Tuesday, May 29, 2018
Sermon given by C. Andrew Doyle at Trinity, Galveston. Listen here.
No matter who you are, where you have been, or where you are going…traveling in the wilderness is dangerous…it can be difficult, even painful… the best of times are short lived and the worst of times will bring you to the edge.
It is doubly so if you go it alone.
In point of fact, while many do, walking our broken road alone is not how we work.
We are made to be in community. We are wired, we are created, naturally so, to be in community with people. We are created to be in community with the other - with human others and with God who is other. God has made us so.
There is a story in the bible that illustrates this well. You can find it early on, in the book of Genesis, chapter 18.
By the oaks of Mamre Abraham has pitched his tent. He is resting. God speaks to Abraham. Abraham sees three men. Abraham invites the men to stay and offers them hospitality. God continues to speak to God and the men. In the tangle of verb tenses what we see is that God is present and Abraham is serving his visitors a feast of lamb.
The great Hassidic wisdom teacher Degel Machaneh Ephraim said of this roadside community of God and man, “When Abraham first saw his visitors they were ‘standing above him’. They were angels; he was a human being. When he served them with food and drink, however, he “stood above them”. Kindness to strangers lifts us higher even than the angels.
Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of England, reflected that this expresses, “one of [the Jewish community’s] most majestic ideas. There is G-d as we meet Him in a vision, an epiphany, a mystical encounter in the depths of the soul. But there is also G-d as we see His trace in another person, even a stranger, a passer-by; in Abraham’s case, three travelers in the heat of the day. Someone else might have given them no further thought, but Abraham ran to meet them and bring them rest, shelter, food and drink. Greater is the person who sees G-d in the face of a stranger than one who sees G-d as G-d in a vision of transcendence, for the Jewish task since the days of Abraham is not to ascend to heaven but to bring heaven down to earth in simple deeds of kindness and hospitality.[i]
One of the greatest icon painters Andrei Rublev, a 15thcentury monk, wrote an icon, painted an icon, on this very story. It is called the “Visitation of Abraham.” It portrays the three men, three angels, the trinity, with authoritative staffs and ethereal garments.
The father is on the left, his tunic reflects the light. He is the creator. He raises his right hand to bless the person to his left. His head is lifted high.
That is the son in the middle and God appears pleased with him. He will set a table before all people. He wears blue with reddish purple of his priesthood. His hand blesses the lamb for he is the shepherd, he is the lamb. His eyes are gazing towards the father.
The Spirit is on the right. He wears a cloak of green, of life. He gazes at both.
They sit at a table with the lamb feast before them. There is an open space for pilgrim brother Abraham and pilgrim sister Sarah. There is space there for you. There is space there for me.
Abraham at once serves and is invited to sit. He is, as we are, welcome to join in the intimate conversation.
We are made to be in community. We are wired, naturally so, created, to be in community with people.
Henri Nouwen, was a Dutch Roman Catholic priest, professor and theologian. After teaching at Yale, Harvard, and Notre Dame he would walk away and spend the rest of his life living with individuals who had intellectual and developmental disabilities at the L'Arche Daybreak community in Richmond Hill, Ontario.
Nouwen wrote a mediation on the icon the Visitation of Abraham, he wrote, “We come to see with our inner eyes that all engagements in this world can bear fruit only when they take place within this divine circle…”[ii]
I wonder when Nicodemus comes to sit with Jesus what is he up to? In the dark night of one’s soul does he come to invite Jesus to bless his goodness, his spiritual score keeping, his piety, his actions, his just work for the poor, his right living? What does he come in the dark to invite Jesus to curse? Another, someone who was unjust to him perhaps? Jesus does not give him any of those things.
Or does he come because he is tired, hungry for a good word, afraid, looking for a bit of light, a bit of spirit?
In other words, did Nicodemus simply come to the table? Because he needed to enjoy, to rest, to be refreshed by sitting at the table with God? He needed some of Abraham’s hospitality?
A table of faith set down before us, from before time, to sit and rest for a while.
You see there is deep theology here. God is not at work patching up creation here and there. God as Trinity, as incarnation, as spirit is not mucking about in creation because of sin. (The Franciscan and Scottish theologians taught us that back in the middle ages.) God is in fact from whom…and through whom…all things are made. The very fabric of our lives is God’s table. And, God sits there with us.
When the table is set a plenty and when it has crumbs.
We are not meant to be isolated individual objects bumping around the cosmos. We are not to be placed in categories, removed from our contexts. We are not oddities for scientists to study as if we were found uniquely on an island home.
That is truly what today is about…. baptisms and all the rest of it.
It is about remembering that no matter who we are, where we have been, or where we are going…traveling in the wilderness can be dangerous…it may be difficult, or even painful…
And, that the traveling is a lot better when we do it together.
We are made to be in community we baptize into community and we confirm and receive…reminding ourselves that we are already made members at God’s family table. And, there is a seat for all of us here…always.
After all, is this not the God who says, “Come unto me all you who travail and are heavy laden and I will give you rest”?
We as a particular kind of table fellowship exist to support one another, to care for one another, and to love one another. We exist to serve those who find us in here. And, we exist to go out into the world to set up a table there too. Like Abraham at the oak, by the side of the road, to make a place where a passerby might rest for a while and sit with God for a spell. Where the hungry may be fed good things…the hurting may find healing….and, the shackled might be released.
We are wired, naturally to see angels and humans as the same. And, to entertain both at God’s table. When we do this, we do it for God. The gospel tells us so.
We are created to be in community with others. With human others and with God who is other. God has made us so.
Friday, May 11, 2018
This sermon was preached by the Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle on Ascension Day 2018 (May 10) at the Celebration of New Ministry for the Rev. John Newton at St. Michael’s, Austin, TX. Listen to it here.
The 1855, Leaves of Grass, is one of the most important collections of American poetry. In it Walt Whitman wrote these inaugural words: “This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God,
have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men — go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers of families — re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body.”
John and St. Michaels, oh that you should become such a great poem.
God invites, has invited us since the time of Abram and Sarai, to abide in God’s love. Specifically, in John's Gospel chapter 15, Jesus invites those who wish to follow him to steer their natural affections, their gut reactions, beyond what seems reasonable, beyond reason itself, towards a life of higher practice.
Jesus's words to His disciples are: "God loves me, I love you. You love God… love neighbor… keep my commandant." So “we love the ones we are with”, sings Stephen Stills. We love our family. We love our children. We love our friends. We've got the commandment checked off. Easy. Done. Boom.
And why not? It is natural. I mean it actually turns out to be human nature. This is how humans work. Psychologist, researcher, and author, Brené Brown writes, "We have a irreducible need for love and belonging. We are,"she writes, "biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired. It is our makeup to love, to be loved, and to belong."
Moral psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, points out that our affections rule us, our reason merely guides us. Our affections are wired to be sensitive to those who will be good partners for collaboration and reciprocity. We look for those who will do good things for us and with us when we do good things for them. We are wired to be sensitive to those who will be a good team player - who will join in and work with us on our team, on our tribe. Who will be one like us.
And we reward these relationships naturally. We naturally build community. We surround ourselves with people, naturally. We work for and with them. In fact, we move into neighborhoods that are filled with people who are just like us. Loving God and neighbor is what we're wired to do. It is filial love, an affection – one to another. This makes us a strong tribe, a strong family, a strong church, a strong city, and a strong nation.
Our emotions take us here; and our reason, our minds, help us to defend such choices. So, we love the ones that we are with and in so doing can make a natural case for why.
The church has for a season been at work doing just this…what comes natural. To build a tribal faith, a strong faith, rooted in our reasonable defense of that which binds us. And,
the church has written systematic theologies, apologetics, and colonized a world based upon a mission to bring into the fold, those who are of different cultures, but who will become like us, think like us, believe like us. And, if they are willing to join our tribe they will belong like us.
But that is not the Gospel. That is not what the Gospel says. God in Christ Jesus invites and offers us, unfortunately, a much harder discipleship. A practice that is unnatural. One, that I promise is categorically uncomfortable and discomforting to the tribe. And it, in fact, causes us to pause and think a bit longer about our assumed reasonable first thoughts.
And, I would argue, without this expansion of thought on Jesus’ Gospel invitation, our very theology of mission, our missiology, is at its worst nothing more than a convoluted club-ish Christianity.
After all, Haidt points out, we are wired for belonging and connectivity, but there is a shadow side too. We are just as sensitive and disinclined as human beings to do good for those who cannot return the favor. We are wired to ostracize those who aren't on our team. In a flash of a second, we are told, genetically, biologically, by our gut, by our emotions, by our affections who to love and who to cast out.
We are bound yes, and we are blinded.
Jesus invites us to live beyond our natural affections, beyond our gut intuition, beyond affection, beyond the reasonable defense of our insular focus.
Jesus invites us to live a life of practice that is more than loving the one that we are with. He does this primarily by redefining the word "neighbor." Jesus redefines neighbor in the story of the Good Samaritan, and I would offer that he does so in his own life, and ministry.
He challenges the disciples to do the same… ultimately revealing his new definition of neighbor to the world through their mission.
In the Gospel, the Good Samaritan, the neighbor, is more than family, more than kin, more than tribe. Neighbor is more than the people of our small community or our church. Neighbor is more than those who think like us. Neighbor is more than those whose faith is the same as ours.
When Jesus is talking about the love we are bound by (God’s love), the commandment love, it is of a particular nature. It is more than a love that is given to those who can return love. It is not an exchange love or reciprocity kind of love. It is uncaused. There is no reason for it.
In other words, a person does not get it by somehow deserving it. This love that Jesus is talking about, sometimes called agape, is indifferent to merit. It is not earned. It flows beyond our tribal identities, our political, religious, and national identities.
It makes something new.
This love makes something new rather than being dependent upon relationship ties that presently exist or have possibility for mutual benefit. It makes new relationship ties between others by being freely given. It builds connections by grace. It creates, and forms, and molds new and different kind of communities.
This Gospel love is based upon God's love of creation and for all people. A love which is given on the cross, though we deserve it not. You cannot earn God's love. God freely saves sinners like you and me. We are the beneficiaries of such redemptive love. We experience a God who loves us, no matter the broken road that has gotten me, or you, or us thus far on the way. God's love for us is unearned, unmerited, and undeserved.
As John Calvin wrote, "The love of the Father towards the Son, and of the Son towards us, and us towards God and our neighbor are joined together with an inseparable knot.”
Love is the sinew, from the ancient word sin, the knot, the tree, the cross. We are intertwined as cordons and canes on a grape vine, as branches of a tree, as the arms of a cross. Jesus calls you and I to a higher love than what comes naturally. He is raising the bar beyond our creaturely way of doing things.
Jesus is inviting us to a higher commandment, a higher practice, a difficult rule of life outside our comfort zone. Jesus invites us, you and me, to rise above the natural limits, boundaries, we place on love and community and to love as God loves. Christ invites us beyond our definition of kin, of family, of neighbor, and tribe.
This is important because I want to make clear your relationship – John and St. Michaels – is not about your friendship or your filial love, the affection type love alone. Your love, the love that binds you together in this community, is more than what comes naturally, a liking, or reciprocal kind of love. It is not about agreement… or if you can become one family. These are all good things indeed. And, after having worked with John Newton over these many years, I do believe you shall have this affection for one another.
But this is not what binds you together as a church and makes you different from other communities and tribes. That which binds you is about loving beyond your natural inclinations to do so. Your missional success will hinge upon: loving as God loves. By abiding in this love, in this way, you will, as a community have some hope to love the other, to stand up with others in solidarity and reconciliation, to devote yourself to them, to have a patience and indulgence of others, to go freely with those who are not part of your tribe and those society looks not upon, to re-examine and question all you think you know about this strange Gospel of Jesus, to rise above petty arguments about God and injuries to your soul, and to bear the marks of the cross.
Only in understanding that you are called out beyond your return, to venture a life, to gamble and risk courageously a love that may not be repaid, will you become the mission vessel God intends the church to incarnate.
In this way your life together, in mission, in community,shall ring out like a poem God’s love.
Celebration of New Ministry for The Rev. John Newton
St. Michael's, Austin
May 10, 2018
Wednesday, May 9, 2018
Adapted from More Than Loving the One You Are With, given at St. Peter’s, Brenham. Listen here.
I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life-we hear in our collect this Sunday, we see this phrase several times in scripture, most famously in John's Gospel. Jesus invites those who wish to follow Him to steer their natural affections and their gut reactions, beyond reason and towards a life of praxis. “A life of practice,” we might say. A practice that I promise is categorically uncomfortable and discomforting.
As John Calvin wrote, "The love of the Father towards the Son, and of the Son towards us, and us towards God and our neighbor are joined together with an inseparable knot.”
In Christ, there is no east or west, we sung this morning.
Jesus's words to His disciples in John's Gospel from Chapter 15 are clear; "God loves Me, I love you, you love God, love your neighbor and keep my commandant." Easy. Done. God loves me, Andy Doyle. What do I have to do to maintain this love? I have to keep God's commandment. And what is that commandment? That commandment is to love others as God has loved me. Simple.
Our human nature brings us right to the commandment part. The commandment seems clear. So as the Stephen Stills song says “we love the ones we are with.”We love our family. We love our children. We love our friends. We've got the commandment checked off. And why not? It seems natural.
It turns out it is actually natural. This is actually how human beings work. Psychologist, researcher, and author, Brené Brown writes, "We have an irreducible need for love and belonging. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired. It is our makeup to love, to be loved, and to belong.”
Moral psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, points out that our affections rule us, and our reason merely guides us. Our affections are wired to be sensitive to those who will be good partners for collaboration and reciprocity. We look for those who will do good things for us and with us, when we do good things for them. And we are sensitive and disinclined as human beings to do good for those who cannot return the favor. We are wired to be sensitive to those who will be a good team player, those who will join in and work with us on our team. And we reward these relationships naturally (Haidt, Righteous Minds, 2013)
Haidt also writes that we are wired to ostracize those who aren't on our team. In a flash of a second, our emotions, our affections tell us if we have a partner or not. We surround ourselves with these kinds of people naturally. We work for and with them. In fact, we move into neighborhoods that are filled with people who are just like us and who we can trust to be good partners.
Loving God and loving neighbor is actually what we're wired to do. It comes naturally. This makes us a strong tribe, a strong family, a strong church, a strong city, and a strong nation. Our emotions take us here and our natural reasoning helps us to defend our choices; we love the ones that we are with. But that is not the Gospel: that is not what the Gospel says.
God in Christ Jesus invites and offers us a much harder discipleship-turning the situation upside down and inviting us to pause. Jesus invites us into a life beyond our natural capacity for community. Jesus invites us to live outside of our affections and beyond our reasonable defense of our natural actions. Jesus invites us to live a life of practice that is more than loving the one that we are with. He does this primarily by redefining the word "neighbor." Jesus redefines neighbor in the story of the Good Samaritan, and I would offer that in His own ministry, He challenges the disciples to do, to show, and to reveal this new definition of neighbor. In the Gospel story of the Good Samaritan, the neighbor is more than family, more than kin, more than tribe; neighbor is more than the people of our small community. Neighbor is more than those who think like us. Neighbor is more than those whose faith is the same as ours. Neighbor is more than those who share the same moral system as you and I, which is clear if we were to dive into a deeper understanding of the differences between the Samaritans and Jews.
When Jesus is talking about this love commandment, he uses a particular word on top of this and that is the Greek word, “agape.” Agape is more than the love that is given to those who can return it -it is not an exchange or reciprocity. Agape is uncaused and there is no reason for it. In other words, a person does not receive it by somehow deserving it. This love that Jesus is talking about, this agape love, is indifferent to merit. It is not earned. It is beyond our tribal identities, our political, religious, and national identities. It makes something new. Agape love is based on God's love of creation and for all people. It is a love which is given on the cross, though we deserve it not. Agape is alone characterized by grace.
Your emotions will tell you whom to love, and you will love those that you are with. But Jesus is calling you and he is inviting you to a higher love than what comes naturally. He is raising the bar beyond your habitual way of doing things. We are invited to rise above the natural limits that we place on love and community and to love as God loves. You cannot earn God's love, God freely saves sinners like you and me. As Christians, we recognize that we are beneficiaries of this redemptive love. We experience a God who loves us, no matter the broken road that has brought us this far on the way.
God’s love for us is unearned, unmerited, and undeserved. And God in Jesus Christ invites us to overcome the natural boundaries we place around love, our limited definition of kin, of family, of neighbor, and tribe. This is His way, this is His truth and this is His invitation.
Tuesday, May 8, 2018
My name is Urku. My work is sacred.
Step by careful step I take.
Am I the bridge? Am I the rope? Am I the space between earth and heaven? The water beneath?
We are known, called, named by the work we do. I am Q’eswachaka Weaver – the bridge weaver. I am over 1500 years of cumulative wisdom. For centuries I have carried the paja brava, the ichu grass. For centuries I have woven it. Year after year, a thousand years, it has been our way. It has been my way.
It is part of my mit’a, my public obligation. Every year at renewal time, I weave the Q’eswachaka, the bridge. Over and over again…for the bridge must be woven. We are the people of the bridge – the Quacha. We are the tribes and communities linked together by the bridge and linked together by the weaving of the bridge.
I am the bridge weaver.
The ichu grass grows. The ichu is harvested. It is a cycle. It is strongest when kept wet for weaving – a baptism of the ichu. The large ropes are the duros. The woven handrails are the makis. The sirphas join them together. It takes all parts to make the bridge.
A bridge is the grass, is the water, is the rope, is the weaver.
I am the weaver of the bridge I cross.
There is no autonomous space. There is no bridge alone, no water alone, no heaven alone. All are linked together by the bridge I weave. Unified. Water comes from heaven. Earth supports the bridge. May its presence be accepted by Apurímac the River.
In time before time, the rope woven by hand connected all thigs and all people. The Q’eswachaka reveals the embrace of one side with another. The path, the bridge, has a spirit to it – a reality.
We are connected one to another and to all those who came before and to all those who will come after.
It is a way to be walked, not driven, walked barefoot. That is the best way. Is not about arriving it is about crossing.
I am the bridge weaver.
This is true with all bridges and all bridge weavers. Sinews – they are – that old word sin. To knot together. To bind. Heaven to earth. God to humanity. This was Jesus’ work and nature. Both a weaver and a Q’eswachaka himself – a bridge.
A living word from which all things came to be to which all things return.
The cross, the knot, Jesus the sinew, the sin (2 Corinthians 5:21),the bridge weaver.
"I am the way," the bridge weaver says. Follow the way. Not something to be driven but something to be walked, lived, and woven.
No bridge. No water. No heaven alone.
No me, no you, no us, no them.
All are woven together.
Each step taken mindfully, each woven piece of ichu grass…we are. Carefully knotted together by the cross. Stronger together than apart.
We are more than our parts.
I am the bridge weaver.
He is the bridge weaver.
We are the bridge weaver.
Monday, May 7, 2018
- "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
- "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
- "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
- "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
- "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
- "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
- "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
- "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball