Thursday, May 25, 2006

Pithy exercise Reflection

So I've noticed something as of late. Jodie and I have been taking a class at the YMCA called Body Pump. Its a hard...really hard combination of aerobics and weightlifting. After the first class the 90 year old plus crowd at my church was more mobile then I was. Anyway, I'm not as sore anymore after class as I use to be, but I have noticed something. When I just go work out at the Y, either on an elliptical machine or lift weights, but not in a class, then I don't push myself to the same degree as in the class. Maybe it's the leader; maybe it's the guy twice my age that's lifting twice the weight I am; maybe it's that I don't want to look like a wimp in front of my wife, but I worker harder in the group class then I do on my own.

Here's the pithy reflection part. This is a lot like church. I hear a lot these days from people that say they are spiritual but not religious. What they are often referring to is that they believe in a higher power in some way, but they are not willing to commit to a community, not willing to be a part of a group. Now I'll be the first to tell you that every Christian community, every denomination, every church is flawed in some way. But the fact remains, try as we might on our own, we won't be pushed and prodded to grow like we would in a community. It's like a NASCAR race. Two cars drafting can go a lot faster then one car on their own. Humans are social creatures defined by our relationships. Therefore, while God may love us whether we sleep in on Sunday or not, we can't live a life of faith without a community. So, get out of bed and get to church!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sermon Easter, Year B delivered on 21 May 2006

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

I speak with you in the name of God who loves, Christ the Lover, and the ever loving Holy Spirit. Amen!

On December the 27th, 2002, I climbed on a chartered bus in Indianapolis, Indiana with a bunch of college students to attend Celebrate IV, the ecumenical gathering of Christian college students in Albuquerque, NM. Now I should confess that I was probably a little too old to be on this trip. I already had both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and was a semester into seminary. But I wanted one last road trip; one last chance to soak in the fellowship and love of some the closest friends I’ve ever had. So I got on the bus.

To my pleasant surprise, there was an old friend on the bus. I was excited to see this friend, in part because this friend was too old to be on this trip as well and was also a semester into seminary. We knew each other because we had been camp counselors together. We worked for the same camp company, but had different assignments. I traveled to different towns each week running Vacation Bibles Schools that we called day camps, while my friend did what those of us in the business call resident camp—cabins and sleeping bags, campfires and s’mores. On the weekends, my staff was housed at my friend’s resident camp. My friend and I, in our half a moment off between camps, would often catch lunch at Wendy’s—fine dining on a camp counselor salary. I had moved away and not worked camp the previous summer. Consequently, I had lost touch with my friend. So, I was excited to see that Jodie was on the bus that day.

Jodie and I talked a lot on that long bus ride to Albuquerque, and by the end of it we were both wondering what was going on between us even if at that moment we wouldn’t admit it to each other. Celebrate IV was an amazing conference, and Jodie and I spent most of it together. We heard outstanding speakers like Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity. We reveled in the fellowship of our long time friends, and made new ones as well. We explored downtown Albuquerque where we discovered that I look really good in pink hats and neither of us is fond of animal heads as a decorative device. We worshiped together; we prayed together; and we even had bible study together. Then we got back on the bus.

On the ride back, we talked a lot more both with each other and with our friends on the bus. What we didn’t talk about was what would happen when I got off the bus and eventually went back to seminary in New York while Jodie continued to teach middle school and go to seminary part time in Ohio. What we would have never talked about in that moment, but what everyone around us could have told you, was that Jodie and I had started to fall in love. This was a blessed Easter time in my life; a time of growth into something new that led to Jodie and me getting married.
Now, I had loved before and been loved before. Not just romantically either, but I was fortunate to have been loved by my parents, by my siblings, by church folk of all stripes, and even by my pets. All of those loves were sacred. All of those loves formed me, bettered me, and brought me closer to God. But this love that I was falling into with Jodie I bring up today, not because romantic love is somehow greater than other types of love, but because this love taught me a particular lesson about God; a lesson about the degree to which God Loves us.

See, this woman loves me. This smart, vibrant, gracious woman loves me like no other. This beautiful, caring woman was willing to give up job and family, friends and community to move, not just to New York City, but also to Omaha, NE; two places she never thought about a whole lot, much less considered living. She was willing to move, to change just to be with me. This wonderful creature of God, this embodiment of all that is good in the world, looks at me and sees something valuable. She looks at me and sees something worthy; something that motivates her to bind her life to mine so that we form a new life together. Though this boggles my mind why anyone would want to do that with me, it is not the truly amazing thing.

The truly amazing thing is not that she loves me or the degree to which she loves me. The truly amazing thing is that no matter how much she loves me, God loves me more. As awed as I am that someone as beautiful and intelligent as my wife would want to be with me, I am awed even more that God—whose word, the psalmist says today, caused all things to be made—wants to be with me. This God who is behind the creation and the existence of the universe loves me. This God that has the power as Isaiah says to command all the heavenly hosts cares about little old me. This God, who is and was and ever will be, cares about every single moment of the short time I have on earth. This God, who Isaiah says formed the earth not as chaos, but so that it can be inhabited, this God that can handle the delicate relationships between stars and planets, time and distance so that life can exist, is willing to enter into a relationship with me who can’t be nice to anyone before my morning coffee.

Now, I don’t care who you are, that’s Good news. It is good to know that God loves us more than we can imagine. It is good for us to reflect on our lives, to remember the times when we have felt most loved by someone or something, or felt the most the love for someone or something. It is good to immerse ourselves in that Love, to soak in every drop of that grace and affection we give and get. And when we have meditated on these loves, when we have contemplated the ultimate limit of these loves, it is good for us to realize that God loves us more.
The limitless love of God can save our souls. It can get us out of bed in the morning and get us through the day. It can bring us out of the pit of despair for us to see hope in the world. It can also humble us, as Isaiah points out today, when we are on top of the world and think we are in charge. The love of God is, has been, and always will be, what its all about.

But, I should warn you about something. See, the love of God is transforming as well. It will change us. The ways for us to be changed by the love of God are infinite, and, I would never claim complete knowledge of how God will change us. However, I can speak with certainty about one particular way. See, it is a matter of fact that love is tied to justice. The writer of 1 John writes that it is impossible for us to love an unseen God if we fail to love our brothers and sisters around us. Jesus takes it even a step further. He commands us in the Gospel, in the good news for today, to love one another the way he loves us, willing to sacrifice personal comfort, privilege, even his life for another.

See, when we start to realize just how much God loves us, when we just barely begin to comprehend the care of the creator, we start asking questions. We start questioning the behavior of community, our city, our state, nation, and world. We wonder why some get privileges others to do not. We wonder why some get more access to the powers that be while others do not. We wonder why some can seemingly buy there way around the law, while others can not even afford competent, fair representation. We wonder why the love of some couples is recognized by both church and state, while the love of others is vilified. We wonder why our stomachs are full while 30,000 people die daily from starvation. We wonder why some die at our hands while others live. We wonder if there will ever be justice.
I recently heard a wise man reflect on a quote of Martin Luther King Jr. King once said that the “arm of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” This wise man added that the arm bends when we reach up and grab it. See, for a long time God has worked through people. Whether it was Abraham and Sarah who were called to give birth to a people, Moses who was called to found a nation, the prophet who called that nation to account, Cyrus who was called to redeem Israel from captivity, Mary who was to give birth to and raise the messiah, or Jesus Christ who came and died for us all, God works through people. Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said it best, “Without God, we can’t…Without us God won’t.”

The calling today is simple: Get on the Bus. Reflect on love, feel the love of God. Contemplate the limitless nature of God’s love for you. Meditate on the grace that is this creation. Then, start asking questions, and finally, be the answer. Amen!

Friday, May 19, 2006


I was reading the blog of a youth guru friend of mine where he reflected that what really gets passed down by formation people (teachers, youth leaders, coaches, etc.) is their passions. He told the story of going hiking with his 5th grade class and their teacher to bird watch. Now, he has not become an ornithologist, but when he is on his morning run--still to this day at the ripe young age of 50 or so--he notices birds, listens to them, pays attention to their presence.

So if our passions are what we pass along, what is my passion? I can really only say the love of God. The music, movies, and books are really just hobbies. The love of God is what gets me out of bed in the morning. And just maybe...maybe, with God's help, I can show the youth at the lockin this weekend this passion. I don't care if they become theologians or priests or whatever. But maybe on their path they will notice God, listen to God, and pay attention to God's presence.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Body of Christ

I've been occasionally reading a book entitled Holy Longing: a search for Christian Spirituality by Ronald Rolheiser. Though a Roman Catholic he successfully strives to present a balanced view of Christian Spirituality across both protestant and Roman Catholic perspectives. Yesterday, I read his remarks on the Body of Christ. Despite differing opinions about Eucharistic Theology and the definition of the "Church Universal", Protestants and Catholic tend to believe that we (that is practicing Christians) are the Body of Christ in the world. Rolheiser gets very interesting when talks the relationship between the Body of Christ and our prayer life. He observes that we often pray to God to handle something but often smother the answer of the Body of Christ within us. Often, we beg God to intercede on a situation, but we don't free the Body of Christ in us, the Body of Christ that is us, to act. This sounds mighty close to Ghandi's charge "to be the change we wish to see in the world".

I found Rolheiser's discussion very convicting this week. My prayers of recent have been reports of frustration, but I haven't been open to the changes within me, open to the voice that could speak through me, that could heal the frustrations. I wish to let go of the fears and inhibitions, the anger and the arrogance that silence the Christ within me. My prayer for help do not change, my willingness to hear and act on the answers must.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Simple Prayer

Lord be with me today!
In every thought.
In every action.
In every word and every breath.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Sermon writing today


The church is empty except for the Holy Spirit and and little old me; so, I guess it is time to write the sermon. If any of yall know anything about ezekiel or sheppards, clue me in.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Justice is served!

Moussaoui, the only convicted conspirator of the 9/11 attacks, was sentenced to life in prison yesterday. The jury had two choices for Moussaoui: life in prison without the possibility of parole or death. There are many that would argue that if ever there was a person who should receive capital punishment, a 9/11 conspirator would be that person. I'm not one of them. I'm glad the jury did not condemn Moussaoui to death. For days to come the motivations of the jury will be analyzed and critiqued. My concern isn't with their motivations; rather that for once we were merciful where we could have been vengeful.

I aspire to live to high standards of grace, mercy, hope, and love. The kind of standards that mimic God's acts of grace, mercy, hope, and love. Though I fail at those standards almost daily, I find nothing wrong with aiming and striving for them. Many might say that an "eye for an eye" sounds fair and is even biblical. Indeed there was a time in my life that I made that argument. However, what many don't know is that at the time an "eye for an eye" was decreed is was a merciful standard. The common practice at that time was that if a member of an opposing tribe wronged or harmed a member of your tribe, then your tribe would completely obliterate the opposing tribe: men, women, and children. To limit retribution to an "eye for an eye" was merciful by the standards of the day.

I would like to think that we have grown some in the millennia since those days. I would like to think that Christ's decree to love our enemies is a new standard, a new commandment that is starting to gain traction with us humans. The Moussaoui verdict gives me hope that maybe...just maybe we are growing.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Immigration Rally

Yesterday, I was honored to briefly speak at an imigration rally. What follows is roughly what I said.

My name is Fr. Jason Emerson of the Church of the Resurrection Episcopal in North Omaha.

Episcopalians believe in immigration reform for one reason: God said so.

In Genesis chapter 18, Abraham welcomes three strangers and is blessed by God. In Matthew chapter 25, Jesus says that when you welcome anyone, you welcome Christ himself.

Every Episcopalian takes an oath at their baptism. At the end of that oath every Episcopalian promises to strive for justice and respect the dignity of every human being.

I'm here today to say we can do just that. Yes, we can! Yes, we can! With the help of God, yes we can!