December 31, 2007
There is a word from Paul with some serious teeth. I have spent most of Christmastide dealing with what it means that 1) God moved into the neighborhood and 2) the Incarnation makes God comprehensible. Paul deals with both nicely.
That God came to earth In Flesh and spent time here; considerable time here, means that all have access to God. God broke down the barriers that the religious establishment had set up by dwelling with us. He tore the curtain of the holy of holies and became a common man. Through Jesus Christ we have been given unprecedented access to God.
That we have access to God does not mean that the danger of holiness has been removed. Rather, to approach God, to claim our rightful access, means to approach God with boldness and confidence. We are bold to assume that God desires a relationship with us; God needs nothing from us. We must draw on confidence to come before God, sin and all, hopeful that he will not utterly destroy us.
The Incarnation is a messy thing. It makes simple theology necessarily systematic. What does it mean that God walked the earth In Flesh? What does it mean that regular people, sinful people, interacted with God one-on-one? What does it mean to be given access to God? What does it mean to be bold and full of confidence as we approach his countenance?
Major feasts always get me back in seminary mode. I want to write papers on this stuff. But my call is to preach it with boldness and confidence. Should be an interesting week of reflection.
I sorta joked with you at Christmas about how soft and cuddly God is for us when we picture the baby Jesus lying in a manger. If you recall, I noted that, for me, there is nothing wrong with having as our primary image of God, Jesus as a tiny infant. Luke’s Nativity story gives us a wonderful insight into the Incarnation. This morning, however, we get a whole different way to view the Incarnation; God becoming flesh. In 18 verses John takes us on a philosophical trek from Creation to Incarnation. Now, it would be really easy to get bogged down in the philosophical trek part of this. We could sit and ponder John’s use of words that would carry weight with both Greek scholars in Athens, Roman philosophers in Alexandria and Jewish minds in Jerusalem. Then we could have fun with it by bringing the concepts forward 2000 years and comparing John’s intentional use of language with postmodern philosophy’s in depth study of the impact a name has on an entity. I found a 218 page book on Amazon called Incarnate Word, Inscribed Flesh: John’s Prologue and the Postmodern. It would be such a delight if we were in a seminary classroom, but I feel y’all might run me out of Foley after a three hour lecture.
So instead, I propose we deal with the second task of John; taking his readers from Creation to Incarnation. We all know very well that God is hard to get our minds around. Be it the concept of God or the person to whom we offer prayer and praise, God is beyond our comprehension. Perhaps that is why John decides to begin this trip at the beginning, or more accurately before the beginning. John dives right into his account of the Good News of Jesus Christ by placing us with the Trinity before Creation. We get a glimpse into that difficult world called theology as we try to think about what it means that “In the beginning WAS the Word.” Not “In the beginning the Word began,” but “In the beginning WAS the Word.” John is letting us know that we are not dealing with something that was created, but rather the Creator. Before time and space and matter and life existed, before the beginning the Creator was. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; three-in-one; in perfect harmony with one another, are hanging out before the beginning.
John then proceeds to take us on the journey; the culmination of which comes in verse 14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” From the Trinity in perfect harmony to the Word spoken at Creation to the prophecy of John the Baptist all was pointing to one final event; the Word becoming Flesh. But not just the Word becoming Flesh for a minute or two to fix a couple of small issues with Creation. The Word became Flesh and made his dwelling among us. The Word became Flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and set his tent up alongside us.
There is the moment of grace for us. God dwelt among us. See 2000 years removed from Jesus walking on earth it is easy for us to miss how huge that is; that God walked among humans. But for Jew, Greek, and Roman alike this was more than huge; it was universe altering. For the Jew, Greek, and Roman the divine made their home in the Temple. Be it the Tabernacle the Jews carried in the wilderness or the Parthenon of Athena for the Greeks – the divine were considered too holy and thus too dangerous to be in the realm of normal human beings. It was the job of the priests and priestesses to interact with the divine. And so, for John’s audience the concept that God would make his tent alongside us is a major deviation from theology as usual.
This change that marks the beginning of John’s gospel is the crux of John’s theology. That the Word was made to be In Fleshed means that the light of God came into a world considered to be dark and the darkness could not overcome it. Though it may have looked like darkness won when the light of life was snuffed out upon the cross, John knows, and wants his readers and us to know, that the story does not end there. God making his tent alongside us means that holiness, while still dangerous, is not as dangerous as once thought. The divine has been made available to all. God In Flesh did not destroy Creation and Creation did not destroy God In Flesh. What wonderful news John has to share with his readers and still today with us – God; who from before time was; entered the world with grace and truth, to make us all children of God; not just Caesar, not just the priests and priestesses, not just the Pharisees, but everyone could come to be an heir of the light of life through The Word In Flesh.
The Prologue to John’s gospel is beautiful. It is poetry without rival, but like poetry, for me, it is scary. It is so deep with meaning and nuance that I fear constantly I am missing a huge chunk of what is being said. It is philosophy that spoke to the greatest minds of John’s time. It is so over-my-head that I know I am just scratching the surface of what John’s message was and is. Ultimately, however whether poetry or philosophy, the Prologue to John’s gospel is good news of great joy. Verse 18 sums it up for us best, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.”
He setup camp alongside us. He walked among us as a light to the world. And he made God known. He made God accessible to us all. He removed the barriers that humanity had set up and made the darkness bright. And, “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” Thanks be to God! Amen. Amen.
December 29, 2007
It is tough for me to slog through Advent. Singing Advent Carols instead of Christmas Carols. Waiting not just for Christmas, but for Jesus’ return to earth with power and great glory. Advent, is, no doubt, an important time of waiting, but for me, Christmas can’t come soon enough. And tonight, it is finally here. On the Eve of the Eve of Jesus’ Nativity at least part of our waiting is over. Jesus Christ is born this night, a Merry Christmas indeed.
Luke does a wonderful job of telling this story. We get a full detail of how it is that Joseph and his pregnant, virgin, bride-to-be, Mary, get from Nazareth to Bethlehem. We find them set up in a quaint Nativity scene, as if Luke knew that one day our knick-knack shelves would hold a display of his story. We see the baby Jesus, in perhaps his most famous role, a newborn infant, wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. This portrait of baby Jesus and the one 30 some years later, hanging on the cross, define, for most of us, our image of Jesus. And it is the first image, the one we celebrate this evening that is most assuredly preferable. It is a lot easier to picture Jesus lying silently in the manger. It feels a lot safer. It makes our God a lot more cuddly.
In the movie, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, we see, in popular culture, what this image of Jesus offers us.
As the Bobby family sits down to dinner, Ricky offers a prayer, “Dear Lord baby Jesus, or as our brothers to the south call you, Jesus, we thank you so much for this bountiful harvest of Dominos, KFC, and the always delicious Taco Bell… Dear Lord baby Jesus, we also want to thank you for my wife’s father, Chip, we hope that you can use your baby Jesus powers to heal him and his horrible leg… Dear tiny, infant Jesus…”
When challenged with the fact that Jesus did grow up, Ricky responds, “I like the Christmas Jesus best and I’m saying grace. When you say grace you can say it to grown-up Jesus, or teen-age Jesus, or bearded Jesus, whoever you want…” He folds his hands and bows his head, “Dear tiny Jesus, in your Golden Fleece diapers with your tiny balled up first…”
Again, Ricky is challenged, “He was a man, he had a beard!”
Ricky finishes his prayer, “Dear 8 pound 6 ounce, newborn infant Jesus, don’t even know a word yet, just a little infant, so cuddly, but still omnipotent. We just thank you for all the races I’ve won… thank you for all your power and your grace dear baby God, Amen.”
It is very strange to hear it out loud, but I think that this is often the way we pray. “Dear tiny infant Jesus” is a pleasant way to picture our God. And, you know, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that image of Jesus. It is part of what makes Christmas so special. God came to earth to put his creation back together not by appearing magically out of thin air, but through the natural means by which a human being comes it this world. God entered the world just as helpless as the rest of us. He arrived as “dear tiny infant Jesus”; fully God and fully human. But, unlike Ricky, we can’t stop there. God’s coming into the world was much larger than a Nativity scene on a knick-knack shelf.
Which brings me to the theological reason why I love Christmas; because it is the day that we celebrate what I believe to be the key to God’s restoring of relationship; the Incarnation. Incarnation is a fancy church word, and for that I’m sorry, but I’ll break it down. It is created by combining two Latin words. The first, y’all know well, “in” which means, well, in. The second is “carnis” which means flesh. In – Flesh. Theologically, it is the understanding that God became human in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The Incarnation means that God was one of us. It means that as Jesus experienced desires, temptations, frustrations, joys; all of the messiness of life as a human being it became a part of God – as Jesus experienced them, so too did God. Jesus being “in flesh” means that the gap between God and humanity was bridged; our relationship was restored. God, having now felt what it is like to be a human, to have will that is prone to messing up, knows more fully what it means when we come to him with all of our joys and all of our sorrows. God was “in flesh” on earth! This is the good news of Christmas; God was intervening radically to restore our relationship; not just as a helpless baby, but throughout the life of experiences of teenage Jesus and grown up bearded Jesus.
Not only does God experience what it is to be human, but we have a chance to see how God would have us live. The other side of the Incarnation coin is that God is made comprehensible by being “in flesh.” In the full life of Jesus we see a life lived fully in accordance with God’s will. From Jesus’ first cry as an infant to his final gasp for breath on the cross, we get in the life of Jesus a life lived in perfect harmony with God. And, to be honest, we see that it isn’t all that demanding. It begins with a life lived modeling tiny-infant-Jesus; looking up with wide-eyed awe at the splendor of God’s creation; recognizing our full dependence on him for all things. As we grow in faith, we become more like teenage Jesus, getting to know God through Worship and the Word. And then, as we mature, the model becomes grown-up-bearded Jesus. His life was one of service to the poor, outcast, sick, widowed, and orphaned. It was a life lived sharing the good news of God’s divine justice with the oppressed, the sad, and the lonely. It is a full life; from birth to death; a life lived from Sunday to Saturday – week after week after week.
The incarnation is all about God’s love for us overflowing. It is about God coming “in flesh” to show us how to live in response to that great love. As we gather this night to celebrate the Incarnation in the Nativity of tiny-infant Jesus we take that first step. Hopefully, it is the beginning of another year, growing in faith with this remembrance of Jesus’ birth. As we leave to our parties and to await Santa’s arrival, we enter the world refreshed and renewed; ready to live another year in the model of the life of God “in flesh”. We prepare ourselves for another try at living in full harmony with the will of God. But we go, not filled with our own abilities, but instead empowered by the Holy Spirit, glorifying and praising God for all that we have heard and seen; excited for what a life lived with Jesus has in store.
Thanks be to God for coming into the world as the newborn infant Jesus. Thanks be to God for his willingness to restore his creation by living as one of us. And thanks be to God for his perfect model of Kingdom living. May he fill us to overflowing for anther year of trying to live that life. Amen.
 From, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby¸2006. Written by Will Farrell and Adam McKay.
December 20, 2007
I’d like us to take a moment this morning to think back. It being Rose Sunday we are called on by the church to take a moment in the midst of the waiting season of Advent to rejoice. So let’s do that, let’s rejoice. Think for a moment of your greatest faith experience. Maybe it was a Happening. Perhaps you found the Lord at Camp Beckwith as a child. Many of you sat on the mountain top during a Cursillo Weekend. For me, it was a mission trip to rural North Carolina, my last official act as youth minister at St. Thomas in Lancaster. Whatever it is, find that place, and just for a moment try to remember what it felt like to be so close to God. [Silence]
The mountaintop experiences of faith might be the most fantastic experiences possible in this life. To be that close to God and to feel his love that strongly is unlike anything we can feel in the flesh. And it is but a foretaste of what life in the Kingdom of God will be like. Mary’s Magnificat is a perfect example of a human’s response to God’s grace pouring out in abundance. Mary’s hymn of praise has given words to many who were caught speechless by their experience of God. And though her song expresses great joy, we know the pain that she, as the mother of our Lord, will experience as she stands at the foot of the cross helpless against the Roman regime.
See the mountain tops are great. And given our druthers we’d all love to live there forever, but it doesn’t happen. Life goes on, retreats end, mission groups return home, real life begins again. And while we are left with the memory of that time, like Mary, we know that we cannot hold onto it forever. John the Baptist had his fair share of mountain top experiences, even from before he entered this world. We are told that he leapt for joy within his mother’s womb as Mary arrived for a visit. He was given special knowledge as he was called as a prophet of the Most High to make straight a pathway for God. And, in what is perhaps the greatest mountain top experience in Christian history, as he baptized Jesus he heard the voice of God and saw the dove descend upon God’s anointed one, the Messiah, Christ the Lord.
But even John was not immune to what happens as we return to real life. Today we find John physically in prison; a dark and nasty place. We find John also spiritually in a dark and nasty place. Prisons in first century Palestine were not the place to go for three square meals a day. There were no services in prison. Family and friends were the source of food, clothing, and of course gossip. John had been hearing all sorts of stories about Jesus, and it seems as though the combination of his continued imprisonment and the stories of Jesus’ ministry in the sticks have lead John to doubt he got it right. “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” John has moved deep into the valley. John had preached of a new world order. Things were going to be flipped upside down with the coming Messiah. The axe was at the base of the tree and furnace was plenty hot. God was going to enact his vengeance on those who did not follow his ways. And none of it was happening. Jesus wasn’t putting together an army to overthrow the Romans. He wasn’t seeking political clout by hanging out with the elite in Jerusalem. What Jesus did and what John expected were not matching up.
What about you? Is what God is doing matching up with what you expected him to? As you moved back into real life following those high points were you frustrated that the good feelings didn’t linger longer? Have you found it necessary to ask “Is this all?” Faith, even for all-stars like John the Baptist, isn’t perfect. There are times when holding onto faith is hard. There are times when we, like John, have to ask, “Did we get this right?”
And, praise God, he is just as willing to accept our questions as he is our adulation. Jesus doesn’t chastise John for being in a dark place. Instead, he answers with honesty and love John’s concerns. “Tell John what is going on here – the blind can see, the crippled can walk, the sick are healed, the deaf now hear, the dead are alive, and the poor are receiving good news!” John will have to make do as the rest of us; a second hand account of the miracles and the message of Jesus. He will have to hear from his disciples that Jesus is doing exactly what Jesus came to do, and it will have to be enough for him. In the midst of his doubt John will be confronted by the simple fact that Jesus is doing the work of God – even though it doesn’t look how John wants it to look.
We are confronted by the same simple fact – our hopes and dreams won’t define the kingdom of God. It will most likely look vastly different that what we expect to see. But it will be a place where God’s will is lived out at all times for eternity. Our mountain top experience will last forever one day, just have faith.
While Jesus doesn’t get upset with John’s question, he does finish his message with a kick in the butt, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” “Even with this comment, Jesus is being kind and compassionate with John. Jesus did not say, "Blessed is the one who never, ever has the slightest doubt about me!" Had he said something like that Jesus would have slammed John as well as anyone else who has ever harbored a doubt in the quiet recesses of his or her heart. But Jesus didn't chide John for having a hard time figuring everything out. Jesus did not deny that his ministry was surprisingly quiet even as it was happening in rather out-of-the-way locales.
The NIV translates Jesus' words in verse 6 as blessing the one "who does not fall away on account of me." Actually, the original word in the Greek is skandalizo, which means to be scandalized by Jesus. In Jesus' day a "scandal" was literally something you could trip over and so cause you to fall flat on your face. In order to enter God's kingdom you need to pass through Jesus. He is the door, the way, the gate that leads to life. So blessed are those who can pass through that door without tripping over the nature of Jesus' life and ministry. Blessed is anybody who can see Jesus for who he really is despite the fact that Jesus led no major political revolutions, made apparently no impact on the Caesar in his day. Blessed is anybody who can admit that Jesus really did get crossed out by the Romans while at the same time believing he is the resurrected Lord of life even yet today”
We see today John the Baptist as he stumbles, but he does not fall. He, like many others, has miss-judged what God’s will for a redeemed world would look like. He has to ask the question, but knows what the answer will be. “Yes, Jesus is the one who was to come. No, you need not look for another. See, he has done great signs; God is at work in him. Listen, he proclaims God’s love to those who society says God could never love; God is turning things upside down. It is more subtle that we had hoped. It will take a lot longer that we want, but it will happen, just keep the faith.”
As we wait this Advent season, the message remains the same. 2000 years later we are still waiting for it to be finished, for God’s will to reign supreme on earth as it does in heaven, but it will come, just hang on, just keep the faith. For now, remember those moments when you got a glimpse of it; the blind can see, the crippled can walk, the sick are healed, the deaf now hear, the dead are alive, and the poor are receiving good news, and rejoice that those moments will someday last forever. Amen.
December 18, 2007
But is it really good news of great joy when 95% of it is focused on how crappy we are as human beings? Is that why God came to walk among us? So that we could focus on how terrible we are and not on how wonderful God is? I dunno. I feel as though we need to make a shift. We need to repent, to turn, from our fascination with us and return our attention to God.
Maybe Christmas is a chance to do that. Maybe as we see God entering the world in the same way we all have, we can see the goodness of Creation. Maybe we can focus on the good news of great joy that God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son to live as one of us. Sure, he lived without sin, but he still lived as one of us. His birth was just as messy as ours. His childhood was full of dirt. His hands were rough from the hammer and chisel. He was God and he was human and it was good.
At Draughting Theology this week we are pondering "what does it mean that God came to earth?" So I guess that's on my mind. What does it mean that God was human for 33 years. It means that our bodies are not inherently evil. It means that we have the possibility of goodness within us. It means that things aren't as bad as we have been led to believe. For me, today, that's the good news of great joy. And thanks be to God for a word of encouragement.
December 14, 2007
None of those who have died here in the last six months were JBap's, but all had their role as a follower of Jesus Christ. Some were active in prison ministry, some played musical instruments to the glory of God, some gave richly of their time, talents, and treasure, some where devoted spouses, some were amazing parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. And they each have been offered a place of honor in the kingdom. They wait with us for the ushering in of the new creation, but for now dine alongside JBap at the heavenly banquet.
As we wait on this side of life patience can run thin. We miss our friends and family members who have gone on before. We wish Jesus would return already so we can stroll on the beach with them once again. Our loved ones wait as well, but I can't imagine patience running thin at that table; the make-your-own omelet station aside.
Anyway, waiting is on my mind today. Waiting here. Waiting there. Waiting.
December 12, 2007
He is in prison and is hearing all sorts of stories about what Jesus, the one he called the Messiah, the one he saw God descend upon, the one he heard from the mouth of God about, is doing. And he is not happy. The first verse could easily read, "When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he wondered what-the- is he up to?" Matthew, to his credit, has already answered the question. For the first time in his gospel he calls Jesus the Messiah, so we know that no matter the struggle JBap is facing, Jesus will be shown to be the anointed one of God.
I'm not sure why this surprised me, but it did. I guess I forget that God chose normal people back then the same way he does now. My faith is not perfect. I, from time to time, have wondered, is this really it? Am I on the right train? In fact if we were the least bit honest with ourselves and each other we have all wondered why David Koresh was a nutter and Jesus was the Son of God. So today I'm learning how real God's chosen ones are. Even the great bridge between the Old Covenant and the New had his doubts. And like us, all he had to go on was the word of someone else. He didn't hear Jesus teach. He didn't see the miracles. Somebody told him, second hand. No wonder we falter from time to time. Our "second hand source" is scantly second hand, almost 2000 years old, and has been corrupted by more bad translations that we care to think about. Thank God he doesn't call us to be without doubt; he just calls us to see, hear, and believe. I can do that... at least for today.
December 11, 2007
Our discussion today turned the narrative into a series of questions.
As we approach the coming of Christ at Christmas and prepare for his coming again, we are like JBap, wondering if we've got it right. And so we, from our virtual prisons, send out feelers, hoping that there might be some undeniable proof that Jesus is the Messiah.
Jesus responds with three questions.
What have you heard?
What have you seen?
What did you expect?
Have you heard God respond to your prayers? Have you heard the Good News? Does it make sense any other way?
Have you seen miracles? Have you met the face of Christ in another? Does the world look different with Jesus as your Lord?
Did you expect him to restore things right away? Do you reject him because he isn't pretty, because he calls you to service, because his message isn't only about your personal salvation? Do you expect him to do it all for you?
We bounced around how Western (and especially Mainline) Christians have given up seeing God at work and hearing his voice. We have so much other stuff to rely on; our jobs, our houses, our cars, our families, our friends, our networks, our churches, our secretaries, our physicians, our psychiatrist, and on and on, we don't need to see God at work becuase there are so many other things working for us. But in a place like the Sudan, where there is nothing but Christ crucified to rely on, well there the church looks like a first century church; healing, feeding, preaching, seeing God's hand at work in the world about them - miracles happening all the time.
So I guess there is a point to preach this Rose Sunday. Is there room in my life to see God at work? Is there silence enough to hear God's voice? And if not, what did I expect? Relying on all the world offers means I'm not relying on the one who created all things.
I am thankful to my friend for bringing this anniversary to my attention. Adam and his laugh joined the heavenly choir December 14, 2004. I am also grateful that my thinking about Adam led me to a blog post by a former employee of VTS who reflected on his death the day of. It is a great post and I share it with those who read this blog who knew Adam for their own remembrance. It is here.
December 10, 2007
Also, thank you for the prayers. I was recommended for ordiation by the Commission on Ministry, approved for ordination by the Bishop, and the Standing Committee concurred! God willing and the people consenting I will be ordained a priest sometime in late January. Thanks again!
December 5, 2007
Anyway, one of the things I did was assign purchase order numbers to track costs. For jobs that weren't big and/or not repeating - like installing an emergency generator for our Pastor, we gave out OSD purchase order numbers - One Shot Deal.
This week's reflections could be numbered 1OSD - cuz all I can do this week is going to be posted today. So on with 1OSD.
In our Lectionary group yesterday we had a very fruitful discussion around who JBap might be yelling at if he were on the bank of the Mississippi today. It is so easy to point at somebody else - like Matthew does - and say, "those fundamentalist evangelicals are the brood of vipers - so mired in their rules." But, we wondered, if we were to be real with ourselves for a minute how obvious are our own failings? Do we produce fruit? Are we willing to be refined by the fire? Do we bog ourselves down with useless things? Do we care about the poor, the widowed, the orphans? Can we afford to have outsiders in our church? It was a real call for me to re-evaluate my preconceived notions - a seemingly daily task anymore.
Along those same lines is the Romans reading. "Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." We particularly liked the version one of our group had that calls not for living in harmony and acceptance, but "to welcome one another as Christ welcomes us." Rowan Williams would be happy with that translation I think.
Anyway, Prophet Sunday seems to be calling us to repentance, as usual, but I think this particular year I am hearing a call to repent of the way in which I see the other and to welcome openly all who I encounter. Or as the Baptismal Covenant says, "seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself."
Thanks for the prayers and the patience with a OSD this week.
December 3, 2007
November 30, 2007
What does it mean to be ready for Jesus to return? Is that even possible? How can one be ready for the final and permanent in-breaking of the Kingdom of God? Seems like a lot to ask of those who are fumbling along as best we can in this thing called faith.
Yet, we can, in some ways, be prepared. We can do our best today to make this world as much like the next. We can take care of the poor, the widows, the orphans. We can wage peace with our enemies. We can be faithful to our God and our families. We can do the best at our work and our play for the glory of God. We can, in some ways, be prepared.
I've mentioned before the charge that Brian McLaren has given. He asserts that much of modern evangelicalism is based on the assumption that Jesus is coming back tonight. He takes the negative view of what that means; "nothing matters, cuz Jesus will fix it all (or in some camps Jesus will destroy it all)." So he calls us to live as if Jesus isn't coming back tonight. But I wonder if there isn't some benefit to living as if Jesus were coming back tonight. Wouldn't you want to be proud of the earth he came back to? Wouldn't you want Jesus, the one through whom all things were made, to find a healthy earth where the environment, the poor, and the outcast were being intentionally taken care of in His name? Maybe we can see a positive motivation in living as if Jesus were coming back tonight. Maybe it will help us to prepare ourselves and the rest of Creation for his return.
"You must be ready, for the Son of Man will come at an unexpected hour."
November 29, 2007
In my Young Life days it was made clear to me that when God looks at me he sees Jesus. So I guess that might be what its about, but still, I don't buy that either. Why wouldn't God want to see me? Sure I'm not great looking. Sure my sin makes me even harder to look at. And OK I spend most of my time with my back to God, but why, if God loves me, knit me in my mother's womb, knows the number of hairs on my head and had my name engraved on his hand, why would he see anything other than me when he glanced in my direction?
If I "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" does it mean that I am veiled by him? I'm not so sure it does. But if I am striving to be like him. If I am working to help bring the Kingdom to earth right now (if even for a moment) then maybe that is "putting on the Lord Jesus Christ." Not physically veiling myself in his image like Nick Cage and John Travolta in Face Off, but rather to put on his character; his Godly will.
And so then when God sees me I hope he doesn't see snow on a dung heap or only the phyical manifestation of Jesus, but me, messy as I am, trying to put on Christ as best I can.
November 28, 2007
Well, if one were to teach this week, I can see two great opportunties.
1- The lesson from Isaiah is almost perfect Zion theology. Check out Jon Levenson's Sinai & Zion for the details, but I love the image of people flowing up toward the mountain of God while instruction and holiness flow down. It is a great image for the spiritual journey. As we move up the mountain things get dicier and dicier, but the fruit is so much better up at the top.
2- The Gospel lesson, with its obvious applications in bumper stickers like this one:is a wonderful opportunity to teach about the end times not from a movie starring Kirk Cameron. See my above comment about the disservice of teaching in our churches and take a chance this week to open people's eyes to varying schools of thought on the various apocalyptic writings in the Old and New Testaments. Stephen Cook has a great book appropriately entitled The Apocalyptic Literature if you are in need of some help.
45 minutes is a long time to preach. It is a long time to lecture in a class room for that matter, but I firmly believe that people want to learn something AND be called to action in church. So why not maybe go a few minutes over 13.5 minutes and give them something to hold on to?
Photo from bumperart.com
November 27, 2007
Our time was mostly focused on the questions of the second coming. We are so preoccupied with the "when" question that Pastor Jay got us thinking about another one. "Where next?" And, if not here, then "why?" What are we doing to actively keep Jesus from being "really present" here and now?
Lot's of quotes, but I want to get the point across. See for the 5 of us in the room, all ordained ministers, Christ has come again with real power and real glory into our lives. Otherwise we wouldn't be where we are, but what do we have to say to those who haven't seen him come again. And how do we differentiate Christ's coming again now; Christ's kingdom breaking into the world around us from his coming again to judge the living and the dead?
3 other thoughts came out of our discussion.
1- Why did Jesus feel the need to address this issue? Why did Matthew record it? Because we all want to be swept off our feet. We have a deeply rooted need to be a part of something larger than ourselves. So, necessarily, we are all obsessed in one way or another with the end of days; the rapture; whatever you want to call it. We all have a piece of us that wonders what it will be like to be a part of Jesus' reign.
2- The thief comes to steal and Jesus is that thief. He comes when we are unprepared and rips our self-sufficiency away. He can rip the heart from our chest and leave us in tears. All so that we might be open to his saving love.
3- The most important action we can take is to be here, now. The past is past. The future is not our concern. All we can do is work to be more like Christ right now.
Good stuff today. Wish I was preaching this week, but after 4 straight weeks, the break is nice.
As I prayed over the story of the penitent robber I found myself mired in deep theology. I am afraid that I am not far enough removed from my seminary days to get out of my head and preach from my heart on major feast days like Christ the King. I had a stack of 30 pages of research at my disposal, just waiting for me to dive head first into a systematic study of what it means to say Jesus is King. And then, as God does to me often, He caused a set of synapse to fire and I recalled a blog post I read last week.
I am not far enough removed from my seminary days to forget some of the wonderful people I met there. One of my favorites, I nicknamed Fabs. She is in Qatar with her Foreign Service husband and their two year-old daughter. She wrote this post last Saturday entitled, “When one meets a member of the royal family”.
We were doing some research shopping at Toys R' Us this evening, right before we headed off to a McDonald's "So Loud, So Much Sugar, So Much Hype!" birthday party for a neighborhood kid. The research shopping was for Grandma and Grandpa since they are coming for Christmas.
Well, we moseyed through the Pepto-Bismol Pink baby doll section, complete with baby doll strollers, baby doll baths and potties, and baby doll beds. At every turn, Lil' Bug would say, "Ooooh!" The kid was in material heaven.
Then we made our way to the bigger ticket items: slides, play cars, trampolines, outdoor play houses, indoor kitchens complete with running water, working dishwasher, and wait staff. Okay, that last one wasn't totally true, but gosh, some of these play kitchens were really lovely. I sort of wanted to have one of my own.
Lil' Bug was having fun going in and out of the little houses, and got a real kick of out us squatting down and peeking in the windows at her and knocking on the door. Another little girl, about two years old, came over and starting looking in the windows too. I said hi to her, and then I noticed her family standing around, encouraging this little girl to greet Lil' Bug, give her a hug, and sing songs to her.
But I couldn't figure the family out at all. There were two guys, one more African-looking and the other who looked Arab, dressed in thaubes and kefiyahs (the traditional Qatari dress of long white robes and white head scarves). There was also a woman who I thought was Indian, and she was wearing a sari. Then there were two Filipino nannies, dressed in blue uniforms. Now, it's really normal to see a wealthy Qatari family out with their nanny. But still. I couldn't figure out how they were all related. I just assumed that the Indian woman was the little girl's mother, and that one of the Qatari guys was her father. Except a marriage like that would never happen here. And that didn't account for the African guy hanging around or why they needed two nannies.
Big D started engaging the non-African Qatari guys, talking to him in Arabic. He asked him, finally, point blank: "Is this girl your daughter?"
"No," he replied.
They continued to talk in Arabic, while the rest of us continued to play with the houses and dote on the girls. Then the man asked Big D where he worked, and when Big D told him that he worked for the American Embassy, the Qatari man loosened up a bit. That's when he told Big D that he was this girl's escort.
As it turns out, the little girl was royal. She lives in the palace here. I'm not sure where she is in the whole scheme of things "royalty-wise," but still.
This gang of folks that accompanied her on her trip to Toys R' Us was with her detail, complete with two bodyguards (the men); her personal doctor (the Indian woman); and at least two of her nannies. Wow. Not a parent in sight.
Now, I hadn't overheard a lick of the conversation that Big D had with the bodyguards, so I was still just playing along, singing with the two girls, helping them go in and out of the houses, and engaging the woman that I thought was her mother, praising the girl to her ("Isn't she sweet? So kind!" etc.).
As we walked out, Big D said to me, "Do you know who that was? She's an al-Thani (the royal family). She's royal."
Well, at least Toys R' Us could outfit us all with pink, bejeweled tiaras!
I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting royalty in Toys R Us or anywhere else for that matter. I’m not really sure how I’d respond. Knowing how dense I can be I’d probably be like my friend and have no clue, just go about my business as if nothing were different. For me, that is part of the oddity of Christ the King Sunday. I couldn’t spot royalty if it were sharing a play kitchen with me at Toys R Us. Also, I’m an American, and we still have a certain Revolutionary War understanding of royalty. Also, I’m an Episcopalian and I know that the first American Prayer book was a copy of the English 1662 with references to the royal family crossed out. Royalty is suspect at best in my world.
In the world in which Jesus was crucified however, royalty was something entirely different. Caesars were worshiped as the sons of god. Those who were offered a place in the government were a very elite group. Herod the Great, king of the Jews as Jesus was born, made his claim as the Messiah by rebuilding Solomon’s temple. Royalty and godliness walked hand in hand in first century Palestine. And so the inscription of the charge against Jesus as “King of the Jews” carried all sorts of weight; politically and spiritually.
The reactions to this royal figure hanging from a cross were mixed to say the least. The people, literally the people of God, stood and watched. Presumably they wondered what they had done; had they really missed the Chosen One of God? The rulers, those who had handed Jesus over to Pilate, made fun of him, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” The soldiers too poked fun at this supposed king with the same snide comments, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” Even one of the men hanged beside him is said to have “hurled insults at him.” Luke chose that word very carefully as it held a meaning as blasphemy, speaking against God directly. His insult seems to carry more weight. He has recognized Jesus not merely as a supposed king, but as King, capital K. His insults were aimed not at the man who hung on the cross but at the God who had sent him; the God whose Messiah Jesus was.
But then there was the other robber. He too in the direst of predicaments can see Jesus as more than the mocking charge that hung above his head. He sees Jesus as an actual king with all the political and spiritual power that goes along with it. Instead of insisting that Jesus save them all, he seeks compassion. “I deserve my fate,” he says, “but please, your royal majesty, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” To him alone Jesus responds, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise, literally the Royal Garden.”
Royalty is a funny thing. Members of royal families look just like you and me. There are those of us who wouldn’t know them from any other Toys R Us shopper. There are those of us who might recognize them, but only from tabloid fame, and then only to poke fun at their lavish lifestyles and apparent hypocrisy. And then there are those who are faithful followers; those who recognize royalty and bow before its presence. Like the penitent robber it is they who are remembered as faithful and who share in the rewards. As we celebrate Christ the King Sunday it is important to note how we respond to the royalty of Jesus. Do we approach him coldly; expecting him to save us like the first criminal? Or is our awe such that all we can hope for is remembrance; praying not expecting, hoping not coercing? How do you respond to Jesus as King? Amen.
Happy Thanksgiving now quit complaining. More comforting words from Jesus on this national day of giving thanks, eating too much, and football. It just seems so strange to have Jesus talking about worry, especially worrying about material things on Thanksgiving.
The more I ponder on it; however, I think that perhaps the guys who settled on this text for the lectionary actually had something. It seems to me that Jesus’ call to his disciples that they eliminate worry from their lives is essentially a call to a life of thankfulness. Maybe we can see in this section from the Sermon on the Mount that worry is the opposite of thanksgiving. To worry about life; food, drink, clothing, etcetera is to rely on ourselves. To rely on ourselves means that we are not relying on God. And not relying on God means we ignore the gifts that he has given us; life, breath, food, drink, relationships, even himself. We cannot be thankful for gifts which we ignore.
Jesus knew of the disciple’s tendency to rely on themselves. So he reminds them of the gifts that they so often ignored. He hammers it home with question after rhetorical question, kind of like the way a parent might make a point to a child. Is not life more than food and clothing? Yes. Does God feed the birds? Yes. So will God feed you? Yes. Can you add a year to your life by worrying about it? No. Did God clothe the lilies of the field? Yes. Will God clothe you? Yes. Do the pagans and unbelievers worry about food, drink and clothing? Yes. Does God know your needs for food, drink and clothing? Yes. If you seek the rule of God in your life, will God give you these things? Yes.
All this to get to the heart of Jesus’ lesson, Why do we insist on worrying about tomorrow? Why do we find it so difficult to be thankful for the moment we have right now; for the life we have this instant? In a video we shot for the ecumenical service we asked kids across our churches what they were thankful for. Family, friends, bedroom, etc. were named. We laughed as a couple of children said that they are thankful for running away and then darted off screen, but there was some wisdom even in their jokes, are we thankful for the ability to run away even as our knees start to ache with the changing weather? Are we thankful for children when they fuss around in the pews? Are we thankful for our families when they stay too long on Thanksgiving night? It is interesting to me how things that I was once thankful for as a child now seem like inconveniences.
As I thought about this sermon I found myself back in childhood at Vacation Bible School. We were singing that long standing VBS hymn, this is the day. “This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” I sat in that image for as long as I could, but only a few moments later I found myself back in the present. I was sitting in front of the TCBY at the Pensacola University Mall waiting for my new pair of glasses to be finished. I was tired from a week of travelling. I was frustrated that my glasses and suitcase had both broken on the trip. I was agitated at church requirements for ordination. I was not rejoicing and I was not glad. “When did it happen,” I wondered to myself, “when did I get ruined? When did I stop recognizing this day as a day that the Lord had made? When did I start trying to make my own days by filling them with frustration and worry?” That is when I realized that worrying and giving thanks have a lot in common; they are, in fact, the absence of one another. To worry is to ignore the gifts of the God from whom all blessings flow. To be thankful is to trust him completely for all things.
Now I need to be careful here. I am making a lot of assumptions about those to whom this message will be spoken. I am assuming that everyone’s worries about food and clothing are worries of taste like mine. I am assuming everyone knows where their Thanksgiving meal will come from. And I realize that the old adage remains true, to assume makes something out of you and me… suffice it to say it makes us all look bad. And so I must address the other side of the coin. The first half of this sermon has no doubt infuriated someone as I come at the text from the point of view of middle-class privilege. You see, this lesson from Jesus made sense to his original audience. The disciples had given up everything and so to worry unnecessarily was no doubt one of their favorite past-times. This lesson from Jesus continues to make sense to most of us in South Baldwin County as we live in relative comfort and worry only that our food will be pleasing and that our clothes will be in fashion. But, this lesson from Jesus seems to make no sense for the billions of people around the world for whom worry is not based in luxury, but starvation and exposure to the elements are actual life and death concerns. What does this text have to say to those who this day have not received their daily bread? What does this text have to say about their worries, one’s formed not out of luxury, but out of unjust systems and societies.
I think that Jesus should be able to say, “Do not worry,” even to the hungry and the naked. Jesus should be able to say that, but I fear that the way things are in the world today are still unbalanced much like they were as he walked the earth. I am afraid that Jesus wishes he could tell the hungry and the naked not to worry, but that he can not in good conscience do so. I am more afraid that I have a part in that. I have spent so much time worrying that I’ve overcooked my shrimp and that my shoes aren’t shiny and that my shirts are out of style that I have missed the opportunity of thanksgiving; the opportunity to stop looking in toward myself and instead to look up and out toward God; and to seek and serve Christ in every human being along the way. If each of us who can afford to stop worrying did so and instead looked at the world with an overflowing spirit of thanksgiving then maybe, just maybe Jesus could offer freedom from worry to the whole world. This Thanksgiving each of us has the chance to work with God to inaugurate his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven if only for a moment. By becoming more faithful stewards, by approaching life with thanksgiving for this moment rather than worry for the future we can be freed to offer the kingdom life to others. Just as we are called to share the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ with the world, so too we are called to share the God-given ability to not worry about food, drink, and clothing with the world around us; both the seemingly invisible poverty in South Baldwin County and the painfully obvious poverty of the third and fourth worlds. This is the day that the Lord has made. Rejoice, be glad in it, and then share your joy, your thanksgiving, and your refusal to worry with the rest of God’s creation. Amen.
 From http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_b_thanksgiving_GA.htm
November 21, 2007
God is so good to me. In spite of myself, or rather my-self-reliance, God shines a light in the darkness.
A Happy Thanksgiving to you all!
November 20, 2007
Power is an interesting thing. It must always be approached with a due sense of perspective. No matter how powerful a king, dictator, prime minister, or president makes him/herself out to be (or how much power we, the people, allow them to have/wield) there is still one more powerful than each of them and all of them combined. One who, when he returns, will be once and for all recognized as the Ruler of all things. One whose power is so great that he will choose when the time has come to return in power and great glory to restore all things to the Triune God.
I sorta like that approach to Christ the King Sunday. It takes some of the weirdness out of the king metaphor and gives it a more universal understanding. I also like that it makes people think about where they stand in a society AND who they give their fealty to. Lots to think about this week. And I have barely touched the Gospel lesson(s). Phew...
November 19, 2007
So as I approach preaching Christ the King Sunday I'm thinking about this language. I'm wondering if the image from Jeremiah isn't a better one. Even though shepherds are few and far between these days, they carry much less baggage with them. To think of Jesus as the shepherd of the shepherds is helpful to me. To see him as the restoring power in a world full of shepherds pulling flocks this way and that. I might work on some other images for Christ the King Sunday. Helpful in this task will be Brian McLaren's The Secret Message of Jesus in which he devote a chapter to postulate various metaphors for the kingdom of God.
November 16, 2007
“And after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God…” “At my vindication I shall see your face…” “God who gave us eternal comfort and good hope…” “He is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” “Make us children of God and heirs of eternal life…” It seems clear enough to me the theme we are supposed to see as we near the end of our adventure through Luke; I’m thinking the creators of the Lectionary wanted people to hear about hope this Sunday. It is just a guess. But, after a summer and most of the fall full of discipleship and faith in the here and now it seems to be time for us to turn our attention to the future. Jesus has entered Jerusalem for the last time but we won’t hear the end of that story for a while, instead our liturgical calendar is about to turn over to Advent, the time when we await not only Jesus’ coming on Christmas, but his coming again to usher in a new creation. The people who developed the lectionary have decided that we need to get ready for the future. On this Veteran’s Day it seems appropriate that we spend some time dealing with the supreme hope of the Christian faith; our hope in the resurrection.
Despite what we might think, the resurrection of the dead was not a settled issue within Judaism as Jesus walked the earth. We often think that because we have a Judaic lineage and we believe in the resurrection of the dead that it was what “the Jews believed.” But this is a mistake. The Jews were not a monolithic group of people; they were split into many schools of thought, not unlike our denominations in Christianity. One of those groups we learn about today. The Sadducees were the upper class of their day. They were the rulers and the priests; the learned who could read; they were the most comfortable with the way life was; the most excited to keep things the way they were. And so, they were very conservative in their theology; only recognizing the first five books of the Hebrew Bible as authoritative. In those five books they found no support for this relatively new fangled superstition of the resurrection of the dead; God’s final reversal of fortune; the ultimate putting of things to rights; so they refused to believe in it.
Their refusal to believe in the bodily resurrection of the dead earns them a lot of flack, but it seems to me to be somewhat justifiable. Certainly each of us has found some new idea hard to wrap our mind around; Christian history is full of debates between thoughtful people who have different understandings of the Christian tradition. There were those who found the idea of God in three persons to be too much to handle. There were some who took offense to the ordering of ministry; deacon, priest, and bishop. There are some who see the gifts of tongues and healing to be scams. We all have our reasons for not accepting different pieces and parts of the larger Judeo/Christian story. We can sort of understand where they are coming from. And so, we also understand the tactic these men employ to prove Jesus and the Pharisees wrong. “If you think that someone has silly ideas or a stupid stance on a given issue, then one way to reveal your opinion is to construct an absurd scenario and try to force the other person to enter it while trying to answer your question.” It is fun to watch the other person wiggle around uncomfortably while they try to fit within your crazy scenario.
Jesus, however, doesn’t wiggle around uncomfortably, but rather steps right over the pile of bull dung in his path. He deals with the question head on. His answer is in two parts. First, he points out that the assumption underlying the question is faulty. “Within the resurrection life there is no room for silly legal matters.” The age to come is not merely a repeat of the present age, but one so vastly different that the ways in which we understand relationships now won’t make sense. The assumption that the 1st century institution of marriage will exist in the resurrection is as absurd as the assumption that the 21st century institution of marriage is the same as it was in the 1st century. “Instead,” Jesus says, “be content in the fact that we will be called ‘children of God.’” Place your hope in that!
Secondly, he argues from within their own Biblical text for the concept of the resurrection of the dead. Jesus, who himself was the Word of God, interprets the well known story from Exodus 3 for them. “Now, if it weren’t for the fact that Jesus himself made this argument, we could almost conclude that the way he goes about claiming the truth of the resurrection is a little lame. We could read the story of the Burning Bush from Exodus a thousand times and never stumble onto the idea that God’s reference to being the God “of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” could be used to prove the resurrection of the dead.” Nonetheless, precisely because it comes from Jesus, we are quick to accept his interpretation; he might, I think, have some insight into the scriptures. “When God identifies himself in terms of the Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – or for that matter when we identify God as the God of Mom and Dad, Grandpa and Grandma before that, and so many more who have come before us in that ‘great cloud of witnesses’ [which we celebrated last week] we are not merely referencing history. This not who God WAS but who God IS. God has no past tense.” To be sure this argument is a matter of rabbinical wordplay. It was true to the way in which the rabbis argued with each other routinely; “I will prove my point by spinning your own words.” But then Jesus steps out of word play and moves into truth, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living,” and then in a text exclusive to Luke he adds, “for to him all are alive.”
The belief in the resurrection is not just the result of a series of mind-bending-riddle-like arguments, but is based solidly on what we say about God. Let me say that again, “The Christian hope depends, not upon wishful thinking, but upon the very nature of the God we believe in.” From the Garden of Eden to Noah to Abraham to Moses to David to Jesus and the Holy Spirit and beyond, it is clear throughout the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the continuing existence of the Church that God is a God who “enters into a personal relationship with human beings, and that relationship cannot be destroyed, even by death.” What once seemed like an absurd superstitious belief in life after death is proved by these words of Jesus to be true to the very nature of God. God does not break relationship. Even when we fail to do his will, when we eat of the forbidden fruit, when we doubt his ability to save, when we go our own way, God is faithful to his promises. That is where our hope lies, not in ourselves, but in the faithfulness of God.
This absurd superstition turned ultimate hope for the future is then our motivation to act in faith now. As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” The strength we find in our hope of the resurrection of the dead motivates us to first and foremost share that hope and secondly to do whatever we can to bring glimpses of that resurrection life to the world around us.
This is the turn our lectionary founders wanted us to make. They wanted us to see the hope for the future that will come with our celebration of Christ as King in a couple of weeks. They wanted us to prepare for the hope that entered into the world on Christmas Day. They wanted us to get a glimpse of the hope of the age to come. They hoped that we might begin to make a connection between our faith and work in the here and now and our good hope in our God to whom and in whom all are alive, so that “having this hope, we may purify ourselves as Jesus is pure.” That is the hope that Job carried inside him in the midst of the worst turn of fate in history, it is the hope that Paul offered the church in Thessalonica, and it is the hope that each of us is offered by the God of our salvation. Be strengthened by that hope. Amen.
November 9, 2007
An excerpt to wet your whistle - the prayer from the end of the post.
Forgive me for squandering your precious gifts and buying so completely into the lies of happiness-through-consumption of stuff and folks. Show me my real worth and give me eyes to perceive value through your economy of mercy. Any change of heart is gonna have to come through you because I (of course) tried doing it myself first and apparently that doesn't work.
In Jesus' name,
I can't help but think about how many people walk around this life in the community of the living dead. For whatever reason they choose to live life on their own terms. They seek earthly gains; money, stuff, political advantage, and find themselves contented by those things. They are very much like the Sadducees, comfortable with the way things are - not worried about anything beyond the comfort of their current state. They are, essentially, the walking, living dead. Surely they have breath, they are scientifically among the living, but in the larger definition of life, they are most certainly dead. The life they live is not one of abundance in Christ, but one of relative scarcity in comparison. They have not acknowledged the God of the living for they remain dead - focused only on their sphere of influence.
It is harsh place to go with this text - I know it. It offends even my own, not-so-delicate sensibilities, but it is a way to go. I think that Luke records these words of Jesus to make that point; the Sadducees and the way they chose to live life were dead, Jesus and those who lived in the Way were alive, and God (YHWH) is the God, of the living, not of the dead. Thankfully, Jesus has shown us the truth of the resurrection, so the hope remains for all, not just those who are alive, really alive, in this age, but also for those who are dead - the hope of the resurrection is available to them as well.
November 8, 2007
As I studied this text, I felt myself going there. I found myself back in seminary, spending hours debating nuances of language in theological discourse; the kind of stuff I complained about when this blog was called "a bored seminarian." Then I ran across these words from William Barclay:
It may well be that we find this an arid passage. It deals with burning questions of the time by means of arguments which a Rabbi would find completely convincing but which are not convincing to us today. But out of this very aridity there emerges a great truth fora nyone who teaches or who wishes to commend Christianity to others. Jesus used arguments that the people he was arguing with could understand. He talked to them in their own language; he met them on their own ground; and that is precisely why the ordinary people heard him gladly... Jesus used language and arguments which people could and did understand; he met people with their own vocabulary, on their own ground, and with their own ideas. We will be far better teachers of Christianity and far better witnesses for Christ when we learn to do the same." (emphasis his, The Gospel of Luke, p. 298).
This might be an interesting place to take this text. It might behoove us preachers to think about the language we use, the arguments we weave, and the wisdom we employ. As Tony Jones has said, "will it play at Wal*Mart?"
I underwent due inquiry last night at our 1st Wednesday potluck as those in attendance had a chance to pepper me with questions, but got my real dose of it this morning as I read Brian McLaren's post over at God's Politics on the syncretism of American Christianity and materialism. It hit hard as I pondered what it means to live a godly, righteous, and sober life.
An excerpt: "The truth is, large sectors of our religion have become "worldly" in a subtle but powerful way: we have been guilty of an unholy but socially acceptable syncretism between our faith and consumerism."
Find it all here.
November 7, 2007
As I read the lessons for this week I saw in Paul's 2nd letter to the Thessalonians a pretty sweet blessing, one I might use from time to time after, God, the people, and the Bishop willing, I am priested. The line, found in verses 16 and 17 of chapter 2 is "Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word."
Man is that cool. I understand it is very Western as it ignores the Holy Spirit. Nonetheless it is good. It is a powerful prayer of blessing to offer another; that the God who by grace gives us eternal salvation might comfort and strengthen us in all things; word and deed. Nice. I'm writing this on a post-it and putting it in my Prayer Book for use someday.
Isn't Scripture great?
November 6, 2007
What it came down to, it seems, was hope. Luke has spent a lot of time dealing with faith and what faith looks like in the here and now. There is an obvious shift in this lesson as Luke has Jesus dealing directly with the age to come, the resurrection. The shift from faith now to hope for the future is stark and is obvious throughout the Propers. Job knows that his redeemer lives. The Psalmist seeks vindication, the Thessalonians are in need of hope in the midst of wicked and evil people, and even the collect looks to the second coming. We are turning a corner here. We are beginning to make our way toward Advent; waiting patiently upon Jesus as he comes again.
So I guess I'll be preaching on hope. I don't really know what that looks like or how it'll sound, but that's where I'm going. Anybody got an idea?
I am re-reading one of my all time favorite books. It is a book about the realities of a life lived following the Way of Jesus called Messy Spirituality; God’s annoying love for imperfect people. It is a great book for me for two reasons. First, I am a superbly imperfect person. For example, I get grouchy in crowds. I expect too much from other people. I yell at other drivers on the road. I am very imperfect. Secondly, there are days when I find God’s love for me annoying. These are the days when praying seems like a chore; days when I’m not sure how I got into this full-time, ordained ministry thing in the first place. So for me, this book is right up my alley.
Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints’ sort of a giant party for all of the people who have gotten it right over the years. The idea that spirituality is messy; that following the Way of Jesus is a daily grind is not an idea we often associate with the saints of the church. Instead, when I think of All Saints’ Day I usually think of it like the lesson from Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) begins, “Let us now sing the praises of famous men” though I would add famous women to that too. I think of people like
© St. Francis of Assisi – the patron saint of animals
© St. Patrick – the patron saint of Ireland, excluded people and engineers
© St. Valentine – the bearer of romance
© St. Nicholas – the bearer of white beards and presents, or was it
© St. Perpetua – the patron saint of cow and female martyrs
These are the type of people we associate with getting it all right; saints are people who famously make following Jesus look easy. And that is all well and good, but for those of us who find following the Way of Jesus to be a little more difficult, it can be quite a burden. So we read on in the lesson and start to realize that maybe following Jesus isn’t all about glitz, glamour, and getting it right. “Some of them have left behind a name, so that others declare their praise. But of others there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed; they have become as though they had never been born… But these also were godly men [and women] whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten…”
We know St. Valentine and St. Patrick, but what about those who have not left behind a famous name? Mike Yaconelli, the author of Messy Spirituality, is one of my favorite saints. He was one of my favorite Christians while he was alive by beginning the book like this, “My life is a mess. After forty-five years of trying to follow Jesus I keep losing him the crowded busyness of my life. I know Jesus is there, somewhere, but it’s difficult to make him out in the haze of everyday life… If I were to die today, I would be nervous about what peple would say at my funeral. I would be happy if they said things like ‘he was a nice guy’ or ‘he was occasionally decent’ or ‘Mike wasn’t as bad as a lot of people.’ Unfortunately, eulogies are delivered by people who know the deceased. I know what the consensus would be. ‘Mike was a mess.’”
Sainthood isn’t all about getting it right. It is about the messiness. Noah, of ark fame, followed God’s crazy plans and built a giant boat; and then when the land dried up he promptly got wasted. Moses, who led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt, was a murderer and a fugitive. Paul, the greatest missionary in Christian history, watched approvingly and with joy as Stephen the first Christian martyr was stoned to death. Sainthood is not as pretty as it might seem. There is a lot of messiness that goes along with living, and even our famous saints are not without there mistakes. There is a lot of messiness that goes along with following Jesus. Frankly, there is just a lot of messiness.
As we hear the stories of saints of the past it is easy to beat ourselves up. It is easy to think, “well I’m never going to walk thousands of miles preaching the good news of Jesus Christ to people so why bother.” When we open the Prayer Book to pages 19 to 30 it is easy to think of only the good stuff these men and women did and only the bad stuff that we do, but that isn’t the point of All Saints’ Day. The point is that God worked and works through all sorts of people. The point is that the good works they did are just as available to us here and now. The point is that one day; we too can be called saints as Jesus welcomes us to his Kingdom.
Following Jesus is messy. We screw up and are forgiven weekly, daily, hourly, even by the minute. But so does everybody else. For every saint that we remember with a date on the Church calendar there are tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of other nameless followers of Jesus whose righteous deeds God will never forget. Take heart this All Saints’ Sunday for God’s annoying love for you will never end, no matter how imperfect you might be.
 Messy Spirituality, p. 10-11.