July 31, 2007
Reading Jesus' famous words on the value of money struck me today. "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." I wonder if it really has to do with money the way we, consumerist as we are, read it to be. Did Jesus really equate wealth with treasure? I'm guessing no. I'm thinking that perhaps Jesus' sense of treasure had more to do with the whole of one's being.
As I invest the money I set aside to pay quarterlies in a high-yield interest account, I don't think of it as placing my treasure in ING's hands. I think of my treasure as my time, my relational energy, my love and affection. These things I place in important places. I give my time to my God, my wife, and my Church. I give my relational energy to the same. I give my love and affection right there too. That is where my treasure is, and by default (love, time, relational energy) my heart is there also.
I know I'll be preaching on the Feast of St. Claire. I know that her vow of poverty, along with that of St. Francis, is world renowned. I understand that Jesus did have something to say with how we use are money, but I have to imagine that he had a lot more in mind by treasure than an economic system.
Still, the lesson remains the same, doesn't it. I may not be giving ING my treasure and my heart, but I give it to a lot of things that are not needful of it. I give my time to the remote control as I channel-surf for a show I know isn't on. I give my love to thinks undeserving; material goods that in no way bring me closer to the man Jesus would have me be. I waste a lot of my treasure on things which are unnecessary thereby stretching my heart awfully thin. "Where your treasure is, there you heart will be also." Maybe it doesn't mean just money, but I still have a lot of work to do getting my treasures in the right places.
July 30, 2007
When I was seven I began to take piano lessons. When I was fourteen I quit. During those seven years I successfully made it to level two in the four level series my piano teacher used. I hated playing the piano. I never practiced, and it showed. Practice is a “repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency.” It was the repeated and systematic parts I didn’t like. Practice is hard work, and it takes a lot of patience. But practice isn’t only for young piano students. Practice is one of the ancient images for the journey of faith. The Disciples, the Early Church Fathers, the Saints, and on have practiced following Jesus by way of things like; giving, hospitality, justice, and of course prayer. These things are called spiritual practices because when we start out we rarely get them “right”, so we practice, doing them over and over again, working on perfecting the craft of following Jesus.
Bill Hybels talks about exercise as a metaphor for the practice of prayer like this;
You’ve decided it is high time to get into good physical shape, so you investigate a health club. When you walk in the door, you are greeted by a staff member who takes you from station to station, showing you the state-of-the-art equipment. At the end of the orientation your guide asks, “Would you like us to set up a routine for you?”
At this point you may feel like backing out. Playing on exercise equipment is one thing: following an established regimen is quite another. Seeing your hesitation, the staff member explains: “You need a routine in order to work all the muscle groups properly and consistently, to keep track of how many repetitions you’ve done at which weight, to chart your progress and avoid becoming imbalanced.”
Looking around the fitness center, you see examples of serious imbalance. A behemoth with bulging deltoids walks out of the weight room. Still wearing his weight belt, he stumbles and gasps a couple of time around the track before gratefully returning to familiar territory. Then you see a guy glide effortlessly around the track. He probably does seven miles at a time, but from his upper-body appearance, you know his wife has to open the pickle jars.
Health-club instructors know that without a carefully structured plan, we’re all likely to become imbalanced. That’s because we all tend to do what we enjoy and ignore the difficult or distasteful or untried.
Does that sound familiar? I know it does for me. I’m really good at asking God for things;: Lord bless this meal; Father grant us safe travel; Come Holy Spirit Come, but other forms of prayer like meditation, contemplation, and listening to God’s soft voice is very difficult for me, so often I just don’t do it.
I think this may have been what the continuously imbalanced disciples had in mind when they came up to Jesus one day and said, “Teach us to pray.” They saw Jesus praying so often and with such vigor that I’m sure they had come to realize if they wanted to pray like Jesus, they needed some coaching and a lot of practice. As Father Keith said last week, Jesus was the master coach, and he lives up to it in this example. He gives the disciples three quick lessons.
“First,” he says, “when y’all pray (he actually uses the plural you, so maybe it is “when all y’all pray”) do it like this “Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation.” You’ve prayed a version of this prayer thousands of times in your life. There are whole books written to help us understand the Lord’s Prayer. Across the world today there are, no doubt, tens of thousands of sermons being preached on what Jesus meant by each phrase.
I want to note only one thing about Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. As I mentioned earlier, Jesus answers them by saying, “When all y’all pray.” The assumption from the outset is two-fold. One, they are praying, which is obvious from their question. Two, they are praying together, in community. Your personal prayer life is important. Spending regular time daily with the Lord is the second greatest practice you can have as you strive to be like Jesus. The greatest practice we have, however, is praying together, regularly, in community. That is why we gather together today. Praying together, as a community of believers compounds our abilities. We pray when the person next to us is in too much pain to pray. We pray when the person who normally sits next to us is too ill to even come to church. Together, in prayer, we are made one in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, petitioning God the Father. Pray in community.
“Secondly,” Jesus continues by way of a parable, “be persistent.” Having given the twelve a form for prayer, Coach Jesus goes on to teach them how their heart and mind should be in prayer. Be persistent. Over and over again Jesus affirms the persistence of those seeking the Kingdom; the persistence of the friends who brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus; the persistence of the women who traveled with him; and the faithful, persistent prayer of the father of the demon-possessed boy. In this parable Jesus wants us to note that it is not out of the kindness of the sleeping man’s heart that he gets up, but the shameless boldness, the annoying persistence, of the man at the door that raises the man from bed.
I remember one pastoral care class I took my first year of seminary in which we had an hour long conversation about prayer lists. Should we have them? Should we read them in the Prayers of the People? How should they be updated? And then in my internship church, the debate raged for two years as the prayer list swelled to nearly 60 names. Until this week, I was on the side that said, “Don’t read it, it is too long, it makes new comers uncomfortable.” But in light of Jesus’ advice to be persistent, I’m not so sure anymore. Taking the prayer list home to incorporate in your daily prayer life is important, but how much more so is it to pray for each of these people by name over and over again as a community. Be Persistent!
“Finally,” Jesus says, “don’t be afraid to ask. God will provide his Holy Spirit to anyone who asks.” Having given them a form and advising them to be persistent, Jesus’ final lesson is to pray with boldness. “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” It seems as though Jesus is handing us a blank prayer check. That it pronoun can get us into deep trouble. In boldness we pray for all sorts of things, good and ill. We pray for healing. We pray for jobs. We pray for Alabama to beat Auburn or Auburn to beat Alabama. We pray for a lot of things and often use this passage in the expectation that all will be given. I do it. When I recall this passage I always mess up the last verse. Instead of remembering it as “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” I forget the Holy Spirit part. “How much more will the heavenly Father give to those who ask him!” Despite what looks like a blank check from Jesus, we aren’t promised all we could ever imagine, we are instead promised the only thing we really need, the Holy Spirit.
“Not even Jesus received all he asked for. One dark night long ago in a placed called Gethsemane, he made a request and, in the end, his Father had to say no. A certain, bitter cup of suffering would not pass from Jesus. The next time we know Jesus prayed, he was crying out, "My God, my God, why? Why have you forsaken me?" Jesus moved from an unanswered prayer to a lament and yet his prayer life remained intact. His Father had said no, had had to abandon him for a time. But before he bowed his head and died, Jesus said to this same Father, ‘Into your hands do I commit my spirit.’ In our lives, too, our every prayer contributes to the thankfulness we owe to God. Even at our most disappointed, the Holy Spirit is in us and we receive the further anointing of that same Spirit every time we pray.” 
Praying for God’s kingdom. Praying for bread. Praying for forgiveness. These are all givens in the faith. All in all we are called to pray for God’s Holy Spirit. As much as we think we know what we may need, God gives us the only thing which really gives life. It requires practice. It required patience. But if we are to remain in balance in our prayer life, we must practice; not only on our own, but more importantly in community. Practice makes perfect the preparation of our hearts for the Holy Spirit to fill us with peace, strength, and hope for the days that lie ahead. Pray together. Pray with persistence. Pray with boldness for the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Anyway, two weeks of preparation seem like a good idea to me. The readings that are found here are for that day. I will be reading them with much intent and vigor over the next couple of weeks, please read them with me, and pray, pray hard, for me.
The crux of this post, however, isn't about me or my preparation. Instead it is about the call to "be prepared" that is so clear in Luke 12.32-37. God wants to give you the Kingdom, are you ready? Well no, of course I'm not. I've got a sermon to write. I've got a webpage to put together. I've got names to learn. I've got s**t to do, thank you very much. Excuses are not going to make the Kingdom of God. Preparation and action will. When the master, drunk from a wedding banquet that lasted several days, stumbles back home, the servants best be prepared for his arrival. How much more so should we be prepared for the God of all love and power when he comes, Kingdom in hand, ready to give it to us. To be asleep seems as though it would be a bad thing. To be unprepared, not sure whether it is God at the door, that would be unwise. Know the LORD and await his arrival.
All right, I get it. I'll be prepared. I'll start by working on this sermon.
July 26, 2007
O LORD, your love endures for ever;
do not abandon the works of your hands."
I haven't noticed the Psalm for Weekly Lection in quite some time. I often run through it in hopes of arriving at an insightful word from Paul. Even though I am now reading the Scripture in the context of Morning Prayer (today done at 1:45 PM) I don't read the Psalm first, I just cram all the readings together. I need to work on that.
I did, however, notice the Psalm today. Verse 9 really spoke to me with its assurance and yet doubt.
"The LORD will make good his purpose for me;" - I know this. Though I am just at the beginning of my ministry, very green, very nervous, and with a lot to learn, I know that God has great things in store. I know that his purpose for me here is without compare, that is why I was called to St. Paul's. God's got some big things planned.
"O LORD, your love endures forever;" - I know this too. I've said it and sung it to God in Canticles too many times to remember since finding Morning Prayer. God's love for me, in fact for all Creation, is never ending. We were created by the overflowing of love from the Trinity. God wanted to love more and more, so He created. He repeatedly called us back from our rebellion, to the point of sending his Son, Himself, to earth to die on our behalf. I know that my God loves me.
"Do not abandon the works of your hands." - And yet. And yet, I still doubt. Your plan is good, don't let it fall through the cracks. Your love is never-ending, don't forget about me. This verse is the definition of faith for most, if not all, believers. I know, but. It is hard to trust in God. So many other things have failed us; parents, education, politicians, the Church, and on and on. We are conditioned to be guarded, to offer a Psalm like this one.
But with God, we can stop 2/3 of the way through. "The LORD will make good his purpose for me; O LORD, your love endures forever, AMEN!" Now, if I can convince myself of it, I'll be golden.
July 25, 2007
Sometimes I forget that well intentioned naval gazing isn't a new phenomenon. I haven't studied philosophy so I often lose sight of the fact that the history of it goes back to before Christ was born. I guess the Greeks and the Romans were probably some of the worst offenders of empty deceit in all of human history. So while I feel awfully sorry for St. Paul, I take some solace in his call to the Colossians to put aside the pride that goes with heady, philosophical conversation.
Modernity, too, had its fair share of "human tradition". With its love of science and the arrogance that comes from "progressive truth finding", humanity spent most of our post-enlightenment history captive to our own understanding. I'm recalling my own being held captive during a three-hour naval gazing conversation about one chapter of Barth's Homiletics at my favorite modernist institution, Virginia Theological Seminary.
And, I'm sorry to say, our captivity continues. As much as I love my time spent in emerging/Emergent conversations, it too has the capacity to fall into its own empty deceit. As Bishop Baxter says, "when we look to anything other that Jesus to save us, we're in trouble." Even this blog, with its often heady study of scripture, can, at times, be accused of not being focused on Christ alone. I know it. It is impossible to avoid really. Heck, even St. Paul was dealing with it in one of his missions.
So today is a conviction day for me. It is a call to prayer (see Genesis and Luke). Heady exploration of scripture and theology, done in the context of prayer, will seek Christ alone. Done any other way, will, more often than not, results in the puffing up of my own ego.
July 24, 2007
In early May of this year I was tapped by Diana Butler Bass and the Cathedral College to help put together the Draughting Theology sessions for the Church in the 21st Century conference at the Washington National Cathedral. My compensation was free admission to the conference, so I took full advantage. During one breakout session, lead by Tony Jones, National Coordinator for Emergent Village, a man went on a rant about what the central claim of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is.
Afterward, and I don't know how this happened, but we were engaged in a conversation when I had to stand my ground and affirm that his central claim and mine were different. And then the flood gates opened. Apparently, and I didn't know this, but my walk with Christ is a self-centered faith, focused only on saving my own butt from the fires of a hell that I made up. His tirade went on for a few minutes. I said I was sorry he felt that way and that I wished perhaps we could have a more generous conversation about our faiths. Anyway, to toot my own horn, I had three people come up to me later and say how impressed they were with my reaction. This must have been the Holy Spirit because I am German and Irish, we don't typically respond well in the face of criticism.
All this to say that we really need to work on the tenor of our conversations in theology. A Spirit of Generosity and humility is completely lacking. And while my friend happened to be on the left side of the old conservative liberal paradigm, it happens both ways. Take a listen to the redonkulous appearance by Tony Jones on the Albert Mohler Radio Program. For background, go here, and then spend 35 minutes or so listening to what I can only describe as a Spirit-filled reaction by Tony Jones to a venomous attack by Dr. Russell Moore, the guest host that day.
The passage for the Lectionary ends with verse 13 (I don't have verse #s but it is something like), "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
"How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"!!!!!
Have you ever noticed that before? When I think of this passage in my mind I hear it as "How much more will the heavenly Father give to those who ask him!" But that isn't what Jesus is promising here. Jesus isn't promising that the Prayer of Jabez will bring you riches. He isn't promising that every time we pray for healing it'll happen. He isn't promising victory for the side that prays more. Nope, he is promising the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks. He is promising the overflowing of the Spirit to those who ask again and again.
In light of the examples; bread, fish, eggs, it seems like Jesus is calling us to ask for that which gives us life. Immediately then, he tells us what to ask for. Not for 2 747s for your ministry. Not for a million dollars. Not for a brilliant idea. Nope, ask for that which give life, the Holy Spirit. Ask again and again. God will give you so much of the Spirit that you'll overflow. I'm glad for this realization. It makes my prayer life easier. "Give me the good stuff God, fill me up with your Holy Spirit!" That I can pray with confidence.
July 23, 2007
And then I got a phone call. It was SHW calling to let me know that because she was "unemployed" she was disqualified from being licensed by credentials in the great state of Alabama. Mild panic and great annoyance set in immediately. The tone of thanksgiving that had flowed so easily to God just hours before was now gone in a flash of bitterness and frustration as I tried to figure out what we would do now.
It is amazing how quickly our prayers can change. I guess it really more amazing how quickly life can change. From being excited and humbled by being a part of God's plan to being really pis*ed of at God for not making it as easy as I think it should be in about 3 seconds. Prayers go from adoration and thanksgiving to rants of anger and frustration. God can take both, another reason for thanksgiving I suppose.
Anyway, when she finally couldn't take it anymore, SHW called her old boss. Before her story was over, he said, "what do you mean you are unemployed?" Her 6 week unpaid leave will come to a close here soon, and she'll be commuting to DC for a part-time job, but I'll be darned if she doesn't still have a job. And BAM! We're back to thanksgiving, humility, and awe at the power of God, at the way he works through people and relationships to bring his will to fruition on earth as in heaven.
Whether it is the small stuff like being thankful for rain, or the big stuff like the reign of God prayer works. Offering thanksgiving to God never goes unnoticed. Asking with persistence for the in breaking of the Kingdom of God will bring it about. So from Thanksgiving to despair to Thanksgiving, I'm back, looking at the good gifts, standing in awe of the Lord.
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The LORD said to Abraham, "How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know."
So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the LORD. Then Abraham came near and said, "Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" And the LORD said, "If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake." Abraham answered, "Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?" And he said, "I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there." Again he spoke to him, "Suppose forty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of forty I will not do it." Then he said, "Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there." He answered, "I will not do it, if I find thirty there." He said, "Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it." Then he said, "Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there." He answered, "For the sake of ten I will not destroy it." And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place.
Psalm 138 Page 793, BCP
- I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with my whole heart; *
before the gods I will sing your praise.
- I will bow down toward your holy temple
and praise your Name, *
because of your love and faithfulness;
- For you have glorified your Name *
and your word above all things.
- When I called, you answered me; *
you increased my strength within me.
- All the kings of the earth will praise you, O LORD, *
when they have heard the words of your mouth.
- They will sing of the ways of the LORD, *
that great is the glory of the LORD.
- Though the LORD be high, he cares for the lowly; *
he perceives the haughty from afar.
- Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; *
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;
your right hand shall save me.
- The LORD will make good his purpose for me; *
O LORD, your love endures for ever;
do not abandon the works of your hands.
As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say:
- Father, hallowed be your name.
- Your kingdom come.
- Give us each day our daily bread.
- And forgive us our sins,
- for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
- And do not bring us to the time of trial."
And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' And he answers from within, `Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
"So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
July 20, 2007
"If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
It is so often the case that I forget how great God is. I rarely realize the extent to which God has poured out his blessings upon me. When it rains, I grumble. When it is hot, I complain. When things go well, I congratulate myself. When things don't go so well, I blame, well usually I blame someone else. I forget to thank God for all these things. I forget that nothing is to wondrous for the Lord, and I assume I've got it all under control. I'm convicted today to thank God. I'm reminded today of Charlie Price's masterpiece in the 79 BCP.
Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have
done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole
creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
and for the mystery of love.
We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for
the loving care which surrounds us on every side.
We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best
efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy
and delight us.
We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.
Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the
truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast
obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying,
through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life
again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.
Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and
make him known; and through him, at all times and in all
places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.
I'm glad to have this prayer today. I'm glad Scott moved me on to the readings for next week. I'm thankful for all the gifts given to me by Him through whom all things were made. Thanks be to God!
July 19, 2007
This post is sort of worthless, I am realizing, due to a very stern copyright notice on the first page of Women's Uncommon Prayers. I can't copy it here for you to read, but point you to Google Book Search where you can search for "Sunday Night Tub Cleaning" and find it quite easily.
Anyway, I just felt that a series of posts on distractions and worry wouldn't be finished without noting that God is in the small stuff. God shows up slumped over the bathtub in the same way, and often with more power and might, than on a Sunday morning in a stuffy church service. To live as Monday through Saturday followers of Christ rather than just as Sunday church-goers is to seek God in the grime of the bathtub, the frustration of the traffic light, or the silence of an empty house.
So I'll be switching back and forth between readings for the next few weeks. I'll just be sure to note what Proper I'm using.
I received a letter recently asking why we use masculine pronouns when referring to God in Forward Movement publications. The writer said in part:
“I am offended at the implied suggestion that God is a male, something I thought we had put behind us. This usage not only trivializes God, but has contributed to the suppressing and oppressing of women and other minorities for most of Christian history. It is unconscionable for the Episcopal Church’s official publisher of devotional material to continue to use such language.
“No pronoun is needed when referring to God. I urge you to stay with the word ‘God,’ which implies no gender. When the reflexive case is called for, the word ‘Godself’ meets that need.”
I regret that our references to God offend some readers. We do not seek to offend. Rather, we aim to communicate about God clearly and faithfully. If we were to do as the writer asks, we would err in two ways:
Literary style. Consider the following paragraph:
Jennifer loves to swim. When Jennifer’s friends saw Jennifer at river’s edge, they urged Jennifer to swim across. Jennifer dived in, kicked Jennifer’s legs and plied the water with Jennifer’s arms. When Jennifer reached the far bank, Jennifer patted Jenniferself on Jennifer’s back and said to Jenniferself, “Well done!”
This will not do. Whether one is talking about a swimmer, God, or a haystack, it will not do.
The problem with the paragraph above (as with any unusual usage, vocabulary, or punctuation) is that the reader is distracted from what is being said by how it is being said. At Forward Movement, we want people to think of God, not ourselves or what’s in our editorial style book. Effective writing requires pronouns.
Theology. But what pronouns should we use to refer to God? The English language (and we don’t see redesigning it as Forward Movement’s mission) allows but four choices: they, it, she, and he. None of these was conceived with God in mind, and each, alas, falls short in some way.
We are not polytheists, so they is out. And since God is not a thing, it must go as well. That leaves she and he, both affirming the basic Christian conviction that God is One and personal. Either would suit me. Since the use of the masculine personal pronoun is biblical and has been the universal practice of the church, Forward Movement will stick with it.
I doubt many will mistake this for a suggestion that God is a male. As a young child, I never heard God referred to in any but masculine terms, but I often envisioned the deity as my grandmother. There is no need to invent awkward grammatical constructions to solve a problem most people have long ago put behind them.
But misunderstandings are possible. Hence we at Forward Movement try to minimize our use of masculine words when referring to God, even re-writing entire paragraphs on occasion to get rid of them. Anyone, female or male, who has known an abusive, absent, or unreliable father may cringe when God is addressed as “Father.” Such persons deserve our understanding and empathy. We help them move beyond their pain not by writing bad prose, but by loving them and conveying the love of God to them. That’s our aim at Forward Movement.
July 18, 2007
It is so true. There is need of only one thing, Jesus Christ the righteous. I am a worrier. It is in my family, and it has made its way to me. In the process toward ordained ministry we did a Spiritual Gifts inventory. We didn't take a personality test like most inventories require, but instead we shared three "success stories" with a small group. The group listened carefully, then sat in silence for a bit, and then gave feedback on the stories in terms of what Spiritual gifts they heard being exercised in the "success stories" of our lives. One wonderful woman heard in one of my stories that I had the gift of discernment. HA! To have the gift of discernment, to me, seems like it would mean discernment was easy for me. Well, as noted above, I'm a worrier, and worry means discernment ain't as easy as it should be.
I find myself right now in a place that doesn't require much in the way of worry, and I like it. I'd like to sit in this place for a while. But the worries will come. Money, time, vet bills, vacations, holidays, and on and on. The list of worries is long, even when the big stuff; vocation, call, marriage, etc., are relatively calm. I need to remember the one thing that trumps all worry. I need to constantly return to the one thing that sustains even in the midst of trial, of discernment.
July 17, 2007
Today seems like the perfect day to start as the story of Mary and Martha is the gospel for the upcoming week. Talk about distractions, I have nothing but. Having no real time schedule and no real routine means life is nothing but distractions. I could prepare for our liturgy planning meeting tomorrow, or I could work on the website, or I could plan a meditation for Thr morning, or I could work on the youth planning meeting, or I could go over to a habitat house and swing a hammer, or I could... I think you get the point.
What I must do, over and above any coulds or shoulds is sit at the feet of the Lord for a while. I need to eliminate the distractions that pervade my life and just abide for some time with God. It ain't easy; there is a ton to do, the phone rings, but I need to do it. It felt so refreshing to read Morning Prayer this morning; albeit in silence off my computer screen. It felt good to listen along to midi files of bad Canticles and hymns (Splendor and Honor was today's selection). It felt good to affirm my faith in the Apostle's Creed using "I"s. I hope this can be a part of my growing daily time with God. I hope that now that Keith is back and we are sharing some of the visitation load that I have more time to prepare myself each day. I hope that I can find that balance between Mary and Martha.
Do you have a routine? Do you have a daily plan to spend time with God? I'd love to hear about it, I'm still looking for ideas. Especially fun ways to spend time God in prayer with SHW (smokin' hot wifey). One of these days I'll get this figured out, but for today, I feel good enough to be distracted.
July 16, 2007
Ryan Cooper, a fire-fighter in Lake Mary, Florida, was saying goodbye to his wife as she prepared to head off to work on Tuesday morning when two of their neighbors homes exploded into flames. A Cessna 310 carrying two passengers had just moments before fallen out of radar contact with air traffic control having made a distress call with smoke in the cockpit. Cooper grabbed his equipment from his car and sprinted to the two homes engulfed in flames. Having saved two critically injured people he tried to move upstairs in search of a four year old girl still inside. “I walked in as far as I could,” Cooper recalled later, “The jet fuel that was dumping down from the second story to the first floor stopped me and prevented me from going up the stairs.” Neighbors frantically called for help as Cooper moved to the next house in search of anyone inside before himself being overcome by smoke inhalation. Today, Cooper is recuperating and being hailed as a national hero, as well he should be. In the media he has been called a hero and a savior. In light of today’s gospel lesson we might call Ryan Cooper a Good Samaritan.
This is our standard for using the term Good Samaritan; someone endangers their life for another person in dire need. Communities like Sanford, Florida where that Cessna crashed into two houses hand out Good Samaritan awards to people like Ryan Cooper. Hospitals, public and private, by the hundreds are named Good Samaritan and they do great things like blood drives and free clinics. Our image of the parable of the Good Samaritan is one of kindness to all, especially those in the most urgent of need. When I read the story in today’s gospel I most often associate myself with the Good Samaritan, not really thinking about cases like Ryan Cooper’s and how I might respond. I don’t really think about how this is one more case when Jesus sets the bar so high that I know I can’t live up to it. Today I’d like to look at the parable of the Good Samaritan and imagine myself as another character using the entire surrounding story as my guide.
We arrive at what appears to be a chance encounter along the long road to Jerusalem between Jesus and a lawyer; a man trained in the law of God, whose job it was to test for hypocrisy and heresy in those who called themselves rabbis – teachers. He needed to know, not for himself so much, but for the faith he was sworn to defend, that Jesus was a true rabbi; teaching the orthodox faith. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” a question that to us today seems like the question of a seeker. We often assume the lawyer to be man interested in following the Way of Christ, like all those who have come up to him in recent weeks. Instead, this man is trying to trap Jesus, trying to test his faith to make sure of his orthodoxy.
Jesus responds, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” The lawyer would have, no doubt, had with him the necessary ammunition to catch Jesus in heresy. He probably would have had his phylacteries on. Phylacteries were little leather boxes that carried the sacred scriptures that lie at the heart of the Jewish faith.
In these little boxes were often carried Deuteronomy 6.4-6, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.” In addition they would carry the summary of Commandments of men from Leviticus 19.18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself…” Jesus asks the man what he reads, and the man literally reads to Jesus what he carries on his person. Unfortunately for the lawyer whose aim is to trap Jesus in heresy, the answer he gives is exactly the same summary of the law we hear from the lips of Jesus in Mark 12 and Matthew 22. Jesus simply agrees with him, thereby avoiding the trap.
Not to be out done, the lawyer wants to justify himself. What we read here as the lawyer wanting to “show that he hadn’t asked a trivial or obvious question” is more along the lines of “winning the point; to come out on top in this public confrontation that he initiated.”
The first question, a standard one in these sorts of debates, didn’t reveal Jesus for who the lawyer thought he was, so he goes in for the kill by adding the follow up, “And who is my neighbor.” As a lawyer, a defender of the faith, he was looking for a right answer that is something narrow like “your neighbors are your fellow Israelites.” Trying to trap Jesus, the lawyer wants to hear him say, “forget the law that forbids you to help a gentile even in childbirth, everyone is your neighbor.” Instead, Jesus responds with a story that traps the lawyer in his own question.
There once was a man, any person really, who was on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. I guess this wasn’t just any person, this was a man who wasn’t very smart. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho is steep, full of switchbacks, blind curves, and places for robbers to hide. So this rather dumb person decides to travel this very dangerous road alone against the advice of just about anyone he would have talked to. Surprise, surprise, robbers are active on the trail today, and they do a doozy on our unwise traveler; stripping him, beating him, and leaving him in a ditch half-dead.
As chance would have it, there were some other people on the road that day who stumble upon our hapless traveler. The first, a priest, is no doubt very busy and very important. Probably on his way to the Temple he can’t be made ritualistically unclean by touching blood (or worse yet a corpse) so he takes the round about way around the naked bloodied traveler to avoid possible contamination. This priest chose the law over an act of charity toward another human being. Our poor traveler gets a second chance as a Levite comes down the road. A Levite had duties similar to that of the priest, so he too is most likely on his way to the Temple, probably in a bit of a hurry, and certainly not too excited about the messiness he encounters on the side of the road. This Levite, like our traveler, isn’t too smart, traveling alone, and probably begins thinking of all those stories he’s heard of one robber faking an injury to lure an unsuspecting helper into a trap. Not wanting to take a risk, the Levite too moves quickly by choosing safety and security over love of neighbor. Things now turn from bad to worse for the poor dummy that fell into the hands of robbers as a Samaritan comes down the road. Assuming our traveler is still conscious, he is probably now faking death to avoid being beaten while he’s down by the worst of the worst. It is sort of like lying naked and beaten in a ditch on the side of the road and having a Taliban soldier strolling in your direction; the assumption is that things aren’t going to get any better in the immediate future.
Instead, things take a dramatic turn for the better, despite our traveler’s bleak expectations as the Samaritan cleans his wounds, places him on his own animal, takes him to an inn, and pays for his recuperation. Our ill fated traveler happened upon a Samaritan who put love of neighbor over and above ethnic and partisan ugliness.
So Jesus asks the obvious question, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer can’t even say the word Samaritan, “the one who showed him mercy,” he spits through gritted teeth. And then we get the phrase that defines our reading of this text, “go and do likewise.” We read that and instantly place ourselves into the role of the Good Samaritan, looking for ways in which we can reach out to those in need. But to really be like the Good Samaritan is impossible, even for people like Ryan Cooper, who no doubt has passed by the opportunity to help other people in other ways. We can’t live up to the expectation of being the Good Samaritan at every opportunity. We are more like the careless traveler, going against the advice of God in his commandments and doing our own thing. When we fall into the hands of robbers, get stripped naked, and beaten where do we turn? So often we seek help from the church or from the government, but what happens when they fall through? Jesus Christ, who himself was called a Samaritan, meaning a heretic, comes along the path to our aid. He will always clean our wounds, he will always give us a lift, he will always insure our recuperation.
It is good to strive to be like the Good Samaritan. But we must not feel guilty when we fall short. It is good also to be offered a helping hand by Jesus. We will fall into the hands of robbers for our own stupid decisions to walk alone, apart from God. Seek after the Good Samaritan, Jesus Christ, who often appears to help in a form we least expect. Amen.
July 13, 2007
What I find so interesting as I research for my sermon on Sunday is how the term Samaritan was used liberally to mean a lot more than just and ethnic Samaritan. Jesus himself was called a Samaritan in John 8.48 meaning a heretic; one outside of the law. Jesus is embodied in the role of the Good Samartian, not us. We are the stupid traveler, alone on a very dangerous road, now in dire need of help.
This isn't a story of another expectation we can't live up to, but a reminder that without God we can do nothing.
July 11, 2007
Moses is essentially fazing himself out. He is writing his own pink slip, or so he hopes. "You don't need some 'expert' to decipher God's commandments. You are fully capable of understanding them. God put them in terms you can understand." Moses may well be sick and tired of spoon-feeding a whiny lot of folk (as I assert in my previous post), but a more generous reading is he loves these people and wants to see them do it for themselves. "You don't need me," he tells the Israelites, "the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe."
Here again, Moses is a man after my own heart. He's got both sides of me in this one speech. Today I see in him the ability to dig up his own foundation. He sees the problems that will come with a leader-follower model. The people have become dependent on him to give them the word of God, but he knows in his heart of hearts that the people he has been called to lead (to serve) are also made in the image of God. They have heard the word enough times that they know it; its in their mouths and in their hearts for crying out loud. He's trying to empower them to take their faith seriously, to make the work of God their work, to live lives in the will of God without Moses always telling them what to do.
That's basically what my ministry is all about. "What will your ministry be?" That is the question on my heart. The people of St. Paul's Foley don't need me, they don't need Keith to be follows of Jesus, they can do it on their own. Its not so far away that we need to go get it for them, its not so difficult that they need us to decipher it for them. It is nice to have someone point us in the right direction, and that, I think is what Moses was called to, what Keith and I are called to, not, like Moses was doing - doing all the work for them; climbing the mountain, talking with God, leading the pack, all that. Point the people to God and God will take care of it from there; that's what Moses is telling me today.
July 10, 2007
This is a must read... A Tominthebox News Network FAKE news article that is in fact very timely.
For the real news see this link.
In all honesty I'd like to tip my hat to Bishop Wolf of Rhode Island who seems to have more cajones than most of the house of Bishops.
Jesus is clear throughout this run through Luke that following his Way will come with a cost; pick up your cross daily, lose your life for my sake, no where to lay your head, don't look back, proclaim the Kingdom of God is near, etc. These all look like pretty serious costs as I read them from a worldly perspective, but if the question on my lips is "what can I do to inherit the eternal life?" or better yet, "what can I do to follow you Jesus?" All of a sudden the perspective is changed. I'm not just throwing my life away, picking up an instrument of torture, and sauntering off without saying goodbye to family and friends. Instead, I'm following the Way of the King. I'm inheriting the life that God wanted humanity to have from the beginning. I am in a personal relationship with the Trinity.
The cost, in reality, is a simple one to bear. Adding up all the perceived costs it comes down to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." That's not much of a real cost at all. Sure it'll mean some annoyances. Sure it'll man getting stepped on by some people some time. Sure it'll mean some tough conversations as we call another to accountablity, but that's it; the cost is only love. Being created in the image of God we have plenty of love to give away; perhaps even infinite love to give away. The cost just isn't that high. Now, if I can just convince myself that it really isn't that hard.
As always, thanks for reading, and please feel free to post you comments, that's what the blog-o-sphere is for.
July 6, 2007
But that is what Jesus does. He makes our enemies our models for life, be they Muslims, Evangelicals, Democrats, or Anglo-Catholics, Jesus calls us to find the good in their life so that it might be an example for our own.
July 5, 2007
Almost day off, I should say. I spent an hour and a half working on a funeral bulleting for Saturday, but mostly, a day off.
What's great is that this:
came in the mail today!!!!
I'm still trying to figure out how to set it up, and what the optimal humidity is, but woo-hoo! I'm Episcopal Clergy now; a humidor and an 18 year scotch in the liquor cabinet.
A well spent day off, I'd say.
July 3, 2007
I love Moses' no nonsense style. Essentially he tells the stiff-necked people, "This isn't too hard to understand!" I love that about Moses, he's a man after my own heart. He tells the people the word, and expects them to listen. He's not interested in going back again and again to get a new word for them, he's told them, they need to hold onto it. I like that he expects something from the people. So often, especially in seminary, it seems that the lowest common denominator is the best we can do. We spoon feed people assuming they're dumb and/or lazy. We don't expect them to do the work of faith. We don't expect the gospel to make a difference in their lives. We assume its too hard for them. We assume it is too far away. Well its not. We need to give people the benefit of the doubt, even if it is tounge and cheek as we say; "Surely what we are asking isn't too hard!"
July 2, 2007
Seminary is death to a person’s sense of humor. All we have left by the time three years are over are jokes about the church; mostly puns; none of which are actually funny. What we did have, however, was the ability to commiserate. One thing we noted was how often a huge group of us would end up preaching on the same Sunday’s at our internship sites. As it turns out most of time the lectionary readings for that Sunday were among the hardest to swallow. We joked that if the seminarian was preaching, it meant the rector didn’t know what to do with the lessons so he or she would “let the seminarian preach.” It is interesting that Keith isn’t even here today as I am left to deal with Jesus telling people that to follow him they will be homeless, they can’t wait to bury their parents, and to look back means to give up the kingdom of God. As he worked out a schedule for this wedding he’s doing in Rhode Island, I wonder if he looked at the readings and thought, “July 1, that’s it, we’ll let Steve preach on July 1.”
[see I told you seminary was death to a sense of humor] I joke about Keith leaving me with this passage, but it is really hard to deal with. I did everything in my power to avoid working on this sermon. I made coffee, I made phone calls, I sorted through books, I made more phone calls, anything to not deal with what seem like really harsh words by Jesus. I knew all along, however, that you would not stand for it if I just ignored the gospel lesson today; I knew breakfast and coffee hour would be full of tough questions on why I skirted these tough words; so let’s look at them together right now because here Jesus gives us some insight into what it means to follow his way. Last week he told the twelve that they would have to take up their cross daily, today he expands his message on the cost of discipleship to other would be followers.
Verses 57 and 58; “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’” Over and over again in the gospels we see stories like this one. A person comes to Jesus excited to follow him wherever he will go, and it seems like Jesus takes a pin and pops their excitement bubble without regard for their feelings. “I will follow you wherever you go,” the man says. Jesus replies essentially saying, “have you counted the cost?” To really follow Jesus is to be homeless at best. Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us that “when Christ calls a man to follow him, he bids that man to come and die.” The cost of discipleship is everything, even our homes and our lives. We may not be called to a physical death for our faith, like Bonhoeffer suffered at the hand of the Nazis, but we are called to die to our self and to our sin and to seek only the dream of God. We may not be called to leave our homes behind like the man who came to Jesus, but we are called to use our resources, our gifts of time, talent, and treasure to the glory of God.
Barbara Brown Taylor once said that if a man in the church loses his job, the pastor may well call this person to offer sympathy and prayer. But suppose that a pastor one day got wind of the fact that a certain member of his congregation had gotten a big promotion at work along with significantly more pay. And suppose the pastor then called this person and said, "Charlie, I've heard your news and so was wondering if it would be OK if I came by sometime to pray with you about this. I'm concerned about the temptations this new venture may throw your way as well as what it may do to your ability to serve here at church. So I'd like to pray for God's strength for you in the face of this new success." Probably we'd be taken aback. But as Brown Taylor notes, that is only because we do cordon off parts of our lives from the total claims Jesus makes on us. We act as though we are our own after all and so why would the church have anything to say to us so long as life is chugging along smoothly? If we ask that, however, we reveal that we, too, quietly resist the same self-denying sacrifice that seems so offensive to some outside the church. It looks as though the only way we will ever see this self-denial as a source of comfort is if we die and are reborn. We need to kill off ordinary ways of defining value and bring to life a whole new set of values. The place to start is by admitting that without God, we are lost in sin's wilderness and unable to find our own way out. Once we know that, we are wide open to the call of the one who hopefully says, “Follow me.”
Verses 59 and 60; “To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’” This is by far the hardest part to hear. Jesus is supposed to be a sympathetic, caring man; he wept at the tomb of Lazarus, he knows the pain of losing a loved one. Why on earth would he be so harsh toward this grieving man? It just seems impossible to think of a savior who would act this way. Perhaps, however, it is precisely this radicalness that we should pay attention to, these two verses are so hard to understand that we have to pay attention to them; hyperbole or not.
Fred Craddock, a noted preaching scholar, recently delivered a sermon on “The Gospel as Hyperbole.” In this message he pointed out that the gospel is loaded with statements that are, on the face of them, ridiculous. We’re told to remove the logpole from our own eyes before criticizing others. We’re told that if we have even a smidge of faith, we can move mountains into the sea. We’re told a shepherd would abandon 99 sheep in favor of searching for just one that wandered off. We’re told that if everything Jesus did were written down, the whole world could not contain the books that would be written. We’re told stories like the one about a man who was forgiven a debt of a million gezillion dollars who then turned right around and about choked another man to death for the 50 cents he owed him. Ridiculous. Over the top. Who can take such hyperbole seriously?
But as Craddock went on to point out, it’s all a little less ridiculous once we come to realize that the kingdom of God Jesus came to announce—and whose arrival and presence he calls others and us to likewise announce—really does contain the cosmic power for salvation unto all people and all creatures. If the kingdom of God is anything close to what we think it is, we really cannot overstate its power or beauty. We cannot exaggerate enough to convey the punch of this kingdom and of the God of all grace who through our Lord Jesus Christ has saved us from darkness into light. Even to the point of angering us, Jesus calls us to a radical lifestyle that is focused on God alone. Not all will be called to be away serving God instead of burying their father, but we will all at some time be called to live outside of our comfort zone in the service of the kingdom; that is what Jesus says to us in these very difficult verses.
Verses 61 and 62; “Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’” Here again we have a man who is volunteering to follow Jesus, and Jesus turns him away. Why would Jesus continuously turn people off to him? Why are these stories saved for us to read and explain to people not in the church? Why are they here for preacher to stumble over as they try to faithfully interpret them to a congregation of believers who don’t like this image of Jesus? Once again we have the story of someone who wants to follow Jesus on his own terms. Growing up in Amish country, I marveled at the seemingly endless rows of corn and tobacco that grew in perfectly straight lines on farms with no electricity and only mules to pull the plow. Jesus speaks a truth that is eternal; you cannot plow a straight line while looking backwards. We are called not to be backward looking follows of Christ, but instead to move forward, to move ahead, to grow in faith.
These six verses are among the hardest in the New Testament. They are off putting. They make us uncomfortable. They are just plain ugly. But we must not ignore them for their ugliness. It is in our discomfort that we find meaning. Jesus didn’t call his followers to a life of comfort, and he doesn’t call us to one either. We are called to die to self, to be homeless, to be out of our comfort zones, and to look ahead – all in an attempt to live life God’s way; not on our own terms. Amen.
A Samaritan, the outcast of Jewish culture, is a better follower of the law than the Priest and the Levite. He doesn't do the minimum to make things right, but instead goes above and beyond; binding his wounds, getting him to safety, and paying his way. To the lawyer, this would have been a ridiculous image; a Samaritan doing these nice things to an Israelite, but to Jesus this is love of neighbor. Despite the fact that the man lying near death may have been a man who spit in the face of the Samaritan the day before, the Samaritan goes out of his way to care for his neighbor.
"Who is my neighbor?" You are asking the wrong question.