July 2017 Convocation Newsletter
We spent a good deal of time together considering what are we communicating and how. I hope that you found this weekend to be of some use to you in your work as communicators, communication being the work of the church — communication being the church itself. You are witnesses of these things, Jesus says. Well, witnesses to what? There are four gospels and another source that tell us of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Besides the four gospels, of course, we have. . .
The most amazing and life-giving discussions have occurred at times where my mind has been elsewhere, my body tense. Yet it was when I focused myself on being present on the here and now, just for a little while, that magic happened. That God appeared. Today’s gospel reading, the story of Doubting Thomas, echoes the importance of being present. This morning, we find the disciples of Christ in a bad way. They are grieving, they are devastated, and they have locked themselves away in their house out of fear that they might receive a punishment as painful and humiliating as Jesus. Everyone is there, everyone is scared and everyone is suffering. Everyone except Thomas.
Twenty years ago, an American singer named Joan Osborne riled people up with a song named, “One of us.” The Canadian star, Alanis Morissette, re-issued it five years ago. . . "If God had a name what would it be? And would you call it to his face? If you were faced with him in all his glory, what would you ask if you had just one question?. . . What if God was one of us?"
One of my earliest memories is my mother giving me a bath in the kitchen sink. Yes, there was a time when I could fit in one, though I must say our home had a rather large sink. Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, doing what a servant would normally do. Feet get dusty in that part of the world. And even today, the foot is the obscene part of the body. If a Middle Easterner does this – shows his foot -- it is the equivalent of a well-known Western hand gesture. Touching feet, never mind washing them, is deeply shameful. The disciples must have been quite surprised that their beloved Teacher would stoop to do this. Well, they were grown men, too big to fit in the kitchen sink. But those feet needed washing. And they all needed to be part of Christ, for their lives’ sake. So they first needed washing, before they could be fed.
One of the things that I have been involved in is the welcoming of refugees to France, principally from Iraq but now also from Syria, those refugees who are persecuted . . . threatened with death directly and personally because of their faith. Most of them are Christians, but some of them are Muslims of minority persuasion, Alawites and so forth. I want to just start today by telling you a story from one family of refugees. A couple and their children came to the Cathedral in September. They had just arrived in France, in August, from Mosul.
In today's reading from Romans, Paul raises the issue of the law versus faith. And, this of course, is a theme of the Protestant Reformation, and in particular, the thought of Martin Luther. The law seems to be in the writings of Paul, a way of death, something that condemns us, as we cannot keep it. And, on the other hand, justification by faith gives us a new way to live…a way forward that is open to us by believing and accepting that Christ died for our sins that we might be free from them, that Christ rose from the dead, that we might be free from death. All of this, I don’t want to deny, but I want to go a little further in the question of law versus faith.
The first Sunday of Lent is always devoted to the story of the Temptation of Jesus in the desert. After John baptizes him, Jesus is pushed out into the desert by the Holy Spirit. All three Gospels tell the story, although Mark is the shortest. "Subito dopo, lo Spirito lo sospinse nel deserto; e rimase nel deserto per quaranta giorni, tentato da Satana. Stava tra le bestie selvatiche e gli angeli lo servivano. (Vangelo secondo Marco 1:12-13 NR06)" Matthew and Luke add the famous three challenges of the devil, which Mark omits. Why?
Today is one of the great feasts of the Church, the feast of the Transfiguration. It is such a great feast that we celebrate it twice in the church year -- a second time in August. But the last Sunday in Epiphany is always the feast of the Transfiguration. It is about this extraordinary story that we have just read in Mark’s version of the Gospel. Jesus takes the three disciples who are closest to him and takes them up on a high mountain where something happens. Jesus ‘morphs’ in front of them. Rather, we use the word ‘transfiguration’ which is the Latin translation of the Greek word which is metamorphosis. And what does Jesus become?
St. George's Cathedral Jerusalem. I am here as part of an interfaith pilgrimage, with a group from the U.S. composed of Jews, Muslims, and Episcopalians. We are here to meet God in one another and in the midst of the Abrahamic traditions we share. We have spent the last week in conversation with people who are working to build bridges and make peace. We have remembered that the work requires vulnerability, and a willingness to make space where God might enter and make peace in us and in the world around us. Listening deeply to the story another person tells is an essential and holy way of opening that space. What does that require of us?
[Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Paris] Those of us who remember the old Latin Mass know that it always ended with the reading of the opening of John’s Gospel: In principio erat Verbum… The priest who could rattle it off the fastest and get us out was always the favorite. And yet, this text of all texts deserves to be taken slowly, like reciting a great poem by John Donne, savoring a 100-year-old cognac, gazing at a Cézanne. “In the beginning was the Word… and the Word dwelt among us…”