October 31, 2006

the saints are coming

Many thanks to Bob Carlton over at The Corner for pointing out that this video was on YouTube. For those of you who were at the VTS Convocation Service of 2005, you'll note that I do not agree that had we elected John Kerry Hurricane Katrina would have been avoided, nor do I assume that the Democrats would have delt with the situation perfectly, but I will agree that the response by the Federal Government was (and still is) woefully lacking. The video below gives a glimpse of a perfect world, where we are fully prepared for all that God's Creation can throw our way.

I wonder if anyone else has thoughts on this in light of All Saint's Day and having a year removed from the pain, anger, and politco-spin.

a teaching moment

I've spent a good part of my spiritual journey looking at how God uses the mistakes we make. A friend with whom I taught Sunday School many years ago put it this way, "We are like clay pots. Each time we make a mistake, or get dropped, a new crack is formed. Yet the light of God lives within us, shining through the cracks of our mistakes to show His light to the world." Seems an apt analogy as millions of pumpkins will allow light to shine through their cracks tonight, but I digress.

Her view of the redemption of mistakes is one that has stuck with me through more than my fair share of goof-ups. And in the First Kings reading from Proper 27b has light shing through it as well. I'm probably reading too much into the text (or at least viewing it too literally), but it looks like Elijah runs into the wrong widow upon arrving at Zarephath.

The Lord commanded Elijah to go and live in Zarephath "for I have commanded a widow there to feed you." Having not looked at the Hebrew, it seems to be straightforward enough. God is calling Elijah to move having already called the widow to feed him. Elijah, not knowing which widow in Zarephath has recieved the call, calls out to the first one he sees.

"Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink," he says. I wonder if that was a litmus test for the widow. Because she agreed to get him water, Elijah assumed she was the widow called by God. "Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand," he shouts as she departs. In the words of my 12th grade English teacher, "we all know what happens when you spell assume backwards." [pause]

Anyway, in her response to Elijah it seems clear that this was, in fact, not the right widow. "As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug..." This doesn't sound like a woman called by God to feed Elijah, but alas God works through the mistake. Elijah speaks a word to her, a new call to a new widow to take care of Elijah.

Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth.

This new call will test the faith of both Elijah and the widow, but is a wonderful teaching moment for them both. Through Elijah's mistake God is given the opportunity to show both Elijah and the widow what He can do with meager means. A mircle happens over and over again for "many days" as the meal and oil never run out. Each day as they ate, they were able to give thanks to the LORD for the gift of daily bread, bread which should not exist, but for the mistake of Elijah.

October 30, 2006

i smell stewardship

One thing I'm sorry I haven't learned at seminary is what group put together the lectionary, and how decisions were made regarding what texts would be read when. It seems to me as though they knew that late fall was stewardship time and the readings for later propers should reflect that. Proper 27, Year B is no different. Elijah and the widow (a story that I had overlooked before - but will no doubt reflect upon this week), the once for all gift of Christ, and the widows mite, geeesh, these guys (I assume they were guys) were good.

But today I can't help but notice something not stewardship related. Instead I'm still thinking of the rules I wrote about on Friday and am awe struck by the words of Jesus in Mark 12.

Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.

After the consecration service of our new Diocesan, my wife went ape sh*t over the pomp and circumstance that necessarily goes along with a service of such historical significance. (I say necessarily only because I've been formed in a tradition of apostolic succession, Cassie feels differently). Her argument, which is an apt one, surrounds the focus on the individual, in this case the robing of a new bishop, when the church's one foundation, the church's one focus should be on the saving work of God through Jesus Christ. For her, the words of Jesus could just as easily be read, "beware of bishops, who like to walk around in funny hats and long robes, and to be greeting with respect because of thier purple shirts, and to have the best seats in the churches and places of honor at all times! The money spent on their accutremont devours widows' houses and for the sake of appearance they read prayers from a book. They will recieve teh greater condemnation."

As an anti-oxford, anti-cambridge evanglical episcopalian I can certainly see her point. These things we do; from processions to mitres, are exactly that, things we do. It seems to me they are inherently neutral; neither good nor evil themselves, but it is in their use that they gain an identity. If a bishop is using the material particularities of his or her position to "lord it over" those not of that order the office of bishop with all of its material components is then one that is evil. If instead a bishop uses her or his office to the glory of God then the office with all its purple, pomp, and circumstance is one that is good.

The scribes themselves were not bad people, they were just caught up in their role. They lived a lifestyle that focused attention on themselves and not on the LORD. So too it can be with bishops (and priests and deacons and laity). Our job, instead of worrying about titles and such, is to make pure the intentions of our heart, so that we might come before the Lord our God blameless and seeking only His glory. Otherwise, prepare the condemnation.

Image from the archbishop of canterbury website, http://www.anglicancommunion.org, a press release

October 27, 2006

what's the deal with all these rules anyway?

So if through Jesus Christ we are left with only two Commandments, and if through Jesus Christ the law of death was removed so that we are saved by grace through faith, then what is the deal with all these rules? There has to be a reason why Deuteronomy and Leviticus have been made a part of the canon (official Bible). There has to be a reason why Paul, hater of the law, creates rules for the churches in crisis to which he writes. What is the deal with all these rules?

Now this is the commandment--the statutes and the ordinances--that the LORD your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, so that you and your children and your children's children, may fear the LORD your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long.

From Deuteronomy 6 (Proper 26b) we get two answers to this age-old question about rules. First, the rules exist so that all might fear the LORD. Much has been written regarding the right understanding of "fear the LORD", suffice it to say that a fear of the LORD is a right understanding of the one who is entirely other. God is so different from us, all loving, all knowing, Trinity, etc. that to understand God is to misunderstand God. So, we are left with only an understanding of the ambiguity of God, and ambiguity makes humans uncomfortable. To fear the LORD is to allow for the uncomfortableness of God in our lives. The rules result in fear of the LORD in that they point us to what is important to God - ultimately the second reason for rules - "so that our days might be long."

God loves his Creation. God loves the earth, the stars, plants, and animals. God loves humans too. God did not intend for humans to taste death, we did that to ourselves. So, with that in mind, God gave us rules to prolong as long as possible the inevitablity of death. At the second coming, with the creation of a new heaven and a new earth, rules will no longer be necessary, for we will once again be restored to a life without death, but for now, in order that we might live long in the land, long in God's Creation, we are given the rules.

Still, I struggle with the rules, espeically with how they were redeemed through Jesus Christ, and how some were specific to Churches in crisis. My church, the Episcopal Church, is dealing with these struggles in spades. What does God say about homosexuality? What does God say about the ordination of women? What does Jesus mean by love your neighbor as yourself? All of these questions lead us to interpretation. And since the enlightenment we trusted our interpretation to reveal the Truth of God's Word. Today, we aren't so sure we can find that Truth, but maybe, if we're lucky we might find a piece of it. Is my piece of truth a rule which are all to follow? Or, rather is it the first half of a sentance of God? See, I've talked myself back into a corner again.

What is the deal with all these rules anyway?

October 26, 2006

you are not far from the kingdom of God

I get my scribes, Saducees, and Pharisees mixed up, but it seems to me they all had one thing in common; they focused too much on doing the right liturgy and having the law memorized and they missed everything else their faith called them to. So it is so amazing to me that this Saducee in Mark 12 (Proper 26b) seems to get it all right, down to his last words to Jesus, "this is much more important that all whoe burnt offereings and sacrfices."

When asked by this man "Which commandemnt is the first of all" Jesus didn't run to the 10 (or 11 depending) commandments of Exodus. Instead he recalled for those around him the words of Moses on the edge of the Promised Land, "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." Within this one commandment, this Great Commandment, is a whole set of doctrine that defined for the Israelites, and still us today, what God really wants.

Hear, O Israel - Israel is the name given to Jacob after he wrestled all night with the god-man at the river. Israel came to be the name of Jacob-Israel's tribe, his family, his nation. To be called the People Isreal is to be called a people unafraid to wrestle with God. Although, here they are called to "hear" they are forever expected to come back to God with the hard questions.

The Lord our God - to claim the Lord as "our God" is to understand God's deepest desire; to be in relationship with His creation. The Lord our God is the direct correlation to we, God's people. We are called, each by name, to be in relationship with the Lord so that he might be our God.

the Lord is one - monotheistic religion is a radically new concept at the time of the Exodus. For this group of ragtag people to cast of the majority belief of the rest of the ancient world is, in fact, quite a statement. The Lord is one is the basis of the Nicean concept of Trinity (of one being, begotten not made, proceding from the Father...). To worship one God, to recognize only one God is to make a giant statement about the nature of that God.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. - this is not a little expectation on the part of God. To love God with all heart, soul, mind, and strength is not an easy endeavor, but to know that God loves you before, in fact whether or not, you love him back makes it all the more easy. Note that this Great Commandment, when uttered by Moses, is after God has saved his people from bondage. It is as they prepare to enter the land promised to them by God. God didn't wait for Israel to love God to save them, but rather saved them, loved them, from before.

These imdedded statements of doctrine are not, by anymeans, the exclusive understanding of our relationship with God. They are however, the beginning of an understanding that right liturgy and memorized law are not the way to meet God. It is rather in the act of naming God and loving God that relationship begins. It is this relationship that Jesus spoke about when he told the Saducee, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."

Of course the other half of the kingdom lies in the second commandment. See my friend Peter's post on loving your neighbor as yourself for some great insights (and some good sarcasm).

October 24, 2006

it is more than the law...

For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

I am in no way insinuating that I consider myself a "high priest", but I am, at least, on the road to the priesthood. In the olden days it was the law that appointed priests, now it is the Holy Spirit which that calls us to the priesthood. Be it the law or the Holy Spirit doing the calling, it is still human "who are subject to weakness" being called.

As I write this I am painfully aware of my own weakness. Its the end of the quarter, and I've handed in my paper for Church History and my Student Body Report for the Board. I'm tired. I've done work in the evening for the first time in over a year, and it really took its toll on me. I'm about to begin a class session at Wesley which I HATE!!!! HATE HATE HATE!!! (sorry).

Anyway, its the weakness part of this letter to the Hebrews that I'm relating to today. And its in much excitement that I look at the Son, "who has been made perfect forever" offering intercession for me, for my sin, for my weaknesses.

October 23, 2006

The Shema

Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone

שמצ ישראל יהוה אלהינך יהוה אחד

This poor approximation (my first attempt at Hebrew unicode) is the Shema (שמצ) of Isreal, the words bound on their hands and on their doorposts. The key to understanding the relationship between God and his people. Hear O Israel, The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.

It is a reprise of this ancient saying that Jesus gives as the Great Commandment. This statement of fact, that the LORD is God and that the LORD is one is the key to understanding the New Covenant - between God and man through the godman, Jesus of Nazareth.

Whether Jew of Christian the entreaty of Moses remains for us both, "Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."

October 19, 2006

what do you want me to do for you?

Wouldn't it be nice to hear those words coming from the mouth of God? As the end of the first quarter looms less than a week away I'm realizing all the things I need to do; my church history paper, my board of trustees report, a trip to harrisburg for the consecration of our new diocesan bishop, my church history exam, my systematic theology paper, etc. Lots and lots of things to do and enough stress to keep them from getting done.

"What do you want me to do for you?" God has already done one thing, my systematic paper got pushed back by a week. I'd love it if God would go ahead and write the papers for me. But I know this is not what God has in mind when he asks questions like these.

"What do you want me to do for you?" God wants me to be reconciled; to him and to humanity. God wants me to be healed; from illness and from sin. God wants me to want these things. When God asks this question in the person of Jesus Christ he is saying, "What can I do for you to bring you into relationship with me?" Mearly in the answering of the question we succeed in the call. To answer, like Bartimaeus, "let me see again" is to say "I believe you can make me well." Believing in the power of God to restore health, to restore right relationships, to restore us to wholeness is to have faith. See, its not us asking "What can I do to have faith?" No, its Jesus asking us "What can I do for you, so that your faith my be restored?" If our hearts have been opened, we can answer this question. If our hearts remain hard, then we walk away still blind, still sick, still in broken relationships.

What do you want Jesus to do for you?

October 18, 2006

God and the future

What follows is a more theological rambling than usual. While I don't normally get comments on my writings, this is something I am struggling to comprehend, so please, if you have a thought, pass it along.
The LORD saw it, and it displeased him
that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no one,
and was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
The Isaiah reading for Proper 25b brought forth the above passage in light of a conversation I had with a friend at seminary just the other day. This friend was laughing at the fact that he was considered by some to be a heretic, but those who called him such couldn't figure out what exactly about his theology was heretical. He shared with me two points that ususally lead to contention; 1) God does not know the future and 2) God exists within time. As we were walking to class at the time we didn't have much opportunity to flesh out what he meant by those two things, but we at least began to discuss point one.

His assumption that God does not know the future goes as follows. The future is not a thing. God does not know things that do not exist,for example, my twin brother George, since I have no twin brother. Therefore God does not know the future. I got him to admit two points; 1) God knows all possibilities of the future based on the freewill actions and decisions of human beings and 2) God is a pretty good guesser of what action humankind will take as he is vey much in tune with the human condition (see the Incarnation).

The passage I pulled from Isaiah seems to give some credence to my friends position. God is displeased by his people upon seeing their actions - he is not displeased prior. God is appalled that he can find no one to intervene - God must seek someone, He does not already know who will intercede. This has interesting ramifications on God the Son being made incarnate, i.e. was it the plan from before time? did God the Son have another option? does God even know when God the Son will return?

As will all theological suppositions this carries a ton of unintended consequences. If you see any please let me know. Also, I hope to discuss more about God existing within/outside of time witht this friend, but I think that may be where we find him to be "heretical".

October 17, 2006

a different focus

This morning I couldn't help but notice how the story of blind Bartimaeus (25b) is almost the exact opposite story of the young rich man (23b). While the confident young man boasted of the laws he had kept since his youth, Bartimaeus calls only for mercy. While the young man wants to know what he can do to inherit eternal life, Bartimaeus knows only to call upon Jesus. While the young man goes away shocked and grieving, Bartimaeus regains his sight and follows Jesus.

How often have I had the focus of the young rich man. "Look at me! Look, I left a coushy job and came to seminary God. I'm a good person. What else can I do for you God?" It is in these times that I forget just who got me here. If it weren't for God's grace in the midst of my own poor discernment I would have never brought so low as to only know to call upon Jesus. I would have never met my wife. I would have never received my call.

How often have I had the focus of blind Bartimaeus. "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Not often enough I'm afraid. But, over the past two years the words of Bartimaeus have begun to invade my heart. The Jesus Prayer "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner" have sustained me in times of frustration, times of exhaustion, and times of spiritual dryness. How often have I had the focus of blind Bartimaues? Hopefully a little more every day.

October 16, 2006

like one who needs milk

I'm really resonating with the letter to the Hebrews today - but not the way the author intended, I'm sure. Diving into the readings for Proper 25b I'm really left feeling lost. This spiritual discipline is intended to create a life lived in the word, so that it exists so deeply within me that the word and my life cannot be torn apart. But today, today I feel like I can't find a place for these readings. Blindness and sin and evil and death pervade these texts so profoundly I can't seem to get past my own blindness.

And so, today I feel like those poor Christians to whom the letter to the Hebrews was written. By this time I ought to be a teacher, hell I'm in my third year of seminary, but today I need someone to teach me again the basic elements of the oracles of God. When I should be eating the solid food of Proper 25b, I am left nursing the milk set aside for the unskilled.

But maybe that's ok. Maybe we all have those days where we're just too tired or too stressed or too whatever to have the scales of humanity removed from our eyes. Maybe today I am called to take confidence in my salvation and trust that tomorrow (or some other day in the future) I will have my sight restored. "For God is not unust; he will not overlook your work..." So I keep at it. I'll try again tomorrow hoping to realize the full assurance of God's gift of sight.

October 13, 2006

what God requires

I'm fairly certain we used the wrong Gospel reading in small group this morning, but as is typical with those things, it worked out quite well. What we read, and ultimately did a sort of lectio divina of was Luke's version of the Transfiguration. In it, Peter, James, and John are brought to the mountain with Jesus for no apparent reason, but are able to see the Moses and Elijah, to see Jesus transfigured, and to hear the voice of God "since they stayed awake." What an awesome event for them, and all because they were able to stay awake.

Contrast that with Mark 10.35-45 (Proper 24b) where James and John are scheming to be the two chosen friends of Jesus; to sit at his right and left hands in glory. Jesus here requires of them much more than to stay awake, they are to drink the cup that he drinks and be baptized with the baptism he was baptized with. This is serious stuff. He's not talking about the threat of the rhinovirus in the cup or the chill they might get from being sprinkled with water; he is talking about his death; his crucifixion, quite possibly the most awful means of death known to man.

Still later, after the other 10 get angry at James and John for their conniving, Jesus has requirements of them. "Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all." Here Jesus is requiring that his disciples throw off any power they may seek in order to serve. It is in the service of others, Jesus says, that glory is achieved. It seems to me that he is talking not about the glory of these men, but rather the glory of God. It is in the service of others in the name of God that God is glorified.

So what then does God require of those who follow Jesus? Sometimes all we're called to do is stay awake. Other times we will be called to the service of others. And yes, even to this day, we might even be called to lay down our lives, to drink from the cup of Christ, in order to live out our faith. It seems as though God requires different things of different people at different times. I guess our job is that of discernment.

October 12, 2006

dc cohort event

we finally got word on the location for the october meeting of the dc emergent cohort. it'll be held at, gulp, wesley tholeogical seminary. You are invited to join them for dinner in their refectory from 5:30 'til 6:30 ($7.50) or just show up at the Kresge Building and follow signs for the 7 PM discussion with Diana Butler Bass on her new book, Christianity for the Rest of Us.

I'd recommend you come, it'll be good even though its at Wesley.

On another note, I won't be reflecting on the Lectionary today, I'm just too tired. Hope to see you here tomorrow.

October 11, 2006

the suffering servant

I am continually intruiged by (I, II, III, or Deutero - I can't remember) Isaiah's treatment of the suffering servant. In Year B Proper 24 we have a wonderful chunk of prophecy regarding this servant's deep suffering. Back in my more evangelical days I could tell you how many prophecies from Isaiah 53 Jesus fulfilled in his life, death, and resurrection, but alas that has gone the way of the Greek alphabet. What strikes me more these days is the richness of Isaiah's language and how vivid the suffering is in my mind. I think this is partly because of The Passion of the Christ, but even moreso it is having seen suffering first hand in the slums of San Jose, Costa Rica. The suffering described by Isaiah, the suffering experienced by Jesus is the same suffering lived out by the poor and oppressed in the world. So many are silent due to hunger, infirmity, and pain, while others are silent due to threat of jail, torture, or death.

What does it mean to be a Christian in this world of suffering? There must be more than telling those who suffer to "cheer up, Jesus suffered worse." There must be a way to help those who are silent, not by choice, to speak up and be heard. It just seems so hard, like there is so much to do, and I'm just one person. Though there again I'm reminded of the people I met in Costa Rica. Each person was just one person, but with vision, with faith, and with community they were doing great things.

October 10, 2006

an open letter to those fighting over human sexuality

To Whom it may concern:

Please read the first half of the Epistle for Proper 24 Year B.

Steven J. Pankey

Honestly, I was really struck by Hebrews 4.12ff.

The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

The word of God is living and active - yes, yes, a thousand times yes. The word of God comes to life every time it read, silently or aloud. The word of God is alive in the hearts of those who have heard it, directing the course of their actions.

BUT... The word of God is... sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit - the two-edged sword works for me in the current debate because I happen to think both "sides" are wrong. By "sides" here I mean the extremes (i.e. the loudest mouths). Ultimately it is the sin of pride that creates these sides - and it is only through confession that the church will be blessed to move forward. The two-edged sword of the word of God has, I think, struck both sides. Both sides are feeling the pain of this injury (be it self-inflicted or not) and it is this discomfort that leads to harsh speech and uncharitable responses.

We are all laid bare before the living Word, Jesus Christ. We know the choices we have made. We know that we have not lived a life worthy of the gospel. We know that we must render account. "The sting of death is sin" says St. Paul - here in the letter of Hebrews we begin to undertand that the sting of life is also sin.

October 9, 2006

the key to understanding mark

I took VTS's survey course on the New Testament during my first year at seminary. I had The Rev. Dr. John Yieh, one of the most passionate professors on our faculty, and was blown away every class by some insight he had gleaned over his years of ministry in China and the US as well as his in-depth research on the New Testament. We talked about so much in that class it is hard for me to remember a lot of it, but this morning as I read the Mark passage for Proper 24 (10.35-45) I was pleased to notice what Dr. Yieh calls the KEY PASSAGE for understanding Mark's Christology.

"For the Son of Man came not be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." I feel like Proper 24 of Year B could be called Ransom Theory Sunday. In all three readings (the suffering servant - Isaiah, the sinless high priest - Hebrews, and James & John at the right and left - Mark) atonement theory seems to be the focus of the text.

Especially clear in the KEY verse in Mark, the Ransom Theory roughly explained is that due to our sin, the devil holds us hostage. In return for us the devil wants something he has not gained the right to; a perfect and sinless person. In the death of Jesus Christ, God gives the devil this Ransom, however it is only long enough to get us back from the devil as eternal death is the result of sin and therefore a sinless person cannot die forever, but must rise again.

There are lots of implications within Ransom Theory that make me uneasy; inherent universalism/paternalism, God using trickery to gain us back, etc., but it is a good theory to know as one begins to work out their own theology of atonement.

What's more - I'm just excited I'm remembering stuff from classes - GOEs here I come.

October 6, 2006

on the collect

For the first time this week I have realized just how neatly the collect for Proper 23 Year B ties the readings (at least OT and Gospel) together. I've written this week about choices, choosing to seek the LORD and live, choosing to follow Jesus, and all the while I missed that the collect too is about choices.

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

If we earnestly pray this prayer we will be left in the position of making good choices. For if the grace of God truly precedes and follows us we have no right alternative but to do good works. It is out of God's grace that good works flow. Out of our gratefulness for the free gift of grace that we are motivated to act. Just as out of God's overwhelming love and communion within the Trinity led God to create, so too God's overwhelming love and communion outside, toward us,
leads us to do work, good works.

Having begun this week with the ugggggh of some rather rocky texts I must admit I'm excited now to be preaching on these passages. The grace of God which precedes and follows our every move motivates us to good works for the glory of God. I see my sermon percolating...

October 5, 2006

a strange reaction

The interaction between Jesus and his disciples always makes me laugh. For the most part, these 12 guys just don't get it. They don't get what Jesus is doing, yet they continue to follow along. In Mark's telling of the rich young man we see, yet again, an odd response from the 12.

Jesus has just watched an eager young man walk away from him saddened because the demands Jesus made were too much. Dismayed himself, Jesus responds, I'd like to think minus the exclamation points, "how hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God" and again "how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."

Now stop and think what some reactions might be. "Why is it so hard for the rich?" "This guy just liked his stuff too much, he's not indicative of all rich people." You know, something specific to the situation at hand. But no, not the disciples, "Then who can be saved?" they ask greatly astounded. "Holy crap! If the rich aren't gettin' in, ain't nobody gettin' in."

What is it about these guys that allows for non sequiters every time they speak? I don't know about you, but it makes me feel pretty good. The 12 who followed Jesus as disciples. Those who were very closest to him (replacing even his own family) continually miss the point. They just can't get it right. And what does Jesus do? He loves them. He continues to try and teach them. He gives them authority to heal and cast out demons. He keeps at them.

2000 years later it looks like Jesus' hard work with those guys really paid off. Yet the tradition of missing the point and asking the wrong question is one that continues throughout history. I wonder if that's why God decided to give us the gift of the Holy Spirit? Maybe in his relationships while on earth, God realized just how clueless we are and decided we needed some help - someone to love us, to teach us, to give us authority.

Either way, I'm grateful for this tenacious God who continuously seeks me out no matter how often I miss the point.

October 4, 2006

Next DC Emergent Cohort Event

A former professor of VTS, current author and always theologian, Diana Butler Bass will be joining the ragtag group of Christian misfits known as the DC Cohort on Monday, Oct 16 at a location still TBD. If you are interested in joining this dinner and conversation check out the link in the title and Email DC Cohort to get on the mailing list.

Seek the LORD and live

Sounds easy enough to me. The prophet Amos speaking to the people of Israel before the exile knows all the terrible things going on in this corrupt and unjust nation. Yet these people can still turn it around with one, seemingly simple action, seek the LORD.

The Hebrew Bible Prof over at Wesley told us last week that in the Psalms the technical term for worship of YHWH is to seek God's face. While she gave me no reason to believe her, it helps with my case here so I'll give her the benefit of the doubt.

To worship YHWH, to seek the LORD, is to strive for justice, for righteousness, for truth. And yet its even easier than that. To worship YHWH, to seek the LORD, is to help the poor, to refuse bribes, to seek good; in fact to LOVE good and HATE evil. To not do these things, to not worship YHWH, to not seek the Lord is to face total destruction. In the case of Israel it was to face the extinction of a culture and a people by way of the exile. For us today to not do these things is to choose hell, the ultimate and final place where we can be free from this loving God who judges. But beyond that, throughout all time to not choose these things is to tarnish the face of God - for it was YHWH who was looked down upon when His chosen people were destroyed and it is God who is looked down upon when disciples of Jesus Christ live as hypocrites in the world.

For God's sake (literally) and not for ours is why we should listen to Amos and "hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate" for it may be that YHWH; God the most gracious and merciful; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit "will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph."

October 3, 2006

let the seminarian preach

The readings for Proper 23 remind me of the way George Sherrill began his first sermon at his field ed site, "you know that if I'm standing in the pulpit Dan didn't want to preach these texts, so he thought to himself, 'we'll let the seminarian preach that Sunday.'"

Uggggh. What a weighty set of texts. Doom and gloom from Amos (with a dash of hope). Jesus and the young rich man in Mark (with a dash of Peter and persecutions). Rambling about Moses and Jesus in Hebrews (with a dash of confidence and pride). Uggggh. Maybe I'll preach on the Collect.

As I re-read the passages though I'm left with a question. How hard is it for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God? Easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle!?! What does that mean? [a side note - these musings are intended to be done before exegesis - so you'll have to excuse me for missing the point of the passage on occasion] Life is all about choices. We make choices everyday. Should I snooze one more time? What shirt should I wear? Where should I invest my money? Etc. It seems that here Jesus is giving us a choice. I must choose to use money in a way that is glorifying to God. I must choose to use the gifts God has given me for the kingdom of God. To choose anything is else to choose not to enter into the kingdom of God here on earth. To choose not to enter here is to choose to walk apart from God. For me it really isn't a choice at all. As a Christian it is a part of my character to do these things - to choose to walk with God. But if it is a choice. If I am left to my own devices - how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!

Still though, I know why I'm preaching for Proper 23 - "ick, nasty passages - let the seminarian preach" ;-)