Saturday, May 17, 2008

God Is More Mystery than Known...

A reflection on Genesis 1:1-2:2 for Trinity Sunday

I recently renewed my subscription to the NY Times, a paper I love to receive on Sunday and spend Monday, my day off reading. One of my favorite articles, found in the NY Times Magazine, is “On Language,” written by William Safire. Last Sunday he wrote a reflection on a new word that has come into common usuage, that word - “wackadoodle.”

Here is part of what Safire said, “In a friendly conversation with Bill Moyers of the Public Broadcasting Service….the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. noted that he had been ‘painted as some sort of fanatic’ and called a wackadoodle by someone he referred to in sarcasm as ‘the learned journalist from the New York Times.’ In …March…my columnist colleague Maureen Dowd…wrote, ‘Hillary got a boost from the wackadoodle Jeremiah Wright.’

Safire goes on to write, “In 1995, The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted a state legislator, David Heckler, saying that those wanting to repeal a firearms law were only a ‘few wackadoodles.’ In 2005, the Associated Press quoted a former prosecutor of Michael Jackson, ‘It may sound kind of wackadoodle, this is his world…a separate reality.’ The Dallas Morning News zapped ‘Tom Cruise’s wackadoodle public behavior.”

Safire then defines the word, “The adjective, growing in usage with about 9,000 Google hits, takes its first syllable from wacky – that is, ‘far-out, eccentric, off the wall’ possibly from ‘out of whack.’ The doodle ending has a four century etymology as ‘simpleton’ including the derogatory, ‘Yankoo Doodle.’

I have to admit that when I first read this article my thoughts jumped immediately to the Trinity and the complex nature of trying to explain to someone, Christian or not, what we mean by the Trinity - God in three persons. It is a challenging enough topic for us Christians who are familiar with the concept. For those not Christian I imagine they think it a bit wackadoodle. Certainly our understanding of God in three persons can seem a bit “far out,” “eccentric” or “off the wall” and trying to explain it turns the best of us into simpletons.

In the fourth century a huge debate was held amongst various Church leaders from around the world at a church council meeting in Nicea, a meeting that led eventually to the writing of the Nicene Creed. This highly charged and deeply political meeting, something we modern Christians know nothing about, set out to discuss the nature of Christ. Was he fully human? Was he fully divine? What is Christ’s relationship to God? And further more what is the Holy Spirit’s relationship to God and to Christ? What do all three, God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit have in common and what distinguishes them one from another? In some ways I imagine the council, as only we humans can do, belabored a point that Jesus himself would not have worried about.

I think this joke, shared by a colleague of mine, gets at the heart of the issue…

So one day Jesus was speaking to his disciples and he asked,

“Who do people say that I am?”

And his disciples answered, “Some say you are John the Baptist returned from the dead; others say Elijah, or some other of the old prophets.”

And Jesus said, “But whom do you say that I am?”

Peter answered and said, "You are the Logos, existing in the Father as His rationality and then, by an act of His will, being generated, in consideration of the various functions by which God is related to his creation, but only on the fact that Scripture speaks of a Father, and a Son, and a Holy Spirit, each member of the Trinity being coequal with every other member, and each acting inseparably with and interpenetrating every other member, with only an economic subordination within God, but causing no division which would make the substance no longer simple."

In response Jesus said, "What?"

The very idea that as Christians we worship one God but that that God expresses God’s self through three distinct entities which are nonetheless united as one is so complex that in the end all we can really say is that God is more mystery than known.

God is more mystery than known. Genesis reminds us that God created all – water, air, earth, female, male, sky, moon, water…God created all and as such God is in all and of all. When we read scripture, all of scripture, we are reminded to be careful of the ways we humans yearn to limit God by claiming that God is one thing and not another. Genesis alone is filled with complex, often contradictory stories, of God and God’s relationship to creation, especially to humanity. The rest of the Bible continues in much the same vein of complex contradiction. God is more mystery than known….

Over the next year or more we are going to explore the mystery of God in a variety of ways. One way is how we experience God in worship. We are going to try a variety of things and see how they feel. We are looking for what excites us.

In worship this means that every season we will worship in a slightly different way. Now, before you panic let me assure you that the basic structure of our worship will not change. Some of you may hardly notice the changes. For example, we will still have an opening acclamation, but the words you and I say will change from season to season. So, instead of “Alleluia Christ is Risen!” which is the Easter acclamation we might say, “Blessed be the One Holy and Living God.” With the response, “And blessed be God’s kingdom now and forever, Amen.”

We will still have an opening hymn, but it won’t always be the Gloria. Instead it will be some other appropriate hymn of praise calling us to worship God. Gone for awhile will be the wonderful Collect for Purity, “Almighty God to you all hearts are open…”. If you

love that prayer I encourage you to pray it as you sit in your pew waiting for the service to begin. It is traditionally a prayer said before the service begins, a prayer of preparation.

We will still have the opening collect of the day, the scripture readings, a sequence hymn and sermon, the Nicene Creed and Prayers of the People. And, of course, the confession returns because the Season of Easter is over.

Beginning in June we’ll sing an Offertory Hymn and bring up the Offering during the final stanza. The Great Thanksgiving, or Eucharistic prayer, will also remain the same in structure but the words we pray will change. So, for the summer season after Pentecost we will prayer a Eucharistic prayer from Enriching Our Worship, an authorized resource for worship. Many of you will already know this prayer having prayed it in other settings. And as we begin the Eucharistic Prayer we will sing an opening response between priest and congregation, which Gerald is teaching us, that begins with, “The Lord be with you…”

As we worship together this summer be open to the process, knowing that in the fall our worship will change again, ever so slightly. Again the structure will remain but the various components and words will change. Through out the year listen carefully to the words we pray and think about the way they describe God and the various expressions of God as Christ and Holy Spirit, and the relationship we have to God.

Each season, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentectost, will bring some nuance to our worship. The intent is to help us remember that we gather here to worship God and how God expresses God’s self in human life and history through Christ, through the Holy Spirit, and through us. Remember God is more mystery than known.

The most dramatic changes will be in the four seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter - for they are the most specific in their relationship to the life of Christ – the Incarnation, the Journey to the Cross, and the Resurrection. The rest of the year is known as Ordinary Time and the changes in worship will be less noticeable.

I invite you to this journey in worship. I invite you to be open to the rhythm and the prayers, to explore with an open sense of hospitality and generosity the vast amount of worship opportunities we are given in our Book of Common Prayer and the other authorized liturgical resources. At the end of each season the vestry and I will discuss how the worship has gone, what has worked well and what has not. Please feel free to share with me your impressions. Please feel free to call me directly for we are on a shared journey of exploration. But also understand that if there is something you don’t like it may be the very thing that some one else loves. You know Newton’s third law of Motion, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Which means that while I will listen to how you feel and honor your feelings, it may not change what we do. We are a church that determines who it is based on the consensus of the gathered community and not the voice of any one person.

With this invitation I encourage us to have an open and generous spirit as we explore our worship together. Let’s agree to try stuff, some of which we may decide is just too far out and wackadoodle, and some of which will be provocative, and some of which will be profound, but try it nonetheless - knowing that nothing is sealed in stone and everything is a work in progress. Having an open and generous spirit will also allow us to make room for God. When we try too hard to contain, structure, or limit, God we end up closing ourselves off to the very God who seeks to be with us.

In the beginning God created the world and all that is in it. Not only did God create but as Christians our scripture stories remind us that God continues to create. This means that God is always and forever seeking ways to speak to us. It means we are always and forever being asked to open ourselves to the ways in which God is still active in the world, and the ways God continues to choose to work in and through us. One of the primary ways God speaks to us and we listen is in worship. The collective experience of singing, praying, hearing and reflecting on Scripture and sharing in the Eucharistic meal are all ways we intentionally open ourselves to God. There are also ways God comes to us outside of worship, but that is reflection material for another sermon. Today it is enough to remember that God is a mystery that seeks to know and be known and yet is never fully understood.


Rev SS said...

WOW! Love this sermon .. and love what you're doing. You're in my prayers, and I look forward to hearing progress reports.

Iris said...

I laughed out loud at the "Who do you say that I am" story! Good sermon, Mom Priest.

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

i like the way you've gently introduced the worship changes to the people... i hope they listen carefully and come to worship time and again with a great sesne of expectation!

Barbara B. said...

Yes, I also like the way you've prepared them for changes to come. And I think it was really important to make the statement: "understand that if there is something you don’t like it may be the very thing that some one else loves".

Gannet Girl said...

It sounds like you have a wonderful year ahead!

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I hope the changing worship brings a wonderful renewal to your people.

And I loved the "Who do you say that I am" story.

Mary Beth said...

This is so exciting! I wish, wish I could just drop in on your church like Mary Poppins (but not to cause a ruckus...!)

Diane said...

oh yeah, loved this sermon (forgot to say). need to show it to my husband.

Scott R. Davis said...

I too love the use of language . I have come up with a new phrase called the canvassing of our desires and entered a reflection on my blog at
I too had a difficult childhood and love the Lord in how He deals with people and their hurts. It is good how you introduced changes gradually as a frog in a kettle. Yet, with the heat increasing in worship, let us hope your frogs start jumping for Jesus as they sense His realness in their lives.
Peace to ou and your congregation.

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