Sunday, December 30, 2007
I speak with you in the name of Emmanuel, God with us. Amen!
Good Morning. Once again is it a blessing to have you here this morning. Not only am I blessed that you are here to worship God on the Lord’s Day, but also I am blessed that you are here to help me think through something as well. I know. During sermon time you usually zone out and wait for the next part of the service where you have to stand up and say or sing something, but please indulge me this morning.
I would like you to think with me for bit about this opening of the Gospel of John that we heard proclaimed just moments ago. This is the Gospel of John’s version of the Nativity, the incarnation, the coming of God as man in the form of Jesus Christ. If we had heard the same story from the Gospels of Luke or Matthew we would call it the Christmas story, but this version does not sound much like Christmas to me. Where are the angels, Mary and Joseph, shepherds, wise men, a manger, and little baby Jesus? Where’s the drama in John, the dialog, is there even a plot line? No, there isn’t, not really. John simply says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” and later, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us,”
Compared to the lavishness of the nativity accounts of Matthew and Luke, John’s is a little stark. I mean imagine with me, if the Gospel of John was the only Gospel we knew, the only Gospel to make it into the bible. Could we even have a Christmas pageant with this reading? As we have noted already there aren’t any sheep or angels; so what would the little kids dress up as? There’s no Mary or Joseph; so no parts for older children either. So, I guess the pageant is out. But what about Christmas carols? There is no manger; so no “Away in a Manger”. This version is not set in Bethlehem; so no “O, Little Town of Bethlehem” nor angels; so “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is out too. So, no pageant, no carols, is this still Christmas?
According to the Calendar it still is. We are smack dab in the middle of the Christmas season. Culturally, retailers and most folks think of the Christmas season as lasting from the day after thanksgiving until Dec. 25th. That’s not the Christmas season. Its really advent, but we should probably just call that the shopping season. The Christmas season of the Church calendar, the calendar we follow in our life of faith, lasts from December 25th, the feast of the nativity, until Jan. 6th the feast of the Epiphany. So, according to the calendar it’s still Christmas. But is it still Christmas in our worship? We have taken down the mangers and removed the straw, we have placed the advent wreaths in storage, and our Christmas tree in the lobby is so dry it’s more appropriately called kindling then a tree at this point. In our lives, the gifts have been opened, the holiday meals served, and the guests are gone. We are pointed towards new years, and Christmas is fast becoming a memory. So, we have this Gospel from John with nothing more then God becoming Man and being among us.
Ahh, but that my friends and neighbors is the most important point: Christmas is about God becoming Man in the form of Christ. Christmas is about knowing Jesus of Nazareth as Emmanuel, God with us. Just as we are continually an Easter people, freed from the powers of this world by the Resurrection of Christ, we are also a Christmas people, sustained, comforted, and guided by God with us all the time.
Now, that sounds nice, and it even sounds easy, but it is in fact trickier than we might think. While God is with us, we are not always God. See, we really like the baby Jesus. He’s cute, and cuddly, and the song says “no crying he makes”. What could be easier to love than a baby that doesn’t cry? I am reminded of an atrocious movie that came out recently entitled, “Talladega Nights: the Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” During one scene of this parody of NASCAR racers and culture, Ricky Bobby says the blessing before the family dinner. He prays, not to God, not to the Holy Spirit, nor to Jesus Christ in general. No, he prays to little baby Jesus in his crib. The humor of this scene comes from its truth. We like Christ in his manger; it’s the full grown Christ that gives us trouble. Jesus as an adult speaks the truth and that makes us uncomfortable. Jesus calls us to live not as individuals buts as a community that cares for its neighbors; while our society says we should be rugged individuals always looking out for number one. Jesus calls us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us; while our society teaches pre-emptive attack to get “them” before they get you. Jesus calls us to be motivated by our love of God and not by our desires for material wealth; while society says that you are not of value unless take as much as you can as often as you can. All these things that we are called to by Christ, make us want to wrap Jesus up in swaddling clothes and put him back in the manger. But, here’s the skinny, to be a Christmas people, we must be with God as much as God is with us. To be a Christmas people each and every day we must not just be with Christ at the manger but also with Christ on his journey to minister, to die on the cross, and to be risen from the grave.
My brothers and sisters, on this day, where the symbols of Christmas are fading into memory, we are challenged to remain a Christmas people. On this day, when we hear the stark story of John’s version of the nativity, we are called to walk in the light of Christ every day of our lives. On this day, when we peak into the dawning of another year, we are challenged to share God’s Word, show Christ’s love and serve all people, more then ever. Let us begin answering Christ’s call today. Let us with out prayers gathered around God’s table, where each and every time we gather we are reminded in the simplest and most dramatic terms that God is with us. Then let us carry Christ in our hearts to all that we meet and in all that we do each and every day. My Bothers and Sisters, Emanuel, God is with us, and let us too be with God.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Saturday, December 08, 2007
I speak with you today in the name of God the creator, Christ the righteous one, and the sustaining Holy Spirit. Amen!
I would like to talk a bit today about pretentiousness vs. righteousness. Pretentiousness is the characteristic of making exaggerate claims to power, status, or position. Where I come from we use to call it putting on airs. We see pretentiousness when someone puts on the behaviors or claims the privileges of a different status in life. It is related to pretending. Most commonly someone behaves more smug or condescending to those around them when they are pretentious, and there is usually a denial of humble origins behind that behavior. That is where we get the phrase “he/she has forgotten where he/she came from.”
There is rarely much value in being pretentious. As the character “Wheezah” says in that classic motion picture Steal Magnolias, “An Ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure.” There is so little value in being pretentious because sooner or later someone will call us back to reality. Sooner or later someone gives us a swift kick of Christian love that reminds us of exactly who and what we are, a stroke that cuts through our illusions and delusions of our own self importance.
Looking at our Gospel for today, John the Baptizer is delivering one of those strokes. John perceived that the Pharisees and Sadducees that came to see him at the Jordan river were not there out of true repentance, not out of a desire to prepare the way of the Lord; rather they were there out of some sense of social obligation. They were religious leaders and there was a new prophet in town; so, they came out to see if they needed to align themselves with this wildly dressed herald in order to maintain their power base. And if they were wrong about him, no matter; they could always fall back on the fact that they were children of Abraham, the chosen ones of God. This attitude we realize was mere pretension. John confronts them and reminds them that God can raise up children of Abraham from the stones on the side of the road if God wants to. That is to say God can choose whomever and whatever God wishes. Indeed God does not have to choose at all. Being chosen by God is solely out of the graciousness of God not out of any obligation God has.
Now, there is a lesson for us in this, a stark reminder of our own position in God’s creation. If we are chosen it is not out of any merit of our own. It does not matter who our parents are, how much money we make, the color of our skin, the size of our vehicles, how fast we can run, the clothes we wear, the neighborhood we live in, or how many bells and whistles our cell phones have. The fact that we are chosen rises solely from God’s gracious desire to chose us, and it should in spire us to, as the Baptist says today, “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” That is to say was should live and act in response to the forgiveness and love that is so readily available to us that honors that forgiveness and love.
Now, I don’t normally go around quoting Don Imus. In fact, I do not think I have ever listened to his radio show. I was not even aware of it until his offensive and racist comments of last year. This past week an interview with him by Barbara Walters aired on TV. In it he said that he should never make a comment in the future that would cause the women of the Rutgers basketball team to be embarrassed that they forgave him. This is how John the Baptist is telling us to live in relation to God. God’s forgiveness is readily available. God passionately desires to choose us, but we should live in a way that does not embarrass God for choosing us. That is to say we should live righteously.
Now, here is a tricky thing. We commonly misunderstand righteousness, for indeed we are much better at being pretentious. We commonly think of righteousness as following rules—do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the signs, as the old song goes. However, we hear the phrase God’s Righteousness a lot especially in the Old Testament. Now to think of God as the ultimate rule follower is a bit well stupid. In the first place, when we follow rules someone else usually makes them, and who is going to make rules for almighty God to follow. We might have an inflated concept of our abilities, but I do not think we go that far. Second following rules is not what righteousness, or being righteous means. Righteousness, especially in reference to God, is the ability and will to give life. Now, creation in the case of God and procreation on our part is part of righteousness, but only a small part. It also means living in a way that allows others to have life. In the case of Christ as we read in John chapter 10 verse 10 and Christ’s followers, that means us by the way, it means living in a way that enables others to have life and have it more abundantly. See righteousness is tied to justice. We hear that in our reading from the Prophet Isaiah today:
“He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with Righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.”
This day John the Baptist prepares the way of the lord. John prepares for the true light from true light to enter the darkness of the world. We are called not only to be in this light, but also to be this light for each other and all we meet in time of darkness. My brothers and sisters let us not assume that we are God’s chosen people because of accidents of birth and status in life. We are God’s by God’s choice alone, by grace alone. Let us not pretend to be righteous; rather let us be righteous. Let us live in ways that create life, physical life, economic life, healthy sustainable life, healthy mind, body, and spirit. And let us not be pretentious and selfish and do this for us alone; rather let us be righteous and live so that all may have life and have it more abundantly. Amen!
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Monday, December 03, 2007
Monday, November 05, 2007
I had a few moments for a bit of reading this afternoon, and instead of picking up something mindless and light as one should on their day off, I picked up A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. (I know, "why would I do that?" I am a light weight geek. It has gotten me this far. Why change?) Anyway, I have never gotten to far into this book, but this time I am bound and determined to finish it. As I was reading his descriptions of the possible models of the universe that correlate with our current understandings, I found myself reflecting upon the book of The Revelation of St. John--the last book of the bible that has to deal with the end times. It is common to look at this book as a description of cosmic events at the end of time, the effects of which we will experience on earth. These description do not match up, however, with the smallest understandings of what modern physics tells us about the make up of the universe. This seeming contradiction often leads people down one of two paths: 1) to reject modern physics 2) to reject Christianity specifically or religion in general.
I found myself at this very fork in the road today, and neither of these paths seemed appealing to me. Then another thought occurred to me: what if scripture is not discussing the end of the cosmos in the Revelation of John, but rather the end of something else specifically oppressive empires, that is to say something earthly not something "heavenly". This would not be an unprecedented move for scripture. Walter Brueggemann has shown that the book of Exodus has a lot to do with nature and function of empires in relation to the people they oppress. Furthermore, it wouldn't be unprecedented historically. Empires do expire, despite the rhetoric to the contrary. Sometimes they even expire when the oppressed function like the lamb does in the Book of Revelation, i.e. Non-violent resistance as seen in India under Ghandi, and Apartheid under the influence of Arch-bishop Desmond Tutu.
I am not the first to have this idea about the book of Revelation particularly either. Pablo Richard's book Apocalypse seems to argue this point. But with the general question of does one follow a physics world view vs. a scriptural world view, the answer is yes. One must look at what the scirptures are actually talking about and what physics is actually talking about to realize what one thought was a contradiction was really two different conversations. Then again, I could be either full of manure and therefore wrong, or I could be manipulating the topics to fit a preconceived world-view of my own creation. Either way I'm wrong. What are your thoughts?
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Conservatism it may be, but whatever it is it doesn't sound Christian. Built right into this faith is God's concern for, blessing of, and promises made to the poor. If you are going to be a bona fide member of the Animal Protection Society, then you must cultivate a prejudice against the mistreatment of cats. If you are going to be a Christian, then there is no way to avoid a tendency toward condemnatory judgment of the rich and gracious, charitable compassion for the poor.
Read the whole article here.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
May only God’s word be spoken, and may only God’s word be heard. Amen!
As many of you know, my father is a retired Southern Baptist pastor. We often, consequently, shop talk. Indeed, I find his accumulated wisdom from twenty-some-odd-years of professional ministry to be invaluable to me as I navigate the courses of parish leadership. This past week we were chatting and he asked what I was preaching about this week. I told him that I was tempted, sourly tempted, to title my sermon: “Tom Osborn is not Jesus!” Though my father is from Tennessee and has only been to Nebraska a hand full of times, he nonetheless understands the grip that college football has upon our culture. There was a long pause after I announced my temptation to him and then he replied, “Son, make sure the war is worth the cost of the battle.”
Speaking of wars and battles, I had the pleasure and honor to have dinner with a friend of mine in the Air Force who has two young sons in 2nd grade and Kindergarten. As is often the case, pearls of great wisdom come from the mouths of children. My friends oldest son asked me during dinner, “How come the skeleton did not cross the road?” Now, I am an educated man, but for the life of me I couldn’t puzzle this one out. When I confessed my inability to provide an answer the child said, “Because he has no GUTS!”
This is a true statement indeed. It requires guts, courage, to cross a road; courage to journey to a new place, to be transformed into something new; to get to a place of justice. The parable of Christ’s that we heard today teaches this very thing. The persistent widow of Luke chapter 18 is an example of courage and tenacity in her pursuit of justice. This we can glean from even a quick reading two thousand years removed from the original telling. But there is a whole lot more packed into this parable that requires a closer inspection to notice.
Take the first sentence for example: “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.” That is a simple sentence of a mere 17 words but there is a lot packed in there. First he sets the scene in a city and then introduces the judge. This automatically marks the judge as a member of the urban elite. This is not some country bumpkin, rather he is a member of the crème de la crème of society; both a mover and shaker; someone use to doing what he wanted when he wanted regardless of the affect of his actions upon others. Then Jesus describes the Judge as one “who neither feared God nor had respect for people.” Now this is an interesting phrase here. See Judges were supposed to sit at the city gates and handle disputes with the Torah, a.k.a. the Law of Moses, as there code of law. If a judge was unresponsive to a case he theoretically could be shamed by invoking his fear of God and public opinion. This particular judge apparently had no shame as they say.
This leads us to a concept that is easy for us to comprehend. We all live in the tension and are quite aware that there is how things ought to be vs. the way things are. There is the way that things are supposed to be done within our ordered society and then there is the way things actually occur. Y’all know what I’m talking about. It is said that we live in a country where the government is “by the people, of the people, and for the people”, but in reality how many of us have the stroke, the influence, and—lets be honest—the money to affect the policy decisions of even our city much less the state or nation. We constantly deal with the tension of the way things are versus the way they ought to be.
It was no different in Jesus’ day. Judges were supposed to rule with the Torah as their guide. The Torah had both preference and protection for the poor especially widows and orphans. But, the reality was that often time the judges in ancient Jewish society had preference and protection for those who could pay bribes, those that could make large campaign contributions.
Then Jesus introduces us to a widow. Now women in general back in Jesus’ day and age were valued just slightly higher than cattle. Widows were especially vulnerable, without the protection of a husband. So, we have this unjust Judge with a host of power and this persistent Widow who is powerless repeatedly coming to him to plead her case presumably in public at the city gate. Now the courage, spunk, and raw chutzpah of this woman can not me minimized. She was not even supposed to speak in public, much less address one of the high ranking members of the urban elite. But yet, she gets the bit between her teeth and refuses to be denied the justice that is due her. She is a vision of who we ought to be. Her tenaciousness is our guide, her stubbornness for justice a model for imitation.
It is interesting to note that the woman eventually gets the justice due her; for that is not what we usually see happen. Usually, when the overtly weak and powerless attempt to cry out for justice, more often than not they are squashed violently by the powers that be. We have all seen it. Whether it is union busters with bully clubs, or fire hoses and dogs turned on civil rights marchers; whether it is apartheid or Jim Crow; whether it is Tiananmen Square or farmers in Nicaragua; whether it is veterans who need medical care or undocumented workers who want to feed their families those with little social standing are implicitly and sometimes explicitly told to keep quiet, to know their place, and not rock the boat.
That may be the way things are, but it is not how things ought to be. Jesus teaches something different. He calls for two things from us today. He calls us to repent from being the unjust judge. He calls us to confess when we have from either our complicity or from our direct action contributed to the oppression that is rampant in the world. Secondly, he calls us to never lose heart, never relinquish our courage, to be the widow crying out for justice. No matter how large the problems of the world, no matter how doubtful it may be that we can cause positive change, no matter how the deck might be stacked against us, we are called to be persistent; as Paul writes, to “continue in what [we] have learned and firmly believed.” We are called to rock the boat, to cry out, and demand an accounting.
We are called to fight for justice, to stand with the poor and the powerless, because that is what God instructs in the scriptures over and over again.
I had a band director in college that told us: If a professor says something in a lecture it is important, if he/she says it twice it is on the test, id he/she says it a third time it IS the test. Well, there are over 10000 references to helping the poor and powerless in scripture. Therefore it is not only on the test, it is the test, the final, the term paper, indeed how we help people is all we have to know who we really are.
All scripture indeed is good for our instruction and our instructions are clear, feed the hungry and ask why the hungry have no food. Clothe the poor, and ask why the poor have no money. Strive for justice and respect the dignity of every human being. Amen!
Friday, October 05, 2007
Welcome to the Friday Five!
This one is going to be veeeery simple: List at least five things (people, places, graces, miracles...) for which you are thankful. You may elaborate as you wish, or keep it simple.
1. Salvation -- I don't know about the next life, but God certainly saved my life in this one.
2. My Wife -- Who woulda thunk it? She said yes. It still amazes me.
3. Camp Mowana: A holy place. Special Times. Special Memories.
4. The Black Hills of South Dakota: it is one of those "thin" where the barriers to us and God aren't as think as they are in other places.
5. All Saints Episcopal Church -- I love my job!
Monday, October 01, 2007
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
In the grand scheme of things we are not doing much that is extremely creative or hasn't been done before. However, relative to the worship life and history of All Saints Episcopal Church in Omaha Nebraska we are being quite radical and experimental. Like I said, I am excited for this service. A lot of congregants, several members of the vestry, and all the staff have invested in this service. Consequently, I'm nervous, very nervous. I know that not all aspects will appeal to everyone. I'm okay with that. What I'm worried about is that all the work we have put in to this thing will result in a flat boring service, that this service will not be the instrument of growth we have been telling folks it will be. This frightens me to no end. If our regular members don't like the service, they will put up with it if the parish is growing rapidly. However, they will be less tolerant if it doesn't grow the church and we are putting a lot of energy in to "new fangled" worship.
Therefore, if you are a person of faith, any faith what so ever, please pray for us. I'll take all the prayers we can get.
Friday, September 21, 2007
So today I turn 31 years old. Now 31 does not have the ring of say 16, 18, or 21, those milestone birthdays of our youth. Nor does it carry the weight of 30, 40, 50, 62, 65, and those other milestones of aging. One could almost call this a lost birthday in realm of numerical significance unless one is Episcopalian of course. See the national Ministries with Young People office of the Episcopal church has to define the age groups it works with. Young Adults are defined as 18 to 30 years old. Since I am 31 today, I am know longer a young adult. Now this could mean that I will no longer be considered a wet behind the ears little whipper-snapper. However, in my congregation and diocese where the average age is closer 60-ish, and I'm the only priest under 40, I'm not holding my breath for this. No, what this means is I am no longer in that sought after demographic in the church "young adults". In MTV's eyes I have been out of this group for a while, but now it is complete with the church's removal of interest.
Okay, I'll stop whining about aging.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
While I am most assuredly not in playing shape, both in endurance and technical ability to keep up with the music, there was a kind of, "this is like riding bike," thing going on as well. It felt very familiar to sit in a section of ten or so other trumpet players, to listen closely to them to match pitch, tone, and timing. As they say in football the game is still moving faster then I am at this point, but I am sure there will come a time when the game slows down for me.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
May only God’s Word be spoken, and may only God’s word be heard. Amen!
Again, let me say welcome tonight to our U2 Eucharist, or, as some might say our U2-charist. It has come to that time in the service that most of us call the sermon, but, if we’re honest some folks call it “nap-time”. There’s no need to deny it. I’ve been there. We’ve all come to church sat our happy selves down, got ourselves into that well worn position on the pew that we know so well—cause you know you’ve been sitting in the same spot for decades—we cock our head to the side in that listening pose and half sleep and half stare into the distant nothing. With enough practice you can even get yourself to nod your head at key moments in the sermon so the preacher thinks you are listening. There is no need to deny this phenomenon. We’ve all done it. I’ve done it. Tom’s done it. Linda’s done it. The visitors have done it. The youth have done it. The old folks have done it. Everybody in between has done it. Shoot, half of you are thinking about doing it right now. It’s been done.
My hope this evening, however, is that I can hold your attention, your wakeful awareness, for a few moments. In a blatant and obvious attempt to keep your attention I’m going to start off tonight talking about something near and dear to the heart of the average Nebraskan: Football, more specifically elite football players. There are a lot of character traits that are common among elite football players: strength, speed, and agility, to name a few. Tonight, however, my interest is in a different trait. See, it seems that the most common trait among the elite football players of this world is an intense desire. Whether it is Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, Reggie Bush or Edgerin James, even Terrell Owens or Randy Moss, we find in these people an unquenchable desire, an inability to be satisfied no mater what feat they accomplish or victory they achieve.
These unfulfilled competitors, no matter how long they have played the game, still desire to work hard and achieve. It is like they are searching for something and they still haven’t found what their looking for. (Nice how I slipped that U2 lyric in there isn’t. I told you. You needed to stay awake for this one.) So, I was thinking about these human beings who keep striving for something, and then I started to think about my life of faith. It began to dawn on me that I’ve been at this endeavor for a while. Shoot yall, I’m the son of southern Baptist pastor. I’ve been going to church since I was a fetus. I have lived a life of faith my entire life—a life sometimes close to God, sometimes running from God, sometimes in direct defiance of God, but a life of faith nonetheless. For almost thirty-one years I’ve been at this thing we call faith, and I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. Yall, I’m looking for peace and I haven’t found it! That peace, that wonderful mysterious peace that passes all understanding that I desire for my neighbor and myself still seems less like reality than theory, less like substance than dreams.
In the Gospel story proclaimed just a few moments ago, we heard about the apostles on the mountain with Jesus just after his Resurrection. I don’t think they had found what they were looking for either. They had been on the road with Jesus for years, literally walking with him. I’m not talking about a sentimental emotional reference, some cheesy poem on a pastel plague on the wall. “Jeezus walks with me all the time, and when there’s only one set of footprints in the sand, that’s when Jeezuus was a carryin’ me.” No that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean literally they walked with Jesus everywhere. Talked face to face with Emmanuel, God with us—The ultimate divine one as human…God with skin. But yet here they are on top of this mountain with Jesus, and there it is in the scripture, “Some Doubted”.
Can you blame them? Can you blame them for expecting something different? They left their families and homes, gave up hopes and dreams to follow Christ. Their lives were not easy to begin with. Rome was an oppressor with little regard for the lives of the conquered. Their hopes for the dramatic expulsion of their oppressor were not realized. Their hopes for peace were not realized. Their hopes for the kingdom of God were not realized. They still hadn’t found what they were looking for.
But it is a component of the Christian faith that this Kingdom, this divine ordering of Creation has occurred. The nations have been placed at the feet of Jesus as the ultimate power in the universe. The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians that, “Through Christ, God was pleased to reconcile all things to himself whether in earth or on heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” In the life, death, and Resurrection of Christ, the Kingdom has come. God’s will has been done.
But, it is blatantly obvious, to anyone with eyes to see, ears to hear, or hearts to feel, that the Kingdom has not yet been reconciled. We live in a world where 25,000 people—many of them children—will die today, tomorrow, and the next day because of Aids, malaria, tuberculosis, and hunger. We live in a day and age where we can wage war at hyper-speed, where someone in Arizona can remotely control a flying drone like a video game while it drops bombs in Iraq. We live in a nation that—despite the action of many well-intentioned people—is more like the Roman Empire then any other nation-state since the fall of Rome itself.
Paradoxically the Kingdom has already come but is not yet here. Though the path to the Kingdom has been opened to all, the mission of reconciliation is ours. The mission of reconciliation is placed at our feet, on our backs, and in our hearts.
There were doubters on the mountain with Jesus. There are doubters in this room tonight, and there are doubts within my own heart as well. But, doubts or no the command of Christ in the gospel is still the same. This God who became a human in the Name of Love, who “stretched out his arms on the hard wood of the cross so that all might come within his saving embrace” gives the same command, the great commission to the doubtful and the confident alike. Go. Go teach what I have taught you, to all that exist. Christ lays the mission of reconciliation out before them all and all of us the confident and the doubtful. The whole body of Christ, the physical manifestation of God’s love in this very world, is to be about this mission of reconciliation.
So what is the church, the Body of Christ supposed to do. What are our action steps, our goals, dare I say our benchmarks on the path to global reconciliation. This is where the Millennium Development Goals come in. The MDGs, which you can see on the screen behind me, were adopted by 189 nations and signed by 147 heads of state and governments during the UN Millennium Summit in September of 2000. They are to be achieved by 2015 (that’s just 8 years away folks, we are already behind the game). Speaking of being behind the game, at the 2006 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the Millennium Development goals were adopted as an embodiment of the church’s mission in the world. It was seen that these objectives to:
- Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger;
- Achieve universal primary education;
- Promote Gender Equality and empower women;
- Reduce Child mortality;
- Improve maternal health;
- Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases;
- Ensure Environmental Sustainability; and
- To build a Global Partnership for Development;
are specific areas where we, the church, can and should apply our united energy, resources, and influence as a community of faith to bring about reconciliation, to bring about the Kingdom.
Now, there are some naysayer’s and critics of this action by the Episcopal Church, and every now again they ask some good questions that we need to answer. Some might say, “what does this have to do with getting our souls into heaven?” Isn’t the church a spiritual reality not a physical reality? So, shouldn’t we be more concerned about converting people then about feeding them? Indeed the church is a spiritual reality, but it is a spiritual reality that is erupting into the physical world; just as God became incarnate in the physical world, so, too, the Body of Christ, the church, is to be incarnate in this world and bring about the kingdom.
See, it’s like this, a wise congregant of mine sent me a story this week about a Holy man who was having a conversation with God. He asked God to show him heaven and hell. So God took him down a long hallway that end with two doors: one heaven and one hell. God opened the door on the right and said this is hell. The man stepped in and was immediately hit by the smell of the most delicious beef stew he had ever smelled. Y’all know what that’s like…when you put a pot of stew in the crock pot on a cold winter morning and let it cook all day. You get home at the end of the day and open the door and you start to drool immediately. This got our Holy Man’s attention so he stepped in to take a look at this beautifully smelling hell. What he saw in the room was indeed a big pot of stew cooking the middle of a large round table. Sitting around the table was a host of starving emaciated people. He noticed that they were strapped to their chairs so that only one arm was free. In that arm they were holding a long spoon, longer then their arms. They were able to take a spoonful of the stew from the pot, but, because the spoons were longer then their arms, they couldn’t get the stew into their mouths. Repulsed the holy man left the room and God opened for him the door to heaven. The holy man smelt the same stew and saw the same scene except this time everyone around the table was well fed and content. The holy man turned to God and asked what was different about this group of people. God replied, “These folks have learned to feed each other.”
That’s it folks. That’s what this is all about. We do not bring about the kingdom by privatizing everything including our faith, like we can somehow pull ourselves up into heaven by our own boot straps. We become the kingdom—we bring about reconciliation—when we learn that we are dependant upon God’s grace embodied in our feeding of each other. For indeed, it is too light a thing for us to merely feed ourselves, too light a thing for us to merely feed our families. It is too light a thing, when we have been called to be God’s light in the world, for us to merely take care of “our own”, while our brothers and sisters starve, while we still kill them…too light a thing indeed.
Now the moment you have all been waiting for…In conclusion, there are some specific things you can do to help us reach these goals, things you can do this very evening. First, and you probably thought of this already, be charitable. Tonight’s offering, taken during the service, will be applied in its entirety to Episcopal Relief and Development’s work in the areas of food security and health care. Also, outside in the lobby, there is a basket where you can support All Saints Episcopal Church’s mission to Maar, Sudan. Through the administration of the Christian Outreach Mission Team, the impassioned efforts of Deacon Robin McNutt, and churches in five other states we are looking to build a sustainable network to dramatically improve the health and life of the people of Maar. Tonight you can help with these efforts through your generous contributions.
You can also be charitable with your time and talents as well. There is work to do on all these goals right here in Omaha, NE as well. Where are Melissa and Don Peeler? Tonight is a great night to talk to Melissa and Don Peeler about joining one of the initiatives of the Outreach Mission Team. For those of yall visiting with us tonight, find out what your home congregation, or synagogue, or masque or place of worship is doing in the realms peace and justice and get involved. If they don’t have a group working in these areas, then start one, build partnerships and get to work.
Now, whatever you do—for Christ’s sake I beg of you--don’t just write a check and forget about this night. Charity is a good first step. It is needed and invaluable. But it is only a first step. It is, in a lot of ways, like triage or first aid for the problems mentioned tonight. To treat the underlying cause of these afflictions we must do more. We must lend our voices to the voices of those who are being ignored. We must engage our leaders and get them to focus on these necessary issues. Tonight you can join the One campaign. Go to www.one.org, it is listed on the last page of your bulletin to add your voice to the global out cry to end poverty.
Lastly, and most importantly you can come and go. Come to this table, this place where we know the love of God is present. Receive the Body and Blood broken and poured out for you. Then Go. Go and learn more about God’s love by reading the scriptures. Go and learn more about the MDGs and the ways you can be involved at the websites listed in your bulletin. Go and teach what you have been taught. Go and love your neighbors. Go and remember the afflicted, feed the poor, fight for the oppressed, strive for justice and respect the dignity of every human being. Go in peace, as the Body and Blood of Christ in the world. Go to love. Go and serve the Lord. After all, this is what you have been looking for. Amen!
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
“Now Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
I speak with you this day in the name of God the adventurer, Christ the faithful one, and the ever present Holy Spirit. Amen!
Two Sundays ago I left for a week of continuing education in the Black Hills of South Dakota. My wife and I had the pleasure of working as small group facilitators for a peer ministry camp of high school students. I love working camps because you usually get to work with some the most dedicated and talented people on the planet. This week was no exception. I would like to tell you about a few of these amazingly faithful people.
First, there is Lyle Griner. Lyle is the National Peer Ministry Coordinator for the Youth and Family Institute. But those fancy titles don’t really tell you that much about Lyle. It is more descriptive to say that Lyle is a person of deep long lasting faith. A man who has given himself not only to believing in an unseen God, not only to following the guidance and nudging of the Holy Spirit, but also to passing on the faith the generations that follow. He is passionate about stories, especially stories of faith, which has given him a keen sense that the stories we share with each other are the ones that form us. Consequently, his life’s work is to give tools and skills to youth and adults to share our faith, to tell the shaping stories of our lives that in turn shape those around us.
Next there is Dick Borrud. Dick and his wife Cynthia privately own and operate Lee Valley ranch the camp where we were staying. Dick is a 75-year-old semi-retired Lutheran pastor. As the saying goes, “he has been there and done that.” He’s been a campus chaplain, a children’s television host, pastor, and preacher. At 75, he led us on a hike one day up some steep large hills in that thin mountain air. I swear to you, none of the youth or the adults could keep up. He had to keep stopping and telling stories so that we could all catch our breath.
It was during one of these story times that he told us the story of his mother. She was a cheerleader who married her college running back hero when she was 18. At 19, she gave birth to her one and only child. At this point, with a 75-year-old catch in his voice, Dick tells of his mother’s death from complications of bringing him into the world. He looks us straight in the eye and tells us that he wishes to live a life worth dying for; he wishes each and every day that his actions are worthy of the sacrifice his mother made. Maintaining that unwavering gaze, he reminds us that Christ died too so that we might live. In memory of the sacrifices of both his mother and Christ, Dick challenged us to live a life worth dying for.
Finally, I want to tell you about Joel and Aimee’ Pakan. They are the husband and wife team that make up the band Tangled Blue. Joel plays guitar and Aimee’ assorted percussion. They both sing and take turns driving the 2001 Volkswagen Euro van, which has been their home for over 270,000 miles. These self-professed church geeks, travel across the country singing, working with youth, and proclaiming the grace of God by their lives and music. Now, don’t think for a second that they are a couple of deadbeat musicians living in a van down by the river, that they don’t work for a living. You do not survive 270,000 miles in a van with another person, especially your spouse, without hard work and dedication. You do not become the virtuoso musicians and songwriters that they are without logging hours upon hours of practice.
What is more important then their work ethic and commitment, however, is their faith. They intrinsically understand our Gospel message today. Where your treasure is, where you put your physical and material resources, is where your heart will be. They have placed their faith in an unseen God. They are assured of things hoped for in the conviction of things unseen because they seek the Kingdom first trusting that all the things, the house, the car, the clothes, the food, will be added unto them in God’s time. Indeed the assurance of their faith is enshrined in the words of one of my favorite songs of theirs entitled No Matter What. It goes:
No matter what,
No matter what may come
No matter what may come, I will not let you go!
Seed blown by the wind, buried in winter and frozen.
Remember the water that graced your head, rain in the
spring that brings life from the dead.
This season will pass but My promise will remain.
No matter what,
No matter what may come,
No matter what may come,
I will not let you go!
Joel and Aimee’, Dick and Cynthia, Lyle: these are the people I want to be like when and if I ever grow up.
Now, I do not highlight these old and new friends of mine simply to brag about how cool my friends are…well maybe a little, but that’s not the whole reason. The writer of Hebrews writes today of Abraham’s faith in hopes of inspiring the newly faithful to discipleship, to living a life in response to the gracious life, death, and Resurrection of Christ. We all need examples of faith to follow; what the writer of Hebrews in another passage calls the great cloud of witnesses, what we here at 9302 Blondo call All Saints.
Here’s the skinny though, we need these examples of faith to inspire us to stay the course, run the whole race, remind us of the joy of a life lived for Christ, and keep us mindful of our areas of where we need to grow. We, also, are called to be examples of faith, to be that great cloud of witnesses. [Tomorrow] we will baptize Karen Kalilangwe into the body Christ. This is not a private action. We do it in the middle of our services, in the middle of the community to highlight our responsibility. It is our responsibility to support her in faith, to be that great cloud of witnesses that forms her in the life of Christ.
Our responsibility does not stop with the members of All Saints, however. It continues to all in our neighborhood, our city, our state, nation, and world. We cannot sit here and claim to love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls and our neighbors as ourselves as long as there are empty pews in our church and violence in our streets. We cannot and should not be comfortable, to think the work is done and we have earned a rest. As the passionate witness, St. Francis of Assisi said:
• Where there is hatred, we must sow love;
• where there is injury, we must pardon;
• where there is doubt, we must share our faith;
• where there is despair, we must be a beacon of hope;
• where there is darkness, we must shine our light;
• and where there is sadness, we must bring joy.
My Brothers and Sisters, it is my hope that you and I will go the way of saints before us, living lives of worthy response to the gospel. It is my hope that we let it be known that this building does not belong to us; rather it is a house of God. Let it be know in all the world that at this table none are turned away. Here at God’s altar all are fed not with the temporal food of this world that will leave us hungry again, but with the righteous, life giving food of the Body and Blood of Christ broken and poured out for us so that we may never hunger as we are the body and blood of Christ in the world. Amen!
Monday, August 20, 2007
3 Aug 2007
It is the last day. Lyle has already left. I told him as he left that I no longer say good-bye to people I meet in the church. The church is so small you usually run into them again some day.
Anyway last night was really great! We only did one session which was on faith sharing. It want off stupendously. I think a lot of my crew had never shared their faith nor had someone listen to their story. They learned a lot about each other and themselves.
I am usually not very confident about my small group skills, but I think I made progress this week. It was fun to have a group of all girls. It is a little easier for them to share feelings (according to the girls in the group.) I grew a lot this week because of their willingness to share.
Also, something mended in me last night. For years I had an emotional faith; recently, I have had primarily an intellectual faith, and ne'er the twain shall meet--as it were. This week I think those two things were drawn together. It is a nice feeling to have them work together for the growth of the kingdom.
2 August 2007
Yesterday was pretty cool, both in temperature and sessions. We worked with a decision making model, which I think my group was able to grasp. I think it is one of the hardest parts of this training. Usually, I like or hope to draw the learning out of them, let them think of things and then highlight points for them. With the decision making model, however, it was more like spoon feeding. I think it was helpful though because it gave us a chance to think through a host of questions that we could at each part of the model. Some of them in the group even took notes by their own accord. That was cool! Also, since I was sharing, and one of the kids was helping me think through my decision, she prayed for me. The prayer was AWESOME! She prayed for God to be with my wife and I as we talk about having kids. She didn't make the decision for us, she just prayed that we would know that God was with us no matter what we decided.
I rarely have people praying for out loud for me, with me there. It is usually the other way around! So this was a well needed spiritual thirst quencher!!!
Last night we went to Rushmore. I'm still sorting out my feelings about it, though it did not fill me patriotic fervor which is what I think they wanted. The crazy horse monument is better, even though it isn't complete yet.
Last night we had a really cool session. Lyle had encouraged us to challenge our groups to go a little deeper with their sharing by sharing a heartfelt concern. After modeling this myself I laid the challenge before my group. I was a little concerned because they did not seem nervous about this at all. But they did great, and they enjoyed having someone listen to them. After that I did a group check-in where they had to mark our progress towards becoming an "us,our" group instead of an "I, me" group. I was shocked that they had us so close to being an "us, our" group. I asked how we had come so far so fast. They replied because we are all girls. Except for me and pastor K. who are adults, all the teens in the group are girls. After this we had a wonderful conversation about group dynamics in regards to gender. It was one of these moments that you wait for in ministry where people in a group just start talking and all you have to do is just highlight cool points. Near the end I asked about their church groups and how they can move their groups toward being "us, our" Several of them took real ownership and said similar things about it being up to us--the teens--to do it because the other youth will listen to us more than to the adults. It was a beautiful moment.
Lord, help me to continue to lead this group by making space for you and them to meet and mingle. Amen!
31 July 2007
Yesterday we did three Peer Ministry sessions, which is a lot. However it gave my group a chance to begin bonding. I always struggle, or at least I feel like I do, with getting people to open up in a group. For most of yesterday my "small" group felt like a "large" group. I am always challenged in these situations because my instincts are to preach! Being a preacher is a large majority of my ministerial identity; therefore Peer Ministry Facilitating is good for me because it pushes me to function in different rolls. Left to my own devices I would just preach and not develop other skills. However, I feel God nudging me o do more, to get off my posterior, our of the pulpit and office, and do more ministry.
Lord, help me to do your will!
Lord, help me to do!
Lord, help me!
The next few posts are journal entries from my time in Black Hill work as a small group facilitator for The Youth and Family Institute. They are a little back dated, but I hope you enjoy them.
July 30, 2007
I, Well Jodie and I, have come to Lee Valley Ranch near Custer, SD in the Black Hills of southwest SD. To say that it is beautiful here is kinda like saying Mozart wrote music. It is amazing that:
- We drove 9 hours yesterday but I'm not tired.
- We had an hour Long Camp fire led by Tangle Blue and Dick Borrud and I was neither bored nor sleepy.
- We saw lots and lots of bikers. The Sturgis Rally begins next week.
- We saw lots of pine trees. Seriously, I had not seen so many since I lived next door to a paper mill in Tennessee. We shut off the a/c in the car rolled down the windows and could literally smell the pine.
- I am here to lead a peer ministry training, but I always wind up being trained myself.
- I fee God us pushing me to become better at more ministry skills then just preaching.
It looks to be a great week.
Friday, August 17, 2007
This one is patterned off an old Friday Five written by Songbird, our Friday Five Creator Emerita:
Below you will find five words. Tell us the first thing you think of on reading each one. Your response might be simply another word, or it might be a sentence, a poem or a story.My play is in read.
1. vineyard vine
2. root cause
3. rescue Me. (the song not the show)
4. perseverance Needed
5. divided we fall.
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
|You scored as Ginny Weasley, You definitely share your mother's (Molly Weasley) fiery resolve and slowly but surely people are learning to respect you because of it. |
Your Harry Potter Alter Ego Is...?
created with QuizFarm.com
Thursday, July 26, 2007
“He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.”
I speak with you in the Name of God. Amen!
As many of you may have guessed, when I was a teenager, I was a bit of a dork. Three of my favorite things, were comic books, cowboy movies (especially John Wayne) and, I must confess, professional wrestling—though down south we called it rasslin’ instead of wrestling. Anyway, if you think about it, the story line of every comic book, cowboy movie, and rasslin’ match is pretty similar. There is a good guy and a bad guy. For the majority of the story the bad guy is winning, and just when you think there is no hope for the good guy, by some extraordinary use of violence the good guy prevails and every body lives happily ever after. However, here’s the rub: everyone does not live happily ever after, because in the next issue, or movie, or match. Either there is a new bad guy to over power, or by some fluke the previous bad guy survived and the whole story gets repeated again. A classic example of this pattern, as New Testament scholar Walter Wink points out, is the comic strip and cartoon “Popeye the Sailor Man.” Wink writes,
In a typical segment, Bluto abducts a screaming kicking Olive Oyl, Popeye’s girlfriend. When Popeye attempts to rescue her, the massive Bluto beats his diminutive opponent to a pulp, while Olive Oyl helplessly wrings her hands. At the last moment, as our hero oozes to the floor, and Bluto is trying, in effect, to rape Olive Oyl, a can of spinach pops from Popeye’s pocket and spills into his mouth. Transformed by this gracious infusion of power, he easily demolishes the villain and rescues his beloved. The format never varies. Neither party ever gains any insight or learns from these encounters. They never sit down and discuss their differences. Repeated defeats do not teach Bluto to honor Olive Oyl’s humanity, and repeated pummelings do not teach Popeye to swallow his spinach before the fight.
Wink goes on to describe this as the myth of redemptive violence, the myth that things can be accomplished and that evil can be vanquished by overwhelming force, the myth that might makes right. Furthermore, there is evidence of this formative myth operating in every culture and in every age of human history at least since the agricultural revolution occurring about 3000 years before the life of Jesus Christ.
Speaking of the life of Christ, this myth of redemptive violence was most certainly active back in Jesus’ day. The Roman Empire had made quite a compelling argument that they were rightfully the rulers of the world because they had the military might to destroy any opponent. The Roman legions massed for war, cresting a hill set for conquering, were the ancient equivalent of Shock and Awe. Now here is where things start to get really interesting. In our reading today from Paul’s letter to the Colossians he writes, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.” Now, imagine with me for a second that we had no knowledge of the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Imagine if we only had this letter to the Colossians and read about Jesus’ triumph over the ruling authority. We would probably assume that he had won some great battle, that he had marshaled forces and succeeded through the physical and moral destruction of his enemies. For indeed this is almost all we have ever seen. Be it a popular election, a spectator sport, or a war we have rarely if ever seen anyone triumph in any other way.
But, and it is a big ol’ but, we do have knowledge of the gospels. We know the story of Jesus and there isn’t a army that marches off to war with Jesus in the front brandishing a sword in any of them. Even in the apocryphal gospels that are not part of scripture there not a story of Jesus bringing down the powers that be, the Roman Empire with military might. Something radically different occurs the narrative of Jesus. He does not develop new strategies for the destruction of his enemies, rather commands us to pray for those that persecute us. He does not amass a tremendous fighting force backed a military-industrial complex, rather the anointed one walks unarmed, penniless, and alone to the cross. He does not call fire from heaven down upon his executioners, rather he prays, “Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He does not seek revenge for the violence done to him, rather he rises from the grave without bitterness or malice forgiving and says peace be with you. In the gospel of Jesus Christ—in the life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah—we are a long way away from Popeye and Bluto, a long way away from the myth of redemptive violence. We are rather in the midst of the myth of redemptive sacrifice, redemptive love, redemptive forgiveness, and redemptive grace.
The gospel passage proclaimed today is Luke’s rendition of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’ instructions to the apostles and us on how to pray. The formative narrative of redemptive sacrifice and forgiveness is enmeshed within this prayer. Jesus tells them and us to pray for God to provide daily bread. We are not instructed to pray that we have more bread then everyone else, more riches then our neighbors; rather pray for our daily bread, a sufficient amount to get through today. Furthermore we are told to pray for God’s forgiveness as we forgive those that trespass, sin, or are indebted to us. In other words, we are not to pray for the destruction of those who harm us, or that we are able to maintain a position of power over those less fortunate then us. No, we are to pray that we have the will and ability to ensure that all enjoy the providence and abundance of God’s creation like we have. We are to pray that we are able to pass on the graciousness of God to those that sin against us even though they do not deserve it, for indeed we do not deserve it either.
As you are aware, the Lord’s Prayer is a major part of our Anglican style of worship. We say it during every Eucharist celebration, as well as every morning, noonday, evening prayer, or compline we do together. The importance of this repeated practice of prayer is almost to great for me to articulate. For indeed the myth of redemptive violence is told over and over again in almost every context of our lives. From James Bond movies to spectator sports, from history books to, yes, even in organized religion, we formed by the narrative of dominance. However, it is not all that we hear and see. Whether it is Gandhi’s Satyagraha form of Non-Violent Resistance, Martin Luther King’s Soul Force, Dorothy Day’s Hospitality Houses and Catholic Worker Movement, Archbishop Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation commission, Mennonite pacifism and yes even our simple repetition of the Lord’s Prayer, the narrative of forgiveness is told and is a part of our being as well.
Our job, our formation, our action plan, must include getting to know this different story well. Immersion in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, knowledge of those who followed him and lived the new story and attempting to live it out in our own lives is a start. We must also, proclaim this new story in every corner and crevice that the myth of domination has seeped into.
Jesus proclaims today that if we ask we shall receive. I invite you to this altar today, not merely so that things can carry on as they have, but hoping that you will join me in asking God to transform us, to form us by the narrative of Grace, to empower us to triumph as he triumphs and live our lives, “rooted and built up in [Christ] and established in faith.” Amen!
Inflammatory rhetoric aside, this time I am trying to consider this a spiritual discipline that I need to practice physically and materially and not just rant about. I have posted more about this at my website www.barefootpriest.com. Last night, however, my wife and I bought bikes for the purpose of commuting. My goal is to commute by bike at least three times a week. This is part of a greater effort on our part to become carbon neutral. I'll keep you posted on how this works out.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
“As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying.”
I speak with you today in the name of the One God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen!
I’m going to take a bit of a risk this morning. See, I don’t like to make assumptions about scripture. I believe that old adage about what happens when one assumes things is especially true in regards to scripture. The things we say about scripture should at least be present in scripture, even if most of the time we have no clue what they mean. Therefore, with your prayers of support, here is my assumption: the prophet Amos, dear, dear Amos, had to have friends.
I know that does not sound like too risky of an assumption, but I read the entire book of Amos this week and there is not a single reference to another person that we could even remotely consider a friend of Amos; enemies of Amos, yes; people extremely annoyed by his presence and prophecy, yes; but friends…not so much.
However, he must have had friends. Surely he must have had someone close to him that could pull him aside and say, “Dude, cheer up a little bit. I mean, come on man, every time you make one of these prophecies it’s all doom and gloom and the day of the Lord is wrath stuff. Don’t you know that you could get a lot more publicity and airtime if you tell the people what they want to hear?” Surely someone had to come to Amos and give him a heads up.
However, if someone did try to clue Amos in as to how things get done, the way things are, and how the game is played, Amos apparently did not listen. Amos is relentless in his denunciation of the powers that be: the ruling authority, the religious authority, the rich, and powerful. We hear a bit of that in our reading today which comes from the 8th chapter of the book. He writes, “The Lord said to me: the end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass by. The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day says the Lord GOD; ‘the dead bodies shall be many cast out in every place.” This isn’t some random out of character blurb for Amos. No, Amos has been ranting like this for seven chapters already and he has got a whole other chapter to go after this.
What is his reason for this protracted, expressive, colorful, and extensive diatribe against the nation of Israel? We hear a little bit of an answer in verse 4 where he writes, “Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land.” This is a short verse, but apparently, there was a whole lot of trampling on the needy and ruining of the poor going on.
It was kind of like a best of times and worst of times situation back in Amos’ day; the best of times for a very few people and the worst of times for a whole lot of folks. The northern kingdom of Israel was experiencing a time of military security and economic prosperity. Trade relations with their neighbors were opening and the prospect of material gain turned the powers that be towards constrained self-interest. This led, as the commentator R.K. Harrison has noted, to the destruction of the middle class within a generation.” Y’all know what happens when the middle class is destroyed. The gap between the rich and poor becomes insurmountable. Systems of government, law and order become corrupt and weighted in the favor of the powerful few instead of the common good. Policy decisions and enforcement maintain the status quo rather then progress society towards justice and peace. In short order the religious system becomes domesticated by the powers as well, another pawn in the protection of the powerful. Ultimately God becomes domesticated by the religious system as well. Here, however, like Moses before him and many after him, is where Amos comes in.
It is because the powers that be had turned from the protection given the poor in the Law of Moses, because they had turned from the proper way of responding to God’s gracious liberating love that Amos delivers the prophecy of doom. They had turned to wealth and productivity as their idol instead of worshiping the free God who had freed them. Because they were so caught up in their attempt to domesticate God, they failed to hear Amos’ reminder that God is truly free. God is free even to direct God’s wrath upon God’s own people for their neglect, apathy, oppression of the poor, and idolization of wealth.
Now, we should not be too hard on the people of Israel, for indeed in every age and time, in every institution, society, and culture there is idolatry. If we look close enough we can see it in our Gospel passage today. Martha has welcomed Jesus into her home and she immediately dives into what the dominant culture of the day expects of her as a women. She is to produce and that is where she finds her value. She can not imagine any other way of responding, or that there might be anything wrong with the way she acts. She doesn’t know that she is deluded. Biblical Theologian and Old Testament Scholar, Walter Brueggemann describes this as the royal consciousness, where we are too caught up in doing what the fallen powers that be expect of us that we lose the ability to even imagine another way of being. It is into this befuddled, unaware, unconscious submission to the dominant culture that Jesus continually steps in and delivers a swift kick of Christian love.
Would Jesus have loved Martha any less if there was one less dish for dinner, or the plates weren’t placed in just the right spot? Would Christ have judged her if she burned the matza? Of course not, what is important to Christ is for Martha—and, by extension, us to be positioned as disciples that is to say “to sit at the Lord’s feet” as Mary does. For Mary to be a disciple, which is what is meant by the phrase “sat at the Lord’s feet” is an incomprehensible role for a woman in their day and age. It is out side the box of who women were supposed to be. However, Jesus, as he does over and over again in the Gospel of Luke, says that our roles as humans are to be proscribed by him not by the fallen powers that be. We saw it last week with the story of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus tells the lawyer not to allow cultural limitations and fear to define who his neighbors are. In our Gospel today he tells Martha not to be a slave to productivity.
I use the phrase slave to productivity deliberately, because I am afraid. I am afraid that American culture, our dominant culture, our form of the royal consciousness is forming us all into a rabid bunch of “Marthas”, running around desperately trying to accumulate more profits and possessions. I am fearful that the corporate idol of the bottom line is dulling our senses and suppressing our ability to imagine a different reality. Unwittingly, we are making bricks for pharaoh instead of living for Christ. I am certainly not immune to this temptation, which my addiction to caffeine and mile high to-be-read and to-do-lists evidence.
So what are we to do? Are we destined to be mechanical runners of the rat race attempting to finish the maze of life with more toys then our neighbors? Are we destined to continually make bricks for pharaoh with no hope of liberation?
No we are not, if we have the ears to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No we are not, if we are willing to sit at the Lord’s feet, willing to be disciples. We can be liberated from the powers and indeed call the powers to repentance if we continually come to this table not merely for a sedative, not merely to be comforted that everything will be okay, not merely for some pithy “self-help techniques to take the edge off of our rat-race lives”, but come here for a vision of what could be, a vision of the kingdom of God. The kingdom that Jesus proclaims is near to us all the time.
Come to this altar not for appeasement but for motivation to bring about the kingdom. Come to this table for that One Thing. Come to this altar to sit at the feet of the Lord. Come for communion. Come for the feast. Come receive the body and blood of Christ to be the body and blood of Christ. Amen!
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
|You scored as Jürgen Moltmann, The problem of evil is central to your thought, and only a crucified God can show that God is not indifferent to human suffering. Christian discipleship means identifying with suffering but also anticipating the new creation of all things that God will bring about.|
Which theologian are you?
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Friday, July 13, 2007
1. Which Harry Potter book is your favorite and why?
I'm going to go with six. It totally caught me off guard when Dumbledore died, or did he? I'm still in the denial stage of grief about that.
2. Which character do you most resemble? Which character would you most like to get to know?
I think I may be most like Neville though that might just be my insecurities talking. I think if I were a whole lot younger I'd have a crush on Ginny Weasley. That's probably because my wife is a red head as well.
3. How careful are you about spoilers?
a) bring 'em on--even if I know the destination, the journey's still good
b) eh, I'd rather not know what happens, but I'm not going to commit Avada Kedavra if someone makes a slip
c) I will sequester myself in a geodesic dome to avoid finding anything out
I guess I am very careful. I haven't read any web posts or such or even thought about trying to find out what will happen in book 7. I think part of the joy for me is reading the book; so why go digging ahead of time. So my answer is B.
4. Make one prediction/share one hope about book 7.
Hagrid dies, then I cry profusely.
5. Rowling has said she's not planning any prequels or sequels, but are there characters or storylines (past or future) that you would like to see pursued?
Hermione and Ron, Harry and Ginny, but who doesn't want to know what happens to them?
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
May only God’s word be spoken, and may only God’s word be heard. Amen!
“Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Now, don’t get too excited. We are not cutting services short today because it is a holiday weekend. Rather I would like for us to reflect on this charge given us by our deacons at the end of every Eucharist we do here. “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” There is both conclusion and continuation in that command. There is conclusion in that we are sent away from this place and out into the world beyond the walls of this parish. There is continuation as well because we are commanded to love and serve the Lord just as we have been doing within these walls in the midst of our worship. The deacon’s dismissal of us is simply saying that the worship may have ended but the service is just begun. When we have said our prayers, when we have confessed our sins and received God’s forgiveness, when we have remembered Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and received the body and blood of Christ, the spiritual food of communion, then we are sent out into the world to serve God, as the catechism says, in the actions of proclaiming the Gospel and promoting justice, peace, and love.
I highlight the end of our worship today because of our Gospel text. Jesus sends out the seventy to proclaim his coming to towns ahead of them on the journey. They are given a mission to heal the sick, and proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of God. Jesus gives them rules of engagement as well, traveling procedures and mission strategies if you will. I would like to highlight a few of these commands of Christ today because they will help us when out deacons send us out on Christ’s behalf at the end of worship.
First, and foremost, Jesus tells them to remain dependent upon God. He says, “See I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” The way that sheep survive in the midst of wolves is to depend upon a shepherd. Christ is our shepherd and to him we should look for care and providence. To paraphrase St. Paul, “We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.” The trick here isn’t getting ourselves to believe in the power of Christ, however, but to resist the temptation of thinking that we can serve without Christ. Archbishop Desmond Tutu once put it this way, “With out us, God won’t; Without God, we can’t.”
Next we should remember to travel light; in others words, check your baggage. Jesus commands the disciples to, “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals;…” The disciples need not be weighed down by belongings nor seek souvenirs along the way. In turn, we should check our physical baggage. We should not allow the collection, consumption, or maintenance of our material possessions to impede upon our service off God. We should check our emotional baggage as well. Our personal prejudices, imagined slights, desire for glory and accolades, need be left behind so that there is emotional space to care for those that we meet.
Checking our physical and emotional baggage at the door is helpful with the next directive as well. Jesus tells the disciples to proclaim not to judge. The message to be given to those who listen, those who are receptive and welcoming, is the same message to be given to those who do not: the Kingdom of God is near. If there is a word of judgment it is Christ’s to give not ours. Therefore it does not matter if we are witnessing to the good or the bad, the beautiful or the ugly, the kind or the cruel, the powerful or the powerless the message is always the same and freely given: God loves you, God’s kingdom is near, come and feast.
Which leads us to the final marching order I would like to reflect on today: Eat what is put in front of you. While Jesus is commanding his disciples to depend on the hospitality of those they meet, there is for us a reference to communion here. When we come to this place, when we pray together over the bread and wine, by the power of the Holy Spirit it becomes the body and blood of Christ. It becomes spiritual food meant to empower us for the mission of proclaiming the Gospel and promoting Justice, Peace, and Love. We come to this feast not merely for our own nourishment, but for strength for the mission. We come to this altar of God’s not merely for our own sake but to be empowered to carry God’s love to the world. We come to the table not merely for our own peace, but to be sent to wage peace for all. We come to this heavenly meal, not merely for our own personal justification, rather to seek justice for all. Therefore, I invite you, I implore you come! Eat what is sat before you, and then go in peace to love and serve the Lord! Amen!
|You Are a Chimera|
You are very outgoing and well connected to many people.
Incredibly devoted to your family and friends, you find purpose in nurturing others.
You are rarely alone, and you do best in the company of others.
You are incredibly expressive, and people are sometimes overwhelmed by your strong emotions.
Friday, July 06, 2007
Whoops! I have been in a family-induced haze these few days, with the July 4 holiday and taking time off while relatives are visiting. So I literally lost track of what day it was!
So rather than make you guys wait even one minute longer for the five, I'll dig up an oldie:
Today, what are you:
1. Wearing : Clergy shirt, collar and jeans.
2. Reading : Lots of Harry Potter in prep for movie and final book.
3. Eating : Coffee for it is the fuel of sermon writing.
4. Doing : writing a sermon
5. Pondering : the lectionary and mission
Friday, June 29, 2007
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Five of the things I dig about Jesus are:
- 1. He obliterated the rules and made it all about relationships!
- 2. He loved people he wasn't "supposed" to and pissed off people that society says we should suck up to.
- 3. He would not compromise his principles for the sake of his own safety.
- 4. Healing Powers
- 5. Yeah...and that resurrection thing is pretty cool too (see number one)!
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
May only God’s word be spoken, and may only God’s word be heard. Amen!
Once upon a time, in a southern city similar in size to Omaha, in the right neighborhood on the right side of town there was an Episcopal church with all the right people who dressed in all the right clothes and drove all the right cars. It was a well-to-do place as long established in the community as it was long steeped in tradition. The Families had been members there for generations and the patterns of worship well established and unchanging. One day a shocking thing happened in this monumental Episcopal congregation: a visitor. He calmly strode down the aisle and sat down in about the middle of the pews. Oblivious of the indignant looks of those that passed by who normally sat in that pew and equally oblivious of the looks of shock from those that could not believe he had to audacity to sit in so-and-so’s pew, our dear visitor knelt down to pray before the worship began.
Despite a few ruffled feathers at this new comers presence things settled down a bit and the service was moving along fine until the sermon. About an eighth of the way through the sermon the visitor said out loud in a moderate volume, “Praise God!” The people around him were just about to drip off into their traditional mid-sermon naps, so they were not sure it actually happened. Things kept going along and they began to journey towards dreamland again when again in a louder voice the stranger in their midst said, “Praise, God!” This time it was loud enough that not only were the people around him sure it happened, the usher in the back of the church perked up and took notice as well. The priest kept preaching and a few minutes later the visitor once again hollered, “Praise God!” At this point an usher rose and stately walked down the aisle stood over the man and said, “Sir, we don’t praise God in this church.”
We laugh at that joke because we know that in whatever context we are in there are unwritten rules of conduct. Whether it is at the office or at school, the golf course or a sporting event, the bridge club or even at church, we know there are things done and things just not done.
It was no different in Jesus’ day. There were commonly accepted cultural norms of how to act in public. Therefore when we read our gospel today, we should not be shocked by the Pharisees’ shock at the actions of the woman of the story. See in Jesus’ day women weren’t allowed to speak to men in public, much less touch them. So when this woman washes Jesus’ feet we are talking about an action far more culturally appalling then shouting praise God in an Episcopal Church.
So, as I was meditating on this passage this week, I began to wonder: Why did she do it? What would posses here to walk into this room of men, risk, literally, her life, and perform this profound, ostentatious—dare I even say—erotic public display of affection.
As is always a good idea, when one is puzzled by something in scripture, I reread the text. As I was in my fiftieth of sixtieth time through the text, I think I caught a clue to our dear lady’s motivation. Jesus says, “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.” I think the word ‘hence’ may be the most important word in that sentence. Her sins have been forgiven and she responds by loving.
This leads me to make two points to you today. First, good works are not the path to salvation rather they are the response to salvation. The apostle Paul writes about this a lot in both his letters to the Galatians and Romans. In our passage today he writes, “Yet we know that a person is justified—that is to say saved—not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” Here Paul is referring to the law of God given to Moses. In other passages he brings up the figure of Abraham who received the promises of God well before there was ever a law of God to follow. Indeed the Hebrews who followed Moses out of Egypt did not have the law either, but received it as guidance of how to respond to God’s gracious act of liberation. We do nothing—indeed we can do nothing—we do not possess the ability to earn God’s love. The love of God, the redemptive life giving power of God, is given us freely out of the graciousness of God. The woman of our story does not anoint Jesus’ feet in order to gain salvation and forgiveness; rather she is forgiven and then anoints Jesus’ feet in response, which leads me to my second point.
When we experience the grace of God, when we know the forgiveness of Christ on a deep level, our loving response often does not fit in with the unwritten rules of the day. The liberation of our bondage by God often produces responses that are dramatic and disruptive. Whether it is giving money to those who beg, or food to those who are hungry; whether it is being an advocate, a voice for people who unwritten rules say should keep their mouths shut or the idea that we as a people never have the right to violently take a life; or even shouting “Praise God” in church, responses to the grace of God will often make us uncomfortable even angry. But that leads us to a question.
Who in the story are you going to be today? Who in the story am I going to be today? Who in the story is the community of All Saints going to be today? The “sinful” woman who is so appreciative of what has been given her that she is willing to risk it all to act out her love for God or the Pharisee who can’t get past the way he thinks things ought to be in order to participate in the love Christ in his midst.
I know whom I want to choose to be, and I know whom I hope that All Saints chooses to be. In the words of our baptismal covenant, I pray that with God’s help I and we will be the sinful woman. Amen!