April 30, 2007

far from bored

Its been too long, and it will again be a while before I post, but I wanted to share the following answers to prayer with you.

1) My mom's disability insurance was approved!

2) I am employed at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Foley, AL

3) We bought a house and close on June 1

Life has been far from boring these past few weeks, and wont' slow down until I hand in my last paper on May 8th.

Ok, back to it.

April 17, 2007

a tough passage

The Old Testament option for Easter 4 is a toughy. Moses, who God kept alive by the deception of an Egyptian princess. Moses, the man who was chosen by God at the burning bush. Moses, the man who fought with Pharaoh. Moses, who brought God's chosen people out of bondage, hears what I can only assume is a bitter and devastating word; he will not enter into the promised land that is just over the next mountain.

As we all struggle with the deep frailty of humanity and strain to see where God might be in the midst of tragedy it is really hard for me to read this passage from Numbers. I want my God to be warm and fuzzy. I want my God to do things my way. I want Moses to see the land of milk and honey just like I want a world without evil. Yet that's not the way things go. God's justice is beyond human comprehension. The Promised Land of Canaan is but a boil in comparison to the glory of the heavenly domain of God. People are subject to all sorts of illness; physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. These illness cause pain, this pain causes depression and anger, this anger can lead to unspeakable acts against other human beings and we don't know why; we can't fathom why. So, like Moses, we offer prayer. Moses wanted a leader for the people because he knew left to their own devices they'd surely be destroyed. We too pray for a leader, for God, to hold tight families torn by violence. We pray for God, our leader, to heal the injured. We pray for God, our leader, to deal with justice and mercy to the perpetrators of these awful acts just as we pray that he'd deal justly and with mercy with us.

Its tough to wrap my mind around God. Hell, its impossible. Which makes it clear to me that I can't offer answers to these tough questions of life. All I can do is offer prayer and a listening ear when these situations arise. Anything else would be presumptuous. Anything else would be to take the place of God in the world, and that need not be done thanks to the risen Lord, Jesus Christ our savior and redeemer.

April 16, 2007

to hear the voice of the LORD

Over the years I have been called by many labels; conservative, liberal, angry, sunshiny, sarcastic, presbyterian, and on, and on. Aside from the ridiculous label I have fixed upon myself, my favorite label used to describe me is charismatic. I don't like it because it means people will like me and find me personable. Instead I like it because it means that I have the Spirit within me.

Of all the possible gifts of he Spirit, the charism I wish I had a little better grasp on was discernment. I wish, like the collect for Easter 4 says, "that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads." But I don't. Its hard to know who's voice I hear. Is it my own will? Is it my desire to be comfortable? Is it the devil whispering over my shoulder? Or is it actually the will of God?

Discernment is a Spiritual gift that I seek in others. If I'm going to fail at discernment, I better have someone near by who can smack me across the back of the head and shout, "listen up!" Otherwise, I'm apt to go astray, to follow too much the devices and desires of my own heart, to turn my back on God.

As Christians, we naturally count ourselves among the disciples of Jesus. In so doing, we make a claim that we, as Jesus' sheep "hear his voice. He knows us, and we follow him." Oh if it were only that easy.

April 12, 2007

Sorry kids

No time to reflect and post today. Just wanted to pass along a prayer request. My mom, who was at one point dangerously ill, has been recuperating slowly for the last three months or so. She has been unable to work and applied for her long-term disability insurance. In typical insurance company style, it looks like they are denying her claim as "pre-existing" though no doctor has been able to determine what actually caused her nerves to shut down one-by-one. She is very frustrated and not having the income is very hard on her and my dad. Appeal proceedings take a while, and even then they may have to go to court. Please keep my mom and my dad in your prayers as they continue to struggle through this very frustrating time.


April 11, 2007

i'm no saul

But I do get a good chuckle out of the story of his conversion; it reminds me of my own call to ordained ministry. Well it mostly reminds me of how funny it is; how ridiculous it is that God might choose me to do this very important work. It makes me feel happy. It makes me feel special. It also makes me very nervous, as I, like Saul, have many, many qualities that make me an undesirable candidate. There have no doubt been people like Ananias who have come into contact with me and left thinking, "oh dear God no."

It just goes to show how transformative a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ can be. Sure, Saul was an angry fellow doing dirty work, but BAM! he met Jesus on the road to Damascus and was utterly changed. Sure I am a bit contemptuous from time to time, but God is working in my heart to change me. God changed Saul into the great missionary to the Gentiles, Paul. God changed me from a shy and bitter high schooler into a confident and moderately optimistic seminarian. God changes people, and it is awesome.

April 10, 2007

one hungry lord and savior

One of the priests at my Field Ed site is also a chaplain at a local rehab hospital. She helps out on Sundays and does some pastoral care work here and there, but her main job is elsewhere as a chaplain. We were chatting before the 2nd Easter service this weekend about our respective Easter plans when she noted, "I have to preach at 1 at the hospital's service. One thing I noticed this year more than any other is the fact that the stone is rolled away. Its interesting what a big deal we make of the stone being rolled away. Wouldn't it be neater if the stone was not rolled away and Jesus was still gone?"

"Woooo," I thought, "that is something I've never thought much about either." Then I thought about the various post-resurrection/pre-ascension appearances. Jesus walks through locked doors, vanishes into thin air, appears out of nowhere, but he also eats, drinks, talks, and walked out of the tomb by way of the stone being rolled away.

It is with this conversation in mind that I arrived at the readings for 3 Easter. What a cool set of texts with one of the greatest Lectionary collects of all time attached. Paul's conversion, God's promise of restoration to Jeremiah, the Song of the Lamb in Revelation, and another awesome fish catch. All stories of misunderstanding what God is doing. All stories where God once again has to adjust our vision. All stories where the blind are made able to see; spiritually and physically.

What struck me today, however, was on the heels of that Easter discussion, just how powerful a thing it was to eat with Jesus in his resurrected state. Jesus was not a ghost haunting a group of depressed men and women; the work of their collective unconscious to rid themselves of fear and shame. Rather, Jesus was alive. Jesus is alive. He walked out of the tomb after the stone had been rolled away, and he feels compelled to eat with his disciples over and over again. The risen Jesus is one hungry lord and savior. Hungry for food, yes, but more so for the relationship that a meal together represents. To eat with Jesus is to a) accept his bodily resurrection and b) to join him in relationship.

While we no longer have the ability to eat with Jesus, we have plenty of chances to partake of him, and perhaps even better we have the opportunity to share a meal with the "least of these" which is, in effect, eating with the risen Jesus. In doing so, we can affirm what his disciples did so many years ago, He is risen indeed!

April 8, 2007

Easter Vigil Sermon

The experience of sitting in the dark as we hear these stories of salvation history is an interesting one. It brings to mind the darkness in which we sit, so often, as we struggle to understand God. For me it brings to life the theme of my semester as I’ve dealt over an over again with God’s irrational love. God’s love doesn’t make sense. Over and over and over again God has tried to undo the break that occurred when humanity first flexed its free will muscles. Over and over and over again we have chosen to sit in darkness rather than see our blemishes in the light of God. Over and over and over again we have made God look the fool by ignoring his repeated attempts at bringing us back into relationship.

In Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Solomon, and the Prophets God acted out the insanity of his love for us. Over and over and over again risking disappointment, risking failure, risking ridicule to bring a Creation bred of love back into relationship. It makes no sense. Why does God keep trying?

And still to come in our liturgy is the ultimate nonsensical action of God. God took on human flesh. The Son of God, God the Son came and lived as one of us. The Son of God, God the Son died upon a cross taking on the full weight of all sin. Without the weight of sin upon our backs we are once again given the opportunity to be restored. The Son of God, God the Son rose this morning, defeating death, and making it possible for us to claim adoption into God’s family by belief in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God the Son.

Why does God keep trying? Why, ultimately did God do this act that makes no sense? Why does God care so much? God loves us. God loves you unconditionally. God loves me unconditionally. God loves the annoying guy in traffic unconditionally. God makes no sense because God’s love is unconditional and given freely to all. God makes no sense because he used a very specific event to reveal this love to all people in all places across all time. Easter is for everyone as it reveals God’s love to everyone.

As believers we have a part in Easter. We play a role in revealing God’s love to all. We just finished praying that through the Church God might “let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection
by him through whom all things were made, Jesus Christ our Lord.” We prayed not that St. James’ might make this known. We prayed not that the Episcopal Church might make this known. Rather, we prayed that the whole Church, capital “C”, the Church universal, the Church catholic might work to make the redeeming love of God known to the whole world.

What an awesome responsibility; awesome in that it inspires an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, and fear, and awesome in that it remarkable, outstanding, and without match. As believers in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as followers in the way of Jesus we are called upon to be the Church. To be the Church is to let the whole world know that God is doing a new thing; that God, in Jesus Christ, has done the ultimately nonsensical act in order that all might turn to him and be restored in right relationship. The story of Easter is a story of irrational unending love.

Today, we sing alleluia, literally Praise to Yahweh for the first time in 40 plus days. We do so in recognition of the love of God that surpasses even death. This love that is without limit is naturally foreign to us, so much so that we cry out in words foreign to us, ancient in origin, containing thousands of years of meaning within them. Alleluia, Christ is risen! Praise be to YHWH, the God of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Esther, Jacob, and Mary who without reason that we can comprehend descended to earth, lived as one of us, died upon a cross, and rose again to shatter death and bring us into eternal life. Alleluia indeed!

The story of Easter is a story for everyone. Throughout salvation history God has worked diligently to restore all of humanity back to right relationship with him. When it became apparent that humankind was too stiff necked he made special his relationship with Abraham and made his chosen people the people of Israel so that through them God’s grace might be made known in the entire world. When they, like all the rest, turned to themselves, to their own power and might, and forgot the blessing which God so freely offered, God took it upon himself to make known what so many before had forgotten. God wants us all to know his love. God offers his love to all of his Creation. There is no one outside of the reach of God’s love.

The story of Easter is a story we are meant to share. In coming to know God through a personal relationship with the risen Jesus we are given access to the greatest news of all. To hold that news and not share it is impossible. To be a follower of the way of Jesus and not have it written on your face, to not wear it on your sleeve, is impossible. The joy is too great. The hopefulness is too pervasive. The smile is too big. People will ask. We will need to share that “things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, God’s Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” This is the story of Easter; God’s irrational love that defeats death is available to all. This is the story we are called to share. Easter is for everybody. Amen!

April 4, 2007

Best Wishes

For a blessed Passiontide and a joyous Easter. I'll be away for the next few days and then Good Friday and Easter will take the stage keeping me busier than I'll know what to do with. Catch y'all next week.

April 3, 2007

a special place in my heart

exists for ol' Thomas. Having grown up in a church named for him, and weeing in the stained glass and other artwork depictions of St. Thomas on his knees reaching into Jesus' side, I can't help but feel an affinity for him. He wanted what all the rest of us want, to see Jesus face-to-face. Its not that he didn't want to believe his friends, but rather he too wanted to experience the joy that came from seeing his rabbi, who was dead, among the living.

I'm not sure we can blame him for that. I think calling him "doubting Thomas" takes something away from the fact that we are all subject to doubt once-in-a-while. We all have questions be they about points of doctrine; the virgin birth, Creation, the filioque, the Trinity clause or otherwise; human sexuality, authority of bishops, vestments, whatever. It is ok to ask questions. It is ok to doubt. It is ok to struggle. Thomas is not chastised for his wanting to see and touch Jesus, but rather Jesus expresses the will of God, that we might believe without seeing. Its not that God doesn't want us to come to faith intellectually, but God wants trust, God wants faith, God wants relationship. A relationship is hard to sustain when one said is constantly doubting the other. Yet a relationship with God withstands all doubt and all testing. So Thomas wanted to see Jesus. I too would find this whole thing a lot easier if I got to touch Jesus' hands and side, but alas, that is not my lot in life. Instead, I'll question and I'll doubt from time to time, but I take solace in the blessing that comes from not seeing but believing.

April 2, 2007

my life is a joke

I learned tonight that my high school produces only two types of people. The first kind was obvious... the nerd. Brad Rutter '95 proved this when he beat Ken Jennings on the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions. The second, well I don't know how to define the second, but Andrew Baldwin also '95 appeared as the new Bachelor tonight. My high school diploma, as if it meant anything before, is now worthless, it is a waste. It gives me the right to be a nerd or a Bachelor and nothing else... my life is a joke.

the evolution of faith

Three portions of the Lectionary for Easter 2 struck me today.

1) When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."

2) The high priest questioned them, saying, "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man's blood on us" But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than any human authority."

3) Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Apostles, still unsure what to believe in John 20 have locked themselves in a room, fearful of those who killed their rabbi and friend. By Acts 5 they are so sure of their faith that they choose to obey God over the threat of punishment. What made them so confident? Faith! Like the Collect of Easter 2 says, they "showed forth in their lives what they professed by their faith." These men and women moved from fear to action in mere minutes through the power of Jesus Christ. What keeps us from action? What fears hold us at bay? Only Christ Jesus will move us to a life lived by faith.