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Anointed by the Spirit to Be Gentle “Christs”

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible readings

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

I would like to start out by commending you all for braving this morning’s storm to attend church. By so doing, you have undoubtedly added to your treasures in heaven. Now for the actual sermon!

Last Friday was the feast of the Epiphany. In the Western Church, the focus of that feast day is the manifestation of the Christ child to the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi. But in the Eastern Church, the focus is the Baptism of Jesus. So in a sense, this Sunday is a liturgical tip of the hat to our Eastern brethren. And as the focus of the day is baptism, the Episcopal Church commends this day either for baptisms or for the renewal of baptismal vows. That explains the insert found in your bulletin.

baptism-of-christ-1483Our readings begin with a poem about God’s Servant, taken from the 42nd chapter of Isaiah. I call it a poem, because the Hebrew is written in a classically poetic style. But the reading comes across more as a service of installation or commissioning than an actual poem. The unnamed Servant of God is first commended to the listeners. Then, he is directly addressed by one who speaks on behalf of God. We learn that this anonymous figure has received God’s Spirit and will be a bringer of justice to all nations, not just to Israel. He will be a light to open the minds of those who live in spiritual darkness. And he will free those who are imprisoned, both literally and metaphorically. What is particularly striking about this Servant of God is that he will be exceedingly gentle to the weak and the vulnerable: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench.” Now, the identity of this Servant of God is a source of some debate between Judaism and Christianity. Our Jewish brothers and sisters see the Servant as a personification of Israel, while we Christians have consistently maintained that the Servant of God is none other than Jesus Christ. And today’s Gospel reading, we see that Isaiah’s proposed service of commissioning was, in fact, fulfilled in the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan.

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Baptized with the Holy Spirit and Fire

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Click here for a printable pdf version.

Lectionary Readings

Today is the feast of the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, one of four feast days in the liturgical calendar reserved for baptisms. On these days, if there are no baptisms, it is recommended that the congregation renew their baptismal vows instead. So, at the 8 o’clock service we renew our vows. But at the 10 o’clock service, we are blessed to have three baptisms. And I do mean blessed! For we are both blessed and privileged to participate in the incorporation of three new members into the Body of Christ through the action of the Holy Spirit.

We learn something about the working of the Holy Spirit from today’s readings from Luke and Acts. In the Gospel of Luke, we have the story of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. John the Baptist is preaching repentance to the people of Judea and inviting them to be cleansed of their sins through a baptism of water. But he freely admits that one greater than he is coming who will offer a greater baptism, a baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire. That greater one is, of course, Jesus Christ. And that greater baptism is baptism in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

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Grace

A sermon preached at the Church of the Incarnation, San Francisco, on July 5, 2015, by Christopher L. Webber.

Lectionary Reading

America TwoMany years ago  my best friend and I decided to go to  a conference in Wichita Kansas.  You can guess how long ago this was by the fact that we decided  to drive there from Long Island. We stopped overnight in Pennsylvania  and got to Wichita late in the afternoon,  checked in to the hotel, and went down  to the restaurant for dinner.  It wasn’t a formal conference dinner  with speakers and all that;  just dinner in the hotel restaurant  before the opening session. We sat there for a long time  and finally my friend said,  “Does it seem as if we’re being ignored?”  I just figured the staff was really busy  because the place was full  and they’d get to us sooner or later. Eventually they did.  But my friend was black  and he saw things out of different experience.

On the way back we needed to find a motel for the night  and stopped at one in the middle of Missouri.  I went in first with my friend right after me  and told the clerk,  “We need a room for two.” “Sorry,” he said, “but we’re full.  There’s another place  down the road that might have a room.”  Well, maybe they were full.  It’s not impossible.  I’m sure it happens.  But I’ve gone into a lot of motels  before and since and never been told, “We’re full”  except that one time.  Maybe the clerk was telling the truth,  but because my friend was black,  we couldn’t be sure. And I realized that if you are black in America  that kind of thing happens a lot  and you can’t ever be sure  you’re being told the truth.

I remember another time  when my friend came for a visit,  and arrived in a rage  because he’d been stopped, basically,  for driving while black. Later he became a bishop  but he died before he was 50 of a heart attack.  He had chronic high blood pressure  and nothing in the world we live in  was helpful for that condition.

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The Holy and Undivided Trinity, One God

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Lectionary Reading

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Irish_cloverThe Episcopal Church has seven principal feasts in its liturgical calendar. As it happens, two of them fall back to back, Pentecost and Trinity Sunday. And since last Sunday was Pentecost, this must be Trinity Sunday. This day is the bane of junior clergy, because all too often senior clergy leave it to their juniors to preach on the mystery of the Trinity. Now, there is a way out: one can always preach on the assigned readings instead. But this Trinity Sunday, I have decided to rise to the occasion and say a few words about the central dogma of the Christian faith. Pray that I don’t stray into heresy!

Before you get too anxious, let me reassure you that you are not expected to understand this doctrine fully. No one does! During the reading of the Athanasian Creed, prescribed in the 1662 prayer book, one was asked to repeat these words: “The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.” George Bernard Shaw was reputed to have added the words: “The whole thing is incomprehensible!” And he had a point; the mystery of God is beyond our understanding. A god that we could fully comprehend would not be the transcendent God of the Bible, but something less.

Given our limitations, why should we even try to understand the nature of God? Well, I can think of two good reasons. One is that we are expected to love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind. Moreover, how can we say we love someone if we don’t try to know that someone as profoundly as possible? And so, we do our best to understand what God has revealed about the divine nature. The second reason for trying to understand God is to better understand ourselves. The Bible tells us that we are made in the image and likeness of God. In other words, we are made in the image and likeness of the holy and undivided Trinity. And Trinitarian doctrine, far from being a useless theological exercise, helps us understand our true nature and calling.

As many critics of the doctrine have noted, the Bible never uses the word Trinity. But the New Testament does talk about God as Father, God as Son, and God as Holy Spirit. The early Church experienced God in three different ways. And yet, at the same time, the Church firmly believed in the oneness of the Godhead, as expressed throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and as summarized in the Shema, the Jewish pledge of allegiance. Some early theologians dismissed the threeness as appearance only and not as reality. But most theologians firmly believed that both the threeness and the oneness that God had revealed to humankind in salvation history reflected the inner reality of the Godhead. They refused to believe that God dissembled. So they struggled to understand the apparent paradox of the threeness and oneness of God. In the end, the Church Fathers turned to the language of Greek philosophy to express the doctrine of the Trinity. But I will spare you the philosophy lesson!

It took over three centuries of heated debate to iron out an understanding that we might charitably call “the least wrong.” Many approaches were eventually condemned as heresy, because they either overemphasized the threeness or they overemphasized the oneness. For those not versed in Greek philosophy, the Church Fathers often used everyday metaphors and similes to help explain the Trinity. For example, the Trinity is like a three-leaf clover; or the Trinity is like water that can take the form of ice, liquid, or vapor; or my favorite, the Trinity is like three flaming torches, whose flames are combined and which burn as a single flame. But each of these similes ultimately fails if pushed too far and results in an incomplete and unbalanced understanding of God’s nature, in other words, in heresy. The Eastern Church attempted to pictorially represent the Holy Trinity as the three angels that visited Abraham and Sarah, united as one in a common meal. I love this icon! Even so, it seems to me that the threeness of the angels outweighs the oneness of the shared meal in this icon. (Clearly, the Orthodox disagree.)

385px-Angelsatmamre-trinity-rublev-1410

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He Ascended into Heaven

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Ascension Day, one of the seven principal feasts of the Episcopal Church, is next Thursday. But we’re allowed by the rubrics in the prayer book to transfer it to another weekday, and so we are gathered here today to keep that great feast.

Just to make sure that we’re all on the same page, let me define what is meant by “the Ascension.” In the end of Luke’s Gospel, and again in the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke tells us that, for 40 days after the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to the apostles and spoke to them about the kingdom of God. On the 40th day, on the Mount of Olives, Jesus was taken up bodily into the sky and disappeared into a cloud before the very eyes of his apostles. That assumption of Christ’s resurrection body into the heavens is the Ascension.

Now, this story clearly has great visual appeal. And artists throughout the ages have depicted it a number of ways. One early medieval artist showed people devoutly kneeling on a hill with their hands joined together in prayer looking up toward a cloud. And from out of the cloud all you see are two feet sticking out! A later artist portrayed the full image of Jesus majestically floating up into the sky with his arms in the orans position, the position of the priest during the eucharistic prayer. More recently, Salvador Dalí depicted the Ascension from still a different perspective; in his painting, the viewer is looking up directly into the noonday sun and sees the soles of Jesus’ feet directly above him or her, surrounded by the sun’s rays.

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