Monday, June 27, 2016

What's in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson

June 26, 2016

at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia

Genesis 2: 15-20

John 15: 9-18

Let us pray,

Help us to see despite our eyes

Help us to think outside of our minds

Help us to be more than our lives   

For your eyes show the way

    Your mind knows the truth

    Your being is the life.


This morning we will be inundated with the idea of names. All of the hymns this morning are about “names”. . . “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” we have sung already, then later we will look at “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” and then “Blessed Be the Name.” The introit was “He is Exalted” which includes the prominent line, “Bless His Holy Name” and my anthem just sang was about Jesus’ name being the “Sweetest Name of All.” The Old Testament Lesson, Erick just read goes back to the beginning, when Adam was given the unique responsibility of “naming” the animals. I could have chosen and I want to mention to put it into our heads as we begin, Moses and the Burning Bush when he asks and is given the name of God, or perhaps in the Ten Commandments where it says to not take the Lord’s Name in Vain. But finally this morning in The Call to Worship, Psalm 91 offers a promise of deliverance and protection to those “who know [God’s] name.” Our New Testament Reading echoes that promise, assuring the people that anything asked in Jesus’ name shall be granted by the Father. . . here is John 15: 9-17:

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants  any longer, because the servant  does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

So what is the basis of all of this name stuff? Names seem to certainly have serious importance in the Biblical landscape, and that has made its way also into the tapestry of Christian history through the years. We can see in those hymns and songs how the idea of the name of God or the name of Christ, deserve praise, honor, and glory, or simply the hearing or the memory of such a name could give its hearers a sense of joy, comfort, sweetness, strength, love, hope. . . the list goes on and on. But one thing is true in today’s world and that is that the name Jesus, depending on the audience, means a very different thing. I have been called to speak numerous times to a mixed audience over at Blue Ridge, whether to the students, who have been forced to attend a chapel service, or to a group of parents, friends, families, alumni, etc. at a graduation ceremony. In either of these settings, whether or not it is deserved, it is real, the mention of the name Jesus would close the ears of at least, and perhaps more than, half of the audience. It is interesting that the name that can give so much hope, love, joy, sweetness, etc. can also at the same time turn people completely off, or in some cases create disdain and rage. It is a shame to say the least, but I do not think that we can ignore the reality of it in today’s world. . . especially if we are to be fishers of men, or faithful disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In keeping with the series of this summer, it was Shakespeare again, who gave me the inspiration to wrestle with this challenging topic. This famous speech comes from Romeo and Juliet. Juliet is speaking; she is overheard by Romeo, whom she has just met, but she doesn’t know he is beneath her balcony in the garden. She has found that the man she has fallen in love with at first site is in fact a Montague, and therefore a sworn enemy of her family. . . here she offers a counterpoint to our question, “What is in a name?”

O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a Capulet.

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

I’m sure you have heard it before, “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” Is there a more famous line in all of the English Language. . . perhaps other than John 3:16? It’s right up there. . . and of course wherefore does not mean “where are you” but instead “why”, “what is the reason,” She is asking, why are you called Romeo, because it is the name that is her enemy. It is the name that makes him apart of his house. It is the name that is the enemy of her father. It is the name that they are supposed to hate. . . because we are told that nobody even remembers why the Montagues and the Capulets are fighting in the first place. . . now it is all about names. . . and what is a name, when compared to love? She hopes Romeo will simply “doff” his name, and exchange it completely for her. . . and why not, what are names anyway. . . does a name give a rose its sweetness? No of course not.

Now this is an idea that I’ve always had a fondness for. . . as a poet, as a linguist. What are words? What are names? Are they simply tools for us and our communication? Or do they come to mean so much more? Are they all caught up somehow in a greater concept of identity? For instance, some months ago in another sermon, I asked you to think of the color green without the word green being a part of it, or actually I think it was the opposite to think of the word green without the color. . . in many ways they are inseparable in our minds. . . but if you spoke another language, say Spanish, you wouldn’t see the word green at all you would see “Verde,” so there are examples of cultural differences when it comes to words. . . rather than some universal human concept. . . we might say Jesus. . . in Spanish, Jesus. . ., which both come from the Greek word for his name, but in original Hebrew you had the name Jeshuah, every language may have their little tilt on the name. . . but if we were to focus in on the name itself, it means “salvation,” and it is the angel Gabriel, who tells Mary to give him that name. So there is even more importance to the name than just the title, the word itself has meaning. . . just like so many names in the Old Testament. . . like Jacob, “he who grabs the heel” or “Adam” is the same word for the ground, dirt. . . and according to what Erick read, it was this Adam who game all the animals their names. . . but of course it was in a different language. . . though many may argue with me, Adam did not call a lion a lion, and a sheep a sheep, but instead possibly their Hebrew counterparts, and even that is not for sure. What is the connection of things to words. . . things to names. . . people to names. . . concepts to the letters and sounds that represent them?

Just to add to our muddy waters and thinking, I want to share another poem, this time my own, on this subject. I even allude to Shakespeare, I call him Willy in what follows, here is my poem “The Lights”

The lights go on; the lights go off,

But the room just stays the same.

The lights do not give off the light,

Despite that it’s their name.

For our words have no meaning

Without our belief in them.

I could call a light a buzzlebaggle,

And it would not make it dim.

Willie said a rose would smell sweet

If it were not a rose called,

But if you call it something else,

Most of us would be appalled.

For though language gives shape to thought,

It also tends to bind us,

And so the eternal job of the poet

Is to continually remind us.

That we are not slaves to words,

Rather they are tools for us.

No subject is too sacred nor offensive

To not freely be discussed.

This poem at its heart is about how much I loathe political correctness, where words have taken on baggage, that we as a society cannot get past; it is as if they, the words are in control and not us. . . or more likely how we use words to control others: that if you can decide what others mean when they use words, there is great power in that. . . someone might mean something completely different, but the meaning can be twisted to something far from what was actually intended, and when power and politics get involved, it can get out of control quite quickly. There is great power in controlling language because words and language are the tools of communication. . . imagine if you had a hammer, but someone else was determining what you were allowed to do with it. No that hammer cannot hammer nails anymore. . . no instead it can only rip nails out. . . I know that is a crude example, but it captures the point. Words have limitless possibilities as tools, but we often limit them greatly. . . for ease, efficiency, or to achieve our agendas of control.

This is what happens with the name Jesus, and we are mistaken if we think that it is a new phenomenon. . . names have been used and abused for centuries. . . or longer. . . probably even since words first came into existence. . . which is why the name of God was so sacred to the Hebrews, and why they had so many restrictions about how it could be used, and was never to be spoken. . . it actually is unpronounceable in itself. There is no sound, just the wind, yhvh. . . and think about why Moses wants the name anyway, so he can use it against the Pharaoh. What if they ask me who has sent me, whom shall I say? What name do I give? It is the basis of the Commandment as well, and taking it in vain. . . though many times today that commandment is used to control other aspects about language as well. I’ve heard it watered down for children to be “Watch what you say” completely altering the purpose. Bending the original meaning to fit an agenda. . . you see Christians are just as much to blame as anybody else. No the idea is that names have power because they can be wielded. . . Moses knew it, which is why he wanted the name. . . and God knew it which is why the many laws restricting it. . .

So what does the name Jesus mean to us. . . and how do we preach about Jesus, how do we spread his love, when the word itself turns people off? . . . perhaps it might be a good idea, before we get to that question, to own why people feel that way, to own the baggage. I don’t think that it is Jesus himself that has created the problem, but instead the way that his name, his church, and we his people have misused his name. We have in a sense, and I mean the 2000 year Christian, wholistic ownership we, we have used his name in vain and have wielded it as a tool of power. Jesus’s name throughout the years has been associated with horrible things. . . and though we want to explain them away, it is difficult for many to forget. . . things like witch trials, and crusades, and inquisitions, of course we could say that those all happened so long ago, and we have since repented, but we seem to get no credit. . . but then they may bring up something like slavery, how Jesus’ name was used to preserve the institution, and we might say how it also was responsible for ending it, but no one listens. . . or more recently, the name is connected with bigotry, small mindedness, intellectual flimsiness, and general ignorance, ambivalence, and resistance to matters of proven scientific fact. It may not be true, but it is the perception, and the perception is reality the world wants to propagate, and the world has many means with which to perpetuate the narrative and definition they want people to hear and believe. . . of course the truth becomes irrelevant in those battles, and fighting against it head on, seems to only make things worse, doesn’t it? Christians keep losing each battle we choose to fight, and slowly retreat, growing more and more angry. . . and again we miss the point. . . we are holding onto the name as if it is something we can protect, as it if is something that we can use, as if it is something that can be taken from us. . . and when we do it becomes merely empty letters. . . and if there is such a thing as winning and losing, we have already lost. We have allowed Jesus to be put back into a tomb, where he can be confined. We have allowed God to be made into an idol that can be destroyed or found wanting. We have become the protectors of God and Jesus instead of the other way around. . . and such is the upside down fraught with hypocrisy landscape of the fallen world. . . there is simply more to the story than that, there is more to the name than that.

Juliet tells Romeo to doff his name and forget it, move forward, in love, with love, and for love, but he is unable, and the play ends in tragedy. We can’t simply lose the name. . . we can’t simply erase the past. We have to own it, name and all, hypocrisy and all, and our fallen sinful natures, and ask for forgiveness and protection and salvation from Christ. We have to act as he calls us to act, not for our sake, but for his, such is the beginnings of love. We get all caught up in the name business of John 15, and how the name is a secret pass code to get what we want, the magic word, the “open sesame” of prayer, that we miss the context entirely. Love, as the father has loved me, I have loved you, abide in that love, by keeping commandments, just as I abide in the father’s love. . . love one another as I have loved you. . . that is the commandment he speaks of. . . no one has greater love than this to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. . . you are my friends. . . I have chosen you. . . I am giving these commands, so that you may love one another. . . This seems to be the crux of the name business. . . . If we want Jesus’ name to be seen as love then we need to love. . . or else not bear his name. . . the shame is the name  has been used too often in vain. . . not out of love. . . therein lies the problem. . . We will do better loving than we ever would defending the name outright because God forbid we would ever be successful. . . if we were, what then would the name become?

In the 4th century, the Emperor Constantine had a vision, it was a great cross in the sky, and a voice that told him to conquer under this sign. . . He did. . . he was successful. The name Jesus was forever tied to that success. Therein lies one of the great problems of winning, or at least apparent victory. . . It results often in the taking on of baggage, and the making of idols. . . We are still dealing with these results today. We cannot simply doff the name and hope to have success. . . instead we must love, and let Christ who gave his life for us protect us. Can we have such a faith in a shifting world? God may it be so. . . . amen.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Remembering Hope

Photo by DeAnna Atkinson
Remembering Hope
Each night after the shadows get long,
And before the darkness prevails,
The sun fills the sky one last time,
And seems to grow bigger and brighter,
Before falling off the edge again,
But now you can look straight into it
Without a squint, without shades,
And the wind feels cold on sweaty skin,
So the brightness is illusion, the size a lie,
But a good one because its beauty is
Enough to last through the darkness,
Like it was imprinted in our eyes;
We close our eyes, it’s still there, glowing.
No matter how cold it gets, no matter
How dark, we see the shadow negative
Of the sun coming slowly into focus
In the dark room of our remembering hope.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Let Be

Let Be

A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson

June 19, 2016

at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia

1 Chronicles 17: 16-22

James 3:13-18

Let us pray,

Help us to see despite our eyes

Help us to think outside of our minds

Help us to be more than our lives   

For your eyes show the way

    Your mind knows the truth

    Your being is the life.


Two weeks ago we started into Hamlet. We looked at the ghost’s message, the ghost of Hamlet’s father coming from Purgatory to convince Hamlet to get revenge for his murder. Then last week we heard from the murderer. With both the theme of God’s sovereignty and providence was front and center. With the ghost the fact that there is a system of divine and natural justice in place, and then with Claudius, the idea that he is trying his hardest to create a world for himself, his way, as Shakespeare puts it he pitting his discretion in a battle against nature. . . believing that he can himself decide what is, and he can decide how other people react to it. . . but then there was Hamlet. It is Hamlet, the prince that I want to look at today, again with an eye to the theme of God’s Created Natural World, but I’m not going to look at any one speech today, but rather look at how Hamlet as a character goes from, “O cursed spite, that I was ever born to set things right,” to saying, “There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. . . let be.” It is quite a turn around, for sure. And it is I would say, the very turn around that speaks to what we believe about God and the world.

Let’s take a look at this morning’s New Testament lesson. . . it speaks to where I want to go eventually with today’s sermon. This from the epistle of James 3: 13-18:

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. . . such is not the case in the world of Hamlet, at least not for the characters who each meet their end by the end of the play. It is interesting to think about wisdom when you think about the character Hamlet, because he is very intelligent. . . he is always the smartest, cleverest character on stage. He talks circles around character after character, but there is something missing. . . He lacks wisdom and understanding, like James is describing, mostly because he doesn’t know who he is. He doesn’t know what he should do, and he becomes then ineffectual and hates himself for it. He is bitter, and selfish, and it just slowly cuts him down until his end, but something happens before the end because he has the right change of heart, he comes to accept who he is, but many things are already in motion by that point. I want to trace his growth because I think it can give us good insight into how we deal with grief and hardship, how we can turn inward, how it destroys our relationships when we do, but how we can also find peace within the storm. . . It is all there for us.

Now remember, when the play opens, Hamlet’s father is dead, we find out later by murder, and his mother has quickly married, her former husband’s brother (the murderer of the king, who all is in on it we don’t know). . . but now he is king. Hamlet doesn’t like it, he wishes he could end it all he says, “

O that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!

Think about that, he believes in God, wants to follow God’s laws, I would kill myself now but God doesn’t like it, but right after says that God’s creation is weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable, and pointless. It is kinda like the Catholic teenage unmarried couple, who gets pregnant because birth control is against the rules. . . but there we see one of the big themes coming forward, selective piety. . . following rules, but not seeing the bigger picture. . . at least not now, but with all of that frustration and pain and anger, he finally says,

It is not, nor it cannot come to good.
But break my heart, for I must hold my tongue!

 He knows it is wrong, he feels it is wrong, he knows it is going to end badly. . . but again ineffectual, he is going to do nothing. . . but that all changes, at least in his mind when he sees the ghost. . . .

So the Ghost comes, as we’ve talked about two weeks ago, and tells him, look your uncle, who married your mother, and wears my crown and sits on my throne, is actually my murderer, and I want you to avenge me. . . And this fires Hamlet up. . . He says:

I'll wipe away all trivial fond records,
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past
That youth and observation copied there,
And thy commandment all alone shall live
Within the book and volume of my brain,
Unmix'd with baser matter.

In other words, now I’m going to act, I’m going to get this done, I must do it, and I will do it. . . and I’m going to do it right now, and until I get this done I’m not going to think about anything else, I’m not going to worry about anything else, I’m going to get this done, so help me. . . He finishes the scene with the line I mentioned before. . . “The time is out of joint. O cursed spite that I was ever born to set things right. . . “

Now think of how far Hamlet has come, he has gone from this is bad, and it is going to end badly, but it isn’t my place. . . and then to the entire weight of the world rests on my shoulders. This is my work to get done, and no one else can do it, and the entire world is depending on me. He says he is going to get it done, he says he is going to stop worrying, but he doesn’t. . . In the next scene he is talking about how horrible the world is still. . .

I have of late- but wherefore I know not- lost all my
mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed, it goes so
heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth,
seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the
air, look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical
roof fretted with golden fire- why, it appeareth no other thing
to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a
piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in
faculties! in form and moving how express and admirable! in
action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the
beauty of the world, the paragon of animals! And yet to me what
is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me

Hardly focused on revenge right. . . no contemplating creation and the world. . . God’s work of creation. . . his words echo the words of Genesis, stuff like “firmament” and he calls human beings “the paragon of animals” not a bad way of saying image of God when you mix it with all the other images. . . but he again is not impressed. . . is it others he hates, or is it himself? There is self loathing in a statement like that, because he sees himself as ineffectual on one hand, and a traitor to his mission on the other, but something stops him from committing the murderous revenge. . . what is it? It isn’t the mental will, because it seems like that is there. . . he beats himself up about these things, saying “What a rogue and peasant slave I am. . . am I a coward? Why what an ass am I! This is most brave, that I, the son of a dear father murther’d, Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell, must like a whore unpack my heart with words.” See he feels that he should be a man of action, but all he is, is a man of words. . . with no action. In the most famous speech, that begins with “To be or not to be” he says, 

And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action

And he has lost the chance for action. . . he has one more time to try with no more excuses, but he chooses not to. . . all because his uncle is in the act of Confession. . . and he does not want to kill him and send him to heaven. . . do you see how warped he has become? Do I act? Do I not act? It all hangs on my shoulders. . . I am the only one. . . o cursed spite. . . to be or not to be. . . Man delights not me. . . what an ass I am. . . . These are the thoughts we have when grief is mixed up with internal conflict over who we are and what we are supposed to be and do. . . Why does he say one thing and do another? Why are the actions and the words not aligned? Which represents his true self. . . his words or his actions? His discretion or his nature? You see Hamlet is fighting the Claudius battle. . . the battle of the sin of this world. . . that we are in control and that it is all about us. . . his circumstances. .  . the world that his uncle has created. . .the world of sinful delusion. . . he is blaming on God and cannot see God’s power, presence, and justice. . . just like he couldn’t hear it when the ghost spilled the beans about Purgatory. He is too caught up in his own stuff. . . to see through it, to see beyond it to the world outside Denmark’s walls, the world beyond his own seeming control. . . or at least the world that seems to depend on his action. . . He says two other things, and they both foretell of the cure to his issues. He says, “Denmark’s a prison” and then he says “for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.” Yes, he is stuck in a prison. . . but think about the other thing he says. . . “our thinking” makes things so. . . again there is discretion over the is. . .we get to decide what is. . . our minds are in control. . . the problem with this thinking, of course is that it creates prisons, because our brains and our worlds are so very small. And if we are caught up in ourselves. . . as James says, in our envy, selfish ambition. . . the friends he is talking to say it themselves, saying that it is his “ambition that makes it a prison.” Hmm had Shakespeare been reading his James?

So what makes the change? What makes the difference? Have you ever been in that situation like Hamlet. . . probably not with revenge and murder. . . but with something else. . . some other relationship problem. . . some personal crisis. . . some time when you were caught between two choices, unable to pick and do either. . . and so in the moment beat yourself up for not choosing. . . until is causes you to lose track of yourself? Sometimes these are large issues, and sometimes they are small, but we all face them. . . I think. . . . Don’t we. . . The issue seems so important. . . it envelops us in the moment, but looking back it really wasn’t a big deal anyway. . . it seemed like the weight of the world was on your shoulders, that the next turn of the earth on its axis was waiting for you to decide and act, but it really wasn’t. . . it is delusion, deception, disorder, or as James puts it “earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.”

I love this one Chinese anecdote about the missing axe. . . I’ve used it before. . . this man loses his axe and he sees a boy, and he looks like a thief, walks like a thief, and talks like a thief, but then he finds the axe, and the boy turns back to normal. The whole idea of the anecdote is to show that sometimes what we think determines what we see, though we are sure that what we see determines what we think, and if both are true, you can get caught up in a cycle of delusion. . . where the delusion compounds and forms off itself in a spiral, and it is not easy to get out of that kind of cycle. . . how does Hamlet go from “O cursed Spite,” and all the rest of that self-destroying, and relationship killing behavior. . . to “Let be” and “There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.”

Yes. . . he gets out of the prison. . . he accidentally kills another character, on accident. . . or at least mistaken identity. . . and he is being sent away to England he thinks as part of the cover up. . . but unbeknownst to him he is to be executed upon arrival. He gets out of the castle. He sees the world. He sees an army going to fight for a piece of land that isn’t valuable. . . he finds himself in a pirate battle, and for some reason that he cannot explain, he checks the papers that are accompanying him. . . not suspecting. . . just led to it. He says “IN my heart there was a kind of fighting that would not let me sleep.” And he gets up in the middle of the night and finds out that he is going to be executed, and changes the orders, then providentially he is able to escape because his ship is captured by pirates. . . And listen to what he says. . almost in direct defiance of “so far hath discretion fought with nature, he says “Let us know, Our indiscretion [there is that word again] sometimes serves us well when our deep plots do pall; and that should learn us There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will.” You see he get’s outside of the situation, and lives a little bit of life, and he realizes there is more to it. . . he sees the hand of providence. . and there is great comfort in relying on it. So the next time he gets the chance to control an aspect of life, later on, when he could get out of the fencing match at the end which will mean his death, he says,

Not a whit, we defy augury; there's a special providence in
the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be
not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come:
the readiness is all. Since no man knows aught of what he leaves,
what is't to leave betimes? Let be.

And then when he dies. . . and yes he will die. . . he says. “But let it be,” echoing this peace again. He finds peace in his death. . . if only he had found this peace before he would not have destroyed so many relationships along the way. . . which I think is the real tragedy, not necessarily Hamlet’s death, but all of the relationships he destroyed. . . or Claudius destroyed. . . or this idea of discretion and nature destroyed. . . it leaves a path of destruction. . . instead of what James describes as a “harvest of peace.” But that harvest of peace is possible, and prescribed for us by God if we could just let it be. . .

I want to close with a final quote from Hamlet because there is a character who gets it right, and Hamlet can recognize it. . . His friend Horatio is really the sole main character to survive the play. . . Hamlet describes him this way.

For thou hast been
As one, in suff'ring all, that suffers nothing;
A man that Fortune's buffets and rewards
Hast ta'en with equal thanks; and blest are those
Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled
That they are not a pipe for Fortune's finger
To sound what stop she please. Give me that man
That is not passion's slave, and I will wear him
In my heart's core, ay, in my heart of heart,
As I do thee.

This is the perfect description of someone, no not passion’s slave, but instead sowing the seeds of righteousness and harvesting peace. Nothing shakes him, no circumstance ever could because he knows who he is, he knows whose he is, and he knows that it is all in the Father’s hands. He can simply let things be. . . and spend his time loving. Amen.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Love's Knot

Love’s Knot
For Jerry King

Life works like this, I’ve seen, for
Love demands it, and therefore, it is:
Paths collide, life lines intersect,
Tangle, tie, merge, and embrace,
Leaving their marks on each other,
And when pulled tightly together,
They resonate, sending harmonic
Vibrations, circling outward, unseen
Testaments, heard and deeply felt
By open hearts attached to welcome
Ears in need of such reminders.
Time pulls those strings tighter.
Battle and tension tested, stress built
Are the ties that bind, and blest be
Are we, secured in such sticky webs.
Something there is, though, that doesn’t
Love a web, singing and dancing, solo,
Pinocchio’s anthem of independence,
Afraid of becoming a paperclip, made
Brittle by too much bending, unable
To hold anything together, a guitar
String tuned too high, snapping, flying,
Out of control, then removed and cast
Aside, replaced by a newer, shinier
More vibrant edition, a heart who tried
To love fully, honestly, and lost, was left
Empty, used, and broken. Time moves
On and life lines separate. Aye, there’s
The risk. Is there hope for the broken
Life lines? Of course, I think so, but why
Do I?  Because they never actually break.
Such is the illusion—the webs’ cords
Are always there—when we cut them
And when they seem to snap and cut
Us, which is why our hearts must stay
Open, and why our ears must welcome
Love’s harmonic reminders. Thank you
For the music we made together. I’ll
Be listening always. The knots Love
Ties never come loose, so I will feel
Each vibration you send down the line,
And I’ll always be strumming on my end.

- Rev. Peter T. Atkinson

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Equal Scale

Equal Scale
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
June 12, 2016
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Isaiah 44: 9-20
Matthew 7: 24-27

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives   
For your eyes show the way
    Your mind knows the truth
    Your being is the life.

We started last week into Hamlet, and we looked at the speech of the ghost, how he comes back from the grave to convince his son to avenge his murder, but what Hamlet misses is the fact that the ghost spills the beans inadvertently about the existence of Purgatory, because that is exactly where he has come back from. And it all introduces into the universe of the play the idea that there is a God and that God has put into place as the creator of the universe a sovereign system of divine, I want to call it natural, because natural is a word that will be important this morning, divine natural justice. I want to expand on this theme this morning because I believe it is an important one in the play, but more importantly our Reformed Worldview is based in the idea that God is sovereign, that God creates, redeems, and sustains this world, His world. He’s got the world in his hands, after all. Now, if that is what we believe, about God, about His world, about ourselves, what does it mean? This will be the theme of this morning’s sermon and next week’s as well.
This morning we take a look at the villain of Hamlet, Claudius, and in his speech we get to see where he messes up. . .obviously the killing of your brother to take his queen and his throne is pretty bad, but this speech gives us the mindset behind the murder, and the arrogance that makes him think he can get away with it. Arrogance, or hubris is Claudius’ downfall, but we’ll get to him in a minute. . . first let’s start with the New Testament Lesson. . . I chose the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7: 24-27:

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

The three scripture readings from this morning each point to an aspect of Claudius’ speech and tragic mistake. Psalm 1 talks about building your life on the law of the Lord rather than being blown by the wind with the wicked. The passage from Isaiah talks about Idolatry, and building your faith on something that your own hands have crafted rather than on the Lord. And this Gospel message is about building on a shaky foundation, instead of the rock. You will see that Claudius does not build on a solid foundation and his rains are gonna come down and the floods are gonna come up, until the house he is building goes splat. Aristotle in his Poetics that real dramatic tragedy must be a downfall based on a tragic mistake. . . Claudius certainly fits that distinction.
A little bit of background. . . this speech actually happens in the play before the ghost speech we looked at last week. We, the audience, have seen the ghost, but it is yet to speak. The scene opens, this is scene 2 of the first act and characters named in the opening scene are now making their appearance in the flesh. All we know before Claudius opens his mouth, is that the old king is dead, a new king sits on the throne, and there is some strange things going on, and the country of Denmark is preparing to be attacked by Norway, so they are in national crisis mode. So the scene opens and Claudius, the new king is speaking. . . . we will find out later that he killed his brother to become king, and that he has married his brother’s widow. . . seemingly pretty fast. . . but you’ll hear that from him. . . so without further ado.
Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death
The memory be green, and that it us befitted
To bear our hearts in grief, and our whole kingdom
To be contracted in one brow of woe,
Yet so far hath discretion fought with nature
That we with wisest sorrow think on him
Together with remembrance of ourselves.
Therefore our sometime sister, now our queen,
Th' imperial jointress to this warlike state,
Have we, as 'twere with a defeated joy,
With an auspicious, and a dropping eye,
With mirth in funeral, and with dirge in marriage,
In equal scale weighing delight and dole,
Taken to wife; nor have we herein barr'd
Your better wisdoms, which have freely gone
With this affair along. For all, our thanks.
Now follows, that you know, young Fortinbras,
Holding a weak supposal of our worth,
Or thinking by our late dear brother's death
Our state to be disjoint and out of frame,
Colleagued with this dream of his advantage,
He hath not fail'd to pester us with message
Importing the surrender of those lands
Lost by his father, with all bands of law,
To our most valiant brother. So much for him.
Now for ourself and for this time of meeting.

Now I want to pull out some important phrases here, because they get at what Claudius is really saying. What he is explaining at court, to the people, and of course to us the audience is the fact that the reason for the hasty marriage between he and the former king, his brother’s wife was that we should be sad, but we have decided instead to be happy. He says, it befits us to bear our hearts in grief, but instead he says that discretion has fought with nature. . . now here is the line and the crux of his argument and the crux of the play. . . the question is do we simply get to decide who we are, what we feel, what our station is, what our life is like, how we are going to react to things. . . etc. the list goes on and on, and could include every aspect of our lives. . . do we get to decide it all, or are their aspects of the world that are as he puts it “nature”. . . discretion vs. nature. Who decides what is. . . to be. For Claudius, he was born second, and therefore not King, he was not married to his brother’s wife. . . and he is not the father of prince Hamlet. . . but he can just decide that he wants that to change, and with one action he can become king, become his brother’s wife’s husband, and become the father to Hamlet, and make everyone like it. He can also decide that he will not be sad about his brother’s death any more, and more than that, he can make sure that no one else is sad either. It may be natural to have a funeral and mourn the loss of the king, but what good does that do us, we would rather be happy, so instead of a funeral, let’s have a wedding, a party, a celebration. . . why not. . . the dead don’t care (we certainly don’t believe in ghosts) we should instead focus on the living, we are the ones who make the decisions afterall. We can just decide. . . and not we, but me. . . I’m the king. . . what I say goes, and all of you are going to go along with it. This is the plan, but Shakespeare shows how upside down the world becomes because he fills Claudius’ speech with Oxymorons and paradoxes. . . . wisest sorrow. . . sister now queen. . . defeated joy. .. mirth (happiness) in funeral. . . dirge (sad songs) in marriage. . . and the line that I chose for the title: equal scale weighing delight and dole. Night is day, up is down, black is white, nothing is the way it should be. . . there is no basis for truth, instead truth is simply a matter of discretion. . . there is no nature. . . we make of it what we want. You may ask yourself, why doesn’t someone speak up, why doesn’t someone say the emperor has no clothes on. . . why, why, why? But then again, why don’t we do that? It is hard. . . and look Claudius gives them a chance, right, he says. . . “nor have we herein barr’d your better wisdoms, which have freely gone with this affair along.” IN other words if you were going to say something you should have already, but you didn’t,. and now you all are accomplices to the world that Claudius has created, if you were going to speak up you should have done it, but now to do it means putting the nation at risk because, how convenient, there is a national crisis. . . and it is time to act. . . we need to save the kingdom. . . speaking out now would not be patriotic, and of course what is understood is that there will be no speaking out now. . . one can wonder if there ever was a time when people were given a chance. What we see in Claudius is a politician, working the angles and taking advantage of a crisis. . . never letting such a thing go to waste. . . if he can save the people from this foreign threat, then no one will care any more about the former king, whose death seemed a bit fishy. . . no one will care because the new king will have had saved them. . . and when things are good no one cares about who used to be in power, at least that is the plan. He’s got it well in hand, except for one thing. . . Hamlet is sad about his father’s death. . . Hamlet does think that the marriage was too fast. . . and Hamlet doesn’t buy all of Claudius’ lies, he smells a rat. Hamlet, foolish, old fashioned Hamlet, is a child of nature. . . and it is natural for a son to mourn the loss of his father, and no one can tell him to just stop being upset. Wherein lies the problem. . . you can change your name, change your station, change everything about yourself, but you can’t control the world because other people exist. . . there are aspects of the world that your discretion did not create.
Even the most secular of understandings of this situation would see the truth in it, that you can’t control others, but it is multiplied to a greater degree of importance when belief in a creator of the world comes into play. The reaction should be humility. . . knowing your place in the world, discerning your role, understanding how you fit within the created world. . . and that is the soul of what Claudius Nature. . . how the world was created to be. . . . and breaking that nature would be sin. . . willful or otherwise. . . trying to create your own world, your own rules, your own identity, rather than accepting your place as a child of God made in God’s image. . . and the fact that the rest of creation is also made by God, and that the other people also have been made in God’s image. . . it means obviously that killing them to take their throne would be way over the line, but also controlling them, using them, forcing them to fit into your categories, instead of what they were created to be would also be problematic.
Shakespeare’s Claudius, I hope shows us this tendency in ourselves. We want to shape the world around us, maybe because we can feel like we are in control, maybe because of envy, maybe because we are bored, maybe because we just want to, maybe it makes us feel better, that we can shape a world that seems right and just to us. . . why because we have discretion, and it can fight against nature, why not let it fight against nature. . . nature is weak, flawed, shouldn’t we just fix it and create a better world, a just world, a Utopian world. . . but again most attempts at doing such things are fraught with the limitations of perspective. . . I make it perfect for me, and everyone else can just deal with it. . . they should be forced to see that my vision of things is the right one. . . . why because I said so.
I briefly mentioned the three readings. . . Let’s think about Psalm 1. . . it says to root yourself to the law, to study the law, daily, to meditate on it. . . this is not saying to use your discretion, but instead to focus on the nature, the laws that God created and put into place, the same God who created the world, created the rules. . . . and if you do this, if you can align with nature then you will be planted, rooted by living streams. . . rooted, instead of being blown by the wind like the wicked. . . Ecclesiastes says that the pursuit of wisdom is like trying to chase the wind. . . instead it says to meditate on God. . . similar, yes. . . then in the Isaiah, it talks about idolatry. . . worshiping gods of your own creation. . . your own crafting. . . why not. . . after making the world around you, the world of discretion. . . might as well make a god to rule it, too. . . then you might be able to wield that god to get other people to buy into your creation. . . and just maybe it can all work out this time. . . but no. . . much like it we build on the rock. . . on the foundation. . . on the truth. . . on nature. . . on the world as God created it. . . and then come what may, we will be rooted, solid, safe.
There is much in our culture that says, go out make yourself what you want, make the world what you want, seek out Utopian versions of your ideal place, and call it the kingdom of God. . . there is much done in the name of progress, but often it fights evil with evil. . . replacing one evil with another evil, perhaps the lesser two evils, but yet still evil itself instead of rooting itself in good, and the kingdom of God doesn’t do that. . . the kingdom of God does not use evil to create good, it doesn’t pit one version of truth against another, because it is all one. . . and it doesn’t make one person’s life, who may disagree with you, it does not make one person's life insignificant. . . there are no lesser evils, there are no victimized sacrifices for the greater good, instead there are children of God made in God's image, seeking to reclaim their true nature, and freedom is the ability to live into that potential. Christ makes us free. . . everything else is ignorant construction of worlds that cannot be, ignorant only as limited to our own perspective, and so may have all the knowledge in the world, but remains in part ignorant none the less. May we remain ever humble in that truth. amen. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

What Do We Hear?

What Do We Hear?
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
June 5, 2016
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Luke 22: 14-20
Exodus 13: 3-10

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives   
For your eyes show the way
    Your mind knows the truth
    Your being is the life.

This morning being a Communion Sunday, I thought it was a good time to enter into the part of the summer Shakespeare series that centers around my favorite of all the plays, my favorite probably because for at least nine years, seven at Blue Ridge and my final two at Christchurch, I taught it. It is a rite of passage of sorts for many Juniors in high school to read Hamlet, which many consider Shakespeare’s best. It is a play about philosophy and religion and life, a tragedy with at the same time a very simple and complicated set of themes. I’ve grown over the years to see it more and more as a play that espouses an interesting brand of Reformed Theology, something that no one looks for in Shakespeare, but like I said the more I read this play the more it jumps out at me. Reformed Theology at its best points to and derives from the central idea of a Sovereign and Provident God, which is an idea very central to Hamlet as well. Over the next four weeks as we look at some of the speeches from this play in tandem, I hope to show you exactly what I mean. It is in this area also that I think this play at its heart speaks to us.

But before we get to this morning’s speech from the Ghost of Hamlet’s father, I selected the words of institution at the Last Supper according to Luke, once I read both, I think you will begin to see the connection. Here is Luke 22: 14-20

14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15 He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

We’ve heard those words before. We and Christians from all over the world in every time and place have recited them when we come together to break bread, commemorating and taking part in the meal that Jesus shared with his disciples, the meal that he invites us to, so that we remember. We do it here in Gordonsville on the first Sunday of every month, and at a few special occasions and services throughout the year. What do we hear when we hear those words? What do we remember? What do you hear? What do you remember? Not generally, but specifically. What exactly enters your mind when you hear. . . do this in remembrance of me? Keep that question and answer in your head as we proceed, we’ll be coming back to it.

Now to Hamlet. A little background is probably necessary, since most of you are long since removed from a high school classroom. I tell my students that the plot of Hamlet is the least important part, in Shakespeare, what happens is always secondary in my mind to the language. It is poetry after all, and there is much more going on behind the words, than is actually acted out. I tell them if they want to worry about the plot, they should go watch The Lion King because it is really similar. The prince’s uncle kills his father and takes the throne, denying the prince his right to the throne in the process. In Hamlet, there is an important twist to this, after murdering the former king, Hamlet’s father, his uncle Claudius marries the former queen, his former sister in law, and Hamlet’s mother. . . so the family ties that bind become quite tangled. . . thus the claims of incest. . . the ghost refers to, though it is not incest by blood, only that of inlaws. . . which is enough to cause Hamlet to obsess over it for most of the play. So as the play opens all we know is that the king is dead and that his brother has taken his place. . . we don’t know about the murder, but people, especially Hamlet, suspects as one character suggests, “something is very rotten in Denmark.” – the source of that famous phrase. A ghost has appeared to some soldiers, they tell Hamlet about it, and now Hamlet has gone to see for himself, sure enough the ghost comes again, and talks to Hamlet – and the audience – alone. This is what he says, the speech we will focus on this morning. . . try to listen carefully. . . we will get the description of what happened, and what the ghost wants Hamlet, his son, to do. As I said, listen carefully, as the title of this sermon is “What do we hear?”

I am thy father's spirit, 745
Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confin'd to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purg'd away. But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison house, 750
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part,
And each particular hair to stand on end 755
Like quills upon the fretful porcupine.
But this eternal blazon must not be
To ears of flesh and blood. List, list, O, list!
If thou didst ever thy dear father love- . . .

Revenge his foul and most unnatural murther. . . .

Murther most foul, as in the best it is;
But this most foul, strange, and unnatural.

Now, Hamlet, hear.
'Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard,
A serpent stung me. So the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forged process of my death
Rankly abus'd. But know, thou noble youth, 775
The serpent that did sting thy father's life
Now wears his crown.

Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast, 780
With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts-
O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power
So to seduce!- won to his shameful lust
The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen.
O Hamlet, what a falling-off was there, 785
From me, whose love was of that dignity
That it went hand in hand even with the vow
I made to her in marriage, and to decline
Upon a wretch whose natural gifts were poor
To those of mine! 790
But virtue, as it never will be mov'd,
Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven,
So lust, though to a radiant angel link'd,
Will sate itself in a celestial bed
And prey on garbage. 795
But soft! methinks I scent the morning air.
Brief let me be. Sleeping within my orchard,
My custom always of the afternoon,
Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole,
With juice of cursed hebona in a vial, 800
And in the porches of my ears did pour
The leperous distilment; whose effect
Holds such an enmity with blood of man
That swift as quicksilver it courses through
The natural gates and alleys of the body, 805
And with a sudden vigour it doth posset
And curd, like eager droppings into milk,
The thin and wholesome blood. So did it mine;
And a most instant tetter bark'd about,
Most lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust 810
All my smooth body.
Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother's hand
Of life, of crown, of queen, at once dispatch'd;
Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,
Unhous'led, disappointed, unanel'd, 815
No reckoning made, but sent to my account
With all my imperfections on my head.

If thou hast nature in thee, bear it not.
Let not the royal bed of Denmark be 820
A couch for luxury and damned incest.
But, howsoever thou pursuest this act,
Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive
Against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven,
And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge 825
To prick and sting her. Fare thee well at once.
The glowworm shows the matin to be near
And gins to pale his uneffectual fire.
Adieu, adieu, adieu! Remember me.

Now, what did you hear? No doubt you heard what Hamlet heard. . . he heard that his uncle had indeed murdered his father, usurping the throne, taking the crown, the queen. He heard the details, that he was sleeping in the orchard, and that he was poisoned in the afternoon. He heard that the ghost wants him to get his revenge. . . to take his uncle’s life. . . you heard how the ghost is saddened by the behavior of his queen, “what a falling off was this” he, the ghost, knows and believes himself to be much the better man than his brother, but then he is also told to let the queen alone. You may have even heard that he was killed without getting a chance to absolve his sins in the Catholic tradition. . . he was unhouseled, unaneled, with all his sins on his back. . . and last but not least, he says Adieu, Adieu, and in words reminiscent of Jesus’ own words we read this morning and repeat every month during our Communion services, he says, “Remember Me.” Does that about rap it up? Details of the murder, lamenting over his wife, marching orders to get revenge, and Remember Me. . . is that what you heard? Is that the gist? Is that all? If so, then you heard exactly what Hamlet heard, but in doing so missed the most important thing he said. . .  something that should have shaped the rest, something that should have told Hamlet everything he would need to know, something that would cancel out the rest. . . did any of you hear it?

I put the first part of it in the bulletin, in the prayer of preparation place in the bulletin. Look at what he says. . .

I am thy father's spirit, 745
Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confin'd to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purg'd away. But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison house, 750
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part,
And each particular hair to stand on end 755
Like quills upon the fretful porcupine.
But this eternal blazon must not be
To ears of flesh and blood

Think about this for a second and let it all sink in. . . I know that this is a fictional play, but within all fiction there is a universe, and it is a universe much like ours with beliefs and realities. Now it just so happens that this universe of Denmark, Catholic Denmark, is a Christian place. . . at this point in the play many characters have alluded to their faith. . . Hamlet himself is a student in Wittenberg. . which is a city of course famous for being where Luther lived and began the Reformation. . . now think about what that means, and what Hamlet’s world view should be, being officially Catholic, but leaning towards a protestant education. . . What would it mean to you if a ghost came back and said, like this ghost does, that he is freshly back from Purgatory? What would it prove?

Exactly right, that there is an afterlife, and that this afterlife is exactly like what your church has taught you. . . and then there is a God, and that there is a God who made a system where there is justice, where punishments are served out in time. . . and if there was a system of justice created by God, then that system would be perfect, God would be sovereign, and we could take God at his word when he says, I don’t know, things like, “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.” And that could and should render the rest of what the Ghost says null and void. Why would Hamlet need to get revenge, if he knew that Justice in fact is going to be served? Why would he need to take things into his own hands? Why would he need to say later in this scene. . . “The time is out of joint, O cursed spite that I was ever born to set things right” ? Do you ever think in those terms. . . if I had evidence that there was a sovereign God, staring me in the face, would it, could it, should it change completely the way that I see the world, the way that I would act in the world, the way that I would behave toward other people, the way that I would feel the need to control, could I then let go, and let God as the phrase so succinctly puts it. It is funny, it is like Hamlet doesn’t even hear that part, he is so obsessed with his mother’s situation, the murder, the revenge, all of that stuff, he completely misses the point, that he has an eyewitness account of God’s eternal justice staring him in the face, someone who has already spilled the beans about the afterlife, even though he says that doing so is forbidden. The ghost gives Hamlet enough of a clue that he could have heard but he didn’t. . . and the funny thing, as I’ll show you in the weeks to come, is that Hamlet finally does come to that conclusion, that God is in control, and that there is providence, and so there is no need for us to seek revenge, etc. because there is a God and vengeance is his. . . it is a tragedy though, so Hamlet learns this all too important lesson too late. And in the mean-time destroys every relationship he has around him, turning inward rather than loving.

Just like the ghost, when Jesus’ teaching of the disciples is through, he tells them to remember him. He puts a full bodied spiritual sacrament in place to help them remember him, but it is interesting to think about what they hear. Do they hear body broken/new covenant? Or do they hear tonight one of you will betray me? Do they hear you will deny me three times? When Jesus is arrested Peter grabs his sword, did he then not hear the words, or did he already forget them? We human beings seem to have at least one thing in common, and that is that it is hard for us to block out our own situation and hear. . . to listen. . . to take in the words we are being told for their own sake. . .

And it matters, it certainly matters for Hamlet, and it matters for us. How crucial is it for us to be able to hear not what we already know, or what we are sure is being said, but what is actually being said, by our friends, in our families, in all of our relationships. . . how important is it here for us to here. . . to hear each other. . . to hear the scriptures when they are being read. . . not what we already know, but the new, the actual, the message we haven’t heard yet. To encounter the Risen Christ in the world, to listen to the Holy Spirit within us. Let’s start with Communion. . . in a minute we will be invited again. . .listen to the words, listen to the actions behind the words, listen to the promise that they make to us. . . listen for something that you haven’t heard before. . . listen for something outside of yourself. . . figure out exactly what it is we are to remember today, and tomorrow. . . Amen.