Monday, July 18, 2005

Sermon A11, July 17. I think I actually got ahead a week with the lectionary, but oh well

IN today’s scriptures, Paul continues to widen our concept of life in the spirit. Before, we are told that life in the Spirit of Life resides in us, and therefor we are no longer subject to Sin and Death. Paul’s concept of Sin is more about a dominating power in the world, not bad behavior. Paul speaking of life “in the flesh” is a metaphor for a life that is ignorant of our true life within God’s Kingdom, working to make that Kingdom more apparent to the world. This is life “in the Spirit.”
When we see a tree struggling to survive, leaning toward the sun, gnarled and weathered, it is possible for the eyes of faith to see nature leaning toward its redemption.
It is true of our present experience, that we can easily be overwhelmed by the frustrations of this imperfect moment. Struggling with indwelling sin and the sense of our separation from Christ, is part of a disciple's lot as we yearn for the dawning of the new age, for peace and joy. It may help us in our frustration, if we realize that the whole of the created order, the whole of the cosmos, is caught up in the devastation wrought by human rebellion and so groans, as we groan, for release, for freedom.
For the present, we hope for the dawning of eternity and we taste it in the gentle renewal of our beings through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Yet, in this present moment we are bound by the imperfection of this age. Perseverance must be our rule. It is God's will that we be "conformed to the likeness of his Son," and through his indwelling Spirit interacting with the troubles of life, be daily transformed into the image of Christ. We must be patient as we are daily shaped, never losing sight of the glory to come. We must fix our eyes upon it, such that the "now" is transformed by the "not yet."
Likewise in the parable, Jesus asks us to see beyond the small, insignificant seed to what it contains. The mustard seed—the smallest of seeds, contains something quite great. When I lived in California, one of my favorite places Lara and I visited was Sequoia National Park. When I was last there, I was walking in the midst of these gigantic trees, gawking at their sheer size and age. In the “Giant Forest” at 6000 feet in the southern range of the Sierra Nevadas, I was walking amidst trees that towered 250 feet over my head, that were as big around as half of this sanctuary. I can remember standing in the middle of a cluster of three of these glorious trees and looking up. The cinnamon red of the bark extending into the sky, seemingly holding up the sky—and then I looked down. At my feet was a tiny cone, closed tight to protect the seeds. There being no other species of trees around, I was left to ponder the seemingly ridiculous thought—does this massive tree come out of this tiny cone? I looked around and noticed the forest floor littered with the same cones. Is this possible? This cone was smaller than the pinecones you’d find in the Ouachitas being produced by much smaller trees. Yet it was true! The “now” was thoroughly transformed in that moment by the “not yet!”
Another “personal parable” given me by this natural sanctuary that seems to connect with today’s epistle lesson. These tiny cones that are closed so tightly---do you know what is required for them to burst open and release their seed? Fire! The existing tree’s foliage is so high that the flames rarely reach to ignite them, and the bark of the Sequoia is so thick that fire cannot pierce them. So that which we would assume detrimental to the forest is actually life giving. It is necessary! Paul writes that “the difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs!” Though it may be tempting for us to focus on the fire, though we may get caught up in the trials and tribulations of life—we are called to see beyond. To wait with joyful anticipation.
I can tell you that I’m glad I’ve never had to experience the excruciating pangs of labor. Though I sense that it is a very deepening experience, I don’t know that I’d be cut out for that sort of thing if I were a woman! For the life of me, I do not know how and why the concept that men are “tougher” than women ever made its way into the collective conscious of humanity. After watching my wife give birth back in March, it is a mystery to me! Perhaps we men have for ages told ourselves that we’re tougher to assuage the real fear and dread that we would ever be subject to such a throttling pain that we see women go through in birth! Paul does not discount the hardships of our present state—but he re-aligns the way we think about the difficulties of life and death and pain and suffering by pointing us beyond. The pain and heartache of today does not compare to the joy and glory of what’s to come! If we can only project our minds through the present moment to expose the utterly mind blowing liberation that we are leaning on! That doesn’t numb us to what is going on in the here and now—Paul’s intention is not to drug us up with some pie in the sky hope for the sweet hereafter. It instead give us a crystal clear vision of where we are now so that we can perceive the “not yet” within the now! It is as if we are Sequoia cones laying on the forest floor enduring the scorching heat of the fire. And instead of just laying there concentrating on what we are going through, God’s gift to us as little Sequoia cones is to have the ability to look up and see the towering canopies of our potential! We still burn and explode, but we do so with God’s vision for us planted deeply in our little Sequoia cone hearts!
Perhaps it is a comfort for us to know that we are not some suffering strangers in a cold, lifeless world. Paul tells us that all of creation groans for redemption. We are in the same boat with the entire created order. God plants in us a unique vision for the world, and creates in us as humans the unique ability to do something creative and intelligent about our predicament. And yet, we squander that ability when we use our power to destroy instead of create. Instead of inspiring others with God’s vision for the future—which we find in the Gospel—we are content to let the world groan. Instead of pointing beyond the birth pangs to the joyful expectancy of new birth, we keep silent, and thereby add to the lamentation. Why? It is easier to join in the chorus than it is to cut through the noise with a new song. It is easier to fall into line and bite our tongue when we see the oppressed, when we see war and injustice, when we see tears and sorrow. Getting involved in the labor is a messy ordeal.
Paul’s words of comfort are that our resurrection life is a life of joyful anticipation. Our resurrection life is the kind of life in which we see the mystery of the Divine as clearly and lovingly as we see a caring father. In the text, Paul refers to God as Jesus did throughout his ministry—as Abba. Not “Heavenly Father” or some other language to remove us from God, but instead the word is translated best as “Daddy, or Pappa.” When we live with such joyful anticipation as Paul was leading us toward, when we look at a Sequoia cone and can see the largest tree in the world, when we attune our ears to the groaning of creation for redemption, and are willing to live as children of God, that is when the veil between the Kingdom to come and the Kingdom in our midst is as thin as sheer lace.
To return to the Sequoia Forest analogy once more, one other amazing thing about the Sequoia trees is this. Not only do they spring from a tiny cone like this. Not only do they derive life from something we would assume would endanger it. Sequoia trees are also a model for the Kingdom of God because they work cooperatively to achieve their height and size. The Sequoias grow at about 6000 feet in the Sierra Nevadas, where the soil is a shallow 7 or 8 feet deep. Now if you took this Oak outside our church here, If you could yank it out of the ground without damaging the roots, you’d see that the roots go about as deep into the ground as the tree is tall. But the Sequoias live another way. Because the soil is not deep enough for the trees to sink roots deep enough to keep the tree standing, they instead send their roots out to the side and grasp the roots of other Sequoia trees. By the interlocking of roots, the forest begins to act as one large organism, and the trees are of mutual benefit to one another! Likewise, in the Kingdom life, we as aspects of God’s creation will begin to comprehend our interdependence with one another, and with all other aspects of God’s creation. In the Resurrection Life, in the Kingdom Life, there will be no fooling ourselves with lines of boundary between “us and them.” We will open our hearts and mind to the other just as we would to our friends and family. There will be no dichotomy between human creation and non-human creation, because we will see the entire Web of Creation as an interconnected, interdependent organism. No longer will we trample the roots that bind us together and keep us all standing tall and proud. Instead we will acknowledge these connections and nurture them. In doing so, we will magnify God’s name. As the Holy Spirit, the Holy Wind of God gives voice to the forest, as Isaiah writes “the trees clapping their hands” we, like a Sequoia forest whistling in the wind, will break out in a song completely guided by the Holy Breath of God. This is the New Song, borne of the groaning of Creation for redemption. This is the Song of the Gospel, and Christ is teaching us the tune.

No comments:

Post a Comment