February 28, 2007

Lent 3c = GOE Set 5

And I don't like it.

Set 5, if you will recall, was the Theory and Practice of Ministry section with the 32 year-old hospice patient wondering if she had enough faith. The stories of destruction in 1 Corinthians and Luke's gospel are eerily familiar. What is the cause of calamity on earth. Why do bad things happen?

I know these are questions I'm going to have to answer. I know, however, that these are questions that I am struggling with presently. These are questions, which much like my answer to the cancer patient, I'm not 100% happy with. I don't like Paul's answer; that the people of Moses' generation were an example. I don't really like Jesus' answer; that you must repent or perish because it sounds like a) if I repent I won't parish and b) death is punishment for specific actions.

I know that the wages of sin is death. I know that death wasn't in the plan from the get-go. But I guess, I'm more of the mind that death is the result of Sin; that corporate entity that is inherent in all human systems since the fall rather than sins; those things which 'from time to time we most grievously have committed.' Still, this all sounds like my answer to the woman in tears, which my GOE readers most certainly didn't like. Maybe I'll have to change the answer I give others, but for me, this is what works.

February 27, 2007

Great Stuff

Over on Jim Wallis' God's Politics Blog.

Tony Jones, National Coordinator for Emergent Village, writes on Pluralism - here

Jim Wallis, Founder of Sojourners, writes on Constantinianism on the Left - here

Check them out, they are great!

I have trust issues

I know in my heart that God's will for me is perfect. I know in my heart that God will protect me. I know in my heart that the Holy Spirit, alive within me, works every minute to bring my will to perfection in the Father's will. Yet, in my head, sometimes, it is just so hard to trust.

Moses, too, had trust issues. His calling involved a bush that burned but was not consumed, how much more clarity does one need that God is at work? Anyway, Moses' call story is, for me, the quintessential call narrative. I used it last year for a Christian Ed Administration paper on the calling of volunteer leaders. It just seems the perfect example of God being God and humans being humans.

Moses, who clearly has a job, has his life completely changed by his curiosity. To return to Egypt is to take his life into his own hands. To walk up to Pharaoh and ask for the Israelites to be released is lunacy. Imagine having to share this calling with the people you are called to free? Yet, God is faithful. God responds to every one of Moses' trust issues with a word of grace.

"Who am I..." Moses says. "I will be with you..." God responds. (I have to note here the way in which I feel much like Moses. Do you see what an arrogant response Moses gives? God has just given Moses a task. God is speaking directly to Moses. God people, God. And what is Moses' first thought. "I don't have the ability to do this." It is all about him, and in no way about God. This is so true with my trust issues surrounding a job - but enough of an aside).

"Ok, but what about the Israelites?" Moses responds again. "Tell them I AM sent you." God has a plan, God knows of its wisdom, Moses isn't so sure, and God motivates. It is a cycle that happens over and over again in human history. A cycle that happens over and over again in my life. I forget that God's plan is perfect with or without me. I forget that the goal of life is perfection of the will. I forget these things and tell God that I know what's best. Like Moses I want to keep it safe and easy, but God, being God, will have none of it. God, being God, is worthy of trust, in heart and mind.

February 23, 2007

not much reflection today

What jumped out to me today is a verse that I find confusing. Having killed the requisite animals, Abram is hard at working keeping the birds of prey away, when, seemingly out of nowhere "a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him."

I'm guessing God put him to sleep, which would make sense. God was about to pass by as a flaming torch to consume all that Abram had offered, but why is the sleep that fell upon Abram called "a deep and terrifying darkness?"

I've decided to do some research, and it seems as though our Lectionary in its splitting verses (Gen 15.1-12, 17-18) has made for the confusion.

Here it is from the Lectionary:

As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates."

Here it is in context:
12 As the sun was about to set, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a great dark dread descended upon him. 13 And He said to Abram, "Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years; 14 but I will execute judgment on the nation they shall serve, and in the end they shall go free with great wealth. 15 As for you, You shall go to your fathers in peace; You shall be buried at a ripe old age. 16 And they shall return here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." 17 When the sun set and it was very dark, there appeared a smoking oven, and a flaming torch which passed between those pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your offspring I assign this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates:

God's promise in vv 13-16 isn't all good news; it isn't even mostly good news. The descendants of Abram will be oppressed in a foreign land for 400 years before they can enter the Promised Land. Surely this news is terrifying and dreadful to Abram. Just as God offers him the unfathomable news that he will sire an offspring he finds out that it is only for them to be brought very low for a very long time. Maybe that's where the dread and terror come from. Anyway, its an interesting verse, one suitable for further study.

The Whole World Changed

With this Email from my bishop:

Most certainly. I would love to have you in our diocese, and you are
presently canonically a candidate of this diocese and your first obligation
is here. However, as I am trying to figure things out here, I would not wish
to deny you access to appropriate opportunities in other places. So you do
have my permission to explore with others, understanding that the first
right of refusal is here in CPA.


I have to admit I didn't see this coming until about Tuesday of this week. So I'm now in frantic panic mode as Cassie and I discern where we might like to live, if there are jobs in those areas, and how to go about applying. I'd love your prayers and encouragement over the next few weeks as Cassie and I, as well as the diocese work at discernment.

February 22, 2007

go tell that fox...

I love the confidence with which Jesus speaks to the Pharisees here in Lent 2c. The narrative makes it hard to tell if the Pharisees are really worried about Jesus' safety, or if they just want him out of their hair. Either way, they urge him to "get away from here." Seemingly without skipping a beat, Jesus replies, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.'"

This is by far one of the funniest exchanges between Jesus and the religious leaders. We expect our fair Lord to defer to the will of these men. Its just how we think of him. A 6'1" hippie who skips around from town to town telling people about "love, man." But here, I think, we see a glimpse of the real Jesus; a man who knows his mission and with conviction will live it out. He doesn't bend over backward to make people happy. His message of love isn't one of acceptance, but rather repentance. And damn it, he's not finished. He's got two more days of teaching and healing before he reaches Jerusalem, and he will be there when he gets there.

I love this image of Jesus. It speaks to me as one who 1) is a bit of a push over and 2) feels as though I have a job to do in the Lord. To do it with confidence and strength is my goal. To do so would be to model Christ. You tell 'em Jesus!

February 21, 2007

O LORD God, how am I to know...

Abram asks God the question. At least for me, right now, it is the question. How am I to know that 3 years of seminary wasn't a waste? How am I to know that a call will line up in the next few weeks? How am I to know that "playing the game" is the right/wrong thing to do. How am I to know? Clearly, the Bishop didn't have all the answers I was looking for, and clearly I need to be patient, but most clearly is I'm struggling with that.

I sorta feel like ol' Abram. God and I have an agreement; God called and Cassie and I followed all the way to Alexandria. Now, God is supposed to provide a sweet ass call in the diocese, and it just isn't happening in the right time. Like Abram, I want to remind God of our agreement, as if he doesn't remember. Like Abram, I want to fix things such that they work in my timing, as if God has gone on vacation. Like Abram, I'm wrong to do so.

It is just so difficult to wait upon God, especially when God uses people to work out his plan. It feels a lot less like I'm waiting on God and a lot more like I'm waiting on the diocese or the bishop or the possible churches, and that, for me, is the hardest part. Its not like this is new for me. When I moved to GC to be with my fiance (now wife), I went for weeks without even a nibble on the job front. Ultimately I took a job waiting tables and could barely pay the bills. I was struggling then too.

My experience says that God will provide in due time. However, it is difficult to draw on experience in situations like this. O LORD God, how am I to know that you will once again provide for this impatient sinful creature? How am I to know...

February 20, 2007

Prayer Request

Hey kids,

Bishop Baxter is in town today to meet with all 5 Central PA seminarians here at VTS. Please pray for all of us, but especially those of us who are graduating. Pray for clarity of call, for a vision for the future, and for fruitful conversations with the Bishop. Thank you.

those pesky brackets again

I love the Episcopal Lectionary. I'm sorry to see it go away for the RCL; I like having it right in the back of my Book of Common Prayer. Yet one thing I am hopeful for, and I think happens some in the RCL; that we might be forced to hear those parts of the Bible that make us uncomfortable. Psalm 58 with its breaking of teeth, for example. Or maybe, all of the Gospel lesson for 2 Lent, year C. The brackets which set the first half of the lesson apart make it optional. It is optional because it is hard to deal with. It is hard to deal with because it is, gulp, exclusive. We want Jesus to tell us "it is going to be OK." Instead he tells us, "there are a goodly number who will not enter the Kingdom, and even more who you think shouldn't, who will in fact dine with God."

This is not a message we like to hear. Especially as bishops send more and more functional Unitarian/Universalists to seminary, this passage, left to the BCP Lectionary would be ignored over and over again. Of course, left to the RCL, it won't even be an option (the RCL includes only the second half of the text - I guess there's a lot more to work on than I originally thought).

Anyway, we need to hear the radically particular message of Jesus. Like with the people of Israel, God chose to work in one man, in first century Palestine, for the redemption of all the world. We can debate the wisdom of this plan of God if you like, but after 2000 years, I'd say this Way has some momentum behind it. Still, we must hear that there will be those who God has not chosen (for you predestination folk) or who, when faced with the pain of an all-loving God who they over and over again rejected, will once again choose to go their own way, to take the wide door of temptation over the narrow door of freedom. We need to hear this so that we might be prepared to again and again choose the right door, the door that leads to everlasting life and perfect communion with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

February 16, 2007

a home for God

When recent grads hear that Dr. Cook is teaching his Ezekiel class this semester, they tend to be jealous. "Man, I wanted to take that class," they inevitably say. It is a sweet, sweet class. The book of Ezekiel is one crazy prophetic text, and some of the themes of this exilic prophet are amazingly universal. The thing that hits me over and over again, however, is the prophets holiness theology.

A down and dirty synopsis of the holiness strand is that God, who is fully other, fully holy, dwells in the holy of holies. God's holiness is guarded by cherubim (angels) and human priests (Levites), but it radiates throughout the Promised Land and beyond. Evil in the land impacts God's holiness by making his dwelling unclean, and could, if bad enough, force God to move his presence somewhere else.

All this to say, that in the Deuteronomy lesson it is interesting to me that God has yet to choose his home in the land he will give the Israelites. More interesting, and key to understanding the Hebrew Bible and holiness theology is that God dwells among the people. As this imaginary person brings the first fruits of the land to the altar, he comes radically close to the holiness of God. This is a dangerous place to be.

The most prevalent image of holiness in the HB/OT is that of a fire (think Refiner's Fire). The holiness of God smelts the soul of humanity, removing all the impurities, and leaving only the pure gold of holiness behind. To approach God, even within the Temple, is to be ridiculously close to that fire which is all consuming. It is radical that God chose to dwell in and with his Creation. It is radical that he allowed his Creation to come so close to his otherness. This otherness, this holiness, the refining fire is an image that we have very much lost in our society, but one we should seek to reclaim.

February 15, 2007

offering thanksgiving

We, as modern-day Christians, have a hard time with the book of Deuteronomy. The law given in that book is foreign to us in many ways. Yet the lesson for Lent 1 is clearly applicable today. If one reads it with a careful eye, it seems to say that while God requires the first fruits of the harvest, he doesn't care much about it. Instead, he wants you to offer thanksgiving for the great things he has done.

In this passage the Israelites are told what they should say as they offer their first fruits to God. The words are not praises or adorations. They are not glories and hallelujahs, but rather they are a story; THE story. The story of Israel's salvation from its humble beginnings as "a wandering Aramean" to its entrance into the land of "milk and honey". The murmuring of the desert is no where to be found in this story, for it is a recollection of God's saving action; a work done having required nothing of God's chosen people. A work done in grace. Giving of the first fruits is a response to that grace. Recalling the story of salvation is a way of offering thanksgiving that is well beyond the giving of material things.

We, as modern-day Christians, can associate with this. As we come to offer God our thanksgivings we would do well to recall the saving work done long before us. The grace filled act of saving Israel from Egypt is repeated in the grace filled sacrifice of the paschal lamb. God doesn't need our first fruits, God doesn't need anything. God wants and longs for our relationship, and the beginning of that relationship is the recognition of God's total otherness and God's saving work in history. So offer your first fruits, but not to fulfill some requirement, but rather as a spiritual discipline of thanksgiving in the recollection of God's saving grace.

February 14, 2007

a crafty sob

The devil is one crafty son-of-a-gun. The story of Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness gets my attention every time. It begins with the Spirit sending him to the wilderness (which if one is listening for the Spirit will happen more than once in one's life). Then, the devil shows up to have some fun. A hungry Jesus, having spent 40 days without food, is tempted first by the a call to his most basic needs. "You are hungry, make yourself something to eat." Maslow and his hierarchy of needs must have a field day with this passage. Not only is Jesus tempted to fulfill his physical desire for food, but he is also called on to self-actualize his authority, "If you are the Son of God..." Jesus however is cool, "It is written, one does not live by bread alone."

The devil tries again. This time trying to stroke Jesus' materialistic side. "I have all this," the devil says, "if you bow down and worship me, it will be yours." I'm not sure if it has always been this way, but if one looks around the world today, it is easy to say that materialism is by far the most rampant -ism afflicting humanity. Jesus, the Son of God, who will one day rule all of Creation, probably had some inclination that first he would have to suffer death upon the cross. It would have been a heck of a lot easier to skip the next 3 years of telling the same stories over and over to hard headed apostles and take the devil's offer, but he refuses. His will, both human will and divine will, are so one with the Father that he chooses the harder road, for with the harder road comes the restoration of humanity, that is the purpose for which he came to earth.

Finally, the devil gets crafty. If he won't take food and he won't take stuff, surely he'll take heed of that which is so close to his heart, the scripture. The devil turns the Word around on the Word made flesh in the hopes of catching him napping. Jesus, however, is undeterred. Having been around since, well, before time, Jesus knows full well what it means to have angels protecting him, and it certainly isn't testing God by jumping from the top of God's own dwelling place, the temple.

The devil is a crafty SOB. He's always using that which we know best to fool, trick, and confuse us. Often, we see it coming, and still are unable to defend ourselves against falling into temptation. Fortunately, we have an out. Jesus, who was like us, yet without sin, knows temptation, he knows the chicanery, and he has redeemed us from all those times when we can't get away from the tempter. Thanks be to God for that.

February 13, 2007


Surprisingly enough, the TV went off early last night and Cassie and I got into bed by 10 and read our books. As most of you know, I'm not much of a reader, but I'm really enjoying Diana Butler Bass' newest book, Christianity for the Rest of Us. The chapter with which I am currently wrestling is entitled "Testimony". In it Bass calls for a return to the ancient practice of testimony - talking openly and publicly about one's faith. I am not good at this. I think its safe to say, we, as Episcopalians are not good at this. Yet it is such a powerful practice. She recounts the words of one guy who says, "When people ask me what I did this weekend I can't help but jump into a story about a great liturgy or a sermon."

"I can't help but jump into a story about a great liturgy or sermon." This I think we can do. While we might not able to share the story of when we accepted Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior (Junior Year of High School - favorite passage Proverbs 3.5-6), but we can talk about our church life, our experience of God in liturgy, Word, and Sacrament. This goes along well with the Epistle to the Romans. To confess with our lips and believe in our hearts is to know the Lord. Our confession is our testimony of our experience of the Divine. To believe is to have no choice but to testify. Its awkward and uncomfortable, but it is a wonderful practice and a great evangelism tool.

"For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved."

February 12, 2007

GOE Scores

Set 1: Liturgy and Church Music
Score - 3
The essay, which contains all of the requested elements, provides analysis of the prayers primarily through descriptive reference to them. A clear organizational strategy would further enhance the clarity of the presentation. The limited use of theological terminology inhibits the paper's capacity to compare and contrast the two prayers.

Set 2: Church History
Score - 3
The paper responds in a generally satisfactory way to the requirements of the question. It accurately identifies three religious characteristics of the Crusades. It offers on theological justification for the enterprises and two examples of post-Reformation crusading actions.

Set 3: Christian Theology
Score - 3
While the answer demonstrates an adequate understanding of the theological issues associated with the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), it confuses the Council's work with that of the Council of Nicea (325 AD) and perhaps Constantinople (381 AD). The description of the contemporary importance of these issues reveals a perceptive appreciation of the need for Jesus to embody both a divine and human nature for the purpose of salvation.

Set 4: Contemporary Society
Score - 4
The major social concerns that erupt as a result of the mass migration of people are well addressed int his paper, revealing a depth of understanding about both the immediate and long-term impact on society. The Christian response is grounded in the Baptismal Covenant's call to do justice in the pursuit of peace and to offer hospitality to the alien as referenced in Lev. 19. The example provided identifies an interfaith group of high school students who have organized their efforts to bring hope and essentials to those displaced in Darfur.

Set 5: Theory and Practice of Ministry
Score - 2
The paper's imaginary scenario derails the purposeful discussion of the woman's situation and appears to create a hostile attribution to those who are closest to her. The response suggests little sensitivity. The suggestion that the woman needs to re-evaluate her systematic theology is too cerebral and represents serious misjudgment. While the paper provides some evidence of self-awareness regarding assumptions, it lacks a fuller understanding of latent issues.

Set 6: Christian Ethics and Moral Theology
Score - 3
The essay presents a general Christian moral position on the appropriateness of lying that is ineffectual because it does not reveal the process underlying the argument. The use of scripture demonstrates an awareness of the way in which more than on perspective can be found there.

Set 7: Holy Scripture
Score - 4
This essay shares a candid and thoughtful approach to the use of Psalms 58 and 59 as Christian prayer by calling the reader to relate honestly with God. It displays a skillful application of the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation as well as referencing Child's canonical criticism approach. Most notably, the essay offers a fresh perspective on the importance of coming before God, warts and all.

Well there they are. Fair enough I guess. Though the 2 in TPM leaves me wanting. I thought I had addressed the question as pastorally as possible while answering their question. Apparently, they didn't want us to answer the question, for to do so would be a serious misjudgment. Oh well. The whole diocese is on clergy retreat, so I'll have to wait to find out my penance for that section.

sermon for 6 epiphany, year c

Today’s Gospel lesson is by far one of the most dangerous passages in the New Testament. It has long been used to oppress and keep the poor in their place. In Latin America, for example, the government was tied up so deeply in the church that preachers told their congregations over and over again that they should be happy with their place in the oppressive structures because Jesus said, “blessed are you who are poor.” Devout Christians heard their priests, trusted them, and found themselves powerless to overcome the oppression for fear of their own salvation. Inherent in this system of oppression is a reading of today’s gospel with an understanding that Jesus was only concerned in the world to come. Put into context, however, we will see that while Jesus was concerned with the world to come, he was just as interested in life here and now.

The Christianity given to these Latin Christians assumed that Jesus was coming back immediately. You see, if Jesus comes back tonight or tomorrow, there is no need to change things for the better here and now. But what if he isn’t? What if his words, “blessed are you who are poor… blessed are you who are hungry now… blessed are you who weep now… blessed are you when people hate you, exclude you, revile you, and defame you” are meant as much as promises of the age to come as they are to change the here and now?

Just prior to today’s lesson we find Jesus on the top of a mountain discerning who he would call “apostle.” He has been up all night in prayer with God the Father coming to terms with what it would mean to live as a follower of the way of Jesus, a way that would ultimately lead to the cross. This list of beatitudes, taught to the newly formed group of twelve are these qualities – they are the means by which Jesus called his new disciples to come before God. As he returns to the crowd to share this message, Jesus is ripe with understanding on how we are to approach God.

“Blessed are you who are poor…” As we’ve come to learn by way of Costa Rica and the Millennium Development Goal forums, the poor of this world move closer and closer each day to the edge of survival. It is an unfortunate truth in our world today that the poor are still emblematic of what it means to come to God totally dependent on His grace. Even here, in our own country, in this vastly rich metropolitan area we see them. Hands outstretched hoping for anything you might be willing to share, totally dependant on the other. Look again at their physical stance; hands out stretched in utter dependance. Does it remind you of anything? Each Sunday we approach the altar rail, kneel as able, and stretch out our hands for the bread and the wine. What is the motivation for this reaching out? Do we come with a sense of entitlement? That we some deserve God’s grace? Or, do we come, in the image of the beggar, utterly dependent for our very survival on God’s grace, infused in the elements? “Blessed are you who are poor…”

Jesus goes on, “Blessed are you who are hungry now…” With the advent of a worldwide 24 hour news culture, we have been both privileged and burdened with the ability to see things never before available to us. Following the flooding of New Orleans we felt that burden acutely as we saw images of 20,000 people lined up in front of the New Orleans Convention Center hoping for help, for food, for water, for life. These people trusted their local, state, and federal government to help. As helicopters flew overhead they stared up at they sky expecting to be rescued. Unlike human institutions like governments, God is always ready to give aid. We come before God, seeking His blessing in many different ways. During the prayers of the people we are standing, elsewhere in our lives we find ourselves sitting or kneeling. Whether standing, sitting, or kneeling we usually bow our heads and fold our hands. “We show, by bowing our heads and closing our eyes, that our immediate surroundings were not as important as God. By folding their hands during prayer we make a statement that we wish to hold onto nothing when we are praying.”[1] For some these traditional ways of coming before God are inauthentic, instead they find themselves feeling more like Katrina survivors, starving for God. They raise their eyes to heaven stretching out their arms in expectant hope of food, of water, of healing, of rescue. “Blessed are you who are hungry now…”

The list continues with, “Blessed are you who weep now…” Like the poor and the hungry, we all too often come across those who, for whatever reason, have been brought to tears by the actions of the world. My clearest recollection of people weeping is from my days at Young Life camp. Every camp would end the same, the altar call. Watching guys and girls my own age, 16 or 17, heading to the front, tears pouring from their eyes from the realization of their own sinfulness and in joy for the saving love of God in Jesus Christ remains with me to this day. We can learn a lot from our evangelical brothers and sister, not the least of which being their openness to come before God weeping. Weeping for their destructive decisions, weeping for the others they’ve hurt, weeping tears of joy for the love of God. And lest we forget, Episcopalians have an altar call too. As we approach the altar this Sunday to be fed by the body and blood of Jesus Christ, will we be able to self-empty to the point of tears of sadness and joy? “Blessed are you who weep now…”

The list ends with “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you…” As I’ve mentioned in sermons past, it is difficult for us to understand being hated for being a disciple of Jesus. Our culture is used to Christianity, and we hold a comfortable place in our world. This comfort, however, is clearly not what Jesus had in mind for his followers. On Tuesday we will celebrate the feast day of Absalom Jones. Jones was the first African American priest in the Episcopal Church, ordained in 1802. Born a slave he bought his freedom and that of his wife, he petitioned, with friends the Congress of the United States for equal rights, preached revivalist sermons, and had many, many detractors. Absalom Jones knew what it meant to be blessed when people hate, exclude, revile, and defame. Some 200 years later, the world has changed. While most of us know what its like to be excluded or disliked, it is rarely because of our faith in Jesus; often it is because we are the boss or because we are mom or dad. Clearly, though, Jesus wants us to know what it means to be misunderstood for his sake. Taking a stand based on convictions as disciples of Jesus against the war, against the genocide in Darfur, for tax cuts for families, for the Millennium Development Goals, or better yet for a centrist voice in the church and political arena probably won’t make us all that unpopular. Yet, in taking a stand for the will of Jesus Christ, we can get a glimpse of what it means to be blessed. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you…”

As you well know, Jesus was a radical thinker. While he was in many ways interested in the life to come; his ultimate concern was with the here and now. He called his new disciples, he called the crowd, and he calls us to be practitioners of a different kind of life. A life that assumes Jesus isn’t coming back tonight to save us all. A life that is other focused; God focused, holiness focused. A life that brings us to the foot of the cross arms outstretched as a beggar, eyes lifted to heaven expectantly, weeping with tears of both great sadness and great joy, having taken a stand based on our Christian convictions for the betterment of God’s people here on earth. Won’t you join that life? Won’t you rejoice to be called blessed? Amen.

opportune time

I preached this weekend on what I consider to be one of the most dangerous passages in all of Scripture, "blessed are you who are poor." Today, as I dive into the readings for the first Sunday in Lent (I can't believe we're almost in lent already), I think I've found one of the most frightening lines in the Gospels, "When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time."

How true is this!?! The devil is a constant nemesis. Just when we think he's gone, or as the fancy is these days, just when we've explained him away as metaphor, he springs back into our lives ready to fight the same battles again. A friend calls this "Uncle Baggage". The unexpected guest who appears when you are most vulnerable to rub salt in your wounds. Jesus is led by the Spirit to the wilderness. These 40 days should be a time of quiet and deep self-reflection. Instead, the devil shows up to make it 40 days of hell.

Being tempted is not fun. You know it is happening, and you know you really really want what the devil is offering. On the other hand, you know full well the ramifications of siding with the devil. It sucks, I know. What sucks more is that even when you overcome temptation having found God once again "mighty to save" the devil doesn't leave you alone forever. You've merely won the battle, the war will continue as long as you live. The devil will depart, only to return at an opportune time.

February 8, 2007

did moses need a shtick?

This passage from Exodus 34 is very interesting to me. Moses is up on the mountain speaking with God, receiving the Law, the Torah, for God's chosen people. As he returns Aaron and the others notice that his face is shining and are afraid. Moses calls the leaders back, and they come. Moses then covers his face with a veil. What is so interesting to me is not the he removes the veil when he approaches God, but that he keeps it off until he reports back to the people on the Word he has received.

By this time, Moses, I have to assume, is a pretty well known figure. He was, after all, the guy who led the people of Israel out of Egypt. He was, after all, the guy who parted the Red Sea, who brought water from the rock, who showed them Manna. He was THE guy in this rag tag group of refugees. So why then does Moses need a shtick? Does he gain credibility because his face is shining? Does he need to gain credibility? Why?

Generally speaking I have a hard time with shticks in religious life. Whether its Bishop Minns holy tambourine or the lavish manual actions of a high church service or even those dresses and sashes and stuff clergy have to wear because we once stood next to kings; I think they are unnecessary. Like Moses, we have an authentic message from God, "God loves you, Jesus saves you, the Holy Spirit restores right relationship." That message should be able to stand on its own. That message shouldn't need inauthentic showiness for the sake of our own comfort (or our own tradition which has, in time, lost the meaning of its symbols in ritualism).

I don't know why Moses reported back to the people with his face shining. I don't know why clergy insist on looking different than everybody else. I do know that the Word of God doesn't need a shtick and we shouldn't cheese it up for our sake, but are called to be authentic bearers of the gospel for the glory of God.

February 7, 2007

back to work

The story of the Transfiguration is a really awesome story. It tells of Jesus, Moses, Elijah, and God the Father all together with Peter, James, and John. If Paul had some how arrived, speaking in tongues of the Holy Spirit, it'd be the all-star roster for God. It is a story that I would like to hold onto. Its pretty, its funny, its provocative. "It is good for us to be [in the story]." I wouldn't mind living in the story of the Transfiguration for the rest of my life. I'm a lot like Peter in that way.

Yet like Peter, I cannot stay in the moments that make me feel good. Life is not about holding on, but about moving forward for the Kingdom. The way the Lectionary gives us this account in Year C is a great metaphor for life. The Transfiguration makes us want to hold onto it, but we move on, back to work, with Jesus and his disciples.

The returning to work is never pretty. There is always work backed up from while you were away. Email, voice mail, memos, TPS reports, they all await as we return from the mountain to the mundane. Even Jesus is less than excited to be back at work. "You faithless and perverse generation," he says, "how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?" How many times have I wanted to say that to the needy coworker who couldn't accomplish anything in my absence? I can imagine Jesus, in the vulgarity of our time - "Christ people, er, me people, it isn't that hard. Remember, faith like a mustard seed? C'mon."

Yet even in his frustration, Jesus, God's Son, God's Chosen, is faithful. It is not this family's fault Jesus' disciples weren't on top of their game. Jesus is there with a job to do, and he does it. On the top of the mountain, three people were amazed by God. In the midst of that great crowd, where Jesus healed but one boy, ALL were astounded of the greatness of God. Seems getting back to work was worth the aggravation.

February 6, 2007

to know fully

I'm not sure what happened to the expression "looking through a glass darkly", but I'm sort of glad it is gone. You see, during my first year of seminary it was all the rage to quote Paul's image of partial knowledge. The context in which I heard it was always a senior in all of his or her full knowledge comforting a lowly junior on the journey.

"Don't worry, Steve, where you are now, its like... (dramatic pause as if they're making it up as they go along)... looking through a glass darkly."

I have to admit, I hated this. It made no sense to me. It was usually completely unrelated to my question about a professor's office location. It was overused and trite.

Two years removed from that drivel, I think I'm in a place to understand again Paul's imagery of a glass darkly, or a mirror dimly. This world in which we live is but a faint glimpse of the kingdom of God. In ourselves we see someone made in the image of God, therefore we have some, albeit small, understanding of God. Yet in the age to come we will see God face to face, just as Moses did, and will come to know fully the nature of God; love, grace, peace, and mercy. The double edged sword of knowing God will be ever so pleasing and ever so painful as we recall all the times we turned our back from pure love to our own devices and desires. Surely our hearts will ache within us.

Still, it will be a great comfort to know fully, even as we have been fully known.

February 1, 2007

gut reactions to day 3

1 - a slice of humble pie - after yesterdays comment extravaganza on the boomer generation, Brian Mclaren was asked today what is the growing edge for emerging Christians. "We should not criticize anyone." Can you hear the air being sucked from my lungs as I get punched repeatedly in the gut. It should be noted here that my wife, while not a blog commenter, made fun of me greatly for taking this one example of a bad boomer and writing off the entire demographic. Oh well, I stand by what I said, and appreciate you all for your words of correction and support.

2 - this emergent thing, like any liturgical revolution, will deal over and over and over again with the issue of worship vs. show vs. entertainment. Having a band, or having an organ, or having some of both are all fine things for worship. Where it gets sketchy is when the organ or band or both get carried away and it moves from a time of corporate worship to individual prayer, praise, and show.

3 - Christian Practices are exactly that, "practice." They are not perfect, they are not necessarily pretty, but they are the working over and over again of a follower of Jesus on what it means to live that life. I think this is important to realize as we hold ourselves to an unattainable standard - Jesus, but equally important not to write off our mistakes as practice. We should, as Paul says, run the race as though to win.

4 - A Marvin Gaye Eucharist I would go to, a U2charist, I will not.

5 - Brian Mclaren had a great way of looking at the cultural shift present today. We are moving from a gospel of escape - heaven at death (if not before) to a gospel of transformation - God's saving health here on earth. Said a different way, the gospel we've been given is highly individualistic. "I don't have to deal with the struggles of life (poverty, hunger, disease, environment, AIDS, personal piety, corporate worship, etc., etc.) if Jesus is coming back tonight. Live as if he's not coming back in your lifetime, what will you do to break in the kingdom here, now?

6 - What is God's dream for you? What is God's dream for your context? What is God's dream for your denomination? What is God's dream for the world?

7 - read your job description carefully - and if you can start something new, do it. If your contract calls on you to tend the status quo 45 hours a week, work 45 hours a week (not 44 and not 46) and do a good job. Use your free time to serve God. (this got a lot of laughs).

8 - a great example of hope for the future. Church of the Apostles takes on "interns" for a week, a month, or longer. A church planter from the AMiA was one of the interns. When challenged by diocesan authorities, Karen told them his story. He approached his Episcopal Bishop and asked if he could plant churches. His bishop was not interested in planting churches. The AMiA was. Bingo. This AMiA planter served in her community for 3 months with the Bishop's blessing. Yay!

This was a fabulous 3 days, and I'm sorry to be heading back to the modernest mecca of VTS. I'm excited for what the future holds, however, for VTS, TEC, and beyond. I'll write again soon.

Grace, Peace, and all that's jazz!