Friday, December 11, 2009

Luke 11

Thoughts on the 11th chapter of the Gospel According to Luke.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Sermon, Proper 18, Year B

May only God's word be spoken, and may only God's word be heard. Amen!

Have you ever had a day, when you just didn't like Jesus? I should be more clear. Have you ever had a day, when you didn't like the Jesus that was presented to you? For example, about ten years ago there was a TV miniseries depicting the life of Jesus. This thing was bad, horribly written and horribly acted. Something that really tweaked my gourd was that everyone around Jesus had English accents. It was like the production company did all of its casting from the rejects the Royal Shakespeare company. So you had all these first century “Jews” walking around talking like they just walked out of Queen Elizabeth's court. In the middle of them was this guy playing Jesus with the blandest American accent I had ever heard. He had obviously spent more time in the gym then in acting class. And despite walking all over the backwoods of Israel and Palestine, this muscle bound Jesus' hair was always perfect. The Jesus that was presented to me was up setting because of the total disconnect from any sort of reality. However, that was TV. It is supposed to be fake. Let's face it: even reality TV is fake.

Now the Jesus of the Gospels is a horse of different color. Surely the stories of our Lord's ministry will be more palatable. Surely they will connect with my actual experience of Jesus better then TV. However, the Jesus in our Gospel today, sure doesn't match with the image of Jesus I've come to know from a life time of church attendance. Jesus in this reading seems like a real jerk. This woman comes to him with a sick child, possessed by a demon even, but Jesus calls her a dog. When she in faith and humility begs him to heal her daughter he says, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.” Wow! Jesus just called this woman a dog. Which is bad enough in English, but in ancient Greek, the language in which this gospel was written and the language in which the first readers read it, one of the worse things you can call a person, much less a woman, is a dog. Jesus comes across as unsympathetic, arrogant, and down right mean. He seems to be saying that his blessing, the healing power of God that he brings to the world is only for the children of Israel. Who taught him pastoral care? This is definitely not the Jesus my momma taught me about in Sunday school.

So what's going on here. Well, let's look at this woman a little closer. First off, she's female. In ancient society, be it Jewish or Greco-Roman, women were hardly valued. They certainly weren't supposed to talk to important people in public. Second, she is Syrophoenician. Meaning, at the very least, she's a gentile, and possibly she is of mixed race being both Syrian and Phoenician. So, there is no way for this woman to be any more of an outcast in Jesus' eyes. She's a woman, a gentile, and her kid is possessed. There were probably enough judging eyes upon her in her community, and Jesus seems to pile it on with his refusal.
Now, something interesting happens here. She says to him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” She basically calls Jesus out. She basically says you are Son of God, the Messiah, the anointed one, doesn't your God have something for me, or are my Greek gods better? Is the power of your God only available to Jews? Does God's power have limits? Can God's healing reach beyond the Jews?

Now here's the really cool part: Jesus listens to this woman. She is no great sage, no great ruler, no rich authority, but Jesus learns from her. The messiah, the anointed one, the son of God, learns something. That is life giving and hopeful in an of itself. If Jesus has to learn the limitlessness of God's love then we are given permission to keep trying to learn God's limitlessness. But even better then that, Jesus learns from the lowest. Therefore we are challenged to keep our ears open because God could teach us something from the strangest of sources.

When I was in seminary, we had a guy on the maintenance staff named Martin. He was janitor. He spent most of his time mopping floors. Martin would sing hymns to himself all day while he worked. He was the happiest person on campus. Now, all of seminary students would walk around all day trying to be sufficiently troubled by the scriptures. If we weren't sufficiently troubled by our inner angst, our professors would make sure we were sufficiently troubled by all the papers we had to write. In midst of all this angst, there is Martin mopping away singing, “I have decided, I'm gonna follow Jesus.” One day I asked Martin, “How come you sing hymns all the time Martin.” He said to me, “I never want to forget what my Lord's done for me. No matter how bad my day might be, it ain't as bad as the cross. If Jesus can go through that certainly he can be with me while I mop floors. Singing hymns all day helps me remember that.” Now, y'all, I learned a lot from my Seminary professors. They are some of the most brilliant and wise people I have ever been around. They taught me a lot, but definitely, God was teaching me through Martin the janitor that day.

“I have decided, I'm gonna follow Jesus.” We are all called to follow Jesus, called to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and our neighbors as ourselves. My brothers and sisters, if we are lucky, we'll have syrophoenician woman along the way to teach us something, and if we are wise, we'll be like Jesus, and listen to her. Amen!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pop needs to Poop

Greetings,

So my father continues to improve. He developed a blood clot in his lung last week apparently about the time I left town. They figured it out over the weekend, and they are now treating it with blood thinners. Also, he had a lot of fluid build up in his chest which was constricting his breathing. That is dissipating and his blood/oxygen level was 98% last night and 95% when he woke up this morning. They had put him on an oxygen mask over the weekend, but now he is back to the nasal apparatus. They continue to ween him off the oxygen. He has been eating solid food the last two days, but he has not had a bowel movement yet. They won't let him out until he poops; so, in the words of my brother, "Pray for Crap!"

Thanks, as always for your prayers, keep 'em coming.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

let the liquids flow

So, he has gotten to have some coffee, diet sprite and a little bit of broth. The broth was too salty for him. He is doing well about not pushing it though. He tried to sit up for a little while early this morning and got very dizzy. So after the liquids and a couple of naps, we are going to try again.

He got his catheter taken out a minute ago; so he is much more comfortable on that front.

Thanks again for the prayers.

Pappa's numbers

Dad continues to improve. They are going to take the catheter out and take him off of the oxygen. He will start today on sips of liquid, for which dad is very excited. He isn't having to use his pain meds very much, mainly when he gets up and down. Now that he'll have to use the bathroom on his own, he'll be getting up and down more often. So, we'll see how much he uses the pain medicine today.

His ct number, the number that measures his kidney function was 1.13 which is apparently great for one whole day after the surgery. His blood sugar is also holding well, since he isn't eating. He's a diabetic; so we watch that closely.

He's going to get up in the chair now and we'll go for a walk soon. I leave for Omaha this afternoon; so I'll get a couple more updates done today. They will come slower after today. Thanks again for all your prayers. God is good!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Third stroll

Pappa sat up in the chair and played Skip-Bo with mom and me this afternoon. Mom won, of course, in classic come from behind fashion ("Can I do this?"). We went on his last stroll for the day, and then he took another nap. He really wants to eat something, but the doctor won't let him until his bowels wake up more. They changed the dressing on his incision and it looked really good; no evidence of seepage or drainage. They said his urine was too dark this afternoon so they pumped some more fluids in rapidly. It has lightened up considerably. You camp counselors out there know the importance of light colored pee.

All in all he is improving about as rapidly as we could expect. I am feeling confident he'll be out Friday or Saturday, which was the projected time line. It does not hurt for him to walk. He gets woosey simply because he hasn't eaten anything, but there isn't pain when he walks. The only pain is when he leans up to get out of bed. The last time he got out of bed, however, he did not have to use his pain pump to prepare himself. He hasn't needed the pain meds since about 1 this afternoon.

We remain grateful for your prayers and the healing power of God. The nurses, technicians, and the doctor have all been outstanding. They are instruments of the Lord on this, and we are grateful for them as well.

second update on pop

We took pop for a second walk a moment ago. He did well. There was less pain getting up and down, which is the hardest part. Then the doctor came by and said he was very pleased with the way dad looked. They are going to increase his fluid through the IV over the next hour because his urine is to concentrated ergo he is dehydrated. Other then that we are moving along well. Pop thought he heard his bowels rumble a little bit ago, which is good. His bowels have to wake and he has to be able to handle solid food before he can leave. He is napping now.

I took a picture of Mom and Pop holding hands as they walked the halls. It might be the cutest thing I have ever seen in my life. It's posted on Facebook.


As always thanks for the prayers and keep them coming.

pop's surgery

So my father had a kidney removed yesterday and is in the hospital recovering. He is doing well. The surgery could not have gone any smoother. Apparently the tumor had enlarged his kidney to the size of a football. The doctor is very certain that it was cancerous, but he did not see any signs that it had spread past the kidney...no abnormal lymph nodes or such. They will of course watch his kidney functions very intently now that he only has one, and will continue to scan for cancers.

The doctor wants him to sit up in a chair three times today and to walk three times today. So, about 9:00 we got him up in the chair. He was feeling pretty good and didn't want to have to get up out of the bed again; so we went ahead and did a lap around the floor. He did well, but he is exhausted. He's sleeping now, but we'll get him up and around again later.

I'll post more later. Thanks for your prayers and support.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Geek Week

I am on retreat this week. A spiritual retreat is when you take time away to pray, meditate, recharge, and listen to God. It is a good practice to take a retreat once a year.

I am hanging out at St. Mary's retreat center in Sewanee, Tennessee. I basically tossed my Prayer Book, Bible, and a stack of books in my car and I'm reading and praying a bunch. I realized this morning that my retreat is definitely geek oriented when I looked at the stack of books I brought:

  • Listening Hearts: Discerning Call in Community

  • Introduction to Old Testament Theology by Walter Brueggemann

  • The Winners Manual by Jim Tressel (Head Coach of THE Ohio State Buckeyes)

  • Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton

  • Contemplative Prayer also by Thomas Merton

  • A Collection of writings by the Greek Playwright Aeschylus



I don't think I could think of a geekier list of books. Who else would seek inspiration from a football coach, a monk, and ancient Greek playwright all in one week. I'm strange.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Alleluia, We Sing Your Praises

Easter Sunday Year B


Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 118:1-2,14-24; Acts 10:34-43; Mark 16:1-8

“Where Jesus is, there is life,…life-before-death”

Not me, oh Lord, but you. Amen!

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
[The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia!]

Good Morning! It is a blessing to be here with you on this Easter Sunday Morning, the day of our Lord’s Resurrection. “This is the day Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

See, the word Alleluia means “praise God!” Praise be to God! We’ve been fasting from saying Alleluia in our worship these forty days of lent, preparing ourselves, being sanctified by God, to let our praise ring out today. To help our Alleluias ring out this morning, I want to do something a little different. I want to teach you a song. Our guest musician, Benhi Khabeb, is going help us as well.
So, here’s how it goes. I’ll sing a line and you’ll sing it back along with Benhi.

[teach]
Alleluia, we sing your praises.
All our hearts are filled with gladness.

Alleluia, we sing your praises.
All our hearts are filled with gladness.

Christ the Lord, to us said,
“I am wine. I am bread.
I am wine. I am bread.
Give to all who thirst and hunger.”

Wonderful! Thank you for playing along!
I taught you that song this because I am haunted by the words of the theologian Jurgen Moltmann from his book, The Passion of Life. He writes,
Where Jesus is, there is life, there is abundant life, vigorous life, loved life and eternal life. There is life-before-death. I find it deeply disturbing and unsettling whenever I think about how we have become accustomed to death—to the death of the soul, to death on the street, to death through violence, to death-before-life.

I think Jurgen is on to something here. On this Resurrection Sunday we are reminded that where Jesus is there is life. Life-before-death. Life so abundant it can not be destroyed by death. Jesus gives us that life just like it says in the verse of the song we just learned. “I am wine. I am Bread. Give to all who thirst and hunger.” The abundant and vigorous life of Christ is given to us each and every time we come to God’s altar and receive the body and blood of Christ. Where Christ is there is life.

Now some folks, out there, might say that Christ is dead, that God is dead. That Jesus is not present here in North Omaha nor at the Church of the Resurrection. They could say that our Sunday Morning attendance is declining. They could say that our building has cracks in it, our parking lot has too few stalls, our priest is too young and our location is bad. My response is simple: Crap! That analysis is a grade A load of horse manure if I have heard it. Not 22 years ago this congregation didn’t exist, there was no church of the Resurrection. Yet over coming the weight of American racial separation two churches embarked on the long struggle to become one congregation. Here we stand over 20 years later still a diverse family united in God’s love.

I was telling a guy from North Carolina the other day about our church. He said, “y’all stayed together for over twenty years. How’d y’all pull that off?” I said, “We do it by eating together.” His reply, “Laws yes, y’all got that right.” Every time we come together at the Lord’s table, and every time we sit down together at a dinner table it is a symbol of Resurrection, a symbol of abundant life, of life-before-death.

Another piece of evidence that Christ is present and there is life in this congregation is our glorious choir. They’ve been working hard, and this morning they are going to sing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. It’s been tough, but no tougher then Jesus dying cross for us. And this morning when they bust that out, you will have no doubt they believe Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The Hallelujah Chorus at the church of the Resurrection. Just ten twelve years ago that could not have been imagined. If that ain’t a symbol of Resurrection I don’t know what is.

Now some might say, that these signs of life here are nice and all, but preacher have you looked a newspaper lately? Yeah, I have. I know when I look a paper, or see the news on TV, or the internet, that there are a whole lot people that just don’t give a damn about their neighbors near and far. Then I come here to the Church of the Resurrection, and I see folks caring for their fellow congregants like they were Christ himself. I come here to the Church of the Resurrection and see folks caring for perfect strangers like they were Christ himself. I see young adults formed for leadership in the church and world through Resurrection House. I see school children fed and taught to read at the Miller Park afterschool program. I see people housed at Maggie’s place. I see people’s stomachs fed and their homes heated through the 30th street ministry. I see the Good News of Jesus Christ being shared with the people of war torn Sudan by Fr. Daniel our Sudanese missioner.
I see these things. I rejoice in these things, but I do not pat us on the back. Let us not fall into the sin of complacency; for today I am reminded of the verse of that song we just learned. Jesus said, “I am wine. I am Bread. Give to ALL who thirst and hunger.” Give to All.

There is a large mass of hurting people all over the world, and right here in Omaha. There is a large mass of people that turn to violence to solve their problems all over the world, and right here in Omaha. There is a large mass of people that are physically and spiritually hungry all over the world and right here in Omaha. People who need to know that their redeemer lives. People who need to know that God loves them. People who need to know that Christ is risen and where Jesus is there is life-before-death.

THEY WON”T KNOW IF WE DON’T TELL THEM!

The words of that song we just learned sum it all up. Christ gives us his vigorous abundant life. In turn, we are to share it.
My brothers and sisters, the time is now and the place it here. We are called not just to attend the Church of the Resurrection. We are called not just to walk this aisle and receive the body and blood of Christ. We are called not just to serve the word of God.

We are called to spread the word God around the world.
We are called to be the Body and Blood Christ broken, blessed, and shared with all.
We are called to be Resurrection to rise up in this forgotten part of empire and be a bright shining beacon of hope to a hurting world.
My brothers and sisters, I believe Christ is risen. I believe that where Christ is there is powerful life. I believe we are Resurrection. I believe we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
My Brothers and Sisters, today sing praise to God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Praise be to God. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise God who working in us can do infinitely more then we could ask or imagine. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! We sing your praises. All our hearts are filled with gladness! Alleluia, Alleluia, Amen!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Good Friday

“See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.”

May only God’s word be spoken and may only God’s word be heard. Amen!

Once upon a time, on a Sunday afternoon deep in the bible belt, there was an old school preach off. Now, you might not know what preach off is. A preach off is where after the Sunday service is over and after you have had dinner on the grounds everybody goes back in the church and all the local preachers come and try to out preach each other. You do some singing and praising God, but mainly folks just want to see who can bring the word of God into God’s house.

Now at this particular preach off, on this hot summer day, there were three preachers lined up to give it a go. The first preacher approached the pulpit with utmost most dignity and reverence. He warmed the crowd up with a couple of jokes and then brought all the hell fire and brimstone he could muster. For forty-five minutes he exhorted, he cajoled, he proclaimed, and he exclaimed about all the sinful woes of this world. He enumerated all the ways the people of God had been lacking in their devotion and chastised with an ever deepening voice the lethargic faith he perceived in the people.

When he finished there was much lamenting and repentance, and more then a little posterior pew soreness as well. So they stood and sang some songs and got ready for the next contestant. The second preacher went for an hour and half in an even louder and deeper voice. He smacked pulpit to emphasize each of his 37 points in his diatribe. He picked up where the other preacher had left off, hit the ground running with castigation of the people and picked up speed with his denounciations. Again, when he had finished, there was much repenting and, you guessed it posterior pew soreness.

These were tough acts to follow, and quite honestly while they sang some songs after the second guy, the people in the pews wondered if the third guy could bring it at all in the wake of what they had just heard. The third preacher worried them something fierce.

See, first off he didn’t look like the other two. Where they had looked distinguished and wizened, he looked plain. Where his predecessors had looked commanding and powerful, he looked simple. Where the first two had looked larger then life, this guy was small.

Nevertheless, he approached the pulpit and the crowd settled down to hear what he had to say. He stood there for a moment in silence. After a moment when the silence started to move from profound to uncomfortable he simply said, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.” He paused and then said again, “My Brothers and Sisters, it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.” And then finally he said, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming. If you believe that in the darkness of your Friday, God will act and Sunday will come, then walk this aisle and proclaim Jesus as your lord and savior from this point on.” Needless to say, not only did everybody walk the aisle, but he won the preach off.

Now, he was preaching in a place and time when community was a stronger force. The congregation that day knew what he meant by Friday. They knew he was talking of Good Friday, the day our God is crucified, the day when darkness seems to triumph over light. Good Friday is when the itinerant homeless teacher Jesus of Nazareth is crucified, executed by the Roman Empire in a public and grotesque manner on a garbage heap outside of Jerusalem. This is the day when it seems that Jesus’ message of love, his theology of peace through justice, seems to be defeated by the Roman Imperial theology of peace through victory, Roman peace provided by the violent conquest and oppression of the vanquished.

The scriptures tell the story that the death of Jesus was such a blow, such a defeating event for his followers that darkness fell in the middle of the day. Jesus the Christ was crucified. God was dead. It was Friday, but Sunday was coming.

See, over and over in scripture when things are at there bleakest, when hope is in the least, God acts. Indeed it is only the act of God that overcomes darkness and despair. It is the gracious act of God that brings Israel out of Egypt, it is the gracious act of God that restores the people from exile, and it is the gracious act of God to become one of us; to live amongst us preaching good news to the poor, sight to the blind, freedom for the captive, and justice for the oppressed. It was a gracious act of God to refuse to become the violence of this world; rather to die on a cross this day, this Friday.

Some might say that we are in a Friday era of our world’s existence. War is nonstop at this point, economies are crashing, and here in America it is hard to tell if we are a city on a hill or just another empire. But if it’s Friday, Sunday’s coming.
When our personal tragedies threaten to overcome us, when the darkness of pain, disease, and death are at hand…it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.

When our community bleeds from violence, when our institutions fail to respond with justice, when it is easier for our children to get their hands on a gun then on a text book…it’s Friday but Sunday’s coming.

When the church is more interested in building shiny edifices then fertilizing the roots of justice, when the church is more interested in fighting over who we can exclude then how we can open the doors of the kingdom wider for all to walk through…it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.

When our own numbers decrease on Sunday morning, when the walls crack and carpet fades, when we wonder if there will be another generation of this congregation to share the Love of God in this place…it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.
My brothers and sisters, make no doubt about it, it’s Friday, but Suday’s coming. Amen!


Easter Sunday service at the Church of the Resurrection is at 10:30 April 12th, with brunch and an Easter Egg hunt to follow.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

From a dude named Francis

Web Meditation 7 April 2009

A Prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen!

I triple dawg dare you to pray this prayer--by pray I mean say it with a desire for it to be true--three to five times a day for a month. I dare you! Just see what happens.

__________________
This meditation is also posted on the website of the Church of the Resurrection.

Monday, April 06, 2009

A personal Reminder

Web Meditation 6 April 2009

Last night I went to the Beggars Society, a monthly gathering hosted by the mission organization Word Made Flesh. The speaker was Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove a member of the new monasticism movement. Jonathan doesn't really fit what the words "monk" or "monastic" normally connote. He does not wear a robe. He and his wife have a son. He isn't even Roman Catholic. He's a Protestant Evangelical. Now you might be wondering what my self-proclaimed liberal self was doing hanging out with an Evangelical. Well Jonathan does not really fit in the common perception of that word either. He does, however, love Jesus and take scripture very seriously.

He lives in the Rutba House in Durham, North Carolina, which he and his wife helped found. The 12 people in the community share a common rhythm of life, common resources, and common prayer. Living together in two houses in Durham, they gather for prayers at 7:00 a.m., go off to their respective jobs, and then gather for a common meal and prayers at the end of the day as well. There are married folks and single folks in the community. They are actively trying to live out the community descriptions of the books of Acts. Like I said they take scripture very seriously. He told the story last night of when they formed the community some members thought it was the Christian thing to do to be vegetarian. This stance conflicted with the members of the community who liked eating the southern delicacy known as fired chicken. The community did a SIX MONTH bible study on every single mention of food in the bible as deep and as researched as they could. They decided in the end that the important thing when Christians eat together is that they EAT TOGETHER!

I must admit I was both charmed and humbled by this man. His demeanor was so relaxed and comfortable in his own skin it mesmerized me. He simply loves Jesus, thinks about what that means, and changes his life accordingly. This profoundly simple, but authentic and rich faith, humbled me. I too often get caught in my own head and start worrying about whether I can preach the hard teachings of Jesus and my congregation still like me. Now, I'm not the only clergy person who wonders what people will think if we preach the truth. Shoot, we as group tend to get worked up about what people will think and whether they'll still come to church if we change a light bulb, not to mention the hard teachings of Jesus (for example Matt. 18 and 24:40). I was reminded last night that "it's hard to be Christian in America (New Monasticism P.11)." However the abundance of life, of rich and deep relationships, of happiness, are worth the challenge. I pray that I remain humble and listening to Jesus, to not worry about this world, and focus on building the Kingdom.



This meditation is also posted on the website of the Church of the Resurrection

Friday, April 03, 2009

Collect (prayer) for the fifth week of Lent

O Lord, you relieve our necessity out of the abundance of your great riches: Grant that we may accept with joy the salvation you bestow, and manifest it to all the world by the quality of our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

A quote from St. Teresa of Avila


Christ has no body now but yours
No hands, no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes through which He looks
compassion on this world
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.


This quote is also posted on the website of the Church of the Resurrection

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Great Vigil of Easter

Web Meditation 1 April 2009

The Church of the Resurrection isn't doing a Great Vigil this year, and hasn't for several years. However, I hope for us to grow into this tradition soon. It's an important liturgy because in its drama, theology, and form it is literally the mother of all Eucharists. It is the most dramatic ritual the church performs all year because we do spectacular things. We light fire. We read up to nine pieces of the most dramatic stories from scripture, and there is freedom to be creative with these readings. I've experienced James Weldon Johnson's Creation poem from God's Trombones used as the creation reading. Abstract paintings depicting the creation unveiled during the creation reading. Water poured into a metal bowl, intentionally loud, during the parting of the waters reading from exodus. The dry bones of Ezkiel come alive with a dramatic reading by a woman as God and a man as Ezekiel with percussion playing the back ground. All this happens in a darkened church. It is symbolic and mimetic. We remember the story, the history of God's salvation that comes to us while we are still in the darkness of sin in the darkened church. Then the lights come up suddenly inaugurating the new life of Easter, the new life available to us in the risen Christ.


The new life in Christ is the theological statement of the service. Dr. Jim Farewell writes in his book This is the Night, "The Great Vigil begins in the darkness of Easter eve, sometime between sunset on Saturday and sunrise on Easter morning. The celebrant initiates the liturgy with this address to the people, in which the gathering is caught up in the mystery of the passing over into freedom of the people of Israel and the passing over of Jesus from Death to Life:(61)"

Dear friends in Christ: On this most holy night, in which our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life, the Church invites her members, dispersed throughout the world, to gather in vigil and prayer. For this is the Passover of the Lord, in which, by hearing his Word and celebrating his Sacraments, we share in his victory over death.(BCP 1979)

By immersing ourselves liturgically in the salvation history and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we are caught up in that new life, that new creation of which scripture tells us the Risen Lord is the first born. Our regular Sunday Eucharists are an extension of this active participation in salvation history. The Vigil births the regular Sunday Eucharistic celebration. The form of the service has four parts: the Lighting of the New Fire and Exsultet; the Vigil Readings; Holy Baptism; and the Holy Eucharist. Our regular Sunday Eucharists are intentionally similar in form though scaled down somewhat. The procession and entrance rite on Sunday morning relates to the New Fire and Exsultat; the service of the word and sermon are a reflection on the Salvation history like the Vigil Readings; when we say the Creed on Sundays it is a remembrance of our Baptism; and the Eucharist is always a re-membrance, a putting back together of the body of Christ just as it is on Easter eve.

The drama, the theology, and the form of the Easter Vigil make it a bold pronouncement of God's Grace and an overwhelming experience for God's people. Therefore I hope that the Church of the Resurrection will start a tradition of the Great Vigil of Easter in the future.




The meditation is also posted on the website of the Church of the Resurrection.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Good Friday

Web Meditation 31 March 2009

The Good Friday liturgy, often called the Solemn Collects, is an interesting service. It is a solemn liturgy because we only do it once a year. The collects are the prayers that we say that take up the bulk of the service. Most worship services in the Episcopal church are celebrations of the Eucharist, a.k.a. the Lord's Supper, on Good Friday we do not celebrate the Eucharist, because we try to symbolically imagine a world where God has died. After the Maundy Thursday service the night before, the Altar is stripped and washed. All of the reserve sacrament, the bread and wine, is consumed. In this space where the evidence of things unseen has been removed we gather on Good Friday to pray for the world.

Lent is a journey from being inwardly focused on oneself to being outwardly focused on the world as Jesus was. See, we started Lent way back on Ash Wednesday remembering how far away from God we are, the degree to which our sin separates us from God. We have metaphorically journeyed with Jesus to Jerusalem these forty days. Maundy Thursday we literally follow his command to wash each others feet. In the Gospel of John, Jesus prays for the world just before he is taken into custody. On Good Friday we continue our journey of becoming Christ like by praying the world as he did. In Jesus' darkest hour he prayed for others. In our darkest hour of worship, when all the rich color and decoration has been removed, when the presence of Christ in the form of the sacrament is gone, we pray for the world. From an inward recognition of our sins on Ash Wednesday to an outward prayer for sake all creation we have journeyed through Lent. We are almost to Easter at this point. Keep praying! Stay on the Journey!

Our Good Friday service will be on the 10th of April at 6:00 p.m. Look forward to seeing you there.



This meditation is also posted on the website of the Church of the Resurrection.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Dinner in Abraham's Tent

Web Meditation 29 March 2009


 

Friday night I got to go to the Dinner in Abraham's Tent sponsored by the Tri-Faith Initiative here in Omaha. The Tri-Faith Initiative is a combined dream by the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska, Temple Israel, and The American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture to ultimately build a common campus with a worship space for each faith and a shared education center. In pursuit of that dream, Friday night's fundraiser was held. We gathered first for worship. In the same room in sequence we had a Shabbat service, then the Order for Evening from the Book of Common Prayer, and Muslim Friday evening prayers. Then we gathered for a dinner followed by a round table discussion of faith leaders from each tradition.


It was a deeply holy time and we were definitely in sacred space. The worship was filled with a deep hospitality. The story goes that Abraham's tent opened on all four sides to facilitate hospitality. Genesis chapter 18 tells the story of Abraham being blessed for that very hospitality. I hope for peace, and I even like to think I work for peace. I believe hospitality, in all its ancient richness, is key to peace. For one night, Jews, Christians, and Muslims welcomed each other in joint hospitality. The line between host and guest was obliterated. We were each others host and each others guest. Ultimately, I felt we had learned a deep lesson of hospitality from Abraham. Hopefully we can continue to teach that lesson and spread these seeds of Peace.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Maundy Thursday

Web Meditation 27 March 2009

Maundy Thursday is a beautiful service because of it's simplicity and literalness. See the term Maundy comes from an old word meaning commandment. On this night we remember the story of Jesus washing his disciples' feet and giving them a new commandment that they love one another just as he has done. Maundy Thursday is simple because Jesus washed his disciples feet then told them to do like wise. The Maundy Thursday worship service is literal because we do as Jesus commands. We wash each others' feet. Yep! Feet are weird, smelly, sometimes cracked, and damaged. Indeed feet are often the most neglected part of the human body. To get down and wash someone's feet is a humbling act of service. However, Christian leadership is through service especially to the most neglected. A wise person once said that we are children of God and we become more like the children of God when we care for our brothers and sisters. Maundy Thursday is worship as service at its best. We hear the command of God then we immediately obey that command. These actions form us. We leave the worship service with experience in loving our neighbors and that gets carried out into the world.

Our Maundy Thursday service here at the Church of the Resurrection will be on April 9th, at 6:00 p.m. I hope you'll join us.

God's Peace



This meditation is also posted on the website of the Church of the Resurrection.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Holy Week Approaches

Web Meditation 26 March 2009

We are rapidly approaching Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter. For clergy, altar guilds, church staff/musicians, and all the volunteers that make these special services happen it can become too hectic a time to maintain the devotional nature of these services. However, truly, they are my favorite rituals of the church calendar. Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter are my favorites because they are, as my wife the teacher would say, active learning. It is a well known fact that the lowest retention rate comes from lectures. We learn more by doing. As a professional preacher I don't like this fact, but it is true nonetheless. The Episcopal liturgy Sunday to Sunday is participatory; in many way more participatory then the Baptist services of my youth. We take that basic participation level up a notch or twelve during holy week. Over the next few days I'm going to write about the Palm Sunday and Holy Week services in hopes of both providing a deeper understanding of why we do the things we do and to encourage you to attend and participate in these services wherever you may be.

Let's begin with Palm Sunday. It is different because we do a different procession then normal and we have a different way of doing the Gospel reading. First, we all process into the church waving palms and singing All Glory Laud and Honor. This is a direct re-enactment of the procession of Jesus into Jerusalem. Metaphorically think of the Altar as Jerusalem and we are processing from outside the city into it. This immediately makes us participants in the story not observers, witnesses, or merely people remembering the story. This immersion into the story is continued when we get to the Gospel proclamation for the day. Instead a normal Gospel reading, we dramatically (different people are assigned parts) read the passion story of Jesus' final hours. The congregation plays the part of the crowd in the story and yells "Crucify Him!"

It is moving and poignant that we who were singing All Glory Laud and Honor a few minutes ago are then shouting "Crucify Him!" I think there is a direct parallel to our lives. Each and every day we have the option of joining Jesus' non-violent triumphal procession or we can claim the violence of this world as our path and shout "Crucify Him!" In this service we reflect the reality that sometimes, maybe even often times, we do both. Palm Sunday is an invitation to pick the non-violent procession by entering into and being transformed by the other services of Holy Week.



This meditation is also posted on the website of the Church of the Resurrection.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

In remembrance

Wed Meditation 25th of March 2009

Yesterday marked the Anniversary of the assassination of Signor Oscar Romero. He was shot, by a right wing group, while celebrating Mass in a small church San Salvador. His crime was to say that God loved poor people. I offer the following quote of his as a testament that his witness continues. Know that I am convicted by his words, and that I hope you are too.

“These unjust inequalities, these masses living in misery who cry out to heaven are a sign of our anti-Christianity. They are declaring before God that we believe more in the things of the earth than in the covenant of love that we have signed with him, and that because of our covenant with God, all human beings should consider themselves brothers and sisters… Human beings are more children of God when they become more brotherly or sisterly to other human beings, and less children of God when they feel less kinship with their neighbors.” September 18, 1977

Today is the feast of the annunciation, when we remember the angel telling Mary she would carry and deliver Jesus, the incarnation of God in the world. Jesus would go on and teach that whatever we do to the "least of these," those on the bottom of society, is what we do to Jesus (Matt. 25:40). Oscar Romero believed this with every cell of his being. I am inspired by his witness to believe as he did. I am not there yet. However, a new day has dawned, and I have been given yet another chance to love others as Christ loves me.



This meditation is also posted on the website of the Church of the Resurrection.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Snakes!

Lent IV, 21 March 2009
Numbers 21:4-9, Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21


“For by Grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not our own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Not my words, but yours oh, God!
Not my thoughts, but yours!
Not my heart nor soul, but yours!
Oh God, I humbly pray! Amen!

I am a member of an online lectionary study group where we bounce sermon ideas off each other each week. Since I noticed that our readings this week make reference to snakes, I asked my colleagues in the group if anyone knew any good jokes about snakes. Unfortunately for you, they did! So, here’s joke no. 1:
There where two snakes talking.
The 1st one said ‘Sidney, are we the type of snakes who wrap ourselves around our prey and squeeze and crush until they’re dead? Or are we the type of snake who ambush our prey and bite them and they are poisoned?
Then Sidney says “Why do you ask?”
The 1st one replies: “I just bit my lip!”
http://www.jokesdot.com/the-snake-3.html


My colleague seems to think, and I agree with him, that there is a good metaphor for sin in that joke. See, the classic definition of sin is to be turned in on oneself, to think that ones internal power and ability is enough. The story of the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden is a great example. They were not satisfied by simply being human; they wanted to be God, which they were incapable of doing. They denied there humanity, their dependence on God. Turning in on themselves they were separated from God.

The balance to Adam and Eve is our Lord Jesus Christ, who though he had every right and the power to be God, denied his divinity and became fully human. He embraced his humanity to show us that human was all we needed to be in order to be members of the free Kingdom of God, free collaborators in the transformation of the world.

Here’s another snake joke for you:

An old snake goes to see his Doctor.
"Doc, I need something for my eyes, I can't see very well these days."
The Doc fixes him up with a pair of glasses and tells him to return in 2 weeks. The snake comes back in 2 weeks and tells the doctor he's very depressed.
Doc says, "What's the problem? Didn't the glasses help you?"
"The glasses are fine doc, but I just discovered I've been living with a water hose the past 2 years!"
http://www.emmitsburg.net/humor/archives/clean/clean_6.htm

Again, my colleague points out a metaphor. Once we were dead in sin but now we are alive in Christ? When we tried to live life through ourselves instead of Christ, we were blind. We could not see the world as it is, nor as it ought to be. We could not see the true nature of the powers that be that work through violence in our world, nor could we see how to resist these forces non-violently.

However, when we live in Christ, as Paul points out this week, we are alive and can see. Accepting our humanity just as Christ did, acknowledging that we are not God; for God alone is God is the first step on the path to freedom. Then accepting Christ as Lord is the next step. By denying the violent "powers that be" dominion over us--by pledging our allegiance to the non-violent path of Christ--we are freed to love God, our neighbors, and our selves because, as the Apostle writes, “we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” We called to be collaborators with God in the healing of the world.

One last and certainly least joke, with a wink & a nod to ol' St. Patrick:
Q: Why did St. Patrick drive the snakes out of Ireland?
A: He couldn't afford plane fare.
http://www.basicjokes.com/djoke.php?id=1507


That joke, while lame, hinges upon how we perceive the word drive. Similarly, when we say we believe in the Jesus, we need to be clear about what we mean by the world believe. For instance, I believe that lung transplants work, but I’m not lying down on the table for one. When we say we believe in Jesus, we aren’t assenting to a mental proposition. We aren’t just saying we believe Jesus lived, died, and was raised from the dead. We are buying in with whole selves, committing every ounce of our being over to God’s project, God’s passion to transform the world. We are sacrificing ourselves from our desires and ambitions, our fears and faults, to be collaborators with God in the mission to heal the world.

Now it may seem that we are not worthy of this love of God, this call to be God’s partners. Be that as it may, I know we have what God wants. The Gospel today says “Whosoever” believes in Jesus. Whosoever. That means any body; that means everybody. We, the human race, are called into relationship with God. We were created to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, and we always have our heart, mind, and soul to give to God.

It does not matter whether we golf with Donald Trump and Warren Buffet, or we clean gutters at a municipal course. It does not matter if we are world class athletes like NCAA Basketball players or if, we don’t what the 2-3 zone is. It does not matter if we are a Rhodes Scholars or a scraped by with a GED. It does not matter if we are one of the beautiful people or if no one will ever remember our face. Tall or short, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, smart or dumb, gay or straight, leader or follower, it does not matter. God simply loves you and wants you to love God with all that you are. What you have been given is what you are to give. For God so loved the world that God gave his only Son, so that whosoever believes in him will have eternal life.

Won’t you join with God today, and share this love with the world?

Won’t you join with God today, and help put the pieces of this broken creation back together?

My brothers and sisters, won’t you join with God today and strive for Justice and respect the dignity of every human being?

Won’t you walk this aisle and come to God’s Holy table?

Won’t you surrender all to Jesus?

My brothers and sisters, come to this altar. Bring all that you are and receive the body and blood of Christ. Then go. Then go and do not be what the world thinks you ought to be; rather be what you already are, the Body and Blood of Christ broken and shed for the world, collaborators in God’s passion, and active agents of God’s peace.

Come!

Love God!

Love the World!

Amen!



This sermon is also posted on the website of the Church of the Resurrection.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Art/Music

Web Meditation 19 March 2009

Today we will deal with an obvious and allusive topic. The arts, especially music, are ways that we love God with all our soul. It is obvious because we sing in church. Consequently, massive amounts of music have been, are, and will be composed for worship. Add to that the visual arts used in stained-glass windows, church architecture, and icons along with the rhetorical art of preaching, and it is obvious that the arts are often practiced to love God with all our soul.

It is allusive because we rarely articulate how it works. The arts work because they are inherently holistic. There is rarely a piece of art, even a minimalist piece of art that does not use some sort of synthesis of ideas or expressions. There is usually some sort of combining of elements to express a deeper meaning. Using congregational singing as an example, text, rhythm, melody and harmony are combined to express theology. (Theology here meaning words about God.) This concinnity engrains these deeper truths well within us. I have sat with people with late stage dementia or Alzheimer’s that can’t even remember their own name but can remember the hymns they sung as kids in church.

Furthermore, really good art mimics the deep structures of creation. My music composition instructor in college, Dr. Michael Linton, has shown how some of the structures in J.S. Bach’s music are the same mathematical patterns observed in nature. Now Bach did not consciously mimic these patterns; rather he was intuitively in tune with creation and so these patterns emerged in his music.

That last paragraph is a feeble attempt at reducing a large amount of art theory into a short statement. However, when we connect with a really great piece of art, like J.S. Bach’s Passion of St. Matthew, or a Jackson Pollock painting, a primal creative chord is struck deep within us. Creation is the first act of God recorded in scripture; therefore creativity is a characteristic of God. Therefore when our creativity is struck, excited, or energized we are resonating with a characteristic of God. We are brought closer in relationship with God, deeper in love.

Today’s assignment:
Close your eyes and listen deeply to a great piece of music!
Some suggestions; Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Bobby Mcferrin’s Circlesongs, anything by Louis Armstrong or Miles Davis, Webern’s Passacaglia No. 1, Verdi’s Requiem, or Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, and last only because I could keep going all day, Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 especially the fourth movement.

If you are more of a visual person I highly recommend the paintings of Jackson Pollock, or even better, take a blank sheet of paper and color. Do not try to replicate anything, just relax you mind and hands express with a variety of colors.




This meditation is also posted on the website of the Chruch of the Resurrection.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Worship

Web Meditation 18th March 2009

We are returning to our series of devotions on loving God with all our heart, mind, and, soul. Last time we talked about loving God with all our soul through prayer. Today we look at loving God with all our soul through worship. There has been a parallel series of devotions written by myself and vestry members of the Church of the Resurrection on why we go to church, which has a lot to do with worship. The primary action we undertake whenever we are gathered is worship.

Now, in this day and age, worship could easily be seen as a noun, an object that we witness like a play or a movie. However, I believe, worship is a verb. It is something we do. We do things that engage the whole self in worship. We stand, we kneel, we pray, and we sing. All these actions require our active participation in the service. There is an old joke about Episcopal worship services including "pew aerobics" because we stand, sit, and kneel at different times of the service. Indeed, like most good jokes there is some truth to it. Worship is a bit like a spiritual workout, action engaging the whole self in the adoration, praise, and supplication of God in order to grow closer to God and our neighbors.

Now after any good workout it is important to replenish the nutrients expended during the workout. The same goes for worship. We receive communion, a.k.a. the Lord's Supper, at every service to be sustained in our faith. The body and blood of Christ as bread and wine is spiritual sustenance, spiritual food given to us so that we can go out into the world once again as the body of Christ to serve God through serving our neighbors.

If you haven't been to a worship service lately, consider this an open invitation. You are always welcome at the Church of the Resurrection. If you are a regular attendee, please consider sharing the experience with your friends and neighbors. The welcome of God through our congregation is Good News indeed, and we should share it far and wide.



This meditation is also posted on the website of the Church of the Resurrection.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I'm sorry!

Web Meditation 17 March 2009

I guess I should write something about St. Patrick since it is St. Patrick's day. However, since most celebrations of today's feast in the U.S. have very little to do with St. Patrick, and a whole lot to do with binge drinking with a tip of the hat to Irish pride, I'm not going to write about St. Patrick.

Instead, let's discuss the fact that I missed the last two days of posting meditations. I could make some excuse about Sunday being a busy day for me and Monday being my day off, but that would be lame. I simply forgot. I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me! Now, you might be thinking this is a rather small thing for me to be apologizing for. However, I have found that if I continually apologize for the small infractions I make, I am less likely to make those big honking mistakes that irrevocably destroy relationships. I guess it keeps me mindful of other people; so I am more conscious about what I'm doing and how that affects others.

I believe it works the same way with our relationship with God. If we ask God's forgiveness for the small things we do seemingly everyday, then we are paying more attention to that relationship. This mindfulness, being aware of God's presence, helps us live more attune with God.

Therefore, I'm sorry I missed two days of posting meditations. I made a commitment to you, and I let you down. I hope you'll forgive me.

Question for the day:
Which relationships in your life could use a little more mindful attention?



This meditation is also posted on the website of The Church of the Resurrection.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Aprayer attributed to St. Francis

Web Meditation 13 March 2009

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

Suggestion: Pray the prayer slowly, then ask yourself which word stands out for you. Sit with that word for a bit and let your mind run with all the meanings and ramifications it could hold for you. Then, after awhile, pray the prayer slowly again.




This meditation is posted as well on the website of the Church of the Resurrection.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Purification

Web Meditation 12 March 2009

I was in a Eucharist, yesterday, with fellow directors of young adult internship programs and other church leaders. The gospel passage was the story of Jesus purifying the temple, turning over the money changers tables and running off the animals. Instead of a sermon, the facilitator asked us to examine ourselves. She asked us what furniture needed thrown of the temple of our hearts?

Now, I do not like being purified anymore then the next guy. I do not like looking at my faults, and I definitely do not want to re-arrange the well organized furniture in my temple. I do not think my emotions on the subject are unique. None of us wants to feel bad about ourselves, and examining our hearts, confessing our sins, having our souls purified by God could make us feel full of shame. However, that was not the intention of the exercise, just like it is not the intention of lent to be demoralizing. Rather we go through our internal junk to make room for God in our hearts. This open space gives God room to remind us how much God loves us, to remind us that we are beloved.

So, I opened up to the question she asked us. I wondered what I needed to get rid of and once I realized it then I had to confess it. I, once again this lent, must let go of MY desire to find MY way and make MY name; so I can follow THE way and serve in THE name. It was important for me to confess this because that is an act of relinquishment. A non-confessed issue is a held one. A confessed problem is shared. It is no longer privately possessed by me once it is public knowledge.

Now, I don't think we have to stand up in church and specifically announce our darkest mistakes. But we do on a weekly basis make a public and communal confession. This public confession and public reception of God's absolution allows us to step out in the world again with God our hearts.

Question for the day:

What furniture in the temple of your heart needs tossed out?




This meditation is also posted on the website of the Church of the Resurrection.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Discernment

Web Meditation 11 March 2009

I have been at this 'think tank' for two days now, and it has gotten me thinking about discernment. Discernment is a hard word to define especially in lives of faith. When we really start asking the question, "What would you have me do, God," we begin a process that is always mysterious and often ambiguous. Indeed a foggy Scottish night can often feel more clear then discerning our paths.

The best way that I can describe discernment is being absolutely open to God with no expectations. Open because you must expose and give of yourself, must make every aspect of your being available for God to work with. Have no expectations because that is how we remove our fallen will and desire, and we can accept whatever God calls us to.

I'm not sure how well the preceding paragraph explains discernment, however the following prayer says it well:

I do not know what to ask you.
You alone know my real needs,
and you love me more
than I even know how to love.
Enable me to discern my true needs
which are hidden from me.
I ask for neither cross nor consolation;
I wait in patience for you.
My heart is open to you.
For your great mercy's sake,
come to me and help me.
Put your mark on me and heal me,
cast me down and raise me up.
Silently I adore your holy will
and your inscrutable ways.
I offer myself in sacrifice to you
and put all my trust in you.
I desire only to do your will.
Teach me how to pray
and pray in me, yourself.
Vasily Drosdov Philaret, c. 1780 - 1867

Question for today:
Will you be open to God?



This meditation is also posted on the website of the Church of the Resurrection.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Service

Web Meditation 10 March 2009

I’m at a ‘think tank’ for three days with other directors of Episcopal service internship programs like our Resurrection House. Along with the other directors, there are a couple of Bishops, some of the staff of Trinity Wall Street (which is the convener and host of the event) and national directors of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps and the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

Last night we did some dreaming around the idea of service in the hopes of discovering a definition of service that described our common purpose and intent with our programs. There were several common threads woven through our different stories. One of which was discovery. In several different ways people talked about discovering things about themselves, indeed even discovering themselves, through their experiences of intentional service.

It sparked in me a deeper insight into a truth I had been told before: when we serve God, we, paradoxically are freed. I think the Apostle Paul wrote about this, but several people told stories that boiled down to when they served others they were freed to be themselves. In my case it was learning that I didn’t have to have all the answers, indeed answers at all. For others it was learning what their spiritual gifts are and feeling empowered to use those gifts to build the kingdom. Still for others it was learning that they had a voice that could be raised for those that aren’t heard.

Jesus told his disciples, and still tells us today, that when we serve the least among us we are actually and literally serving him (Matt. 25:40). To look in the face of the poor is to stare into the face of Christ. But like the ancient tradition of Icons, it is really Christ seeing us, the true us minus the masks, barriers, and false identities we wear each and everyday.

There is energy that emerges from being seen for who we really are, creative energy that, I believe, can heal the world.

Questions for today:
Whom can you serve today?



This meditation is also posted on the website of the Church of the Resurrection.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Humility

Web Meditation 9 March 2009

I’m on an airplane flying to the East Coast for a “think tank” on young adult ministry through Episcopal service internships like our Resurrection House. I’m looking out the window at a see of clouds (the ground is completely obscured) with the sunrise casting bright crimson and golden bands across the horizon.

I can’t help but marvel, once again, at the revelation of God’s glory that is creation. It fascinates me how delicate the construction of our world is. If planet earth were a few degrees farther from or closer to the sun life could not exist here. Yet here we are.

At times like these, I can’t help but wallow in God’s grace. Our existence is solely because of God’s grace. We did nothing to deserve this wonder. We did not earn it, and we aren’t entitled to anything. It is by the will of God that we exist.

This wonder is very humbling for me. To fully realize the limits of my ability and to comprehend the extent to which it is God that provides my existence humbles me. I recognize that God is God and I am not. I believe there is much freedom in the surrender of humility. When we recognize the power of God, and surrender to that power we are free to be who God intended. We are free to simply be the loved creature of God we were made for, instead of trying to be god for which we are completely incapable of doing—not that we don’t try all the time. However, being humble is a path to letting God be God.

I don’t know if it is possible to decide to be humble. I think we can only open our eyes and hearts to the world around us. Yes there is strife and pain in the world, but there is also beauty and grace. When we see that beauty, when we reflect upon that grace we will be humbled. We will be able to let go. We will be aligned with the universe. And we will be truly free.

Question for today:
What in your life humbles you?



This meditation is also posted on the website of the Church of the Resurrection.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Lent II, 8 March 2009

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

May only God’s word be spoken, and may only God’s word be heard. Amen!

As I have mentioned before, I am the son of a retired Southern Baptist pastor. This means that I practically grew up at church socials, dinner on the grounds Sundays, Homecoming Sundays, and potluck and covered dish suppers held for the sake of having potluck and covered dish suppers. It’s no wonder I wound up here at the Church of the Resurrection.

Now, y’all can lay out a spread here. That is for sure. However, I’m not sure any congregation anywhere can rival the dessert tables laid out at the small southern rural churches of my youth. These tables would be bow-legged with desserts: pies and cakes, cookies and brownies, puddings and jello-molds, all to be topped with one of eight-or-so flavors of home made ice-cream present that day. Whole legions of dentists, doctors, and suppliers of diabetic supplies have made their livings off of Southern Church dessert tables.

My father would often approach the dessert table at one of these social events and loudly pronounce, “Get thee behind my Satan…and push!”

I can not read our Gospel for today and not think of my father making that boisterous pronouncement. Indeed, I believe there might even be an important lesson about the nature of temptation in my father’s exclamation. Indeed temptation is an experience familiar to all of us. Even Jesus Christ himself, as we heard last week, before he even preached a word he was tempted by the devil. Indeed, as a colleague of mine put it recently, orthodox Christianity staunchly insists that where there is temptation the devil, an incarnate evil being is at work.

Now noticing temptation, noticing the work of evil in the world seems like it would be an easy task. But our Gospel passage today reminds us of how difficult it can be to notice temptation. We tend to imagine the devil as a hideous creature revolting in appearance. But today when Peter rebukes Jesus for speaking the truth, Peter is rebuked as Satan. Jesus has just revealed to the disciples what lies ahead for him, and truly what the cost of being his disciple will be for them as well. Peter pulls Jesus aside, and rebukes him. Presumably he tells Jesus, this isn’t the message we need to be saying if we want to keep our membership numbers up. This isn’t the mission statement we agreed upon during the strategic planning session. We need to lay off this suffering business and let people know when we going to kick Rome out of Palestine and usher in the return to the good old days of David’s kingdom. But that is not the path Jesus is on. That is the path of human design, human power, not God’s, not the heavenly path. Jesus is irrevocably pointed to and through the cross. He is steadfastly set on the course that will lead to his death and our salvation. But Peter can’t see it, and filled with the devil Peter tempts Jesus to turn from the path. Peter, the rock that the church would be built upon, the one who a few verses earlier is the first disciple to proclaim Jesus as the messiah, one of the closest disciples to Jesus, maybe even his best friend on earth, stands as an incarnation of evil, possessed by the devil and tempting Jesus away from the path to and through the cross.

Now, it would be easy if the devil was always the most repulsing figure in a room. Temptation would be easy to resist if that were the case. But what about when the devil is attractive; when the temptation is a cup cake not a rice cake. Then temptation becomes much more difficult to resist.

I think some of the strength the devil has upon us when we are presented with an attractive option is our intense grip on our lives. We think, and we are trained by our culture to think, that we are masters of our lives; that we can infinitely customize our experience and control our outcomes. From MYspace to MY yahoo to MY personalized weather updates on MY customized personal computing devices we are conditioned to believe that we can have our way right way. We are taught that we can have our life if we simply decide which color skin to put on our cell phone.
Jesus on the other hand teaches something much different. He teaches that the way to gain our life is to lose our life for his sake and the sake of the gospel. Now that sounds like a dramatic change to me. We already covered the Episcopal resistance to change last week, but let us not think that the urge to stay as we are is limited to Episcopalians, let us not for a moment think we have a corner on stubbornness. It is our very nature to hold on to ourselves to be resistant to lose our lives, our selves, regardless of what we might gain. Now, we all know that we have good stuff and bad stuff as part of our make up. We each possess parts of our character that are righteous and parts that are toxic; parts that are cupcakes and parts that are rice cakes. Jesus calls for our whole selves to be lost, the righteous and the unrighteous, known and unknown, physical, mental, and spiritual; we are to Surrender All to Jesus.

It might first occur that our sins, our brokenness, the rice cakes of our person are the easiest thing to lose to God, while the positive parts, our gifts and talents, are hard to let go. I would argue differently today. Many years ago I got my start in professional ministry as a camp counselor. It was then and there that I began to learn what talents and gifts I possessed. I also learned how rewarding it was to share those gifts and use them for the glory of God. I made some of the best memories, and best friends I will ever had working for God. Applying our talents to the glory of God fills us with a sense of purpose, and the rewards are often obvious.
No, it is our faults that the hardest to lose to God. They are hard to lose to God for at least two reasons. First, who are we without our faults? If we do not have our brokenness, if we don’t have our judgments to tell us who we are better than, if we don’t have our prejudices, our hatreds, our pettiness, our spitefulness, our jealousy and envy then who are we? Who ever would we be if were actually whole?
The other reason it is hard to lose our faults is that we have to look at them. It’s like the weight set in my basement. If I don’t look at it, then I don’t know how many workouts I’ve missed. To lose our faults we must recognize them, name them, and confess them. However, too often my brothers and sisters we stop with the mere lip service of naming our faults. We don’t do the hard work of letting them go.

We often gather around us people that affirm the lip service as enough. We call this gathering church. One of my life long friends says regarding church shopping that we pick our church based on our sins. The denomination or tradition that does not ask us to change the fault we like the most is the one we join. To paraphrase Barbara Brown Taylor we are quick to commiserate with others that share our sins, quick to say come hang out with us we have the same problems, but when it comes to the hard work of transformation, to accountability, we are not so quick to act. Twelve step programs teach us that the first step to transformation is admitting that we have a problem, but we should not forget that there are 11 steps that follow. There is more work to be done.

Now, my brothers and sisters, it is easy for me to tell you the first step is admittance. It is easy for me to say that we are all invited to God’s altar to confess our faults and offer our spiritual gifts. I expect that just like every other week when we make the invitation to communion that you’ll come. I expect that just like every other week you’ll bring you whole self to God’s table, your joy and pain, your passion and pleasure, your gifts and your struggles, your cupcakes and your rice cakes. But will we leave it all at the altar today? Will we not pick up our brokenness again and carry it back with us into the world? Will we surrender our suffering at the Lord’s Table today and walk away with only the body and blood of Christ so that we can go into the world and be the body and blood of Christ? Will we take up the cross this day and follow our Lord Jesus? Amen?

Friday, March 06, 2009

Prayer

Web Meditation 6 March 2009

Prayer

We are moving now to loving God with all our soul. Loving God with our souls has an inward and outward expression. Today's topic of prayer is mainly thought to be an inward action. Indeed mostly it is. The catechism of the Episcopal Church describes prayer as responding to God. Now that is a little different then what we commonly think of as prayer. The most common understanding of prayer is asking God to do something. But prayer is more than that. It is a two way communication. When we sit with God in prayer we open ourselves to God communicating with us as much as we are communicating with God. This is why silence has always been a part of Christian prayer practice.

Therefore if prayer is responding to God, one of the first actions of prayer is to acknowledge God's presence. One of my ministry gurus, a man who has taught me a whole lot named Lyle Griner, often tells the story of sitting down to eat lunch with a wizened old-time Christian. The old-timer looked at Lyle and said, "Are you ready to pray?" Lyle said yes. The old timer immediately ripped off his glasses, looked up, and gave a wink in the general direction of the heavens. Lyle describes this as the best prayer he has ever experienced. The man in his simple gesture acknowledged that God was present and part of their lunch. There is much to gained, I believe, to simply acknowledging God's presence in our everyday lives. Our work, our play, our rest, and our labor; they are all done in the presence of God. The more aware we are of God the better we are positioned to respond to God, to be prayerful all the time.

There is much more to say about prayer, but that's enough for right now. I hope you have a wonderful day where God's presence is obvious and we are humble enough to acknowledge it.




This meditation is also posted on the web page of the Church of the Resurrection.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Prayer by Thomas Merton

The well is feeling a little dry this morning; so instead of inflicting my tortured attempts at writing something profound upon you, I'll simply offer this prayer from Thomas Merton today:

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

- Thomas Merton, "Thoughts in Solitude"

Question for today:
Do you desire to please God?



This prayer is also posted on the website of the Church of the Resurrection

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Formation/Reflection

Web meditation 4 March 2009

Yesterday we discussed studying as a way to love God by learning about God. However, loving God with all of our mind is not just an intellectual field. Our minds control our bodies, and what we do and experience with our bodies effects our minds. That is why I place formation and reflection in the category loving God with all of our mind. You can think for formation as a broader more wholistic concept then education. Formation occurs often through experiences that teach us something about God. The experience of sitting with someone who is sick, of responding to them with compassion, can teach us about God's compassion. The experience of giving of our time, talent, and treasure can form us to not be owned by our time, talent, and treasure. The experience of helping the oppressed can form our thirst for justice.

Now experiencing things is only part of the process. Reflection, time taken to process mentally our experience, is necessary to help integrate our learning with our experience. It is when we take the time to recognize the connections, to associate references from our study of scripture and the teachings of the church with our experiences that we begin to be formed 'down deep in our bones'. That is how we get to the point where living the Christian life is as natural to us as breathing. That is how we love God with our entire mind.


Today's question isn't so much a question as an assignment:
Pay attention today. Allow your mind to notice the things you experience and notice what bible stories or church traditions they remind you of.



This meditation is also posted on the website of the Church of the Resurrection

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Study

Web Meditation 3 March 2009

I've been writing about how we go about loving God with all our heart, mind, and soul. Last week we reflected upon Hope, Compassion, and Forgiveness as characteristics of loving God with all our hearts. Now let us move to loving God with all our minds. I must confess, this is one of my favorite areas to talk about because I love to learn. But if we think for a moment, it shouldn't surprise us that learning about God is a way of loving God. Think about it, when you first met your spouse, partner, or significant something or other the first thing you did was get know them. You learned about them. At first it was simple information, where he or she is from, what they like to do for fun, where they work, their phone number, and so forth. As you progress in the relationship, your learning deepens. You begin to learn who they are as a person, their character, their dreams and hopes, their motivations and joys.

A similar process happens with God. One of the chief ways we learn of God is through the study of the Holy Scriptures. We begin by just getting the great stories in our heads. We gather information. As time moves on we start to get deeper into scripture and not just looking at the surface meaning of any one passage. We begin to see how the parts relate to each other, how the books are constructed to convey meaning. We hear sermons and participate in bible studies to learn from the community tasked with interpreting the bible. We call this community church. Soon we begin to learn about God through learning the traditions of the church as well.

Ultimately we want our purely intellectual study to be integrated with our emotions and our experience. We'll get into those the next few days.

Question for today:
What would you like to know more about in regards to scripture and/or the church?



This meditation is also posted on the website of the Church of the Resurrection.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is almost synonymous with Christianity. Indeed it holds a big place in our worship, since we make a corporate confession and absolution each week. But Jesus teaches that we will be forgiven as we forgive. That is to say we can only experience the forgiveness of God if we are willing to forgive other people ourselves. Baring out hearts from those that wrong us also bars our hearts from the love of God.

All that being said, forgiveness, I believe, is one of the hardest spiritual disciplines to practice. I remember a long time ago I was very angry. Some people had wronged my family and hurt my father especially deeply. I carried this anger with me for several years even after I had moved away and no longer had to deal with the people. Then on my birthday I walked a labyrinth (a special form of meditation) and while in prayer in the labyrinth God began to work on me. God taught me that the weight I was carrying was only harming me and those around me. It was doing nothing to the people that had hurt my father. It was like God simply asked me, "wouldn't you like to put this weight down?" I forgave those people that day. Now, this doesn't excuse their actions. They were wrong. Forgiveness isn't about excusing. Indeed forgiveness has nothing to do with the wrong doer. Forgiveness is about the person wronged not carrying the wrong anymore. Its about letting the pain go so that there is space for love and joy again. It about letting the suffering go so that there is space for God to love us.

Forgiveness is not easy, by any means. The story I told above is a golf shot. It is indeed much easier to hold on to anger and hurtfulness. However, it is something to practice, as Jesus said, so that we can be open to God's love. It is another way that we love God with all our heart.

Question for the day:
Who do you need to forgive?





This meditation is also posted on the website of the Church of the Resurrection.