May 24, 2007

Xianity is the only major religion...

With a living leader/founder/guru/god. Have you heard this apologetic argument? I have heard it often, and, not needing much in the way of apologetics myself anymore, find it interesting, but by no means a key selling point. Then again, I'm 2000 years removed from the whole thing and don't know Jesus as a living breathing man here on earth. I do know him, and the whole of the Trinity, as alive and well in my reading of Scripture, in my prayer, and in my life.

What I do find interesting about the whole ascension thing is a funny turn of phrase by Jesus as he prepares his followers for a second departure. "Now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, `Where are you going?' But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts."

These folks were sad. Of course they were. From the pit of despair on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, they were made alive again in Christ's coming to life again on Easter Sunday. Things were back to where they were supposed to be. Jesus was showing up on occasion, giving them advice and kind words, and they were once again energized by his message of repentance, redemption, and salvation. Little did they know that in a mere 40 more days he'd be on his way out of their lives (physically speaking) again. They must have thought that surely this time Jesus would lead them in a revolution. He had to succumb to the powers that be, but he came back to show them who was in charge. It makes perfect sense; a lot more sense than a 40 day encore only to leave them seemingly empty handed again. Sorrow filled their hearts because of what they thought it meant for them that he was again leaving. No one bothered to ask what they should do if/when he left again; he WAS NOT going to leave them again, damn it.

In the end, he had to leave them. They were as ready as they could be to take on this follower of Jesus thing on their own. He'd send help, no doubt, but they had to do this strange thing on their own for a while. Those brain trusts who made up the lectionary don't give us the disciples reaction, but I'll tell you, they don't get it. They still think he's going to do something more here on earth. But as Jesus will soon tell them, "Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy."

I think it may be true that Christianity is the only major religion with a living, breathing leader/founder/guru/god, but what's more exciting is that this living, breathing guy knew when it was time to get out of the way and let his followers do the work, live the life, stumble, be redeemed, and ultimately turn all their pain into joy.

May 22, 2007

a top 5 day

Its been a busy, busy day. Up for work at 6, spiritual direction at 315, home at 4, bills paid by 445, off to DC at 545. A long, busy day, but a top 5 day too. Why? I operated the backhoe this afternoon. Hell's yeah. The Seminary trusted me (or at least Wayne did) to dig 10 feet of ditch less than 1 foot deep in some poor professor's back yard. I'm thrilled. I didn't dig up any power, cable, or gas lines, and I didn't kill any bushes. Oh yeah.

May 21, 2007

back at it

I know its been a while. It has, in fact, been too long. For that I am sorry. Not so much sorry to you, the reader, but sorry to me, the writer, for having fallen out of habit and fallen out of this intentional time in prayer and word. However, I have to note that this time has been different. Its not like things have been perfect and I've fallen into the old pattern of relying on myself and forgetting about God and all of His blessings. No, this time it is different. This time, I've still been keenly aware of God; even spending time in prayer (unlike it was so often in the olden days). This time I've just fallen out of this practice. Still, I'm sorry to have fallen away. I have missed the intentional nature of it. I have missed the time in the Word. I have really, really missed it.

So it is good to be back. It is great to be back. And what better week to return to a practice of spending time meeting God in the Word by the power of the Spirit than Trinity Sunday. This practice is a microcosm of a life lived in Trinitarian belief. One practice, three ends. One God, three persons.

In the lesson from John we see the Word of God incarnate in Jesus preparing to leave again. Jesus is about to return to the right hand of God the Father; to be fully reunited in the Trinity. Instead of leaving his followers to their own devices, Jesus, with the promise of God the Father, will send an Advocate, God the Holy Spirit to keep them company, to guide them in the will of the Father, to keep them in touch with the perfect will of the one God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I love this passage. It is a perfect image of this weird and wacky faith we have. This Trinitarian thing is strange, but it is beautiful. It makes no sense, but it is perfect. The only way I can even try to believe this thing is to read the Word with the aid of the Advocate to discern the will and understanding of the Father. It is brought to light here in John 16 better than any theologian could attempt.

I am once again reminded of the benefits of this practice. I am happy to be back to this place where theology is made perfect; not by my words (hell no), but in the Word, with the Advocate, and the Father.

May 12, 2007

a new name

well its nearly official. in just a few days the folk over at VTS will give me a diploma and i will no longer be a bored seminarian. so... without further adieu (sp?), i give you the new name of this blog: "digging up my own foundation"

its a work in progress, and i don't understand it fully myself, but basically it means that if i do my job right as a member of the "clergy" class, i will in all actuality make myself obsolete by empowering the real ministers, the "lay" class to do the work of the church.

so that's it. it's sort of ethereal, and to quote tony jones, i'm not sure it'll "play at wal-mart" but it'll do for now.

grace, peace, and all that's jazz,

May 1, 2007

Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Easter

Just about two years ago I found myself in serious need of discernment. I like to think that over the past 5 years of being in a diocesan discernment process I have gotten pretty good at discernment, but at this particular point in time two years ago I found that I had much more to learn. I had been called by two very different churches to spend the next two years in two very different roles as a seminarian. The first church was a huge conservative church in northern Virginia that was looking for a seminarian to help their internal church planter setup a separate worship space. This was really appealing to me as I came off a year where, in reaction to an Episcopal world that I didn’t know, I had become increasingly knee-jerk conservative and being an closet introvert in a parish of thirty-five hundred people it would be easy to get lost until the new plant took shape. The other was St. James’, where I would fill the role of the everyday seminarian; teaching a class here and there, preaching every month or so, and working with a rector who had a vision for the future of the parish. St. James’ was attractive because it was a parish with a history of theological breadth, charismatic worship, good preaching, and had in many ways dealt with the intense pain surrounding the current issues in the church. In consultation with my bishop, it was clear that he would not be happy if I chose to do Field Education at the conservative mega-church, but when I got a call from both parishes that morning things got interesting.

My initial reaction was to go to the large northern Virginia parish; Cassie and I had been worshipping there throughout our first year here and I really wanted to learn how to plant churches. So, at about 9am I called the bishop and left a message for him to call me back. And then I waited. And waited. And waited. In the midst of waiting I struggled, and thought, and prayed. At some point during the day I came to a realization, I heard the voice of the Lord say to me, “Come off it. Learning how to plant churches is a great thing, but you aren’t that great. You need to learn how to preach, how to teach, and how to be a clergy person before you start learning other stuff.” By the time the Bishop called at three my mind had been changed, and our conversation was very short and very cordial, and I ended up at St. James’.

Looking back now I can say that I’m glad to have heard the voice of God on that day. As you have learned I did need to learn how to preach. As some of you have seen, I had lots of room to grow in my role as teacher. You, the community here at St. James’ have helped me grow into the role I will enter on June 9th, that of an ordained member of the clergy.

I tell this story for two reasons. First, I tell this story as a way of officially saying “thank you” to each of you for the role you’ve taken in my formation over the last two years. I am grateful to God for speaking to me on Field Ed call day. I am thankful for being called to St. James’ where I have learned much about preaching, teaching, and ministering. My second reason for this story is in response to today’s gospel lesson. So often in contemporary society we minimize the miraculous works of God in Creation, Jesus in his life, and the Holy Spirit in our lives. When Jesus tells us that his sheep hear his voice we like to look at it metaphorically. We find it easy to say that we hear Jesus’ voice in the canon of Scripture; in his call to love God and love neighbor. But I want to make the claim that Jesus still speaks to us today; it is still possible that we, his sheep, can hear his voice speaking loud and clear in our prayers and in the voice of others in addition to the written word of the Bible.

I feel comfortable making this claim, that Jesus still speaks to us based on our Easter Season liturgy. At the beginning of this service we made a bold claim. The celebrant begins, “Alleluia, Christ is risen.” And we respond, “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.” I’m not one for getting nitty gritty about language, but there is something to be noted here. We don’t claim that Christ was risen and now isn’t, but that Jesus Christ, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, is risen. He rose from the dead as a living, breathing, eating man on that first Easter Sunday. He ascended into heaven 50 days later. He did not die again. He is sitting at the right hand of God the Father today as the same living, breathing, eating man he was on the day of his resurrection. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. If Jesus is risen, then it can be assumed that Jesus is still at work. Jesus still speaks to his sheep, and we are still called to listen for his voice and to follow his word which leads to eternal life.

Of course, we have to be careful. Discernment is always a tricky thing. Is the voice I’m hearing my own, is it the voice of Jesus, or is it one of the other voices that float around; our culture, our shadow, or our neuroses? Even more so, we must be prudent in our claiming this voice as that of Jesus outside of the context of prayer.

Before I could come to seminary I had to pass an extensive psychological evaluation. A Myers-Briggs Personality Profile, a Rorschach Ink-Blot Test, the Minnesota Mutiphasic Personality Inventory, and two hours worth of awkward conversation later, Dr. Perry Hazeltine was given the task of determining if I was sane or insane enough for ordained ministry. One question that I really struggled with during the seemingly endless round of computer examinations came as part of the Minnesota Mutliphasic Personality Inventory or MMPI. The goal of the MMPI is to help identify personal, social, and behavioral problems in psychiatric patients. One of the criteria the MMPI uses to identify possible psychiatric problems is whether or not one hears voices. This question placed me into quite the pickle. Just two years earlier I was minding my own business in a breakout session for Christian college students when we were asked, “are you studying business to further God’s Kingdom in some way or to get money and buy stuff?” And then I heard it. I heard a voice. It was a voice that said, “you are studying business to hide from what God has called you to do.” I received my call to ordained ministry through this voice, a voice which, as I sat in front of the MMPI was now a serious issue. Do I admit to hearing a voice and risk being diagnosed as a schizophrenic or do I lie about “hearing voices” in the midst of an ordination process?

As Christians who strive to hear the voice of Jesus in our lives we make a claim that is very strange to the rest of the world. Even more, the media; Christian and secular, has not helped our cause when they make Christians look like lunatics saying, “Jesus told me that my ministry should have two jets.” Or, “Jesus told me not to take my son to the doctor.” The key isn’t just hearing the voice of Jesus, but being a sheep, the key is to know him as our shepherd. It is knowing him and hearing him that allows for discernment. Is Jesus calling you to leave your wife and family to be a missionary in Mongolia, no I don’t think so. Is Jesus calling you to kill you neighbor, of course not. Is Jesus calling you to share in his ministry here at St. James’ by utilizing those things which excite me for the glory of God, yes, yes, one-thousand times yes!

Jesus is risen. He is alive and well at the right hand of the Father. He speaks to us in prayer and discernment even to this day. We, his sheep, are called to know him and hear him by faith. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

C'Mon Over

To the National Cathedral on May 10-12 for what promises to be an interesting time as I come face-to-face with some scholars that I really struggle with. What can only help is that I'll be working with Tony Jones on the Draughting Theology sessions at the Cactus Cantina.

A Recap - Church for the 21st Century: A Gathering to Envision, Encourage, & Energize Renewing Congregations - May 10-12 - National Cathedral - info here