Sunday, May 21, 2017

Becoming Christ

Jesus said the first commandment is this: “Shema, Yisrael, Adonai Elehenu, Adonai echod,” Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second commandment is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” This is the Mind of Jesus Christ. I shall speak of Becoming Christ. You may be seated.

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Genesis 1:1f, In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved over the face of churning chaos. And God said “Let there be light,” and there was light. And whatever God said, it was so.

If you have been to Athens, Greece, where St Paul was two thousand years ago this morning, you know the Areopagus both as Mars Hill, the huge crop of rock that juts out across from the Acropolis, and also as the council of elders, a body of officials who, since about the 5th or 6th century BC, assembled there to conduct official business. Paul cleverly spoke to the Areopagus assembly of Agnostos Thayos, Aγνωστος Θεός, an Unknown God they honored, Paul spoke in such a way as to lead them to identify their god Ἄγνωστος Θεός with Paul’s own Hebrew God whose name could not be spoken except by allusion: Adonai the Lord (Yahweh Elohim, who appeared to Moses in the Burning Bush but whose Name is too sacred to be spoken aloud), Yahweh Elohim, Lord God Creator of heaven and earth. 

You heard Paul’s speech or sermon just now as our first lesson this morning, a clever presentation, and the rest of the story tells us that some people there thought Paul was a nutcase, but a few, including two who are named in the story, believed Paul and apparently were converted and followed in The Way — which was what The Faith was called they called it “Christianity.”

Although all are relevant to my message, I do not want to examine all four lessons, and in the Episcopal Church most sermons are preached from the Gospel reading for the day, where this morning the evangelist has Jesus in his “Farewell Discourse” promising the disciples at supper that night, that when he, Jesus, is taken away, God will send the Holy Spirit. And so this gospel reading alerts us to two things in our life as a Christian community: 

First, that this coming Thursday, the church commemorates The Ascension, forty days after Easter and one of the seven highest holy days of the church year, The Ascension when, according to Acts One, Jesus ascends to the Father. But because church experience is that nobody will bother coming to church on Thursday, we are allowed to move Ascension to next Sunday, Easter 7. I do not know whether Father Steve will do that or not, it’s up to the preacher and I would if I were preaching, and I always did at churches where I was rector, because even if The Ascension narrative begs credence, Ascension is fun to visualize, and because over the Christian centuries artists have given us fascinating paintings to look at, many paintings are called “The Disappearing Feet” depicting the disciples and Mother Mary gazing up in astonishment at Jesus’ feet (which is all you see of him) as Jesus’ feet disappear into the clouds. Some of the art is quite ancient and also quite famous. Some of it is ludicrous, naïve. My theology professor at seminary thought it hilarious. I post some of the most fantastical of the paintings on my blog every year, and I look forward to doing that again. So our gospel anticipates The Ascension.

The other event today’s Gospel foretells is Pentecost, when liturgical colors change to flaming red for the day. All Jews at that time, Jesus’ followers are gathered in Jerusalem for what Hellenistic Jews called Pentecost (Shavuot), the Jewish festival fifty days after Passover, when suddenly the room where they’re assembled is filled with sound, the rush of a mighty wind as the Holy Spirit comes upon them, and tongues of flame dance upon their heads, and there is glossolalia, speaking in tongues and full understanding. Pentecost is a startling spectacle that, like Ascension, is another of our seven greatest high holy days on the church calendar. 

So that’s what’s ahead for us here at Holy Nativity and the church at large. 

What I want to touch on this morning, though, is something Bishop Russell Kendrick included in the current issue of The Coastline, our diocesan newsletter that you should be receiving as email about monthly. If you are not receiving The Coastline, please let Madge know so she can put you on the bishop’s email list. The bishop’s article ties in with today’s Gospel of love, of loving Jesus, and of Jesus’ summary of the Law: love God and love neighbor. 

Our national church is about to introduce what is being called Becoming Beloved CommunityBecoming Beloved Community is not meant to be a “program” where everybody goes to a half day indoctrination briefing, signs off and goes home, but a long term commitment to racial healing, reconciliation and justice. It is meant to help us, each of us as individuals and all of us as family, church, community, nation and world, to help us, lead us, move us, over our lifetime and forever, into the Mind of Christ as our Christian Way of Life. I do not know yet what all we will see and hear in the years ahead as we Become Beloved Community, which is in fact the baptismal journey toward Becoming Christ. I do pray that this will be, for each and all of us, a changing, conversion, metamorphosing faith experience. I do know that Becoming Beloved Community focuses on the actions that we promise every time we baptize a new Christian here, and every time we Renew our Baptismal Vows. We do it often, and, as you know, the demand of baptism is pointed, sharp, clear, unconditional, startling, even frightening in its call to become very different from what we are; and, as you also know, few or none of us truly live into the Way of the Cross that Baptism demands of us on the far side of the Baptismal Font: Will you, Will you, Will you, Will you, Will you? And though we promise, “I will, with God’s help,” it’s largely an empty promise. Well, it seems that God is about to help in the Holy Spirit of the Episcopal Church movement Becoming Beloved Community. We are to hear more in our days ahead. I pray the Holy Spirit to fill each of us with determination to the Becoming, to becoming Christ. 

So as a reminder and a new beginning, please turn in your prayerbook to page 292, The Renewal of Baptismal Vows, as we stand. 

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Sermon in Holy Nativity Episcopal Church, Panama City, Florida on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 21, 2017. The Reverend Tom Weller. Again, I do not print and publish the sermons pridefully, but apologetically and humbly, solely because of a longstanding promise to a dear friend. TW+

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