June 29, 2007

Sermon for Proper 7, Year C

In February of 2002 my life turned upside-down. It was the weekend that I planned to ask Cassie to marry me; so my life was already on its way toward change, but in an instant my life, soon to be Cassie and my life together turned upside-down. I was back for a second year at the Jubilee Conference for Christian college students in Pittsburgh. Having met Cassie there the year before, it seemed a no brainer that this should be were we got engaged. Needless to say I had other things on my mind, and learning about what God had to do with my chosen career path seemed a little less than important. Still, being a good Episcopalian, I went through the motions. I showed up at every plenary session and even attended the breakout group for fellow Christian business students. The weekend was going along mostly as I had planned, when I was smacked by God in the back of the head. Just before the break in our small group session the facilitator asked a seemingly innocuous question, “are you studying business to further God’s kingdom in some way or to get money and buy stuff?” BAM!!!! There was the two-by-four that God often likes to use smacking me square in the back of the head. All of a sudden “get money and buy stuff” wasn’t the right answer any more. In an instant I was called to reevaluate my priorities and to invite God into my vocational discernment. Within an hour I was realizing that I was studying business to hide from what God was really calling me to; a life of service to God in ordained ministry. Two hours later I gave Cassie the news, and an hour after that I proposed. God has a way of turning our lives upside-down.

We know well the stories of the disciples and how their lives were turned upside-down. Simon Peter and Andrew, and James and John the sons of Zebedee are examples of Jesus’ ability to change the course of human events in a very real and very drastic way. Two weeks ago you heard of Jesus raising the young man from Na’in turning a funeral procession into a resurrection party. Today too, we find ourselves dealing with Jesus’ turning upside-down the expectations of life. Two examples are available in today’s gospel lesson.

First, we have the account of Peter coming to know who Jesus really is. Jesus begins by asking the disciples who other say that he is. It seems the people are doing the work of faith; they are working hard at understanding that which makes so little sense. Mostly, the people have come to recognize Jesus as a prophet like John the Baptist. Others see something else in Jesus and his ministry; perhaps he is the promised return of Elijah who was to come to announce “the great and terrible day of the Lord.” Jesus must have seen something in their answers, some deeper level of understanding in the disciples as he turns the question to them, “but who do you say that I am?” Peter, in his usual way, blurts out the answer, “You are the Anointed one of God!” “Exactly Peter, now be quiet!” Jesus was the Messiah, the Anointed one of God, despite the fact that he looked nothing like the Messiah the Jews were expecting. He didn’t come in power and great glory to overthrow the occupying Romans. Instead he called them to a life focused not on earthly kingdoms at all, but on the kingdom of God. As Bishop NT Wright puts it, “Jesus was not simply pointing to God’s kingdom some way off in the future, he was causing it to appear before people’s eyes, and was setting in motion the events through which it would become firmly established. And sooner or later he had to put the question to the disciples. They marked themselves out from the crowd by piercing the disguise; even though Jesus wasn’t doing everything they had expected a Messiah to do, the combination of authority, power, insight, and fulfillment of the scriptures that hey had seen in him was too potent to mean anything else.”[1] Jesus took what they thought their Messiah would be and turned it upside-down such that God was glorified not by military and political power, but by service to the least, compassion for the needy, and ultimately in death on a cross. As Jesus told them, "The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."

Immediately the upheaval of life continues. Seemingly without taking a breath Jesus turns the attention away from his own calling and toward the life his disciples would need to lead. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” Given in the fact that Jesus came to be the Messiah in a very different way than the Jews had hoped is the need to live life differently as a result. Not being lead into a new age of triumph for the nation of Israel, the followers of God’s Anointed One were headed not to glory but to a dark and scary place; to the cross and beyond. We sometimes have these romantic notions of 1st century Palestine. Growing up I thought that the cross was used only once to crucify Jesus and the two criminals, but now I know this was not the case. The cross in all its devastating brutality was used quite liberally by the Roman Empire. William Barclay tells this story, “When Jesus was a young boy of about eleven years of age, Judas the Galilean had led a rebellion against Rome. He had raided the royal armory at Sepphoris, which was only four miles from Nazareth. The Roman vengeance was swift and sudden. Sepphoris was burned to the ground; its inhabitants were sold into slavery; and 2,000 of the rebels were crucified on crosses which were set in lines along the roadside that they might be a dreadful warning to others tempted to rebel.”[2] When Jesus told the twelve that anyone who wanted to be his follower would need to take up their cross daily, it was not a glib statement; they all knew how agonizing that would be. This certainly was not the life the disciples expected as they came to realize just who they were following. Jesus turns the expectations of life upside-down.

I don’t know y’all very well, but I am certain of this, we share the experience of having our life turned upside-down as the result of following Jesus. It is those stories that are so important in our faith journey. Whether you were called, like me, to change your chosen career path or Jesus turned your understanding of scarcity and abundance upside down on a habitat build, following Jesus is a daily adventure in the unexpected; a daily upheaval of life. Finding a first call after seminary is not one of the best parts of the process toward ordained ministry. For many it means coming to terms with one of two realities; I’m going home and I don’t want to or I’m not going home and I want to. For a good friend of mine it was a third, and much more painful realization; where I thought I was going, they don’t want me anymore. She had been all but promised the assistant’s position at her seminary internship site. For over a year she and her husband made plans based on having this job as, at least, a backup option. When nothing else seemed to come down the wire, it seemed to clear to us all that she was called and would be called by her church to stay in Virginia. Little did we know that in her daily upside-down walk with God, this too would have her standing on her head. Needless to say the church offered the position to someone else. Always the optimist, she came to realize through this painful process that perhaps God’s dream for her ministry is larger than the easy fit at her internship site; a realization I probably wouldn’t have come too, but then again she is an amazing person. Following Jesus means being prepared to have our lives and expectations turned upside-down.

As we heard in today’s Gospel, however, it doesn’t matter much who I say Jesus is; what really matters is who you say Jesus is; what really matters is how you relate to Jesus. Where in your journey had God turned your life upside-down? How have you come to know Jesus as one so different that your expectations of God? If maybe you haven’t yet been called to journey upside-down for a while are you prepared by faith to do so? Sometimes following Jesus means standing on your head. Amen.



[1] Luke for Everyone p. 111.

[2] The Gospel of Luke, p. 144.

like grass

I've been going to church for a long time. Count in three years of seminary and I've done enough church to be 50 years old. I've heard the scriptures read really well and really, well, not so good. One of the most moving readings I've heard in recent memory came in my intro homiletics course. A young woman with a soft but raspy voice read from Isaiah 40. As she repeated the words of the prophet, "the grass withers, the flowers fade" her voice was so coarse that it sounded as if she were near tears; it is a reading of scripture I will remember for a long time, and a reading that popped into my head this morning as I read from Isaiah 66 when the prophet promises great joy to the city of Jerusalem; including these words, "you shall see, and your hearts shall rejoice; your bodies shall flourish like the grass..."

"You bodies shall flourish like the grass..." Is 66

"The grass withers, the flowers fade..." Is 40

I've been brought to one of those points where reading a passage in light of its placement in a book, and in fact in all of scripture, is really, really helpful (See the late Brevard Childs Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture) Reading the promises of Isaiah 66 can't be done without knowing the sadness that was predicted 26 chapters earlier. The pain of a rebellious nation in Isaiah 40 is turned to the joy of renewal in Isaiah 66. It is a key theme in prophetic liturature; judgment/grace. It is so neat when these moments happen. When something I learned/heard/thought I glossed over in seminary comes back into my mind with full clarity. Childs, Isaiah 40, and judgment/grace... looks like Cassie's investment was a worthwhile one.

June 28, 2007

I wonder what Borg does with this

I recently attended the "Church in the 21st Century" conference at the Washington National Cathedral. It was a 3ish day event based loosely around the work of Diana Butler Bass in her new book Christianity for the Rest of Us. On the evening of day 1, Marcus Borg, Jesus Seminar scholar and noted author, gave a presentation on the 2 kinds of Christianity roaming about the US religious landscape. Basically he was pitting modern evangelicalism against the enlightened liberal mainline and showing why we should all move to the left, but what I found fascinating in his presentation was what he saw to be the focus of each "Christianity."

For the evangelicals, he said, the focus was on getting one's self into heaven; that's it. For the liberal mainline (which he called emerging Christianity in a great bastardization of that word, emerging) he thought the focus was on loving our neighbor. In his opinion this was the Christianity of Jesus, the model for faith that we were to live out. To live a faith that in any way looked to the glory of heaven was, in his words, "a self-centered faith."

Which leads me to wonder what he does with Luke 10.20. It is probably a suspect verse for his fellow Jesus Seminary buddies, but it made it into the canon, so I believe we must take it seriously, whether it came from the mouth of Jesus or not. "Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." Jesus, who admittedly was focused more on the here and now than on the future, tells the 70 that they joy should not come from freeing others from oppression (in this case demon possession), but instead that they are going to heaven, they will join with the Trinity in its unending dance of love, they are among the elect, the saved, the blessed.

I wonder if it might be possible to do both; to live a faith that is focused on the betterment of all in the here and now AND focused on the task of saving souls? Can we do both? Can we live in that tension? Is there really a tension at all? I wonder.

June 26, 2007

Teams

What a perfect gospel lesson to have as I restart this blogging thing from my new office in Foley, AL. Jesus' sending of the 70, 2 by 2, is a great image to have as I begin work as the second clergy on staff. We carried a little more than Jesus wanted his followers (we have a purse, several bags, a hundred or so shoes, and stopped for a night on the way and became lifetime members of the rendezvous), but we made it to a town that is open to God's peace and a parish that is excited to give their beloved rector a break while seeing new ministry grow from their now team of ministers.

What is so interesting to me is the issue of authority in the Gospel for Proper 9. The 70 are so happy that they've been given the opportunity to do such power work. Granted they were given the authority from Jesus himself, but how often do we get that excited about the opportunities for ministry we are given on a day to day basis. Do we marvel at the broken woman who walks through the door or groan that that needy person is back to take up our time again? I don't know, it hasn't happened to me yet, but I imagine it'll get tough. I imagine I'll need to be reminded of the power that lies in the authority given by the power of the Holy Spirit. That's why a team is so great. When I get down, Keith is there to remind me of who we point to and vice verse. 2 by 2; I think this is going to be a good ride.

June 15, 2007

i feel like i do this often

Apologize for not writing more, that is. I'm not really sure who I am apologizing to when I do this; Me for not taking my spiritual life more seriously? God for not taking as much time as I'd like on our relationship? You, the reader, for not giving you anything to read on a day-to-day basis? I dunno, I'm just sorry. Probably for all these reasons, I'm sorry.

My excuse this time is moving. The packers came yesterday and 4 hours later left us with 93 boxes scattered throughout 930 square feet (thats 10 square feet of space per box + 2 adults + 3 cats + furniture). Needless to say we've been a little busy here.

The truck was supposed to come and load this morning, but dispatch called yesterday to ask if Saturday would be OK. Before I could reach Cass to get an answer the driver called to confirm for Saturday, so I guess it was OK. It actually works out well. I have a couple coming this morning to talk about their wedding which is coming up in October, so not having the movers here works quite well.

I hope that once I get back into a routine things will settle down some. I hope that once I have an office and a job where prayer and sermon preparation are a part of the gig I'll be back full force to reflect on the scriptures, on where God is in my life, and generally on life itself.

Please pray for safe travel and for sanity for Cassie as she listens to screaming kitties for 16 hours.

June 10, 2007

thank you


For your prayers and presence at the ordination service yesterday. Here's a picture to tide you over.

June 8, 2007

Ordination

This is really a lame way to do this. This is also very, very late. Life is like that I guess.

Just an FYI -

God willing and the people consenting
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Nathan D. Baxter
Bishop of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania

will ordain seven men and women to the sacred order of Deacon
in Christ's one holy catholic and apostolic church
in Rooke Chapel at Buckness University at 10 am on Saturday 9 June.

included in those seven is me.

please keep us all in your prayers.

i think i finally have a theology for this transitional diaconate thing, thanks be to God. i still think it is strange that i have to affirm being called as a deacon when throughout the process the advice was "never say deacon or they'll pigeonhole you there and you'll never be a priest."

hmmmm...

June 3, 2007

online quizzes for church dorks

You scored as Anselm, Anselm is the outstanding theologian of the medieval period.He sees man's primary problem as having failed to render unto God what we owe him, so God becomes man in Christ and gives God what he is due. You should read 'Cur Deus Homo?'

Anselm


73%

John Calvin


67%

Martin Luther


60%

Karl Barth


60%

J├╝rgen Moltmann


53%

Augustine


40%

Friedrich Schleiermacher


40%

Paul Tillich


33%

Charles Finney


33%

Jonathan Edwards


27%

Which theologian are you?
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