the road

faith, jesus, and a conversation on the road

Month: May, 2016

oneness, not sameness

a sermon for the seventh sunday of easter, John 17:20-26 

One God. We are Trinitarian people. Our faith in the Creator God, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Advocate in the Holy Spirit, is foundational to our understanding of our faith, marking us as Christians with a certain understanding of how we relate to God and how that relationship with God manifested and manifests itself in this world. We believe in a certain type of oneness. A oneness that expresses a sense of unity. Unity in the understanding of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Oneness, unity, in our sense of Christian community that we experience here in this place. Oneness, unity, in the message that we receive here, and in the message that we take out into the world from here. It is a oneness, unity, that comes from the heart. That is based on love. That has an understanding that surpasses all understanding. That informs us and leads us forward in our relationships with our own selves, with each other, and with God. And the beauty of this oneness is that it is not sameness.

Sameness tells us what and how we believe. Sameness strips away creativity, or at least the creativity to exist outside what is appropriate. It is sameness that blurs a unique identity. Sameness that demands uniformity, consistency, perfection. Sameness that leaves little room for doubt, pain, new ideas, fresh expressions. Jesus Christ and God are not the same. Jesus speaks of their oneness, I am in you and you are in me, for theirs is a shared reality, a shared understanding, a unity that connects God to Son. This unity, this oneness enables God to experience doubt, pain, new ideas and fresh expressions. Their oneness is predicated on the understanding that Christ is not sent to teach the exact same way that God has attempted to reach creation in the past. The message itself does not change, but through Christ’s freedom to be in unity with God, to be one with God, and to express that in new ways, we hear anew the message that God has been sending to us. This message is picked up, built upon, followed because Christ was not in sameness with God. This message continues to this day because Christ and God where in oneness with each other, and we were invited into this.

Jesus appeals to God to enable us to be in oneness just as He and God are in oneness with each other. Our oneness is part of the oneness that Jesus and God share. Our oneness is a continuation of that relationship between Father and Son, between Creator and Creation. Our oneness is our call, and we need to do some serious work to live into this reality. Our understanding of our identity as a Christian, as a believer, needs to be built upon this sense of oneness that is exhibited by Jesus and God. We have to live into the reality that we are all connected, that we all possess God, that we all possess Christ. If we can grasp this reality, we can share that oneness with the world. If we can grasp this reality, then we can work to that understanding of being completely one.

Looking around Spokane, around Washington State, around this country, it may be hard to see how we can be made completely one. Hatred has become an acceptable form of public policy in our country. Smug superiority has been its opponent. Hatred has allowed entire states to declare that transexual people should not be allowed to use the bathroom that matches their gender (with politicians declaring how that gender is to be defined). Hatred has allowed bigotry, violence, xenophobia, Islamophobia, to become the primary issues in our election for President. Smug superiority has fanned the flames of this hatred by decrying how uneducated, how privileged, how dumb those expressing hatred are. Smug superiority posts critical think pieces on facebook and then attacks with so-called sardonic wit anyone they see as not following their enlightened view on twitter. When we look at the fractured world we live in, it is clear that the oneness of God, the expression of God’s love that was taught us by Christ and made our expression of faith, has been replaced by the cult of independence. We are told time and time again that our independence is the most important thing in the world. We are told time and time again that our independence trumps the rights of others. We are told time and time again that our independence is the virtue that most clearly expresses our identity. And it is easy to see how this fracture has occurred.

It is hard to say who we are. I know I can list who I am not. I am not conservative, I am not a fundamental Christian, I am not someone who turns from our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, I am not afraid to speak my mind, I am not humble, I am not one of those. Even when we can string together some examples of who we are: I am a man, I am a husband, I am an Episcopalian, I am socially progressive, I am a foodie, there exists an inherit “I am not” in contrast to what I am (I am not a woman, I am not single, I am not eating at a chain restaurant). We are so focused on defining what we are not, who we are not like, what we don’t like, what we distance ourselves from, that we forget to find who we really are, regardless of what others may say or think. When we define who we are, we often do so in a manner that expresses how we are not like someone else, how we are not part of that other group of society, how we are a unique individual following the latest trends in fashion, food, and entertainment, at least the cool ones (with coolness of course being a factor determined by my social group). So, how can we experience oneness, being completely one, with each other, if our identities are focused on being not like someone else. How can we turn our focus from this sense of otherness to one of oneness.

If we are striving for oneness, for that hope of being completely one with each other and with God through Christ, then how must we define ourselves. Who are you, if you are in oneness with the world. I am a beloved child of God. I am the unique creation of God, formed each day by those whom I encounter, formed by the experiences I have and I share with others. I am who God has called me to be. I am hopeful that we can have oneness and be completely one with each other and with God through Christ. And, I want this, because through it, the world may know that God sent Christ, that God loves us as God loved his only Son.

It is this sense of identity, an identity that looks to the oneness of God in Christ, the oneness that we too can have, that can begin to heal the fractured world we live in. We know that this message has reached people. There are a multitude of expressions of faith, Christian or not. Our call is not to be the same as each other. Our call is not to have Baptists, Episcopalians, Catholics, Pentecostals, and Fundamentalists expressing their faith in the same way. However, we are called into oneness with God and Christ. It is in this oneness that we must express the love of God. We must leave behind the fractured identities, the identities that state who we are not, in order to live into the identity of who we are, in God, in Christ, in oneness with our neighbors.

This is an achievable goal. Christ has opened the door for us to accomplish this, if only we listen to the teachings that have been left behind for us. And, in order to spread this message, we must educate through action. We must educate through identifying ourselves for who we are without the baggage of labeling who we are not. We must live into this oneness before we even have it because it is only through an example of striving for that oneness, of striving for the same relationship between Father and Son to be fully realized between Creator and Creation, that we can show others what it means to be in oneness, how it is not sameness, how it is based upon mutual love for each other, just as Christ and God love us.

It will only be through working towards this oneness that the world may truly come to know God. It will only be through working towards this oneness that our differences will necessarily be left behind, that the man-made social constructs that we have built up around us and ours to keep away them and theirs, will be by necessity torn down, replaced with the love of God that keeps us in communion with each other, that respects our differences but loves us anyways. If you can answer the question Who am I without stating who you are not, then you are beginning this work of oneness. If we can begin this work, then we can make this a reality, if we are willing to live into the radical departure from the current social order. If we can begin this work of oneness, then we can begin to truly experience the full power of God’s love working in and through us out to the world. Let us begin.

Amen.

peace

a sermon for the sixth sunday of easter on John 14:23-29

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Peace. A simple concept really. A concept that immediately sets us at ease. A concept that releases the tensions, the anxiety, the fear, that we carry with us in this life. A sense of peace is always welcome. A sense of peace is always wanted. But, this world we inhabit does not freely give us this peace we seek. In many ways, this world we inhabit strives really hard to do the opposite of that. Most of us will experience in this life times of uncertainty. Even when we are in a “good place,” there is a nagging sense that this world will put something else in front of us to challenge that temporary peace, that will push us back into the cycle of uncertainty, anxiety. When we are in this cycle it is physically draining, crippling, it affects our productivity, it affects our relationships, and in doing so, drives us further into the clutches of the anxiety and fear that put us there to begin with.

We try and break out of this cycle. We seek out peace wherever we can find it. The proliferation of the spiritual but not religious movement is in direct relation to this cycle of unrest. People are trying to connect again to the spiritual, to seek out calm, peace, through meditation, connecting to nature, connecting to the holy in the world. They do this because our secular world has continued to chug along with greater expectations of productivity, competition, climbing the corporate ladder, filling your resume, being the star student who also excels in athletics, is the president of three student clubs, and also invented a new way to change the world in their free time. This desire to connect again to the holy, to experience a sense of spiritual peace has driven people away from organized religion because of the stigmas attached to being labeled as “one of us”, because of the social structures in place at these houses of worship that perpetuate the cycle they are trying to escape, because we have done a really poor job of making this space a place where peace can be found, as opposed to anxiety over being new, over not knowing what to say, how to say it, and when to sit, stand, or kneel.

But, that doesn’t mean peace cannot be found here, it just means we need to do a much better job of making that reality a priority of our worship. You see this during our service each week when we share a sign of peace with each other, a reminder that we are in community together, that we are part of something bigger, that there are those in our lives who we can reach out to and receive peace from, just as we can give peace to others. And when we share this sign of peace, it is not our peace that we are sharing. When we share this sign of peace, it is not peace that comes from this church, from the words that the Dean or the deacons or the leaders from the congregation or myself say. When we share this sign of peace, it is the peace of the Lord, peace that we pray is always with us. Jesus Christ is this peace we share, peace given to us, peace left for us.

This peace of the Lord is a peace that combats what the world gives to us, it combats those things that trouble our hearts, that fill us with anxiety, that make our bodies physically ill because we are so filled with fear, fear of failure, fear of inadequacy, fear of coming up short. Our bodies negatively react, putting us on edge, overwhelming our entire being. And, the world gives a lot of this unrest to us.

I struggle with the American Dream. Right now, I’m doing pretty good. I have a lovely wife, a lovely home, we have two fully operational cars, and a lovable if somewhat obnoxious puppy. Our two careers afford us the opportunity to enjoy ourselves, to carefully plan our future, to put away for retirement, to decide when exactly we want to have children (as much as one can). I am living (for all intents-and-purposes) the American Dream. So, why do I always feel anxious about it? I am anxious because I have been taught that I must hold onto this for the rest of my life. I am anxious because I’m not sure what that means moving forward with my life. When I have children, how will that change things. When I move from this position, where will we live, will the home be enough, will the town be enough, will the education and opportunities be enough, will my position be enough. Most importantly, I am anxious because the world constantly reinforces that I should be anxious, that whatever I do in my life will not actually be enough.

One of the current candidates for president uses the campaign slogan: Make America Great Again. And while I think the slogan does a great job of reaching the audience it’s targeted at, what is this slogan really saying about us? It says that we are not currently great. Greatness then becomes a supposedly attainable goal, one where we all live into a society that pushes us to maintain the ideal of the American Dream, and if not, then it must by definition punish us when we fail to reach that, in reality lofty, standard. When we are told that we need to Make America Great Again we are being told that America is currently not great. That we, by association, are not great. That all of the work and energy, time and resources, mind-numbing paper-pushing and life-giving passions, that none of that is great, that all of that it is not good enough to elevate our communities, our country, it is not good enough and therefore we are not good enough.

This is not to say that we must be satisfied with this world we inhabit, but the notion that we constantly have to work harder, we constantly have to reach higher, we constantly have to be more than what we currently are, is exhausting at best, and downright dangerous at worst. When the pressures to save our community, save our country, save our world, are laid at our feet, and all of the real work we have done to save these things is labeled as not enough, as not great, then we either enter the never ending cycle of good but not great, or we wash out entirely and go live off the grid because this world is too much to handle.

Now, I honestly would not be opposed to living off the grid, hooking my tiny home up behind my truck and finding a secluded spot out in the wilderness with a quiet lake thrown in for good measure to live out my days, but checking out does not further the message of Christ. Checking out does not share the peace of Christ. Checking out hoards the peace of Christ to ourselves. Checking out hoards a message that must be shared with the world, a message that must change the very hearts of the people that hear it, a message that we must be willing to engage with spiritually and religiously.

It is in engaging this message, a message of faith, hope, love, a message that removes the anxiety of this world, that we can find respite from our daily anxiety. We neither need to give into the cycles of anxiety, of not good enough, of a life of almost but not quite, nor do we need to give up because it is an unwinnable proposition. When we accept the peace of Christ, and accept that this peace must be shared, so that others may experience this peace, we are challenging the current structures of this world. We challenge those who say we are not good enough, who say we must attain a mythical level of greatness that has no basis in reality. When we, as a Church, as a community of believers, commit ourselves to sharing the peace of Christ with the world, we are publicly stating that we do not accept the vicious cycles that permeate our culture. We are publicly stating that there is in fact a different path. That there is a reality where we can all experience peace in this life. That peace is not something we have to achieve, but is a gift that has been given to us, left waiting for us, if only we are willing to break free of the man-made cycles and structures of this world to accept the spiritual health and wellbeing that Christ readily offers. For, as scary as it may be to leave behind those structures that we are so used to operating within, that tell us if we don’t achieve their standards we fail, and not only do we fail ourselves but we fail our friends, our spouses, our children, our parents and grandparents, we fail our entire community even those whom we never were going to impact anyways, as scary as that promise of failure may be, the reward is the peace that we seek, as unimaginable as that may be to grasp.

We can have the peace of Christ. Each Sunday we catch a glimpse of this in that moment of peace-filled recognition we experience when we turn to our neighbor, whether friend or stranger, and say The Peace of the Lord be ALWAYS with you, and we respond in kind And ALSO with you. We need only recognize this, recognize what has been left for us by Christ. When the world comes to trouble us again simply remember that Christ’s peace is always with you, and may you then share that peace with every person you meet.

Amen.