The Place Where You are Standing is Holy

Jesus and the Disciples – Rembrandt (1634)

The Place You Are Standing is Holy
Epiphany 2A 2017
St Brendan’s Church
Rev. Doug Floyd

Several years ago, Kelly and I went to Myrtle Beach with my family and did something that probably many of you have when you go to the beach. One morning we got up before the sunrise. It was pitch black. We took flashlights down to the beach. When we got down there we didn’t see anybody else on the beach. Of course, you couldn’t see much more than a few feet beyond your own face. We could hear the water; we couldn’t see it. We couldn’t see any shapes. We sat there waiting, which felt like a long time. We had no sense of time. It was cool out, even though it was the middle of summer. Then suddenly, a prick of light on the horizon, and the only light you could other see than that, was where it hit the water.

The water looked like it was on fire. As the light grew, the light on the water spread. A fiery glow covered the water but the sky was still dark. Finally, when the sun rose high enough and was lighting up the sky, you couldn’t see the reflection on the water any longer. Then, color came. Everything took shape. There was form and at one point the whole world looked ablaze with glory. It was beautiful.

Every day in the Book of Common Worship, it opens with this little prayer, “The night has passed, and the day lies open before us; let us pray with one heart and one mind.”[1] It begins each day, praying in the cycle of the sunrise. It’s same vision of the sun rising up and lighting everything. We are moving in to the fullness of the light.

Each day we rehearse this kind of rising in our prayers, but we also rehearse this rising throughout the Season of Epiphany. We rehearse the light of Jesus to the nations. The glory of God being revealed. In fact, the Isaiah passage we read today, “I will make you a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6b). The servant, who we come to know as Jesus Christ is truly a light himself. In fact, by the time we get to the end of this story, in Revelation, there is no need for a sun any longer, for He has become the light of all things. All things have now come into shape, and come into color, and full form, because the light has risen completely.

In our Collect for today, we pray about light. We prayed, “Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever. Amen.”[2]

His Light is shining upon us, and we are becoming witnesses to the nations to reveal the glory of Jesus Christ. In the Scripture, we see an image of light rising, the sun rising. Everywhere in Scripture actually. I love to study Torah, and some of this image comes all through Torah. We’ll talk a little bit about Torah today because it fits with the reading. There is a passage in Proverbs that reads, “the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day” (Pr 4:18). The path of the righteous is the path of Torah. The way of walking in the wisdom of the Lord. The people who walk in the wisdom of the Lord are walking into the fullness of daylight. That image continues and develops in the New Testament.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul offers an image of us walking on a journey. We’re walking more and more into the image of Christ, the vision of Christ. As we behold Him, we’re being changed. He says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Co 3:18).

There is this image of us walking and being changed as we walk. One degree of glory to another. As we follow Christ, we are truly walking into the light. We are reflecting his glory. We are being changed from glory to glory, but, it doesn’t really feel like it. It doesn’t feel very profound. It doesn’t feel very spiritual; very rarely do we feel lit up with glory or have any sense of His presence.

In a sense, there is almost a disconnect between what we experience and between the story we tell. There is a disconnect between the imagination and what we experience in the real world. I am a person who tends to dream pretty easily. I’ve actually had to learn how to not … to put a clamp on that because it can lead to magic thinking pretty fast and I can believe things that are just totally wrong.

When I was in fourth grade, I joined the basketball team. It’s the only sport I ever played for any more than one year. I was the tallest kid on the team and played for three years. From the moment, I joined the team and every time we would go to practice, I would have visions of me being carried by the team aloft. People would be cheering. I would be the great victor. Here I was, the largest guy, I would be the great champion.

After playing basketball for three years, I made one basket. The whole school stood up and cheered because the guy who was the very worse player on the team, actually made a basket. There is a bit of struggle of living into our humanness. Sometimes, this sounds so joyful and hopeful, but the reality of waking up each day doesn’t quite feel the same.

I think this kind of thinking might help us as we think about the disciples. Today and next week the Gospel readings are on the call of the disciples. Jesus is raising up people who will become his image on the earth. It is through their witness that we’re even here. We are here because they witnessed to Christ. Then, the next generation witnessed to Christ. This light was carried from generation to generation.

He did, in fact, transform them in His presence and yet, particularly if we read the story of Peter, it is clear that his life is a lot of struggles, all the way to the end of Scripture. It might help us, just for the next two weeks, to meditate on how he transforms these disciples. In today’s story, we have John pointing out the Lamb of God. At one point he points his disciples to Jesus. The disciples heard him, and they began to follow Jesus.

I’ve always thought this story is kind of odd or kind of undramatic. The disciples just start following Jesus and basically Jesus turns around and says, “What are you doing, what are you seeking? They said, “We just wondered where you’re staying,” which seems a little odd. They don’t say, “We want to know the truth or we want you to open up our eyes.” We wondered where you’re staying.

Jesus say, “Come on and you’ll see.” Then in 1:39 he says, “So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day” (Jn 1:39). This is the beginning of the forming of the disciples. I would suggest in this little teeny story there are two words that become fundamental all through the gospels in the shaping of the disciples.

These two words become fundamental in our own lives. The word “follow”, which will show up again, and again, and again in the Gospels, and it will be the focus of the gospel next week. The word “stay”, which is often translated “remain” or “abide.” It’s the same word. In John, he has chosen to repeat that word in one verse, in one sentence, which makes it rather significant. It is significant to John because the idea of staying and remaining is actually pretty important.

There is a tension between the two words because one is a word in motion and one is a word at rest. Many people, many times our lives might be defined by one or the other word. Some people are ready to go. They are ready to follow. They are ready to take off and other people are ready to stay and wait. Sometimes it’s difficult to do the opposite of what we feel inclined to do, but often in life the two words are part of our daily lives. It is in both the following and the staying that Jesus is shaping us.

If we begin to think about the word “stay”, which is primarily what I’ll focus on today, the actual word has to do with dwelling. As soon as I say the word “dwelling”, it might bring to mind, the word, “tabernacle”, which also is a dwelling place. It has to do with dwelling, and this tabernacle theme will become predominate. This image of tabernacle in the New Testament as the people of God become the dwelling place. We become the place where God dwells.

Jesus will turn to the disciples later in John using the exact same word and say, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (Jn 15:4).The idea of abiding has to do with resting and staying. It’s most easily understood and we’ll think about it briefly in the context of a family, because that is where you really learn how to stay.

Hopefully, we learn how to abide in a family relationship. In the context of a place of stability. Staying, often has to do with stability. Leaning how to stay. Sometimes you don’t get to stay, though. Sometimes you have to go. There have been times in people’s lives when you’ve, for instance, say you love a job and I’m prepared to stay there. I worked at a company in the 90’s. Most of my life I worked in the business world and in ministry. I’ve done bi-vocational ministry and worked for a company in the 90’s that decided to close our department and move it over to the Netherlands.

I had to go. I had no choice. Looking back, it’s actually one of the best places I ever worked. I loved staying there, but I had no option. I had to go. There was a sense of where the word, “follow” comes. God calls us, even when I’m not prepared to go. I had to go. I had no choice but to go. Many times, we would prefer to stay. Sometimes the idea of going may be some other event that forces us to leave, or a sense of a calling.

Even starting this little community, St. Brendan’s, it was comfortable for me to stay at Apostles in Knoxville. It was an established church, established community, it’s actually easy for me to live within the rhythm of the community. I had all the rhythms down, yet, there was this call to go, even from the church. They felt there was a need to do this. The idea of following carries with it a sense of risk, a sense of adventure. There can be excitement, but there is also a sense of risk. Certainly, in the gospels, going, or the idea of following, often means abandoning one life behind.

All of us have stages of life where we have to go. Growing up, you eventually leave home. That is a dramatic leaving. A dramatic going. You go away. Either to school or to some other new life. You leave the family you grew up with. In a sense, you begin a new life and the world changes. Some people love the energy and the excitement of going so much, they never learn how to stay. They are always going.

Sometimes, we call that wanderlust. The Celts called it tinkers. They said tinkers are people who endlessly wander. They actually saw it as a curse. They had a little story in the Celtic world and this is where the word tinker comes from. The tinker was the person who originally crafted the nails that hung Christ. In their, sort of, storied mythology, tinkers are people who have inherited the curse to endlessly wander, because they can never find their home in Christ. They are endlessly wandering.

If you know anything about the Celtic world, there are actual tinkers. It’s a gypsy people. They have converted to Christ, so the story is not necessarily a curse on them, although that was a part of the Celtic story, the idea of people endlessly wandering. They had another idea in the Celtic world of people called to journey. They called them peregrine. People who are called to go on journey for the love of God, which we talked about before. St. Brendan is one and that’s why we even used the name St. Brendan. He’s one who is called to go on pilgrimage. He’s on pilgrimage for the love of God.

These two ideas are really central to Celtic thought and just thinking a little bit about the way they talk about it might help us consider the tension between staying and following. They talk about place and pilgrimage, two really chief ideas in the Celtic world. In their writing and their poetry and their stories. Place and pilgrimage. Home and journey. Staying and following. The two are always in tension.

In one sense, throughout our lives we’re living within both of these tensions. Every day there is an aspect of staying and there is an aspect of going. Every day is a little mini pilgrimage and yet, every day is an opportunity to live into the rhythms of daily existence.

The disciples say, “Where are you staying?” And they come and dwell. The predominate way that the disciples become the disciples, is simply dwelling in the presence of Christ. He, himself, changes them, just simply being in His presence. They live with him, day in and day out. If we follow the stories in all four gospels, they are very human. They often have conflicts. They often misunderstand what Jesus is doing. In fact, the Gospel of John, which we read from today, particularly emphasizes their misunderstanding. Every time Jesus does a miracle, they think they’ve understood him, then we find out, actually they didn’t understand.

They’re constantly misunderstanding, and yet, they’re living into this life with Christ and they’re being changed, just by living with Him. This is not to discount the notion of spiritual discipline, but the spirit of true transformation simply happens by abiding in Christ, by simply dwelling in Him. This is why it’s so important for John to talk about this in John 15. It’s simply being changed in relation to the people that I have been put in, that Christ has called me to.

In fact, God created us. Go all the way back to the beginning of the story in Genesis. We are created to live within a space and a time. It is in this very creation, this very world is changing us. The place where we live, the ground on which I stand is changing me, and the people with which I am surrounded.

Paul, when he preaches at Areopagus, he talks about how when God created the world, he says, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (Ac 17:24–27).

God creates the time and place where humans live, and it is in that very place that he is drawing us to him. There is, in one sense, a cosmic aspect of that but then in a very local aspect. Just the very family I’m born into is the place where he has chosen to change me. The ground on which I walk is the place in which he has chosen to change me. All creation, the church has understood, creation is a book of revelation. This is Psalm 19. It is a book of revelation that is witnessing to Christ, yet we need Torah, the second part of Psalm 19, we need the wisdom of God to teach us how to see his glory that is witnessing to us in creation.

The very land on which I walk shapes m imagination, my hopes, my dreams. So, for the Celts this means that the very land on which I walk, God has created for me to live in. So much so that they name everything. They name every tree in their yard. They name their homes, they still do. They name their boats. I think we name boats, but they name everything. The longest name of a church in the world is in Wales and it has included every particular aspect of where the church is, in the name. You know there is no other church in the world, like this church, because it’s very particular at this very place.

When the Celts talk about the Communion of Saints, they are not thinking like a cosmic family, they’re thinking of the people who lived in this little community. The ones who have died, they are still part of our Communion, so in the Stowe Missal, they’ll call out the names of the Saints and these names includes many people who had died within their local community.

They’re always thinking of this place where I have been called. In fact, there is a phrase that captures that. “The place where you are standing is Holy.” It’s the very place where God has chosen to break in. Where Christ is going to reveal himself. In fact, even some of the Christmas carols capture that idea. Christ was born, just around the corner. Bring a torch Jeanette Isabella, is a song that indicates Christ is born, has been born, just down the street in France. He’s just been born in the next street over.

That kind of idea shows up in many Christmas songs and Christmas poems, is that Christ has just been born in the next street over. This very land, in fact, particularly Wales, the Welch believed that Wales was the New Jerusalem, which Americans sometimes have thought that as well. The very place where I stand is the Holy place that God has chosen form me in that place.

I’m going to focus mostly on family, because it’s in the place of family. In the place of relations, where God begins to transform. Hans Urs Von Balthasar writes, “After a mother has smiled at her child for many days and weeks, she finally receives her child’s smile in response. She has awakened love in the heart of her child, and as the child awakens to love, it also awakens to knowledge…”[3] He says it’s through the mother that the child begins to recognize the other person. In that recognition, the child begins to learn how to love. Children have been formed to love, but it requires the intimacy of mother and child to awaken love in the child’s heart. He goes on to say, “God interprets himself to man as love in the same way: he radiates love, which kindles the light of love in the heart of man, and it is precisely this light that allows man to perceive this, the absolute Love…”[4]

It is, precisely in Christ that we behold the love of God. Love is awakened in the heart, which happens with the disciples. We are changed as He brings us into communion and into community. Part of the whole aspect of worshiping together is entering into a communion where Christ is opening up my heart to love. He, himself is at the center of the communion and he is teaching us how to love.

Bobby Jones, a Welsh poet, thinks about the mystery of God revealing Himself within Bobi’s own family at tea time. He writes,

“There’s something religious in the way we sit
At the tea table, a tidy family of three.
You, my love, slicing the bread and butter, and she,
Apart from the marvelous doting
Of a world’s interchange with each other…there’s tea.
Stupid, they say, to think of the thing as an ordinance,
And yet all the elements are found to change in our hands.
Because we sit and share them with each other
There’s miracle. There’s a binding of unmerited graces
By the cheese, and through the apples and the milk
A new creation of life is established, a true presence.”[5]

In the little tea time, he sees something that looks very much like the Eucharistic meal that everything is being transformed and being filled with light. Christ is in the midst. He clarifies that this is not the Eucharist, but it is like it, it isa reminder of the Great Thanksgiving.

“Still tea is not worship…But it overcomes
Things so the spirit may happily hop
In our hearts. Assimilating heaven’s carol
Into our constitutions, we are a choir, our throats
Blending calories and words together in the presence
Of the unseen Conductor who laid the table.”

Such a beautiful image of family life. God’s presence, right in the middle of mealtime, transforming the communion. There are times when we experience that, in the day in and day out of family and of relations. There is a sense of beauty and glory. Then, there is a sort of daily-ness of that abiding that is not quite as exciting. It’s a struggle. There are conflicts. It’s not quite as joyful at times. Sometimes it doesn’t feel so profound and so glorious.

This is our letter in Corinthians today. Paul has called a group of people together. They are all very, very different. They come from a very different culture. All different races and statuses. He’s really trying to get them to see that they’ve been made into a family, but it’s difficult. At the end of the reading today, he says that “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Co 1:9).

As Paul writes the Corinthians, he reminds them that in this fellowship is s a fellowship in Christ. It is made up of very diverse people and difficulties and conflicts and challenges. Yet, that’s the very place where Christ can be revealed. In the daily-ness, in the grind, in the difficulty, in the challenge. It is in the place of staying and abiding.

In, 1 John, the theme of abiding appears again. Now it’s very clear in 1 John that abiding means more than just simply dwelling together, it means dwelling together over the long haul. Many people have left the Christian community because they found something else, another truth that’s even deeper. John will literally call them anti-Christ. He says, they have left, but he says the challenge is to remain … To remain in Christ. When he uses the word “abiding” there, it means abiding over time. Not being distracted by all the things that are calling me away from staying, but learning how to stay. Live into families, in the friendships, in the communion.

One of the ways Christ is changing us, is in the midst of living out the communion of family, friends and church. We are learning the mystery of reciprocal love. Thomas Merton suggests that life is a place where we are transformed with a small group of friends, where we learn the mystery of reciprocal love. He says, “Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone— we find it with another. We do not discover the secret of our lives merely by study and calculation in our own isolated meditations. The meaning of our life is a secret that has to be revealed to us in love, by the one we love.”[6]

In a simpler way, T.F. Torrance said you can never preach the gospel to yourself, someone else must tell you the grace of God. I have to hear it from someone else.

I started with a morning prayer from the book of Common Prayer. It is in this, we see this promise of light breaking into the daily-ness. Just as we pray, “The night has passed, and the day lies open before us; let us pray with one heart and one mind.”[7]

The Celts brought the ordinariness of every day into prayer. Every ordinary act, from walking to milking the cow, to sweeping the house. Everything was brought up to God in prayer. It all becomes a sacred act. The simplicity of ordinary living becomes an act of worship. It is a way of constantly returning in my ordinary life, into an encounter with Christ. It is there, one place, that we being the mystery of staying … The mystery of abiding, that Christ is faithful and he has not forsaken us in the mystery, the simplicity of that daily living.

Father, thank you that you have gathered us, even as you gathered the disciples, and that even now, you are still transforming us. Even though often we may not feel overly glorious and feel like we’re walking from glory to glory, and yet, you are making us into witnesses that reflect the very image of Christ in our world. We thank you, in Jesus name. Amen.

[1] Book of Common Prayer, Morning Office, see <https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/join-us-in-daily-prayer.aspx>

[2] See “Collects of the Christian Year” for Second Sunday of Epiphany <http://anglicanchurch.net/?/main/texts_for_common_prayer>

[3] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone Is Credible, trans. D. C. Schindler (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 76.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Bobi Jones (translated by Joseph Clancy). “Having Our Tea” from Bobi Jones Selected Poems, Christopher Davies Publishers (December 31, 1987).

 

[6] Merton, Thomas (1979-05-01). Love and Living (p. 27). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

[7] Book of Common Prayer, Morning Office, see <https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/join-us-in-daily-prayer.aspx>

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