Who are we?

File:Mount-Yamnuska2-Szmurlo.jpg

Thursday

Psalm 8

4What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
5Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,

The psalmist stands before the majesty and wonder of the world and asks the question, “Who are we, that you should show such care for us? Who are we that you should crown us with glory? Who are we that you should entrust all this into our hands, that you should grant us the honor of exercising your care of your creation?”

The poet is exulting in the wonder of human existence. We are the ones who get to peer into the farthest reaches of the universe. We are the ones who get to climb earth’s highest mountains and plumb its greatest depths. We are the ones who get to study the mysteries of DNA and the flight of the bumblebee. We are the ones who can breed wolves into sheep dogs and retrievers and fluffy little white things to sit in our laps. We are the ones who train a grape vine to grow on a trellis and dance with the joy of wine. We are the ones to take cows milk and turn it into Gruyere and Gorgonzola. We are the ones who master fire and the atom. We paint the Sistine Chapel and the murals of Diego Rivera. We are the ones who turn mold into penicillin and learn to purify water.

Yet you have made us but a little lower than gods!

But we are not gods. If only we could get that right. We are not gods. We were given the privilege of exercising God’s care of the earth. It is ours to tend, not ours to rape and pillage. It is ours to treasure not to plunder. We were given the animals to name not to slaughter. We were given one another to love not to wound and kill.

We are privileged above all other creatures. But we lose our way when we lose wonder and praise…when we turn from the one who made us…when we forget all this is a trust…when we reach for God’s throne…when we forget who we are.

 

image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMount-Yamnuska2-Szmurlo.jpg by Chuck Szmurlo [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
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How majestic

File:Natural bridge in Bryce Canyon.jpg

For Wednesday

Psalm 8

9O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

God’s name is more than the four letters known as the Tetragrammaton, the four consonantal letters that are the name of God recorded as ‘LORD’ in most translations. God’s name is his history, his deeds, his words. Just as “making a name for oneself” is more than fame – it is ‘made’ by one’s accomplishments.

Frank Lloyd Wright made a name for himself with a few houses and buildings – exquisite works of genius – but still, rather limited in scope.* God formed the Tetons and the Snake River beneath it. God formed the glories of Bryce Canyon and the giant redwoods. God formed the Andes and the Amazon basin. God formed Victoria Falls and the islands of the Pacific.

God formed the majestic blue whale and the strange creatures of the deep. God formed the flocks of storks migrating between Europe and Southern Africa, and the bar-headed goose fighting its way over the Himalayas. God formed the roly-poly bugs and the lizards darting to and fro. God formed the chipmunk and the eagle, the salmon and the bison, the crocodile and the hippo, the rhinoceros and the tiger. God formed the honeybee and the monarch butterfly in its epic journey. God formed the Narwhal and the Great White. God formed the exquisite marlin and the jerboa; the beaver and the platypus; the mountain gorilla … and all this is just our one moment in time. We haven’t spoken of the wondrous creatures of the fossil record or the rise and fall of mountains and seas and the continents that came together and drifted apart.   And all this on one small planet near a small star on the fringes of a galaxy in the vast canopy of the heavens.

God’s name is majestic because God’s work is majestic – not just the work of creation but the work of freeing a people from bondage, teaching them justice and mercy, calling forth prophets, raising and casting down nations, suffering the sorrows of the world, and summoning the world to compassion and truth.

God’s name is majestic because God’s work is majestic: bending to take flesh, healing the sick, gathering outcasts, raising the dead, laying down his life to reconcile his rebellious world to himself.

God’s name is majestic because God’s work is majestic: pouring out God’s spirit, inspiring healers and reformers, researchers and leaders, builders and artists, singers and soldiers, all the plethora of ways we are able to serve one another and grant beauty and joy to the world.

God’s name is majestic because God’s work is majestic: inspiring the laughter of children, the ecstasy of lovers, the bonds of parent and child,

God’s name is majestic because God’s work is majestic: inspiring the prayer of the mystics and the charity of the saints and the courage of the martyrs.

God’s name is majestic because God’s work is majestic.   God’s love is majestic. God’s faithfulness to his wayward world is majestic.

9O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

*Note: Yes, Frank LLoyd Wright designed over a thousand building and did many other things – but still, compared to the heavens and the earth…
The photograph is in the public domain: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Natural_bridge_in_Bryce_Canyon.jpg

Loving and beloved

File:Detail kazuifel J.L. Sträter drie-eenheid.jpg

Watching for the Morning of May 22, 2016

Year C

The Feast of the Holy Trinity

Two weeks ago I celebrated a baptism of a small child at a local park. Why is another conversation. Baptism belongs in the worshipping community, but this seemed the right thing to do. It was a lovely spot, beneath a sculpted arbor, shaded by old trees, with a pond behind us and a fountain in the distance. It was a place that invited hands to be joined, lovers to kiss, vows to be spoken, and those long together to pause in tender affection. How perfect that we should gather as a small community in that peaceful spot to hear God claim this child as God’s own – an inheritor of God’s promised new creation and participant in God’s mission to the world.

Three times we poured water over the head of the child “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Not three names; one name. One name identifying the God upon whom we called as the one who brought forth the world in love, became incarnate of the maiden Mary, and breathed upon the followers of Jesus to empower their witness to the world. One name linking creation and redemption and sanctification. One name known to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to Moses and Miriam, to Hannah and Samuel, to Ruth and David as LORD. One name who breathed into humanity the breath of life and by the breath of the Spirit summons us back to himself. One name, One God, Triune but one. Begetter and Begotten. Loving and beloved in God’s very being. Mystery to us. But lover of us. Calling us to live in that divine love.

The texts for Sunday go several different directions. Proverbs relates wisdom, the underlying order of the world, personified and summoning us to feast at her table. The Psalm speaks of God’s creating, and the honor shown humanity: a little lower than the angels but entrusted to exercise God’s dominion, God’s care over all the earth. Romans exults in the peace with God wrought in Christ, and the Spirit’s presence as one through whom “God’s love has been poured into our hearts”. And Jesus, in John’s Gospel, again declaring the gift and work of the Spirit.

The texts point several directions, but are tied together by this mystery of the Trinity: the God who is beyond conception but is known by a work and a name: “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

The Prayer for May 22, 2016

O God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
of Moses and Miriam,
of Ruth and David,
of Mary and Joseph;
God wrapped in mystery and wonder,
who breathed life into our first parents
and your Holy Spirit into all creation;
God who loves and fathers and sends
and is loved and begotten and sent;
help us to praise you rightly,
love you fully
and walk with you faithfully.

The Texts for May 22, 2016

First Reading: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
“The Lord created me at the beginning of his work.” –
Wisdom, the knowledge of the fundamental truths of existence, is personified as a teacher and speaks of its role in the formation of all things.

Psalmody: Psalm 8
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them?”
– A song of praise marveling at God’s care for human beings and their role as stewards of God’s creation.

Second Reading: Romans 5:1-5
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”

Gospel: John 16:12-15
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth”

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADetail_kazuifel_J.L._Str%C3%A4ter_drie-eenheid.jpg By Marikevanroon20 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Evening of Holy Trinity

Sunday Evening

Andrei Rublev's Trinity, representing the Fath...

Andrei Rublev’s Trinity, representing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a similar manner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

“We come here each Sunday morning to take off our shoes and remember the ground.”

(From today’s sermon, “The Ground of our Being” – posted in Recent Sermons)

Majesty and Mystery.  We don’t always find that in every worship service.  Some are joyful and fun.  Some are thoughtful and profound.  Some are, it must be said, a little routine. It’s like family dinner.  Sometimes, when the tomatoes are finally ripe, it’s homemade BLTs and vanilla milkshakes.  Sometimes it’s a hearty ragu.  Sometimes it’s broccoli and rice.  They all have their place – Christmas dinner and a simple warm soup in the winter – and in each of them God touches us … even, and perhaps especially, in the ordinary.

Today touched something profound.  Something of the vastness of God – and yet at the same time, the goodness of God.  Majesty and mystery.  Appropriate for this day when we speak of the One God, Father Son and Spirit.

The Most Holy Trinity

Saturday

English: A Chiton magnificus

English: A Chiton magnificus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some years ago while camping with my youngest daughter along the Lost Coast in northern California we found the shell of what looked like a trilobite on a rock on this remote and isolated shore.  Not a fossil, mind you, but something recently living, a deep red color, the strange ancient look of armored plates.  It had an unearthly quality to it.  Out of place and time.  It was strangely disconcerting.  Something I had not seen before.

It was not a trilobite, of course.  But in those days before the internet I couldn’t find someone who knew that it was a chiton, a marine mollusk with a snail like foot rather than the legs of a horseshoe crab, the true descendants of trilobites.

It’s hard to describe that sensation of being in the presence of something that seemed not to belong to this world: a mix of wonder and awe and dread.

We talk so easily about God.  We invoke God’s name with such confidence.  We imagine we know.  What has become of the wonder, awe and dread the ancients felt before the transcendent power of the universe?  Some of this is the fruit of the Christian message that God is love.  Jesus taught us to call the eternal one “Father”.  Jesus made God seem more human, approachable, loveable.  This is good, of course, important to say to those who live in fear or who feel alone in the world.  But what happens when we lose that sense of God’s otherness?

Tomorrow is not just Trinity Sunday; it is Holy Trinity.  In the Roman calendar it is officially the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.  And we should not rush past that word holy, for that is the word that speaks of God’s otherness, that declares we are in the presence of something beyond our experience.

God should be unsettling.  Sinai was unsettling – the people begged for God not to speak to them directly, but through the human voice of Moses.  The things Jesus said and did were unsettling – they got him crucified.  The cross itself is profoundly unsettling, Jesus hanging there in anguish, abandoned, and God silent where we would expect the rage of heaven to rain down fire.  The empty tomb is unsettling, beyond all human experience. Pentecost is unsettling – the roar of a mighty wind and flames of fire and the ecstatic proclamation in every language – people leaving home and country to go out around the world to herald God’s reign.  None of this is familiar to us except we have made it so by telling the story so many times.  Even the message of forgiveness should be unsettling, for such is not the world we know.

The Most Holy Trinity.  The strange and unsettling power at the heart of the universe that creates and loves and redeems.  There is a reason Isaiah falls on his face in the temple when the seraphim sing “Holy, Holy, Holy.”  We should too.

Does not Wisdom call?

Friday

Proverbs 8

1Does not wisdom call,
     and does not understanding raise her voice?

It is not God’s way to leave us in our ignorance.  We may choose to stop learning, but God never ceases to call.  God never ceases to invite.  The creation around us, the Spirit of God woven into the fabric of existence, begs for us to understand.  The little child asks “Why?” and every answer engenders a new “Why?”  Sometimes it drives us crazy and we resort to that authoritative parental “Because” – or, “Because I said so” – but the questioning, the seeking, the searching for understanding, is woven into the warp and woof of our being.

I don’t know why we stop seeking and growing and learning, but some people do.  “I know what I believe, do not confuse me with the facts.”   We have made it easier in our time to get the “facts” you want from the news you want.  There’s a channel or a magazine or a website for everyone now.  Think tanks used to think, now they advocate for a position already decided upon.  And pat religious answers seem to stop all intelligent thought about the wonder and mystery of God and life.

Maybe there is something in our DNA that inclines us to stop thinking, stop learning, stop growing.  If so, it is not from God.  Wisdom calls to us.  The universe sends out its siren voice summoning to understand.  There is truth awaiting us.

And we have a choice whether or not to listen.

From before time

Thursday

Grand Canyon, from South Rim near Visitor Center

Grand Canyon, from South Rim near Visitor Center (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

25Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth–

The layers of rock go down through centuries, through millennia, to times when the continents crashed together and moved apart, times when seas covered what are now mountains and mountains covered what are now seas.  There are coastal redwoods now turned to stone on the top of the Rockies.  To hike down from the rim of the Grand Canyon is to travel 1.84 billion years back in time.

Before the time when those redwoods flourished, before the time when the Appalachians where higher than Everest and joined the Atlas Mountains in Africa, before the time when the earth was an ice planet, before the time when the earth was without water, before the time when the earth was without oxygen, before the time when the earth was yet interstellar dust, there was what Israel called Wisdom and the Greeks called the logos.  There was the inner logic of all things, the rational principle woven into the fabric of all existence.

It came from God. And it was God.  Through it all things were made.  And it became flesh. And we have beheld his glory, says the author of John.

That inner logic, that order, that foundational “wisdom” was not just Planck’s constant, and the laws that govern the weak force and the strong force and the behavior of quarks.  Love is woven into the fabric of existence.  The love of the Father for the Son.  The love of the Son for the Father.  The love of the Spirit that binds them.  The love of the one God for all existence.  The love of the one God for you and I.  It was there in the beginning.  Before time.  Before space.  In the heart of God.

As hard as it is for us to comprehend the Trinity – this much we can grasp.  That love is part of the being of God.  And for there to be love there must be a beloved.  God in himself is lover and beloved while still being one.

We do not understand it.  But it means God is able to love us.  And in this love we live and move and have our being.

The dance of wonder

Wednesday

Psalm 8

3When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
4what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

Milky Way

Milky Way (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The earth is 4.5 billion years old.  Humanity’s time upon the earth is a mere breath.  Our solar system speeds at 124 miles per second around the center of a galaxy with 200–400 billion stars stretching across 100,000–120,000 light-years.  Numbers beyond comprehension.  Our galaxy is 13.2 billion years old, surprisingly close to the 13.82 billion years since the “big bang.”  It is but one of an estimated 176 billion.

We don’t need the numbers to recognize that we are small and fragile creatures in the vastness of the cosmos.  I will never forget seeing replicas of the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery, the three ships that brought the Jamestown colony to the shores of what would be Virginia.  I was small, and they seemed small even to me.  I couldn’t believe they had crossed the vast expanse of the ocean in what were little more than rowboats. I feel small enough looking over the ocean from shore; imagine being in the middle of the Atlantic beneath a 360 degree horizon of the most brilliant night sky?

It is either the height of hubris or the wonder of all wonders that God cares for us.

Of course, if it were hubris, the poet would not be wondering how it could possibly be true.  Nor would we.

True faith is not childish narcissism; it is humble wonder, gratefulness and adoration.  And if the heart of the universe is turned towards us in love – then the very least I can do to join the dance: the dance of delight in God, and the dance of compassion for others.

Watching for the morning of May 26

Year C

The Holy Trinity:
First Sunday after Pentecost

Is it the doctrine of the Trinity we come to celebrate, or the mystery of God?  Do we honor a teaching or a God who in ways we cannot comprehend is Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

It is easy to say this Sunday is about doctrine.  But doctrine is not an end in itself.  Doctrine both guards and opens the door to a right encounter with the divine.

We are too often preoccupied with the regulatory function of doctrine.  What I appreciate about eastern liturgies is that they recognize the doxological function of doctrine.  If I am to praise my wife, it is good and necessary to praise her truly.  If I exult in something she is not, the relationship we have is fundamentally false.

So we praise a God who is source of all – not just a construction engineer, but the architect in whom the cosmos was conceived.  And we praise a God who is present, whose breath and life force are here, opening hearts and lives to the mysteries and powers of the divine.  And we praise a God who is visible in the man from Nazareth, who weeps, who sleeps, who prays, who suffers, who lives.  And all this is one God, somehow, so that each part is all, and there is no all without each part.

We praise a God whose very essence is relational, whose essence involves not only “self” but “others,” whose essence makes meaningful the declaration that “God is love”.

This is far more than doctrine.  It is mystery.   It is wonder.  It is the source and goal of our praise.

Prayer for May 26, 2013

O God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
of Moses and Miriam,
of Ruth and David,
of Mary and Joseph;
God wrapped in mystery and wonder
who breathed life into our first parents
and your Holy Spirit into all creation;
God who loves and fathers and sends
and is loved and begotten and sent;
Help us to praise you rightly,
love you fully
and walk with you faithfully.

The Texts for May 26, 2013

First Reading: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 (“The Lord created me at the beginning of his work.” Wisdom, the knowledge of the fundamental truths of existence, is personified as a teacher and speaks of its role in the formation of all things.)
Psalmody: Psalm 8 (“What are human beings that you are mindful of them?” A song of praise marveling at God’s care for human beings and their role as stewards of God’s creation.)
Second Reading: Romans 5:1-5 (“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”)
Gospel: John 16:12-15 (“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth”)