“Regenerative Love” A message from Sunday, January 7, 2018

“Regenerative Love”

Baptism of the Lord Sunday, Year B, January 7, 2018

Genesis 1:1-5       Mark 1:4-11

First Presbyterian Church of Sandpoint, Idaho

Pastor Andy Kennaly

          Well how are those New Year Resolutions coming along so far?  Did you make any?  Resolutions are one way we try and promise ourselves that we’ll make a concerted effort to live better during the year.  From the typical, “I will lose weight and exercise more,” to the more serious, “I’ll try not to drink as much, or yell at my kids so often,” resolutions have quite a spectrum of intensity and effect.  From self-help to larger, systemic issues, resolutions mostly have good intentions behind them, but very often somewhere along the calendar’s way, the resolutions are broken.  Resolutions frequently don’t have staying power, and people find themselves right back in the struggle or difficulties they were in before, only now with an added sense of defeat.

Usually, when we make resolutions they have something to do with part of our life experience that is already going on, rather than something totally new, seemingly out of nowhere.  Wanting to lose weight, for example, implies that we have materials to work with that we bring into the situation.  We take something we’re already dealing with and try and make it better.

As we read Genesis chapter 1 verse one and two, there are two main possibilities for interpretation as we read about God’s work “In the beginning.”   The way the Hebrew is written, some scholars say, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,” in verse one.  In verse two, then, “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”  This is the way our NRSV pew Bible has it written because the committee that put it together leaned toward this understanding.

Another alternative has other scholars saying the Hebrew is also translated in verse one as, “When God began to create the heavens and the earth,” and then verse two, as a subordinate clause, “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the spirit of God swept over the face of the waters.”

This may sound subtle, but the wording, which is probably intentionally chosen by the Hebrew editors long ago to leave room for both interpretations, offers two possible conceptions of the nature of God.  Does God create out of nothing, which is called, ex nihilo, or is it that God creates from what is there?

Are the formless earth and waters pre-existing materials which God uses to shape the world, or does God first create them out of nothing?  If God’s first creative act is to make the earth and water, then creation involves making, bringing something out of nothing.  If the materials are pre-existent and God shapes them, then creation involves ordering, changing chaos by bringing structure and shape.  Perhaps both interpretations are intended at the same time?  Big questions that probe the depths of foundational assumptions!  Big questions that point to our larger explorations of the nature of God, God’s relationship with creation, and with humanity in particular, and our relating with creation, God, and other people.  Big questions that get echoed through the centuries as our physical experience as created beings mingles with the spiritual source of power, restraining chaos, and grounding our relationships.

You’ve heard other big questions, such as, “What is the meaning of life?”  Or, “What is the purpose of a human life?”  Or, “Where is the fullness of life to be found?”  These are questions that we not only ask with our mouth, or our intellect, but with intensity of soul, especially as we experience the chaos, the struggles, or even the intensity of great love.  As Thomas Keating from Contemplative Outreach puts it, “All the great questions of life can be approached, explored and experienced by embarking on the spiritual journey.  However,” he says, “‘first one must become aware that there is even such a thing as a spiritual journey, something beyond beliefs and doctrines’ — an awareness that has been “monumentally” absent in Christianity in the last few centuries.

Many Christians in the last few centuries put faith only in terms of what you believe, and how you come to believe it, and most of this is controlled by the intellect.  Faith becomes a mind game, and as long as you rationally ascent to correct ideas, then you are saved, you’re in the church, and your faith is legitimate.  Doctrines and dogmas become the external rules that need to be followed and obeyed in order to stay faithful and in good standing with the church.  Church tradition has only encouraged this, and you see, for example, the Ten Commandments listed on sculptures in church yards, usually with a bench nearby so one can sit and work on memorizing them.  Rules and doctrines, behaviors and beliefs, these take the focus, while transformative relationship and unconditional inclusion is often kept at arm’s length.  Our brains keep our hearts under lock and key.

Is creation a make and break, where God creates and then disappears into the background to watch people fall, eventually sending Jesus to help sort things out?  Does God use materials at hand, addressing chaos by bringing order, so well that life flourishes and things are called, “good?”  Or, does God begin to create, and that process of creation continues even today?  Not only that, but we are called as co-creators, especially going the Jesus Way to help shape the world into a loving, just, community?  Is the presence and authority of God external to us, something we can step back from and observe or try and mimic?  Or does God live within us, and to find God, we need to go inside?  If that’s the case, are we aware that the only way in is through a crack?  The crack of our heart, a heart wide open?!

This morning we read about the nature of God.  And we’re in a season of Epiphany, where we celebrate God with us, God coming to us, and God bringing order out of chaos, light in the midst of darkness, by entering into creation itself.  We read about Jesus and John as a baptism takes place and all righteousness is fulfilled.  This is a very dynamic scene with motion and dialogue and consequential action, and all these point to something more than static doctrine or intellectual belief.  They point to nothing less than the mystery of the depths of love, as God plunges into the formless void of death itself and rises to life empowered by grace and peace and unity.

Thomas Keating goes on to say, “Christian religion [is] a life to be lived, a relationship with God to be developed and enjoyed.  The most important fruit of … training should be a thorough knowledge, understanding and experience of the spiritual journey in the Christian tradition so … [we] can transmit the Christian life as experience.” (1012 Monastery Road).  (https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/2018-spiritual-journey-online-program?utm_source=CO+Constituents&utm_campaign=83d11c6552-Advent+2017+2&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b11e0b2045-83d11c6552-309612761&mc_cid=83d11c6552&mc_eid=4ab9e291c2)

“First one must become aware that there is even such a thing as a spiritual journey, something beyond beliefs and doctrines.”  The commands of beliefs and doctrines just don’t have the life changing staying power that love commands.  Becoming aware of a spiritual journey invites openness to what God is creating next.

So as we journey into 2018, may God help us all to become more aware, and more open.  Even when this feels chaotic or destabilizing or uncomfortable, which it often does, may our trust of God’s Holy Spirit working over, in, and through the deep voids of chaos, grow all the more, day by day, until we discover, through relationship, a resolve that doesn’t waver or get defeated because it’s grounded in the very essence of God’s loving Presence.  Commissioned by regenerative love, marked as Christ’s own, baptized into dynamic, divine relationship, may our awareness discover the heavens torn open as love pours out to change the world.  And may God be glorified, now and forever.  Amen.

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“Incarnation” a Message for Christmas Eve 2017

“Incarnation”

Christmas Eve 5:30 PM, Year B, December 24, 2017

Isaiah 9:2-7          Psalm 96    Titus 2:11-14       Luke 2:1-20

First Presbyterian Church of Sandpoint, Idaho

Pastor Andy Kennaly

          The Gospel of Mark begins in chapter one with the Baptism of Jesus.  Mark’s Gospel doesn’t even mention the birth of Jesus in any form of the Christmas story.  John’s Gospel is similar, but it begins with the prologue, a sort of cosmic sounding poetry talking about creation coming to being through Christ, the Word of God, then we read about Jesus being Baptized, but again no birth narrative.  Matthew’s Gospel starts with a genealogy, then talks about Joseph on the verge of dismissing Mary, but an angel comes in a dream and tells him not to do this, but to name the child, Jesus, which he did.  Then it picks up in chapter two with the wise visitors from the east, their conversation with King Herod, another angel or two, this time with warnings, and the family flees to Egypt while the other families in Bethlehem don’t fare so well.     Luke’s Gospel is the most descriptive for what we might call a “classic Christmas story.”  The mention of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the angel, Gabriel greeting young Mary, and the birth stories of both the young Prophet, John, and the Lord, Jesus.  There are shepherds, angel armies, the manger, and then before you know it Jesus is eight days old getting presented in the Temple in Jerusalem and as chapter two finishes Jesus is twelve years old and continues to grow in wisdom and stature.  That’s about it.  No mention of wise men, no genealogy, no mention of Herod’s tirades.

For the early church the birth of Jesus was really no big deal.  Easter was the big deal, the resurrection and celebrating the Lord’s Day was the focus of worship.  It took about 1,000 years for Christmas to get noticed in Western Christianity.  Francis of Assisi through a small movement on the edge of the Roman Catholic Church was one of the first to put direct emphasis on why the birth of Jesus is so important for the world.  St. Francis, the one who made the first creche scenes or manger scenes, recognized that the church up to that point had focused mainly on a condemning God judging the world and sinners offered salvation through the cross.  But Francis had experienced war, and had been a tortured prisoner of war.  For him, a church also engaging in the Crusades and other wars, just didn’t match up with his transformative experience of God as love, and God’s saving presence as act of love, especially reaching out to the poor and the marginalized.  No wonder it’s in Luke, because that is who Luke’s Gospel tries to include through the stories of Jesus’ life and ministry.

For St. Francis in the twelfth century, something was missing in the larger theology or teachings of Christianity.  The birth of the Prince of Peace, the Incarnation of God, Christ becoming flesh in creation, helps fill this void, and Francis declared a revolutionary message: that the birth of God in the flesh in Jesus is the point at which we as humans realize that God is on our side.  Salvation comes in the birth of Jesus just as much as we claim it comes through his death.  Christ in the flesh helps us declare that it’s good to be human, and we are blessed to experience life.  If human form is worthy of God’s Presence, then we are honored as those created in God’s image.  But this spiritual development took over 1,100 years, and actually it is still taking place as Christianity continues to Reform, Awaken, and Emerge.

God is so patient, and if anything echoes through the ages, it is the message of what a difference it makes when the Presence of the living God is recognized.  God is there all along, but to face God, to turn to God and awaken to this Presence; this is transformative.  For St. Francis it took a war and deep suffering to get his attention.  For Joseph, angels came in dreams.

What is it for you?  What is your spiritual discipline that helps enlighten your life?  How are you being called by God to make room for the birth of Christ?  What is God’s love doing in your heart?

Christmas is a special time of year.  Love and community, peace and joy, giving and receiving of gifts; all this tells us that something is happening that is worth paying attention to.  The stirring of our heart, the quieting of our mind, the yearning of our soul; these are part of the human experience as spiritual beings.  The light of God shines in all things, and all things are in God, and at Christmas we are reminded of daily miracles that so often get overlooked or ignored.

As we gather around word and song, and as the candles lights are passed, may the blessing of Christmas fill your heart.  The Incarnation of Christ, the unity of God’s holiness on earth, the gift of Jesus who shows us the way to live into this unity without fear; this is what we celebrate every time we say, Merry Christmas!  Merry Christmas to you, and may God be glorified, now and forever.  Amen.