Saturday, June 10, 2017

What God Does Is Who God Is: Reflections on Matthew 28.16-20 (RCL Trinity A, 11 June 2017)

What God Does Is Who God Is
Reflections on Matthew 28.16-20

RCL Trinity A
11 June 2017

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

                  28.16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

            I knew that it was going to be a difficult trip as soon as I arrived at YVR.  The longest of the three flights I was to take that day was full and I had been assigned my second least favourite seat:  the window.  The only consolation that I could find was the excellent novel I had purchased at YVR and the knowledge that I still had enough Air Canada status points to board early.

            I boarded the flight, put my bag in the overhead bin and sat down with my novel opened to the first page.  Within a few moments the aisle passenger arrived, clearly someone accustomed to business travel.  He sat down, smiled at me and then opened the Globe and Mail.  He and I thought we had it made, just the two of us and an open middle seat.  But just as this pleasant thought had entered our minds and before the doors were closed, there was a sudden rush of passengers, all showing signs of being in one generation or another of the same family.

            A rather petite older woman smiled at the man in the aisle and pointed to the middle seat.  She settled into her seat, put her belongings beneath the seat in front of her.  She looked to her right and to her left before announcing, ‘I’ve just flown in from Calgary.  This is my first time travelling anywhere by air.’  My businessman smiled and returned to the newspaper.  I smiled but held her eye too long.

            Then the dreaded question came:  ‘What do you do?’  I had long ago learned not to travel wearing a clerical collar if I could avoid it and I was really interested in reading my novel quietly.  ‘I’m a teacher,’ I said.  ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘what do you teach?’  ‘Western history, mostly,’ I answered.  ‘What kind of western history?,’ she pressed.  Within five more questions I had to admit that I was an Anglican priest travelling to an academic conference where I was to make a presentation.  That final admission initiated an hour-long conversation where I was able only occasionally to put a word in.  Finally, she had finished with me.  She turned to the gentleman in the aisle seat and asked, ‘And what do you do?’  He had the grace to smile at me and take his turn for the remaining portion of the flight.

            In our society we often ask someone we meet for the first time, ‘What do you do?’  It’s an easy conversation starter, but it can lead to some uncomfortable moments.  Sometimes we ask the question only to learn that the person is unemployed or has an unusual occupation.  One of my university friends paid his way through school by working in a funeral home preparing bodies for burial or cremation.  When asked the dreaded question, he would tell the person what he did and then acted as if he were measuring the person for a casket.  That usually brought the conversation to a quick conclusion.

            On Trinity Sunday the Christian communities pause for a moment to consider the question, ‘Who is God?’  It is often a Sunday that leads some of my colleagues into one form of heresy or another.  I have friends who regularly invite a guest preacher on Trinity Sunday so as to avoid the occasion altogether.  But what is at the heart of today’s celebration and the readings we have heard is not the question, ‘Who is God?’ but ‘What have our experiences taught us about what God does in human history?’

            For me I have learned that what God does is who God is.  First and foremost, God is the author of all that is, seen and unseen.  Just as a human author conceives the structure and content of what she or he plans to write, so has God, far before time began, conceived in love the structure of the kosmos and set in motion the intricate interactions of all things, animate and inanimate, colossal and minute, molecular and sub-atomic.  I can easily accept scientific explanations of cosmology, evolution and the like because they do not threaten my faith.  Why?  Because they cannot answer my fundamental question, ‘Why does anything exist at all?’  Only my religious faith and my experience of the mystery of creation lead me to believe in the Holy One who caused all things to exist.

            My experience has also taught me that human beings have great potential to share in God’s work of creation, but we also have a distressingly great ability to destroy as well.  This is an inevitable consequence of God’s gift to us of free will, the liberty to love and the perversity to withhold love from one another.  What we need more than anything else is to know who we are as creatures made in the image of God and how we live each day in the likeness of God.  One of the great early teachers of the Christian way, Irenaeus of Lyons, wrote that ‘the glory of God is a human being fully alive.’  In Jesus of Nazareth God has shown us, shown me, how a fully alive human being, made in the image of God, lives in God’s likeness.

            I have also learned that the ups and downs of daily living can bring about temporary amnesia.  I forget what I know about God who is the source of all life and love as well as what I know about following the example of Jesus who shows us, shows me, how to be the beloved child each one of us is.  And so the Spirit of wisdom, the Advocate, is always active in the world, revealing to us, to me, in every moment of life the presence of God and the way of Jesus.  I remember asking a friend of mine why, if another priest or a bishop were present, he always asked that person for a blessing before reading the gospel or preaching.  Paul simply answered, ‘Because I run out.’  The memories of God’s loving creation run out, the memories of Jesus’ loving path run out, and I need reminding.  We even have a particular word for this, anamnesis, the ‘re-presenting of the past’, the ‘renewing of what we already know to be true’.

            So today I ask you to remember.  Think of a moment when you were simply overwhelmed by the beauty and mystery of creation.  What did that moment tell you about the God who created all that is simply because God is love?  Think of a moment when you saw clearly who you are and who you are called to be.  What did that moment tell you about the one you and I call ‘Lord’, Jesus of Nazareth, who shows us how to be authentically human?  Think of a moment when you felt lost or disoriented or uncertain and experienced an insight that put everything into its proper perspective.  What did that moment tell you about the work of the Spirit in the lives of ordinary people such as you and me?

            When you think on these things and remember these experiences, join me in doing one more thing.  Share those experiences with one other person, perhaps someone of faith or someone of no faith or someone of struggling faith.  This is what God does.  This is who God is.  God shares the divine self with all of creation and we are ambassadors of this God.

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