Monday, June 24, 2013

We are many

I remember being a kid in grade school when the schools started having special ed classrooms and for some part of the day the kids with special needs would be in class with the rest of us. According to Wikipedia
Initially, children with disabilities were often placed in heterogeneous "special education" classrooms, making it difficult for any of their difficulties to be addressed appropriately. In the 1970s, the mainstreaming model began to be used more often as a result of the requirement to place children in the least restrictive environment (Clearinghouse, E. 2003). Students with relatively minor disabilities were integrated into regular classrooms, while students with major disabilities remained in segregated special classrooms, with the opportunity to be among normal students for up to a few hours each day. Many parents and educators favored allowing students with disabilities to be in classrooms along with their nondisabled peers.

The initial reaction to allowing the kids with disabilities in the classroom required notes sent to parents…PTA meetings where fears were vocalized…what if they hurt someone…what if they are contagious…who will protect our children???
Fear can cause an irrational reaction to something that is new or different.
The God of the New Testament does not fit our human hopes very neatly. Our Lord Jesus was not the person that religious people of the first century were expecting or looking for. Instead of being the answer to everybody’s dreams, Jesus had a tendency to upset people‘s hopes and dreams, disorientating cultural structures and pretext. Once in a while , as in today’s Gospel reading, an encounter with Jesus concluded with people pleading with Him that He might go away and leave them alone!
The story takes place in the Gadarenes or the Gerasenes, or the Gergasenes, depending on which version of which Gospel you read.

It is indeed one of the problems with this story that none of the three Gospel writers who recorded this incident - Matthew, Mark and Luke - seemed to be entirely clear about exactly where Jesus had this encounter with this shadowy character, and even the earliest copies of Luke’s Gospel that we have, are not in complete agreement as to exactly which of these three places it was.

Rev. David Smith, an Episcopal priest writes “There is a good and straightforward explanation for this I think, as whichever place it was - the Gadarenes or the Gerasenes, or the Gergasenes - they all had one thing in common. These were places outside of Israel. This was pagan country, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. No self-respecting Jew would visit any of these places, and I suspect that the reason that nobody could quite remember which of these places it was, reflects the fact that none of these Gospel writers had ever been there - neither Matthew, Mark, nor Luke. Nor were they ever likely to go there!

The place where Jesus decides to travel to is somewhere out on the periphery of the civilized world. Strange people live there, who worship strange gods. They eat pigs over there, which no self-respecting Jew would do, and they have one very strange ambassador, coming out to meet Jesus - dirty, disheveled, completely naked, and moaning with some horrible guttural moan that echoes the darkness that infests his system.

It’s important to realize that this is a key point that the Gospel writer is trying to make, for it would have been clear to his original readers that Jesus is very deliberately overlooking the fact that everything he touches here is unclean!

Jesus has walked into an unclean land, full of unclean people - to hillsides covered with unclean animals, and he makes a beeline for a crazy, demon-possessed man, who lives amongst the tombs - as unclean a character as you could find!
Jesus, once again is seen stepping out of bounds.  This is yet another example of Jesus intentionally showing his followers that his ministry is for all.  Not only the Jewish community.  As Bob spoke about last week, Jesus is again walking where “No good Jewish person would go.”  Then to make matters worse he doesn’t seek out the head of the guard, the religious leader of that town, not even a provincial judge.  Where does he go??  He heads straight to the mad man.
A man so ostracized by the local community that he is put outside the walls.  A man so feared that they try to chain him, a man so strong that no chain can hold him.  This is a man so different that he runs naked all day and lives in the tombs.
See this is about the lowest of all beings in Jewish culture.  To be near a corpse is unwelcomed. The presence of a dead body is considered a source of ritual impurity. For this reason, a priest may not be in the presence of a corpse. People who have been in the presence of a body, wash their hands before entering a home. This is done to symbolically remove spiritual impurity, not physical uncleanness: it applies regardless of whether you have physically touched the body.
So you see the metaphor here, better yet do you see the truth here???  There is no shame, there is no one so unclean, that they cannot be approached. What we do know about this man is that he is homeless, naked, and not right in the head. We are told that he used to deliberately physically damage himself, and that even when he had been restrained, he had managed to burst free of the restraints!

Some of these symptoms seem familiar to those of us who have worked with persons with either illness or severe disabilities hurting themselves out of frustration, or to distract from other pain. This man was a highly fragmented personality, getting into fits of rage such that no one was able to control them or willing to try.
When Jesus starts to approach this man, in his tantrum, in the Midst of his Illness he can see who Jesus is and falls to his Knees proclaiming it loudly. That Christ is the “Only begotten of the highest God.”  I always find it odd that those who were the most ill…usually described as possessed (though not always sometimes it was those who believed the most), can clearly see who Christ is and proclaim it then they are usually quieted or asked to keep it quiet.
Jesus asks what is your name and the man answers legion.  It is often described that he is called legion for he represents many demons.  I would put forth he is called legion for he represents many oppressions, the many ways humanity mistreats humanity.  He is the homeless, he is the disabled, he is the mentally ill, and he is the unclean. He is called unclean as those with Aids, those who have substance abuse problems have been so named.  He is cast out, out of the town, out of the community, out of sight where none have to deal with him…out of sight out of mind.
As the interaction develops we are told that the many “Legion” ask not to be returned to the abyss but be allowed to dwell in the local pig heard.  So Jesus casts out the unworthiness and into the pigs that then drown themselves.  It’s kind of funny the impurity asks “Cast us over there”. Jesus does just that and the impurity drives the lowest of creatures, in Jewish culture’s perception, into madness so painful that these creatures can’t stand it and drown themselves.
Can you imagine the pain this man felt? He was so ostracized, to be believed to be so unworthy that when these emotions, demons, these bad judgments that he has been labeled with, that has been placed upon him, were cast out, it caused the lowest creature to kill itself because the pain, the shame, and the isolation was so great.
Now the men who tended this flock witnessed all that had happened and they run into town to tell the story and not just the town but all the country side as well.  When the people came to see for themselves they found the man they once knew as insane, as an outcast, perhaps even as a scapegoat who was probably blamed for some or many mishaps in the town.  They find him dressed sitting at Jesus’ feet and fully in his right mind.
So here is the brunt of your anger…here is where you can justify all the reasons you were unjust, uncompassionate, cruel, prejudice... just plain mean.  This man who represents all that and had all the signs to justify it, is now fully clothed in his right mind and probably remembers all you did…or even worse all you did not do for him.
This man now seated at Christ’s feet full of joy, health and gratitude represents, to the town’s people, all they had done wrong.  They have missed the mark.  They had missed the opportunity to be compassionate people…and now when they see him they know it.  This triggers their anger.
Not so much anger for losing a heard of pigs…their food for that is easily replenished over time.  What makes them angry is they are faced with their own wrong doing, their own misjudgments and their own guilt.  But pay attention to this…Jesus said nothing.  Jesus was sitting with a healthy, happy clothed man, a man clothed by Jesus. The guilt, the anger, the shame that the people experience is their own…it is nothing that Jesus said to them.  They know they have done wrong and the presence of the Healthy mad men is accusation enough for them…so much so they ask Jesus to leave.
This is where the story takes an odd turn.  You see most stories of Jesus’ healings never tell us what happened afterwards. They generally end with Jesus saying, “Go in peace” or “your faith has made you well” or some go make the offering that is prescribed.  But in this case he commissions the mad man. Jesus tells him to go home and tell of what God has done for you.  The story says that he does just that he tells of Jesus encounter with him and the compassion of Christ that healed him.
These people have an encounter with Jesus, and the result is that their world has been turned upside down. The man who has been healed is full of joy, but Jesus very deliberately leaves him there, in a town where he will face an uncertain future amongst people who won’t know what to do with him.  They can’t blame him for anything, they can’t cast him out all his maladies are gone.

In this case, as in so many instances in the Gospels, people do not know what to do with Jesus. They are scared by his awesome, life-changing power. They do not want to have their lives turned upside-down. They do not want to stand that close to the fire!  They do not want to face who they have been and what they had done and yet Jesus leaves the biggest reminder of their past and the opportunity to heal.
I say by this man staying behind.  By the madman preaching what Jesus did for him.  He gives permission for others to do the same.  This is a lesson in compassion and an opportunity for the townspeople not just to forgive themselves, but make an effort to make their community better.
To following Jesus is to choose not to follow the easy path in life. It is the road less travelled, and it is a road that is guaranteed to lead us to places where we do not want to go - places on the edge of society, places where strange people live with strange beliefs, and people who are not like us and who suffer from problems that we do not understand.
We are called to be a prophetic voice and this does not mean words.  St Francis “wherever you go, preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.”  This man was living Gospel.  He became the word of Christ through being healed by him.  We are called to do the same.  We are called to action.
There are many forms action can take.  It can be joining in the feeding of the homeless once a month. It can be tending to the Garden and providing care for the earth.  You can bring you old meds here and we will get them to the hospice in Tijuana who are desperate need of everyday medication, aspirin, pain killers, ointments, and HIV medication.
You can get involved with immigration reform and the fight for equality for all people.  One can join in after school programs as a volunteer. Perhaps you know someone who has a hard time getting around, a neighbor or an acquaintance…just stop by, check in and see how they are doing.
I worked with the developmentally disabled population for 15 years and they are always looking for volunteers at the Special Olympics.  As a kid I used to go to the nursing home and I would read mail to a gentleman who had gone blind.  There are programs at the library or childrens hospital where you can do the same.
You see Jesus is calling us to the region of the Garasenes.  He is calling us to a strange place one we would not normally go on our own.  Jesus is asking us to reach out to the most disenfranchised and do what we can.  Often time our response to such a request is fear.
You see this is one of the greatest thing that holds people back from following Jesus, and that so often holds us back from truly giving ourselves to Him, is fear - the same fear that those villagers had: fear of economic loss, fear of change, fear of being taken places where we do not want to go, fear of confronting our own prejudices or concepts of reality.
We must give that fear up. Now I am not saying all fear for some fear and trepidation is good otherwise we end up putting ourselves in harm’s way.  By giving fear up I mean offering it up to God.  Asking that we may be fearless in the opportunity to reach out and care as Jesus has called us too.  To fearlessly seek out the far away unfamiliar place and meet the Madmen and help make whim whole, healthy and clothed.
We are not going to solve all the world’s problems.  Jesus himself said we will always have poor and hungry, the ill and the homeless.  But he also lived, walked and acted upon a simple message…look you can do something.  Yes Jesus was a great teacher but his greatest lessons are in his actions, not his stories, his actions.
Go out from here today and seek out the wrong person and break bread.  Seek out the injured and offer Gods’ loving comfort.  Seek the lonely and walk with them and offer friendship.  Even if it is just for a moment, a fearless moment, you are walking as Jesus did.
And God will say…
I was hungry and you fed me,

I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,

I was homeless and you gave me a room,

I was shivering and you gave me clothes,

I was sick and you stopped to visit,

I was in prison and you came to me.’
I pray for the day that the world can live without fear and only know compassion and love. Amen.

[1] David Smith, Esus v Legion: a hellish stoush! (A sermon on Luke 8:26-39), (accessed June 18, 2013).

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What is the trinity for us today??

Pastor Carol Cavin Dillion from Christ united Methodist church in Tennessee tells the story of when she was the asked if she could speak to the first-grade Sunday school class. The topic was worship, and she was to meet with the children in the sanctuary so that they could get a close look at the baptismal font, the altar, and the paraments.
So she met the youngsters at the front of the sanctuary. The children’s minister had asked her to wear her robes so that the children could see them and they could talk about it. After they toured the sanctuary and talked about colors and symbols, remember the Methodists have a high church style everything has a purpose and everything has a meaning. She sat down with them and asked if they had any questions. One little girl looked down, pointed at the white stole and said, “What’s that thing?”
She replied, referring to the intricate design upon the stole, “It’s a symbol of the Trinity.” “What’s the Trinity?” the little girl asked. “Uh. . . .” For the next five minutes (which seemed like an eternity) she found herself trying to explain the Trinity to a group of first graders.
 By the time she finished hemming and hawing, they looked so confused! How in the world do you teach a bunch of six-year olds about the most complicated theological concept in the book? The answer might be just to wait until they’re older. A six-year-old is too young for Narnia, much less the Trinity!
Perhaps we should wait till they’re teenagers. Or even adults.  Because we adults can handle such theological complexities, right? We’ve been to school. We’ve studied literature and algebra and biology and philosophy. Heck, some of us even have a Masters and PhD! surely it’s easy for us to understand and explain the Trinity Right?
Okay Go…
A professor in a seminary jokingly once tried to explain it like this: “It makes perfect sense. God is three . . . is one . . . is three. Get it?”
Okay this concept is hard to wrap our brains around.  And I admit it is not even part of everyone’s theology.   But I grew up with it and so I wanted to explore the concept. It has been explained like the Shamrock.  The Trinity just as the shamrock is one plant with three leaves; God is one God with three faces.  Then there is the water metaphor as H2O can take three forms in ice, liquid, and steam, so God has three forms. The Trinity!
To be honest the Trinity is one of those elements of faith that tends to be taken for granted.  It is a foundation of what many Christians believe about God, yet I would venture to say, that most don’t even try to wrap their minds around it. We believe in God the creator, Christ the redeemer and the Holy Spirit the sustainer and we speak of the three as one and just leave it at that.
Today, the first Sunday after Pentecost, is known as Trinity Sunday. But do we have any idea what we’re talking about? Is the Trinity just an obscure concept that we give lip service to because the church calendar tells us to or the traditions we came from declare it as absolute doctrine? Does it have anything to do with our daily living? Think about it—what does the Trinity mean to you?
In our readings this morning and throughout our worship this morning we have heard references to God and how God self is revealed to us.  In the opening of Proverb we hear speech of wisdom and it is spoken of in the feminine which is a common concept of the spirit.  Then later it proclaims how “I” was given birth before the first acts of creation this is often heard of and referred to as Jesus. In John 16 Jesus expresses unity with God and the Holy Spirit, although he speaks of three unique persons doing three different jobs: Abba God shares the Son; God the Son stands among the disciples, teaching of the spirit; God the spirit helps interpret and teach the truth that comes from Abba God and the Son.
We often speak of God as the creator and God loves creation and wants us to love creation as well. One way that God teaches us how to love creation and one another is in the person of Jesus Christ. As Matthew and the other gospel writers tell us, Jesus walked alongside us on this earth to show us the face of God. And in Jesus’ death and resurrection, God becomes our Redeemer. Now, we spend a lot of time in the church talking about Jesus. We learn about Jesus’ teaching, his example, his healing, and his love. The gospel stories give us something tangible to hold onto. Jesus gives us all sorts of guidance on how to live our lives. It’s not hard to find ways that Jesus is relevant to our lives.
The concept of A Trinitarian or triune god speaks of god in relationship. Abba, Son and Spirit have always existed in relationship, loving relationship, with each other.  Lady wisdom declares I was there in that moment of creation alongside the Son and Abba.  I was having fun, stirring the elements, sparking life and rejoicing in the dance that was creation.  In the opening verse of the song  The Lord of the Dance it states:
I danced in the morning when the world was young
I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun
I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth
  That energy that drives the dance…that makes us want to dance..that is spirit and the dancer is Jesus and God the music of the universe.
For many of us, that Spirit is very relevant to our daily living. We recognize the Spirit’s activity all around us: in those little nudges to call someone or pray for someone, in the peace that surrounds us before we undergo surgery, in the inspiration that comes when we’re teaching or praying, in the board meeting where truth is spoken and consensus is reached. Many of us know the Spirit as our sustainer, our inspiration, our daily guide and yes the mischief maker.
We see daily evidence of God our Creator. We strive to follow the concrete example of Jesus the Christ. We look for signs of the Holy Spirit around us. Individually, the three persons of the Trinity make sense to us. But what does it mean for the three to be one and the one to be three? Abba God, Son, and Holy Spirit. Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. One in three in one. Ice and liquid and steam. Three leaves of a shamrock. What power can this mysterious concept have for us?
Whether you relate most to God the Creator, Jesus the Redeemer, or the Holy Spirit
 Sustainer, the mystery of the Trinity has something to teach us. There is something beautiful and powerful about a God in three persons. There is something God can reveal to us when we ponder the mystery of the Trinity.
The triune God of our faith is a mystery, revealed to us only partially and gradually.  God goes way beyond our human capability of comprehension and understanding and our language.  Yet we are offered an opportunity to reach out, touch, and try to understand how these three, these three in one touch and bless our lives.  Heck, it wasn’t until long after the books of the creation of all, the passing on of the stories of God active in our world...Long after someone decided to write down the stories then collect them into a book, did we even conceive of this nature of God.
In the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, there is an icon of the Holy Trinity painted by Andrei Rublev sometime around 1400 C.E. For those of you who are unfamiliar with icons, they are pictures that are used in prayer. Believers are to gaze at them prayerfully until they become like a window into the heart of God. God can reveal Godself to us as we are praying through the image of an icon.
Jeff could you show the image again.
This icon takes as its subject the mysterious story where Abraham receives three visitors as he camps by the oak of Mamre. He serves them a meal. As the conversation progresses he seems to be talking straight to God, as if these 'angels' were in some way a metaphor for the three persons of the Trinity. In Rublev's representation of the scene, the three gold-winged figures are seated around a white table on which a golden, chalice-like bowl contains a roasted lamb. In the background of the picture, a house can be seen at the top left and a tree in the center. Less distinctly, a rocky hill lies in the upper right corner. The composition is a great circle around the table, focusing the attention on the chalice-bowl at the center, which reminds the viewer inescapably of an altar at Communion.
On one level this picture shows three angels seated under Abraham's tree, but on another it is a visual expression of what the Trinity means, what is the nature of God, and how we approach God. Reading the picture from left to right, we see Abba creator, Son the redeemer, Holy Spirit the Sustainer.
Rublev gives each person of the Trinity different clothing. On the right, the Holy Spirit has a garment of the clear blue of the sky, wrapped over with a robe of a fragile green. So the Spirit of creation moves in sky and water, breathes in heaven and earth. All living things owe their freshness to her touch.
The Son has the deepest colors; a thick heavy garment of the reddish-brown of earth and a cloak of the blue of heaven. In his person he unites heaven and earth, the two natures are present in him, and over his right shoulder (the Government shall be upon his shoulder) there is a band of gold shot through the earthly garment, as his divinity suffuses and transfigures his earthly being.
The Creator seems to wear all the colors in a kind of fabric that changes with the light, that seems transparent, that cannot be described or confined in words. And this is how it should be. No one has seen Abba, but the vision of Abba fills the universe.
The Creator looks forward, raising a hand in blessing to the Son. this gesture expresses a movement towards the Son. The hand of the Son points on, around the circle, to the Spirit. In this simple array we see the movement of life towards us; we are the fourth being at this table, the life flows clockwise around the circle. And we complete the circle The Spirit touches us, even though we do not know who it is that is touching us. The spirit leads us and moves us in ways we are unaware until we look back.  In moments of stillness and clarity can we see where the spirit, the hand of God has touched and moved us.
It is interesting to note that each of these great winged creatures have staffs for a journey.  They each have a staff because we are on a journey and instead of flying on ahead, avoiding all trials and trouble they walk with us, beside us on our individual journeys in this life here and now.[1]
In many traditions this concept of the trinity is a doctrine; a belief written in stone that must be believed, three separate beings and yet one God.  I perceive them more as aspects of God.  Different parts of one personality or being.  The three are in communion with each other as we are one community and yet each one of us is a unique expression of this community.  The Trinity is a community of Love.
As we think about the community of love that has been within God since the beginning of time, the trinity. Let us understand that there is an invitation for us to be part of that community. Just as Andrei’s icon shows us a place at the table so we can see it for real,  as the invitation stands open to all at this table, God’s table.  As we see real, concrete examples of how God has created us, redeemed us, and sustained us, let us respond with love and gratitude. Let us add our love to the Trinity’s communion of love.
Let us allow God be revealed in our community. The concept of the Trinity teaches us that no one ever stands alone. As soon as we accept God’s love and reflect that love back out to the world, we are members of a community. We cannot be a community without being connected to one another. If we are to embrace the triune aspects of God the creator, Christ the redeemer, and the Holy Spirit the sustainer then we are called to embrace each other as community and reach out beyond these walls to those who challenge us, need us, who are hungry for a message of love. The love we find in the Trinity,  in the communion, we find with one another, is not just for our own sakes. It’s for the sake of the world. It’s meant to be shared.[2]
The world needs love. The world needs grace. The world needs community. May the Triune God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer—help us to share the message of the Trinity with all creation.  Carol Cavin Dillion[3]

[1] sacred heart pullman, Explanation of Andrei Rublev's Icon of the trinity, (accessed May 14, 2013).
[2] The Abingdon Preaching Annual 2013 (Nashville: Abingdon press, 2012).
[3] David N. Mosser, Abingdon Preaching Annual 2008 (nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007).