The Second WordsRead Now
Our Lenten series for 2023 is walking through the last words of Christ upon the Cross. This week's Gospel passage was from Luke 23:39-43 and contained the second words of Christ upon the Cross (NRSV), "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise."
Rev. Tony Romaine – 03-05-2023
On the tomb of Copernicus, the great Prussian astronomer, is carved in Latin an epitaph said to be written by Copernicus before his death. It can be translated as such:
I do not ask for Paul’s grace,
Nor do I ask for the forgiveness given to Peter;
But what you would give to a thief upon a wooden cross,
I pray for earnestly.
What is it about forgiveness that is so difficult? Perhaps it is that we have not fully confessed and repented our sins? Perhaps it is because forgiveness as a concept is so beyond what we are humanely capable of? And yet, our Savior not only calls us to forgiveness, but teaches us through this passage we have for today, that forgiveness is as simple as accepting the contrite and repentant heart, no matter when.
This story we hear today is all too often played out in our lives. The dying soul that is near the crucible of eternal life in paradise or eternal damnation in sheol can finally see the consequences of their actions and is presented with this moment of clarity and asks for forgiveness. All too often we in our lives wait until the last possible moment to confess, we wait until the last possible moment to act, we wait until the last possible moment to reach out for help; when all along we could have been living lives fully forgiven, fully saved, fully helped, fully enacted.
Many of us here today have actually resisted help to our detriment and have purposefully turned it down in order to preserve our sense of independence, pride, ego, or whatever else we have convinced ourselves of to make the refusal that much more palatable. And when we are finally at that moment when we actually ask for the help, it is either too late or the help is so easily given and the solution so easily found that it makes us wish we would have accepted it all along.
Our Savior offers us this forgiveness always. Hear those words again, because it is so important for us to remember and understand: Our Savior offers us this forgiveness, this grace, this love, always. It is a matter for us then to confess and accept the forgiveness and to change our lives to live into that grace and offer it to others. Sometimes, yes, our pride prevents us from being able to accept that we would need this grace. Sometimes, yes, our ego makes us think that we can outthink or outact or outrun the consequences of our actions. Sometimes, yes, the very gift that our God gave us of free will and intelligence, creates in us a spirit which makes us think we don’t need the grace or forgiveness and that it will just always be there if we need it, we can just go on doing what we want until we confess and then we will be okay again.
This is not true repentance and contrition, this is trying to legitimize our actions, our lives, our sins and use God’s freely given gift of grace to fit into our version of what we want to call faith. When in fact, God’s love for us is so abundant, that indeed our Savior’s offer of forgiveness is there for us always, just waiting for us to turn toward God.
That is what is so often overlooked in these second words of Christ upon the Cross, the scene and characters around Him, as He offers the one thief who repents and does not think up excuses, but fully acknowledges his guilt, his shame, his life that led him to this moment when he is there on a cross with Jesus and the other thief. And in this moment when all that he had seen and heard and experienced about Jesus confronts everything that had been his life, his heart is softened and he prays a simple prayer to our Savior, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.”
And in the answer that Jesus presents to this criminal who is self-acknowledged as a sinner who deserves the crossly punishment that he is receiving, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise,” we are presented with three very important lessons about God’s grace.
The first lesson we then receive is that the grace Christ offers is freely given. This thief did nothing to deserve the grace that Jesus imparts. This thief did not follow Christ as a disciple, was not a rabbinical scholar, was not a scribe or a Pharisee or an elite or a student of Jesus’ or a devout man of faith who had lived a pious life; no, this man was a convicted sinner who had stolen and was to be put to death. And yet, in this moment upon the Cross where Jesus hangs there in pain and agony and is approaching the end of his earthly time as a human, in this moment when the thief realizes what is happening and prays to God for grace; grace is given. How much more than for us who have this lesson, will grace be freely given?!
The second lesson is that there is immediacy in Christ’s forgiveness. When will the thief be with Christ in paradise? Today! Immediacy, then is what happens when we confess and repent and allow for God’s love to permeate our hardened hearts. Immediacy is how God’s love takes over the sin-sick soul and heals all the corners where darkness exists. Immediacy is the quickness with which the sin abandons the soul of those who believe and have faith and trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Immediacy is how fully and speedily God’s love comes to cleanse us from our iniquities and offer us eternal life. When we confess and are repentant and truly contrite; when we give everything we are over to Christ, when we fall upon the foot of that Cross and lay everything down; we are saved immediately, today, now, forever!
Third lesson, there is paradise…yes, there is paradise! There is a place that is not of this world, a place that Christ has prepared for us, a place where we find eternal rest and the pains and ills of this world can no longer affect us; a place where the sins which previously, and perhaps still do, weigh us down no longer wrack our souls or burden our hearts. This place is a juxtaposition to the world in which we inhabit, where wealth and greed and want and pursuing what I want at the expense of other exist. This paradise is free from all the schisms which separate us from race, creed, sex, age, religion, gender, economy, geography, and the list goes on. This paradise is perfection, and it does exist.
The sad part is that if paradise exists, then the opposite also exists. This is what our world likes to paint over and not talk about; that there is an alternate option for those who do not confess and offer their souls in contrition to God. There is something other no matter what name we give it to those who mirror the other thief upon the cross who kept deriding Christ, the soldiers who mocked him, the onlookers and naysayers who would doubt that Christ was the living God and came to offer forgiveness; there is another place and it is the opposite of paradise.
But hear this hope found in these second words of Christ upon the Cross, that when Jesus utters the words, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise,” He is telling us that when we offer ourselves over to Him and are confessed and contrite, that no matter how long we have been aiming for the opposite of paradise, no matter how long we have been in the muck and mire of the darkness of our lives, no matter how long we have been making up excuses for our sinfulness or avoiding confession or not offering up our souls fully to Christ, no matter how long we have been journeying away from the Cross; that in that moment we realize, like the thief who prayed to Jesus, like Paul when he was struck down on the road to Damascus, like you and I when we are confronted and convicted; that when we finally turn toward God and paradise and eternal life in love with God, we receive forgiveness, grace, mercy, love, and paradise.
That as undeserved as we may be, as struck down with sin as our souls may be, that as far from any kind of warmth or hope or joy we may be; when we pray to our Savior, He hears our prayer, he longs for us to come home, and He is there just waiting for us to ask: “my Savior, when your Kingdom comes, remember me!”
I do not ask for Paul’s grace,
Nor do I ask for the forgiveness given to Peter;
But what you would give to a thief upon a wooden cross,
I pray for earnestly.
Water into Wine?Read Now
“Water into Wine?” – Rev. Tony Romaine
The Rev. Dr, Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.” (from “Facing the Challenge of a New Age,” 1956)
When we think about all the miracles that Jesus performed, we always remember the turning of water into wine as the first we hear about in our Gospels. But if we are honest, if we were to list the most substantial miracles that Jesus performed, we probably would not put this one very high at the top; well except for those wine lovers amongst us perhaps! But this miracle is about so much more than we sometimes give it credit for; this miracle moves Jesus beyond reluctance and disdain, to action; this miracle moves our world from a place of water that was being prepared for a ritual, water that needed to be purified by the hands of men, and transforms us into the blessed wine that connects us with our salvation through our God whose grace is so much more than we could ever imagine. This miracle shows us that Jesus came to remind us of the very miracle that exists in all our hearts; the miracle of love.
And miracles in the heart of humanity is exactly what this world needs right now, isn’t it?! The fact that our world right now is more divided than ever, more divisive than ever, more focused on what extremes I can set up in order to be extreme from you and what you can bury your flag upon in order to supplant mine, belies the necessity that our world right now needs; the miracle that lies within the heart of not just every man, but every human being that was put there at their creation. The miracle this world needs right now is the very thing that Jesus was, is, and ever will be, and that is love.
Yes, the end is reconciliation and redemption, a reconciliation that begins with you and me and every one of God’s children in this world. A reconciliation that says that I may not agree with what you represent or believe or vote for or unite as, and you may not agree with me in the very same manner; and yet, there is something inside each of us that unites us in a deeper and stronger way than anything of this world can drive apart; what unites us is the very thing that will reconcile us, the very miracle which Jesus performed and we need now more than ever, the miracle of the love God has for us that was given for everyone, everything, all of creation, every tree in the forest, every fish in the ocean, every cloud in the sky, blacks, whites, republicans, democrats, citizens, immigrants, refugees, those who are settled, and those who are homeless; the wealthy, rich, poor, married, single, childless, widowed, and the list can go on and on and on.
Yes, the end is reconciliation, which is not a synonym for agreement, but a step toward a beloved community where people do not just live in echo chambers that repeat what we want to hear. A beloved community where opposites can live in reconciled love; where those who are diametrically opposed can still see the value and worth and dignity of the human being that sits across from them, across the internet from them, across the world from them; that all can see the worth each of us brings to the common discourse and humanity that was and is and always will be the redemptive purpose of the very miracle that was Jesus Christ; that God so loved all of creation and everything God created as to sacrifice everything and send us the wine of salvation to transform and save.
Water into Wine!
And just as the Rev Dr. states, it is this love that we cannot possibly see in the present gloom of our age that will transform our world and clear the scales from our eyes and the pain from our backs, the weariness from our days and the toil on our souls; it is this very transformative love which came through the shared humanity we have in Christ that allows us to view a humanity in each and every one of God’s beloved children that will take our world from one where we are waiting with baited breath for the next World War, for the next famine, for the next virus, for the next tragedy; to a world that has been transformed through shared community, through shared bread and cup, through shared experience and life, through shared economy and equality, through a shared love that builds a beloved community in which we live into the transformation began that day in Cana at the first miracle; a community that has been redeemed through the grace that comes only through Christ our Savior and has been reconciled because we want to be, because we strive to be, because we long to live in a world where each one of us can feel valued and loved, where each of us can drink of the wine that was offered through that table sacrifice millennia ago, where each of us who hold the sins of our past and the weight of this world can be freed through the miracle of God’s heart shared with all the world.
And just as Jesus was reluctant to perform this miracle, just as Jesus responds in contempt to a request for his time to come and for his mission to begin, we sit here today and are reluctant too, aren’t we?! We are reluctant to hear this message and prophecy that we are to act and live into the call that God has placed on our hearts and the gifts that God has blessed us with. Perhaps our reluctance comes from a fear that we might not do the right thing or say the right thing, perhaps our reluctance comes from the comfort in our status or place of privilege, perhaps our reluctance comes from misplaced hate and disgust for others, perhaps our reluctance comes from not knowing what our gift even is, or perhaps the reluctance comes from not truly feeling that we could ever be worthy of being gifted something from God.
Well, whatever it may be, whatever may be holding us back, whatever is separating us from taking that first step into the unknown of reconciliation, of action, of welcoming others, of loving as God loved us, of truly changing this world of water into the redemptive wine and beloved community that God longs for; whatever it may be hear me when I tell you that it is nothing compared to the gift itself that God has sent you and I and the gift that this world will receive when you act upon that call, that voice, that Spirit; the mission and gifts God is longing for you to use have already been sent and are just awaiting you to transform the world.
Indeed, whatever is preventing us from living into beloved community is nothing compared to what will truly happen when we take the first steps in changing our world, when we take the first action here in Little Falls to make this city a better place, when we use our gifts to make Morrison County a beacon of God’s love, when we live into the call God has placed on our heart to transform MN into an example to our nation of what reconciliation and love can look like, when we take the very fabric of our being and transform the United States into the example of beloved community for the world.
You see and feel this don’t you?! Can you not feel the Spirit in this place right now begging you to just accept and walk in that love that God has called forth into our world those many years ago when Jesus walked with us transforming the water in our lives into the blessed wine that is not reserved for the best guests or the wealthiest patrons or only available in the beginning, but a wine that is for all people and all times.
And in case you need this metaphor stretched to its limits, the greatest part of this miracle that goes overlooked all too often is that you and I are the literal water that Jesus transformed into wine for our world to consume, for our world to be refreshed with, for our world to find God’s love in; that in and through the transformation you and I have already received thanks be to Christ is what God is longing for us to live into and share with our weary, gloomy world.
And when we do, this age which is bogged down with the dirty water of despair, death, division, and divide will be transformed by the light that shines through the wine of sacrifice; the very miracle that lives within our hearts, the gladness and goodwill that God sent to redeem us; the love and centeredness of God’s love at our core…That is the redemption people need to hear, that is what will bring us to reconcile whatever is between us, that is what will blaze with goodwill and gladness, and that love will be the lived miracle of the hearts of humanity that will finally transform our world from a place of brokenness, fracture, and displacement into God’s beloved community.
A miracle indeed, turning water into wine! Amen!
"What Is Truth?"Read Now
What Is Truth? – Rev. Tony Romaine – 11-21-2021
One of my all time favorite movies is Rudy, the story about a walk-on football player at Notre Dame and his journey to beat all the odds. In the struggle within his journey Rudy meets and befriends a priest named Father Cavanaugh, and as Rudy is working and attempting to do everything he can to get into Notre Dame University, there is this wonderful conversation when it seems like Rudy has reached the end of all his options where he asks Father Cavanaugh, “If I've done everything I possibly can, can you help me?” To which Father Cavanaugh answers, “Son, in thirty-five years of religious study, I've come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts; there is a God, and, I'm not Him.”
I thought of this scene as we approach our topic today of Christ’s reign and in what we should be giving thanks, because of the answer that Father Cavanaugh gives about there being two facts or truths. And how when it seems like we have nothing we can do or there is no where to turn, we must place our trust itself in the Truth of God.
So, just as Pilate posed the question to Jesus, we approach it today, What Is Truth? How appropriate a question for us to ask ourselves today. Especially as we face the multiple misinformation efforts and mis-truth efforts of our world. Well, to begin, one truth is that Jesus is indeed, as we hear from the Gospel reading for todays, not from this world. This truth means that what Jesus offers us is something more prophetic, more strange, more unknown to the world of the ancient Israelites and our modern society, because what Jesus offers as the truth about His Kingdom, about the reign of eternality He is about to enact, is that it is gained not through the violence of war, it is gained not through any act of humanity alone; rather, it occurs and comes to be, through the peace that is Christ himself.
Perhaps this is why Jesus never truly answers Pilate question about being called the King of the Jews. In that, Jesus was not just coming to be King of the Jews, but the eternal Prince of Peace for everyone and all God’s children. And because Jesus’ reign is not from our world, it is going to look like something we are not familiar with, it will be perhaps even unrecognizable to us until it actually comes to be.
But let us not move on too early without keying in on another truth, that Jesus’ reign is one that comes through peaceful actions. We are about to enter into the well-known season of Advent where we will hear all the Scripture and sing all the songs we have come to love and appreciate this time of year. We are about to once again hear how an infant is what changes our world forever. And yet, here we are on the cusp of this most celebratory season, and we once again need to hear the Truth.
The Truth that the peace-filled, loving, care for one another, look to the margins, socially upheaving, political replacing, world over-turning Truth was, is, and always will be, the love God has for us through Christ and the love we are supposed to show one another. A Truth which begs the deeper question of when are we as a human race finally going to realize this Truth?
As a historian it is a question, I keep coming back to myself and I’m sure you hear me mention many Sundays out of the year. Our God could do anything, and I mean anything at all. Our God could and has in the past, destroyed our world and made a new people. The only thing in fact from preventing this from happening again is that God made a covenant with Noah millennia ago. And in place of doing this over and over again, God sent instead a Truth, the Truth, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God to live, teach, demonstrate, and die for all of us so that we could know the Truth which is God’s love.
And in our world which cannot seem to distinguish truth from fiction, fact from opinion, this Truth about God’s love is so important for us to hear, that I consider it my job as pastor to reiterate this until my voice is no more. Because here is the real issue people, we are going to come to a time in our modern world someday, it may be sooner or it may be later, when we are going to have to face our worst demons once more. We are going to come to a day when the Truth of God’s love is put on trial once more and we are faced with the choice between demonstrating the love God has for us to our neighbors or choosing the greed and power of being comfortable, wealthy, or “right” in our own minds.
The day is coming when we are ultimately on trial once more and given the chance to answer the question of “What is Truth?” with a resounding, triumphant love like that which Christ shared with us. And when that moment comes, do we shirk away into silence and allow our Savior to be crucified again? When that moment comes when the fear-filled voices of those who are afraid of losing their power, privilege, or place in society are willing to kill our brothers and sisters to remain in power, are willing to allow the stranger that Jesus calls us to feed to die in hunger, are willing to allow the migrant whom Jesus calls us to welcome to die on the border, are willing to demonize and de-humanize blacks, browns, Asians, Hispanics, gays, lesbians, trans-folk, just for trying to live as God created them, are willing to de-moralize fellow Christians and call them hate-filled names because they are of a different political belief…when that moment comes and the world is struggling for the Truth of God’s love, what are we going to do?
Are we going to shrug our shoulders and say, “Who really knows what the truth is?” Are we going to turn a blind eye and let the world keep spinning out of control? Are we going to remain in our place of privilege and comfort and complacency? Or will we respond and answer the worst parts and practices and sins of our humanity with the one Truth we all know…
And while we may not know much about anything in our crazy world, love we know. Ironically, in a Hollywood-style epic turnabout, in this manner, we actually do know what Truth is. We know it is the smile on a face of a child who was lifted up in love instead of turned away by hate. We know it in the story shared around a warm meal by someone who the night before was freezing in the alley. We know it in the thanks we receive from the person behind us at the grocery store when we paid for their groceries whether they needed it or not. We know it in the embrace of a friend or family member. We know it in the joys and celebrations of new birth, and we know it in the somber silence of death.
See people, we know love when we see it because deep down inside of each of us, we have once been loved so much that we were created. We know it as Truth because deep down inside each of us, we have been loved so much that Christ died for us. We know the Truth because God has loved it into us and longs for us to burst it forth into our world. And the Holy Spirit is just burning inside of us try to get out and love our world!
So, indeed, “What Is Truth?” is one of those questions that Jesus does not really answer, similarly like when Pilate was asking whether He was King of the Jews, because it doesn’t require a literal answer for Jesus. Why, because Jesus lived the Truth, Jesus’ entire mission was to save us so we would know the Truth, Jesus’ reason for being was that if we had the chance to see it, experience it, and learn about it, that maybe we too would live as Jesus lived and love as Jesus loved. And this is not opinion or personal belief, hearsay, a Tweet, or a meme, but God’s Word as written in John 14:6, John 16:13, and ultimately John 8:32, where we hear that when we follow the Truth that is God’s love through Christ, we are set free!
But let’s be honest, we already know this, because when asked what is truth, we know that indeed God is, Jesus is, the Holy Spirit is, you are, I am, we all are together, as the love eternal from God our King, Queen, and Forever. We know that this Truth is what we come and give thanks for not just one day out of the year, but everyday in our lives. That we are alive by the love of God, forgiven by the grace of Christ, empowered by the strength of the Holy Spirit, and can hold fast to that Truth that is God’s love for us and the world.
There may indeed only be two things that one may know for certain, like the quote from Rudy I shared at the beginning today. But I will disagree with Father Cavanaugh’s character, because I actually believe there are three things we can know for certain. One is that indeed there is a God, two is most definitely that we are not God, but the third is that we know the Truth, the capital “T,” God’s honest, pure as the day is long, Truth; God is Love, Jesus came to bring about Peace, and the Spirit shows us this Truth always. Thanks be to God, Alleluia, Amen!
"Whatever May Come"Read Now
“Whatever May Come” – Rev. Tony Romaine
“The Gust” by Willem van de Velde the Younger, a 17th Century Dutch painter of marine art is my favorite painting at the Rijkstad museum in Amsterdam. If you could see the painting (link in the endnotes) you see a ship that has been caught by surprise in stormy seas and the gust that is now battering it came up so quickly, the sailors on board did not have time to square the rigging or put away the sails. Or maybe they knew a storm was coming and were working to figure things out, but still were not prepared for the immensity of the gust. Either way, the ship is now shuddering on stormy seas.
Fittingly, today’s Gospel is also about a boat being tossed about in a stormy sea, as the disciples and Jesus head to the other side of the sea of Galilee, and Jesus sleeps in the back, the winds and waves begin to rage and the disciples are caught off guard and facing what they presume to be a life and death situation all alone. A little context here would do us well as we speak about this Gospel narrative. You see, Jesus, in this part of the Gospel of Mark, had just finished telling of the parables of the mustard seed, the lamp under a bushel, and the Sower, and in fact has also told us that the parables are intended to instill trust in what Jesus is calling us to, or as Jesus says in Mark 4:12, “they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.”
So, after hearing all of this and being taught even the purpose of the parables, Jesus and the disciples encounter a storm. Here we need even more context, because Mark is writing from a Jewish apostolic perspective and when he means storm, he literally does mean a life and death situation. Briefly, so as to not cover apostolic teaching which would take more time than we have here today; in the world there is order and chaos, and whenever chaos comes about, God’s order works to counter it. But, possibly more importantly for our purposes today, when one is said to be sleeping, like Jesus in this passage today, that could also be interpreted as dead. And so, when the chaos or storm hits this boat that the disciples are in and they feel all alone, and Jesus is “sleeping,” aka not with them, they panic and wake him to save them. And when Jesus awakens, or is resurrected, he stills the storm and calms the seas and then asks the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
Whatever May Come!
See, this Gospel passage is more than just Jesus calming the seas and saving the disciples, but it is also a call to us to have faith and to trust and believe. Like the boat we see in the painting from van de Vilde, when life tosses us about and the storms of life are bringing chaos and disorder, where will our faith lead us? And the real question is, will we let fear conquer our faith? You see, fear is a powerful thing, because if someone can make us afraid, or if our fears can override our faith, then we will follow anyone or anything that we think brings us through. We will put our trust in the boat, or the sails, or the oars, or our own abilities. When in fact, God is calling us to a deeper trust, one where we indeed can rest with God and believe that He will calm the storms.
Moreover, when we let fear conquer our faith, then we move from a place where we are open to the love and forgiveness of God, to a place where we hold tightly to every little thing we have, thinking that is what God would want us to do. When we live in fear, we shrink our imaginations of what God can accomplish; which would be contrary to the very thing God indeed is calling us to…to be open and love one another, to trust God in the storms, to live in faith with one another, and to rest in the belief that God has us whatever may come.
And you don’t need me to stand up here and tell you that storms will come, right?! Many of us have already experienced the storms of life, many of us have already felt the pains that come through our human existence, many of us know chaos and disorder. And not to be negative, but for those who have only known calm seas, storms will come. So the real question for us is, when those times happen or those storms come, where do we turn?
Do we turn in deeper faith to the arms of our God or do we run in fear to the earthly things that bring us comfort? Do we walk out in front of the giant in front of us and stand in faith and trust in our God as David did against Goliath, or do we cower in fear like Saul? Do we trust in the military might that we can produce as a nation and do we go to war, or do we trust in the love of God and the peace of Christ? Do we endure in faith and truly believe in Jesus our Savior to come and save us from the hardships, from the labors, from that long list that Mike read from 2 Corinthians of afflictions, burdens, and calamities, or do we turn in fear to the first thing that will bring us what we think is order, only to be betrayed by the finitude of time; only to have a fleeting moment of comfort?
Whatever May Come!
God is calling us through whatever may come to put our trust in Him, that our Father will not abandon us to these persecutions, to the world, to the pains that may wrack our bodies or torment our minds. Our God is calling us to slay the giants in our lives; the giants of injustice that prevent people from feeling or knowing the love of God, the giants of systemic abuses that only make people more afraid or make people turn away even more from the love of God, the giants in our lives of those who spit hatred and violence and fear in the name of God who are the hypocrites who prevent people from accessing the love of God, the giants in our lives which we face every day as we try to conquer our fears and face this world that needs our hands and feet of love even more…
Whatever May Come!
Whatever may come, our God is calling us to get into the boat and cast ourselves from the comforts of our shoreline, to trust that when the storm comes, hear me there, not if, but when the storm comes, that we will stand tall and proud and in complete trust of our God, our Father, who will not abandon us, but be right there with us in every chaos of our lives. To be able to go forth and face our world and say to it that no matter what may come, no matter what you may throw at me, I am not afraid, for my God has conquered death, my God has forgiven my sins, and my God loves me into eternity…
See, I hear the Gospel passage for today, and I see the painting by van de Vilde, and I do not see negativity, pessimism, or doubt. No, I see a call to trust in our Father, our God, who has instilled in us the great lessons of perseverance, of faith, of trust, of hope, and thanks to Jesus Christ, love.
So on this Father’s Day, think of your father, whoever or wherever they may be. Think of how all they longed for was for you to be protected, provided for, and loved. Now think of your God and the great love He has for you. That no matter what may come, you can trust in his ever-loving arms to calm the winds, steady the seas, and love you eternally, Amen!
"Spirit of..."Read Now
"Spirit of…" - Rev. Tony Romaine – 05/23/2021
The theologian Walter Kasper once said, “When the Spirit comes after Jesus' resurrection and exaltation, it is the fulfillment of the message of Jesus and salvation, as the Spirit is the way in which God is present in the world.” The way in which God is present in our world…hear those words and let them sink into your heart. The Holy Spirit, the breath of God, ruach Elohim, our Advocate, our Helper, God present in our world. Sit with that for just a moment and invite the Holy Spirit into your world.
I make a big point of this, not just because it is Pentecost, but because we need to hear this more, that God is here in our world with us. On that Pentecost over two-thousand years ago, the Holy Spirit which was promised to us by Jesus came upon the disciples and forever changed their lives and ours. Yes, it was awesome and amazing that the Holy Spirit spoke in and through the disciples in various languages and filled them with the power to go and share the Good news with people all over the known world, but even more amazing is what the Holy Spirit coming meant to Christians.
Remember, not too long before this, 50 days give or take, Jesus died and was resurrected. Even more recently Jesus had ascended into heaven. So, the disciples were without God, without Jesus, and in that moment of waiting as Jesus had told them to do, the promise came through and Our Helper came. God coming present in our world once more, the Holy Spirit came to set the world straight about righteousness, about judgment, about sin, about power, about all the things we think we control in our world.
The Holy Spirit came to remind us that we know the Truth of what Jesus taught, that we are to forgive as we were forgiven and love as we are loved. The Holy Spirit came to intercede on our behalf, in the wonderful words of Paul’s letter to the Romans, “with sighs too deep for words.” The Holy Spirit came to be the ever-strengthening arm of God that lifts us out of our muck and mire so that we can once again live into the call God has placed on our hearts. And the Holy Spirit came to remind us that God is with us!
Theologian Thomas Aquinas reminds us that through the Spirit, humanity is one with God and God is one with humanity and that the Holy Spirit has used the church to prepare the way to receive the gift of the Spirit, eternal life, and salvation. God is here with us and we are with God; united in and through the Holy Spirit and gifted with talents for our church and world. But how to do we know our gifts? How do we know God is with us?
In the UCC we say that God is Still Speaking. The way that God is still speaking to us is through the Holy Spirit. The way that God can affect change in our world without stepping all over the created free-will God has granted us is to direct us via the Holy Spirit. And the way that we trust God is we stop and listen for the Spirit within us.
Sometimes the Spirit comes across loud and clear and other times it takes some real meditative listening. Either way, God is speaking to us and filling us, loving us, revealing to us, and trusting us through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God revealed to us through trusting in that God will reveal God’s self. In other words, God longs for us to know God and makes that knowledge possible through the Holy Spirit.
In this manner, the Holy Spirit is both the easiest and the most difficult member of the Trinity to contemplate. On the one hand, humanity has from the dawn of theological time argued for a Spiritual “otherness” that when attained will bring us closer to God. At the same time, there is no tangible way to tell someone the Holy Spirit did this, or the Holy Spirit did that, in fact, some may call you crazy if you walked around saying you were listening to a spirit. But what is so crazy about believing that God would want to forever be with you and inspire your days? Perhaps then what it truly comes down to is trust in that God continues to be active in our lives through the Holy Spirit.
Walter Kasper also states that “Knowledge of God's incomprehensibility is the beatifying fulfillment of the human person.” In other words, when we trust in the mysteries of God, we are forever changed as we put our faith in the very things which are most holy. We are sanctified in the Greatness of God!
Would it be great if God or Jesus were right here with us in physical form, sure. But there is a very good reason they are not; us, we are the reason why God and Jesus are not physically here. We have been given everything we need to live a life in following Christ. We have all the tools we need to be the hands and feet of God to our neighbors, to strangers, to our world. And we have the Holy Spirit breathing the power, the peace, the strength, and the love in and through us all the time as the very breath of God.
Brothers and sisters, this is why it is so important for us to be reminded that the Holy Spirit is the way in which God is present in the world. Because the way that God is present to those in our world is through us. Can and does God work according to God’s will, absolutely. But you and I, we are part of God’s will and the way we treat one another is either a step toward healing and hope and unity and love, or it is a step in the opposite direction. The way you and I worship and have faith is either a reminder to our world that the God of love still exists, that God is active in the world through the Holy Spirit and that no matter who needs to hear the Good News of salvation and grace through Jesus Christ they can, or it is a step in the other direction.
And not to be too pessimistic or cynical, but our world has been stepping in the other direction for far too long. We see violence, hate, war, dis-unity, people vilifying others just for political gain, people killing one another for power and greed, people segregating and closing others off in order to protect unjust systems, people hanging onto the threads of an earthly existence which is doomed to whither and fail…Where is God in this world? And we, the church, should not wonder why people are leaving the church, when the very people who should be sharing the Good News of the love of Christ are sometimes the ones preventing others from hearing the Good News of Jesus’ love.
So what is the answer? The Holy Spirit in and through us is the answer. And if the problems of our world seem too vast to conquer, or the languages too difficult to comprehend, then whittle them down and speak the languages you know. We know how to be neighborly to the outcast, to the homeless, to the widow, to the stranger in our own corner of MN. We know how to welcome and be the hands and feet of hope for those who have none here in Little Falls. We know when we listen to the radio or watch the tv or read the paper when we hear things that are not in line with Christ’s teachings about grace, mercy, hope, forgiveness, and love. And we know that God is here with us, present in our world because we can feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in and through us always if we only but stop to listen and hear and act, Amen!
That I Know Very WellRead Now
“That I Know Very Well” – Rev. Tony Romaine – 05-09-2021
One night a woman went to bed and was trying to fall asleep. She was having trouble though, as all of her interactions, thoughts, and experiences were being re-lived like her mind was giving her its own version of the nightly news. While lying there, struggling to fall asleep, she was suddenly surrounded by the brightest of lights and seemingly transported to another world. Wondering what was going on she called out for someone to hear her, but no one else was around. And then as she began to become frightened by the emptiness and fear that this was something beyond earthly, a voice came out of the light, “My child, do not be afraid, it is I.” Hearing this, she was frozen in complete awe and fear, her memory searching for something to assign this strange occurrence; to what could she draw upon to find herself in this moment of trepidation. And then the voice spoke again, “My child, do not be afraid, it is I.”
Something different happened after hearing the voice a second time, suddenly a calm and awareness surrounded her, she felt goosebumps all over and an all-encompassing warmth filled her soul. The voice was both one she now recognized and yet still did not know; like a strange, yet familiar kind of comfort. She begged for her voice to find its chord as she struggled to say, “Is that you God?” Nothing happened after she said this, so in only the way we humans think, she thought maybe I should say it louder, so she summoned her strength once more and said it louder, “Is that you God!?”
And in that moment, the realm of light answered, not with voice, but with a wind that blew over her and filled her with such a sense of belonging and purpose she knew the answer to her question. When she gathered herself once more, she felt another question burning inside of her, so she blurted out in complete anticipation, “Is this heaven?!” The Light again did not answer, instead holding her in complete love, as if awaiting the question she really was going to ask. Well now she had all her faculties about her and she began to wonder what this was all about and why God would be speaking to her in the first place.
But before she could even pose the question, a voice came from the Light once more to say, “I have approached you in this way because I need you to do something for me.” Excitedly again, the woman answered before even thinking about her response, “Yes, whatever you ask, I will do it!” Then the voice said to her, “I need you to be a mother to my people, to all my people, so that they will know that I am a God who loves unconditionally; loves all children, loves those no one would ever love, loves those who no one will ever know, loves those who do not love me, and longs for all my children to know how grace-filled and loved they are.”
The woman was almost speechless, but she summoned enough will to ask, “Um, God, how am I supposed to do that? I am only one person, one of many women, one who has not always lived well, one who sometimes gets angry, one who knows love, but not that depth of love.” The Light answered, but this time it was different; the voice had changed to become something incredibly familiar. Now the voice was of her own mother and said to her, “Love others as I have loved you.” The woman began to cry, as memories of her own mother filled her. Immediately she knew she could protect as her mother had protected her, she could teach as her mother had taught her, she could indeed love naturally for her mother naturally loved her.
Then the Light spoke again, this voice she recognized as her friend’s mother saying, “Love others as I have loved you.” This time, she felt a sense of duty come over her and she knew she could love even those who were not her own children. That she could be the love the world needs whether she could ever have children or not. Just as her friend’s mother had loved her at some of the most important times in her life, she felt she could also be a love for those who were in need.
Yet again the Light spoke, “Love others as I have loved you.” This voice was sweet and tender, because this was the voice of her grandma who had been the strength for her during times and through things which she could not herself share with her mom or her friend’s mom. And just as her grandma had been a love for her through times of good and times of difficulty, she then knew that she could be the soft voice, the warm hug, the patient ear to help all those who needed someone to turn to when they felt they could go nowhere else.
Then she heard yet another voice, “Love others as I have loved you.” This voice she did not recognize, and so she asked the Light, “Who are you this time?” The answer was calm and pleasant, “I was the stranger who gave you that hug when you were crying without speaking. I gave it without question and without any need in return. I gave you love for a moment and then was gone.” A memory flashed before her eyes, and she suddenly remembered the time she was in the store after she had just lost her job, and as she tallied the groceries to see if she could afford everything, she broke down and began sobbing. As she stood there crying, a woman approached, who it was she never knew, but she gave her a hug, said “everything will be okay,” and then was gone in an instant.
At this memory of the love of a stranger, perhaps one of the greatest loves we can offer our world, for everyone needs our love whether we know them or not, she knew she too could offer others love, regardless of knowing them or not. And she thought to herself that when we offer that love, without strings attached or love needed in return, well then, we are truly being motherly!
But something was bothering her, a burning question that she did not know quite how to ask, because she knew that some mothers are incapable of love and some people feel they never truly had a “mother.” Unexplainably, a wave of fear came over her, as she thought to herself, “What if I am that mother, the one who harms instead of loves; who hates instead of nurtures; who despises instead of cares for; who does not love as I have been loved?” And in her moment of fear, another voice came from the Light, this time the most familiar of them all, for it was her own voice saying, “You are enough, you are every part of perfect the world needs. You are the love that you have heard in all these voices, you are the love that has been shared with you, for you are God’s light to your world; have no fear.”
Then God’s Eternal Light spoke once more to say, “You see my child, I have given you everything you need, and this you know very well. I created you to know what love is in your heart of hearts, so that when you feel it, it would become so comfortable and amazing you would instantly know it was me. You know of the prophets and the law; you have heard them speak of how you were made wonderfully and made in complete awe in your mother’s womb. That is because you were created by me with my God spark inside of you for this very purpose. For I am the Great Mother and have loved you into being. So, everything you will ever need, I have given to you, and this you know very well!”
“Will you make mistakes; sure. Will you not always love perfectly; absolutely. But you have heard my Son Jesus share the message with you of forgiveness through the cross, of love beyond love, and grace beyond grace. You know of His conception by the Virgin Mary, who too struggled with the very same questions you ponder now. But just as she answered in deep faith, I covenant with you and trust that your faith will guide you, a faith you know very well.”
“You must follow my commandments and believe in what my Son has shared with you. Trust in what you have heard about all of the loves I long for you to show my world as a mother, and I say ‘mother’ for woman is too specific. See, I am calling you and everyone to be a mother in all the ways you have experienced tonight. For while Jesus speaks of me only as the Father, I am also the Mother for I have conceived the whole world and created all you know and see. Everything you can touch and feel, and everything you can imagine, or have yet to imagine…And this you also know very well!”
As she heard these words, she fell to her knees and began to cry. From behind her tears, she asked God, “How can this be? It is too much. I cannot be a mother to the whole world. I cannot even mother my own world sometimes!” Suddenly, as if lifted into the arms of all the voices which spoke to her that night, she was embraced by the Spirit and felt a love that words cannot do justice. Then the voice, now speaking softly, so softly it felt as if it were coming from inside of her, said,
“My child, be who you are, where you are, for you are more than enough. Share that wisdom I hear in your prayers, that patience I see in your days, that hope you give your family and friends, the compassion you share with strangers, the love you find with me in all times, and you will indeed change the world. And if you ever need me, if ever things become too difficult or you need to be strengthened anew; turn to the one thing I hope you know most of all…my love for you!”
And just as quickly as she had been swept away, she was now back in her bed. She closed her eyes, longing to be in that place of peace and comfort again, begging herself and God to be conversing together again. But as hard as she tried, she could not make it happen, and as she lay there remembering all she had just experienced, she lifted a prayer from the depths of her heart whispering, “God of my days and nights, of my wakefulness and of my dreams, thank you for loving me, so that I can love…and for all the things that I know very well, Amen!”
"Immediately” – Rev. Tony Romaine
One anniversary, my wife and I were out to dinner at a fancy restaurant on their busiest night and our waiter, understanding it was our anniversary, offered us a European style experience. Neither of us knew exactly what he was offering, but in the spirit of adventure, we agreed because he was the expert after all. For the next 2-3 hours, we experienced what has, in my memory, gone down as one of our favorite anniversary dinners. Our waiter was attentive, never in a hurry. Bringing out the appetizer and each subsequent course not a moment too soon; allowing us to have a slow paced dinner, wonderful conversation, enjoying every moment of our dish or drink before us without being in a hurry so the restaurant could flip our table or we could hurry back to whatever was awaiting us outside those walls. And as we slowed down and spent that time with one another, our waiter immediately gave us an anniversary gift of presence, purpose, and love. See, in an interesting way, by slowing down we were able to enjoy that gift, that moment, that love immediately!
We are a people who want things immediately aren’t we? We want the internet to work lighting fast so we can download and do the things we are accustomed to doing. We want the light to change so we can get on our way throughout town. We want others to apologize when we feel harmed or hurt in anyway. Shoot, we even want our food to come immediately; hence the term “fast food!” And if we are honest, we want God to hear our prayers and immediately respond. Yet, the thing we fail to remember is that if this is how we long for others to respond to us, why are we surprised when they have the same expectations?! If this is how we want God to respond, then why are we surprised when God longs for us to respond in the same way?!
We hear in our Gospel passage today how Simon and Andrew were casting their nets and Jesus spoke to them calling them to be His disciples and they responded immediately. We hear of James and John sons of Zebedee, who are apparently so excited at the call of Jesus that they leap out of the boat and leave their father there with the hired men. And yet when we hear the call of God in our lives, are we this quick to action? Do we leap up and respond immediately?
The difficult truth for us in examining our relationship with God is that we ask much and often do not offer much in return. We ask God for the call in our lives, we ask Jesus to be present and help us, we ask for the will and the way; and yet, when we receive the answer we sometimes balk and pray that there has to be another way. We ask God for countless blessings and yet forget to thank God for what we have. We pray for God to act immediately in our lives and when God does by presenting us with opportunities for action, we pray for God’s will to look different, be different, or be more aligned with what we want.
This is why Jonah is one of my favorite books of the Bible; because we are all so much like Jonah. I don’t need to give the entire backstory of Jonah, as we did a wonderful four week journey with him last year. But just as a reminder, Jonah was called by God to go to Nineveh and preach repentance so that the people and city would be saved. But Jonah did not want those people to be saved, so he tried to run away and when we catch up with him in our passage today it is the moment when God calls him yet again to go to Nineveh and save the people through prophecy. And even after self-acknowledgement that this call is true and this way is right, Jonah still fights God’s will and becomes a reluctant prophet.
Think about that, Jonah knows that what God is calling him to do is the right thing, Jonah knows that God will save the people of Nineveh, Jonah knows that the reason for the storm on the oat is because God was calling him elsewhere. Just like so many of us have done; knowing what we must do, who we must save, where we must be, and yet longing for it to be another way.
We have all prayed for God’s will and work in our lives and then when God sends us the people to care for, or tells us where we must go; we run away or tell God, as if we were wiser than the Almighty, that those people do not deserve our prayer, our prophecy, our love. Even more specifically for us who call ourselves Christian, is that we hear the words of Jesus, we know that we are called to be His disciples, and we know that Jesus and the Good News we are called to share, is all about loving one another and loving ourselves. And yet, when presented with those in our lives who we deem unlovable (sometimes looking in the mirror when we make this austere judgment) we tell God that there has to be another way and this cannot possibly be the “immediately” we are being called to!
Which is why I do not think the passage we have today from Psalms is a prayer in resilience, but rather a prayer of reminder that the Psalmist is almost telling himself as he was writing it, like a mantra for all to remember: “For God alone my soul waits, for my hope is in God.” “Trust in God at all times.” “The riches of this world are just that, riches of this world and no matter the estate of a person, God is with them.” “Power belongs to God; steadfast love belongs to the Lord.”
See, as much as we pray for our God to be immediate, we must also trust in the timing and the call. And in this there is not desolation or demise, but hope and love. Because, God does not give up on the Jonah’s of the world. God does not stop calling us, God does not stop loving us, and God does not stop presenting us with opportunities to match our calls for immediacy with moments and people of action. For God knows that the difference between a Jonah and a James, between a person who is running away and someone who will immediately run towards, is a divide that God’s love bridges.
As you are all well aware of, my own life bears this out as a witness to how we are Jonah and how we are James. For God called me at a young age through a prophetess called my Grandma Ruby to enter into a life of ministry and I ignored the call. In fact, one could even argue that I ran away from the call trying and seeking and attempting all kinds of other dreams and wants in my life. And in those moments, God did not abandon me, God did not let me go and forget me. No, in fact, in many of those moments, God held me even closer and loved me more than I could ever imagine; otherwise, I never would have made it through. But finally, when the storms of life had cast me upon the shore and I was there bereft and broken, thinking that my God had left me to just drift listlessly through life, God spoke the call again and my immediately began; and I have been stumbling towards ever since…note I said stumbling, for we are not perfect, and sometimes jumping out of the boat means we fall face first into the water!
But this is why we have both the Jonah stories and the Good News. We experience both in our lives and are complex creatures that God knows are complex creatures. We are both the ones who run away from where we are being called and also the ones who run into the places where God needs us the most. We are both the person who slams on the horn and yells profanity at the person who cuts them off in traffic and also the person who waits patiently for someone to cross in the crosswalk. We are both the person who has devoted our lives to following and having faith in God, and the person who when God calls us to action takes a back seat and does nothing.
Through it all, God is with us. Through it all God is calling us to share our lives with one another and connect with that which connects us all; God’s love. Through it all, god is calling us to be so present with one another, and with God, that when we are presented with the very opportunities we asked for, we could respond immediately.
I wish I could say that my wife and I have been able to replicate that dinner from so long ago over and over. Unfortunately, hurriedness seems to be more of a norm that slowing down and being present. But that is why we have memories, that is why the Psalmist asks for hope in waiting, that is why we gather on Sundays…for God to remind us of life’s true pace, God’s true call, and the moments when we are so present that we can feel God’s love; to be reminded that we are sent to Nineveh to share the Good News, we are sent to the world to be God’s love, and to be reminded that Jesus is calling us presently, lovingly, immediately, Amen
"Why?” – Rev. Tony Romaine
Perihelion—The point at which a star, planet, or other cosmic entity comes closest to the sun in its orbit.
Earth just had this happen yesterday! And while this happens every year around this same date, it seems appropriate to highlight it this New Year, as we move from 2020 into 2021. The time when we need our Son to be closest to us is, fittingly, at the change of the year; a time when we as a church celebrate the light of the world entering our lives. And as we have been journeying through the Christmas season, we have explored all the basic questions that we as humans seem to come innately equipped with; what, when, who, how, where…and today we come to perhaps the greatest of them all; why.
Like all of the questions we have, even the question itself can be deciphered into myriad realms of possibilities. But for our purposes today, we specifically ask the “why” of God entering our world as the Incarnate Christ. The first answer to this specific question is the one we are all taught throughout Sunday school, through Confirmation, and into our adulthood; but is one we constantly need reminding of; Jesus came to save us. God sent Jesus to embody the forgiveness of our sins and to welcome us to this table of sacrifice where we remember that fateful night where Jesus broke bread and cup. God became incarnate in human form, being born into our world as Jesus the son of Mary and Joseph, but also Christ, the Messiah, the Promised One, to bring us home; all of us lost sheep.
And while this is most definitely the answer to why God came in the first place; to save us from our sins and grant us grace, there is another reason why God entered our world as Jesus Christ that might even undergird this salvation message. God sent Jesus to remind us of our creation and that we indeed are divine, each and every one of us. Within every one of us is a divine spark that has been there from our creation. From the moment we were made in the “image and likeness of” God, we have had a God-spark which burns deeply.
But like so many of us, the ancients too had forgotten this spark within them, they had forgotten how they were supposed to treat each person as part of the whole, they forgot how to love one another and look out for each other, they had forgotten what it meant to be children of God, they had become too focused on rite and ritual and law, and they had forgotten the greatest gift they had ever been given was the divinity within each other. And in this, while they may have known it or not, they were sinning and this sin could not be erased by payment, sacrifice, or personal action. So God entered into our lives to remind us once more of that Spirit within us. And in so doing awoke a movement within a group of people who longed to be reminded of that divinity, who longed to lift up others around them, who knew that if they themselves wanted love and acceptance and freedom, then they must offer it to others as well.
Which leads us to another answer to the question of “why:” God came because we are loved. If you do not have them closed already, I want you to close your eyes and be with me for a moment. Allow yourself to feel the answer to the question of “why?” deep inside you. Reach out to that divine spark within you and hear these words from God:
“I Love You!”
“I Love You!”
“I Love You!”
Those tears in your eyes, that warmth in your heart, the tingles you may be feeling, is all God’s way of saying to you how much you are loved. What better response to our question of “why” is there?!
See, here is the great thing about all our answers to the question we have asked today: they all lead back to God loving you. In the beginning God made the world out of chaos, but it wasn’t enough, all this natural beauty, everything God sent in motion, God needed a deeper creation, one that would be made in the image and likeness of God, one that would be blessed with free will and the ability to love. And when that creation sinned and moved away from God, God so loved it that God became incarnate through the Christ-child to love that creation home.
We need to be reminded of this love, which is why I believe God created the sun and the stars and the planets to work the way they do; that we would orbit the Sun every year and at the moment when the Christ child bursts forth into our lives, it is also the same moment we are closest to the brightest star in our universe. It is also the moment we are closest not only to the sun but to the Son. It is the moment that after Christmas and all that comes with it and after another year in which we are trying to move on into a New Year, we come closest to warmth and energy and light in our lives. So that we would be reminded again of THE LIGHT which is always with us and warms each of our days, so that we would be reminded again of the love God has for us, the love God created us in, and the love God longs for us to remember through this baby born to our world; Jesus the Christ.
And when we find that moment of love, when we can see that the answer to all our “whys” is that God loves us, it allows us to re-create our lives centered around a love which never fails. So that maybe our New Year will be a better year, maybe, just maybe, 2021 will be different. Maybe we will change the old normal which was obviously not working into a new creation. Maybe God is calling us to something deeper, something more divine this year. Maybe this year instead of just moving on with our lives and living another year, this year will be the one where we live into the love God has for us and for each other. Maybe this will be the year that the broken systems of the past become the fulfilling systems of the future. Maybe this is the year that we truly work on living each day as one filled with the love God has for us; which means that we respect our created neighbors as they are, God’s Creation. Maybe this will be the year we care for the Earth like it is God’s gift for us to care for; because it is God’s gift for us to care for! Or maybe this is finally the year that God’s love breaks through to you; and you finally can see that God loves you just as you are and is loving you into eternal light through Christ Incarnate.
I wish I could adequately express to you all the depth of love God has for each and every one of you. But as we are just past our point of being closest to the sun, our perihelion, let us be reminded as we enter a New Year of the moment when we come closest to our God; the moment when we come closest to the love God has for us for all time in that God spark within us from creation. Placed there so that we would not orbit as it were, but reside eternally right where God longs for us to be, right where God created us to be, right where we are reminded, we need to be through the Christ child. In the place where all our questions of why today are answered; that deep, unspeakable, unexplainable, center of love God placed within you, just for you, forever with you; that place where you hear those words which answer every “why:” “I Love You,” Amen!
"How?” – Rev. Tony Romaine – 12/20/2020
Each week during Advent, we have been journeying through questions like When, What, and Who and now today we arrive at How. By the way, as a bit of foreshadowing and selfish plugging for Christmas Eve service; Thursday we will delve into the question of Where. But as for today, as we come to the fourth Sunday of Advent and speak of God’s Love, we again must talk about the question of “How?” So to begin for today, let us hear a poem by St John of the Cross called, "If you want:”
"If you want, the Virgin will come walking down the road pregnant with the holy, and say, 'I need shelter for the night, please take me inside your heart, my time is so close.' Then, under the roof of your soul you will witness the sublime intimacy, the divine, the Christ taking birth forever, as she grasps your hand for help, for each of us is the midwife of God, each of us. Yet there, under the dome of your being does creation come into existence eternally, through your womb, dear pilgrim—the sacred womb in your soul, as God grasps our arms for help; for each of us is God’s beloved servant never far. If you want, the Virgin will come walking down the street pregnant with Light and sing …'"
We have all heard the Christmas stories time and again. We are all very familiar with how the angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her she is to bear a son and Mary asks, “But how can this be?” In fact, if you came to the Children’s Program, and are coming to the Christmas Eve service, you will have heard it three times just this year. But what we often paint over with eyes blinded to the immense wonder of it all, is the awe-inspiring answer to the question of “How?”
Because in this question, we not only get a sense of just what God is capable of, but we also can be witnesses to just how God plans on changing the world. So, we must handle the process of wondering how God’s Love can enter our world in the first place. Even Mary who is being visited by an angel of God is fully cognizant of her physical limitations and what she has and has not done herself. And so it is natural for her to ask of the angel, “How can this be?” Which is a beautiful moment that allows us to come along side of Mary and be with her in the surprise of that moment. I guarantee you if an angel of God appeared to any one of us, especially some of us, and said that we would bear a child of God and we would name him Jesus, I think surprise might be the first of many emotions, and “How can this be?” might be our most muted response.
And while the physicality is important because God incarnate is important, the moment we fail to align ourselves with the One who is vitally important for us, God Incarnate, then we fail to see the Divine in each and every one of us. For we are, as the poem “If You Want” spoke of, midwives of God Incarnate in our lives. Each of us has within us the God-spark of our creation, something perhaps that has lied dormant for many years or for all time, but I guarantee you is there inside you. God calling you to be the hands and feet of God to our world, God calling you to beget love as God begat us. God calling us to, and looking down upon us with, favor at the time of our birth and throughout our lives. And while we do not have the birth pangs that Mary must have been experiencing at such a late stage in her pregnancy; we have pains of another kind that we fail to act upon.
We feel the tug of the Holy Spirit calling us to be more loving to one another and we ignore it. We feel the kick of the words of Jesus Christ, our Savior, calling us to be more just and to work for a society in which all God’s children can be loved…and we ignore it. We are out of breath and need to slow down and sit with God, to be present with our Almighty, to bask in the warmth of Love that comes from on high, and we would rather keep busy and gain wealth, or fame, or prestige, or power, or what have you. Our lips, our hands should burst with love for one another; but instead, we focus on separation, difference, and whatever “I” can use to keep “you” in a place of lowliness. And in response, perhaps our question for today gets reversed and thrown back at us when God asks us, “How can this be?” How can a creation I have loved and favored and birthed turn away so easily.
The second action in the question of “How?” describes how God will enter our world, how God will change our world, and how God will forever bring Love once more into our world. This is the act of us responding as Mary did when she trusted in the angel’s message and answered, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
Mary might have questioned the physical nature of the Immaculate Conception, but as soon as she was told how it would happen, her next moment was an act of faith and trust in God. This is the answer to “How?” in terms of God’s Love returning to our world. We also must be people of trust and faith that while God’s will and action and love may be beyond our human understanding, it is in us and within us to be the hands and feet of that love to our world. We, in essence, are the “how” that will carry out the mission that God began through Jesus Christ. We are how God blesses the world when we use our abilities and the aforementioned God spark within us to be actors of hope and peace and joy and love.
And when Mary cries out in her Magnificat that we heard Julie read today and says that God has shown strength and scattered the proud, God has brought down the powerful and lifted the lowly, God has filled the hungry and sent the rich away empty, God has helped those who are God’s servants in remembrance of God’s promise of mercy and God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants forever; Mary is crying out in thanks to God for blessing her and the world with Jesus. But this cry of thankfulness at the magnificence of the Lord is an eternal cry to all generations to follow that we must be the ones who enact the “How?” and take the teachings and lessons and life of Jesus Christ and be that God Incarnate self we are to each other in our world.
Because this is the only way God’s Love which we are reminded of every Christmas, which we celebrate and remember this time of year, which we long for in our lives, will ever happen. God has chosen us to be the answer to the great question of “How?” Not because God cannot do it by God’s self, but because God chose for us to have the free will to either enact God’s will in the world and share love, or turn from our Incarnate God-spark and let the light fade. This places us as the ones with agency; again, we must be the “How!”
And so just as St John of the Cross reminds us, “If you want, the Virgin will come walking down the road pregnant with the holy, and say, ‘I need shelter for the night, please take me inside your heart, my time is so close.’” If you want you will see the “how?” of God’s love Incarnate within you as “under the roof of your soul you will witness the sublime intimacy, the divine, the Christ taking birth forever.” If you want you have within you the “how?” to change the world as God “grasps your hand for help, for each of us is the midwife of God, each of us.”
Yes, dear pilgrim, the “how?” is within you, within your “sacred womb in your soul.” For indeed, “God grasps our arms for help; for each of us is God’s beloved servant never far.” So, if you want, God has already given you the “how,” God is calling you to the “how,” and when you answer and embrace the love that God burst forth into our world with that Christmas so long ago, you dear pilgrim live into the “how” God gave. For the Lord is with you, the Holy Spirit is within you, and the Most High loves you. May we then all answer just as Mary did and proclaim, we are the “how,” Amen!
 St John of the Cross, “If You Want,” From Daniel Ladinsky Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West, (New York: Penguin Group, 2002), 306-307.
Rev. Tony Romaine
As we continue our journey through the Advent season this year and we explore the great questions which we are all taught from an early age, Who, What, Why, When, Where, and perhaps even How; today we reach the question of “What?” Specifically, what peace we should focus on during Advent. But because we should always have a definition to work from, according to Merriam Webster’s (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/peace) dictionary, the definition of peace is:
See, the peace that we are being called to is a physical peace, but it is also a mental state where we can be happy and joyful and content; indeed peace-filled. At the same time, the peace that we are being called to as Christians is not a passive peace in which we merely wait for God’s eternal reign to come and then there will be peace. No, our peace must be one where we actively engage in our world and decide to be the peacemakers, just as Jesus came to teach us. Thus, our peace calls us to be discontent with the ills of our world and to work for change. So, as we further define the “what” the peace of Advent, of God, of Jesus Christ is calling us to, let us dive into exploring the concepts of content and discontent.
Peace is a state of being content when we realize and recognize that our God is always with us and we are going to be okay. Just as the hymn we sang a few minutes ago reminds us, we are to take comfort in God. Peace is a state of contentment when we listen to Scriptures like 2 Peter that tell us how God is playing the long game and our years amongst all of God’s creation is like a drop in the bucket. Peace is also knowing that even though I am only one of seven billion people God knows me and every part of me and longs for the best for me.
Peace is also knowing that because of free will, some things of our world are going to happen which are not within my control. Peace is being content in how God made me, how God uses me, and the future God has planned for me. And being content is also trusting and being at peace with not knowing every little bit of my future. Peace is content when we have bad days or good days, when things go our way or do not go our way. We are content when we do as the Psalmist asks of us and turn our hearts toward God and then we will be at peace.
And yet in order to truly define the “what” of what God’s peace is calling us to, we must also be discontent. In a very basic way, we must be discontent when others cannot live at peace; or be content themselves. We are called by the life and teachings of Jesus to be discontent when society does not allow others to live in peace. We are called by the life and teachings of Jesus to be discontent when the laws of our world do not allow for peace. We are called to be discontent when others cannot live into who God made them to be, where God made them to be, what God made them to be. We must be discontent when the love that God longs for all God’s children is held back from all God’s children. We are called to be discontent when the peace that we enjoy cannot be enjoyed by all the world. We are called to be discontent when there are still those in this world who do not know of the love of God. We must be discontent until that one fine day when all will be baptized by the Holy Spirit and washed in the waters of eternal glory.
See, the “what” of peace is indeed one of being content and discontent. And yet there is another part to our “what” for today too; the great question that we must all ask ourselves, “What does God’s peace look like for me?” Yet, I would ask another question too, “In what ways must I move from being content to being discontent and from being discontent to being content?” Or in other words, “What is it I need to do less of to live into God’s peace, and what do I need to do more of to bring about God’s peace?”
This is the true “what” that our God is calling us to during the Advent season. We are a people who have been, and still are, on an extra-ordinary journey this year. We have had to experience things in one year that the world has not seen for a hundred years. And in this season where we remember that God burst forth into the world to bring about peace, we are ourselves wondering what peace truly looks like or even means. But in this manner, we must be reminded that for the Lord one day is indeed like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. And so, while we are waiting for the peace which comes through Christ to come once again, we must believe in the “what” that God’s peace will bring about.
We must trust in God and whatever our days hold and we will indeed be in a state of tranquility or quiet. We must work for peace in the communities we live in, within the families we are a part of, within the places we call home and the places we go. For then we will all be able to join in the peace that is provided for by law or custom. Not the laws of the state per se, but the Eternal Commandments to love God and love one another.
You must be happy when you look in the mirror and see the wonderful creation God made in you, when you see the places God has led you, when you see how God works in and through you and then you indeed will be at peace, free from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions.
And when you see that others around you cannot live in this way, when you see how divided our world is and how hate-filled some corners of creation are; extend a hand, make a call, speak out in your corner and work for God’s love to shine. For then we will all be at peace and be able to live in harmony in personal relations.
And when all seems lost, or the world seems too big to change, or life seems to be spinning out of control, or you just cannot look in the mirror for the sins you hold onto hold you back; remember the One who came who baptizes with Holy Spirit, remember the One who came to be the Peace of our world, remember the One who came to forgive you and to be your stillness in the storm, your peace and calm; the One who came to remind you just how loved you are, and be content that God was so discontent with the world that He sent Jesus to bring about peace. What an amazing “what” of peace that is, Amen!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.