Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sermon: Made, Loved, Kept

I understand and I truly believe that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine, from his conception unto his resurrection. In his fully human nature, he would have been tempted to sin. Not just the sins experienced through the devil's presence in the deprivation of the desert, but also in every day ways. Thus, when Jesus clearly states to Thomas,
I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.
And Philip IMMEDIATELY responds,
Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.
I believe that Jesus was tempted. Perhaps not tempted to violence or sarcasm, but tempted to abandon patience, to growl at Philip, to roll His eyes, to throw up His hands and cry out, "How can I lead when the people I'm leading keep retreating?". A fully human Incarnation was tempted to something in that moment, but did not yield to that temptation. Blessed be the one who resists in the name of the Lord. (Hosanna in the highest.)

Despite having seen Jesus turn water into wine, bring sight to a man born blind, cast out demons, and restore Lazarus to life from the dead, once Jesus begins his "Farewell Discourse" to the disciples, telling them what is to come, they panic. They doubt their life experience. They forget what the truth they've learned. The Way in which they've learned to walk because slippery.

While Jesus, in that moment, resists temptation, the disciples give in to it. They give in to the siren call of despair, frustration, mistrust, and testing God. Asking Jesus to prove himself, again, is putting God to the test, even if the disciples felt it was necessary in their distress. Of course, most of us can relate to the disciples in that because we have often wanted, and sometimes demanded, that God reveal the Divine power through a clearer revelation of strength, healing, or resurrection.

In 2005, I went to Iona, Scotland for the first time. Getting to Iona in its own pilgrimage, in that one must get to Glasgow, then take a train or bus to Oban, then a ferry to the Island of Mull, a bus across Mull, and a final ferry from Fionnphort to Iona. Doing this journey alone in 2005, I was tense and nervous. What if I missed my stops? I did not know that each part of the trip is its own end... the bus stop in Oban is clear and the train terminates there. There is only one ferry stop on each of the boat trips. The bus across Mull starts one side and ends on the other. From the stop in Fionnphort, you can see across the water to Iona, easily recognizable by the huge medieval Abbey. You can be late, but you can't get lost- unless you become so distressed that you miss the signs or demand additional signs of your bus driver, who is not likely to be as patient as Jesus.

Additionally, in 2005, I had just come off my Clinical Pastoral Education work in Providence Hospital. I had been with life support withdrawals, natural deaths, unnatural deaths, and distress in medical treatment. My heart and my history had been laid bare in talking with my learning group for the purposes of learning to pull out the eye logs of my own experience so that i could be more fully present with others in their times of need and uncertainty. I was going to Iona to rest from all this and to heal in a holy place. Like the disciples, however, I was demanding a sign- a holy Iona experience- without contemplating the signs I had already been given.

And, in 2005, I did not have a holy experience. I was overwhelmed with my own stuff. I arrived just a couple weeks after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and people in western Scotland, at the time, felt very free to tell me what they thought of how the United States government in general and President Bush in particular handled all manner of situations. One gentleman (?) even noted that I would just have to take his negative opinions on the chin. So, I was stressed about making the trip correctly, demanding of a holy experience of this much touted thin place, overwhelmed by life and death, and then attempting to figure out how to explain, if not defend, my home country. For a long time, I held all of this against Iona. Maybe it just wasn't a place for me.

So, when my support group of sisters of my heart in Christ- RevGalBlogPals- decided to make our own trip to Iona for study and rest, I hesitated before I committed to going. It was easier to say yes and to present a good case to you when I was traveling as a chaplain with the group. Knowing that I would be presiding, praying, and waiting in stillness with direction gave me purpose for this trip beyond hoping to redeem my last experience.

Yet, the last twelve years have not been for nothing. I have to come to perceive the presence of the God of life in moments of death. I have felt the truth of Jesus in the times when we have had to let a program or situation come to an end. I have known the Way of the Spirit in waiting for direction and clarity. Thus, when three of us missed a ferry by minutes, we were frustrated and attempted to find other solutions, but eventually settled into the reality that we were waiting. And, as one woman pointed out on Tuesday, four days later it did not matter that we were two hours behind everyone else.

This time, on Iona, I was blessed with the spiritual gifts of stillness, laughter, and healing. I don't think this is because I am that different, though 12 years makes a difference, but because I have learned from Philip. After asking again and again for signs, asserting that with one more I will be satisfied, I have learned that the signs are actually happening, constantly. If I watch for them, they will be seen. If I see them, their truth will be revealed. If I can perceive the truth of them, the Way becomes clearer.

On Monday night of this past week, I led compline- the last service of the day. It was the feast day of Mother Julian of Norwich, an English visionary and mystic from the 14th century. In preparing to remember her life, the reading I found in a prayer book was something that I hadn't read before...

From Revelations of Divine Love...
And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, 'What may this be?' And it was answered generally thus, 'It is all that is made.' I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.  
In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it. But is to me truly, the Maker, the Keeper, the Lover- I cannot tell. For until I am substantially [united] to him, I may never have full rest nor true bliss. That is to say, until I be so fastened to him that there is nothing that is made between my God and me.

All things have their beginning in the love of God. Because God has made them, God loves them. Because God loves them, God keeps them. Sit with that for a moment.

I can have some real Philip moments (and Thomas ones too, for that matter). How will it happen? How can I know? What can I do? What shall I say? Show me a sign. One more sign. A clearer sign. A louder sign.

However, daily I hold in my hand- water or bread or light for a candle or someone else's hand. Are there greater signs than these? Truths, ways, lives that God has made, loves, and keeps?

Julian of Norwich lived through the plague, the splitting of the Church, the 100 Years War, famines, political revolts, and a wide variety of other human- caused and natural disasters. It seems that people haven't really changed that much seven hundred years later. Frankly, when we look at the stories of the Bible- the disciples and their predecessors and spiritual descendants- people have always been the same.

When we, like the disciples, make demands of Jesus- about directions, signs, and explanations... surely Jesus is tempted to respond other than how he does. Yet, the Pioneer of our Faith does not yield to sarcasm, cruelty, or dismissal, instead Jesus says to Philip, to Thomas, to us-
Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 
Believe me, says Jesus to his weary and worried disciples, that I am One with the Maker, Keeper, and Lover of all that is and all that has been and all that will be. Trust me, says Jesus to disciples in pain and confusion, that all that has been created is beloved, including you. Yield your desire for control to me, speaks the Savior, and look at the Way that is open to you.

Julian of Norwich became distressed, like any disciple does, and Jesus spoke to her:

In my folly, before this time I often wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the onset of sin was not prevented: for then, I thought, all should have been well. This impulse [of thought] was much to be avoided, but nevertheless I mourned and sorrowed because of it, without reason and discretion.But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.'These words were said most tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any who shall be saved.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not let your hearts be troubled. In the midst of chaos, pain, and turmoil, the path of discipleship- of doing the healing, companioning, and loving of Jesus in our neighbors- is actually very clear. Jesus says we will do these things, not in the way that he does them, but in the way that he leads us to do them- in the very places, time, and realities that we face daily. And, in the midst of all things overwhelming, we are made, we are loved, and we are kept. 

Do not let your hearts be troubled. All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. 


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