Dancing About Architecture

     Life is funny: there can be times when we feel so connected to one another, we are in sync and almost finishing one another’s sentences, and there other times that we could be sitting beside one another right now but there is a gap miles wide between us. Sometimes we can be engaged with one another and other times that no matter what we say, no one can understand exactly what is going on inside. There’s a quote that has been attributed to many people over the years, but it’s in a movie that I really like called Playing by Heart, and the line goes like this: “Talking about love is like dancing about architecture.”

     The Trinity is much like this quote: we can talk and talk, and while the discussion would be amazing, our understanding would still leave us wanting more. We could still be sitting right next to each other but feel a tangible separation between us. We have the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed, even the Athanasian Creed in the prayer book to help shape our doctrine of what the Trinity is. And, to a certain extent, knowledge helps to shape awareness and feeling. Knowing the “what”of a thing can help to shape the “why,” the “how.” I would like to take a moment and talk about what we know about the Trinity, about each person of the Trinity. And then I want to try and fill in some of the spaces.

     On the front of your bulletin this morning, you have a poem by George Herbert called “Trinitie Sunday,” and this piece is taken from his larger work, The Temple.

    Lord, who hast form’d me out of mud,

         And hast redeem’d me through thy bloud,

         And sanctifi’d me to do good;

    Purge all my sinnes done heretofore:

         For I confesse my heavie score,

         And I will strive to sinne no more.

    Enrich my heart, mouth, hands in me,

         With faith, with hope, with charitie;

         That I may runne, rise, rest with thee.
     This piece is so perfectly and beautifully crafted, and it speaks to each of the aspects of our Trinity. It speaks to who God is, and what Jesus does, and how the Holy Spirit manifests in us.

     God, our Creator, out of love, has formed us and made us. Jesus has come to us to teach us and die for us because of love. The Holy Spirit has descended upon us, as we know from Pentecost last Sunday, to give us life, and this life He gives is out of love for us. This poem speaks to what God has done in our creation and what Jesus has done in sanctifying us and what the Spirit does through us by the work of our hands.

     This poem is an echo of our readings from this morning. While the poem offers us, in beautiful language, an image of the Trinity and Their movement towards us and within us, our readings offer the tangible reality of the Trinity in the world. Our reading from Genesis this morning tells of creation, of God’s movement upon the earth. We are told how He spoke and land and water and birds and trees all came into being. We also are told of His satisfaction when He said, “It is good.” From the reading in 2 Corinthians, Paul tells the church how to act in their lives, how to behave with one another, how to maintain order and structure. Paul also tells them to agree with one another and live in peace. He concludes his address to them by blessing them with the grace of the Godhead. And, in our gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus tells the disciples, both those who believed and those who doubted, to go out and make new disciples and baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

     We see what God does and who Jesus is and how the Holy Spirit moves. And, our poem from George Herbert offers a voice, a prayer, from us back to the Trinity: Herbert prays that we seek forgiveness from sin and that we will try to sin no more. Furthermore, we will, with God’s help, “runne, rise, and rest” with God.

     But there is another element that has not been brought out strongly enough from these readings this morning, and that element is us. God made man, and He said this was good. God created each of us in His image. We all have a purpose and a part to play. Paul instructed the church to agree with one another and live in peace. Jesus told the disciples to go and speak and make disciples and baptize. We are the element of God’s design that must do. We are to live in peace. We are to love.  

     But how do we live in peace? How do we love? How do we do what Jesus tells us to do? How do we act how Paul instructs? How do we listen to the Holy Spirit’s voice and movement in us? How do we explain the Trinity?

     The modern non-fiction writer Anne Lamott says this: “I didn’t need to understand the hypostatic unity of the Trinity; I just needed to turn my life over to whoever came up with redwood trees.”

     Faith.

     It is in faith that we trust that God created the universe. It is in faith that we enjoy His creation, those beautiful images of God’s design that Fr. John and James Neal capture and post on Instagram. It is in faith that we believe that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, and on the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures. It is in faith that we believe that the Holy Spirit descended to the disciples on Pentecost and gave them tongues of fire and gives us life even today. It is in faith that, while we may not always agree with one another and will have our own struggles, that we continue to live in community. It is in faith that we partake of the blessed Body and Blood of our Savior at the Eucharist. This faith is our link, our gift back to God. This faith is what we have when words fail. This faith is what we know when I am inadequate in telling about the Holy Trinity.  

     And yet, I wish for one moment to return to our Gospel reading. Matthew says, “When they saw Jesus, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.” Some doubted. And yet, even despite the fact that some doubted, Jesus declared that all authority in Heaven and earth had been given to Him. He then charged them, all of them, to go and make disciples and baptize. Jesus didn’t separate out those who believed from those who doubted and speak only to the strong ones. No, he included them all. He knew some would doubt, and yet He gave all of them the vocation to do His work, those with faith and those with doubt.

     So, I would hope that we all are encouraged by the plans God has, whether we know them or not. I would hope that we are empowered by the salvation and transformation that Jesus offers us, whether we feel it or not. I would hope that we are inspired by the presence of the Holy Spirit and His movement in our lives, whether we hear it and see it or not. The Trinity gives us all we need because of love. Our response is to accept in faith. And whether we can explain everything or not, I pray that we continue to dance about architecture.

Let us pray:
Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth:
    Set up your kingdom in our midst.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God:
    Have mercy on me, a sinner.

Holy Spirit, breath of the living God:
    Renew me and all the world.

Amen.

adesse.

“This realization of your own unworthiness will drive out of your heart all unreasonable interest in other people’s affairs and criticism of their actions, and will compel you to look at yourself alone, as though there were no one in existence but God and yourself.  You should consider yourself more vile and wretched than any living creature, so that you can hardly endure yourself, so great will be your consciousness of inward sin and corruption…For whatever defiles your soul or hinders its knowledge and experience of God must be very grievous and painful to you.”

~Walter Hilton, The Scale of Perfection, Book 1 Chapter 16

Pray for me…

I first became aware of Josèmaria Escrivá’s teachings in a little movie called The DaVinci Code.  However, as we all know, that film is a highly entertaining one built upon a teeny tiny foundation of pseudo- truth and an overwhelming amount of fiction, fantasy, and “what if”?  In the past few years I have discovered that the teachings of St. Escrivá to be ones that do not allow any “wiggle room” or opportunities to make excuses and rationalizations — something that I can do with great flair! Escrivá cuts to the heart of my humanity and challenges me to be better, stronger, through the grace and passion of Christ.

“Put your heart aside. Duty comes first. But when fulfilling your duty, put your heart into it. It helps.”

“You strayed from the way and did not return because you were ashamed. It would be more logical if you were ashamed not to return.”

“Is it not true that your gloominess and bad temper are due to your lack of determination in breaking the subtle snares laid by your own disordered desires? The daily examination of conscience is an indispensable help if we are to follow our Lord with sincerity of heart and integrity of life.”

“Don’t say, ‘That person bothers me.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me.’ ”

“If obedience does not give you peace, then you have pride.”

I believe that we should all seek those people in our Christian past with whom we can identify. The saints give us hope that, even through our ugly and selfish humanity, we can continue to be sanctified through the blood of Jesus. If I know I fail at holding to the teachings of Escrivá, how much more do I fail my God. But, thanks be to God and with His help, I pray that He draws me closer and continues to change my heart.

Pray for me, St. Josèmaria Escrivá, a sinner.

How Much Does It Cost?

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Henri Nouwen writes: “Nuclear man no longer believes in anything that is always and everywhere…He lives by the hour…His art…is a combination of divergent pieces, is a host impression of how man feels at the moment [emphasis mine].” Further, “We see man paralyzed by dislocation and fragmentation, caught in the prison of his own mortality…We also see exhilarating experiments of living by which he tries to free himself of the chains of his own predicament.” And finally, there are those who have, “deep-seated unhappiness with the society in which the young find themselves. Many young people are convinced that there is something terribly wrong with the world…everywhere we see restless and nervous people, unable to concentrate and often suffering from a growing sense of depression.”

It would be easy to slip into a ministry that tries to be all to all. We see a great deal of pain and isolation and disappointment in our world. We see congregants on Facebook share frustrations, speak out using less-than-Christian language, and come against others with something akin to a verbal-online flogging. However, Continue reading

There is Peace in Patterns

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I have the immense honor of writing for The Ambrose Institute, a spiritual formation  and congregational development program through Nashotah House Theological Seminary. This is my latest article written for Formatio, the online journal of Ambrose.  Just click the links and see the amazing work they do to form and encourage the Body of Christ!

Is it live, or is it Memorex?

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In post-modern culture we guard the written word and even the ideas behind the ideas with patents, trademarks, and copyrights.  We protect and lay claim to our creation like a dog marks its territory.  However, there are some scholars who find it necessary to analyze the verbiage, syntax, and style — to distinguish the “authentic” writing of Paul from those of a scribe or follower.  There are scholars who say that only about seven of the thirteen letters attributed to Paul truly had his direct hand upon them.  Of those are the Pastoral Epistles — 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus — are truly doubted as to have been written by Paul and significant doubt exits as to the direct authorship from Paul of Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians.  The main argument for doubt is the variations in style of Greek vocabulary — as Paul mainly wrote in Koine Greek and referenced the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew canon.

For Paul and other writers of his age, Continue reading

Ah! The humanity of man!

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It seems to me that we mortal men desire to see relevance and to understand meaning in every event.  We need to understand the “why” and “how” of things, and by doing so we validate that thing’s presence, its breaking through into our little worlds with its disruptions or smoothing over.  We need the link of “if…then…” made clear and resolute. In doing so, we feel we understand and might be justified in the conclusions we draw.

If we seek Jesus in every detail of the Old Testament, we will find Him.  However, are we correct in doing so?  If we look to the value of historical and cultural framework of the Old Testament as a literary text, Continue reading

Aquinas, Grace, and Sacrament

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Aquinas speaks to the relation between nature and grace concerning the sacraments.  However, we should first understand the value of grace according to Aquinas and his predecessors.

In Question 2, Article 10, he references Augustine:  “By the same grace every man is made a Christian, from the beginning of his faith, as this man from His beginning was made Christ.”  Aquinas follows by underscoring the unity of nature and grace, “But this man became Christ by union with the Divine Nature.  Therefore this union was by grace.”  He continues in Question 7, Article 11 by stating that grace is taken in two ways:  the will of God graciously given and as the free gift of God.  Finally, he speaks to the unending effect of grace because of its unity with the Divine Nature.

Aquinas later addresses sacrament and grace in Question 38, Article 6.  He again references Augustine in reminding us that “our sacraments are signs of present grace,” and he contrasts our present grace with the Old Law which were signs of a future grace.

Understanding the nature of grace and what a sacrament is a signifier of, Continue reading

Jesus in a Box

 

I do not believe that, as a general rule, we live into the phrase “‘the kingdom of God, as Jesus proclaimed.  I do not believe we understand the gravity and power of its implication; because of the limitations inherent in our humanity, I believe we limit God.

Let me step back and lay some groundwork for my assertion.  What does it mean to say “the kingdom of God”?  What is it?  When is it?  And where?

R.T. France in A Theology of the New Testament notes that within our definition and awareness of a “kingdom,” we perceive it as a geographical region.  I would also say that our definition would encompass a sense of authority as in a ruler/servant or leader/disciple relationship.  France continues by including the Jewish heritage of the idea bringing it to “an eschatalogical dimension.”  France references Norman Perrin in that the kingdom of God is a symbol, and it seems that notion does have some merit in that the phrase itself represents a concept and reality so much more vast than we can fathom.  (I am thinking of Julian of Norwich in that her Revelations of Divine Love speaks of the hazelnut…all that is resides within the smallness of such a thing.) France continues to state that “in the teaching of Jesus the kingdom of God is both present and future.”  He ends by saying that it “is the subject of an active verb — it is in itself a dynamic agent.” Continue reading

Agnes, Martyr of Rome 304

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Think back to that year before you were officially a “teenager.” What were you doing when you were 12 years old? I think to when I was 12 and remember I was completing my last year of braces, worried about pre-pubescent acne, and getting irritated on a daily basis at how nosey my parents were. I was discovering rock music on the radio and learning to play the flute in band. I was focused on my friends and the fact that I couldn’t tame my curly hair into submission. My life orbited around my needs, my plans, my desires.

We honor and celebrate Agnes, our martyr in Rome in the year 304. This lovely young woman lived in an era of great Christian persecution under the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Under this Emperor as well as others who shared his opinions, Christians were stripped of all rights as citizens, beaten, burned, tortured, and killed for their faith. Continue reading