Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Lent I Year C

“For he shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all ways. They shall bear you in their hands, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”

I speak with you today in the Name of the righteous life giving one. Amen!

As I have been meditating with our readings this week, I have been thinking a lot about righteousness. What does that word righteous mean? What does it mean to be righteous? What does it mean to possess the quality of righteousness?
Now, as any of y’all who have seen my office know I Love books. My wife and I are house shopping right now, and it drives her nuts that I ask how far it is to the nearest bookstore from every house that we consider. So, I figured I would put these books to some use, and I went searching for answers to my questions about righteousness. As near as I can tell, and I am probably over simplifying here, but righteous, or being righteous, or having righteousness, is the ability to keep promises. Specifically, in the realm of God stuff, God is the righteous one. God is the one who can and always keeps the promises God makes. Even more specifically, God promises to give life. God promises to Abraham that he and Sarah will have a son, their lives will extend through their offspring. That they will have land, that is to say they will have the means to sustain their life, and they will foster a great nation. God has not only the power to deliver on these promises, God has the will. God is righteous. Righteousness so permeates our relationship with God we can even say: the essence of God’s Godness is God’s righteousness. That is to say God promises life and God delivers. God has the power to give life and does so—not merely a functional, heart beating, lungs breathing, mechanical life, but a conscious, empowered, freedom toting life; the life Jesus called the life more abundant.

At times in human history we mark God’s righteousness. Our reading from Deuteronomy is a story of such a marking. The people of Israel have made it from the death sentence of slavery in Egypt to the God given life of the Promised Land. They are called to remember God’s righteousness by their offerings and saying, “The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” The people of Israel are to say this, not to remind God of God’s righteous acts, but to remind themselves of God’s righteous acts. In this remembrance God hopes the people of Israel will in turn pass on God’s righteous life giving acts to others. This pattern of delivered promise, remembrance, and charge to pay it forward, if you will, continues on through history to us today. We are to be righteous like God is righteous.

That was an appropriately "churchy" thing to say. I say things like that all the time. Love as God loves, forgive as we are forgiven, do justice because God is just. We say things like this with such frequency; that I have to ask what’s the catch? Well here it is: We don’t get to control God’s righteousness. We can and should be righteous like God. We can give life. We can set the oppressed free, we can remove the shackles of poverty and ignorance. We can alleviate the burdens of injustice and inequality. But we do not however get to control God’s Righteousness. We don't get to control who God wishes to give the abundant life to. We don't even get to control what the nature of the life God wishes to give us. But boy we are tempted to. Boy, I am tempted to.

In our Gospel today, we hear of Jesus being tempted after forty days in the desert. In the last temptation Jesus is asked to test God’s righteousness, God’s Promise. The devil whisks Jesus up to the pinnacle of the temple, and challenges him to hurl himself to the ground. He issues the challenge using psalm 91 which we also read today, “For he shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. They shall bear you in their hands, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus is tempted to test God’s righteous instead of having faith, tempted to take God’s promise and control it himself. As one commentator put it, “The temptation was to take the promised protection of God into the control of his own will and act. That would have shifted the power of the promise from the free sovereignty of God to individual willfulness.”

Now y’all, I might be over simplifying again, but if Jesus doesn’t get to control God’s righteousness, we certainly are not allowed to. Admittedly, none of us is going to be whisked in an instant to the top of the temple by the devil and challenged to jump, especially since, as our confirmands should know the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. However, what about our prayer lives? How many times do we pray trying to get what we want instead of what God wants? How many times do we pray trying to control God’s righteousness, trying to control the life God wants to give us?

We have entered the season of Lent, and many of us have taken on Lenten disciplines as part of our devotional practices. But I ask today, did we take on these disciplines for our reasons or for Gods. Did we give up chocolate because we want to lose a few pounds? Did we receive the imposition of ashes this past Wednesday so we can walk around town with smudged foreheads letting everyone know we are in the Christ crowd? Did we decide to try and live the Golden rule with our families hoping it will improve our relationships? Did we give up shopping because we want to save a little money? Deciding to do these things is not bad in and of itself, but the fault comes when we try to control the outcome. All these acts of devotion are prayerful actions, basically they are prayers. But as a mentor of mine, and son of this parish, Fr. Scott Barker recently wrote on his blog, “…praying is not about getting what we want. Praying is about getting what God wants.” So this lent I invite you, even challenge you to take on a prayerful discipline, but not with a desired outcome. I challenge you to enter into a journey with Christ not knowing where it will take you. I challenge you to let God be God, to let God be free to be righteous, to give you the God intended life God wants to give you. This Lent do not pray for what you want, do not pray for what I want or Father Tom wants or anybody else. This Lent pray for what God wants. Amen!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Testimony before Nebraska Legislative Committee

This past Monday I was blessed with the opportunity to testify in front of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee regarding a bill that will help make Nebraska Roads safer and will face the honest reality of our current immigration situation. The text follows:


My name is Father Jason Emerson, Associate Rector of All Saints Episcopal Church. Thank you for your time and hearing today. I wish to speak in favor of LB 266. I support this proposed policy simply because it is good for me, good for the people of my parish, and good for all people residing in Nebraska.

Moving LB 266 out of committee, where it will hopefully be passed on the floor of the unicameral, is in my interests because I drive a car in Nebraska. Both my work and my leisure consist of driving not only the streets of Omaha, but the entire state as well. Licensed insured drivers are safer then those without either. Passing this legislation will increase the percentage of licensed and insured drivers; therefore my safety is increased, and when accidents do happen my health and property are insured. Passing this legislation will mean increased safety for both my wife and me.

For similar reasons this bill is good for the people of my congregation. Whether they themselves are drivers, or they have children or others that they drive to church, I want them to be able to arrive at church for worship, Christian formation, and other events safely. Once again they will be helped by this bill because of the raised level of public safety it will provide.

Finally, I hope for the passing of LB266 because it is good policy for all people of the state of Nebraska. Not only could it decrease the amount of uninsured motorist and therefore the amount of uninsured accident claims, making it fiscally sound, it is also morally sound. I am an Episcopalian. We take an oath at our baptism, which we repeat at least five times a year because it is central to our practice of faith. The last question of that oath asks, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” The proscribed answer is, “I will with God’s help.” I believe that respecting the dignity of every human being, that is to say every child of God, involves giving every child of God the opportunity to obey the law. There are many children of God in the state of Nebraska that would like to obey our driving laws. They would like to be licensed and insured drivers, but are not currently allowed.

Today an opportunity is before you. Rarely do we get to help large quantities of people with simple actions, but today you can take a step towards not only improving my safety, not only the safety of my parishioners, but also the moral fabric of our state. I urge you to deeply consider what you have heard here today, and to vote to send LB266 to the floor of the legislature. I urge you further, once the bill is on the floor to speak in favor of its passing. Once again, thank you for your time and hearing of this matter, and may God help us all!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Keep it real!

Keep it real! is a slang term these days with a host meanings determined mainly by context. It can be both compliment and exhortation, critique and confirmation. However, at its core is the truth that pretense is a bad idea. We should be grounded in reality, not in what we would like reality to be or what think reality might be. I am an Episcopal priest and one of the things I love about the Episcopal tradition is its willingness to shed pretense in favor of reality. Now, most of us in the Episcopal church would read my last sentence and at least scoff but more likely outright laugh in disbelief. Truly, one of the things that bother me about the Episcopal tradition, or more correctly Christian congregations in general is our stupendous ability to be pretentious. Indeed, the practice of 'putting on airs' may have literally begun in American churches. I certainly would not be surprised if it did.

However, if we look closely is that really what is happening at church? Are we really pretending to be something we aren't, pretending to be better then we are? In some sense, yes we are. We are at church to practice being the loving creature God intends us to be. Just as God is love we are fated to love divinely. The problem comes in when we believe or pretend to believe that we are somehow better then other folks. We aren't! Everyone is just as intended, just as fated for love as we are. But we need practice at being what God has made us for, and we need reminding of what that is, and we need correction when are not becoming that. So in actuality we aren't pretending to be someone we aren't, we are pretending to be what we are becoming and what we already are. (I realize that sounds like a contradiction, and I promise to post an explanation later...wait for it!) For now, there is another problem. We, to often in our congregations, act like everything is perfect, that there is never discord or strife, and if you just follow the rules your life will never have any pain or suffering. This is when we are no longer Keeping it real. Indeed the scriptures tell us a different story. The scriptures both Hebrew and Christian tell us that the path to being what God has intended is through the wilderness, through the rough, torn, disorienting landscape that is the desert. We can not avoid pain and suffering, and when our worship denies that reality then we are definitely not keeping it real, and we are no longer relevant to any experience anyone might have on this planet. We see this most often in our church music, especially a lot of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). To often in a CCM worship song life is just a little too perfect a little too wonderful to be real. Walter Brueggemann in his book The Spirituality of the Psalms put it like this:

The problem with a hymnody that focuses on equilibrium, coherence, and symmetry...is that it may deceive and cover over. Life is not like that. Life is also savagely marked by incoherence, a loss of balance, and unrelieved asymmetry."

This is where the season of lent functions as a corrective for our natural tendency to white wash things. Lent invites us, for a time, to strip away all pretense, to ask who exactly we are, to be brutally honest with ourselves and to "keep it real" not so that we keep things the way they are, but in order for us to move through the wilderness to the promised land. Moving from pretending to be the body of Christ to actually being the body of Christ in the world.

Gracious Morning


So, I have been at my new gig for about two weeks. Yesterday I was blessed with a God moment, manna in the desert if you will. I was walking from the bathroom to my office(where else would God speak but in the middle of the mundane!) and I had an epiphany that I was called here to All Saints to be myself. This wasn't arrogance or self admoration, merely a grace filled notion that God put me here not to be something else, but that I had spent the last decade of my life becoming what God wanted me to be and that is a good thing. Now God will use that good thing in ways that I probably can't imagine, but the good will come from God. And when I stray from that good direction, when I part from the path of righteousness, when my acceptance of my gifts as tools good enough for God's purpose truly does become arrogant and self-aggrandizing, I am blessed to have beautiful people around me to burst that bubble. Gracious folks that love me and respect me enough to call me to repentance yet again, not for any gain of there own, but because there is work to be done and my baggage doesn't need to be in the way. Thanks God for the moment, keep 'em coming.

God's Peace,