Tuesday, June 13, 2017


The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling Trinity Sunday, June 11, 2017

Today I want to talk about stewardship. It’s a big word; and it’s a word in the Church that is often associated with money. Now money is a great resource because it enables us to do many things. It’s a source of power. It’s a resource that funds our mission and our ministries. It’s a means by which we can provide for our basic human needs. And yet, today I want to talk about the stewardship of time.
Are you a good steward of the time that God has given to you? How do you use your time? And for what purpose? In the disciplined Christian life, we are invited to spend our time divided between worship, study, and action. This morning you have chosen to spend some of your time in worship, giving thanks to God, who created you, Jesus who saves you, and the Holy Spirit, who sustains you with God’s life-giving Spirit.
None of us knows how much time we have been given to inhabit this world. In reality, all that we have is today. All that we have, in fact, is this hour, or this minute, or even this breath.
Today’s lesson from Genesis states that “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”  Before I jump into how God created us, and whether this happened miraculously in only seven days, or no less miraculously over a long period of time, I want to focus on this very first sentence in this first chapter of Genesis.
Perhaps you are aware that there are two different stories about how God created the world. They are often conflated into one story with parts of each of them being told as one.
Now the second story, in the 2nd Chapter of the book of Genesis, is the well known story about Adam and Eve. This second story is a “bottom-up” story, if you will, of Adam being formed from the dust, receiving God’s Spirit through his nostrils, and then being planted in the garden of Eden for work. Eve was created much later out of Adam’s rib to help him with this work.
Today’s story is a “top down” view of creation, whereas God is transcendent and powerful, making everything come into existence from nothing, purely by speaking and saying “Let there be this or let there be that.” Humankind, male and female, were created at the end of this story, rather than at the beginning, as they were in Chapter two. And, humankind, male and female, were created together and at the same time.
“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” This is the beginning of our time, unlike God’s time, which is eternal and everlasting. This is the beginning of our world, which has a beginning and therefore presumably an ending. And this is the story of God’s creating something out of nothing. In the beginning, there was no “there there.”
Creation is set up against chaos. As St. Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians, “Put things in order.” So God puts order into the primordial chaos that existed in this formless void. God brought light in general, and lights in particular, into the darkness that was covering the deep. There was a wind, presumably God’s Spirit, that swept over these waters, governing the forces below.
This particular creation story serves as (quote) “a preface not just to Genesis but to the entire Hebrew Bible, showing God masterfully orchestrating the events of creation” (end quote).God separates, differentiates, forms, and orders the chaos. Evil forces love chaos; and the people who lived at the time of Genesis and Jesus believed that evil forces lurked under the water. In this story of creation, unlike the second one, there is way too much water. And so God orders it. God creates good things to balance it, like the earth, and sky, and animals, and us.
According to the HarperCollins Study Bible, “The purpose of creation is for the good and for the benefit of all. (And) this goodness means that we are acceptable and viable as well as intrinsically good.” (end quote) That is to say, that in the face of the chaos and nothingness, God creates us to be living human beings. We are acceptable to God and to each other, and we are intrinsically good from the very beginning of our lives. Everything and everyone is good because we are created from God’s own goodness.
“So God created humankind in the image of God; male and female God created them.” This is the sixth day in the seven days of God’s creation. Now often we remember the second story of Adam and Eve, and how Eve was created from Adam’s rib.Today I want to focus only on this first story in Genesis.
We are created in God’s image. This divine image is one that is relational and personal and powerful and creative. It is an image that transcends genders and boundaries and definition. God spoke, and good things happened. We too have been given the power of speech, and we can use that power for good or for ill. We too are given the ability to create order out of chaos, and to create life out of formless voids. We too are moral human beings, who can reason with others for the common good. In the image of God we also have our work to do in how we use our time.
According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, sexuality is not attributed to God in the Hebrew Bible. Like our understanding of the Trinity, we are invited to participate in the great dance of love that exists between the three persons of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or Creator, Savior, and Sustainer. We are created into a loving relationship with God and all of creation - relationships that are intended to be life-giving, loving, and liberating.
The word “Adam” in this first creation story is generic. It does not mean a specific proper name for one man only, named Adam, with Eve being his female partner. In this first story, the word Adam represents all of humankind. “So God created humankind in God’s divine image; male and female God created them.” God’s image is beyond gender, or it includes both genders in a non-binary spectrum of diversity. In creation, God created the beautiful diversity of our humanity; and in that diversity, we take pride!
For those who say that women are subordinated to men, this first creation story says otherwise. For those who say that women’s work is created for certain purposes, this story says otherwise. Rather, all humankind is created in the image of God, which was blessed by God.
Now as much as we like to think that the high point of God’s creation is us, it is not. As much as we like to think that we are the center of the universe, we are not. For on the seventh day, God created the Sabbath, and God rested. The Sabbath day then, and not us, is the climax to this creation story. It is the crowning jewel of God’s creative work, the cherry that sits on top of that ice cream sundae.
To be good stewards of our time, we need to honor the Sabbath time; and yet, we often don’t fully understand what that time means. Yes, we all need to rest from our labors, from the six days that we’ve spent in creative work. We all need to inhale as well as exhale or else we shall die. We all need to pause for the rest note in the songs that we sing.
However, the seventh day wasn’t a day upon which our Creator stumbled, and then dropped to the floor exhausted, shouting “I can’t do this anymore!” Nor was it a time when God threw up God’s hands into the air and said, “Enough already!” Nor is Sabbath time when we fling ourselves into bed at night, after very long days, only to find our time is spent in sleepless nights, or medicated slumber. If God’s Spirit is so inexhaustible, and ever-present, then why are we so exhausted?
Rather God rested and reflected on the Sabbath day to breathe the air that God had created, to breathe in the Spirit that moved over those waters, and renews the face of the earth and us, That same Spirit keeps us viable because it lives and moves and sustains our beings, keeping the evil forces at bay. On this seventh day of creation, God reflected on the amazing six days of work that God had just completed. Perhaps patting God’s self on God’s back, God joyfully proclaimed “I sure do good work! Look at all this goodness!”
Into this Sabbath time God invites us. Take joy in the goodness of all creation. Take joy in the beauty and splendor of our world. Take joy in the gifts of time, talents, and treasure that God has given to you, and reflect upon them with wonder. Consider how you have used your gifts of time, talents, and treasure; and then bless God’s holy name on this Sabbath day.
Here is our Trinitarian God, well-ordered, well-balanced, moving, creative, and dynamic. So, “put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you,” wrote St. Paul.  “And remember,” Jesus said, “ I am with you always to the end of age.” Amen.

Genesis 1: 1-2, 4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13: 11-13
Matthew 28: 16-20

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Forgiveness and Peace

Pentecost, June 4, 2017
The Cathedral Church of St. Paul
The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling

There are three major feast days in our liturgical year: Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus; Easter, when we celebrate his resurrection; and today, 50 days after Easter, when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is called Pentecost. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he promised that he would not leave his disciples comfortless. He would not abandon them, but send an Advocate, a spirit of truth, a faithful companion to join them on their journeys. The Holy Spirit is always with us, reconciling us first to God, and then to others. And so, there you have it, the basic long arc of our New Testament story, as we celebrate this third high point in our Christian lives today.
But you and I know that life is not all high points. As much as we might like to try, we can’t stay on the mountaintop. There are plenty of low points, indeed, even bottoms in our journeys; and there is always the rising and falling in between. As we ride the roller coaster of life, we go up and feel good; we go down and feel bad. Often we just coast in the middle for long stretches of time, not really living, only just surviving, until something significant happens.
If we listen to the news, we know that there is plenty of bad “stuff” “out there.” Yesterday’s tragedy in London is a case in point. I think that sometimes we are drawn to the drama of such situations because it makes us feel less alone, or maybe not as bad about ourselves, or our own situations. It also increases our fear..
It was high drama in the lives of the disciples after their beloved leader, Jesus, was crucified. In fact, it was the evening of the Sunday after Jesus’s crucifixion, when the disciples locked themselves away in the room for fear that they too might be crucified. And then, in the middle of their fear, Jesus stepped into the room. Quite frankly, if I had just been betrayed, denied, and abandoned by my friends and followers, they wouldn’t be the first people that I visited after my resurrection. And the words “peace” and “forgiveness” wouldn’t be the first words that came out of my mouth. But then, I’m not Jesus.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Peace be with you” and then He showed them his hands and his side. Why, I wondered? Was this because the disciples didn’t recognize him at first. Was his resurrected body that much different from the previous one? Or was Jesus showing them that his wounds were real, and that yes, he had actually died? Maybe he needed to acknowledge that He had been harmed; and yet he was still willing to forgive.
I imagine that everyone in this room struggles with forgiveness. It’s only natural; in fact, it’s human. We have trouble forgiving people who have harmed us, and believing that we’ve been forgiven ourselves. We all have inner wounds that are spiritual, mental, and emotional. Unlike the wounds that Jesus had on his hands and side, our wounds aren’t always visible. Perhaps we’ve hidden them behind locked doors, in rooms of fear and pain, out of self-protection. Or maybe we’ve been harmed and so we feel justified, even self-righteous, when we verbally and physically lash out at others. We convince ourselves that we can’t help it, that the devil made us do it, or that others deserve our punishment.
Conflict is ever present in our human relationships. It’s only natural; in fact, it’s human. In the very first book of the Bible, we are told a story about jealousy, how Cain killed his brother Abel. This is sibling rivalry at its worst! Last week in the reading from 1 Peter, we were warned to “be sober, be watchful. Our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.”
Conflict often begins at home, before we take it out of our doors and onto the streets. Without first pausing to reflect within ourselves, we engage people as if we are armed for battle. Fearful, we forget to put on the armor of God, as St. Paul suggested in his letter to the Ephesians: We need to put “shoes on our feet to make us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” Stepping out of our locked rooms, we can “take the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Individually, and together, we can pray for peace.
Our journey of healing begins with forgiveness.
An often repeated story is the one about two wolves. (Quote) “An old Indian grandfather said to his grandson who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice. ‘Let me tell you a story,’ the grandfather said. ‘I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times.”
“He continued, ‘It is as if there are two wolves inside me; one is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all those around him and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way. He saves all his energy for the right fight.”
“But the other wolf, ahhh! He is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing. Sometimes it is hard to live - with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit.”
The boy looked intently into his Grandfather’s eyes and asked, ‘Which one wins, Grandfather?’ The Grandfather smiled and quietly said, “‘The one I feed’.” (End quote)
First, we must forgive ourselves, knowing that we are forgiven by God. If we do not believe that we have been forgiven, we cannot forgive others in that same Spirit. And we must forgive others, for our own sakes, if not for God’s sake. “Just forgive”, Jesus said to his disciples from the cross. “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In the Lord’s prayer, we ask God to forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive others who have trespassed against us. Some of us need to repeat that prayer every day of our lives; indeed sometimes every minute if necessary.
Forgiveness: ask for it, then just do it. Pray for it, until you know it. Receive the Spirit and feel the peace and power of that adrenaline rush. Today feed the good wolf!
Jesus was wounded every day of his life; in fact, He died from the wounds inflicted upon him. No longer the leader of his people, he died as an innocent man. And yet, God vindicated him, and raised him from the dead. By his blood, he reconciled us. By his wounds, we are healed. God’s mission of reconciling all people to God and to one another was accomplished through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Through Him, we are a people forgiven and set free! That is our story!
In Greek, “to forgive” means to be “set free.” We are free for a purpose - to share the life-giving, liberating, forgiving love of Jesus. And through the Holy Spirit, we can say ‘Jesus is Lord.’ Stepping into the room, where the disciples had locked themselves away in fear, Jesus brought the Spirit with him. Peacefully, and personally, he breathed his Spirit on to all of them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “You are forgiven; now go, and forgive others, just as I have forgiven you.”
“Receive the Spirit,” Jesus said. Breathe it in now. Drink from the One Spirit of God, so that we, who follow Him, can become agents of peace. Together, we have a variety of gifts, but it is the same Spirit in all of us that empowers us for good. Come Holy Spirit, and help us to renew the face of the earth.