God Makes Us Saints: All Saints Day 2010

Job 19: 23-27a
II Thessalonians 2:13-3:5
Luke 20:27-38

Our scripture readings from Job and the Second Letter to the Thessalonians are both about trusting God. Paul talks about God a lot, but his words all boil down to two phrases near the end of the reading this morning: “the Lord is faithful” and “the steadfastness of Christ”. Job is a different character than Paul. In fact, Job leaves all the talk about God up to his friends, and instead, chooses to talk to and with God. Because of his relationship with God, Job is able to say that even with all his troubles and arguments with God, he knows that God lives and will hold him in life. The Sadducees in the gospel story (along with the Pharisees in most other gospel stories) have gotten an undeserved bad reputation. They did not mean or want to be stupid and evil, and the vast majority of them were not stupid and evil the vast majority of the time. They just wanted to understand God and live the way they understood God wanted them to live. Maybe the reason they got such a bad reputation in the gospel stories is because they spent so much time trying to analyze their relationship with God that they didn’t have any time left for an actual relationship.

We can so easily be like Job’s friends or the Sadducees, Pharisees, and Paul at his wordiest, spending so much time talking about God that we never get around talking to and with God. Of course, talk about God can and should be helpful – it is called theology, and there is nothing at all wrong with it. We just need to steer clear of substituting theology for relationship with God. In fact, Paul, most Sadducees and Pharisees, and probably Job’s friends, all had wonderful relationships with God, and those relationships were most likely helped and fueled by their theologizing. However, the Book of Job, the Gospels, and The Acts of The Apostles all show us how theology can never be a substitute for trust in God.

Jesus talked about God a lot, too, like the example in our gospel story this morning. But we must always remember that he also spent a lot of time talking with God. We need to follow his example, and discern the proper times for theology and the proper times for prayer. We need to be like Job, and know when it is more helpful to talk to God than to talk about God. We need to be like Paul and know when our words are getting in the way of our lives. And we need to be like all those good Sadducees and Pharisees, and allow our religion to help us and others around us.

God is the God of the living – living words and living relationships. Both are good, and both can help the other. May God help us to know which to turn to and when, and may we be open to God’s directions. AMEN

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear: Independence Day 2010

Deuteronomy 10:17-21
Hebrews 11:8-16
Matthew 5:43-48

Jesus tells us that we should not believe everything we hear. He quotes a familiar saying: “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” The first part of that saying (“You shall love your neighbor.”) is from scripture (Leviticus 19:18), but the second part (“hate your enemy”) was simply added on to the scriptural part, and it might have been popular at the time because of the political unrest in the area. However, Jesus makes it clear that hating anyone, even enemies, is not acceptable. Jesus tells his listeners that God cares for those people whom they do not like just as much as God cares for those people they do like, and if they expect to be thought of as Children of God, they must do the same.

Moses is saying something similar in Deuteronomy when he describes God as a king who is not partial, takes no bribes, executes justice for the orphan and widow, and loves strangers. He also reminds the people that they were oppressed in Egypt, and that should serve as a reminder to not oppress others in their new home. Our society is a little different from Moses’ listeners, but we still have the equivalent of the orphan, widow, and stranger among us. We still have people who need extra help, and we still have people who do not fit into the prevailing culture. Such people are not problems to be solved or groups to be shunned. Instead, they are pert of our world and as much beloved Children of God as we are. In many ways, when we look at a person whom we regard as different or unpleasant or dangerous, we are actually looking in a mirror and seeing aspects of ourselves – as Moses says: “You shall also love the stranger, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Moses is instructing the people as they prepare to cross the Jordan to always remember that God is their king – the king who is not partial, takes no bribes, executes justice for the orphan and widow, and loves the stranger. That is an important thing for all of us to remember. However, if we also believe that God is one of us through the incarnation of Jesus, and shares our human life, then we are led to believe that God is not only our king – God is also our relative, and therefore we are all members of a royal family with duties and responsibilities toward each other, as well as rights and privileges.

Because of creation, we all bear the image of God. Because of the incarnation, God bears our image. The question we must ask ourselves is: “do we accept the duties and privileges that this relationship lays upon us?” Do we act our part as members of the family of a king who is not partial, accepts no bribes, executes justice for the orphan and widow, and loves the stranger? We are free to refuse those responsibilities, but if we do so, we must also refuse our relationship with God. If we do accept that relationship, not only as children but also as siblings and cousins of God (remember the incarnation), we must remember that we are worth far too much to waste time and effort on anything other than love. As Jesus reminds us: “You shall love your neighbor…”

Jesus also reminds us that we are not to believe everything that we hear. We sometimes hear people expressing a desire to return to the values upon which this country was founded. Many are quick to agree with that desire without carefully considering what it really means. That is dangerous, because although many of our nation’s founders were good people, our country was founded at a time when some of the moral values included slavery, violence toward women, drunkenness, breaking treaties with Indian nations, and slaughter of those Indian nations. We do not need to return to those values. We need to be like Abraham’s family that we heard about in our second reading today, and “desire a better country”. As the Letter to the Hebrews says: “If they had been thinking of the land they had left behind , they would have had opportunity to return.” Like Abraham, we should long to see the new homeland – a place of justice and peace. We are not there yet, but we should be looking to it and traveling toward it, so that like Abraham, we can “see it and greet it” from a distance. We also need to be careful to not be smug about our own most cherished ideas of justice and freedom – just as we are shocked at how many of our founding fathers could support slavery and genocide, we do not know which of our own values will seem barbaric to people two hundred years from now.

Abraham’s goal is mentioned as a “heavenly country”, and at times people have thought of that in terms of desiring to be taken away to a better place. Such an attitude has sometimes led people to allow the world around them to sink into despair as they wait patiently to be transported to paradise. That might be an easy way to live, but it is not an honest way to live as God’s family. We recite a psalm at the end of matins every Thursday that talks about God being in our midst so that: “Justice shall march in the forefront and peace shall follow the way.” That is a wonderful way to speak of God, but can it be said of us? If not, it should. Our vocation as Children of God is not to wait for heaven, our vocation is to bring heaven to our homes and nations.

We have been truly blessed here with local and national governments that are usually good. Of course this country is far from perfect, but we know we have the right and ability to work for its betterment. We should do that without pride or conceit, for in another gospel story, in the same breath that Jesus exalts his listeners as the light of the world and a city on a hill, he also reminds them that they are the salt of the earth – something so common that it is easily forgotten in recipes and is not noticed until it is missed. Sometimes some of us are called to be heroes and prophets like Abraham Lincoln or Harriet Tubman – lights of the world and cities on the hill, but usually, most of us are called to be common people spreading love and compassion as the salt of the world. We are called to live our dull lives in such a way that, like the psalm says: “Justice shall march in the forefront, and peace shall follow the way.

So may we be like Abraham – willing to leave the gods that our fathers served beyond the river and travel to a new home where God is not only our king, but also part of our family. May we see the city that God has prepared for our home, and do all that we can to bring it to the people around us. May we live our lives in such a way that: “Justice shall march in the
forefront, and peace shall follow the way.”   AMEN

Growing A Life: Dedication of the Abbey Church 2010

I Kings 8:22-30
I Peter 2:1-5;9-10
Matthew 21:12-16

Construction projects take a long time and are wearisome. The monks know this all too well from experience. But eventually they are completed and then we can be thankful for the finished product, much as people have been grateful for this church building for almost sixty years. But as wearisome as building projects can be, it is often even more so with our lives,
wondering if we will ever reach a finished state of maturity and wholeness. It takes a lifetime to build a life, so even though sometimes it seems we will never fulfill our potential – as humans, as Christians, as monks, or whatever our vocation – we must never despair or give up. We should never give up hope even though it really is true that we will never be finished either in this life (because it takes a lifetime to build a life) or in eternity (however we interpret that concept), because since we are Children of God, and God is infinite, we can never reach the end of our growth (there will always be something beyond where we are, no matter how far we progress).

In his letter that we read this morning, Peter talks about our growth in terms of a construction project. He says: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that you may grow into salvation…and like living stones, let yourself be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood…” Peter understands that no matter how beautiful our church buildings are, it is our lives that are the true temples of God.

In order to be holy temples, there are some things we should not have in us, lest they defile the temple. Peter gives a few examples of the abominations that we should remove from ourselves in order to be pure temples when he says: “Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander.” We all know how hard it is to get rid of
those things, and how quickly they come back when we do throw them out, but if we are to be the holy priests of God that Peter says we are, we can not have those things in us, because when we do, we are hobbled by the darkness in ourselves and can’t do a very good job of bringing the love of God to people. He puts it this way: “You are a chosen race, a royal
priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Our priesthood consists of proclaiming a God who brings people out of darkness into light. So no matter how difficult it is, we need to be always growing away from the darkness – the pettiness, pride, and greed
that Peter warns us about. We will never be fully rid of them, because it does take a lifetime to build a life, but we can take comfort in the fact that we have all our lives to work on them. We can also take comfort in the fact that the growth does not depend on us – we must always put in the effort to grow, but the results are in God’s hands. All we need to do is our best (no more and no less) and then let go, trusting in God.

So if Peter wants us to grow out of certain infantile behaviors, what does he want us to grow into? He sums it up in one word when he says: “grow in to salvation…” There are a lot of opinions about what salvation is, but it seems to me the best view is to understand it as wholeness, fullness, and maturity; reaching our full individual potentials and becoming the unique persons we are created to be, knowing that our intrinsic legitimacy, integrity, and infinite worth are based on the absolute, unchanging foundation of God, rather than on our own or anyone else’s opinions of us. And Peter says to grow into salvation, not to receive it and forget about it. Once again the growth comes from God, but it is up to us to put it into action.

There are many ways to do that. The usual ones include prayer, scripture reading, giving up the need to always have our own way, refraining from gossip, and other disciplines. Since we are all different, we won’t all need to do the same things to help us grow, but we should never kid ourselves into thinking that we don’t need any discipline, or that we can take an easy way to maturity. Doing that only keeps us in our infantile state.

Our gospel story this morning gives us a glimpse of what we are to become as we grow and as the impurities are rooted out of the temples of our lives. First, Jesus drove out of the temple some of the people whom he considered to be symbolic of corruption. There are differences of opinion about how corrupt these people really were, but at least Jesus made a good point. After he did that, he healed blind and lame people, showing the fruit of purified worship – health and wholeness. That is our goal: rooting out the selfish corruption in our lives so that we can bring love and peace to our hurting world.

We all have a long way to go before our temples are completely clean, but on the other hand, we have all come a long way. We can look back on where we have been and look forward to how far we have to go in order to spur us to further growth, instead of causing us to despair. We can be joyful in the knowledge that no matter how much we grow, we have potential for
ever more as Children of an infinite God. We can also take comfort in the fact that no matter how much we fail, we always have another opportunity to begin anew every day. So we have no need to worry, we have an entire lifetime to build our lives. But we shouldn’t waste time, either, because life is too short and too precious to waste.

May we follow Peter’s advice and example: ” Rid yourselves, therefor, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure…so that by it you may grow into salvation…and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual
house…you are…a royal priesthood, a holy nation…in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

We have a great place to do all that, in this beautiful church building. May we have another 60 wonderful years to keep working at it.   AMEN

Confused & Ordinary: The Presentation of Jesus In The Temple 2010

Malachi 3:1-4
Hebrews 2:14-18
Luke 2:22-40

Malachi and Luke have spoken to us about purification. The Hebrews, like many ancient cultures, were interested in ritual purity. Life was a mystery, and anything associated with the beginning or ending of life was surrounded by ritual: birth, death, loss or exchange of body fluids, etc. So, after the birth of Jesus, Mary needed to participate in some ceremonies to be purified after giving birth. There was also a matter of a ceremonial “buying back” of first born sons from God, since the Law stipulated that every first born male belongs to God.

Luke is perhaps a bit confused about all the details of the ritual in the story, but that is not surprising, seeing how our own traditions and customs have changed over time. The truly striking thing in this story, though, has nothing to do with any temple ceremonies – the ceremonies only lead up to the last couple of verses: “When they had finished everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of the Lord was upon him.” That is an awfully ordinary ending to a story that includes angels announcing the pregnancy, angels announcing the birth, wise men offering expensive gifts, and prophecies sung by two old saints. After all that: they go home, like any other family. But the very ordinariness of it is one of the biggest causes of joy that we have: Jesus is just like us. Jesus is God, of course, but Jesus is also fully human.

We don’t have a lot of details about the family after they left the temple and went home. The information we do have suggests more ordinariness, with only a few hints here and there that God in the flesh was growing up in their home. It would be safe to assume that Jesus had a childhood and adolescence similar to other boys in Nazareth – perhaps he played games and received the schooling that was common at the time. Maybe as a teenager he was moody, perhaps he had a crush on someone. All the while, he remained fully human, and fully God.

The Letter to the Hebrews we just read speaks of how Jesus experienced life the same way as the rest of us: “Therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect…”. The letter then explains why he had to experience all of human life: “so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.” Gregory of Nazianzus puts it this way:” What is not assumed is not redeemed.” Thinking about it can lead to a lot of speculation about the full extent of Jesus’s experiences: did he experience every single emotion that anyone has ever felt, did he experience every single temptation that anyone has ever had? Maybe he did – maybe we all do. What we do know is that God loves us and likes us so much that he became one of us , so that, in a way we can never fully understand, he could bring us back to himself and back to the fullness of life that we toss away through pride, pettiness, and greed.

The Letter to the Hebrews goes on to say: “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” None of us can honestly say to anyone else: “I know how you feel.” God can say that, though, because God knows exactly how we feel. Once a friend’s daughter asked the adults sitting in the room if God cries. No one answered, we were so blown away by the profound question of a kindergarten student. The answer, of course, is – Yes, God cries. God cries whenever we do, and thankfully, God cries at times that we can’t or simply won’t cry. God really does know how we feel. God took on all our human experience willingly – the good and the bad. Just as Jesus was presented in the temple, so we can now present all of our life to God – the good and the bad, and God will understand it and accept it. Every tear, every sigh, every lump in the throat and knot in the stomach, every trembling hand and knee – we can know full well that God knows and God understands. Even at our weakest moments when we are ashamed of ourselves, we can stand before God and present ourselves as an acceptable sacrifice. When we are not too sure if we can follow Jesus by carrying our crosses, God understands that, too, because when Jesus was carrying his cross, he stumbled and had to have help.

Of course, we can’t simply fall into complacency or despair, because for the same reason God knows our weaknesses, God also knows our strengths. God knows that we can persevere and achieve amazing things because he did, and he offers us help in doing all that we set out to do.

So here we have little baby Jesus, being presented in the temple to God. Like Simeon and Anna, we can rejoice in this light to enlighten the nations. We can also present ourselves to God, with the assurance that we are perfectly acceptable, since we are God’s temple, and Jesus our high priest has purified us.   AMEN

Where We Are: Thanksgiving Day Year B

Joel 2:21-27
I Timothy 2:1-7
Matthew 6:25-33

Usually on Thanksgiving Day, we focus on the blessings we have received from God regarding the outward things in our life: material possessions, food, family and friends. All of those things are good, and we should be thankful for whatever we have in those areas. But it might be good every once in a while to stop and think about how we have been blessed in the intangible things in life, and how we ourselves are growing in our life with God. We can do that not only in regards to our personal individual lives, but in our families, monastery, parishes, denominations, the church as a whole, our nation, and our world as a whole. How are all those things growing in their lives with God? After all, in our gospel reading this morning, Jesus tells us to “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness…”

If people were honest, they would all have to say that they are not where they should be as individual Christians, as monks, as a monastery, denomination, church, nation, or world. Of course, we also need to realise that we might never reach our fullest potential in any of those areas, because our goal is God, and we as finite humans in finite human organizations can never match up with any part of the infinite God. I tend to think of it as the asymptote from math class (there is a limit toward which certain functions tend to get closer to, but can never reach) so it is in our life with God, we can always get nearer, but we can never reach the goal. And anyway, if we are honest, we would have to say that our relationship with God is erratic – we draw close for awhile and then we drift apart, we draw close, and drift apart again. That might seem depressing to some people, but it need not be if we understand the growth or journey or whatever metaphor is used is a goal itself. The moment we admit that we can not save ourselves and we need God to help us, we have reached the kingdom of God. And we must not pretend that the admission of our own incapacity to live as we should is a one-time thing, as so many preachers say it is. We must admit to ourselves and to God every day and every moment that only God can carry us where we need to be. God will not fail to do for us what needs to be done to insure our best life, but we do need to accept the gift of life he offers us, and stop pretending that we can give life to ourselves.

Sometimes, it might seem that God is not giving us any life at all, but as God’s words speak to us through the prophet Joel that we heard in our first reading this morning, we should “not fear…for the Lord has done great things”, he has “dealt wondrously” with us, and is “in the midst” of us. Actually, in our first reading, God is talking to the soil, telling it not to worry about being able to produce a harvest. Likewise, we do not need to worry about the fruit that we bear – what kind, how much, or when it will ripen. We also don’t need to compare our fruit with any other, either individually or as groups. God will use us to produce just the right harvest at just the right time, and it need not be like any others. We just need to prepare the soil of our lives with humility, gratitude, and constancy, and let God do the rest. We can look with gratitude at all our failures and shortcomings and inabilities, because they are the things that bring us to our knees in the knowledge that we desperatley need God’s help, just like everyone else.

So, no one person or group is where we should be as mature Christians, monks, monastery, denomination, nation, or world. However, we can enjoy who we are now and what we have now, because since it is in God’s hands, it is good. We can look with gratitude at where we have been and the people who have helped us along the way. We can look with gratitude and joy to the future, knowing that God has more and better in store for us than we could ever imagine. Things aren’t as they “should be”, but they never are. A book in our library talks about the imprisoning obsession with how things “should be” ( the author always puts that phrase in parentheses, because often it i s a subjective judgement base on our ever changing moods) as compared to the freeing acceptance of life as it is coupled with the knowledge that it can always be improved. All we have is now, and now is pretty good. Someday, things will be different, and if we are intent in our humble relationship with God, that difference will be better – on the other hand, if we insist on angrily and exasperatedly telling God how things should be, that difference will be a hell for us and those around us.

We need not fear, God is in our midst. We need only to seek God’s kingdom with humility (admitting things aren’t as they should be), gratitude (knowing that God will give us life), and constancy (willing to do the work that it takes to admit our need for God). Every day can be a harvest festival, enjoying the little bits of heaven God gives us. We can start by coming to be fed at God’s table as we continue our Great Thanksgiving and sacrifice of praise. God feeds us by giving us Godself. The way we take the food is by giving God ourselves. AMEN

Which One Of You Moved: Pentecost Year B

Acts 2:1-21
Romans 8:22-27
John 15:26-27,16:4b-15

Our first reading this morning has a lot of drama, and for many people, drama is what the Holy Spirit is all about: tremendously changed lives, miracles of healing and deliverance form danger, and flamboyant worship. To me (and maybe to some others), the second reading is more descriptive of our experience of the Holy Spirit: deep inside, carrying us through life in hidden ways. The drama might come every once in awhile, but mostly, we know that the Holy Spirit is there, in us and on us, as a lover’s breath, covering us with no need for drama or even for words (because words can’t express what our lover is to us). Without that breath of our lover in us and on us, we have no life. In fact, we are alive because God took the dust of our planet, formed us, and breathed his spirit into our lungs, bringing us to life, kissing us into existence. God our lover can’t seem to stop giving us gifts. The entire universe is a token of God’s love for, and infatuation with, us. Every sight, smell, sound, and touch is a reminder of our lover’s breath on us and in us – so close that usually we do not know that it is there. In fact, it is so close that sometimes we fear that it is gone. That is when it is most important to remember to not rely on our feelings, but rather on our faith that God is with us and for us, and God’s Holy Spirit is the basis of our existence. One time, a preacher on television said a very smart thing. It was a snowy winter day several years ago, the Lions were losing, it was halftime, so I flipped around the channels, and came across the preacher who said: “People are mistaken about love. Love is not made in bed. Love is celebrated in bed. Love is made earlier in the day, cooking, cleaning, earning a living. If that does not happen, then there is not much to celebrate, and it soon grows old and bothersome.”

That is a good warning to us in our relationship with God, in whatever vocation we are working out that relationship – monastic life, family life, parish life. The truth is, the excitement will all go away in all those vocations. That is normal, right, and good. The tragedy comes with our sadly mistaken conclusion that because the excitement is gone, the vocation is over. Pentecost only comes once a year. After that , the drama is over, the intimate love-celebration is over, and we have to get on with life. As long as we keep making love, though, it will come back at times. It will never stay, but it will always be coming back, usually when we least expect it, and it is always better than before, because we are more comfortable with it, and can be more active, mature partners. But, it does not last. The celebration does not last, but the work of love must never end, if we ever want the celebration. Wanting only the celebration without the work is like a teenage romance where we think all that matters is how we feel, because we think we are the center of everything.

That is why God has so graciously given us all the irritating details and people that inhabit our respective vocations. They are opportunities for us to get over ourselves so that the Holy Spirit has more room to fill when we let him in. Of course , it is up to us to make the choice of using those irritations to help us grow more humble, rather than to use them to grow angry, frustrated, and even more self-centered. It is up to us to cultivate our relationship with God, and the way we do that is to cultivate the relationships and situations that surround us everyday. Whether or not we are in the monastery, in a family, or in a parish, we must use that vocation as the means of our growth in holiness and happiness. All the private prayer, scripture reading, and self examination involved in our chosen way of life must be pursued with good intent, as well as the public aspects of work, social life, and public prayer. Without that, we have no basis for opening up to the Holy Spirit, either for the drama described in the Book of Acts, or the intimacy described in the Letter to the Romans. As the saying goes: “If you are not as close to God as you once were, which one of you moved?” It certainly is not God who moves away from us.

The Holy Spirit is given to all freely, but we must take the initiative to open up that gift and make sure there is room inside of us to house the Holy Spirit. The excitement of God breaking into our lives will come and go, but the true work of love is up to us to manifest. We must learn to love God, not just the way God makes us feel sometimes; we must learn to love our vocations, not just the way our vocations make us feel sometimes; we must learn to love people, not just the some people make us feel sometimes, and we must learn to love ourselves, not just the way we make ourselves feel sometimes. As we establish those patterns of truly making love: all the everyday tasks of cleaning, answering difficult telephone calls and letters, driving guests to and from the airport and train station, cooking, getting up early to pray, reading scripture and studying, showing mercy when confronted with each others’ personalty quirks, then all of that becomes its own celebration of love – so deep that we can’t express it, because we have made so much room in our hearts that the Holy Spirit is at levels too deep for us to even know that he is there. But he is there, and we are mature and spiritual enough not to need to feel it. Rather, we know it. We know God. We know ourselves. We know our neighbors. And we see how truly beautiful all of us are – beautiful enough for God to desperately want to inhabit each of us, deeply and eternally.

So, today we can talk about excitement, intimacy, and goosebumps. Tomorrow it is back to cultivating our lives to make all that possible. AMEN

As He Really Is: All Saints Day 2008

Revelation 7:9-17
I John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

Today we are not celebrating people who are holy, we are celebrating a God who is holy and makes holy what belongs to him. We from every nation, tribe, people, and language are claimed by God to be his own, marked by his own blood. Since that blood is human blood, it means that human blood is holy. As the world did not recognize Jesus, it does not recognize his mark on all of us. We should, however; we should see every person as God sees them – as his children.

We are God’s children now, but we are still waiting for the time when we will be mature enough to understand what that means. As John tells us this morning: “What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” Maybe that means that only through understanding God can we understand ourselves. While we are waiting for that to happen, we can respond to God’s love for us by living as best we can, which is a part of the process of understanding and becoming more like God, as John puts it: “And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”

Of course we can not really purify ourselves. God does the purifying, but we are given the choice of allowing God to do that or not. It is a scary choice to make, because it means we have to admit that God knows what is better for us than we do. So we must rely on those who have gone before us to show us that it can be done, even though they were often reluctant to go through the process. We can rely not only on their example, but on their prayers. As we gather around the altar, they are there with us, forever praising God, growing in holiness as we and they grow closer to God.

We are and will be holy, because we belong to God, and belonging to God is the definition of holy. Someday, that holiness will be more evident to ourselves and others around us, as it is already evident to God. Then we will join with the poor in spirit, the gentle, the mournful, the upright, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for the truth, and we will see each other and God as he truly is, because we will be like him. AMEN

Strange Angels: St. Michael & All Angels 2007

Genesis 28:10-17
Revelation 12:7-12
John 1:47-52

In our first reading from the book of Genesis, Jacob had a vision of angels which caused him to realize that he was in the presence of God, or as he said: “surely, the LORD is in this place.” The vision was accompanied by good news for Jacob, who responded by saying: “this is the gate of heaven.” Angels have been regarded in different ways around the world and throughout history: as troops in the armies of the spirit world; as fantastic creatures with lions’ bodies and eagles’ wings; as plump, smiling putti strumming lutes. The main consistency with which scripture regards angels is the idea that they are messengers of God, no matter what they look like or how they convey their message. Those are the good angels.

The book of Revelation, that we heard in our second reading, speaks of war in heaven between those good angels led by Michael, and the angels of the dragon (who is called Satan). Satan and his angels have also been envisioned many ways: as gruesome hairy monsters dripping venom from their fangs; as horned, hoofed tailed sprites carrying pitchforks; as Uncle Sam burned in effigy by rioting Iranians. As with the good angels, there is a consistent view in scripture of Satan – that of an accuser. The word “satan” actually means someone who gives false testimony. In our reading from revelation, the angels of God get tired of Satan’s false accusations and throw him and his angels out of heaven. Unfortunately, they landed on earth, and that will be dealt with later.

The stories of all these angels might seem strange to us today – they probably seemed strange when they were first told, but there is a theme to all the angel stories in the Bible, and it is the idea that God uses messengers to bring news (good news and bad news). What a joy to bring good news from God, and what a dreadful, but necessary task to bring bad news form God. In either instance, it is an honor to be God’s messenger, and it is an honor which all of us can have. We often think of the angel Gabriel saying to Mary: “You have found favor with God.”, but we all have the same opportunity to say to those around us: “You have found favor with God.” We may say it in different ways, but we still have the opportunity. We also have the opportunity, like the angels in Jacob’s dream, to show people that no matter where they are, God is in that place. By doing so, we can be the “gate of heaven”, pouring out God’s love to the world around us. We also might need to bring warnings to people (what they would consider bad news), such as the angels brought to Sodom: “The way you are treating people is unacceptable, and if you don’t put a stop to it, God will.”

We also have an opportunity to throw Satan out of our world, just like the angels threw Satan out of heaven. Whenever we encounter people burdened with false accusations such as: “God is not in this place with you.”, “You are not a child of God.”, or “God does not find favor with you”, we can counter those accusations with the truth of God’s love and total acceptance. Of course, in order to do that, we must believe in the truth of God’s love for ourselves, because we are often our own satans, teling ourselves that God could not and does not find us lovable. We must cast these satanic lies out of ourselves, as well as casting them out of the world around us. Perhaps to do this, we need only listen to the angels that God has sent to us – people near and far who love us and tell us so in different ways.

We may think ourselves unfit or unable to be an angel of the LORD bringing news of God’s love. In fact, it is difficult for some people to verbalize their love and concern for others. However, we can, each in our own unique way, show God’s love, so that working together, wherever we are, whomever we are with, we can let people know “surely God is in this place.” May God help us, and may we help each other, as we try to do just that. AMEN

Within You And Without You: Dedication of the Abbey Church 2007

I Kings 8:22-30
I Peter 2:1-5,9-10
Matthew 21:12-16

Many people, on their first visit to St. Gregory’s, mention how the church seems bigger on the inside than on the outside. Of course, it is the same size inside and out, but even though people realize that, it still looks and feels larger once inside. That illusion of space and importance is sort of a good thing, because it reminds us that what we do in here is valuable. Our task in this building is to acknowledge the centrality of God in our own lives as well as in the functioning of the entire universe.

However, we must never succumb to the conclusion that it is ok for us to be bigger on the inside than on the outside. In other words, we must never live in such a way that our internal relationship with God grows while our external relationships with the people around us stagnate or shrink. Of course, to grow in love for God while not growing in love for the world around us in impossible; just like the church, we cannot be bigger on the inside than on the outside. The two dimensions are dependent on each other. We foster our relationship with God by fostering our relationship with our neighbors, and we learn to love our neighbors as we learn to love God.

Both internal and external growth come solely from God, but it is up to us to take that growth from him and apply it to our lives. Internally, that means being faithful to our task of prayer not only the corporate prayer here in the church, but also our daily private meditation time and daily scripture reading time. Externally, it means being faithful to our daily chores and helping to make the world a better place being where we are supposed to be when we are supposed to be there, and doing as good a job as we can. It is also important to do those things (internally and externally) especially when we do not want to, because learning the fact that our wants are not the driving force behind the universe is one of the most important keys to growth.

Since our growth comes from God, we can never think we have gotten as far as we can go. God is infinite, and we can never reach the end of God’s desire for us. We just have to be constant and faithful in our inner and outer work, never smugly thinking we can rest because we have grown more than others. We must also never despair because we think we are not growing. Only God really knows our progress; our job is merely to be faithful to our work and prayer. We are the temple of God, each of us individually and all of us collectively. May we do all we can to become as strong and as beautiful as we are meant to be, both on the inside as well as on the outside. Neither can be neglected, because both are equally important to God. AMEN

Angels With Their Wings Glued On: St. Michael And All Angels 2006

Genesis 28:10-17
Revelation 12:7-12
John 1:47-51

Jacob was a sleazy con man whose life was defined by lying; either he was being cheated, or he was cheating others. Jesus was an honest man whose life was defined by telling the truth even when doing so got him killed. Yet both of them got to see the angels of God, and both got to hear the voice of God announcing their vocations. Maybe their stories are an indication that if we are attentive enough, we can all see God’s angels and we can all hear God’s voice announcing our vocations.

But we have to be careful, because our scripture reading from the Book of Revelation tells us that God is not the only one with angels, and God is not the only one speaking to us. The accuser and deceiver is also trying to get us to listen. When God announces our vocation, that vocation is always to be a blessing to the people around us, and the angels are revolving around God (descending down to us and going back up to God). When Satan announces our vocation, that vocation is always to be a failure, and the angels are revolving around us and our failure (pointing out the bad parts and urging us to cover them up or blame others so things look better than they really are).

Unfortunately, we often listen to Satan rather than God because on the surface it is so much easier to be a failure than to be a blessing. It is easier to give up and blame others for everything than to work to make life better for others and then have that work go unnoticed and unappreciated, but in the end, Satan’s way of blaming others leads to death while God’s way of blessing others leads to life. We know that, but we so easily forget it in our busy and often lonely days. We don’t see the fruit of our work of trying to bless people, so we give up. That is why it is important for us to not ever try to see the fruit of our work, because as we know from the lives of so many saints, the fruit does not appear until they are long gone. Maybe the sweetest fruit takes a long time to ripen. We need to make sure that the motivation behind our work is love, not results. We need to live by faith, not by sight. If we live by what we see, of course we will follow Satan’s way of giving up in despair look how the world is slowly burning up in war and hatred. If we live by faith, we will follow God’s way of blessing make life better for the world around us, because it sure needs some help.

In the end, of course, Satan will be unmasked and his angels will have their fake wings plucked off. The truth of God’s love for each individual will finally be heard over the lies of Satan’s jealousy of us. We can start that process now by living the truth of our God-given vocation of blessing others, as well as by ceasing to spread the lie of other people’s vocations of failure and instead affirming them in their own God-given vocations of blessing us and those around us. We can choose now to whom we will listen, and with whose angels we will work. Do we want to see angels dancing around our shame, or do we want to see angels dancing around God’s love? Will we open our ears to Satan’s announcement of our already failed lives, or to God’s announcement of our lives of hard work bringing joy and peace to the world? Every day and every moment bring us those choices. Every time we choose to listen to God, we open the gate of heaven and enter the house of God. AMEN