Friday, December 05, 2008
I speak with you in the name of the eternal God: Speaker, word, and breath. Amen!
Happy New Year!!!! No, I haven’t started to hit the holiday egg nog. No, I’m not so frazzled by Christmas shopping already that I want to skip ahead. No, I haven’t lost my mind. I know that it is not even December yet. I know that the New Year by the calendar on the wall is over thirty days away. However, I do seriously wish you a Happy New Year. This weekend is the Christian New Year. We have ended the long season after Pentecost, and we have entered into advent. As you have probably noticed we have changed colors from Green to Purple. We have also entered a new year in our lectionary cycle, the three year cycle of scripture readings appointed for each Sunday. Last year we were in year A where the Gospel according to Matthew was featured, or as a church geek friend of mine calls it the "wailing and gnashing of teeth Gospel according to Matthew." Now, we are in year B where we will read the Gospel according to Mark together.
Liturgically, Advent is what we call a penitential season. It is a season of preparation. We prepare ourselves spiritually by physically preparing for Christmas for the feast of the incarnation of God in the form of the man Jesus Christ of Nazareth. We decorate the church and our homes, with symbols of Christ. We fast from saying “Alleluia” during the Eucharistic prayer. We sing songs about the coming of the Christ child. All of these actions are taken to help us expect Christ, to expect the coming of the light of God during the darkest time of year.
However, all this preparation for the beginning leads us to and odd situation. Why do we focus on the end right here at the beginning? On this day where we celebrate the new year, the beginning again, our Gospel reading is from near the end of Mark’s gospel and is about the end of the world. Where we are in Mark’s gospel today, Jesus has already preached in Galilee, he has done the miracles and taught the parables there. He’s already processed into Jerusalem on a donkey, taught subversive parables in the temple, and broken with the temple establishment by predicting that the temple would be destroyed. Where we are in Mark’s gospel Jesus has retreated to the Mount of Olives just outside of Jerusalem to prepare for the passion, his suffering and death on the cross. Why, when we are preparing for Jesus’ birth, are we reading about him preparing for his death?
To unravel this a bit, we need to understand a little about what the disciples were hearing when Jesus talked about the end of the world. Just before our gospel reading today, Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple. Then the disciples ask about the end of the world, and then our passage for today regarding the end of the world occurs. For the disciples, the end of the world was the destruction of the temple. The temple was the center of their worldview and identity. It held the symbolic meaning of all their foundational stories, the stories that formed their identity and told them who they were in the world. To the disciples, the temple was literally the earthly house of God. It was the place that Heaven and Earth commingled, that the veil between this world and the next was thinned. This is a little hard for us to understand as American’s because our identity isn’t attached to a building so much as an idea. For Jesus to say that the temple would be destroyed would be to us saying that the Declaration of Independence and the constitution would be destroyed; that we will no longer be Americans.
So, it is not surprising that just after Jesus makes this pronouncement, the disciples ask when is this going to happen. In Jesus’ response to their question he says two things of interest to us today: no one knows when this will occur, and look beyond history. Jesus says to them, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” We aren’t to ponder or predict the end of our world, because no one knows the time except God. Furthermore, we are to look past temporal things such as worldviews and institutions, governments, markets, and societies. Jesus said that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” He saying that the center of their world, the temple, would pass away but that God is eternal and they are to look beyond the institution and see God. Jesus was calling them to rely not on the temporary buildings and institutions of this world but on God.
He says to them to be awake, to be alert, to be conscious, to notice “how things cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new…” Jesus begs us to be awake this day as well. This is why we ponder the end in expectation of the beginning. This is why we read this passage at the end of Mark’s gospel at the beginning of our new year: so that we are reminded to look for the coming of Christ in every moment. We are reminded to be mindful of God’s presence at all times. We are reminded that the cultural institutions of our day are temporary we are to be alert enough to see through them. We can not shop our way to Jesus. We can eat fancy food and sweets and drink egg nog our way to Jesus.
We can only come to this simple table. We can only come to this stark altar and receive meager bread and humble wine. We can only join our hopeful prayers with our fellow Christians in this house of praise that this meager bread and humble wine will be for us the body and blood of Christ. My brothers and sisters, be awake! Peel away the layers of temporal trappings this holiday season. Peer into communion at this table and see the everlasting word of God. Amen!
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
I was second in line at my polling station yesterday morning. The guy in front of me got there at 5:45 a.m.--there would be no beating him to the polls. I had to pause and blink my eyes a couple of times to assure myself that I really was voting for the First African American nominee. I cast my vote and late last night, after a day of volunteering and an evening with friends, Jodie and I bought airline tickets to D.C. for the inauguration!
But there is still work to do. While we voted in the first African American president yesterday, Nebraska also voted in a ban on affirmative action that is so broad it could prevent the government from funding things like Breast Cancer screening, Prostate Cancer Research, and domestic violence shelters.
WE must work to bring our nation together to combat the challenges before us. WE must create the spirit of care and concern for our neighbors that denies the rhetoric of "every man for himself" and lifts up the ideal that I prosper when we all prosper. One leader, no matter how strong, can accomplish what we need done. It takes a community, dare I say an organized community, engaged in the local issues that effect our common interests. It takes people engaged in the process, willing to hold leaders accountable for both their action and inaction. It takes faith in something more, that the way things are, are not how they have to be. It takes desire, hope, and determination. It takes work.
The vote is cast; now, the work begins. J+
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Goal 1: Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger
Goal 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education for Children
Goal 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality
Goal 5: Improve Maternal Health
Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases
Goal 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability
Goal 8: Create a Global Partnership for Development
All to be accomplished by 2015.
As I look at these goals I can't help but think about wealth and grace. I might miss a meal every now and again for scheduling reasons, but I do not know extreme hunger. The same goes for poverty. I have a job that not only pays a living wage, but also allows me to sit at a computer and blog about the MDGs. I am very educated, and if I have children someday I'll worry more about the quality of their education versus whether they have one available to them at all. My wife is a professional teacher and is moving up the educational career world. She exercises a great deal of power in a variety of forms. For goals Four and Five, my wife and I are insured by our employers and have access to prenatal vitamins and care. Relatively speaking these are at our finger tips. We took over seas trips this summer and it was quite easy for us to get anti-malaria medications for the trips. Plus, condoms can be bought just about anywhere from book stores to gift shops in the U.S. Again, health care at our finger tips. For goals seven and eight, once again, the tools for doing this are readily available for me to contribute to this process.
I am forced to ask myself why I deserve these things. Why do I have access to all these opportunities, care, and tools when Juancito, a boy I met in Nicaragua this summer, doesn't. Juan is five years old, has full blown aids, is deaf, and his family is in extreme poverty. What have I done to deserve any of this. What contribution have I made to deserve the education I have received, or the health care, or the money in my pocket? The answer is of course that I haven't and I do not deserve any of it. It would be tempting to say that I have been blessed by God to have these things, but that is dangerous. Do I really want to worship a God that capriciously blesses me and denies others without cause? The fact of the matter is that the fates of Juan and I are not solely affected by God they are also affected by the politics of the nations we live in. Because of the policies of my nation, the state of things in Juan's is dire. If I am going to be grateful, the act of accepting God's grace, for the things I have then I must ask why my nation prevents Juan's from flourishing. Furthermore since I am, by chance, a citizen of a nation that allows me to exercise my voice and political will then I must speak up and call for my nation not to thrive of the enslavement of other nations. Hence, why I blog today. I believe this onus is not just on me but on all of us to "love our neighbors as ourselves," to love as Christ first loved us. Then we must question how our societies are formed and engage our leaders to structure policy more justly. Hence, why I engage in community organizing.
Now, I'm not lifting my self up as somehow better because I think about the MGDs and act for a better world. There are a myriad of ways that I could be acting but am not. There is much more work that I could be doing on these issues, but I haven't yet done them. I merely wish to offer examples of ways that people can get involved. The collection of small actions joined together are powerful.
You can give money, you can lobby your leaders, you can talk to your friends and neighbors, you can think about how our smallest actions from buying groceries to how we cut our grass affects our neighbors. The goals will not be accomplished for us. They will only be achieved by us, by the faithful action of people who care about their neighbors near and far. Please get involved.
Monday, September 22, 2008
IAF Seminar w/Stanley Hauerwas
22 Sept. 2008
Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary
* Beautiful Ghost -- Murder Mystery Novel
o "you're in a world that is not based of facts"
o "People here live by truths not by facts"
o "to truly learn you must turn your back on what you know"
* Hauerwas has tried to get us to reclaim the oddness of Christian language
o If the world has been redeemed then it takes a lot of training to see the world that way because it must be a world always open to miracle
o therefore you can not anticipate what will be
* Radical Ordinary is
o Hauerwas is being in conversation that will open up possibilities that would not exist otherwise.
o Hauerwas was shaped by mainline protestantism identified with Reinhold Niebuhr
o R. Niebuhr wanted the church to support the democratic order
o Influenced by John Yoder, S.H. realized that christian language had been domesticated by Niebuhr
o Niebuhr had made Christians modest killers, he wanted posted above the State Department doors "when in doubt, kill as few as possible"
* S. H. believes that we should not be killers at all
o Therefore we must see the truths not the facts
o "The first task of the church is not to make the world more just, but to make the world the world."
o We must articulate the world. We must articulate how the world has us by the short hairs and impedes us from imagining Resurrection.
o Niebuhr, despite his modesty tries to defeat violence by the politics of glory (America is the name of the politics of glory)
* Goal of the book:
o We only understand what politics means through the slow hard work of Relationships
o Christianity is not good for democracy. Christianity is good because it is true and it helps us live in the world of small achievements.
* Hauerwas contribution to the book
o Will Campbell understands the role of memory in politics and that America has not come to terms with what it means to be a slave nation
o There is nothing that can be done to make slavery right, but must be remembered.
o S.H. Lifts vanier's work with l'arche to tell us that we must take time in a world that says we have no time
o We have the time to discover the goods we have in common, the common good
o By Gregory Nazianzus S.H. tries to show that who we are will be determined by how we treat the "poor and the lepers"
* The state is justified by moving people from citizenship to consumers
o the power of the modern state and modern medicine are relatives in that they help us deny reality specifically the reality that none of us gets out of life alive.
o security becomes all in the modern state, therefore our imagination becomes blunted and domesticated
* Counter to this idea is the state centered around a "lepersorium connected to the university"
* This requires a training in the language of the faith that makes the familiar odd
o Christian language has been domesticated in America to accept things the way they are as opposed to imagining the way things could be.
* Church sets about making the world the world by the practices that create the Will Campbells, the Ella Bakers, and the Martin Luther Kings
Responses to comments and questions by organizers
* What is the status of the claim "Jesus is Lord"
o Jesus is very God and very Man
o If we say Jesus is Lord then we must rethink what we mean when we say God
o Most people think when they say the God that they know what they are talking about, Christians do not.
o Orthodoxy is radical business it does not state a given it articulates a radical commitment to the recognition that to worship the God that will show up in the belly of Mary will always upset what I mean by the notion of God.
o Christian under construction
o Politics is always about speech. The ability to speak truthfully is the ability to not say more than should be said. It is the attempt to shut you up before that which you do not know.
o There is assumption in the book that unless we get better at small achievements then we won't have the communities that are able to resist the temptations of empire/totalitarianism
o There is an ethos in America that we should not be held accountable for the actions we take when we don't know what we are doing.
+ This allows an amnesia that allows us to act without memory
+ this allows the illusions that we choose our story when we have no story. that we choose who we are even when we have no clue
+ this allows us to be sheep but not follow the Great Shepherd rather follow the spiritual forces of empire blindly.
o IF the church does not give you meaningful work to do, then where will we get the people to do the meaningful work?
o Engage the world to teach the lesson that we need each other in order to survive.
o When Christians are no longer angry then you know they are just Americans.
o Christianity is about learning to be forgiven without regret. Learning to remember the shit that we do with repeating it. We do not forgive, we are the forgiven.
o Any moral commitment works in so much as the people around you help you live it, because you certainly won't be able to on your own.
o God has promised to show up at the Eucharist, which should scare the hell out of us, but God is not limited to showing up there.
* When he says "the first task of the church is to make the world the world" does he have a different meaning for the word world for each usage of the word in that sentence? If so, what does he mean by each usage?
* His notion of story recognises a fault in the American Dream.
o American dream despite your past, you may leave it behind and make yourself into anything you want.
o Problem this denies the role of our history in becoming who we are.
o The narratives of our past informs who we are and provide meaning to our possible future
o We are not without agency; however our agency is bound to our relationships and if we exercise our agency without respect for these boundaries we are own the path to self-destructive/self-harming behavior.
* Problem with America is the great experiment in protestant social formation. And the agony is that Christian has become synonymous with American and that has left the church castrated and impotent to maintain a discipline of offering an alternative community.
* The religious symbol in American life is the American Life.
o Book Book Nation what is true is what you are allowed to kill for. We are not allowed to kill for the cross, but we are for the flag.
o part of being the church is to offer an alternative to the account that we should sacrifice our children's natural hesitancy to kill for the sake of what we think is our greatest good.
o We allow our kids to choose whether they want to be Christian, but we do not allow them to choose whether they want to be American
* Submission is imperative to christian spirituality
o We must be submissive to the vulnerability of our brothers and sisters because they may tell us a much different story then what we think we hear from God.
o The community tests the call
+ Hauerwas did this right in front of us
* We need to get over as Christians the habit of assuming that I understand you but you do not understand me.
* The deepest enemy of Christianity is not atheism rather it is sentimentality
o specifically people's desire to have children so that their children won't have to suffer for their convictions
o However the example of Jesus on the cross is that we should be willing to die for our convictions, but never kill for them.
* We must become separate from the idea that we [the church] are the chaplains to the American Society
* The church is a group of people that are about formation.
* Charity is Sin when it is enacted out of relationship with the people we serve.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Friday, September 12, 2008
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Saturday, July 19, 2008
I speak with you in the Name of God who has won the victory, Amen!
That’s an interesting Gospel passage don’t you think? I mean the first part is odd enough with some enemy planting weeds amongst this farmer’s wheat. Sounds like a lot of work in order to do someone harm? Furthermore, the farmer does not weed the field. What farmer doesn’t weed their garden? Then we get to Jesus’ explanation of the parable and we appear to be in the land of fire and brimstone and eternal damnation. Jesus says, “Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them in the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Where’s the good news in that? I thought God was merciful and compassionate. This sounds vindictive and punitive. What’s up with that?
I need not remind y’all that I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church. This text was, and often still is, the fodder for many a fire and brimstone sermon. It has been used to cause fear in both individuals and communities using graphic descriptions of a fiery hell that awaits anyone who strays from the cultural norms of the time. I still believe some of those old school preachers can literally get fire and brimstone to come out of their ears when they really get going. They can rile up a crowd and have everyone shaking with fear at the possibility of being a weed come harvest time.
Indeed, this interpretation of the whole gospel is so much a part of American Religious history—from the famous puritan sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God to modern day TV evangelists—that it is hard to read this scripture and not immediately hear those preachers with that “behave-yourself-or-the-wrath-of-God-will-descend-upon-you” interpretation and be afraid. I mean, which one of us has not failed to hear the word God and follow it completely. I know I have sinned come short of the glory God, and I don’t doubt that whether I want to or not I’m very much likely to sin again in the future. So what are we to do with this Gospel passage? Are we all doomed to wailing and gnashing of teeth at the end of time?
Well, no, we are not. There is more to this gospel then meets the eye. When we read it we must keep in mind both the historical context and the context of the entire gospel of Matthew. I believe Jesus was trying to tell his audience and us too, not to be afraid of the evil in our own hearts and community. I believe Jesus was trying to teach us to be non-violent in our responses to both the internal evil in our hearts and external evils as well.
First let us look at the historical context. Jesus is speaking in first century Palestine using an agricultural metaphor to an audience of agriculturalists; they grew food in order to survive. Now, it was common in his culture at that time for blood feuds to exist between families that could be started by the smallest of perceived insults. This would typically be the reason why someone would plant weeds in a neighbor’s wheat field. The general reaction to having your crop vandalized would be to take violent retribution—usually trying to slaughter your neighbor and his entire family. Taking this into account, our farmer’s reaction to let the weeds grow is shocking to his servants. He takes a non-anxious, non-violent approach believing, as one commentator put it, “that the wheat is strong enough to tolerate the weeds’ competition for nutrition and irrigation.” Plus, come harvest time he will not only have wheat to eat, but fuel for his fire as well. So instead of being anxious and vengeful, he is shrewd and savvy.
As we move into Jesus’ explanation this theme of non-violence is continued. It is the angels of God that are to do the sorting not us. We are not God’s agents of retribution. It is not our purpose to punish ourselves or anyone else. God does the sorting through the angels. To know our purpose we have look at the whole of Matthew’s gospel.
There are two themes from Matthew’s gospel I would like to point out here. First, Matthew’s gospel is also where we hear Jesus say, "…Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven;…” This seems a pretty clear teaching of non-violence by Jesus. As I have seen on a bumper sticker, “When Jesus said love your enemies, he meant don’t kill them.” Indeed there is scriptural evidence for non-violence not just in Matthew but in all the gospels.
Now that being said, I am stepping out on thin ice here because the Gospel of Matthew is also where we Jesus says “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye?”
Jesus is articulating the stark reality that we can never change another person and the only person we can possibly control is ourselves. I swear to you, as much as I believe that Jesus teaches non-violence I fail to live up to that teaching. Therefore, know that this and hopefully every sermon that I preach is the sermon I most need to hear on a given weekend. I do not stand in judgment of us or even myself. However, I do lay a challenge before myself and all of us. Jesus is teaching in our gospel passage that we need to trust God. As one commentator put it, we would do well to ponder the “confidence of the landowner that his grain will survive the effect of the weeds…A trust in goodness that is greater than the fear of wickedness could be a powerful weapon against rampant, senseless violence.” There is historical precedence for this trust in goodness. It worked for Gandhi in achieving India’s independence from Britain, it worked for Martin Luther King, Jr. during the civil rights movement, and it worked for Arch-bishop Desmond Tutu in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Most importantly it worked for Jesus in the ultimate struggle against sin and death as well. In Jesus’ refusal to retaliate, in his willingness to die rather then harm his enemies, in his forgiveness of his disciples for abandoning him, he gives us confidence that we need not fear resisting evil and we need not do harm to evil doers in order to resist. The resurrection of Christ is proof that no sacrifice is too great, that even our lives can be given in the pursuit of justice because this life in this world is but rubbish compared to the life to come.
This all begins with individuals, like us, however. If we are not able to leave our anxiety and fear at the altar, then we can never expect the world to be at peace. So the challenge before me and us, I believe, is to begin to practice non-violence in the small spheres of our individual lives. We cannot begin to succeed in peace on a global scale—much less on the scales of nation, state, and city—if we cannot be non-violent in our own thoughts and actions. As I told a couple going through pre-marital counseling this week marriage is a chance to focus on one relationship and practice who we want to be. As we get better at that relationship it makes us better at all our relationships. To use a sports metaphor, practicing one aspect of your golf game improves your entire golf game. So it is with life as well. The more we practice non-violence in our most intimate relationships the more we will be non-violent in all our relationships. Furthermore, the more people practicing on the small level the more peaceful the entire world will be.
As I said, I lay this challenge before all of us and myself today. We will make mistakes along the way, but I simply challenge us to practice, and when we do slip and stumble God will be there to pick us up. God will not let us go, no matter what. If ever you doubt that then come to this altar. God is present here and wants so intensely to be present in our lives that God will become broken and poured, bread and wine to literally be consumed by us, to be in us so that we can be what we consume, to be the body of Christ just as it is given to us.
My brothers and sisters, grace happens here. Forgiveness happens here. True redemption—that can never happen through violent means—happens here at this table. I invite all of you come to this table, surrender all that you are to God and receive the body of Christ so that we may then go and be the body of Christ in the world. Amen!
Sunday, July 13, 2008
I speak with you in the name of God in whom there is no fear. Amen!
Well, it is good to be home from vacation. My wife and I had a stupendous and rewarding vacation and I thank you wholeheartedly for opportunity for some time away. During our trip we had the opportunity to see the movie from a few years back Hotel Rwanda. It is a gripping true story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager in Rwanda that was able to protect over a thousand refugees in his hotel and eventually see them out of the country during the Huntu genocide of the Totsies in the early 1990’s. It is as hard to describe the atrocities that occurred during this uprising as it to explain why the world set by and did nothing. This man somehow was able to hold himself, his family, and this group of refugees together.
In one scene he has left the hotel with an army officer to procure items with which to bribe the officer to lead them to safety. The general does not want to return to the hotel and Paul could not get there on his own. Paul convinces the general to return to the hotel because Paul is the only one who could testify on the general’s behalf some day in war crimes trials. The general responds by threatening to shoot Paul. Now, I doubt that many of us have had a gun pointed in our face in sure certainty that the holder is quite capable of pulling the trigger. Furthermore, I doubt that our response would be the same as Paul’s as well, he laughs at the General. He says to him, “It would be a blessing for you to kill me and my entire family. I would pay you to do it. You can not hurt me.”
Now by this point you are probably thinking that Paul is insane and has cracked under the pressure, however the phrase that catches my breath is, “You can not hurt me.” See Paul is a man of faith and his confidence in God allows him to be truly free from the atrocities of our world. Neither the General, nor any other earthly power has dominion over him. His willingness to physically die exists because he is spiritually alive. He is free to do the right thing no matter the cost.
As I was meditating on our Gospel passage this week, I thought a lot about Paul Rusesabagina. See Paul is like the seed that falls on the good earth. In order for a seed to grow and bear fruit, it must die to being a seed. At the cost of staying comfortably as it is, the seed must give up its current state to become what God intended. To often we are choked by cares of the world and the lure of wealth, which prevents us bearing the fruits of justice and righteousness.
Also, in today’s readings the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans of dying to flesh to live in the spirit. Paul is talking about a process of faith development that can best described as emptying. By emptying ourselves, by letting go our attachments to the material we are free to enjoy the spirit. Generally, we are attached to things, people, and even our emotions. Anthony De Mello, describes this as listing to a beautiful symphony and when the orchestra plays a particularly beautiful chord, we stand up and say play that chord again. We want the orchestra just to play that one chord over and over and again. Consequently we are not able to enjoy the entire symphony because we are stuck on that one chord.
That may sound absurd, but think on it a second. Too often our happiness is precluded upon other people staying exactly the same as they were in the moment we enjoyed them this most. We do not want people, things, or even our emotions to change. This ironically produces anxiety and fear more than happiness. When we are detached, however, we recognize that our happiness is dependant on no else but ourselves. We are free to love those in our lives because we no longer place conditions on how they should be in order for us to love them. We are even free to love God because we allow God to be free to be God and not how we want God to be. It is not through control that we are safe, rather in recognizing our lack control, in releasing our desire to bend the world to our will, that we are free and safe. We are free because we because the world doesn’t have to meet our standards in order for us to be happy. We are safe because we have nothing to lose.
Recently, the vestry has been studying the book of Philippians. In it the apostle Paul talks about his own process of emptying. See, he had within his society every marker of success and power. As he put it he was, “circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” Paul lays out quite a pedigree of his. This is analogous to being a Kennedy, a Vanderbilt, or a Rockefeller. To place it in Nebraska terms, he was a black that won the Heisman trophy and two or three national championships. But yet, Paul drops, discards, and detaches himself from all these titles and positions. He ultimately regards them as rubbish as compared to gaining Christ.
Now this might sound like a daunting task laid before us. Indeed it is one I struggle with daily. However, it is no more then what Jesus did. Also, in the book of Philippians, Paul quotes an ancient hymn saying, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, tacking the form of a slave, being born in human form.” Jesus was willing to empty himself of divinity. He was willing to give up being God in order to love us, in order to show us how to love. If Christ is willing to give up ultimate power for us, what should we be willing to give up for Christ?
Like I said, this is a challenge. We are conditioned to be dependant upon products, goods, and other material things for our happiness. We are conditioned to fear the loss of these so we accept the injustices of the world. For the Paul the manager of Hotel Rwanda, as is often the case, it took a major catastrophe for him to empty himself. His worldview, his perceptions and foundations for understanding his world, had to be eradicated. However, it is possible to enter into this process of faith development without being victim of genocide. We can practice detachment and there are things we can do to empty.
First, be generous. I don’t just mean by tithing to the church, though that is certainly welcome. From buying an officemate a cup of coffee to donations to Goodwill to large scale philanthropy, the intentional practice of generosity, helps free us from possessions owning us. Anything we have has less power over us if we are willing to give it away.
Second, enjoy nature, music, and poetry. Now, with this practice how you do it is as important as simply doing. The trick is to not try to hold on to it as you enjoy it. Simply let the beauty of it flow through you without trying to get the orchestra to play the same note over and over again. Enjoy the vision of nature without possessing it. Enjoy it with the realization that it is alive and it will never be the same as it is in that moment. Accept that moment as precious gift and then let it go.
Finally, worship God through the reception of Holy Communion. In the simple things of broken bread and poured wine we are re-created in the image of God once again. At this table, where all are invited, we are challenged to accept that we are accepted and leave our insecurities, brokenness, and shame behind. Here we are re-membered as the body of Christ freed to live without fear, to be motivated by love rather than competition and challenged to bear the fruits of justice and righteousness. Amen!
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Not me, oh Lord, but you; Not us, oh Lord, but thee; Not our ideas or concepts of you, oh Lord, rather you; not even your bountiful gifts, oh Lord, but you and you alone do we seek. Amen!
Why are you here? No, I’m not asking an existential/philosophical question. I am being specific. Why are you here in this room at this hour? There are a plethora of other things that you could be doing right now. From gardening to golf, from cook-outs to croquet, from sports to sleeping, you do not have to be here. So, the question remains: why are you here?
It is my hope that you are here to worship the one true God, the God of Abraham and Sarah, David and Bathsheba, Mary and Joseph. The God that Jesus of Nazareth called Father. It is my hope that you and I are here to enter into the presence of the divine, to commune with God so that we may know God in an intimate and transforming way.
Now, whenever we come to worship God, we are confronted with an ironic sinful temptation. This phenomenon is alluded to both at the end of our lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures and from our Gospel reading. The end of our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Why does God appear to disqualify sacrifice and burnt offerings when God had handed down the decree to sacrifice in the first place?
See, way back about 25 books ahead of Hosea in the scriptures God lays out the manner God is to be worship from the location all the way to what sacrifices and burnt offerings are to be done for what offense or thanksgiving. Yet, here, in the book of Hosea, God speaking through Hosea seems to renounce God’s earlier proclamation. This is seemingly a tangled contradiction and we need to know something of the human condition and historical background of this passage to unravel it.
In regards to the human condition we can never forget the creation story and that all of creation is fallen from what God intended it to be. Our relationship with God is impaired. We are not able to come to know God on the intimate level that God desires on our own because of our fallen-ness. Now, this doesn’t stop us from trying to know God, which is a good thing. However, because we are fallen we can start to believe that our ideas about God are indeed God instead of being in relationship actually with God. Abraham J. Heschel, the wonderful commentator on the Hebrew Prophets says it like this, “An idea or a theory of God can easily become a substitute for God, impressive to the mind when God as a living reality is absent from the soul.” (P.1) He goes on to say that the prophets, Hosea included, do not speak about the nature of God. He says “They disclose attitudes of God rather then ideas about God.” They are trying to call us into the presence of God not to describe God. However, we being fallen humans can begin to think they are telling us about God and we can begin to worship these ideas of God instead of God. This is true for worship as well. Worship is to call us into the presence of God, but we run the risk of answering the temptation to worship the worship instead of worshiping God. We are tempted to make an idol of the liturgy, instead of letting the liturgy bring us closer to God.
This becomes clearer when we look at the historical context in which Hosea spoke. See, way before Hosea, Moses led the chosen people out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and to the Promised Land. Once there they at first lived as twelve loosely federated tribes. Eventually under Saul and David they united to become the Kingdom of Israel. Within a short time, they went from nationhood to empire. Being an empire led to division of the people and abuse by the institution. The kingdom split into the northern nation called Israel and the southern nation called Judah. One of the disputes and abuses was over worship. The southern kingdom said it should be in the temple, and the northern kingdom said it should be on their mountain. Meanwhile the religious leadership was in cahoots with the state and the needs of the people ignored. They were more interested in getting the ritual right then with facilitating the moral and spiritual transformation of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah into the kingdom of God. They had come to worship the worship rather then to worship God.
So, God speaks through Hosea and says that sacrifice and burnt offering do nothing if not done in spirit and in truth. God desires a changed heart through intimate relationship not robotic ritual performed for rituals sake. God does not care if we are immaculate liturgists and champion genuflectors, if we are not awakened to the presence of God in our worship. God does not care if we follow all the rules and do all the right things the right way with all the right people, if we are not transformed into the image of God, the image of mercy and compassion in the world.
In our Gospel lesson today, we see Christ acting and speaking against this checklist faith active in his own day. Matthew echoes Hosea and many of the prophets when he tells the Pharisees to learn what, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” means. Jesus does not just talk a good game however. In this passage we hear today he also, displays mercy in three ways that he wasn’t supposed to. First he calls Matthew to be his disciple. Now, traveling rabbis were common in that day and they often called young men to be their disciples, students who would follow them everywhere. However, they called only the best and the brightest. They only called those who had great intellectual ability with the highest character and moral fiber. Matthew, on the other hand, was a tax collector. Basically, he was a traitor to his people who worked for the occupying Roman oppressor. Not what I would call the highest of moral fiber, but Jesus calls him anyway.
Next, while Jesus is on his way to heal a child, he is touched by a hemorrhaging woman. Blood was considered unclean, especially if it came from a woman. Women who were bleeding were not supposed to be in the community much less touching a distinguished rabbi. Yet, Jesus does not condemn her, does not denounce her in aggressive fashion as would be expected of a leader. No, he looks with compassion upon her and proclaims that her faith has made her well.
Finally, Jesus heals a dying or already dead girl. Once again he is flying in the face of convention. Not only were rabbis not to touch females they definitely were not to touch anything dead, human or animal. So this is a double no-no, a dead girl. Jesus does not see the stigma or taboo, he simply sees pain and heals the girl. He is not limited by the ideas of God that surround him. He is detached from concepts and conventions so he is free—free to love where love is needed, free to serve God where service is needed, free to see God wherever God desires to be seen.
This pure desire for God and God alone is how we should be excellent in our worship and preaching. The late Jesuit brother and international speaker on spirituality Anthony De Mello says that often when someone points to God we get caught up looking at their finger instead of looking at God. We use a lot of things in our worship to point to God: music, prayers, scripture, bread, and wine to name a few. None of these things are God, rather they are evidence of things unseen as the writer of Hebrews points out. They are signs and symbols that point to God.
I challenge us this day and everyday that we gather to worship that we worship God alone, that we do not get caught up looking at the finger but at where the finger is pointing. Let us get caught up in the glory and majesty of God, the transforming power of God that can relieve our suffering, heal our world, and make us what we were intended to be. I challenge us to come to this house of God, not because we always do so, but because we want a closer relationship with God. I challenge us not to kneel and pray just because we’ve always done it that way, but because we are thankful for what God has done for us and we seek further transformation of our hearts and minds. We can and should come to this table, not seeking our individual wants and desires, but seeking the majesty and splendor of God. Come, offer sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving not out of route habit, but out of gratitude and humility. Come, for God desires steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God and not burnt offerings." Amen
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
My sister is gifted.
That is not flippant sibling pride talking. I've seen her work. I witnessed one gift in particular this weekend: when she walks into a room of people she greets every person like they are the most important person in the world. She greets each and every person like it is the highlight of her day to converse with that person in that moment. This is a talent, and I am awed by the skill with which she exercises this talent. There are a host of people out there that specialize in making themselves appear great. (On some days, I might even be one of them.) My sister on the other hand specializes in reminding other people that they ARE stupendous, monumental, lights of God shining in the world. I'm proud of you sister. The world is a better place for the work you do, even when, and especially when, you don't even know you are working.
Saturday, May 03, 2008
--my friends sonjia and john got married today, yea them, and the world is a better place because of their love for each other!
--I was not at the wedding because I had a vestry retreat. At first i was not happy about missing the wedding to be at the vestry retreat, but it ended up being the greatest vestry retreat in the history of vestry retreats. Therefore, I am so glad I didn't miss the retreat.
--My friend David is not feeling well so that worries me.
--My friend Lara is preaching tonight and tomorrow we get to give her gifts. I am so stoked, that I can not articulate my excitement. For the old school imokers, "words can not describe how stoked I am."
--God is good, and the miraculous happens therefore one should expect it!
Thursday, May 01, 2008
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
If Rev. Jeremiah Wright costs Sen. Barack Obama this nomination I will be deeply grieved. I want the chance to vote for Sen. Obama for president. I have no idea what Rev. Wright's motivations are, but at this point Sen. Obama can't separate himself any further from him but they are still connected in peoples minds because the media are connecting them.
My fear is that the unseen forces that put pressure on our leaders will guide this towards the status quo. They, the media, need a story because they are not use to a competitive primary and they are running out of things to say. Therefore, in order to continue to sell papers and get ratings they are talking about this ad nauseum. The unseen force of the market is steering our election.
We are going to be stuck with business as usual unless we demand something different. At this point we, the American people, are starting to be like Charlie Brown thinking that just this once we'll be able to kick the football and Lucy won't pull it out of the way. However, our brothers and sisters in the 12-step community have a saying, "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result." I guess all I can say is "good grief" we are gong to miss the ball again.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
I speak with you in the name of the forgiving God. Amen!
Good evening [morning]! A Saturday ago, the 12th of April, I experienced something spectacular that I can only describe as the grace of God in the form of a random act of kindness. Y’all remember the weather last Saturday, don’t you: gray, snow flurries, cold, and windy? Now, some of you know I love to complain about the weather. I am an expert at it. Indeed, it is my role within my family. My brother, who lives in Mississippi, emailed the family this past January fearful of driving on a mere two inches of snow and dreading a blistering low temperature of 28 degrees. Try as I might, well I really didn’t try that hard, but I just could not stop myself. I wrote an email to the family patiently describing the fact that I had woken that morning to a temperature reading of 10 below with hopes that day of maybe reaching zero and snow had been on the ground since November. I told the family that from now on, I would take over the duties of complaining about the weather.
So, I was up early a Saturday ago heading into the church to get some paperwork done. It was cold, with no sunshine or hope thereof. It was early on a Saturday and I was headed into work. I had every reason and every intention of being cranky and complaining about the weather all day. I stopped to fill my car up with gas, which considering the price and standing in the wind, my mood only worsened. Then a wave of self indulgence wafted over me, and I decided after topping off the tank that I would drive thru Scooters coffee shop and not only get a piping hot delicious cup of coffee but I was going to get a warmed up chocolate muffin as well. Plus, with the diet already shot to pieces, I might as well get the icing on the muffin too. With this hedonistic decision made, my mood lightened slightly as I pulled out of the gas station and over to Scooters.
I pulled in behind another car in the drive thru lane and placed my order. Then the car ahead of me pulled away and I pulled up to pay and receive my glorious supplies of decadence. Now, if you are like me, you are probably thinking that my moment of grace was in the consumption of the coffee and chocolate muffin with icing. For indeed, as a good friend of mine says, coffee is one of the many ways God says I love you.
Furthermore, Chocolate, as one of my favorite pastors says, is like the gospel, it is something sweet that comes into our lives and changes everything. Now despite this glorious bounty of gracious sustenance I was about to receive, the food was not my moment of Godly encounter.
See, when I pulled up to the window and handed my money over, the barista said, “The guy in front of you paid for you.” Now, I was shocked and made a forceful and incredulous response, “why did he do that?” “I do not know she said. He does it all the time.” I finally overcame my shock a bit and requested she tell him “thank you” next time she saw him.
As I drove away, in the gray dreary morning, I realized, in a glorious epiphany, I could not be cranky and irritable that day. It would be insulting to this random guy’s act of kindness, to his capacity to love his neighbor, for me to cranky. The rest of the day, whenever I felt the urge to be irritable and ungrateful, I thought about what this random child of God had done for me.
Okay, keep that story in the back of head for a bit, we’ll come back to it. I would like to talk for a moment about trees. I love trees they are wondrous things that can teach us a lot. See the deeper a tree’s roots grow the taller and stronger it becomes, the more it grows to point to the beyond. We should be like trees. As we sink deeper into faith through scripture, reason, and tradition, the more we grow to point toward God. Planting a tree is a spiritual exercise. Planting this object in the ground, connecting it to creation so that it may grow reminds us to plant ourselves in the grace of God, to sink deep roots into faith so we can drink in the water of life and point to God.
Now, you might be thinking at this point, “We get it. Someone was nice to you and you like trees. That’s real nice for you, preacher, but what does this have to do with the Gospel. It’s Sunday morning and we came to hear the gospel preached. Well, let me tell you then.
In our Gospel today, we hear part of what has come to be known as Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” from the Gospel According to John. On the night before he died for us, he was at table with his friends, and knowing what was about to occur he gave them parting instructions. Jesus said that belief in him will enable us to do, not only the wondrous works he did, but, astoundingly, he said we can do even greater things then he did.
Now, that is shocking and it bears repeating. If we believe, then we can do greater works then Christ. I do not know about you but that seems more then a little intimidating if not implausible. However, it becomes less unlikely and indeed attainable if, like the guy in the car ahead of me at Scooters, we think of more than just ourselves. By myself, as an individual, I do not have enough faith, barely a mustard seed, to do anything near the works of Christ. I would hazard to say that, as faithful as I know y’all to be, as an individual none of y’all can surpass the work of Christ. This is where the church comes into the equation. Together, as the body of Christ working in the world, there is no limit to what we can accomplish. One of the purposes of the church in general and specifically the congregation of All Saints is to provide opportunities for us to work together as the body of Christ to bring about the kingdom, to provide opportunities for growth in discipleship.
Having chosen to be a part of this congregation, this particular manifestation of the Body of Christ, there are a plethora of opportunities for you to serve God and do wondrous works, to be like a tree and always point to God. If you receive our newsletter, “The Witness”, you saw in the issue that went out this week page after page of opportunities to give of time, talent, and treasure, all for the glory of God and the building of the Kingdom. I hope, if you are not involved in any of them yet, that you’ll consider getting involved. If you are already heavily involved, as I know many of you are, I hope you’ll take this opportunity to invite someone new to join your efforts of discipleship.
Now, you might be thinking I’m making a bit of a hard sell this evening [morning] on discipleship. I am! The question, however, is not why would I dare push for increased discipleship, rather why would we dare not be stupendous disciples.
Remember that guy at the coffee shop, the one whose small act of kindness and grace demanded I go through my day with a better attitude. Well, let’s compare his small act to the acts of Christ. See, we are important enough, this creation every single thing, being, and atom, is important enough that God entered this creation. God did not and does not exist solely outside the realm of space and time; rather God became incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ and lived for us, died for us, and ultimately was raised from the dead so that we might have life and have it more abundantly. Furthermore God continues to enter creation through the Body of Christ.
Doesn’t this gracious, stupendous, sacrificial, bordering on insane act of God demand a response from us. How dare we not care for this creation if God thought it important enough to not only create it but to join it? How dare we not face the day with gratitude and joy at the gracious act of God for simply having air to breathe? How dare we, when Christ was and is willing to die for us, not live a life worth dying for?
Now my brothers and sisters, I’m not the best at remembering the grace of God. I love complaining about the weather almost as much as love coffee and chocolate. I need reminding. I need to be continually called back to meditate on the grace of God. I need outward visible signs of inward spiritual grace. I need trees and the random act of kindness of a guy a coffee shop.
My brothers and sisters we all need reminding. We need to be continually called back to meditate on the grace of God. We need outward visible signs of inward spiritual grace. We need trees and random acts of kindness. Now, it just so happens that every time we gather in this house of God and humbly approach God’s table we are remembered and reminded of the sacrificial grace of God. We know our Lord Jesus in the breaking of bread and the pouring of wine. In knowing Jesus we come to know God. We are given a vision of wholeness and holiness so that we can then go be that vision of wholeness and holiness to the world. So, I invite you to come. Come remember and be remembered. Amen!
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
I haven't played the Ipod shuffle game in awhile. I think I got this from my buddy Bob G+ and I think he got it from another blog. The rules, however, are simple. Set your media player to shuffle and list the first ten tunes that come up, NO MATTER WHAT THEY ARE. You are not allowed to edit the list. Here's this mornings:
1. James Booker Los Hombres Calientes Vol. 5: Carnival
2. Das Wohltempierte Klavier, Book 1: Fuge in Gis Moll, BWV 863
3. I Will Not Let You Go 3:46 Tangled Blue
4. Das Wohltempierte Klavier, Book 1: Prelude in Fis Moll,
5. Lux aurumque 4:09 Polyphony & Stephen Layton Whitacre: Cloudburst
6. Das Wohltempierte Klavier, Book 1: Prelude in H Moll, BWV 869
7. Adam Raised a Cain 4:35 Bruce Springsteen Greetings from Asbury Park
8. Das Wohltempierte Klavier, Book 1: Fuge in D Dur, BWV 850
9. Das Wohltempierte Klavier, Book 1: Prelude in Es Moll, BWV 853
10. A Pilgrim's Hymn [Reprise2] 0:32 Landon Whitsitt + Eighth Day Collective
Gotta run to morning prayer.
Saturday, April 05, 2008
I begin with a prayer of gratitude for all that is holy in my life.
God needs no words, no English or Hebrew, no semantics and no services.
But I need them.
Through prayer, I can sense my inner Strength, my inner purpose,
my inner joy, my capacity to love.
As I reach upward in prayer,
I sense these qualities in my Creator.
To love God is to love each other,
to work to make our lives better.
To love God is to love the world God created and to work to perfect it.
To love God is to love dreams of peace and joy that illume all of us,
and to bring that vision to life.
Kabbalat Panim for Shabbat p. 8(126)
Thursday, April 03, 2008
My wife and I were married in the rain. We met at camp Mowana near Mansfield Ohio and decided to have our wedding in the "little chapel in the woods" where we had often worshiped together. The chapel is one of those "thin" places, one of those places in this creation where the divide between us and God is almost transparent, and where sometimes we even do brake through that vale and touch God. We at least think we are touching God. Later we realize it was God touching our hearts, binding us together, despite all the brokenness we bring to the table/altar. So that is where we got married; in an outdoor chapel, under beautiful trees, with old log benches, a stone altar, and a cracked cross.
We defied tradition early (like 5:00 a.m.) that morning and my soon to be wife and I met in the chapel to pray. It didn't really matter that it was so early because I hadn't been able to sleep at all. Anyway, at 5:00 the sky was pretty clear and it wasn't raining; so, we decided to continue with the plan to get married in the Little Chapel. About halfway into the service of the word, it started to rain. Luckily the canopy of trees was so thick that we weren't getting wet. So we got through the sermon and the vows and then we all processed through the mud up to a pavilion for communion.
Fast forward a bit to the end of communion. Many of my beautiful, talented, and gracious seminary friends had come to the wedding. At the end of communion there were all these large clumps of bread strewn all over the floor, pieces much larger then crumbs and only slightly smaller then boulders. My high church roommates were chalice bearers and, God bless them, they got down on their knees and picked up all that bread. After the service they buried the bread in the mud beside the pavilion and washed the chalices with rain water pouring off the roof. Meanwhile our camp counselor friends were playing guitars and leading spontaneous choruses of camp songs. It was a beautiful and humbling display of people using their gifts to celebrate the gift of love God had given my wife and I. Their love shared with us was the binding that God used to join us. It was true and beautiful, humbling and uplifting, binding and liberating and I wish it for the couple whose wedding I do this weekend.
Gracious God, allow me to be your humble servant this weekend and bind K and P together in your love and grace. Grant them the joy that comes from loving as you love and guard them against the stresses of this world. Amen!
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
But the sun is out, which hasn't happened in awhile, and I would really much rather be on at the driving range loosening my back up for the Golf Season. Trust me! My swing needs the work. But that is not the case and I need to stop whining, suck it up, remember that I'm working for God and just get 'er done!
Friday, March 28, 2008
Your Score: Rabbit
You scored 20 Ego, 14 Anxiety, and 17 Agency!
IT was going to be one of Rabbit's busy days. As soon as he
woke up he felt important, as if everything depended upon him.
It was just the day for Organizing Something, or for Writing a
Notice Signed Rabbit, or for Seeing What Everybody Else Thought
About It. It was a perfect morning for hurrying round to Pooh,
and saying, "Very well, then, I'll tell Piglet," and then going
to Piglet, and saying, "Pooh thinks--but perhaps I'd better see
Owl first." It was a Captainish sort of day, when everybody
said, "Yes, Rabbit " and "No, Rabbit," and waited until he had
You scored as Rabbit!
ABOUT RABBIT: Rabbit is generally considered Clever by his many friends and relations. He is actually a much better reader and writer than Owl, but he doesn't consider it worth mentioning. Instead, Rabbit's real talent lies in Organizing Plans. He organizes rescue parties, makes schemes to reduce Tigger's bounciness, and goes on missions to find out what Christopher Robin does when he's not at the Hundred Acre Woods. Sometimes, however, his Plans do not always go as Planned.
WHAT THIS SAYS ABOUT YOU: You are smart, practical and you plan ahead. People sometimes think that you don't stress or worry, but this is not the case. You are the kind of person who worries in a practical way. You think a) What are my anxieties about and b)what can be done about them? No useless fretting for you. You don't see the point in sitting around and waiting for things to work out, when you could actually work them out today and save yourself a lot of time and worry. Your friends tend to rely on you, because they know that they can trust you help them work things out.
You sometimes tend to be impatient with people who are less practical in their ways. You don't have much patience for idiots who moan about things but never actually DO anything about them. You have high expectations of everyone, including yourself. When you don't succeed at something, or when something goes wrong despite your best efforts to prevent it, you can get quite hard on yourself. You need to cut yourself some slack and accept that everyone has their faults, even you, and THAT IS OKAY. Let yourself be faulty, every now and then, for the sake of your own sanity.
|Link: The Deep and Meaningful Winnie-The-Pooh Character Test written by wolfcaroling on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test|
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I speak with you in the Name of God, the speaker, the word, and the breath. Amen!
Everybody take a breath!
Not bad, but you can do better. Work with me a little bit. Sit up straight with both feet flat on the floor. Close your eyes and breath in, imagining as you do so, "Breathing in, I recieve Christ." As you exhale imagine, "Breathing out I share Christ." One more time.
Thank you for participating.
I imagine by this point you might be wondering what has gotten into this preacher’s head? Why in the world is he trying to teach us how to breathe? I subjected you to this practice because breathing is a uniting force. More than anything other action on the planet, we all breathe. It doesn’t matter if you are black or white, Eurasian or Afro-Cuban, a school teacher or a lawyer, a barber, a senator, or a saint. We all breathe. I spent many a year in wind bands and symphonies and as any music director will tell you, an ensemble that breathes together plays together. When we breathe together we are united together.
Breathing is also a uniting force on a personal level. The Buddhist Monk, peace activist, and dabbler in Christian Spirituality Tich Naht Hahn writes of breathing,
“Breathing in and out is very important, and it is enjoyable. Our breathing is the link between our body and our mind. Sometimes our mind is thinking of one thing and our body is doing another, and mind and body are not unified. By concentrating on our breathing, 'In' and 'Out,' we bring body and mind back together, and become whole again.”
I don’t know about you, but my mind and body are often doing two different things. Anything I can do to focus myself would indeed be enjoyable. Furthermore, I am elated to find out that something as inexpensive as breathing is helpful. Now, you might be thinking at this moment, this eastern philosophy, Buddhist mumbo jumbo is interesting and all preacher, but we’re Christians; so what do this have to do with Jesus?
Well, here it is. Breathing is a uniting force both corporately and individually because it re-members our creation. See, in our Gospel today Jesus breathes on the disciples. We should recall at this point that no matter what the disciples were they were Jewish. They grew up hearing and memorizing their ancient stories, and when Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit—the holy breath—on them they could not help but think of Genesis, of the creation. They could not help but think of that great story where God forms Ah-dam, the first human, out of the dirt of the earth and breathes on him, breathes into him the breath of life.
Jesus did not give that breath to the disciples thoughtlessly. Jesus did not give that breath unintentionally. Jesus breathed into them in order for them to be the image of God to this creation. See, they had fallen from that image. The powers that be, the adversary, Satan, the devil, society, the world, fear, shame—whatever word you want to use to describe the fallen forces of this creation—had formed the disciples away from God’s intention. These disciples who had walked, talked, eaten, and rejoiced with Christ for years deserted him on the night he was arrested. These disciples had been sent out to heal and preach the God News of the Kingdom of God in the Name of Jesus, but on that night Peter would not even admit he knew this man. The disciples of Jesus are dismembered from what they were created to be, separated from the image of God in Christ Jesus.
The breath of God, the Holy Spirit given through Christ re-members them, unites them with who they were created to be. These fearful, cowardly, sinful disciples are changed by the breath of God. They go from cowering in a locked room to traveling the known word sharing the gospel. They go from refusing to admit they even know this man to preaching Jesus Christ Crucified and risen from the dead in the temple. They go from unable to deal with their own grief and disillusionment, to healing the sick and raising the dead. They go from sinners to saints and their transformation happens in and through a breath.
God does not give us that breathe thoughtlessly. God does not give us God’s breath unintentionally. God breathes into us in order for us to be the image of God to this creation. We have fallen from that image. Our lives are dis-membered and are in need of re-membering through the breath of God. Out city is dis-membered, separated by perceptions based on race, money, and geography. It is fallen just as we are fallen. But today we stand ready for transformation. Today we stand ready to breathe in Christ who will change us. Today we stand ready to breathe out Christ who will change the world.
Breathing in,we receive Christ.Breathing out,we share Christ.Amen!
Thursday, March 27, 2008
...about showing up at God's table with all that is good and all that is bad about me,
...about that whole broken self being accepted by God, and
...about God saying, "I'll take you and here's me in exchange. The bread might taste a bit like card board and the wine might be a bit vinegary, but it's God and it is sufficient for you." Then I would say thanks God and go.
As a priest you can lose a lot of that in the Eucharist. It is really easy to become caught, not in the mystery of God's grace, rather in thinking about what comes next in the liturgy and not forgetting to take communion to that faithful person who can't walk sitting in the back. It can become about minutia not about the grand cosmic salvation scheme.
It is rumored that this phenomenon passes with time, and it becomes possible to preside and worship during the Eucharist. I have been waiting for that day, and at the Easter vigil this past Saturday night, I think I caught a whiff of it. There was something right about passing out the bread to folks at the rail, something Christ like in the people kneeling at the rail, something hopeful and holy. My friends the Caffeinated Priest and I Are A Writer have recently reminded me that, while in Seminary that taught us that the priest at the altar is a vision of Christ before the people, it is much healthier for me to have a vision of Christ in people I serve.
I love the people of my congregation dearly. Admittedly, with some it is an easier task then with others, but there is Christ in all of them. For all their joys and talent, gifts and skills, warts and foibles I love them. I pray for them. I hope for them. And, I hope and pray God keeps me humble enough to serve them well. Somehow, I think having enough faith in God keeping me humble will not be a hard.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
“We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him… So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
I speak with you in the name of the creating God, the resurrected Christ, and the ever-present Holy Spirit. Amen!
Good evening! Thank you for coming out this evening to the most sacred worship service of the Christian Year. A lot of work went in to making this the most sacred service we hold here at All Saints, and I encourage you to give your thanks and appreciation to all who worked on this service as I do. We have arrived at Easter. Our journey with Christ has been long over these forty days, but finally we are here. And on this sacred night it is both good and right that we have heard yet again the sacred tale of salvation history; God’s story beginning with creation and coming in the fullness of time to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It is on this salvation history that I would like to reflect with you for a moment or two. Recently I read a liturgy written by Dean Ernesto Medina, who serves down at the Cathedral, on salvation history and it got me to thinking about how our story is woven with God’s story through rocks and water.
See, in the beginning, God created. During the creation God made rocks while thinking “my children will walk on these rocks.”
You hold that rock in your heart.
God’s children did walk on the rocks. Eventually, sadly, that walked away from God.
So God sent a flood and cleansed the earth saving one family. God returned the family to the rock.
You hold that rock in your heart.
Later the children thought they were equal to God. So they began to build a high tower upon a rock to try and reach God. God can not be equaled, and God’s children can not climb to the heights of God. So, God confused the children.
You hold that rock in your heart.
Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well and sat upon a rock. He listened to her story, and told her everything she ever did.
You hold that rock in your heart.
Jesus had a friend named Peter, which means rock. Jesus said he would build his church upon Peter the rock. One night, when Jesus needed him the most, Peter denied ever knowing his friend Jesus.
You hold that rock in your heart.
Soon after Peter’s denial Jesus was crucified and placed inside a cave, inside a rock.
You hold that rock in your heart.
My brothers and sisters our hearts are hearts of stone and I invite you to reflect on your burdens and your sins. “Remember those things you have done that you are sorry for and place them on the stone that is your heart.”
“Remember those things you didn’t do, but probably should have, things done and left undone. Place this burden on the rock that is your heart.”
It has always been that in the midst of our burdened and hardened hearts God remembers God’s children. Once, God’s children were in slavery. God heard their cry for help and liberated them. On their way to the Promised Land God parted the waters and cleansed their hearts of stone.
Later on their journey they were thirsty. So God told Moses to take his staff and strike a rock. Water poured from the rock and cleansed their hearts of stone.
A long time later, but still a long time ago God spoke to the prophet Ezekiel in a valley of dry bones. God told Ezekiel to say to the bones, “I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD." And so the dry bones were made wet again and God cleansed their hearts of stone.
Jesus came to be an adult and went to his cousin John at the Jordan. Jesus, God incarnate, who wise ones had knelt before with gifts fit for a king, humbled himself and knelt in the muddy water of the Jordan. John baptized Jesus along side the penitent sinners and in front of the holier-than-thou leaders. And so, God cleanses our hearts of stone.
Tonight the cold dark stones of our heart are brought into the light and washed clean. In the bright light of the Resurrected Christ, the burdens and cares we came with here tonight are no more. We come to God’s table a new creation not by our own power. Rather we are made new by God who became human. We are born again by God who was taken, blessed, broken, and poured out for us in the person of Jesus Christ. We receive this God in the form of bread and wine taken, blessed, broken and poured out for us this night. Know that Christ is risen. Know that you are forgiven. Know that you are loved and welcome at this feast. Come, taste, and see. Amen.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
May only God’s word be spoken, and may only God’s word be heard. Amen.
At the beginning of any Seder meal, the ceremonial meal eaten in remembrance of the Passover, the youngest person in the room is to ask this question: “Why is this night different from all others?” Tonight we hear God’s direction to the slaves in Egypt for the eating of the Passover over meal, the last supper in bondage. While it is eaten in captivity it is also food for the journey. The paschal lamb is to be completely consumed by person or fire. It’s not like thanksgiving dinner. There are not leftovers for lunch the next day, because they, the people should be gone by then. The meal is to be eaten hurriedly with staff in hand and dressed for travel.
As I mentioned, the meal was instituted on the last night of captivity of the people of Israel in Egypt. It is the night where Pharaoh’s will is broken by the tenth and final plague of death. But it is not just a meal to remember the past. Verse 14 of our Exodus reading says that this meal will be a “festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.” The past is connected today. Be it Egypt or Babylon, Rome or the Third Reich, Iraq or Darfur, Serbia or Gaza, the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, City Hall, or even the Church…whatever institutions and regimes claim power over people’s bodies and souls, this meal is to be eaten as a remembrance of God’s liberation from those forces.
Now we are Christians not Jews, but it is no coincidence that the story of the first Passover is paired this night with our Gospel Story this night of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, what has come to be known in our tradition as the Christian Passover. This last meal, that took place under the oppressive reign of the Roman Empire, is also the first meal in the liberated Kingdom of God. And so, we are given the opportunity to ask the question: why is this night different from all others?
First, it is different because it is a Thursday night and we are here at church instead of strapped to the couch watching “Must See TV” or the NCAA tournament as our dominant culture instructs us to be doing. By our presence here tonight we have consciously decided that worshiping God is more important than anything else and are willing to physically live out this conscious decision.
Second, several of us gathered earlier to eat a meal similar to the meal Jesus shared with his disciples and near the end of that meal we knelt and washed each others feet. Priests and lay folk, adults and children, corporate executives and minimum wage workers we all got on our knees and washed another’s feet. This is not done in day to day society. Feet—even in this day of hygiene and cleanliness—are considered dirty, smelly, and not the topic of polite discussion. You certainly would not show up to a movie theater, ball game, or concert, and expect to see the theater owner, the ball coach, or the rock star washing peoples feet. I seriously doubt Bo Polini will wash the feet of his players this fall.
Thirdly, we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, this first meal of the Kingdom of God to re-member, to put together once again our true allegiance to God alone, in overt defiance to how the powers and principalities of this world have conditioned us. We find hope and salvation in broken bread and poured wine when our society teaches us to find salvation in the gated communities, material wealth, secure borders and military dominance.
Tonight we not only ask “why is this night different from all others”, but we ask why do we do these subversive and peculiar acts? We do them because Jesus did them first and because Jesus commands us to do like wise. We have heard this story a million times, of Jesus removing his outer garment and wrapping a towel around himself. Then he knells before his disciples, washes their feet, and dries them with the towel.
What may go unnoticed to us is that these are the attire and actions of a slave in Jesus’ day. Jesus, God incarnate, becomes a slave, property, an object with no rights or privileges of his own to show us how power is exercised in the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ display of power stands in sharp contrast to the imperial power of Rome under which they lived. While this contrast may not be obvious to us it would have been blatant to his disciples. They had grown up seeing the images of Roman power: the standards and banners, the body armor and plumed helmets, the spears and shields, the horns and processions. They had also experienced Rome’s peace through victory, which was peace through the conquest and domination of other peoples to increase their tax base.
Jesus does not act as a Lord, as a ruler, in any manner that the disciples could understand. Jesus does not act as a Lord, as a ruler, in any manner that we can understand. He has no army, no weapons, no force with which to be reckoned. He is not standing tall with muscles flexed and minions cowering. He is not in an Armani Suit with a Windsor knotted tie and mirror shined wing tips. He is not quarterbacking a fourth quarter comeback in the national championship game. And he is not traveling the countryside in a custom bus plastered with his face and a slogan on the side. Any image of power and effectiveness that we might have experienced, Jesus stands, no Jesus kneels in direct opposition to it. He leads from his knees, and begs his disciples, his followers then and now, to do the same.
We, today, do not do a good job of this, and neither did the apostles in the upper room. Before this night is over they will betray, abandon, and deny even knowing Christ. But herein lays the beauty of our approaching Easter. While the leaders of this world would be offended by our disloyalty and abandonment, Jesus prays God forgive them for they know not what they do. While the powers of this world would avenge our denial of knowing them and therefore denying their power, the Resurrected Jesus asks Peter and us, “Do you love me?” Jesus reinstates Peter and us in the resurrected life that we can be a part of here and now.
So, my brothers and sisters, I ask, seek, and implore us to come to this altar tonight, not upright in worldly power, but humbly kneeling before our broken and poured out Lord. I pray we come to this table not only to receive the last meal under bondage, but also the first meal of the kingdom of God, not only the food of remembrance but also substance for the journey. I pray we come and receive the body and blood of Christ so that we may be the Body and Blood of Christ in the world. Amen!
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
I speak with you as one who is both broken and whole, sinner and saint, lost and found, sinful and faithful. I pray that only God’s word may be spoken and may only God’s word be heard. Amen!
Finally! The weather has changed. This week we have heard small birds chirp and seen geese headed north. We have ventured out doors without insulated bulky coats and may have even exercised outdoors. We have seen the sun shine and if we look close enough grass, trees, and flowers are beginning to grow. We have persevered through the darkness and endured the cold death of winter and now we witness the beginnings of the new light and life of spring. But, as Monday’s weather will show us, we are close but we have not completely arrived at spring.
Finally in our worship, we have arrived at Jerusalem. During this season of Lent we have walked with Jesus. We walked with Jesus as he was tempted in the wilderness and listened in as he taught Nicodemus in the dead of night. We journeyed to Samaria with Christ as he charged the woman at the well, and us for that matter, to worship in spirit and in truth. Continuing on, we witnessed the healing of the blind man as a sign of God’s power in the world, and even more dramatically we heard Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb. It has been quite a spectacular and magnificent journey. But, yet, just as the seasons have not completely changed over, so to have we not arrived at Easter. Furthermore, just as the late season wet snows can be the messiest and the hardest to endure, so too this last week of lent can be tiresome.
Today we are given a taste of Glory. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, just as it had been foretold that the savior of Israel, the true king of God’s chosen people would do. In this cacophonic procession, full of palm branches waved and hosannas shouted, the people gathered in Jerusalem had to see it as the fulfillment of time; they had to see it as what had been foretold; and they had to feel that it was always going to be this joyous from then onward. This proclamation of exuberance and moment of praise that was so full that even if the people were silenced then the rocks would shout had to be intoxicating an instantly addictive. Could we blame them for wanting to stay in that moment? Furthermore, could we blame them for turning on Jesus when they realized he wouldn’t do what they wanted of him, what they expected of him? When he did not fit into their tiny box of what a messiah should and should not do, can we blame them for being angry, feeling betrayed, let down, and wanting the object of their disappointment punished?
We certainly should not blame them. For just as the same crowd that shouted hosanna when Jesus rode into Jerusalem shouted “Crucify Him!” “Crucify Him!” just a few days later, so to do we shout hosanna this morning and turn around a few moments later to shout crucify him. Not only do we do this quick change of attitude today, but we do it often in our lives. We love to proclaim Christ when Jesus coincides with our interests and we love to want him gone when he is inconvenient. Just as Peter, who along the road professes Christ as the messiah, by the end of this week denies even knowing Jesus--and thusly kills God--so to do we often proclaim the messiah on Sundays and deny him on Monday.
And so this day, we are left at the occupied tomb of our crime, not the emptied grave of resurrection. This day we are left to reflect on when we have failed to recognize the kingdom that has come near; not on our moments of proclamation and service, but on the times we have denied Christ and failed to serve our Lord. Easter is coming, but we aren’t there yet. We must journey further with Christ through this week in Jerusalem. We must be confronted with the embarrassment of the Son of God dressed as a slave and washing feet. We must endure our inability to stay awake with Christ in the garden. We can not hide from our cowardice when we like the apostles abandon Jesus in the garden to be taken away. And we must confront our own hypocrisy when we like Peter deny even knowing Christ. We must suffer the pain and anguish of watching Christ die on the cross. We must bear the burden of not only imagining the world without God on Good Friday, but we must come to grips with the stark reality that it is us who call for his crucifixion.
Then and only then, when we realize that it is not an absence of God’s love in the world that causes pain, war, injustice, and oppression, but our own denial of Christ in the courtyard, it is only then that we can truly hear the salvation history proclaimed at the Easter Vigil Saturday night. It is only in our blatant confession of our distance from God can we realize God breaking through that chasm to be near us in the breaking of bread and the pouring of wine. It is only when our unworthiness and shame are brought into the light that we can receive the grace of God. That saving grace, indeed that amazing grace, we so desperately need but can never deserve, comes to us after the final steps of this week.
So, my brothers and sisters, I challenge you to continue to walk with Christ. I challenge you not to skip from Palm Sunday to Easter without walking the path that is Holy Week. I challenge you to come to this table not for solace only but for strength. I challenge to walk with Jesus. Amen!
Friday, March 07, 2008
From Sally over at RevGalsBlogPals
1. Sign of hope?
The windows of my office face east, and when the sun rises to shine through them (yes, I'm in the office before sunrise sometimes) I can't help but think of Resurrection.
2. An unexpected word of light in a dark place?
T's strength in her time of trial.
3. A sign of spring?
Making plans for Golf on Monday with N.
4. Challenging/ surprising?
Possible big life choice coming soon.
5. Share a hope for the coming week/month/year....
- Hope that in the possible big life choice coming soon I am open enough to hear God's guidance.
- Hope to write more music this year.
- Hope to write more poetry this year.
Bonus play... a piece of music/ poem guaranteed to cheer you?
- The Peter Malick Group with Norah Jones -- New York City
- Bach's Prelude No. 1 in C from the Well Tempered Clavier Book 1 (always relaxes me)
- Miles Davis album Sketches of Spain (still the most beautiful thing I have ever heard)
- Wynton Marsalis Donna Lee on the album Amongst the People (makes me insanely jealous and energized at the same time).
- I could keep going!
- Most stuff by e.e.cummings
- Love(3) by George Herbert
- Do Not Go Gently into that Good Night -- Dylan Thomas
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
I get what Nouwen is saying, but I struggle with it too. I am a leader, because of my personality, job, and ordination. In my diocese I am one of three priests under the age of 50 and only two under the age of 35. I get a lot of comments and dismissals because in the eyes of a lot of my colleagues I'm a child. It drives me nuts!!!!! I literally had congregant on Sunday try to make joke about how when some young adults on staff and myself serve on the altar for communion it's like the Junior Varsity playing for the varsity. I laughed it off, but it's been under my skin. Maybe I'm being too sensitive, but by every conceivable measure I'm an adult! Even the youth think I am old.
The real conundrum of course is the last thing I can do is stand up and say, "I am an adult. Treat me like one!" Nothing could sound more childish then to say this.
Oh well, such is life.
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Gracious God, who creates all there is and loves all there is; you command us to love as you love. We failed, we fail, and we are failing. Too many of your children, our neighbors, went hungry and died today; too many of your children, our neighbors, were oppressed today; too many of us counted our wealth in material possessions instead of your love today for us to call ourselves successful Christians, successful God Lovers. Please forgive us. For Christ’s sake have mercy on us. Give us yet another chance to love ourselves, our neighbors, and you as you want us to. Amen!