is a hymn: Come Ye Sinners.  I'd like to recite some of the lyrics. Come ye sinners, poor and needy, Weak and wounded, sick and sore;  Jesus ready stands to save you, Full of pity, love, and pow'r and verse three: Come ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall; If you tarry till you're better, You will never come at all.

How we limit God's grace and love with our human reasoning.  Until we see ourselves as the least of one of these, we simply will not GET IT!

These are scriptures that illustrate grace: the heart of God. God's eyes are the eyes that look with compassion and pity on those who would hurt us the most who we find it the hardest to love..  Theses are the eyes of the heart and not of the scientific method. They are the eyes that know that he is there and ask for the grace be able to see him.  They are His eyes of love.

Monday, May 9, 2016

That We All May Be One

The Sunday after the Ascension + C 8, May AD 2016
The Rev Robert RM Bagwell+ All Saints’ Hampton Parish
Acts 16:16-34 
Psalm 97
Revelation 22:12-14,16-17,20-21 
John 17:20-26 
The last words of the Bible are these: The Spirit and the bride say, "Come. And let everyone who hears say, Come., And let everyone who is thirsty come., Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. The one who testifies to these things says, Surely I am coming soon. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
Last words are often significant. The last words someone speaks before they die, or the last words of two are in love before one of them goes away for some reason. The last words before a marriage are vows. The last words before a baptism are vows. So are the last words of Holy Scripture: vows, promises of intention. Another name for the book of Revelation is Apocalypse. It is a Greek word apocalypsis means hidden. Is not the whole of God's word a book of hidden-ness, the revealing of God to humanity. So many of our theological words are about God's revelation of Himself to us. Epiphany mean manifestation. Resurrection itself is not a mere resuscitation, it is a transformation. On the Transfiguration we have a glimpse of the God behind the veil of human flesh and that same glory. 
It is called the Shekinah, the same glory led the Israelites in the wilderness, that appeared to Moses on Mt Sinai, that filled the Temple at its dedication and to the shepherds in the fields on the night of Jesus' birth. It is that same glory we sing of in our Holy, Holy, Holy and call down upon the elements in the Holy Communion and upon the candidate for baptism. It is this same glory that Jesus speaks of in last Thursday's readings when he commands the disciples to return to Jerusalem and wait because I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." It is that same power that we will celebrate next Sunday. It is in that same power we pray for God to sanctify, we pray for God to bless. It is God's favor, God's holiness, God's peace. It is that same glory that received Jesus up into heaven from where he will come again with great power and glory to judge the world as w have said over and over in our creeds.
It is that same glory that Jesus prays for the Father to give us in the passage known as His great High Priestly prayer. Despite the seemingly tangled web of the English translation of this prayer, He ultimately prays for oneness. He prays for our oneness with God, with Him and with one another in this world. It is God's glory that released Paul and Silas in this morning's readings. That glory God shares with us by faith, the gift of God and the love of God that he has placed in our hearts.
The collect for the Ascension said: Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things....That he might fill all things.... This Ascension that we recall each week in the creed is the commemoration of Jesus= Christ=s Lordship over all. It is the earlier celebration of Christ the King. The it is finished is now acted out in glory. This is a feast of the glory of God. The greatest glory is seen in the greatest love. That glory is the glory we speak of when we say for God so loved the world. He not speaking of the rocks and soil, but us and all whom He has made in His image. Jesus prayer is not only that we receive that love and glory, but that it is manifest in us. I don't know if any f you read Dr Caldwell's blog, the Episcopal Schism in South Carolina, but last week he wrote on why the estranged diocese should return to the Episcopal Church. His first point is a big one, although he did not say it as bluntly as I am going to, nevertheless, it is True. Schism is a sin. That is part of the reason we should pray for this reunion, as we pray for the eventual reunion of all of the divided churches. We have been graced to live in a time when most of the Church recognizes the authentic Christianity of the divided Church, when once we insisted that only OUR CHURCH, depending on which one you were a part of, is the True Church. The same glory of God, the same love of God is non-denominational. If we are born of God, we are all one. That is what the word CATHOLIC means.
God seeks to one-Himself with us. This is the filling of all things that the collect spoke of. After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, immediately believers had a new relationship with God and human beings had a new potential of relationship toward God. God could become Father ! We take it so much for granted God our Father, but to the Jewish person of Jesus= day, it was no small leap. And yet that is what it redemption by God the death and resurrection of Jesus was all about. God choosing to Parent us if you will. To bring us created beings into the glory of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
In the gospel reading, Jesus is praying for the Disciples as he is about to enter his finest hour and what does he pray for? That they may all be ONE... ONE ! ONE! Don=t you think that he might have his focus somewhere else? On something else??? Like the Passion?? But no, He asks God and inadvertently gives the remaining eleven disciples and all of us our marching orders BE ONE. Do you think he might have known we'd have a hard time doing that? Being ONE?
I was spent about eight years in my spiritual journey in a highly separatistic sect of protestant Christians. They were so separate, that if you didn't believe exactly as they did about just about everything, they suspected you might not be the genuine article a real Christian believer. I am often reminded by my colleague, in the next parish over in Massachusetts, who told me of the two Puritans in conversation when one reputedly said to the other:" ah, there is none as righteous as me and thee and sometimes I wonder about thee!"  Sound like anyone we know? Maybe in South Carolina. Logically when I became an Anglican in tradition, I joined a highly separatistic Anglican body, and then another, and then another....until God said.."aren't you tired of this?  And I came home even with all of her warts, the Episcopal Church has given me Church home. I know why Jesus prayed that all might be one. 
 One author wrote: when we focus on personalities, preferences, interpretations, styles, or methods, division always happens. But if we concentrate on loving each other and fulfilling God's purposes, harmony results.This is good for serious Christian believers to ponder because God's filling of you cannot take place in a Jesus and me only environment! God changes us as we are obedient in our following. Jesus in me touches Jesus in you and we change each other as he fills all things with himself. The church is a wounded Church as was Jesus= earthly physical body, but we are also a resurrected Church living into the new life and joy of God=s kingdom. 

Why is this something we should desire? St. Augustine wrote nearly 2000 year ago: You made us for Yourself, and we will never find rest until we rest in You.@ The God-shaped void in each of us can only be filled by what it was made to hold the essence of the One in whose image we were made. It is about finding ourselves and finding ourselves in the heart of God and his heart in us. We are one if we have trusted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but the oneness that is Jesus= goal for us is to love one another as the Father and the Son love one another. And he sent us helpBthe Holy Spirit. The heart of God is a heart of love that reaches out to us to make us a part of himself. In that and in that alone, we find all meaning, purpose and love.