Sunday, May 27, 2007

Turn Your Radio On

Turn Your Radio On

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from John 14:8-17, 25-27

at Batesville Presbyterian Church on May 27, 2007

Roy Acuff may have been referring to our gospel reading when he sang: "Get in touch with God; turn your radio on." Two things are required in order to turn the radio on. First, we must be able to see the radio in order to turn to the power radio on. Second, we've got to be able to hear the radio in order to listen to the Master's radio. Jesus addresses spiritual hearing and seeing in our text today.

First, he talks about spiritual sight. Although we tend to taken our vision for granted, there are 174 million visually impaired people in the world  accounting for approximately 2.6 percent of the population, with around 0.6% being completely blind. From what I have heard from people who are visually impaired, the worst aspect of blindness is not being able to read. To solve that problem, Ray Kurzweil recently invented a digital camera that can take a photograph of a book or any object such as a list of ingredients in a can of soup. The camera searches for words in the photo, organizes them, then reads them aloud. This camera/scanner/talking device, called the Kurzweil National Federation of the Blind Reader, is helping the blind to better function in the world. Ray Kurzweil wants to help cure people who are physically blind. I'm sure Jesus is applauding for Ray Kurzweil's reader. In fact, Jesus' healing interest encompasses both physical and spiritual blindness.

It would be helpful if someone would develop a tool to assist with spiritual blindness, for spiritual vision helps us to see reality and our place in the world. Philip seems to sense this truth, when he says to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." Jesus responds: "Look at me and you are looking at the Father." The best way to get a clear picture of what God is like by looking at Jesus Christ. This truth is embedded in the spiritual song whose lyrics invite us to: "Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face. And the things of the world will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace." Jesus is the splitting image of his Father, but some folks cannot see Jesus' resemblance to the Father. They are spiritually blind. Jesus wants to cure people who are spiritually blind. That is what Jesus meant when he said his mission was to restore sight to the blind. We see God best when we look at the person of Jesus Christ.

Similarly, we hear God best when we hear Jesus Christ. Hearing is the second aspect of discipleship Jesus addresses in our text. Jesus says to Philip: "Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and, in fact, will do greater works than these..." (John 14:12) Jesus tells us that our belief in him opens to door to miracles in our lives and in the life of the world. He tells us we will do greater works than these. The secret to spiritual power is listening to what Jesus says. Basil Penington describes human beings as "a certain listening." We are a certain listening and in order to develop as human beings we must develop our spiritual hearing apparatus.

Bill Moyers Journal presented an illuminating interview with Maxine Hong Kingston, acclaimed author of many books including the her latest book Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace. For the past 15 years, Kingston has been working with veterans — more than 500 soldiers from World War II, from Vietnam, and now, from Iraq — as well as other survivors of war to convert the horrors they experienced into the words and stories that Kingston believes will help them cope and survive. The routine at Ms. Kingston's retreats invites veterans to write their stories in the morning and share them, if they are able, in the afternoon. Some veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, after 30 years of silence, were finally able to share their war stories. Some experienced a tremendous liberation and freedom from sharing their stories and being heard. Healing comes when we share our stories, when we listen to one another.

Hearing impaired persons may depend on both hearing-aids and lip-reading. They admit to it being important to see the speaker's face in conversation. Jesus alludes to the connection between seeing and hearing when he tells Philip: "Look at me and you are seeing God." Jesus then speaks to Philip and invites him to believe that Jesus does the very things God does. Jesus says, "Look at me and watch what I do and you will see God and discover what God does. Listen to me and you will hear God speak to you."

Hearing and seeing are both vital aspects of Christian discipleship. God's birthday gift to the church on Pentecost, and to each of us during our baptism, is a spiritual radio receiver called Holy Spirit. Our challenge as Christians is to see and hear God's radio. We see God's radio in the person of Jesus Christ. We hear God's radio when we hear the Holy Spirit speaking to us in nature, other people, or even a song on the radio.

We know we are tuned in to God's radio when w are receiving Christ's peace. The Mater's radio leads us in the way of peace. Over time, when we keep our hearts tuned to the Spirit's frequency of peace, we come to embody peace and express peace in the world. Jesus referred to his peace as the "peace that passes understanding." This peace is the primary gift Jesus gives us. As he says in our gospel reading this morning, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives." Christ does not give peace and then take it away. Christ's peace is an abiding peace. So he says, "Do not let you hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid." There is nothing to fear.

Let's look to Christ and listen for Holy Spirit. And while we're at it, let's follow Roy Acuff's advice: "Turn the lights down low and listen to the Master's radio. Get in touch with God. Turn your radio on!"

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Cosmic Christ: Force Above & Energy Within

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Luke 24:44-53 at Batesville Presbyterian Church on May 20, 2007

Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are. Up above the trees so high. Like a diamond in the sky. Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are. For as long as we remember, humans have been gazing at the stars. The oldest astronomical observation ever recorded occurred around 4000 BC in Egypt and Central America. Around 2000 B.C., Pythagoras and Thales of Miletus speculated that the Earth is a sphere. In the 1960s, that theory was proven when we saw on TV the now familiar picture of the blue round orb known as planet earth. The pictures came courtesy of NASA.

Our exploration of space did not end with the walk on the moon. On April 25, 1990, NASA and the European Space Agency launched the Hubble Space Telescope. The information collected daily by Hubble is stored on optical computer disks. A single day's worth of observations would fill an encyclopedia. Hubble's Ultra Deep Field is the most sensitive astronomical optical image ever taken. The Hubble Telescope is our best effort at gazing ever more closely into the sky beyond our sky -- into the black void of space beyond our atmosphere. The results are breathtaking. We put our hand over our mouth and stare in wonder at the mysteries of outer space.

So may have the disciples of Jesus put their hands to their hands and dropped their jaws in amazement when they witnessed his ascension into heaven. Luke records: "They were gazing up toward heaven" (Acts 1:10). And if Christ hadn't yet blown the disciples minds with his teaching and miracles, he certainly expanded their minds -- and our minds as well -- when he ascended into heaven. The story of the ascension challenges our limited views of Christ. It lifts our eyes beyond the tunnel vision of our one-storied, flattened, ranch-style universe to see the love of God in cosmic terms. It stretches our minds, expands our souls, and lifts our vision. It enables us to see farther than we have ever seen before and gives us a whole new understanding of Christ. I do not understand the ascension any more than I understand the Hubble Space Telescope. But I know that when we catch a vision of the ascended Christ we can see farther and more clearly than we have ever seen before, and it gives us a whole new way of understanding our own existence.

Christ, our hope, is raised to heaven. Yet we do not seek his face in the skies. For he comes to us on every shore of humanity. He comes to us and abides with us, inside our bodies, in our secret heart. The same Christ, who created the billions of galaxies revealed by the Hubble Telescope, lives inside us. Abides within us. Leads us and guides us. Through the risen Christ who dwells within us, we ourselves act as an intersection between heaven and earth. By virtue of our baptism, we are so full of God we cannot even imagine the power contained inside us. The power of God inside us is equal to or greater than the sum total of all the energy of every star in every galaxy in all of creation.

Today we celebrate the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. The same Christ who created the galaxies dwells inside us. Our task as Christians is to become ever more conscious of the ascended Christ who dwells within us. God has given us this joyful task. Let us proceed with our spiritual journey toward an ever greater recognition of the ascended Christ who dwells within us. Now, after his ascension into heaven, Christ is the force above us and the energy within us.

Let us set our sails to the wind of the Spirit and soar with Christ to new levels of human consciousness. The cosmic Christ has ascended into heaven. His transformation from human to divine points the way home for all of us. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Death is a transition that we all will face. Yet our ultimate destiny is not in the ground. For our spirits will soar like the ascended Christ. Up into heaven with the Holy Trinity and all the saints in light.

We have this power within us even now. We have the energy of Christ within us. Hubble shows us outer space and we recognize the beauty and majestic of God's creation way out there. Centering prayer shows us inner space and we recognize the energy and power of God's light dwelling within us even now. We are so full of God that we would be frightened if we knew the power we contain. God is out there and God is in here. The theological terms and transcendence and immanence. The physical reality is that the Holy Trinity dwells as far out in space as Hubble has ever seen and then some. The Holy Trinity also dwells as close in our bodies as the smallest quark or corpuscle inside our secret hearts. The cosmic Christ is the force above and the energy within. Let's recognize and claim our destiny which is to united with God in heaven. We will ascend with Christ into heaven one day. Let's get ourselves ready for that spiritual rocket ride.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

City of Hope

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5 at Batesville Presbyterian Church on May 13, 2007

"There is a church in the Northeast with a stained-glass window problem. High above the chancel, set in glass, is a picture of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, dipping out of clouds toward the earth. Some of the church members want to tear the window down: 'it is,' they claim, 'too otherworldly.' Well, perhaps they're right. After all, with terrorism and the soaring price of gasoline, we've enough on our hands without hankering after some make-believe town in the sky. Perhaps like the stained-glass window, we should dump the book of Revelation and stick to the here and now. Yet, there's something about the vision that grips us: 'And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down...from God...And I heard a loud voice ... saying ..., "Death will be nor more; mourning and crying and pain will be nor more."'

What a wonderful vision for we who live in a world where the mortality rate runs 100%.
We could all use a new heaven and a new earth. The very thought of it brings hope to our hearts. And yet the city of hope portrayed here is more than a personal talisman ... a symbol to get us through this weary life so we can have our pie in the sky by and by. For this apocalyptic vision has a universal scope. The nations will walk by the light of the city of hope, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Bob Dylan pegged us in his song "Political World,"

We live in a political world
Where peace is not welcome at all,
It's turned away from the door to wander some more
Or put up against the wall.

There is an American primitive painting entitled The Peaceable Kingdom. It shows a lion lying down with a lamb, a barnyard cow and a grizzly bear nuzzling each other, while in among the animals children laugh and play. The picture's a little romantic for our tastes. Apparently the artist had never heard of Al Queda or torture prisons. Perhaps the lion and the lamb will declare a truce, but what about the Middle East? The fact is we live in a world of power politics, not in zoological society! So at least the Bible is realistic; the Bible knows there can be no peace until national power—including American power—bows down before the throne of God. Then, and only then, will we see a new heaven and a new earth and a many-gated city of God.

And this city of hope is so God-occupied that there are no churches there. That's right. In God's city of hope, there are no churches, synagogues or mosques. Imagine a place in which there is no need for the moderating influence of religion. No priests, ministers or rabbis. Unemployment runs at 100% for all clergy in heaven. There is no need for human intermediaries in the city of hope for God Himself dwells in that city. The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light.

I know, it sounds too good to be true. If the Christian vision of God's city of hope is too far removed from reality, then perhaps we should tear it down and face reality, knock down the stained glass vision and replace it with the hard reality of life in this world as we know it. Albrect Durer has a famous woodcut. He pictures a woman sitting dejectedly on dry ground. in the distance is a city waiting to be built, and beside her is a box of tools for building, but she doesn't move. She has no hope. Without hope, nothing is possible, and therefore, nothing attempted. We cannot live without hope.

Of course, it all depends on what hope you have, on what kind of vision you cherish. We've seen so much death in the past five years from Baghdad to Virginia Tech. Unless we can be changed we'll dream a Holy City but end with death and pain and a warring of nations, everytime. The Revelation writer envisions "A new heaven and a new earth." What we need is nothing less than a whole new human race.

Of course, that is what we celebrate during the Easter season, a whole new human race. Jesus Christ, the firstborn from the dead, the new Adam, the firstfruits of a new creation. The resurrection means God has power to overcome the old order of sin and death, manipulation and greed, to make something new--a risen Christ and a new humanity.

Hear's the good news for today. God is busy creating the city of hope right now. According to the verbs in the Greek text, the vision of the city of hope is in the present tense. Yes, we live in a political world where might makes right. Yes, we live in a world where the color of your skin still means something. Yes, we live in a world where our nation has been at war every day for the past five years. Even so, God is busy building the city of hope. And if we have the eyes to see, we can get glimpses of that holy city every now and then. We get a glimpse of the city of hope being built when we see global warming becoming a matter of concensus even among conservative religious people in this country. We get a glimpse of God's city of hope being built when we hear a growing clamor for peace, not just among left-wing types, but among people of goodwill everywhere. Yes, there are still pockets of rural povery pounding our counties and there are still ghettos festering in our cities but God's people are getting geared up to work for justice for the working poor, the migrant workers and the hungry in our land of plenty.

What about the church with the stained-glass window problem? "Too otherworldly," the people complained. Well, they decided to keep the window after all. For they discovered that through the years the glass had faded so that through the golden image of the new Jerusalem they could see the towers of their own town; one city seen through the vision of another. We are meant to live in the world with a vision of God's promises, judging injustice with hard truth, but taking hope where hope is sure, and trusting the power of God that raised up Jesus. See, our God is making things new! The vision of the new Jerusalem, that Holy City, God's city of hope, is our guiding light. Let's march on—toward the guiding light—until the time comes when God makes all things new and there is no more night.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Revitalized and Ready

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Revelation 21:1-6 at Batesville Presbyterian Church on May 6, 2007

David Buttrick tells the story about the Black woman deep in the bayous of Louisiana who had raised over a dozen children, most of them adopted and foster children. When a newspaper reporter asked her why she had done this, she replied, "I saw a new world a'comin." She saw a new world a'comin' and she is not the only one. The author of our scripture reading today from Revelation writes, "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth." We, too, have witnessed a new heaven being built in the past couple of decades. This new heaven, called cyberspace, has demonstrated the law of accelerating returns.

Five years ago, no one had heard of Google. Today, the Google company is worth $100 billion. Today corporations have to be quick and nimble. Sony launches a new product once every twenty minutes and Disney launches a new product once every three minutes. When we examine the accelerating rate of change and imagine where it may lead us we find that Revelation's vision of God creating a new heaven and a new earth does not look as improbable as it did even a few years ago.

In his book, The Singularity is Near, inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil claims we are heading toward an event called a singularity some time around the year 2040. At that time the pace of technological change will be advancing so rapidly that ordinary humans will be unable to keep up with it. Kurzweil notes how the pace of change is accelerating exponentially. We've had 18% growth in constant dollars in information technology for the past 50 years. Take this 18% growth in constant dollars in information technology forward and things start to get really interesting. For instance, Kurzweil predicts that three years from now, by 2010, computers will disappear. They will be so small they will be embedded in our clothing and in our environment. Images will be written directly to our retina, providing full immersion virtual reality. We will be interacting with virtual personalities. The pace of technological change is speeding up as we move toward Kurzweil calls the singularity.

In the past several years we have experienced some exponential growth in our church as well. Batesville Presbyterian Church is not the same congregation we were seven years ago. Several years ago we didn't have many young families with children. Today, our church is predominantly young families with children. We are a young church with a bright future. We have been revitalized and we are now ready to move forward.

A couple of weeks ago the Long Range Planning Committee met with an architect to look at the layout of our church facilities. Over the course of our conversation I became convinced that we need to acknowledge how our church has grown younger by rearranging our current facilities to better reflect the church that we are today rather than the church we were several years ago. Our vision includes putting all the children on the Church Street side of our facilities and adding an elevator to make the upstairs accessible for youth and adult education. The Long Range Planning Committee hopes to display these plans and seek your input in the next few months.

I had always heard that God would create a new earth when I read Revelation chapter 21. What I hadn't noticed as much was that God will also create a new earth. In many ways, the book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible, compliments the book of Genesis, the first book in the Bible. In Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth. In Revelation, God creates a new heaven and a new earth. In due time, God will revitalize heaven and earth. We are ready for that to happen. In fact, more and more people are beginning to work toward revitalizing the earth with green technologies and practices that conserve, reduce and reuse. This is an old practice with new terminology. Our ancestors on the farms of this county and others practiced a kind of frugality that we have forgotten. We need to reclaim our past in our to prepare for our future. By taking responsibility for our actions and changing them as needed, we can reverse the current tide of consumption and leave our children a healthier planet.

As we look to the future, let's not forget the present moment. Someone once said, "The future is now," and I think that is how Jesus viewed the new heaven and new earth. Eternity begins in the present moment. Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven is within you." In a mystical sense, Revelation 21 is about the inner transformation that occurs when God begins to disrupt our emotional programs for happiness. We are not amused when we learn the way of the cross means dying to our false self programs for happiness. We are not happy to know that God is not interested in our project for personal glorification. But as we work with the Spirit and deny our flesh, our sarx, our false self systems for emotional gratification, then the Spirit carves out more and more new space in which to operate. Little by little the Spirit cleanses us of the emotional wounds of a lifetime. It is as if our inner lives were a cramped and close attic in our house. As we clear out useless old stuff from the attic, we create more space to be filled with useful items. As we clear out the false self's system for happiness we find we have more room inside ourselves for God's light and love to flow.

"Revitalized and ready" is a term that applies on macro and the micro levels. On the macro level, God is already at work creating a new heaven and a new earth and God seeks our cooperation and assistance in this mighty project. We have a role to play in the greening of this planet and the more we learn and practice how to conserve energy then the more we can help God in creating a new earth. On a smaller macro level God has revitalized our congregation and we are ready to consolidate our gains by remodeling our facilities to better enhance our ministries. On the micro level, God's Spirit is ever working in our hearts, wills, and unconscious minds to bring about revitalization and make us ready for greater service.

God is ever busy creating a new heaven a new earth. God calls us to participate in this great project. The vision in Revelation says it well, "And the one who was seated on the throne said, 'See, I am making all things new.'" God is in the business of making things new. God is revitalizing the heavens and the earth, this congregation, and each of us as individuals. Let us participate in God's great project of revitalization. We are revitalized and ready to move forward. Let us open ourselves to God in the present moment and go forth with God into the future.