St. Patrick lived his life with a sense of intimate and comprehensive connections to God. Here is the message for March 17
Holy Connections 2013 03 17 Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8; Isa 43:16-21; Ps 126
April and Albert debated which of them could get a parcel to a friend in Vancouver the fastest. Albert challenged April to a race. At noon they were to each set out to get a parcel to the friend and they were not allowed to use any commercial transport. Albert thought he was a sure winner since April didn’t drive. He took off in his Mazda Rx 8, glad for a chance to take it out on the highway. When he got to Vancouver 9 hours later, the friend had April’s parcel in hand. He thought she must have cheated, but the friend said, “No, this is what she did.” April had a friend who commuted from Kelowna. This friend left early for home from Calgary, leaving Springbank Airport at 12:45 and arrived in Kelowna about 3:00 pm. Another friend commuted to Kelowna from Vancouver and took the parcel home when they left at 4:30, getting to Vancouver at 6:00 pm. A third friend picked up the parcel and took it over to the other friend’s place at 7:30, an half hour before Albert got there.
We live in a society that lifts up independence and freedom as treasured goals. In reality, for as long as people have successfully walked on this planet, interdependence and relationships provided the keys to survival and success.
The best of those relationships are our holy connections, connections that feed our spiritual lives while nurturing us in other ways. The story of Mary anointing Jesus with the expensive perfume points to a holy connection for Mary.
Her relationship with Jesus so richly transformed her life that her extravagant act with the perfume became a way to give thanks for how she had been blessed by Jesus. Extravagant acts reveal the importance of a relationship.
Fishermen abandoned their nets and families to follow Jesus. Ordinary people faced martyrdom in proclaiming their faith. Communities build immense cathedrals of incredible beauty. And the extravagance continues.
Friends of ours in St. Paul sold their acreage by the lake and his electrical business to become involved in community development in Bolivia taking their teenage children with them. Their encounter with the sacred through a mutual friend was so intense, anything less would not have been enough.
Our creed includes the line, “to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.” Mary proclaimed Jesus as the source of her finding new life through her extravagant act. The Michauds proclaimed Jesus as their judge and their hope by their extravagant exchange of their comfortable Canadian life for a life of greater meaning for them working with the poorest of the poor in another country. Paul’s extravagant act was abandoning all that had been key to his life for a life totally dedicated to evangelism. The rest of his life was spent proclaiming Jesus, crucified and risen, his judge and source of his hope, even in jail and through torture and persecution.
The extravagance and the proclamation do not happen until there is an experience of the sacred strong enough to demand nothing less of us, a holy connection that overwhelms us. Hear again about Paul’s story. He was an ardent Jew, as fanatic about defending Judaism as any extremist Christian or Moslem is today. And he threw that all away after an encounter with the risen Christ. In our reading today he confessed that he still did not understand what it was all about, but his experience was overwhelming.
A reading I did not include today was from Isaiah 43. One verse can be translated as “Forget about what has happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?”
A common pattern for institutions is that they begin with an experience in a community. Over time the story of that experience becomes the centre of the institution, and then rituals and rules are created to protect that story and maintain the institution. And the institution shrivels up. Institutions, organizations, and communities that persist do so by re-experiencing the initiating experience, or descendants of that experience. Sometimes the recreation or re-membering of that experience is highly ritualized and carefully nurtured. The Jesuits are the largest Catholic order because the persistent requirement for nurturing the spiritual routines core to their order keeps their members grounded in the original experience that created their order. This persistence is seen in the qualities of Pope Francis who clearly never forgot he was an ordinary human empowered by the Spirit to do extraordinary things. The outward signs of his holy connections, his extravagant refusal to accept unnecessary trappings of his position, his persistent identification with service to the poor, are a source of hope to many that he will begin to turn the supertanker known as the Roman Catholic Church in a better direction.
So where are our holy connections? What new thing is God doing or about to do here? To what to we need to be alert? What are we doing, about to be doing, or could be doing to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope?
One set of holy connections are our personal relationships with each other and offered to those who come here. In our conversations we need to be alert to little comments about what might be or what seems needed or about shifts in personal priorities. God has this annoying habit of speaking at time in quiet whispers, and, if we are not listening, we can miss the message. For example, a few people have quit coming to church due to hearing loss. If we value our connection with those people, we will find a way to help them hear better.
Individually, prayer, reading the Bible, and choosing to serve others can provide holy connections. I posted a link on our website to an article on another website. This article talks about 5 kinds of Christians. One kind finds connection with God through the sacraments. Another finds connection with God through quiet contemplation, especially prayer. A third kind finds connection in charismatic experiences. A fourth kind finds connection through helping the poor and marginalized people. The fifth kind finds connection through evangelization. For all of them, the connection they experience brings comfort and strength.
Our traditions can be a holy connection or a barrier to connection depending on whether we reach for God through them or look at them in place of God.
As a congregation, our sharing in worship may be a source of holy connection to one another and to God and God’s intentions for us. Is worship a path for us or a destination?
As a congregation, how we reach out to the wider church, to presbytery, Conference and General Council can make them holy connections, or not.
We can also find holy connections in connecting with other congregations of various denominations and even other faiths.
Making holy connections results in a number of signs. Extravagant acts of love are one kind of sign. Another sign is the compulsion to invite others to share our experience. If that holy connection is to Jesus, we discover we must proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.
We may do this through social activism or even political activism. Tommy Douglas gave his life in his quest for justice for all because his relationship with Jesus demanded nothing less. Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa gave their lives to serving the poorest of the poor and confronting barriers to righteousness.
We may proclaim Jesus in quietly and persistently serving in the background, or we may be a street preacher constantly at odds with the law.
Each of us needs different holy connections, but all of us need holy connections to experience the fullness of our humanity. Sometimes these connections are thrust upon us when our lives are ripped open in some way. Most of the time they result from our deliberate willingness to seek them. Our success in establishing them creates sets of relationships that give us surprising capacities to do things, like Alice in my opening story.
May God help each of us, and all of us together nurture and develop the holy connections we need. Amen.