Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


What is it like to experience the coming of the Holy Spirit in your life? Pentecost celebrates this coming in words that may seem strange, but which seek to describe the power of God’s love coming into the world in a radical new way. When the Holy Spirit came down on the early disciples it was described as fire and a mighty wind. For the prophet Ezekiel it finally came to him as he hid from the enemies he had just slaughtered in self-righteous violence and it came as “a still small voice.”
Within the Christian tradition there are other disciples of Christ who have described it differently, but all the same knew somehow that they were being filled with God’s love and that there lives would never be the same again. Here is the great Anglican apologist, C.S. Lewis describing his experience:

“When I was an undergraduate in Cambridge, if I were to say that Christ came to me, I should be using conventional words that would carry no precise meaning. For Christ comes to men and women in different ways. When I try to record the experience at that time, I use the imagery of the Vision of the Holy Grail. It seemed to me like that. There was, however, no sensible vision. There was just the room, with its shabby furniture and the fire burning in the grate, and the red shaded lamp on the table. But the room was filled by a presence that in a strange way was both about me and within me like a light or warmth. I was overwhelming possessed by someone who was not myself. And yet, I felt more myself than ever before. I was filled with intense happiness and almost unbearable joy as I had never known before or never known since. And overall, there was a deep sense of peace and security and certainty.” This was Pentecost for C.S. Lewis.

As we come to this Pentecost Sunday, consider your experiences of the Holy Spirit. To speak of these experiences is not to brag or to claim spiritual superiority. In fact, such experiences usually free us from the need to seek spiritual superiority and instead allows us to know, as Lewis wrote, “a deep sense of peace and security and certainty.”

Such peace is the work of the Holy Spirit and this peace is established through the indwelling of the Spirit in each of us and in our communities and over time in the world. The Holy Spirit is the driving force of history blowing through the sails of our ship and taking us to the Kingdom of Heaven. What is the nature of the Holy Spirit’s power and guidance?

According to our Gospel reading from John for this Sunday, the Spirit of Truth (A.K.A the Holy Spirit) “comes to guide us into all the truth.”

Remember Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” Jesus did not answer him because the answer to his question could only be revealed after Pilate condemned and crucified Jesus. Once he did, the truth was revealed in the resurrection and in the proclamation of the church that Jesus was the Son of God. This truth is revealed to individuals and communities first because the Holy Spirit's power to change human history is transformative through the human heart which is broken by love.

That is why Jesus says in our Gospel reading: “And when the Advocate comes, she will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment because the ruler of this world has been condemned.”

You see the truth that Pilate asked for was revealed in his inability to see Jesus for who Jesus was. He was trained in the ways of the world and the world’s operating system would never recognize a victim, a mere member of a captive and backward people as being the Son of God. Such titles were reserved for emperors of violent and powerful empires, not itinerant Jewish hill-billy preachers and healers. Unlike C.S. Lewis, Pilate’s times alone were filled with practical matters that crowded out any thought that he might be wrong in his judgment of Jesus. The Holy Spirit comes to those of us, who like Pilate, missed our many opportunities to believe that Jesus was something more that we thought. We discover the truth in a somewhat embarrassing and painful way. We discover that those whom we abuse or simply ignore are really Jesus present wherever we turn.

The Holy Spirit proves the world wrong about what makes for righteousness. Righteousness is about being in relationship with God and others. The world is wrong on this score because it considers relationships in terms of power and control over others rather than relationships of mutuality.

Marriage is a Christian sacrament because it describes being in a relationship that is mutual in love and comfort and support and that is dependent on inclusive forgiveness to hold it together rather than threat of violence or exclusion. Jesus goes to the Father and is seen no longer as an historical figure. The Holy Spirit brings the loving relationship of Jesus and the Father to the human community.

Finally the Holy Spirit proves the world wrong about judgment because while the world thought that Jesus was being judged and thrown out of creation, it is ultimately the ruler of this world (satan) whose power and influence has been subverted and is in the process of being overturned.

Has the Holy Spirit come to you with forgiveness or a loving relationship with God and others in community or as the bringer of peace without fear? Perhaps C.S. Lewis’ experience is something with which you can identify. Perhaps this Spirit of Truth has come to you like rushing wind or flames of fire. Or, perhaps the Holy Spirit has come to you as a still small voice. May the Holy Spirit be with us all this Pentecost Sunday.

Even so come Lord Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I am not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination, so what I am about to offer should not be taken as my attempt to use science to prove my point. Rather, I do spend a considerable amount of time imagining or imaging ways of understanding my faith and trying to communicate it to others. So, my imagination is now engaged with the question of the Ascension.

The Feast of the Ascension is a major celebration of the church. It is the 40th day after Easter and is a giving of thanks to God that the resurrected Jesus was present with his disciples and others during the days following the resurrection. Scripture records that Jesus taught his disciples during this period about the Kingdom of God and about how they could read their own Jewish scripture so as to see God’s historical relationship with the chosen people of Israel that led to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

In my imagination, I ask questions like: “Where did Jesus go when he ascended?” Did he, like the characters in Star Trek, get “beamed up” to the mother ship? Is it realistic to continue to celebrate an event that seems a bit odd, unhistorical, and which does not pass the test of science? Won’t people who are not Christian consider us backward and out of touch with reality for holding such a belief?

In the Nicene Creed, we say that Jesus “ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father” and that “he will come again to judge the living and the dead.” If the modern mind has difficulty accepting the resurrection as an historical event, the Ascension might just be the final straw that breaks the camel’s back of credulity for the Christian faith, or forces Christians to adopt a rather uncharitable and un-Christ-like view of those who challenge them. I am going to propose that in our post-modern world, our faith is being given an opportunity to actually regain credibility.

We believe that a higher power we call God created the heavens and the earth and that God judges that creation to be good. In effect, we believe that God is the very reality “in which we live and move and have our being.” God precedes our ability to prove his or her existence and the mystical traditions of Christianity strongly suggest that God is beyond our human limits of understanding, but that this God of Jesus can be experienced in the historical world in which we live.

When Jesus ascended, he ascended with all he experienced on earth. He took with him all that it means to be human. In my imagination Jesus’ return to his Father meant that the good creation had reached a critical stage in its development. Jesus was the expression of a way of being human that was different from what the world had seen before.

The spiritual and historical DNA of the world was forever changed by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Jesus ascended into the world that the Father created and called good as the very historical person who could bring about this change. Vaccinations are created by taking what is killing us and weakening it so that our bodies can resist a particular life-threatening disease from which the vaccine is made. Jesus’ death was brought about by the same forces or disease process that continues to threaten us all. Holy violence, violence done in the name of God, is the disease we call original sin and Jesus’ life and death were used by God to save us from this disease.

The Feast of the Ascension is the celebration of the vaccine being injected into the body and soul of the world. How can we prove that this is true? Historically, consider how the Christian Gospel has made it more and more difficult for us to sacrifice the poor, the sick, the marginalized and the powerless for the benefit of the rest of us. Consider how Jesus’ Gospel of love, forgiveness, mercy and freedom more and more is used as the standard of judgment of personal, national, and global behavior.

Consider how Christians over the years have struggled with the texts of Scripture and the historical realities in which they lived to follow Jesus and in the process change the world. Consider too, how the world uses Jesus as a measurement of whether the church, you and me, are following Jesus as if we had been vaccinated against the sin of self-righteous and zealous violence.

Where did Jesus go when he ascended to the Father? He ascended into every nook and cranny of reality as a life saving vaccination against the sin of the world and his judgment of the living and the dead is the life he lived and offered up to bring in the Kingdom of mercy, peace, forgiveness, and life. What is the outward and visible sign (sacrament) of this historical reality that is unfolding?

“The Body of Christ; the bread of heaven. The Blood of Christ; the cup of salvation.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Collateral Grace

Collateral Grace

Acts 10:44-48

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

What was Peter saying when the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word? Conversion, transformation, and sanctification are three movements of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life. Peter’s words were like paint covering a blank canvas. While an artist is creating a painting we may or may not be able to guess what the finished art piece will be. To those who were accompanying Peter, the circumcised believers, Gentiles seemed an unlikely bunch for God to include in the portrait of salvation.

Peter was not talking to the Gentiles in the crowd of people who surrounded him. His message was spoken to his own people. The Gentiles were simply overhearing what he was saying to his Jewish brothers and sisters. They were, so to speak, “collateral grace.” Peter’s words painted the Word and the Holy Spirit opened the ears and eyes and hearts of those who heard him to receive Jesus in such a way as to dramatically alter their inmost being. The message was taken by the Holy Spirit and offered like a cool drink of water to those who were thirsty. They were in that moment converted or turned with those of the Jewish faith who were also turning to a powerfully life affirming God.

Conversion is the experience of seeing the world, ourselves, others, and God in a totally different way. Transformation is what happens to us as we begin to live as if we truly believed or trusted the experience of conversion. Jesus showed us the face of the true God who claims us all as children and loves us all with a quiet and peaceful ferocity that invites us to embrace others in our world and within our own souls with this God given gift of love. As we do, we are in the process of transformation.

Transformation includes forgiveness of others and seeking others forgiveness for those things we have done against them that hurt them in body, mind, or spirit. Forgiveness has a direction to it and that direction is reconciliation. Jesus loves us to restore us to full relationships within ourselves and in our relationships with others. Sanctification is the process of becoming holy, set aside for a purpose by God within the larger vision of God’s work in creation.

Sanctification is not being “holier than thee or thou.” Rather, it is allowing God to so love you that you are then able to love and accept yourself and all of the parts of yourself that you may have sacrificed or left behind to be pleasing and acceptable to the world. On the day that you can finally accept God’s love for yourself, you will be reconciled to yourself and along the way you will have become a much more loving and accepting person of others. You will be a sanctified and reconciling person in the world.

Peter’s words gave these Gentiles the Word and the Holy Spirit filled them with the love and grace of God as known in Jesus’ sanctified and reconciling presence in the world. Love that is rejected and murdered, but still gives life to those who reject and murder it, is the only true power and life in the world. Jesus’ words in the Gospel reading for this Sunday are a reminder of how powerful this love of God is and how this love chooses us to incarnate God’s love as conversion, transformation, and sanctification. Our lives become the Word made flesh to others who are bystanders and have not heard. By the power of the Holy Spirit will your life be the occasion for others to hear and to desire God’s love? Will you be a beneficiary of collateral grace?

Jesus said: “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. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another."

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A Reflection on Mother’s Day

This Sunday is my first Mother’s Day since my Mother died on August 29, 2008. I remember many wonderful celebrations of Mother’s Day as I was growing up. Church was always the way the day started and as we got old enough to cook breakfast, a family brunch of scrambled eggs, bacon, orange juice, coffee and sweet rolls brought us together around the family table where we gave thanks to my Mom for all of the ways she had nurtured us in our lives.

Mother’s Day is not part of the church year, but I really think it ought to be considered for future formal inclusion into the liturgical calendar. As we grow up we learn that our Mothers were not perfect. They actually had problems of their own that often times had to be put on hold because our needs came first. There are many women whose lives are enriched and expanded through their mothering of children. I guess it is because mother is the center of a child’s universe that we expect so much of them. Mother is the source of protection, nurture, care, and a sense of well-being.

In the most difficult times, a mother’s love can make our worst hurts, whether they be physical, spiritual, or emotional, seem bearable by a loving touch, hug,kiss or a soft touch to our brows. For this reason, I believe there is real wisdom in referring to the church as our Mother.

The Church, at her best, is a source of God’s unconditional love: including us at the Table, nurturing us with the spiritual gifts of bread and wine, helping us find our way through our own difficulties through the process of self-reflection, confession, and forgiveness, and finally encouraging us to go out into the world to share the love that has so embraced and empowered us.

Julian of Norwich, whose life we celebrated this past Wednesday at our 6:30 AM Holy Eucharist, lived from 1342 to 1416. These were difficult times for the church and for the world. As we have experienced the recent fear created by the Swine Flu, consider Julian’s times. Beginning in 1349 and continuing for over 100 years, the Black Death decimated Europe. The church, instead of being a nurturing mother to people undergoing daily death in the streets, taught that the plague was a punishment being visited upon the children of Adam and Eve by an angry and vengeful God.

In 1373, when Julian was only 30 years of age, she became very ill. The nature of her illness is not known, but it was during this time of infirmity that she had visions of Jesus. These visions made a deep impression on her, but she was unable to write about them for 15 years. When she did begin to share her experiences, they came as a refreshing balm to a world in need of a Mother. One frequently quoted text from her writings says: “But all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.” To a world whose mother, the church, had become a raging consort of a vindictive God, Julian’s visions of a loving God were most welcome.

At our Diocesan Clergy Conference this week, we used a canticle that reflects Julian’s visions. As we read it together in worship, I thought of my own Mother and of my Mother, the Church and I gave thanks. Our mothers gave us birth, they saw us and loved us through times of pain and suffering, they released us into the world knowing that they could not always protect us “from (the) pain and death” that are part of the way the world works. God offers us the Church as our Mother to rejoice with us, nurture us, console us, inspire us, protect us from spiritual dead-ends, and to gently embrace us all with unconditional love.

So, this Sunday, come around the Table at Church for nurture and love. Let us give thanks for our mothers, our natal mothers and our Mother, the Church. Mothers are God's gift to a world in need of love and nurture.

A Song of True Motherhood

Julian of Norwich

God chose to be our mother in all things *
and so made the foundation of his work,
most humbly and most pure, in the Virgin’s womb.
God, the perfect wisdom of all, *
arrayed himself in this humble place.
Christ came in our poor flesh *
to share a mother’s care.

Our mothers bear us for pain and for death; *
our true mother, Jesus, bears us for joy and endless life.
Christ carried us within him in love and travail, *
until the full time of his passion.

And when all was completed and he had carried us so for joy, *
still all this could not satisfy the power of his wonderful love.
All that we owe is redeemed in truly loving God, *
for the love of Christ works in us;
Christ is the one whom we love.

(source: Celebrating Common Prayer, p. 235)