Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Waiting . . . before doing and dancing . . .

     My mind, I suppose, has been a bit much on dancing this week.  It began when I was at Cornelia’s house visiting with her and her husband.  It was a chance for me to get to know them and for them to express some areas of ministry in which they felt interested and gifted.  Anyway, at one point, Cornelia surprised me with some poetic observations.  My knowledge of Cornelia to that point had been limited to church and to Bible Study.  She is a thorough student of the Bible and serves sometimes in class as the “cross-referencer.”  So I was stunned and impressed by our discussion.  I told her that she reminded me of John Damascus and his discussions of the perichoresis, or holy dance of the Holy Trinity.

     My thoughts about dances continued during the week as I talked with Karen and Hannah.  Hannah had her recital yesterday, which means she had rehearsal earlier this week.  Some of you have already commented on her outfit and on her choice of snack afterwards from Facebook, as well as commiserate with me that I could not be there to watch her.  For her part, Hannah thinks the recital went well.  They did not do enough twirling to suit her.  Many of you all have met Hannah and have learned she loves to twirl in her skirts.  Not twirling in her outfit yesterday was, in her mind, a waste of a great costume.

     You might wonder why I am thinking of dance and costumes in light of our readings today.  I see the nods.  The idea of a dance and a costume seem far from our assigned readings.  But the ideas are not that far off from the subject matter at hand.  This week we are in a week of transition.  On Thursday, we celebrated the Ascension of Jesus.  Although we remind ourselves week in and week out of His death, Resurrection, and Ascension, not many of us make it to church to celebrate His Ascension.  Ascension Day is important to us because it serves as that reminder that He has taken our human nature into the divine Godhead.  True, it is our resurrected nature, but that in no way diminishes the significance.

     Next week, of course, is the Feast of Pentecost.  Next week, we remind ourselves that we have been gifted with whatever we need to accomplish His calls on us.  As Claire said it beautifully, some of us have been called away and some called to stay, some called to lead and some called to work, and each part of a whole whose picture we may not see nor understand until we stand in the presence of His unfiltered glory.  But His calls on us are always to glorify Him in our service and to reflect our relationship with Him in our ministries and lives.

     This week, though, we stand in a bit of transition.  Jesus has ascended to the Father.  As He ascended, our Lord instructed His disciples and Apostles to wait until the coming of the Holy Spirit.  And so they waited.

     I imagine it was a difficult time to wait.  Human nature being what it is, I can only imagine the building excitement and energy at every report of encounters with Jesus.  The seeming utter defeat of almost a couple months back probably passed through various stages of disbelief, hopelessness, and confusion to wonder and awe, hope, and certainty.    Can you imagine?  All of us present struggle at various times in our walk with God.  I have not heard all your stories in these first few months, but I know the stories.  We understand we are not worthy of grace and we struggle with the idea of not receiving something we do not deserve.  And when those crises of faith hit, those events which cause us to question whether there is a God, whether we really matter to Him, whether He really loves us, whether there really is an invitation with our name on it to His Wedding Feat, we naturally doubt.  No doubt some of you think that if He just appeared to you like He did Peter or Paul or whichever disciple or Apostle is your favorite, your crises would no longer be crises of faith.  It is hard.  He knows it.  That’s why six weeks ago He told the Apostles and disciples that those who believe and have not seen are blessed!

     But imagine if He appeared to you.  How would you live?  Once you were convinced it was not a hallucination, how would Jesus’ appearance affect you?  Could you see yourself preaching as Peter does today?  Would your prayers become more fervent and more determined?  Would you be more likely to share whatever you have with whoever was in need?  Would you give thanks to God without ceasing?  Sounds like you might fit in well to the early Church, huh?  But before the early Church got to that fruit, it had to pass through this Sunday in its life together.  Can you imagine the feeling?  Why are we waiting?  What is it He is promising us?  I can well imagine it was a period of pins and needles.

     My guess is that they tempered their enthusiasm with the command of the One who had been raised from the dead.  It would be hard, I think, to argue with a command from Jesus the Messiah.  It would be like us ignoring the red letter statements in some of our Bibles.  Why are some of you laughing?

     For us, it provides an opportunity to reflect upon God’s promises to us, and that’s where the dancing and John’s perichoresis comes in.  We remember this Sunday, even as we look anxiously and expectantly toward next week’s Feast of Pentecost, in light of God’s promises.  Jesus has ascended to the Father to prepare a place for us.  Meanwhile, those of us who are left to work on this earth are promised that we will receive all that need to accomplish His will.  Not some.  Not most.  We will receive all that we need to accomplish His will.  So, what do we need?

     Our Vestry will be wrapping up this evening its own exploration of Time & Talents.  Last week, we named the gifts we saw in others.  This week, after prayerful discernment, we will claim some of those perceived gifts for our work at Advent.  All of that, of course, is in preparation for the congregation doing the same this fall.  Who are we?  What are we called to be doing?  As a parish?  As small groups?  As individuals?  How do we even know we have a gift?  This transition week speaks to those questions.

     Have you considered what is going on in Heaven, even as we sit here?  If God created the cosmos in six days, why did He screw up and hire contractors for our mansions in heaven?  Tell me you never wondered that.  Why is it taking so long?  We live in a part of the country that may accept the idea of Jesus with a hardhat constructing billions of mansions in heaven.  But does it ever strike anybody as an odd understanding?  It did John Damascus.

     John described the Trinity as a holy dance, a divine waltz, if you will.  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were engaged in this relationship that resembled a beautiful dance.  As observers of that dance on earth, we are limited by our perspective.  All three might be engaged in the dance at the same time, but our position caused us to see only the dancer who appeared closest to us.  Sometimes the Son seems to blot out our perception of the Holy Spirit and the Father.  At other times, we more clearly see the Holy Spirit.  Still at other times, we see the Father.  Maybe, as our angles and perceptions change over the years, we see the Son and the Father, or the Father and the Spirit, or the Son and the Spirit.  But given our finite natures and the glory of this magnificent dance, we simply cannot perceive it in its infinite glory and complexity.  We take its existence on faith and our encounters with the three dancers.  The glory of this dance, according to John, was such that we would be awed by its patterns and joy and amazing music.  Then something glorious happened!

     John, using this metaphor, taught that the purpose of the work and person of the Son, was to carve out a space for us in this amazing dance.  Think of that for just a second.  Metaphors about God tend to fall apart eventually, but think of the apt comparison of this one.  We began in a garden with unfettered access to the Lord.  We rejected the teaching of Psalm 1 and sinned, thereby losing that unfettered access.  To bridge that chasm created by sin, the Lord sent His Son, who died for our sins and was raised as a promise and a pledge to us.  Now we are in that time when the Son re-ascended to that magnificent dance, this time taking our human nature into the dance as well.  It is a beautiful image, is it not?  And it reminds us of where we are this week in the life of the Church.  Jesus has accomplished His work that you and I and all who claim Him Lord might enter into this glorious dance of the Trinity!  But there is still work for us to do on earth . . .

     I remember when I was a youth, one of my mom’s friends tried to teach me how to dance.  Donna was insistent that I go to dances and not stand against the wall staring at girls.  She had these books for disco and feet patterns—I see some nods, you all used them too.  And she would make me practice.  I remember my first dance.  I was nowhere prepared for what I faced.  I still had no rhythm.  My friends at Simms were more into break dancing than disco.  And boys and girls in those days at that age were not big about spending time close to each other.  Cooties were still a big word in our vocabulary.  You are laughing, but I tell it with a point.  How many of us fear that we are going to be discoing when we should be waltzing?  How many of us are afraid we will be twerking, when He expects line dancing?

     When it comes to talents and accomplishing His plans, how many of us protest?  I could never do that?  I simply would not know where to begin?  If God wants someone to do that, He better get someone better equipped than me?  If God wants me to consider that, He’d better use the burning bush or the Damascus Road to convince me?  Ever have that kind of argument with a friend, with a fellow member, with a pastor, with God?  Of course you have.  We all do.  This week in the life of the Church, though, encourages us to take a step back, to reflect upon God’s promises, in preparation of the gifts we might be given in fulfillment of next week’s story.  Put in the language of the Holy Dance of John, you and I are taking a moment to catch the beat, to see the pattern, to limber up, and finally to begin to enter that amazing, glorious dance and relationship.  You have heard it said that God loves you?  John reminded the early Church that He wanted nothing more than to dance with you!  He has carved out a space in that majestic dance and holds out His hand, that you and I and all other might join Him in that mystical, beautiful, joyful dance of eternity!  Nothing, not even our own death will prevent us from that dance for all eternity, if we accept His outstretched hand!

     Best of all, He knows our needs!  He knows which one of us have no rhythm.  He knows which ones of us are wont to step on our partners’ feet.  He knows which ones of us are worried our attire will not work with the dance.  So He has promised to teach us this dance, to give us all that we need, that we might begin to take our part in that glorious waltz, captivating and encouraging others to join Him and us as we dance eternity away.  Yes, we call those gifts by non-musical names, but that is because the dance is just a metaphor.  Really, what we are called to join is a relationship that is full of perfect love. 

     That dance, for us, begins on earth in fulfillment of that feast we celebrate next week.  Whatever shortcomings, whatever lacks we had in preparation for His call upon our lives, our Lord has promised to meet.  If we discern His call upon us rightly and if we discern a need to accomplish that call correctly, we know, we know with absolute certainty that someone among us, or about to be among us, will be equipped to see that call fulfilled.  It is an incredible promise.  And it flies in the face of all that we are taught in the world about how to succeed.  We are supposed to wait and trust?  Should we not be practicing or developing skills?  When we or others identify them in us, we certainly should.  But we must remember that the one who offers salvation is the one who promises to equip us.  He can no more fail to equip us than He can fail to save us, if we call upon Him.

     We spoke last week of the relationship between grace and joy.  This week, we look a bit closer.  We have been invited to a dance of mystical beauty, to a Wedding Feast of incredible bounty, and to a life that has no ending!  We should be a happy people, a celebrating people, a joyful people, a dancing people.  It is in that kind of relationship with our Lord, forged through the work of the Son on the Cross and empty tomb, that we are made able to face the trials of this world and herald His kingdom that is to come!  Make no mistake, we face incredible trials.  We face privation, broken relationships, death of selves and loved ones, disease, and any number of other events in life which seek to convince us that God does not love us, that He does not care for us, that He is “above” us.  In truth, this time of transition reminds us that we are called to live our lives in a time of transition.  We are invited, we are longingly sought, we are loved infinitely by God.  And it is He who sends us into the world to testify to His grace, who equips us to accomplish those missions He has given us, and who makes sure that, when the time comes and we see Him face to face, we will know Him and His love for us and take our place in that holy dance that never ends.

     Brothers and sisters, much is made of people who march to a different drum, who glide through the world as if they are hearing music the rest of us cannot have.  That, my friends, is who He intends us to be.  That, my friends, is the real call on us.  We are not of this world; we are His.  Maybe in this time of reflection we can all take a moment and reflect how our lives might better reflect the joy, the hope, and the mystical dance a bit better.  And pray to Him who desires nothing more than for us to be glorified in Him, that He equip us for incredible, transforming work in His name in the world around us.




Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Three lessons on Haiti -- A reflection by Advent youth . . . led by Claire G!

Clearly, we all had experiences we’ll never forget in Grand Goave. We met some of the most amazing and humbling people, and everyone there was always so eager to say Bonjour or Bonsoi to all of us. Haiti was an amazing experience, but what was even more amazing was watching all of the girls I went with use their gifts and talents and sometimes discover abilities and passions they never knew they had in them. Some of us might have even found our callings while we were there.

Haiti was my first mission trip out of the country, and even out of my little corner of the United States, and it was perhaps one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had or will ever have. We came to Haiti to help its inhabitants, but ultimately the people of Haiti taught us a much more important series of lessons that I have tried to keep on my mind and in my heart as a part of my time in Haiti.

Lesson one: The gift of knowing God is the best gift you can give a person. 

If you don't know much about the country of Haiti or its economic standing, especially after the earthquake of 2010, I'll give you a brief history lesson that we were taught upon arriving. When Christopher Columbus discovered Haiti and the Dominican in December 1492, he nicknamed it the Pearl of the Antilles, and his reason behind such a nickname was clear. However, since then, Haiti has used up nearly all the resources it has, and it has since been declared a fifth world country, meaning that Haiti is not expected to ever be able to rise out of its economic turmoil. Most of the men and women we worked with had next to nothing, and nothing at all to give, and yet they were the most giving people I have ever met. The two-bedroom house we built that week was for a young man we met named Alain and his six siblings and his mother and father, and each day Alain was on the job site helping amateurs like us complete all the work that needed to be done, but more so, they taught us about God. All the people of Haiti really have to give is their knowledge and love of God, but they give it so freely. From the moment we stepped foot on the job site, they were teaching us everything they'd learned in church. They recounted Bible stories and asked us why we loved Jesus all week, and really made us reflect on our lives throughout our time spent with them.

Throughout the week I kept thinking of my favorite verse, one I learned in school once: John 13:35 says "By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another." I hope that our group left more behind in Haiti than the supplies we brought in extra suitcases and the home we helped build. I hope we showed this place and its people the love of God, because that is what sticks with people, and that is how God is truly revealed through us as his servants.


Lesson two: Allow God to park your heart somewhere. 

Chris, our group’s leader for the week, told us this before we left Haiti, and it has stuck with me ever since: God parks everyone’s heart somewhere. Of course, to assume that going somewhere like Haiti to serve is the only way to take a big risk for God would give this message an ineluctable flaw. It is necessary, as Chris told us, to recognize that God does not call everyone to Haiti, nor does he call everyone away at all. Because sometimes, the riskier thing to do for God is to stay exactly where you are and keep doing what you’re doing for the time being. Sometimes God calls us to go, and sometimes he calls us to simply allow our feet to sink in a while and stick with our current involvements.


Ecclesiastes 11:6 says “Keep on sowing your seed, for you never know which will grow—perhaps it all will.”

I’m learning that sometimes it’s actually more God-honoring to stay. Deal with an uncomfortable family situation, help people in need in our own community. Now, that’s not to say that there isn’t a need in Haiti, where we spent our summer, or any other place. For many people, this is a calling. We were blessed enough to be called to Haiti this summer and, speaking for myself,  had I not gone, I would not have grown so much in my faith and learned so much about my passions as I know now.

However, a problem arises when we are made to feel lesser for opening our eyes to how God might be wanting to use us right where we are, embracing the uncomfortable in our midst. Maybe God wants to use you as a change-agent at work or in the church, as the glue in your neighborhood, as the light in your social circles and family.

So, if God is telling you to drop everything for the big risks, don’t ignore it. Our trip to Grand Goave, Haiti taught me more in a week than I have learned in all my math classes and history classes over the years combined. It is, however, to say that your passions and your calling, though perhaps not as glorified as some of these major “risks for God” is no lesser in stature. Read scripture, pray, and learn where God wants you to be. 

Lesson three: Don't let yourself conform to culture. 

Haiti showed us a culture and a lifestyle that I have never known before, and in leaving Haiti, we were reminded that there would be temptation to forget all the little life lessons that we learned that summer as we slipped back into our regular routine and the culture that we’re blessed enough to know in our world. We were read the verse Romans 12:2, which says, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will." We were shocked when we heard this verse that this could have been written in Jesus's time, because it is so fitting for right now. Haiti taught us so much and made us better people, and I also believe that for many of us, it opened our eyes to the direction God is pointing us in for the rest of our lives.

I don't yet know whether that place that God has parked my heart is in a place like Haiti or Nashville or somewhere entirely different, but I do know that the Lord has placed in me and all of these girls a passion for serving others. Haiti, for us, has a face now. A face of love and compassion of the men who worked alongside us and of the sweet children to whom we taught Bible lessons, and a face of the sense of community we shared with everyone there. I think it’s safe to say that God has parked a little piece of each of us in Haiti.
Claire G