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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Three for one...now's that's a good deal

The concept of the Trinity is one of the most enduring (and controversial) mysteries of the Christian faith.

It has been accused of being non-scriptural.  This, at least in a sense, is true.  Jesus never commanded anyone to believe in the Trinity, however he does several times explicitly mention a third manifestation of divinity that would be present after he departed this earth.  Today's Gospel passage (John 15:26-16:15) is one such example.

In reality, the Trinity is a doctrine which was essentially extrapolated from somewhat oblique Scripture references combined with the experience of Pentecost and later experiences of the divine that believers had.

How can God be one and three all at the same time?  How can God be unified but divided?  Are Trinitarians essentially polytheistic?  God and Jesus are comparatively easy to grasp as concepts, but what are we to make of this "Holy Spirit"?  Who or what is it?  How does it operate?  Why does it exist?

These are some of the questions I address in my sermon for this Trinity Sunday.

Click here to download the podcast.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

What language do you act?

Well, today I unfortunately forgot my recorder, so you're going to get the written summary from memory of my sermon.

Today is Pentecost, the day upon which we are told in the Book of Acts (Acts 2:1-21) that the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples and worshipers present at the event of Pentecost.  As a result of this, those present, who were from a number of different areas and spoke a number of different languages, were miraculously able to understand one another.

We often take for granted our ability to communicate verbally.  Most of us are unaware of how many people we speak to or hear speaking in a day.  Imagine being stripped of your ability to communicate either verbally or through the written word.  Imagine being unable to understand or to make yourself understood.

The events of Pentecost make me think of an experience I had while doing a hospital internship during seminary.  I was called to emergency where I was briefed on a situation: an elderly couple had been walking down the street when the husband suddenly collapsed.  Despite the efforts of the staff, he had died shortly after arriving at the hospital.  I was called to comfort the disconsolate wife, but there was a problem: she was Italian and did not speak a word of English.

I do not speak a single word of Italian.  This was before my ordination, and so although I was functioning in a pastoral capacity, I did not have a collar, which would otherwise have been a convenient way to identify myself to her.

By chance, I happened to have a rosary in my pocket for some reason, and I showed that to her, and she seemed to understand.  Even if she did not understand who or what I was, I was nonetheless able to sit with her, hold her hand and be a presence to her.  That was all I could do, but it was clear that she appreciated my presence.

There are other ways to communicate than language.  Anyone who has has traveled to a foreign country or been accosted by a tourist in our own country where languages differ has perhaps felt the frustration of not being able to communicate.  You have maybe also felt the thrill of pleasure that comes from breaking through that barrier through gestures or another method of communication.

On its surface, the Pentecost miracle is about language.  It makes me think that behind the story of the Pentecost miracle lies a deeper meaning, a meaning that you and I can tap into.  I have often said that one of the problems with the Biblical miracles is that if we focus on the miraculous, we may find it hard to relate to because most of us cannot perform miracles (and if you can, let me know, we can take that act on the road).

On a deeper level, I think the Pentecost miracle is not so much about language, but about communication.  As my previous reflections explain, language and communication are not always the same thing.

As the maxim goes, "Actions speak louder than words".  Compassion, peace, justice, love, mercy, tolerance: all are ways of communicating with one another which transcend language, race, religion, creed and colour.

Unfortunately, hard-heartedness, war, injustice, hatred, vindictiveness and intolerance are also ways in which we can communicate with one another.  These actions speak just as loudly as their positive counterparts.

What language will you speak?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Why you should never play with matches

As a child, I fell afoul of the rules of my home once or twice.  One instance particularly comes to mind: I was 5 or 6 years old and I was discovered lighting matches in the basement of our home.  On that occasion (as with a few others) I was punished for my deeds.

At the time, I was resentful of that punishment.  I felt that my parents were trying to ruin my fun.  I did not understand why I should be stopped from doing something as fun as setting things on fire.

Years later, my mother made a comment that helped put a few pieces of the puzzle together.  She said to me, "You are a part of me".

It seems now like such a self-evident point, but I realized in that moment that people cared so much for me that what I did actually affected them.  What I did affected the members of my household and family.  My parents were concerned for my health and well-being.  Yes, my match-play may have burned down the entire house, and I'm sure that was a concern, but I think the principle concern was for my own safety.

This connection, this sense of oneness is perhaps felt more viscerally between a parent and child, but this sense of connection can also be felt between close friends, other family members, colleagues.

This is what Jesus is driving at in today's Gospel passage (John 17:2-26).  He is trying to point out the fundamental inter-connectedness of all peoples and indeed all persons.

How nonsensical would it be for us to discriminate against our hand?  To oppress our foot?  To dislike our own eye to the point that we want to poke it out?  To abuse our own flesh?

It would make no sense at all.  But if we acknowledge that we are connected (as Christ and just about every major world religion and culture has implied or stated explicitly), that we are one, how would that shift our responsibility towards one another?  If we would not abuse our own bodies or would not abuse our friends and family members (and I certainly hope we would not do that), why do we feel that it is acceptable to discriminate, oppress, abuse, exclude, be unjust or intolerant towards other people or peoples?

To download the podcast of my sermon for this Sunday, click here.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Not all ends are bitter

Eschatology (Gr. eschaton meaning "last" and the suffix -ology meaning "study") is quite literally the study of last things or the end of things.

Most often used in a religious context, the concept of eschatology finds equal traction in the sciences and in history.  The environmental sciences speak of an eschatology in terms of events leading up to a large-scale climate change or a critical level of pollution.  History speaks of eschatology in terms of events leading to a drastic shift in political power.

A common misunderstanding about eschatology, both religious and secular, is that it refers to total annihilation.  Eschatology is often confused with apocalypticism (which is also an often misunderstood term, but that is for another post).  It is equated with the end of all things.

In reality, eschatology does refer to the end of something, but what is often an overlooked corollary is that is the end of something giving way to something else.

So while we can confidently say that Jesus was eschatological, that he was referring to destruction, annihilation or cataclysm is less certain.  One could cherry-pick and twist any number of Biblical passages to make a compelling argument either way.

Jesus was definitely talking about a passage from one thing to another, but from the Gospel passage for today (John 14:23-29), he is not talking about anything destructive.  Rather, he seems to be envisioning an end to the way things were at the time: partisan, litigious, corrupt, oppressive, divisive.

And are things that different today?  Jesus replaces these things with love for one another.  He envisions a world where God is not just located in a temple or in a building, but where God is the principle of love, compassion and justice working within us and among us.

Imagine what a new world like that would look like.

To download the podcast of my sermon, click here.