Thursday, January 11, 2018

Baptism: Whose Are You!

It's a quiet, warm afternoon. The work of the morning has been finished. The midday meal has been taken. Now is a time to rest, to think and pray. It is a time to reflect on not only the tasks of the day completed, but also on what comes next. What tasks lie yet to be done before the day is done? What will need your attention in the near, the middle and perhaps even things to do that lie further in the distance of the days to come. It is a time for reflection, for taking this momentary pause to let the body rest, the mind wander and the spirit yearn. It is a holy moment.

For a man who worked, most likely with his hands, who worked outside, who perhaps tended the very trees he now rests beneath, this moment was neither unfamiliar, nor unwelcome, to Nathaniel. The scripture offers testimony, later from the lips of the Lord himself, that he was an honest man in whom one could not find the slightest measure of guile of conceit. As this working man's hands cool and unkink from the morning's labors, as his mind relaxes into his prayers and hopes for his orchard and for the world.... What are his thoughts?

Put your back against the smooth bark of that fig tree. Rest your hips and legs in the natural folds of the roots that interlace and dig into the earth. Feel the cool breeze that rests with you beneath those sap-heavy leaves and branches, even as the midday sun pools heat just past your out-stretched feet. Breath in the scent of your drying, hard-earned sweat, the faint remnant of lunch, the fragrance of figs as they ripen under the same rays of the sun under which you will return soon to labor.

What are your thoughts?

You give thanks for this moment, for all those moments that are both earned through labor and gifted by God's grace. You are both part of this peace, and deeply aware as well how fleeting these moments really are in the greater span of a human life. The peace of this moment is wonderful, but it is also poignant. For you, it will end soon and you will rise and work again. For others, they have not known this peace in a long time....for some, they have never known it. Even as you are grateful, you are aware that the world is not yet: it is not yet whole; not healed; waiting for the one who will deliver, make whole, heal.

Now, what was a moment of peace becomes a moment of yearning prayer. How long?

If only the wonder were at how long to THIS harvest, to THAT fig being ripe. It is more than that short span, though; how long must it be before this peace that is even now fading away becomes one that is how we begin, experience and end the day? How long before we know an age of peace like that peace? How long must we long for that moment? How many times must we know it is only just a breath away, and yet always a breath away?

We stand, dust off hands that are still clean from being cleansed for the meal that lies in ruin at our feet. We rise, and set aside the ruminations of gratitude and yearning, the prayers half-dreamed that deliverance is not far off but instead near. We step from cool shade into the rising heat and ready ourselves for the accumulation of tasks completed and fatigue reclaimed that will mark the end of another day....and then....and then.....

He is there. HE looks deep into our eyes.

I know, he says. I saw you...I heard you.

Today is the day.

Come and see.

In that moment?

I know whose I am. I know that now is the time. Here is the place....

We are known. We are refreshed. We are called. We are named...and claimed.

Christ's own, forever.

Whose are you?

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Baptism and the Holy Spirit: Closing the Circuit

This Sunday marks the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. In our tradition, we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6, with the commemoration of the Baptism observed on the following Sunday. It marks the turn of the season, from Christmastide to Epiphanytide. It moves us from marking the birth of the Savior, and the anticipation of His return at the end of the ages. It also turns us from waiting on God as the Christ to experiencing the Christ revealed to us.

As the winter rages on around us here in the Northern Hemisphere, we are naturally aware that the days are lengthening. With the return of the light comes a congruent awareness that the hope of Spring is not far behind. We still have a way to go with winter, and the harder months lie before us, but at the same time our senses begin to prime for those first notes of loamy, earthy refreshment as the soil warms, the sun quickens and the seeds germinate with a promise of new growth and renewal.

Jesus' Baptism by John in the river Jordan sounds the opening chords of this experience of the Christ revealed. It also marks the first appearance in the Gospel of an essential presence: the Spirit of the Lord. This manifestation is the essential hallmark of God's activity and presence in creation. In fact, this presence marks the onset of creation itself. Often called breath, or wind, in ancient languages...sometimes described as a raging fire...often noted when it descends as a massive infusion of charism and grace...that Spirit is the demonstrable sounding of the very Presence of God, God-self.

God's Spirit is movement, grace and joy in our being. It is also the very source of that being. Without that very breath of God, we are without reason, without awareness of being. Without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we lack animation. We lack life, itself.

As Jesus joins us in our humanity, that Presence is an essential and primal sign of God's being engaged fully and completely in our lives in a new and unique way. No longer host or observer, our God is not and never again will be far off from us. Like the first cry of an infant coming into the world, tasting air and smelling scent for the first time, God is with us. Like a child becoming aware of the being of others beyond their own senses, God is with us. Like a young man, coming to terms with what it means to take responsibility while also asserting his own sense of self apart from the crowds, God is with us. So, with that Spirit's manifestation, God is with us and the circuit of our intimacy with God is closed. We are sealed by the Spirit in a new Baptism, one that goes beyond a simple cleansing from sin, beyond the receiving of a name. It is a seal that marks us as Christ's own forever, even as God affirms that in the person of Jesus, the Son's advent is proclaimed.

Take time in this Epiphanytide to ponder and appreciate just how close God has come to us. We will never again be apart from God. Some circuits can break, but this one will never be sundered.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Little Girl who Bore Justice and Hope into the World

The Annunciation by Henry Osawa Tanner
There is a bit of the volatile in every age. Where the energy roils around that point of volatility in our culture varies as society changes and evolves. At this moment in time, we are highly sensitized to the controversies around sexual misconduct and harassment in our culture. Men and women have been targeted, isolated and then abused by those who hold power over them. Almost every industry, every human institution has seem the veils too often drawn across these behaviors drop, and the cold light of the news cycles have revealed what many would have preferred to keep hidden. That is a good thing, in that injustice, abuse and the cycles that perpetuate them are being challenged. The old order of things is being upended. Power, particularly power abused, is being challenged. What impresses me is not just the dramatic and sensational events that illustrate this season of change in our culture, it is how many are taking this moment to think, pray, reflect and honor that ALL of us have either been a victim, a perpetrator or both. Many have been both...and that means a lot of soul-searching and by God's forgiving grace a deep transformation of how we walk, talk and interact in this world, as members of this society, and with each other.

The deep roiling of human injustice, of the ways we humans too often innovate new ways to sustain epochal subjugation and oppression of those who are vulnerable, is something that this season of Christmas speaks to on the most profound level of connection between God and the intent of our Creator to forge reconciliation with us while also healing us of our talent for self-harm and mutual abuse.

The fourth Sunday of Advent falls this year on Christmas Eve. Traditionally, the reading for IV Advent is the tale of the Annunciation of Mary, the story of when the Archangel Gabriel-herald of God-comes to a young girl and informs her that she has been called to be the one who will bear the Messiah into the world. She will be, in the Greek, theotokos, God-bearer. 

The scriptures tells us that she is young, just of the age to marry. In those days, she would most likely have been around the age of 14 to 16. She was betrothed to a man chosen for her, most likely by her family. Marriage in those days was more akin to a transfer of property, rather than being possessed of any romantic or mature sensibility. 

She was a girl, a young woman, and thus lived at the bottom of any definition of worth in her society. Her sole purpose was to work, to care for others in the household and to bear children, preferably sons. The only power or security she could hope for was that she would bear a son quickly, and that he would choose to care for her as she aged.

Then, as today, a child had little power. A girl-child even less.

And yet, it was to one such as she that the herald of God the Almighty, one who stood in attendance to the very Presence, would be sent to inquire and announce that she was most favored by God. She would be the one in whom the seed of the salvation of all humanity and the very fabric of creation itself would be planted. She would conceive and bear the Son who would be the light of the world, and the Word made flesh. This one, who had no power...whose face would not register to any of us as having permanence or impact, would be the one human being to whom God would entrust God's own infant self.

When God does that simple thing, allowing that not only one who is valued the least in the hierarchy of humanity to be called "Favored One" but also leaving it to her to assent, God is modeling the very thing we need to do over and over again, every day of this present controversy (and in the many yet to come when our injustices are challenged): to proclaim the Lord's favor, release to the oppressed and the indictment of the oppressors, the blessing on God's beloved and the transformation of our lower selves into that higher grace-filled people God intended us to become.

Christmas is the moment when we remember the birth of Jesus....and this year let it also be a moment for us to honor the theotokos, the girl who said yes to justice, to peace, to hope and who allowed those seeds to be implanted into her in order that the world might know transformation and more, salvation.

What will take us through this present age? The memory of her witness...a young girl who stood up and said yes to justice and thus overturned the mighty from their seats of power.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38