Friday, February 27, 2009


Web meditation 27 Feb 2009

Hope has gotten a lot of press in the last year, from Pres. Barack Obama's book The Audacity of Hope to the ridicule of his understanding of hope by his opponents. Since the time of the Apostle Paul, Hope has been a Christian virtue, a characteristic that promotes our individual and joint well being. I believe hope is a characteristic that helps us love God with all our heart. For us Christians, I believe, hope springs from knowing that the way things are, are not the way things will always be. Furthermore we are hopeful because we know we are not alone in our darkest nor our bightest hour.

We are hopeful that the world as it is will not always be as it is because we believe the resurrected Jesus Christ to be the first born of a new creation called the kingdom of God. We are all able through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to be new creations as well. This new creation is not run on fear as our current world is; rather it is run on love, not on separation or individualism; rather on community. In the new creation we are in communion with God, communion with our neighbors, and in communion with nature. We are hopeful for this new creation because we know the great stories of the past and want to be a part of the great stories of now.

We are hopeful because we are not alone. This is one of the great messages of the cross. God incarnate, the divine one in human flesh, was willing to suffer and die. God is not separate from our suffering. God has experienced it too. To put it colloquially, God has been there and done that. Hope does not deny the suffering of the world. It is not Pollianna with rose colored glasses. If God incarnate wound up on a cross how we could we expect anything different. Hope is motivation to keep moving forward despite the pain and suffering common to life. Hope is knowing that God will be with us no matter what we do or what is done to us. Hope is a christian virtue.

Questions for today:
How would you define hope?
When do you and what makes you feel hopeful?

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

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ash Wednesday Sermon

"And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.”

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

I have always marveled at the irony of the scripture selections for Ash Wednesday. On this day when we begin our Lenten journey; when many mainline protestant and Roman Catholic Christians get serious about practicing their faith on a daily basis; on this day when we are marked with ashes on our foreheads for all the world to see; we have this Gospel reading: "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” And that is just the beginning. Jesus goes on to draw contrast between how some give alms, pray, and fast and how we should give alms, pray, and fast.

Jesus seems to be arguing that piety, the things we do to practice our faith, should be done in private. Indeed many in this day and age believe that our faith should be practiced in private. That living our faith is something we do in the privacy of our own homes and maybe a church, but it should be separated from our public life, kept away from our jobs and communities, where we shop, and what we buy. This attitude seems to be in line with what Jesus is teaching.

But yet, the church, the institution tasked with teaching and proclaiming good news, the institution that is supposed to teach us what to do to follow Jesus, invites us this day into a very public journey. We are invited to examine our selves, to critically take note of all the ways we are different from Christ today. Then we are to set about shedding those differences through our Lenten disciplines to come out at Easter more like Christ then we were on Ash Wednesday.

These Lenten disciplines get lived out in public. Whether we are giving up chocolate, alcohol, meat, or bagels; whether we are reading our Bibles every day, spending a half hour in prayer every morning, or pledging to not cuss while commuting, all these actions are done in public. They affect how we interact with people. Furthermore, if you have noticed around town, Omaha works differently during lent. Several of the Roman Catholic churches have fish every Friday night. The school systems still avoid Wednesday night for scheduling events because of Lenten and confirmation programs at churches. Even Taco Bell, I saw the other day, is advertising its Lenten menu. Lent is public. Yet Jesus seems to say that we shouldn’t practice our faith in public.

At least that what he seems to say at first glance, is we look closer to the reading we’ll notice that Jesus is speaking more about the spirit of our practice versus the venue. He warns against practicing faith in public so that one could better establish one’s self with others. He says don’t practice your faith in public in order to draw attention to yourself. Don’t do it to win friends and influence people; rather practice to build stores in heaven for where our treasure is, be it money or prestige, is where our heart will be.

A friend mine here in town, Chris Heuertz, is the executive director of the international mission organization Word Made Flesh based right here in Omaha. He recently published a book about the spiritual lessons he’s learned serving all over the world. Recently, I heard him speak about his book, and he talked specifically about fasting. He said when he was younger he fasted because that is what you did to show you were a serious Christian. Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee I don’t this and I don’t do that method of fasting. That is building stores on earth not in heaven. Chris what he has learned about fasting from both the scriptures and from living in some of the worst slums, ghettos, and barrios on the planet, is that you fast to make space in your life for others. To fast from eating does no good spiritually, if you do not help some else eat. To fast from shopping, does nothing to help you grow in Christ, if you do not clothe someone else. To fast from speeding does nothing for you unless you help safe guard other people on the road. To say, I will watch a half hour less tv every day and spend that time studying my bible doesn’t help unless you take the lessons learned from the word of God to create a more just world for all to live in.

That is why in our reading from Isaiah today we hear these words,

"Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?"
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

My Brothers and Sisters, I invite you to this holy journey of lent, not so that we can make ourselves better Christians, as if by our own power we could do such a thing. No, I invite you to this holy journey of lent so that with the help of God we can make a better world. “Won’t you come along and ride on that fantastic journey?” Amen!


Recently I read a book entitled, The Winners Manual, by the head football coach of THE Ohio State Buckeyes Jim Tressel. He is a coach who has won a lot of football games, yet he does not define success as winning games. He argues that success arrives when we know we have done all we can to fulfill our purpose. He goes on to talk about the relationship between our purpose and our goals. According to coach Tressel our purpose is who we are, our inner most being. It is not our jobs, our status, or our education, or even our possessions; rather our purpose is who we are at our deepest level. Goals are related to purpose in that our goals are the things we do to fullfil our purpose. Therefore purpose is being and goals are doing.

I believe that our purpose as Christians is given to us by Christ. In Luke 10:25-28, Jesus is confronted by a lawyer who asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus famously responds that he must love God with all his mind, with all his heart, and with all his soul, and his neighbor as himself. Of course, when Jesus speaks to someone in scripture he is speaking to us as well. Our purpose in life is to love God with heart, mind, and soul, and to love our neighbors as we love our selves. Our purpose is to love. Over the next few days I will write a little bit about different attitudes an areas of spiritual practice that we can set goals in order to love God, love ourselves, and our neighbors.

Question for today:
How would you define the word success?

This meditation is also posted on the website of the Church of the Resurrection in Omaha, NE.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday Meditation

Why do I go to Church?

A first glance this may seem like an odd question for a priest to answer. I am, what we in the business call, a paid believer. It's my job to go to church. However, this is not the reason I participate in the communal worship God, which is what a church service is. I worship God with groups of people gathered in praise because that is how I come in contact with the beyond. Now, I'm not talking about the psychic hotline here. I'm not saying I channel the spirits of the fallen during worship or any such nonsense. I'm saying that often in worship I and, I believe, all of us experience transcendent moments; connections to God that are beyond my ability to fully comprehend or explain. From this contact, I am re-aligned with my proper place in the universe. Simply put, I am reminded that God is God and I am not.

Now, you might be saying at this point that all this can be done in private devotions at home. What's the need to get to church on Sunday morning? First, actually going to church is important because I am reconnected with my fellow believers in worship. This common practice of praising God affirms within me my connections to my neighbors. Consequently, I am inspired to live more justly in all my relationships be they with my family, my neighborhood, city, state, and world. Furthermore, actually going to church is a lot like going to the gym. I can and do workout at home, but when I go to the gym and take an exercise class I work harder. Maybe I don't want to look weak in front of my wife, or maybe I just want to keep up with the guy next to me lifting twice as much weight as me. Either way working out in public does not allow me to slack off. Worshiping with other people provides a helpful discipline so that I can grow in my relationships with God and others.

Why do you go to church?

This Meditation can also be found on the website of the Church of the Resurrection in Omaha, NE.