Thursday, September 28, 2006

a thin place at the altar

Notes for a sermon on The Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels
September 28, 2006 5:45 p.m., Trinity Cathedral Sacramento
Genesis 28:10-17, Psalm 103 or 103:19-22, Revelation 12:7-12, John 1:47-51

GENESIS: Jacob’s ladder represents a thin place – a boundary point between the material world and the world of the spirit. Indeed, Jacob declares the place of his dreamtime a sacred site: “none other than the house of God, and the gate of heaven”.

Angels – God’s messengers – ascend and descend upon the ladder, bridging heaven and earth. Angels who are aligned with God’s purposes are his messengers.

But like other created things, angels can be good and fallen and redeemed. Angels may also be described as principalities and powers – the spirits of institutions and of peoples. They are “the powers that be” (as Walter Wink calls them) – made by God, called by God to a purpose. The spirit of a nation is made for good, but it may turn away; many first century Christians and Jews experienced the empire of Rome as demonic.

REVELATION: Michael overthrows the adversary – the angels that are obedient to God’s call confront the angels that have misaligned themselves apart from God’s purpose. They are defeated; there is no strength in them. Eventually God will put all powers in subjection under his Christ, will rightly align them in harmony with Christ.

GOSPEL: As Jesus tells Nathanael, the guile-less true son of Israel (Jacob), the Son of Man himself forms the bridge – the thin place, the boundary point -- where the sacred and the ordinary coincide. Christ accomplishes this through the victory of the Cross: through his obedience, and through his sacrifice. And we encounter him; we will know him, in the breaking of the bread.

“The small round piece of Eucharistic bread is the point from which the whole creation emerges….‘The fires at the center of the earth, the sun above, all the divine essences and ecstasies come to this silence at last – a circle of bread, and a cup of wine on an altar.’

When we look at the bread of the Eucharist we are looking at the point of ‘everything that is made’ – God embracing everything that God has made.”

On this still, small, point is the turning of the world: created, redeemed, and made holy by God.

As we prepare to remember our Lord in the breaking of the bread, may the better angels of our nature, summon us to gather as God’s people, called together for his purpose. AMEN.

Walter Wink, The Powers That Be (Doubleday, 1998)
Donald Nicholl, The Testing of Hearts (Darton, Longman & Todd, 1998)
Timothy J. Joyce, Celtic Christianity (Orbis, 1998)
Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address

Sunday, September 24, 2006

downward mobility

Jesus and his disciples went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me." (Mark 9:30-37)

On this journey Jesus tries to hide from public view and avoid publicity. He is trying to teach his disciples something difficult, something mysterious.

For the second of three times, as they travel together, he teaches the disciples that he – the Son of Man, the Messiah, the holy one of Israel – must be betrayed, and suffer, must be killed, and rise again.

The disciples don’t get it. Instead, they argue among themselves who is the greatest.

Jesus teaches the need for humble service.
Whoever would be first must be last,
Whoever would be greatest must be least.

Whoever would find himself must lose himself, deny himself, become lost.

Jesus teaches by paradox – there is no worldly purpose to what he is saying.

Whoever receives one such child, receives me,
Whoever receives me, receives not me but the one who sent me.

Can those who are last have a deeper relationship with Jesus, who made himself last by accepting the Cross?

Indeed, Jesus himself – the Messiah, the holy one of God – has cast aside worldly greatness. In an upwardly mobile world, he seeks


For he did not clutch to himself equality with God but humbled himself and became human, became one of us, taking the form even of a servant. And he has promised us that where we have visited the sick, fed the hungry, visited the prisoner – the last, the least, the lost – there we have found him.

Receive as Christ “the last, the least, the lost” (Dean Baker’s phrase).

In the brokenness of humanity we meet him. In the brokenness of others, however unlovely, there we find him. And we find him – and he finds us – in our own most unlovely, broken places. There he is, in the midst of us: his body, broken for us, his blood, shed for us, his life, given for us.

Welcoming the discarded child within yourself is also welcoming Christ.
The child you receive may be the Christ Child.
The Christ child receives you.

Where were you? We ask God: in the midst, hungry, naked, oppressed, poor, in mourning, in Eucharist, in celebration, in the hope of the resurrection.

In assurance of eternal life given at Baptism, let us proclaim our faith and say,

We believe in God...

Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to you Richard Yale’s father, our brother Ted, who was reborn by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. Grant that his death may recall to us your victory over death, and be an occasion for us to renew our trust in your Father’s love. Give us, we pray, the faith to follow where you have led the way; and where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, to the ages of ages. Amen.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace, as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13) And may the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.