August 29, 2007

Noonday Prayer Meditation - Proper 16C

I would like to venture into dangerous territory this afternoon. Mixing biblical metaphors across readings is very scary territory, but I think we are capable of handling it. “Strive to enter through the narrow door,” Jesus said, “for many will try to enter but will not be able.” Maybe it is because Cassie and I have been making a lot of trips to the airport recently, but when I hear these words from Jesus the picture that immediately comes to mind is an airplane door. Getting squeezed like cattle onto an airplane hardly seems like entering the kingdom of Heaven, but if you’ll bear with me because it is the second part, the “many will try to enter but will not be able” that makes this image work. Anyone who has flown commercial knows the person I am picturing; the young executive, too busy to check his baggage, too important to follow the one carryon/one personal item rule. He proudly walks down the jetway with two rolling bags trailing behind him and a laptop man purse over his shoulder. Can you picture him?

The jetway is wide, and the going is good, until he hits the door to the plane. He struggles to maneuver his rolling bags in line behind him. As he turns to look back his man purse gets stuck on the door’s large handle. He wheels around trying to keep his balance, trying to enter the narrow door, holding tightly onto his excess carryons. He will enter this plane! Meanwhile, the flight attendants, realizing the commotion outside on the jetway begin to offer advice, “sir, would you like to check one of your bags?” “Sir, please leave one of you bags on the jetway.” “SIR! You’re going to have to check your bags!”

When Jesus calls us to strive to enter by the narrow door, he is making it clear that our baggage is not welcome. All the sin, all the shame, all the sadness, all the pain of life on earth must be left behind to enter the narrow door. We cannot enter the kingdom of God with our hands full; we just won’t fit. But, and here’s the kicker, like the young executive, we are unable to let go. We think we NEED each and every piece of baggage we bring with us. We will fit through that door, extra carryons and all.

Here is where Paul comes in with that great line, “our God is a consuming fire.” Like the flight attendants who become increasingly indignant with the young executive, God himself has given us plenty of chances to leave our baggage behind. The great thing about God’s plan, however, is that he’ll lose our luggage for sure, we’ll never have to deal with it again. But we can’t do that. So, he gives us another option. Piece by piece he begins to light that baggage on fire. Beginning with our fears he burns them away and offers comfort in their place. Our sinful desires he is happy to see go up in flames. We, however are not. So we try with all our might to douse the flames. It seems like our whole lives are spent putting out fires to save our emotional baggage. The stuff that keeps us from entering the narrow door is the stuff we’re fighting to save. See the irony. The call, then in this week’s passages, is to stop putting out the fires. Let that baggage be consumed, forget it ever existed, be freed to enter that narrow door, and be welcomed with open arms into the kingdom of God. Amen.

August 28, 2007

Lectionary Group Week 2

I know it is early in my time here at St. Paul's, but I think that the best thing I can do for this congregation is feed myself. And I think the best way to do that is to spend time in the Word with brother and sisters who are struggling to understand it too. This group of local pastors, ministers, preachers, and priests will help a lot.

Today I am struck by what my PCUSA brother pointed out about the Hebrews reading. With his tongue planted in his cheek he said, "This is one lesson that a middle class, mainline congregation can throw away. It is too hard, there is no way we can be expected to do it, so let's forget about it. I can't afford to have my biggest tither kneel down next to someone who stinks. I can't afford to have my best church lady have to hand lemonade to someone who hasn't washed his hands in weeks." He is so very right. We can't afford to hold people to the expectations of Hebrews 13.1-8. Not because we, as pastors, are so above our congregations and can't possibly call them to change, but because we, as pastors, have such a hard time with it ourselves. Hospitality, mercy, justice, morality - they are all intertwined. When we focus on one above the other we do a disservice to the call to repentance. We are called not only to repent of our being complicit in an evil society, but also those sins which we "from time to time, most grievously have committed." And that is hard. We will piss people off. We will make people uncomfortable. We will have to change; ourselves and our congregations.

So what do you do? Well from what I could tell this morning, you preach it anyway. Be prepared for what follows, but preach the tough stuff anyway. God has high expectations. That's why Jesus came to earth, to restore those expectations. We still screw it up, but the goal is to try with all we've got, to imitate Jesus who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

August 24, 2007

strange is his deed... alien is his work

Not long ago I wrote to you all concerning a new label for my posts. I call it "rambling" and use it when it is clear, even to me, that my reflection for the day is the result of too little or too much caffeine. I would like to propose that such a label be allowed on Lectionary texts as well. What is the deal with Sundays readings?

Psalm 46 is a schizophrenic hop-scotch game through fear and joy.

Hebrews seems to have a footnote smashed into it.

The narrow door has always been a toughy.

And then there's the Isaiah reading. Wow. A prophecy of destruction if I've ever read one (Eliz F can tell us for sure). But as hard as it is to read, as "strange" and "alien" the word and works of God are, it is clear that this word is not just for the rulers of a corrupt Israel.

"For we have made lies our refuge, and in falsehood we have taken shelter." Ouch. How many lies have I take shelter in. "Buy this and you'll be cool." "Drink this and the ladies will love you." "Eat this, it's healthy." On and on. Our society is built on a delicate series of lies that lift us to the point of (pseudo-)self-sufficiency. We have been duped into believing that with the help of McDonald's, Coke, Budweiser, and General Motors we can have life abundantly.

"For the LORD will rise up as on Mount Perazim, he will rage as in the valley of Gibeon; to do his deed-- strange is his deed! and to work his work-- alien is his work!" The call of God, however, is very different. It isn't a call to "your best life now," but a call to service for the Lord. It is a call to the judgment seat where are sins are first shown and then wiped clean. It is a call back into the world where we can tell people the good news that the Kingdom of God is near. It is a call to lift up the downtrodden, to show redemption to the sinner, and to love the unlovable.

The work of God is strange. It is alien. But it is perfect; and will bring perfection to earth in due time. Even in the midst of what seems like a rambling angry message from God, it is clear what he desires, that we join him in his work.

August 23, 2007

Ps 46 and Modern Grief

The Psalmist who first uttered what is now Psalm 46 was one smart cookie. Psalm 46 was, if I recall, what was on the lips of Peter A. and me as our hospice patient took her last breath on graduation day from CPE. Even if I don't remember it right, it has managed to find a special place in my heart due to my fond, if fake, recollection of that moment.

As my community here deals with its grief over the loss of a beloved member of our family and as it is the Psalm for Sunday, I was drawn back again to its soothing words in the midst of great trial. What hit me today as Keith and I talked through the Psalm was how it fits our modern life so well. As someone nears death family comes from everywhere. Once they actually pass to the next life, more family descends, and the flurry of activity begins; burial service planning, coordination with the funeral home, feeding the masses, celebrating a life lived, mourning a life gone, calls to newspapers, credit card companies, life insurance checks, and on and on. "Though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging." Life gets so busy.

And then it stops. Family leaves. Coordination ends. Phone calls slow. Sympathy cards don't arrive. The silence becomes deafening. The waves of grief are still strong, but the buoy of business is now gone. Now what? Life goes on all around, but what if we aren't ready? What if this next wave topples us over? "Be still, then..." We are left with some options. We can "be still, then, and know... God." or we can be still and be left alone, trying to fill our grief with all sorts of other things, all sorts of unhealthy things.

The Psalmist knew the better way. When it gets so quiet that all we can hear is our grief, sit still, and know God; the one who is with us, who is our refuge and our strength.

I don't know if the Psalmist knew the business that comes with a death and the quiet that comes all too quickly thereafter. I do know that Psalm 46 hits life in 21st century America on the head. Now, will we choose to seek God in the still?

Why are you not reading Tominthebox?

If you have not followed my various links to the Tominthebox News Network and added it to your Google reader, I ask you WHY NOT? This is a hilarious site that is an equal opportunity offender (though we at TEC give him plenty of fodder). Check out yesterday's "article":
Tominthebox News Network - Religious Humor/Satire: Episcopal Church Proposes Merge with Buddhism. Dali Lama "Rejects" Idea

Go Cubs!

August 21, 2007

a preaching moment

I got a phone call from a local ELCA pastor last week. "I need a Lectionary study group," he said. That was enough for me. I need one too. Reading and writing is one thing, but sitting down, face-to-face, with others who are struggling with the same texts is quite another. I learned, especially after last week, that wrestling together is the only way to go.

What I found, as our conversation swirled from the text to our lenses to our lives and back was a preaching moment with Lutheran sensibilities. My ELCA friend was struggling with the Hebrews reading, especially the sense in which it is works which bring about the kingdom. My call, in the midst of this, was to the end, "or indeed our God is a consuming fire."

The consuming fire of God exists within all who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. In my theology that means, all Christians have received the gift, but not all who have received the gift are Christians (yet). That fire is working toward our sanctification. My job is to stop trying to put it out. So often, in a bid to keep control of that part of my life, that sin, that I like so much, I pour water on that fire trying to keep it from my golden calf. The call, the preaching moment for me this week is to stop fighting that fire. Lay down the buckets and let the fire do its cleansing work. From the ashes will grow a new and better forest, a new and better temple for our God.

August 20, 2007

many will try to enter...

and will not be able. More tough words from Jesus as we get closer and closer to his arrival in Jerusalem. It is a clear reminder to me that we are getting further and further away from the joy that is Easter and coming closer and closer to that season of end that is Advent.

Anyway, what struck me today, as I look at the daunting "to-do list" ahead of me, is that word try. It is such a little word, but it has such an impact in light of Jesus' call to kingdom living.

"Do or do not, there is no try" - I think ol' Yoda had a point when he uttered these words. Trying to enter the kingdom of God is useless. We can't get there on our own, so don't try, do. I'm reminded of that old come to Jesus story of the swimmers. "Entering the kingdom of God is like setting out to swim across the Atlantic Ocean. A gifted swimmer might make it 50 miles or so before exhausting overcomes her. An out of shape doggy paddler might get only a few hundred yards before being consumed by the ocean. From the ground it looks like a big difference, but in light of the breadth of the Atlantic, it is meaningless."

We try and try to enter the kingdom through good works, nice thoughts, good intentions, diligent working on our to-do lists, etc., but the only way to enter, as we found last week is to read the signs, repent, and be baptized. The Holy Spirit, the blazing fire in Hebrews, purifies and makes clean. No amount of trying on our part can do that. Many will try to enter, but only those consumed by God will dine with Him.

Sermon for Proper 15, Year C

I think that the Washington DC metro area might be the bumper sticker capital of the world. It seemed like every car we were stuck behind in the 24 hour a day, 7 day a week traffic jam had some reading material plastered to its bumper, tailgate, or back window. As I read the lessons for today over and over again, hoping that they would change, that they wouldn’t be so dang difficult to deal with, a bumper sticker that I have seen a couple of time popped back into my head, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” I’m outraged!

Just a few moments ago, in the collect for today, we thanked God for the example of a godly life we have in Jesus Christ. “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! … Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! … You hypocrites!” These don’t sound like the kind words we expect from our perfect example of a godly life. These words don’t seem steeped in the golden rule, “do unto others only that which you would have done unto you.” They certainly don’t remind us of the great commandments to love God and love our neighbor. If you are sitting here today and are not outraged, not hoping that I’m going to tell you that Jesus didn’t really mean to be this harsh, or that the translation is bad, then you were not paying attention.

Unfortunately, I can not in good conscience explain this section of Luke’s gospel away. It is hard to hear. It makes us angry. It leaves us offended. But it is the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke, and we dutifully respond, whether we like it or not, “Praise to you, Lord Christ.” Just as we thanked God for His word of lament in the prophet Jeremiah. Just as we thanked God for His word of discipline in the letter to the Hebrews. Sure, we are outraged, but we must rest in the assurance from last week that it is indeed the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. The kingdom lies within these tough passages; this suitable end to our uncomfortable journey through the 12th chapter of Luke.

Listen to these words again this time from the Message translation: “I've come to start a fire on this earth—how I wish it were blazing right now! I've come to change everything, turn everything rightside up—how I long for it to be finished! Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice? Not so. I've come to disrupt and confront!” Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God among us, came to earth to shine a light on us. This light, this fire, is one so bright as to show even our most hidden secrets. It is so intense as to make our flaws, our brokenness, and our sinfulness apparent even though, as the prophet Jeremiah says, we have tried to “hide in secret places so that God cannot see us.” The light that came into the world in the person of Jesus Christ burns us like fire and breaks us like a hammer. This is not easy to deal with.

What struck me this week, through all of my outrage and struggle with this text, is how distraught Jesus is. I have normally read this passage imagining an angry Jesus; lashing out against a stiff-necked people who wouldn’t listen to him. But what I see now is Jesus, the God-man, agonizing that he had to come to confront the status quo and turn the upside-down world rightside up. "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" What if that means, "I can't believe I had to come to earth to do this. I don't want to have to be the fire that purifies you, I wanted you to do it yourself! Oh that you, your ancestors, and those who will come after you could have maintained our relationship on your own!"?

I realized this week that God maybe didn't want to have to come to earth. Surely God didn't want to have to subject his Son and himself to the agony of the cross; a physical AND spiritual pain beyond our comprehension. We were created out of love so that we might love God and love one another. But we just can't do it. As is clear from Genesis through Jeremiah to the Gospels and even today, we can't kindle that fire of purification on our own. We need God to restore that relationship, because no matter how hard we try, we screw it up, each and every time.

And so God came to earth, and dwelt among us. He came with angels and archangels heralding his presence in the form of a gentle baby, but he didn’t stay that way for long. His ministry was one of disruption; one of confrontation; one where houses were more than divided, they were turn asunder. Listen as Sarah Dylan Breuer retells a familiar part of this divisive story;

{Imagine for a moment the scene when Peter goes back to his mother-in-law and says, "Hey, mom ... I've got some important news. I'm not going fishing tomorrow morning. I don't know if I'll ever step in a boat or lift a net again. I'm glad that you were healed of that fever, and I hope you don't catch one again, because I have to tell you that I probably won't be around to take care of you or to bury you when you die. See, that man who healed you asked me to follow him as he travels around teaching and healing, and I'm going to do it. I really think that God's kingdom is breaking through in this guy's work, and that's just too important for me to stay here, even to take care of you."

How would you feel if it were your son who said that to you? There's no social security to fall back on if you're Peter's mother-in-law; Peter is the closest thing you've got to that, and he's leaving. I have some idea of what I'd probably feel if I were Peter's mother-in-law: Betrayed. Abandoned. Despised. Shamed. Perhaps even hopeless. I have some idea of the kinds of things I'd say if I were in her shoes too, and a lot of the language I'd be using wouldn't appear in any children's bible. When I found out that Peter AND Andrew were both going, my language would reflect even more anger, grief, fear, and straight-up, no-chaser, and very bitter pain. I think the same would be true of my language if Peter and Andrew had other brothers and I were one of them. I'd want to ask Peter and Andrew how they could do this to all of us, how they think we'll survive without their help with the fishing, and whose prophet would ask a man to walk out on his family. I'd ask Peter and Andrew if this is how they were going to follow God's command in holy writ to honor parents and care for widows…}[1]

Breuer, in my estimation, hits at the heart of what this passage is about, God invades our lives and everything must change. The fire that burns within us is the Holy Spirit, removing our impurities, removing our sinful desires, and working to restore us to the full Creation God intended us to be. Sometimes that change means leaving family to fend for themselves. Sometimes that change means disobeying rules that seemed so important at the time. But these changes must happen, though most of us are reluctant at best. In reality, most of us are actively fighting those changes. We like our important, man made, rules. We like our 21st century American middle class sensibilities. We like our life just the way it is, thank you very much.

So, it is to us directly that Jesus speaks as he turns to the crowd and says, “When you see clouds coming in from the west, you say, 'Storm's coming'—and you're right. And when the wind comes out of the south, you say, 'This'll be a hot one'—and you're right. Frauds! You know how to tell a change in the weather, so don't tell me you can't tell a change in the season, the God-season we're in right now.” We can predict the weather! But so often we can't figure out this relationship with God thing? What is wrong? Why can’t we see the inevitable end result of our actions, our stubbornness? Why are we so reluctant to give up that which kills us to make room for the Holy Spirit that gives us life? Why did it have to come to this?

Jesus is distraught, and rightfully so. He is on edge, coming to the realization that God’s foray into humanity will not end well. The stubbornness of generations upon generations has led him to this place. He will soon be in the Garden, still wondering if maybe it doesn't have to be this way, maybe the cup can pass from his lips, maybe this particular baptism doesn't have to happen. But it does. Humanity needs help, and God knows that help can only come through him, through whom all things were made; through whom all things will be again made perfect.

It is ok to be outraged for a while. It is necessary that this portion of Luke’s gospel make us squirm to kindle that fire. If we aren’t outraged we aren’t paying attention. It is such a radical thing to follow as a disciple of God that God himself had to come to earth to show us how it is to be done. He knows that we will try to hold tightly onto those things we think we need. He has and will continue to call us over, and over again, to let go, to stop pretending that we can hide, to come into the light, to stop lying to ourselves, to be refined like gold in his fire, and to be washed clean in his baptism. As followers of Jesus Christ we have entered a new season, one of repentance and growth. As we realize our outrage, we must realize also the inherent call to turn from the old way of life, pick up our cross, sell our possession, and follow the one who came only out of love for us. Amen!


August 19, 2007


Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers. My heresy, er, sermon went well today. I'll post my sermon tomorrow from the office. I'd love to read/hear what y'all did with this Sunday. Email it to me if you don't mind. (I'll post it here too, with permission.)

August 17, 2007

as a child

My former spiritual director blogs over at poetproph, and I commend to you her post from Tuesday August 14th. In it she reflects on the impact her family's annual beach week has on her faith journey, especially in light of her reading of mystic writer Thomas Traheme.

She writes, "This year I'm reading the mystic writer Thomas Traherne, who speaks of knowing, in early childhood, that the world is alive with mystery and the presence of God, and then losing that as he is educated in the ways of the world, with its focus on things and status"

In light of the call to be God's children in the Hebrew's lesson for Sunday, it seems clear that approaching God as his children, uncorrupted by the values of this world, is key to our faith journey. As is always the case, however, there are two sides to this. To approach God as a child approaches a parent is be open to the fullness of his love; both in the outpouring of grace and mercy and in the call to straighten up and fly right. Discipline comes from love, and grace comes from discipline. Most of the time, it seems, we approach God ready to take whatever gifts he might offer, but far too sophisticated for any rebuke he might offer. It is in humility, approaching God like a child, that we most clearly understand our relationship to him; most fully realize the depth of his love; and most clearly see the fruit of righteousness that it will yield.

August 16, 2007


I broke down today and asked for help. My rector and I meet every Thursday to pray, meditate on Scripture, and work out our punch-lists for the week. It is my job to pick the passage we look at each week, and I just couldn't look anywhere else, I had to deal with the Gospel for Sunday. We had a great conversation about it. I was challenged with questions like:

"How do you want the congregation to leave your sermon? Do they have to feel good? Can they leave the sermon annoyed and offended?

"Is it possible to ask the congregation to do something that you yourself aren't willing to do?"

What I came to realize in the course of our discussion was how distressed Jesus is. I normally read this as an angry Jesus, lashing out against a stiff-necked people. But what I see today is Jesus, the God-man, in agony. "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" What if that means, "I can't believe I had to come to earth to do this. I don't want to be the fire that purifies you, I want you to do it yourself! Oh that you, your ancestors, and those who will come after you could have maintained our relationship on your own!"?

I realized today that God didn't want to have to come to earth. God didn't want to have to subject his Son, himself, to the agony of the cross; a physical AND spiritual pain beyond our comprehension. We were created out of love so that we might love God and love one another. But we just can't do it. We can't kindle that fire of purification on our own. We need God to restore that relationship, because no matter how hard we try, we screw it up, each and every time.

You can predict the weather! But you can't figure out this relationship with God thing? What is wrong? Why did it have to come to this? Jesus is distraught. He will soon be in the Garden, wondering if maybe it doesn't have to be this way, maybe the cup can pass from his lips, maybe this particular baptism doesn't have to happen. But it does. We need help, and God knows that help can only come through him, through whom all things were made, and all things will be again made perfect.

August 15, 2007

discipline as love

"If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children."

What strong words from the author of Hebrews to his audience then and I have to think more so to us now. As a society we hate discipline. Hearing a child get scolded in line at Wal*Mart makes us squirm. Worse, to see a child get a swat on the rear-end in a public setting. We, or should I say I, can't help but wonder if the child is getting worse at home. We judge, we assume, and we over-react. Just flip through the channels of your basic cable package and you'll see the results of a world without judgment and discipline. Supernanny has to tell real-life adults that they are in charge of their homes. The Dog Whisperer shows up to give people the strength to discipline their domestic animals. Michael Vick is negotiating a plea bargain only because the other 4 defendants have turned on him. We have lost our sense of right and wrong. We have lost control of our lives, our homes, and our families.

Most especially, we have lost control of our selves. I actually had a classmate of mine say in a classroom in seminary that "A God of judgment is so out-dated. But people actually still believe that God judges our lives."!!!! Honestly, have you read Hebrews 12? Those who refuse the judgment and discipline of God are not his children. God is not an arbitrary judge. He doesn't make up rules to make our lives miserable. His call to love Him and love our neighbor isn't a blank check to do anything we want to in the name of love. He has a plan for each of us. This plan requires some level of obedience on our part. We will inevitably have to turn ourselves away from one lifestyle and intentionally turn toward God. "Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."

It isn't always fun. It isn't always the way we want it. But God's discipline yields life abundant. Pay attention to God's hand guiding you. Don't focus on the things God won't allow you to do, but rather seek the things that in his mercy he has provided. God's discipline is offered out of his unending love for you, his child.

August 14, 2007

discipline, practice, endurance

This is not a fun week in the lectionary. God's anger is clear in the words of Jeremiah; the people have turned away from the uncomfortable word of God and instead are listening to what is easy to hear from the mouths of liars. The author of the letter to the Hebrews is clear that following the gospel, living a kingdom life, isn't easy. It is like running a long race, it is a struggle, it is a life of discipline, being set straight by the Lord. And finally, we have Jesus, God's self, making clear that with the immanence of the kingdom of God comes division, pain, and a fire that refines away our sinful desires.

These lessons are hard for us to hear. We like our gospel to come as one of love. We like the idea of "loving God and loving neighbor" as long as it doesn't mean doing too much. We like being lazy in our faith, assured of our salvation, whenever judgment day comes (according to science we're safe for quite a while, if we reverse global warming that is). And so it'd be really easy to just skip over this week. Preach on the collect, or do an instructed Eucharist and preach on why the altar is green, but to be true to our faith, we know we can't. We have to struggle with what looks like the ugly side of following God. We have to accept that discipline "always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later is yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."

In short, it seems this Sunday we will have to deal with sin. We will have to accept that we, personally, are sinners in need of judgment. We will have to accept that we exist within a culture of sin and are complicit in systemic sin. We will have to come to terms with the fact that sin is against the will of God, and the only way to return to the LORD is a painful process of giving up our own way, being thrown in the fire for a while, to be purified and made clean for God.

This won't be fun. It won't be a happy, clappy, mountain top experience. It might pit "father against son... mother against daughter... mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law...", but it will be for the good of all Creation. It will mean a change of heart, that, done right, turns from fatalistic thinking (I'm just a sinner who can do no right) to kingdom thinking (I have been washed clean so that I can work with God).

Dear God, give me the wisdom and strength to preach your word of judgment that allows us to rejoice in your grace, Amen.

Sermon for Scott Petersen's Ordination to the Priesthood

Feast of Saint Clare, 2007

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” I have had people say to me quite often over the past few years, “why would you choose now to go into the ministry? It is such a bad time to be a priest in the Episcopal Church. Why would you put yourself through that?” I’m sure Scott has heard this too. The short answer is, “I don’t really have a choice – when God calls you listen.” The better answer is that these words of Jesus are as true today as they were when they left the Lord’s lips. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” For me, a life lived in the kingdom means following his will into ordained ministry. For others, the kingdom is given in different forms.

On the surface, those who ask the tough questions are right; things aren’t great. It doesn’t look like the kingdom of God is anywhere close to us. We are all keenly aware of the struggle going on within the Church where infighting, withholding of pledges and legal battles threaten to bankrupt people, parishes, dioceses, and perhaps even the National Church. In our world of 24 hour news we are faced with the grim realities of war, famine, and engineering and natural disasters. The UN’s 2007 Report Card on the mid-point of the Millennium Development Goals tell us that 2015 is coming quickly and we are nowhere near where we need to be.

While it seems easy to live a life focused on the things of this world, it is clear that the things of the world are things that can easily be stolen and destroyed. To live a life that places our treasure in the things of this world is to ensure our heart will be broken. Material possessions, money, relationships, churches, epochs, worldviews, even our lives are not without an inevitable end. But Jesus points us to a world without end. Jesus has been very clear about the problem of worry, the sin of anxiety. His call is to rest assured in the fact that the Father’s pleasure comes not from seeing us living in this world playing by its rules, but instead, the Father’s good pleasure is to give us the kingdom; to see us living a life with no concern for the rules of this world, but focused exclusively on the will of God. Such a life requires sacrifice and servanthood; two dirty words in our world today.

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit…” The nay-sayers have been right for a long, long time. After nine plagues had all but ruined the land of Egypt, the slaves from the land of Israel could easily have been convinced that life was not going to get any better, despite what Moses and Aaron told them. As they went through the motions by smearing the blood of the lamb on their doorframes that fateful night it would have been easy to believe that they would eat and drink, and wake up the next day in the same situation as the day before. As they ate with their garments pulled up, girding their loins, ready to make a break for it at any minute, surely they laughed to themselves saying, “Things aren’t going to get any better.”

Jesus recalls for his disciples and the crowd this vivid image of the Passover. He sets off in their minds a story that is repeated over and over and over again in the life of this Jewish audience. They recall the despair in the story. They remember that even though they were free from bondage, their ancestors spent 40 years wandering, complaining, nay-saying at every turn. They arrive at some perspective. When life seems to have hit bottom, God intervenes radically. Isn’t that why each of us is here today?

Jesus takes advantage of this teaching moment and nails it home with a parable and a Beatitude. “Be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet…” It was not unusual in first century Palestine for a wedding banquet to last up to a week. As the servants watched their master head off to such and event, the temptation to take the afternoon off would weigh heavily. “Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes…” Those slaves who were dutiful, not focused on the immediacy of their situation, but rather with their eyes focused long-term would receive the ultimate reward; their master would in fact serve them. The parable of the servants is a statement of the kingdom life in the here and now; not in some long off, far away place. To live a life of service, preparing our homes, our lives, and our world for the master’s return is to work to inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth as best we can until it can exist fully in a fully redeemed world.

This Kingdom life can take many forms. For some, like Saint Clare whose feast we celebrate today, a form of the kingdom is found literally in the call to sell your possessions and give alms. On the 20th of March in 1212, Clare took that call as her own, laying down her rich garments for the tunic and veil of holy orders. From that day forward she lived a life focused entirely outside of this world. She, with her sisters in the monastery, lived a life of prayer and self-denial of penance and contemplation. It is a life that brought Pope Gregory the 9th to write, “It is evident that the desire of consecrating yourselves to God alone has led you to abandon every wish for temporal things. Wherefore, after having sold all your goods and having distributed them among the poor, you propose to have absolutely no possessions, in order to follow in all things the example of Him Who became poor and Who is the way, the truth, and the life. Neither does the want of necessary things deter you from such a proposal, for the left arm of your Celestial Spouse is beneath your head to sustain the infirmity of your body, which, according to the order of charity, you have subjected to the law of the spirit. Finally, He who feeds the birds of the air and who gives the lilies of the field their raiment and their nourishment, will not leave you in want of clothing or of food until He shall come Himself to minister to you in eternity…”[1]

For others, like Jonathan Myrick Daniels, whose annual pilgrimage is being walked this morning in Hayneville, Alabama, the kingdom life took the form of lifting up the outcast, making known to the world the plight of the downtrodden, and living without fear. Having served a week in jail for their role in a picket line in Fort Deposit, Alabama, Daniels and three of his cellmates immediately returned to their work, by attempting to enter a store for whites only. As the Episcopal Peace Fellowship website tells the story, “they were met at the door by a man with a shotgun who told them to leave or be shot. After a brief confrontation, he aimed the gun at a young girl in the party, and Daniels pushed her out of the way and took the blast of the shotgun himself. He was killed immediately.” For Daniels the call to a kingdom life was clear, “I lost fear,” he wrote, “when I began to know in my bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord’s death and Resurrection, that in the only sense that really matters I am already dead, and my life is hid with Christ in God. I began to lose self-righteousness when I discovered the extent to which my behavior was motivated by worldly desires…!”[2] Jonathan Daniels lived a life without fear, knowing that it is the Father’s great pleasure to give him the kingdom.

So why am I not nervous about entering ordained ministry at this time? Why am I here to celebrate with a brother his taking of vows that seem to an outsider as foolish? Why are any of us here? Because we are hopeful! More than that, I am assured that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. He is eager to share with us in the in breaking of his kingdom on earth today. Those who are willing to take the risk; to both figuratively and literally sell their possessions and make alms; to throw off their preconceived notions of what is possible and enter into God’s kingdom here and now; these people are my hope for the church and for the world. These are the ones whom God has called from before time to do the work that he so desperately wants to see done; to do the work constantly and without fear. You are those people. You have been called by God in the hearing of today’s Gospel to live a kingdom life in whatever form that might take. Some of you might be called to a more simple life. Some of you might be called to social action. God’s call is myriad in its forms. Follow that call.

And Scott, my brother, I turn my attention to you directly, to speak to you in this odd place; a deacon giving charge to a priest. More so, I speak to you as a friend encouraging his brother in Christ. Point people to God through the holy mysteries of Christ. Be ready and willing to do the work of God’s plan for salvation. Show that things which were cast down are being raised up. Help people to see that things which had grown old are being made new. Shine the light of Christ on work of God which brings all things to perfection. Proclaim the Gospel by word and deed to everyone you meet. Most importantly, live a kingdom life, in whatever form that takes, so that the cloud of witnesses here today, including Clare of Assisi and Jonathan Merick Daniels, might be proud, as I am, to call you a brother in Christ. Amen.



Proper 15, Year C Readings

Rather than post the readings, without permission, I'll just link to them, here.

August 8, 2007

prosperity gospel

"O God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his poverty might be rich..." Being back in God's country (though 1,000 miles further south) has brought with it the joy that is EWTN (Catholic TV) and TBN (Evangelical TV). I love me some televangelists, and EWTN's coverage of the Knights of Columbus convention was riveting. Anyway, though I am a subscriber to the Wittenburg Door and a prayerful supporter of the Trinity Foundation, it had been a while since I had felt the shock and awe of a good TV preacher offering me the financial blessing of God for a "small love offering".

I got that same icky feeling as I read the first clause of the collect for the feast of St. Clare in the context of MPII this AM. In the light of the sermon I'm working on, it was scary to think about how easy it would be to believe fully that it is theologically sound to preach a prosperity gospel. I was reminded of how important context is in our study of Scriptures, Church history, theology, and liturgy. Without the context of a texts historical setting AND setting within a larger work (Bible, BCP, Church Dogmatics, Council of Nicea, etc.) it is very easy to fall into the trap modern day "news organizations" have brought us to with their use of statistics. Proof texting is so easy. It is so tempting. It must be avoided.

"O God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through is poverty might be rich: Deliver us from an inordiante love of this world, that we, inspired by the devotion of your servant Clare, may serve you with singleness of heart, and attain to the riches of the age to come..." Ahhh... context, what a wonderful thing. As Jesus became poor so that we might be made rich is more easily read, in today's context as "as Jesus gave all so that we might be made whole." That'll preach my friends. On TBN, on EWTN, or in your church, that'll preach.

August 7, 2007

all glory, laud and honor

Today we celebrate the feast of John Mason Neale, a preist in the CofE, warden of Sackville College, and co-founder of the Sisterhood of St. Margaret. He was a sickly man, never being well enough to be a parish priest, who served the faith well. He is perhaps best known for his work of translation (the Eastern Liturgies and many ancient and medieval hymns). On of the old standbys in my collection of favorites is All Glory, Laud, and Honor. It struck me as appropriate today that we would celebrate the life and ministry of Father Neale as I reflected on verse 3 of Psalm 34, "Proclaim with me the greatness of the LORD; *let us exalt his Name together."

While it is nice to be able to listen to midi versions of some of my favorite hymns online, nothing can compare to the joy of worshiping the Lord in a community. The Psalmist is wise to seek help in proclaiming the greatness of the Lord. He may have had the direct experience about which he is writing, but without others to share his joy, it is empty.

So too it is on Palm Sunday, as we recall the joyous parade, the songs of praise, the shouts of acclamation as the one who was to be a Savior, one of much larger magnitude than the crowd could even imagine, rode in to Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. Children, the company of angels, and all the people of the Hebrews, proclaimed the greatness of the LORD that day. The whole cloud of witnesses are recorded in Theodulp of Orelans' ancient hymn, translated by Father Neale.

Proclaim with me the greatness of the LORD. Be it a random Tuesday in August or the beginning of Passiontide, to praise the Lord in community is key, it is necessary, it is a pleasure. Let us exalt his Name together. Hosanna in the Highest!

August 6, 2007

a new label

For those of you who are regulars here, I wanted to let you know of a new label for my blog posts. As I'm sure you've noticed there are days when my posts are more coherent than others. On days that I'm not even sure what I'm saying, like today, for instance, I will attach the "rambling" label. Use it as a warning to proceed with caution in reading my thoughts for that day.

Thanks for reading!

role reversal

"The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve." I am drawn to this verse of Scripture. I remember that Dr. Yieh said it was the crux of one of the Gospels, but I can't remember which one. I know that for at least one early faith community the servant nature of Christ was of utmost importance.

I don't think it was the Lukan community (I think it was Mark), but still, the mindbogglingly radical nature of Christ's service is clear in the Gospel for Clare's feast. With a simple beatitude, Jesus turns the idea of master and slave upside-down. In so doing, being true to the allegory of Jewish stories of master and slave, he turns the idea of God and human upside-down as well. "Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them."

It seems beyond comprehension to think of a master who, upon finding his slaves doing nothing more than what they were supposed to be doing, would have them sit down and proceed to serve them. It makes no sense. As the Psalmist wrote (49)

We can never ransom ourselves, *
or deliver to God the price of our life;

For the ransom of our life is so great, *
that we should never have enough to pay it,

In order to live for ever and ever, *
and never see the grave.

Just as the master serving his slaves is seemingly without cause, so too is God's ransom of us. We, of our own, cannot accomplish it. When a job is 24/7 and you call in sick, that day can never be made up (thanks Bishop Dyer). But God wants to fix it. God wants to reward us for doing what we are supposed to be doing. God wants to turn the relationship upside-down and offer us not only his service, but his kingdom. What a role reversal that is. I only hope I can wrap my mind around it, and accept this amazing gift from God.

August 3, 2007

a psalm that is hard to keep

"I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall ever be in my mouth."

What an interesting text to use at an ordination service. It is clear that this is appropriate for the feast of most of our saints, Claire certainly among them. But it seems to me there is a reason why we have a rather short roster of saints in the Episcopal Church. Most of us aren't capable of making such a bold claim. Even saints like Phillips Brooks weren't able to live up to such a bold statement (that man could complain). Anyway, I was struck this morning by this psalm.

I'm not really at a point of complaining about my ministry or about God right now, but I have to think, at some point over the next who-knows-how-many years I will have something to complain about. I won't live up to the expectation that Scott is setting up for himself by having this Psalm at his his ordination service. Granted, I'd love to be able to bless the LORD at all times, but I know that there are times when life sucks. There are times, even in my own past, when the only way to communicate with God is by yelling and screaming. There are times when God's will is so opposite your own that you will be pissed off at God.

So what to do with this Psalm? I can't just throw it out. I can't not use it. I have to strive for it. Trusting in the LORD means that when his will and mine don't match, I don't get angry, but I surrender mine for his. Jesus himself had to lay down his will so that the will of the Father, a will that meant an agonizing death and separation from God that brought about salvation for countless numbers, might be accomplished. So I guess I use this Psalm as my touchstone. Coming back to it in times of struggle to remind myself to "taste and see that the LORD is good." Otherwise, I could easily get caught up in my own desires, losing all perspective, and being angry more often than not.

""I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall ever be in my mouth."

August 1, 2007

The Father's Good Pleasure

"Jesus said to his disciples, 'Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.'"

"Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

Brian McLaren has an interesting assessment of present-day American Christianity. To paraphrase, he see the faith that most Christians are carrying around as that of Paul, Jesus is coming back tonight, I need to be ready. "What if," he asks, "what if Jesus isn't coming back tonight? How will you live with that as your assumption?"

I think this is what Jesus has in mind in Luke 12.32-37. It is another kingdom lesson. Another clue into how we are to live life as Christians on earth each and every day. Sure, he mentions the reward, and even warns us to be ready for that day when all we be called to account, but inherent in it is the assumption that it won't be tonight. It is one of those both/ands I hated so much in seminary.

Be prepared for Jesus to come (or your life to end) tonight

Live as though it isn't going to happen. Live a life of Christian discipline that assumes that even if you were to die tonight, the world will still go on. The poor will still be poor. The hungry will still be hungry. Children will still need protection.

It is a tough balance to find. And I know I haven't helped much here. But at least I'm thinking about it today. I'm thinking about how to balance a life that is ready for the kingdom to come to earth and expectant of the riches to come. Seems to me that's the balance of a priest as well. The deacon ordination, which comes first, is a call to a life focused here on earth; on making it a better place for all. The priest part, which ultimately is secondary (though we don't think of it that way), with its sacramental components is focused on the daily nourishment required should we be called to judgment tonight.

It is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Live as to bring it to earth today, cuz it might not come tonight.