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.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Compassion

Web Meditation 1 March 2009



Compassion

Is a word that is tossed about a lot, but is often misunderstood. It is made of two parts: passion, and the prefix "com". Passion actually means to suffer, hence when we talk of the passion of Jesus Christ we are talking about his suffering and death. The prefix "com" means "with". Therefore compassion means to suffer with. If we say we have compassion for someone we are saying that we suffer with them. I believe compassion is another way that we love God with all our heart. Jesus, God incarnate, suffered with us and died. To suffer with someone is to do a similar action to God's supreme sacrifice.

It is not necessary to physically suffer with someone to feel compassion for them. Rather compassion is a lot like empathy where we connect emotionally and deeply with someone's feelings. To practice compassion, I believe we must start with listening. Usually when we are listening to someone we are thinking about what we are going to say next not deeply hearing what they have to say. But to practice compassion we have to forget ourselves and truly hear what another person has to say. When we are able to do this, our connection is deepened, our compassion is strengthened, our relationships are improved. I believe ultimately we are connected deeper to God when we are compassionate because we are emulating one of the characteristics of God.

Question for today:

Who can you practice listening to better, and consequently be more compassionate with?




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