Monday, May 21, 2018

Holy Spirit: Harness the Energy of Love

            “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” Now, I can imagine the sound of a rush of a violent wind. I can get my head around understanding the native language of each. I can even understand those who sneered and thought the disciples were drunk at 9 o’clock in the morning.
But this whole business of divided tongues, as of fire, resting on each of them quite literally leaves me scratching my head. And then I watched Bishop Curry preach at the RoyalWedding. At the end of the homily, he referred to something a Jesuit Priest named Telihard de Chardin once said. If we can harness the energy of love, then we will have discovered fire for the second time.
Today, on Pentecost, we celebrate how the power of the Holy Spirit breathes life into Church. We celebrate how the power of the Holy Spirit makes us one despite our many cultures and languages. And we celebrate how the power of the Holy Spirit harnesses the energy of God’s love in the lives of those who have decided to follow Jesus.
What better image is there to capture harnessing the energy of love than divided tongues of fire resting on each of the disciple’s heads? But what does it mean to harness the energy of love in practical terms? I’ll share a few images that I hope will bring this beautiful image down from the clouds.
Imagine you are a golfer. You’ve practiced every day of your life. You’ve read every magazine. The mechanics of your swing are perfect. You are having a great round, and you’ve done everything right until the sixth hole.
You’ve hit the ball where no one has gone before. You see a small opening through the trees. You visualize the shot. You tell your body what it needs to do to make it happen. All your practice and prior experience give you the confidence.
At that moment, you forget everything else - the trees, the prior knowledge, the risks involved – and feel your way through the swing, feel your way through the thing you do best. The ball comes off the club just right and rolls up to a few inches from the hole.
You’ve harnessed the energy of your golf swing into that one shot. First, by remembering what you’ve been taught. And then by forgetting it all and trusting yourself and your body to feel your way to the perfect swing.
Maybe you’re not a golfer. You are a performer. You are a singer. You know you can sing. Your family and friends know you can sing. People from your church and community know you can sing. But what about all those people who don’t?
You’ve been invited before a national audience. You step out on stage to a blinding light. You can’t see any of your family or friends. You can’t remember why you agreed to do this in the first place. But you remember your voice singer saying, “just start singing.”
So, you start singing. You feel your body and spirit hit the right note and you forget about everything else. You feel your way through the song you love to sing, the song you were born to sing. When the song is over, your mind is buzzing with an excitement so loud you can’t even hear the shouts from the crowd. You’ve harnessed the energy of your voice into that one performance.
Maybe you’re not a golfer or a singer. You are a cook. You’ve mastered every recipe from every cookbook you’ve ever owned. You’ve even come up with your own recipes, recipes that others are always calling to ask about.
You’ve been asked to cook for a big church function and you must use the church’s kitchen appliances, et. al. You’ve cooked for a large group of people before. You’ve cooked using kitchen appliances other than your own. But never at the same time.
It’s getting hot in the kitchen. The pots are boiling, the oven is smoking, disaster looms. You take a deep breath and say, “I can do this. I know I can.” You start working your magic. You turn the oven down, crack the door. You move the pot of water off the hot eye.
And you feel your way through the rest of the kitchen. You never even touch a measuring cup or teaspoon or cookbook. You’ve harnessed the energy of your culinary skills into a church dinner that will be talked about until the end of the ages.
If you are still searching to understand what it looks like to harness the energy of love, look at Jesus – the One who was governed and rule by love at every level of his being, the One whose love oozed out of every word and action, the One whose love turned everything around and upside down.  
By your presence here today, the Holy Spirit is poised to harness in you the energy of Christ’s redemptive love. And that makes you a part of something that has and will change the world. Using the words of Bishop Curry, that makes you a part of the Jesus Movement. In my words, the Jesus Movement is about living according to a love that brings healing and wholeness to a broken and sinful world.
Even more, it is about recognizing that living according to this love will put you in situations where you will not always be comfortable. The love of Jesus will call you deep into the woods or in front of bright lights or into environments that you are unfamiliar with. The world is more broken and wounded than you would like to think.
But the Spirit has the power to help you remember your training in righteousness and help you forget it all at the same time in order to feel your way through any situation through the power of love, through the power of Jesus’ love. The Holy Spirit is harnessing the energy of the love that is already in you to change the world around you – wherever you find yourself.
One of my favorite prayers in the Great Litany says, I confess my failure to commend that faith that is in me. These divided tongues of fire resting on your heads are outward and visible signs of the love God has already harnessed in your hearts, harnessed in your hearts when you were created – a love that we misused, a love that Jesus redeems on the cross.
And now the Holy Spirit comes to give us confidence to use this love for good, to use this love to bind up the broken hearted, to give hope to the sorrowful. The Holy Spirit comes to inspire us to love like Jesus loves, to love the poor and even enemy like Jesus.
The Holy Spirit comes to encourage us with a love that will make a way out of even the darkest places, encourage us with a love that will gladly make sacrifices not only for the common good but also for the most vulnerable among us – children, widows, orphans.
The Holy Spirit commends the faith that is in us not simply by reminding us of the words of our faith - in the scriptures, of the Creeds, of the prayers in the prayer book -, but also with sighs too deep for words, by reminding us of what it feels like to be loved and to love, by reminding us of what it feels like to forgive and be forgiven, by showing us what the peace that suppresses all understanding really feels like.
The Holy Spirit is humanity’s chance to discover fire for the second time, and when we do, discover fire for the second time, when we do harness the energy of love that is within us, lives will be healed, lives will be saved, communities and nations will be healed and saved, bridges will be built, barriers will be erased, sin and disease will be burned away with the fire of a love that will not stop until, like Bishop Curry said yesterday, this earth is a sanctuary for all.
As we see in today’s lesson from Acts and as we saw at yesterday’s Royal Wedding, when our words and actions are directed by the unstoppable force of God’s love, then others will sneer at us, others will look at us like we are speaking a different language, Elton John might even give us the biggest sad face ever, but through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can continue to feel in our hearts the burning power of a love that changes the world, the burning power of a love that has already changed the world through Jesus Christ.
On this Pentecost, may the breath and fire and word of God speak to you in such a way where your heart burns with a love that has the power to make every relationship, every word of bad news, every disappointment, to make everything that is broken new with the love Jesus has redeemed the whole world with. Amen.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Only An Act of True Love...

            “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” I can’t help but to be reminded of a movie that I have seen at least three-hundred times – thanks to my five-year-old daughter Mary Katherine. In the popular Disney movie Frozen, the main character, Anna, is dying of a frozen heart and only an act of true love can thaw this frozen heart.
            Based on every other love story we know, one might assume that the cure for Anna’s frozen heart is found in a true love’s kiss. However, the story takes an unexpected turn when a true love’s kiss is not in the cards. It appears that the story will end tragically.
            The duplicitous Prince Hans, the supposed true love, has the kingdom of Arendelle right where he wants it. Instead of giving Anna a true love’s kiss, he leaves her to die from a frozen heart. The only thing left to do is kill Queen Elsa, Anna’s sister, and then the kingdom will be his.
            As Prince Hans raises his sword to kill the Queen, Princess Anna steps in front of the sword and repels the blow when she turns into an ice statue. While Anna saves the Queen, it appears she has sacrificed her own life – she is frozen.
As the Queen cries over the loss of her sister, something magical happens. Anna begins to thaw, and the animated snowman named Olaf states the obvious, “Only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart.” No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
            As I’m sure you’ve heard before, the word “love” in the English language can mean all sorts of things. Saying, “I love my mom” is quite different than saying, “I love bacon” (at least, I hope!). Saying, “I love my children” is different from saying, “I love the Chicago Cubs.” The kind of love in each situation is different. We love in different ways.
The Ancient Greeks used four different words to describe the nature of love. There is eros which is an erotic love that one typically shares with a spouse or partner. There is philia which is a brotherly love that one typically shares with a friend. There is storge which is a familial kind of love that works like an unwritten rule or code. And there is agape which is the kind of love that lays down its life for another. Agape is the true love that thaws a frozen heart.
While these different types of love are gifts from God, the kind of love that has the power to change and transform the world is agape. The kind of love that Jesus is talking about in today’s gospel lesson is agape – this is greatest love of all. Agape love is what transforms the world.
The reason eros cannot transform the world is because eros is fickle. It either burns hot or runs cold. It cannot endure because it is completely dependent on emotion, and we all know how trustworthy our emotions are. Not even a true love’s kiss can save the world.  
The reason philia cannot transform the world is because philia depends on reciprocity. I will love you if you love me. At some point philia love will fail, because at some point human beings will fail to love us back. Storge love cannot transform the world because storge is done out of obligation. Using the language of today’s Epistle, it can become burdensome.
However, agape love transforms the world because it is selfless, it is unconditional, it requires nothing in return. Agape says, “I love you even when I don’t like the way you make me feel.” Agape says, “I love you even when you don’t love me back.” Agape says, “I love you not because I have to but because loving you is only way I know how to be toward you.” Ultimately, agape says, “I love you no matter what.”
For us human beings, agape is hard to comprehend because the human capacity to love is so conditional, the human capacity to love depends on so many external factors. Using an image in the book The Five Love Languages, the human capacity to love is directly related to how full our love tank is. If our tank is full, we love well. If our tank is empty, we love poorly.
The five love languages (words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch) are the different kinds of fuel we require in order to fill our love tank. Some people need more acts of service while others need more words of affirmation. These love languages are in some way or another expressions of eros, philia, or storge. 
While these expressions are good and from God, they are like fossil fuels – finite and limited by circumstance. Based on the love tank analogy, humanity sees love as a commodity, as something to be consumed. And when we run out, we try to syphon love off somebody else, we try to bargain for love which is a dangerous task.
But through and in Jesus, God shows us a love that is more like a renewable energy, like the air we breathe. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, God shows us that agape love is infinite. While eros and philia and storge can fill our love tank and bring us happiness, these expressions of love do not last. They are incomplete, but even after eros and philia and storge have failed us, agape endures, agape love makes our cup runneth over, agape love abides.
Jesus says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my (agape) love…I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” In other words, agape love not only abides when the other forms of love fail us but agape completes the human experience of love. Agape love can even reintroduce eros and philia and storge back into our language of love even when our love tank runs dry.
We do not consume agape love like we consume eros and philia and storge. Rather, agape love consumes us, it comes from a God whose love is eternal. Agape chooses us; we do not choose agape. Jesus says, “You did not choose me but I chose you.” Jesus chooses us fickle and selfish human beings because God’s only posture toward us is love – nothing has or will change the truth of God’s abiding love – a truth established in Christ Jesus.
This is good news because without the abiding agape love of God, we as human beings will run into a love shortage very quickly. As the country song goes, we will go looking for love in all the wrong places. Eros will run cold. Philia will betray. Storge will become superficial and inauthentic.
But agape has the power reframe how we share and experience true love. In Christ and through Christ and with Christ, we learn that we are loved simply because we exist, we learn that we exist simply because God is love. Love is the reason for our existence. When everything else in the world is telling us otherwise, God’s love, poured out for the world in Christ Jesus, is telling us, “You are loved no matter what.”
Best of all, agape love multiplies when shared, this kind of love increases in us when we give it away. Agape love can never be wasted – not even on those who have the most frozen of hearts. Even if agape is shared with someone who won’t accept it, agape will still grow in your heart.
Someone said, “the heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love.” If love doesn’t grow in you when you give it to someone who rejects your love, then it is not agape – it’s conditional. Agape is unconditional. Agape love is only interested letting the other know they are loved.   
Beloved, when you are sent out with the words, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” today, I want you to hear, “Go in peace to agape the world.” When you are dismissed into the world, you are being sent back into places where it seems the story will end tragically. There are a lot of broken hearts and frozen hearts out there. There are a lot of hearts that are empty and desperately trying to find places to be filled.
 And you have the cure, you know that the cure is better than a true love’s kiss, better than a fairy tale; you know the source of true love, you experience true love at this altar every Sunday when you are nourished and strengthened by the love of Christ Jesus broken and poured out for the sake of the world. So, go this day and believe with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul that true love, agape love changes and heals a broken heart and a broken world. Amen

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Incarnation: Restoring the Human Image

            Today the Episcopal Church recognizes Athanasius who served as the Bishop of Alexandria in the mid to late 4th century. Athanasius came of age during the early 300s when Constantine legalized Christianity. As the different groups of Christians started to come out of hiding, it became clear that not all thought alike. In fact, many Christians were turned against each other over differences in theology, and Athanasius was at the center of one of the biggest debates during this time.
He debated Arius who concluded that Jesus was not God – only a creation of God with divine-like qualities. At the end of the day, Athanasius won the argument by stating that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. The Church proclaims this truth in the Nicene Creed when we say, “of one Being with the Father.”
At first glance, one might wonder why the church has shed so much blood, sweat, and tears over making correct theological statements. Does it really matter that Jesus was both God and human? Does it really change things if he was simply a perfect man?
While I am no polished theologian, the implications of Jesus being both fully human and fully divine are huge. In the humanity of Jesus, we are free to see the divine nature in us all. In other words, Jesus restores humanity to its true image. In Jesus, we see who God intended us humans to be when God made us in God’s own image.
The implications of Athanasius’ theological statement on the nature of Christ not only direct how we see God but also how we see each other. Like the writer of I John said, we cannot separate our love of God from our love of neighbor. If we say we love God, then we must love our brothers and sisters for our God is both human and divine.
This past week in Montgomery at the opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice the world was reminded of what happens when we do not see the image of God in all people especially in those who differ most from us. 
Essentially, when we do not see the image of God in the other, we dehumanize them. And when we dehumanize the other, we have the capacity to commit heinous acts against the other. Consequently, we dehumanize ourselves when we treat others as less than human.
The fully human and fully divine nature of Christ is how God opens our eyes to see in our humanity the image and likeness of God. If we can see in ourselves and in others the likeness of God, then our eyes are opened to the value and preciousness of every human life. Every life is of value – especially the lives of those whom society has deemed less than. And the memorial in Montgomery is a humbling and powerful reminder of humanity's on-going need to be restored in the image and likeness of God through Christ our Lord. 
There is no doubt that we as human beings will continue to do terrible things to each other. However, I am convinced if we see in the other the image of God, we will change how we live, how we love, how we forgive, how we confess, and how we show compassion. If we see in the other the image of God, families and communities and even nations will be open to the transformation that happens by the dwelling of Christ in every human heart.
On this day, may we give thanks for a God who restores the human image and human dignity in us all by dwelling in us and among us in Jesus Christ. Amen.