September 28, 2007

Scripture Preaching Scripture

The more I wrestle with the Parable of the rich man and Lazarus the more I realize its depth of meaning. I'll preach on Sunday that this parable, emblematic of the rest, is like an onion. The simple meaning can be seen in the skin; red, white or yellow, but the nuances of its flavor comes within the layers beneath (and getting there draws tears). But still, that top layer, the skin, the easy and obvious surface level meaning in the case of parables is not to be thrown away. There is still much to be taken from it just as onion skin is used in making high quality papers, dying cloth, and even has homeopathic medical benefits.

And as far as articulating that first level meaning of this particular passage, I think that Paul's 2nd letter to Timothy, the Epistle (NT) text for Sunday gets it right. "As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life." It has to be assumed from the text, but it can easily be done, that the rich man, though he knew Lazarus by name, ignored his need thus not setting a foundation for the future. The Timothy text tells the rich where to invest their money for a solid, long-term, return - be rich in good works. That surface meaning is so clear, and yet, as we know from the parable and our own lives it is so hard. Just as saving money for the future puts a pinch on the here and now, so too does investing in "life that really is life" might hurt now, but is so very worth it.

September 27, 2007

the great thing about parables...

... is their layers.

Keith found a great layer in the Gospel for Sunday during his meditation this morning and shared it with me. I'll paraphrase here.

Gates - The Kingdom of God is open gates. We build walls, but why? To keep ourselves in or to keep others out? But we never build a wall without a gate. It seems that the ministry of Jesus was to run around opening gates. The gate in the wall of the sabbath is opened as he heals the man with Dropsy. The gate in the wall of the religious law keepers is open in the parable of the great banquet. The gate in the wall between rich and poor is open in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. Ultimately the gate in the wall between God and man will be open as the curtain is torn in two as Jesus breaths his last.

Then my buddy Bill sent me an email with a reflection on the centrality of the chasm in the lesson; not necessarily between the haves and have nots, but the chasms we create daily. His thought comes from the idea that Lazarus was at the rich man's gate. He sees Jesus commenting on how we keep those closest to us at arms length; ignoring them for any number of reasons. And, he ponders, "we carry that burden if Jesus is serious when he says "what you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven, what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven" Just how in control of our fate are we?"

I love how open the Scriptures are to us. I love that they are alive in our hearts and minds as the Spirit shows each of us where they impact our lives directly. Woo-Hoo for Spirit-filled interpretation!

September 26, 2007

The Fixed Chasm

Our Lectionary group yesterday spent most of our time discussing the chasm. We noted, thanks to my blatant theft from bill's comment on Monday, that in the beginning there is no chasm, the rich man and Lazarus are sharing the same space, but, by the time of their death's, the chasm is so wide as to be impossible to cross.

Since then, I've spent a lot of time thinking about that chasm. Having teetered on the edge of heresy a few weeks ago, I'd like to walk with you to that precipice again this time with "works righteousness" on my mind. My thought comes from a theology of heaven and hell that has been brewing in my mind for the last three years or so. I am in that school of uneducated, drooling, evangelicals that still believes that there are two final destinations when this ride is over; we'll call them heaven and hell for ease of conversation.

I believe that heaven is eternity spent basking in the love of God; what form that takes, I have no idea. I believe that hell is eternity spent in the absence of the love of God; what form that takes, again, I have no idea. What I have been working out recently is how one arrives at a ticket to one or the other destination... and I think it might be the result of choices. A life lived actively choosing to reject God will result in an afterlife in the absence of his love. A life lived actively choosing to come to know God will result in an afterlife in "the bussom of Abraham." My hunch is that there is one last chance, post-death, at the final judgment to make that choice for good. If the burning fire of the love of God is too much, then one can choose the burning fires of hell. Anyway, I think it is all about choices, or as [gulp!] Barbra Brown Taylor puts it "Who do you think fixed that chasm in the story? Was it God or the rich man? Sometimes I think the worst thing we ever have to fear is that God will give us exactly what we want." (Bread of Angels, 113).

And so the chasm, that fixed place in between the heaven and hell that I so foolishly believe exist, is a foundation dug by our choices; are we going to live a life that fills in those holes, are will we use our shovel to dig deeper and wider?

Tominthebox News Network - Religious Humor/Satire: Church "Throwed Communion" Stunt Proves Disastrous

Tominthebox News Network - Religious Humor/Satire: Church
"Throwed Communion" Stunt Proves Disastrous

We have a Lambert's in Foley, so this particular post is hilarious to me. Seriously though, if communion once a month is dull in this church, imagine what it must be for our parishioners having to go through it on a weekly (or at VTS these days, daily) basis.

September 24, 2007

a dose of humility

One of my resources for preaching is a blog called, theolog, the blog for Christian Century. Because it isn't just a lectionary blog it often has other, good, stuff. Today as I got my stuff together for Sunday a title jumped out at me and I just had to read it. The Wired Pastor by Jason Byassee.

It was a real smack in the face to me, my Blackberry Pearl, my blog, and my facebook stalking.

You’ve seen them, maybe you’re one of them: pastors who must be in touch at all times. The cell phone is either in use or strapped handily onto the belt, ready to be pulled out at a moment’s notice. It’s best as a Blackberry or Treo, so it can vibrate every ten minutes with news of new messages. And just in case those fail, a beeper should be handy. You can never be too wired.

I can understand why some professions would cause one to need to be accessible 100 percent of the time: firefighters, psychologists with mentally ill patients and (given recent floods in this part of the country) plumbers come to mind. But why pastors?... Read it all here

be wary of extremes

I rue the fact that Jesus uttered this parable. I wish he had never ventured into this God territory that is so very easily overtaken by abusive preachers. Oh how I wish that the Amos lesson was something easier to preach. In the words of my new favorite wireless commercial, "U G H."

It seems to me that two traps have been set in this parable, and, at any given time over the past 2000 years or so both have been preached to the determent of the gospel, the Church, and yes, even God. The first, and the one that went out of fashion first was its use to point out to the poor that they should delight in their situation because they shall be rewarded by sitting at the right hand of Abraham in heaven. This was used especially well in impoverished areas of Central and South America to keep the outcast in their place and allow the church and government to stay in bed while raking in the dough. The reaction to this misuse in that place resulted in what we now call liberation theology. The second, and one that can be seen as a reaction to the first, is its use in preaching a strict social gospel. Now, I assure you that I am using this term very loosely and without academic study behind it. What I mean by a strict social gospel is that strain of liberal preaching that affords salvation to those who do good works for the poor; rather than having good works be an outpouring of the Spirit by those who have been saved exclusively by Christ Jesus (many will squabble with me here, and please do, but I'm bad with theological schools of thought, so I call them as I see them). The problem here is that it has taken the power of salvation out of God's hands and put it in human hands, and the Bible is full of stories about how this can't possibly work. The reaction to this misuse is equally scary and it comes in the form of fundamentalist evangelicals who, without thought, dismiss anything that might be "liberal" and see no need toward good works for the poor because Jesus might be coming back tonight. (Again, I am using a very, very broad brush).

All four of these schools of thought; the misreading and its reaction, can be identified as an extreme position; hence the title of today's post, "be wary of extremes." It is my growing belief that to understand these passages that lend themselves so easily to extreme interpretation one must sit in space in between; in the paradoxes, or as the case is in this gospel lesson, "in the great chasm fixed between."

And so that is where I sit today, in an oddly familiar place in that great chasm. I'm not really sure how I'll preach this lesson on Sunday yet. I'm not really sure how these extremes might inform each other and result in a place of rest. All I know for sure is that this great chasm is the only safe space for me in this passage, so I'll wait here til things clear up.

Readings for Proper 21, Year C


September 21, 2007

Friday's Confession at Mission St.Claire

Quiz time kiddies. I know somebody out there can help me, and I'm looking at you Peter. I've gotten into (and out of and back into) the habit of reading one of the
Offices off of the website of St. Claire's mission. They offer Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. On Friday's they have an expanded confession:

Most holy and merciful Father:
We confess to you and to one another,
and to the whole communion of saints
in heaven and on earth,
that we have sinned by our own fault
in thought, word, and deed;
by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.

Have mercy on us, Lord.

We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us. We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved your Holy Spirit.

Have mercy on us, Lord.

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives,

We confess to you, Lord.

Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people,

We confess to you, Lord.

Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves,

We confess to you, Lord.

Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work,

We confess to you, Lord.

Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us,

We confess to you, Lord.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,

Accept our repentance, Lord.

For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us,

Accept our repentance, Lord.

For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us,

Accept our repentance, Lord.

Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;

Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.

Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,

That we may show forth your glory in the world.

By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,

Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

Does anybody know where this comes from originally? Is it a Poor Claire original? I've mentioned here before that I wasn't the greatest student in seminary, so odds are we talked about it and I missed it.

I really enjoy this expanded confession every once-in-a-while. It is nice to spell out those sins; personal and corporate, that I commit or take part in so very often. I especially like asking God to accomplish in us the work of salvation so "that we may show forth [God's] glory in the world." Just has a nice ring. AND this confession seems awfully appropriate given the various calls to repentance in the lessons for Sunday.

Thanks to whoever helps me with this... [cough cough... Peter... Elizabeth... cough... Fabs...]

September 20, 2007

faithful in a little

Do you ever feel overwhelmed? Does life just get to be too much? Do you feel like you need "7 habits" to get "your best life now"? I do, and I certainly understand the attraction of people like Covey (secular) and Osteen (religious) who offer pretty good advice for people who were born without the ability to prioritize and plan. I get that.

But I think this life of being overwhelmed isn't new. Modernity, the industrial revolution, and the PC didn't cause our lives to be more complicated than they were, just complicated in new and different ways. And despite what Covey and Osteen might tell us, the power to overcome these complications does not, and never has, come from within ourselves. It comes only when our lives are restored to their full potential as God's Created beings.

So, Jesus tells us, just be faithful. Be faithful in a little and God will give you more. Be faithful to God, and God alone. Don't try to be faithful to yourself, to your job, to your routine, or whatever other idol has taken your faith, but put your faith in God and the rest will take care of itself.

I know this all sounds glib, but I really think that it might just be that easy. Having spent the day at Fresh Start, the group process hotspot for clergy in new positions, I realized that we, especially clergy, put our faith in a lot of stuff that isn't good; programs, products, theologies, ourselves, our congregations, etc. and end up really wounded, cuz all that sh*t will at one time or another let us down (yes even ourselves), but to put our faith in God means to rest on the one who is eternal, is not passing away, and will not let us down. With time, we might even forget those wounds that we caused ourselves by putting our faith in things that are passing away, and might even become a better, more whole, person because of it.

September 19, 2007

going green

One of the things that this congregation has been discerning is what role they might play in the future of this wonderful spot in God's creation. From our farmers to our boaters and beyond we are full of people with a keen interest in keeping S. Baldwin County beautiful for years to come. In fact, our jr and sr high students are talking about this in Sunday school and our adults will be conversing about it over adult beverages at our Draughting Theology sessions on the beautiful Fish River.

As I read the lessons today, the Hebrew idea of the land struck me in Amos' lesson. The idea being that the land, and more so the people's occupancy of it, was directly related to their fidelity to the Lord. Their sinfulness resulted in the land "vomiting them out" to exile. Having listed the various ways in which the people had taken advantage of one another, and especially the poor, Amos asks this question, "Shall not the land tremble on this account..?"

I wonder if this is the realization that we are coming to? Have we found that the way in which we have taken advantage of all sorts of things is causing "the land to tremble"? How can we make restitution? It is not a political debate, as far as I see, but a call to repentance, reflection, and new action. To treat with respect all those things that we, for so long, have taken advantage of will mean going green, better business practices, treating others with love, etc., etc. How long must the land tremble before we get the message?

September 18, 2007

Lectionary Group Week 4

Clergy conference meant that I missed week 3 of our Lectionary Group, but this week was a hum-dinger, so I feel like I got a 2-for-1. We had a record number of guys (sorry ladies, I haven't found a female preacher yet) show up today, seven in all. The conversation swarmed, as usual, but with a text like the shrewd manager, why wouldn't it.

What came out of our conversation as the word for me was that Jesus is asking a question of our wills. Where do we turn in times of crisis? The manager turned to what he knew, crooked accounting, when times got tough. As Jesus heads to the cross, the supreme crisis, where does he turn, to the will of his Father. As his disciples deal with the crisis that is Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Ascension Day where will they turn? Jesus is giving them a chance here to think about that question. In times of crisis where do you turn? Are you shrewd (wise) enough to use what you have for survival? Is your will aligned with that of the Father such that the Spirit of Wisdom can direct your actions? Will you use all that you have; the gospel, your wealth, your will, the Spirit for the upbuilding of the kingdom, or will you only use bits and pieces of your overall supply to save your own tail?

This insight came out of Pastor Jay's weekly question YBH (Yes, but how?) Jesus is telling us to be shrewd, yes, but how do we do that? I think we do that by using the wisdom of God, rather than our own knowledge. What do you think?

Sermon for Proper 19, Year C

Over the past few weeks, Jesus has given us a lot to struggle with. Keith and I have struggled mightily dealing with those tough passages about the cost of discipleship. As a church, I think it is safe to say that we have been worn out by the impossible task of following Jesus to the point that last week we had to realize that we can not do it alone. Father Keith so wonderfully pointed out that offering God everything is “too hard,” but by putting God first he “entrusts back into our care everything.” And now, as if Luke can sense our exhaustion we are offered a gift, we are given a glimpse of the reward for the obedient work of those who follow Christ. We get a brief picture of what the kingdom of God is like, though it lies subtly, under the radar, in this passage from Luke 15.

The fifteenth chapter of Luke is probably the most famous chapter in all of Luke. The parables we have here; of the lost sheep and the lost coin, are followed by the parable of the prodigal son; a third story of that which is lost now being found. We see that God is actively seeking us out to be restored into right relationship. We find a God that is persistent in his love for us to the point of focusing annoyingly on one of us while the rest are left seemingly alone for a while. What I see most, however, in today’s gospel lesson is a glimpse into the kingdom of God in the tagline that follows both parables. I tell you that in the same way there will be much rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents.” This unspectacular end to these parables is, for me, a vision into what Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo among others call, “The Party of God.” This party is one open to all the kingdom of heaven; angels and archangels, prophets and martyrs, saints of God, all of heaven rejoices over one sinner who repents.

This rejoicing stands in stark contrast to our world which focuses only on the big and exciting. Imagine if your neighbor came pounding on your door to invite you to rejoice with him at a party to the limits of his wealth because he had found a quarter that had fallen between his couch cushions.[1] [pause] Can you hear the crickets chirping as you stand in stunned silence? “Good for you,” I might offer sheepishly as I closed the door in his face and considered putting my house up for sale. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to us to get excited over the stuff that seems so small. What is one quarter going to do? What difference does it mean to find a single sheep when you have 99 good ones roaming in the pasture?

If you are like me and having a hard time with that, suppose then that your neighbor begins to invite you over for parties daily. Today he’s found a dime, tomorrow, that same quarter, the next day a rouge sock appeared in his dryer, and on, and on. Are you beginning to understand how strange this is? And yet, it happens constantly in the kingdom of God as all of heaven rejoices over one sinner who repents. They rejoice over the teenager who accepts Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior at camp in the same way they rejoice over the aging baby-boomer who, for the ten-thousandth time repents of his prideful way. Each and every time one of us turns from our own way and comes back to God the party begins again. I don’t know about you but what sounds so silly on earth, sounds really great to me in the kingdom. I feel honored to have a party thrown over me. I feel humbled to have one thrown over and over and over and over again as I sin and repent and sin and repent and sin and repent. I like it so much, that I’m beginning to re-evaluate just how silly it might be here in this life. As we pray each Sunday for God’s kingdom to come, I don’t believe we can ignore the lessons we get from Scripture on what that would look like.

A great example of living into the kingdom as the party of God here on earth comes from Tony Campolo. Many of you have probably heard this story, but it is worth another listen as we try to discern together what the party of God might look like in the here and now. Tony was in another time zone and couldn't sleep, so well after midnight he wandered down to a doughnut shop where, it turned out, local hookers also came at the end of a night of turning tricks. There, he overheard a con­versation between two of them. One, named Agnes, said, "You know what? Tomorrow's my birthday. I'm gonna be thirty-nine." Her friend snapped back, "So what d'ya want from me? A birth­day party? Huh? You want me to get a cake and sing happy birthday to you?" The first woman replied, "Aw, come on, why do you have to be so mean? Why do you have to put me down? I'm just sayin' it's my birthday. I don't want anything from you. I mean, why should I have a birthday party? I've never had a birth­day party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?"

When they left, Tony got an idea. He asked the shop owner if Agnes came in every night, and when he replied in the affir­mative, Tony invited him into a surprise party conspiracy. The shop owner's wife even got involved. Together they arranged for a cake, candles, and typical party decorations for Agnes, who was, to Tony, a complete stranger. The next night when she came in, they shouted, "Surprise!"-and Agnes couldn't believe her eyes. The doughnut shop patrons sang, and she began to cry so hard she could barely blow out the candles. When the time came to cut the cake, she asked if they'd mind if she didn't cut it, if she could bring it home-just to keep it for a while and savor the moment. So she left, carrying her cake like a treasure.

Tony led the guests in a prayer for Agnes, after which the shop owner told Tony he didn't realize Tony was a preacher. He asked what kind of church Tony came from, and Tony replied, "I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.” The shop owner couldn't believe him. "No you don't. There ain't no church like that. If there was, I'd join it. Yep, I'd join a church like that."[2]

What if there was a church like that? What if we saw the spark of hope in Agnes’ confession that her birthday was coming up rather than dashed it as her so called friend did in the doughnut shop that night? What if, for just a moment, however fleeting it might be, we were able to enter into the party of God; to see what it feels like to rejoice with the angels as one sinner experiences the love of God?

Unfortunately, this is very difficult for us. Just as the Pharisees questioned Jesus’ motives and actions, it seems as though we are conditioned to live life assuming not that “there will be joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, but instead we assume that there will be much joy in heaven when one sinner gets what’s coming, or as William Barclay says it, “There will be much joy in heaven over one sinner who is obliterated before God.”[3] What would the world be like if we reacted with rejoicing over the little successes of life? What if, instead of looking at how many times something has failed, we tried to build up those times when things have worked right? What if we met the world with joy in our hearts rather than skepticism?

To view the world this way is not easy, especially for me. During my three years in seminary I was a member of a dubious group. We sat in front of the library during our free time and offered what I like to think was “helpful critique” to anything that would listen, mostly the trees above and ground below. We were so famous as to be mentioned in a sermon by the Dean as “the circle of cynics.” I know how it is to approach life with a spirit of skepticism, but I hope that you will join me, and help me, as I attempt to make a change; to repent from my way of cynicism and turn to the path of rejoicing. There will be plenty of starts and stops along the way; plenty of chances for all of heaven to rejoice at my multiple attempts at repentance, but one day, I know that by the grace of God, I too will be able to meet the world with a joyful heart. I may never be in a church that throws parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning, and that’s ok, but I do plan on being a part of this church as it strives to offer the world a vision, however fleeting, of the party of God. Amen.

[1] From

[2] As retold in McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus p. 145-6.

[3] Luke, p. 237.

Readings for Proper 20, Year C

Are Here

September 12, 2007


William Barclay's New Daily Bible Study on Luke's gospel makes an interesting point.

"We will understand these parables [of Luke 15] more fully if we remember that the strict Jews [the Pharisee's in our context] said, not 'There will be joy in heaven over one sinner who repents', but, 'There will be joy in heaven over one sinner who is obliterated before God.' They looked forward not to the saving but to the destruction of the sinner." (p 237)

I found this really interesting as I thought about the current context in which we live. Are we still like those Pharisees? Would we rather see a sinner "get his just deserts" than find freedom in Jesus Christ? We often get teary eyed over a great story of God's grace (I was a crack addict and now am a pastor) when they look back far enough that the ugliness of the addiction is gone, but to have someone clean but 30 days tell that story leads us to wonder if it'll last, and certainly hope they don't stick around our church too long in case it doesn't.

It is a challenge to me. I expect God to throw a party every time I repent (and it happens a lot), but I keep at arms length those who I don't think are sincere. I am being challenged to join that party.

September 11, 2007

a quick thought

In the final minutes of clergy conference, so I don't have much time. My quick thought having only skimmed the lessons is how willing our congregants are to accept that God desires them this much. Seems as though faith in self and faith in God are closely related. How wounded are our congregants that many of them can't believe in themselves let alone that God might love them.

September 7, 2007

Renewing the Covenant

As Moses nears his death, aware that he will not enter the Promised Land, he calls the Hebrew people to make an oath. To declare before heaven and earth that they will have the LORD as their God and they will be his people. "Choose life!" He then turns the reigns over to Joshua, who, a generation later, calls the Hebrew people to renew that covenant just before his death. This system of Moses typological prophets is seen throughout the Old Testament, and can be read into the ministry of Jesus who asks that his follows be reminded of his teaching by the Spirit. It can even be read into Paul's words to Timothy in the second letter as he calls Timothy to remember daily the Gospel that Paul had taught him.

The call moves from a generation by generation renewal of the covenant to a daily one. Which leads me to the collect for Sunday,
"Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

A prayer which we could offer daily (or hourly or constantly for that matter) that God would constantly be at the center of our lives; that we would be willing to renew that covenant over and over again; that even when we turn away, God will be there ready to help us return to his favor.

As the busy-ness of the the program year kicks off fully this weekend, I am feeling called to remember that covenant, to trust the Lord with all my heart, and to ask God to help me with that trust on a constant basis. My tendency will be to forget that I need God. I will go about it on my own, revel in my successes, sulk in my failures, and be stripped of all energy and strength by removing myself from communion with the Spirit, by failing to live up to the covenant. Yet, God will be there, waiting eagerly for me to turn around and see him. He will not pressure me, but will full me to overflowing when I begin to live by the covenant which he has set from the time of Moses.

"Choose life!" Moses calls, even to me, that I might turn from all idols, and return to the LORD.

September 5, 2007


TOH to Khris who, many years ago now gave me this illustration for living with the "law" of God. In light of Moses' plea to "choose life" I thought it appropriate.

So often these days we hear people invoking Paul to argue that we no longer need to follow God's rules for our lives, but rather can "live by the Spirit." This line of thinking however, taken to its logical conclusion leads to moral relativism and ultimately moral bankruptcy. While it is true that we can take or leave the rules for life which God gave us, and some are more pertinent to our place and time (see rules re: blended cloths and pork) there are still morals, given in scripture, which should be followed.

It is as if God is a lifeguard on the beach. In his wisdom he has setup a perimeter of buoys in which it is safe to swim. He has made these determinations based on the visible conditions above and below the water as well as his experience and expertise in ever changing ocean. As a lifeguard, he makes a promise to you that if you swim inside of those buoys you will be safe (relatively). To go outside of those markers is to take things into your own hands, whatever comes of it, comes of it. He'll do his best to save you should trouble arise outside of the perimeter, but he can make no promises. Additionally, he makes no promises as to our safety within the boarders as swimmers come and go, inviting danger back with them (sharks and the like). "Choose life!" He pleads, "Not only for yourself, but for those who swim with you, by following the rules for the good of the whole."

It is a fairly simplistic metaphor, but it helps me think beyond myself in morality and ethics. The decisions I make don't merely affect me for good or ill (see the Labor Day Collect on pg 261), but impact those who surround me as well. Don't know how well this image will preach to a congregation, but it really gave our students something to chew on when Khris proposed it.

September 4, 2007

Sermon for Proper 17, Year C

NOTE!!!! As I mentioned in the post below this is not one of my best sermons AND it is very much not my own work. Thanks go Sarah Dylan Bruer (, Diana Butler Bass, and *gulp* The Episcopal Life Online for their help saving me after a busy, busy week.

“Arrogance is hateful to the Lord and to mortals…” But honestly who doesn’t think a little too highly of themselves from time to time?


As I met with a group of colleagues on Tuesday morning one of them summed up the readings for today like this, “"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.” Obviously he was joking, but he pointed to a real tension that existed in the room. Pride is everywhere; especially in a room full of pastors. The fine line between humility and pride is hard to find.

A former professor of mine, now Dean of the Seminary at Sewanee, wrote a book called, Disordered Loves: Healing the Seven Deadly Sins. In it he comes to realize that (at least) two of the seven deal directly with arrogance. “Pride errs when it places self at the center, when it builds a high tower of isolation. In contrast, accidie involves a person shrinking from existence, slipping into a pool of hopeless non-being. What these sins have in common is they refuse our status as creatures dependent on God. They reject the gift of created, contingent life. Some of us violently assert ourselves; we sin boldly. Others of us shrink into nothingness; rather than climb up, we slide down.”[1]

It is hard to find that balance. On one hand “spiritual pride might be the deadliest of the Seven Deadly Sins, because it can corrupt even striving to be good and generous and turn it into an occasion for further pride. Fight is successfully for a moment, and you might find yourself saying, “Wow… I’m being humble. And I’m MUCH more humble than Jean, or for that matter George. Maybe I should teach a class on humility.’”[2] On the other hand, accidie, a crippling fatalism, leads to “a deep (and unhealthy!) burden, ‘I can’t tell anyone, and I can’t pray – I’m so bad that God can’t forgive me.’ That line of thinking sets you and whatever crime you think you’ve committed as being more powerful than God, and ‘I think I’m more powerful than God’ is a statement of supreme arrogance.”[3] Maybe the line is so blurry, because there really is no line. Both pride and accidie are based on arrogance, putting ourselves in the place of God. And remember, “Arrogance is hateful to the Lord and to mortals…”

And so what are we to do? If the line between pride and accidie is so close as to be indistinguishable, how do we find a place in the middle; appropriately humble, with a healthy amount of self-esteem? That seemingly impossibly small middle place is where Christ alone exists. He models for us a life lived abundantly in God; a life of humble service; a life of hospitality. It is clear from the parable of the dinner guests that Jesus calls us to humility, even as we take our seats at the banquet. I often wonder if Episcopalians take this parable literally as they fight for seats in the back of the church. But Jesus uses an interesting reason for our humility; so that we might be honored. “Take the lowest seat,” he says, “so that when you are asked to move up, you’ll be honored all the more.” Of course when he goes on to tell us we should invite to our own parties; not those who can repay, but instead the poor, the lame, the blind, and so on, the actual motivation becomes clear. It follows then that if we are invited to God’s party, it is because of our disability; our spiritual blindness, our poor spirit, our limping faith. At this party our place is in the lowest seat, but God will turn that upside down. Through the cross, Jesus takes our lowly seat and we are moved up, to the seat of glory. Proper perspective puts us where we should begin, but God’s redeeming grace makes honor a possibility.

As if building on the gospel lesson, the letter to the Hebrews moves from the spiritual banquet of the next life, to practical ways to live humbly in the here and now. “Let mutual love continue.” Mutual love can exist only in that middle place between pride and accidie. Mutual love cannot exist unless both parties are 1) capable of love – that is capable of focusing on the needs of the other and 2) capable of receiving love – that is able to see oneself worthy of love and affection. Practically speaking, mutual love looks like hospitality to strangers, remembering those in prison, remembering those being tortured for their faith, honoring marriage, staying away from greed, and being content with what we have. Practically speaking, mutual love is hard. Fortunately, we have examples in the faith to show us the way. As the author of Hebrews writes, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” At first glance, this verse made me quite nervous. With arrogance running through my head, I thought to myself, “I hope they don’t look to me.” Quickly, however I realized that maybe this didn’t mean look to your local clergy as an example of godly life, but rather to look to the communion of saints for examples.

For example, The Virgin Mary is a great example of “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Imagine as the angel Gabriel entered Mary’s room to announce her pregnancy to her. Certainly she was scared. Her first instinct was most likely to run or to shoo away the intruder, but instead she showed him hospitality and was rewarded as the mother of our Lord.

Hospitality is foundational to our faith. Henri Nouwen wrote of American society in the 1970s as “a world of strangers, estranged from their own past, culture, and country, form their neighbors, friends and family, from their deepest self and their God.”[4] How much more so are we estranged today as the family dinner table becomes TV trays; as conversations happen over voice-mail or email; or as the number one pastime of even those over 65 is surfing the web, an isolating practice. Increasingly we exist in a world as individuals on a journey of our own. We meet people along the road and with some we choose to walk for a spell, but the image of Americans as nomads on a journey is becoming more and more accurate. And so, hospitality becomes more and more important. As Christians we are called to welcome strangers, our fellow tourists, “as we ourselves have been welcomed into God through the love of Jesus Christ.” The one who is the same yesterday and today and forever is the one who invites us into relationships; moving us from individuals and strangers to members of a community.

Hospitality is risky. It means welcoming those who we might not normally hang out with. It means sitting next to that guy who just won’t shut up. It means allowing the jerk in traffic that just passed you on the shoulder to merge in front of you. It means being vulnerable and offering mutual love. But hospitality is the work of those who by God’s grace enter into that thin space between pride and accidie. It is the call in these lessons which we would most certainly rather ignore. It is the cornerstone of the faith; we welcome as Christ welcomes us. We have the wonderful opportunity to join Jesus in this difficult work. Who knows, you may entertain an angel. Amen.




[4] Quoted in Diana Butler Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us, 79.

Choose Life... Give it up

After what I can only describe as a weak sermon on Sunday, I read with envy the lessons for this week. Having strung quotes together like I was writing a seminary paper, I am excited by the possibility this week of really hearing what the Spirit has to say as Keith preaches on some awesome texts. My lectionary group met this morning, and we dealt with the whole range of readings. It was interesting to see how we each dealt with them as some preach social justice, some preach stewardship, some preach discipleship, but all preach the gospel. What I was left with was an understanding across Deuteronomy 30.15-20 and Luke 14.25-33 that to choose life is to choose to give life up.

The call in Luke to hate mother and father, wife and children, sister and brother, and life itself is a toughy Then it goes on to again call us to pick up our cross and "give up" all our possessions. Luke and his cost of discipleship, jeez. A great homiletical approach came from our discussion however. The call in Luke 14.25-33 is a call to the Major Leagues. Very few of us are actually called to such a level of discipleship. But everyone of us is called to play the game. The most basic commandment, to love God and love neighbor means to hate (read here give up) life itself. We cannot play the game, we cannot walk as a disciple of Jesus without at least, AT LEAST, giving up our lives for his service. To, as Moses says, "choose life," is to give it up for the sake of the gospel. That is the very least we can do and still be called followers of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

From there some of us will be called to AA or AAA ball as we turn our relationships with those we love over to God, knowing that they are gifts from him alone; not possessions for us to latch tightly onto. A very small percentage of us will be called up to the majors where we will be expected to give up all of our possessions, again knowing that they too are gifts from God alone; not things which we can hoard. This very elite group of Bonhoeffer's and Theresa's (even in her doubt) will be given the chance to measure up with the greatest pro player of all time, God himself, Jesus Christ. The rest of us will try to measure up to them, or two lesser saints along the way.

All in all; to choose life, a real life the way God intended it to be, is to give it up, the way God intended it to be. I only hope that I can someday make it to AA ball.

Readings for Proper 18, Year C

Can be found here.