Readings and reflection from Sunshine Cathedral in Second Life on Sunday, October 19, 2014
Visit us in Second Life, (http://www.secondlife.com) and search for Sunshine Cathedral.
The Call to Worship Based on Psalm 96
Sing to the Lord a new song;
Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
All: Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim good tidings of salvation everyday.
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
All: Acknowledge the glory of God’s name;
Bring an offering and come into God’s house.
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
Let the sea roar, and all it contains;
All: Let the field exult, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy
Gracious God fill our hearts with song and that we may find the courage to lift our voices in the service of making justice on earth. Give us courage to speak out as loudly as we sing your praises. Make us strong to give voice to those who have no voice, give us the will to act on behalf of those who cannot act for themselves.
All these things we ask in the name of the Christ. Amen
The Wisdom of Malinda Cramer
It was early one morning in the year 1885, during an hour of earnest meditation and prayerful seeking, that I asked the following questions in faith…“Is there any way out of these conditions? Is there any power in the vast universe that can heal me?”
The immediate and all-convincing response was not an audible voice, but was an intuitive response by the life-giving spirit, which penetrated the body through and through, and which illumined and vivified its every atom with newness of life…
The answer to my earnest inquiry, as to whether there was any power that could heal me, was an all absorbing realization of a presence not heretofore realized. This presence was more than personal; it was omnipresence, and was so real, and so vivifying and illumining, that I became It. I realized It to be my Life, my Being, my health, knowledge and power. It was as a “consuming fire,” in that all things became It, and were this Presence manifested.
Simultaneous with finding myself in God, I experienced the indrawing of all things; that is, that all are embraced within…One Infinite Source and Cause, and as I looked out over the Infinite’s Creation, I beheld what to me was “a new heaven and a new earth.”
1 Thessalonians 1.1-10
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians…Grace to you and peace.
2We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly 3remembering before our God your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in Christ. 4For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that God has chosen you, 5because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake.
Reflection by Rev. Dr. BK Hipsher, Virtual Chaplain, Sunshine Cathedral
Click on the audio bar below to hear the recording. Text follows.
Our reading today from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians is also the oldest document in the New Testament. It is estimated to have been written about the year 50 C.E. Like most if not all of the letters that are preserved in the New Testament we are reading one side of a dialogical exchange. So we might assume that Paul is responding to and reflecting upon questions raised by the Thessalonian faithful.
The first thing that jumped out at me in this reading was the familiar juxtaposition of faith, hope, and love. This is the same pattern we read so frequently in 1 Corinthians 13.13. As we know in that reading Paul elevates love to the highest ideal. And it is important to note that in the Jewish Rabbinic tradition that was developing alongside the early Christian church faith in God is directly tied to hope for the future. Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians is that nothing we believe, or do, or say means anything unless we come from a starting point of love.
Paul uses this pattern of faith, hope, and love to begin with praise for the group there acknowledging their work and faithfulness. This is a good lesson for us when we interact with people in our work of ministry and in our secular work. Praise and acknowledge first, criticize later. Let people know they are appreciated before we begin to critique them.
The concept of being “chosen” directly follows the acknowledgement of faith, hope, and love. The Jewish people understood themselves to be chosen by God as Deuteronomy 7.6 says, “…to be [God’s] people, his treasured possession.” Paul is now using this concept of being “chosen” to apply to these people who are hearing and acting on the gospel of Christ.
This is a good opportunity for me to share with you that the evolution of Reform Judaism today has a different understanding of what being chosen means. It is less about being chosen by God and far more choosing to follow the ethical teachings contained in the Torah. Here, too, in our reading from Paul’s letter he seems to be linking the people’s “choseness” with the actions described as “work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope.” So it’s not so much about being chosen as choosing to live into the gospel of love through faith in God and the hope that springs forth from it.
This shift from the Jews being God’s chosen people to this Gentile community in Thessalonica is an acknowledgement of God’s Omnipresence in the world. And here is where our two readings intersect today. In our letter from Paul he is expanding the concept of God’s omnipresence to include every one. It is the macro view of this concept.
In our reading from Malinda Cramer we see the other end of the scale for acknowledging God’s omnipresence as she describes “an all absorbing presence not hear-to-fore realized.” Paul acknowledges that everyone is included, Cramer comes to understand that even she is part of God’s self. Omnipresence encompasses not only the gathering of all of creation together. It expands to a knowledge that we are not only chosen or included, we are literally part of God’s own self.
Cramer describes this “feeling God” in emotional terms not just dispassionate rational terms. I think when we discount our feelings and emotions as part of our experience of God we discount a large portion of our experience of God. Cramer acknowledges her own despair and her own intuitive knowledge of God’s presence not only surrounding her but penetrating her body.
As I listen to the news each morning I sometimes feel despairing about the world. That macro view of poverty, disease, violence, and war can leave me feeling hopeless. But when I see the images of the earth from space the despair leaves me because I get a glimpse of what we are to God… beautiful, perfect, and always new and renewing.
A new book of images captured from the International Space Station was released this week. Astronaut Chris Hadfield's stunning views of earth from space can inspire our concept of the Omnipresence of God not only surrounding us but infusing us. When we see the earth from the perspective of an observer we can begin to appreciate how God’s presence surrounds us as the blackness of space wraps around the earth.
Once again I’m struck by Cramer’s realization that her own attitude moved her from despair to the ultimate experience of actually being in a new heaven and a new earth. It reminds me of Jesus telling us that the realm of God is already here! We don’t experience the realm of God here with us because of our perspective, not because of our location in time and space. If we simply open our mind and change our attitude we can get the sense of already living in a new reality, not just waiting and praying for it to come sometime in the future.
It’s no accident that my heart fills with hope most intently when I see a photograph of the earth from space AND when I interact directly with another human being in real love and intimacy. It’s that “muddled middle” that gets me in trouble.
The news is difficult to watch these days. We lack confidence in governments and companies. It’s easy to descend into fear. But as Christians we are assured that God is always with us, ready to strengthen us and comfort us if we will only receive it. May we open our hearts and minds this week to receive God’s assurance of love and care for each and every one of us, no matter what our circumstances, if we only remain open to allowing ourselves to feel it.
I think the first step is to ask for help, as Melinda Cramer did. And after asking, allow ourselves to be enfolded in God’s grace in response to our plea. We experience God’s presence in our own way. Let us be mindful that God’s grace may make us surprisingly vulnerable.