November 30, 2007
What does it mean to be ready for Jesus to return? Is that even possible? How can one be ready for the final and permanent in-breaking of the Kingdom of God? Seems like a lot to ask of those who are fumbling along as best we can in this thing called faith.
Yet, we can, in some ways, be prepared. We can do our best today to make this world as much like the next. We can take care of the poor, the widows, the orphans. We can wage peace with our enemies. We can be faithful to our God and our families. We can do the best at our work and our play for the glory of God. We can, in some ways, be prepared.
I've mentioned before the charge that Brian McLaren has given. He asserts that much of modern evangelicalism is based on the assumption that Jesus is coming back tonight. He takes the negative view of what that means; "nothing matters, cuz Jesus will fix it all (or in some camps Jesus will destroy it all)." So he calls us to live as if Jesus isn't coming back tonight. But I wonder if there isn't some benefit to living as if Jesus were coming back tonight. Wouldn't you want to be proud of the earth he came back to? Wouldn't you want Jesus, the one through whom all things were made, to find a healthy earth where the environment, the poor, and the outcast were being intentionally taken care of in His name? Maybe we can see a positive motivation in living as if Jesus were coming back tonight. Maybe it will help us to prepare ourselves and the rest of Creation for his return.
"You must be ready, for the Son of Man will come at an unexpected hour."
November 29, 2007
In my Young Life days it was made clear to me that when God looks at me he sees Jesus. So I guess that might be what its about, but still, I don't buy that either. Why wouldn't God want to see me? Sure I'm not great looking. Sure my sin makes me even harder to look at. And OK I spend most of my time with my back to God, but why, if God loves me, knit me in my mother's womb, knows the number of hairs on my head and had my name engraved on his hand, why would he see anything other than me when he glanced in my direction?
If I "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" does it mean that I am veiled by him? I'm not so sure it does. But if I am striving to be like him. If I am working to help bring the Kingdom to earth right now (if even for a moment) then maybe that is "putting on the Lord Jesus Christ." Not physically veiling myself in his image like Nick Cage and John Travolta in Face Off, but rather to put on his character; his Godly will.
And so then when God sees me I hope he doesn't see snow on a dung heap or only the phyical manifestation of Jesus, but me, messy as I am, trying to put on Christ as best I can.
November 28, 2007
Well, if one were to teach this week, I can see two great opportunties.
1- The lesson from Isaiah is almost perfect Zion theology. Check out Jon Levenson's Sinai & Zion for the details, but I love the image of people flowing up toward the mountain of God while instruction and holiness flow down. It is a great image for the spiritual journey. As we move up the mountain things get dicier and dicier, but the fruit is so much better up at the top.
2- The Gospel lesson, with its obvious applications in bumper stickers like this one:is a wonderful opportunity to teach about the end times not from a movie starring Kirk Cameron. See my above comment about the disservice of teaching in our churches and take a chance this week to open people's eyes to varying schools of thought on the various apocalyptic writings in the Old and New Testaments. Stephen Cook has a great book appropriately entitled The Apocalyptic Literature if you are in need of some help.
45 minutes is a long time to preach. It is a long time to lecture in a class room for that matter, but I firmly believe that people want to learn something AND be called to action in church. So why not maybe go a few minutes over 13.5 minutes and give them something to hold on to?
Photo from bumperart.com
November 27, 2007
Our time was mostly focused on the questions of the second coming. We are so preoccupied with the "when" question that Pastor Jay got us thinking about another one. "Where next?" And, if not here, then "why?" What are we doing to actively keep Jesus from being "really present" here and now?
Lot's of quotes, but I want to get the point across. See for the 5 of us in the room, all ordained ministers, Christ has come again with real power and real glory into our lives. Otherwise we wouldn't be where we are, but what do we have to say to those who haven't seen him come again. And how do we differentiate Christ's coming again now; Christ's kingdom breaking into the world around us from his coming again to judge the living and the dead?
3 other thoughts came out of our discussion.
1- Why did Jesus feel the need to address this issue? Why did Matthew record it? Because we all want to be swept off our feet. We have a deeply rooted need to be a part of something larger than ourselves. So, necessarily, we are all obsessed in one way or another with the end of days; the rapture; whatever you want to call it. We all have a piece of us that wonders what it will be like to be a part of Jesus' reign.
2- The thief comes to steal and Jesus is that thief. He comes when we are unprepared and rips our self-sufficiency away. He can rip the heart from our chest and leave us in tears. All so that we might be open to his saving love.
3- The most important action we can take is to be here, now. The past is past. The future is not our concern. All we can do is work to be more like Christ right now.
Good stuff today. Wish I was preaching this week, but after 4 straight weeks, the break is nice.
As I prayed over the story of the penitent robber I found myself mired in deep theology. I am afraid that I am not far enough removed from my seminary days to get out of my head and preach from my heart on major feast days like Christ the King. I had a stack of 30 pages of research at my disposal, just waiting for me to dive head first into a systematic study of what it means to say Jesus is King. And then, as God does to me often, He caused a set of synapse to fire and I recalled a blog post I read last week.
I am not far enough removed from my seminary days to forget some of the wonderful people I met there. One of my favorites, I nicknamed Fabs. She is in Qatar with her Foreign Service husband and their two year-old daughter. She wrote this post last Saturday entitled, “When one meets a member of the royal family”.
We were doing some research shopping at Toys R' Us this evening, right before we headed off to a McDonald's "So Loud, So Much Sugar, So Much Hype!" birthday party for a neighborhood kid. The research shopping was for Grandma and Grandpa since they are coming for Christmas.
Well, we moseyed through the Pepto-Bismol Pink baby doll section, complete with baby doll strollers, baby doll baths and potties, and baby doll beds. At every turn, Lil' Bug would say, "Ooooh!" The kid was in material heaven.
Then we made our way to the bigger ticket items: slides, play cars, trampolines, outdoor play houses, indoor kitchens complete with running water, working dishwasher, and wait staff. Okay, that last one wasn't totally true, but gosh, some of these play kitchens were really lovely. I sort of wanted to have one of my own.
Lil' Bug was having fun going in and out of the little houses, and got a real kick of out us squatting down and peeking in the windows at her and knocking on the door. Another little girl, about two years old, came over and starting looking in the windows too. I said hi to her, and then I noticed her family standing around, encouraging this little girl to greet Lil' Bug, give her a hug, and sing songs to her.
But I couldn't figure the family out at all. There were two guys, one more African-looking and the other who looked Arab, dressed in thaubes and kefiyahs (the traditional Qatari dress of long white robes and white head scarves). There was also a woman who I thought was Indian, and she was wearing a sari. Then there were two Filipino nannies, dressed in blue uniforms. Now, it's really normal to see a wealthy Qatari family out with their nanny. But still. I couldn't figure out how they were all related. I just assumed that the Indian woman was the little girl's mother, and that one of the Qatari guys was her father. Except a marriage like that would never happen here. And that didn't account for the African guy hanging around or why they needed two nannies.
Big D started engaging the non-African Qatari guys, talking to him in Arabic. He asked him, finally, point blank: "Is this girl your daughter?"
"No," he replied.
They continued to talk in Arabic, while the rest of us continued to play with the houses and dote on the girls. Then the man asked Big D where he worked, and when Big D told him that he worked for the American Embassy, the Qatari man loosened up a bit. That's when he told Big D that he was this girl's escort.
As it turns out, the little girl was royal. She lives in the palace here. I'm not sure where she is in the whole scheme of things "royalty-wise," but still.
This gang of folks that accompanied her on her trip to Toys R' Us was with her detail, complete with two bodyguards (the men); her personal doctor (the Indian woman); and at least two of her nannies. Wow. Not a parent in sight.
Now, I hadn't overheard a lick of the conversation that Big D had with the bodyguards, so I was still just playing along, singing with the two girls, helping them go in and out of the houses, and engaging the woman that I thought was her mother, praising the girl to her ("Isn't she sweet? So kind!" etc.).
As we walked out, Big D said to me, "Do you know who that was? She's an al-Thani (the royal family). She's royal."
Well, at least Toys R' Us could outfit us all with pink, bejeweled tiaras!
I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting royalty in Toys R Us or anywhere else for that matter. I’m not really sure how I’d respond. Knowing how dense I can be I’d probably be like my friend and have no clue, just go about my business as if nothing were different. For me, that is part of the oddity of Christ the King Sunday. I couldn’t spot royalty if it were sharing a play kitchen with me at Toys R Us. Also, I’m an American, and we still have a certain Revolutionary War understanding of royalty. Also, I’m an Episcopalian and I know that the first American Prayer book was a copy of the English 1662 with references to the royal family crossed out. Royalty is suspect at best in my world.
In the world in which Jesus was crucified however, royalty was something entirely different. Caesars were worshiped as the sons of god. Those who were offered a place in the government were a very elite group. Herod the Great, king of the Jews as Jesus was born, made his claim as the Messiah by rebuilding Solomon’s temple. Royalty and godliness walked hand in hand in first century Palestine. And so the inscription of the charge against Jesus as “King of the Jews” carried all sorts of weight; politically and spiritually.
The reactions to this royal figure hanging from a cross were mixed to say the least. The people, literally the people of God, stood and watched. Presumably they wondered what they had done; had they really missed the Chosen One of God? The rulers, those who had handed Jesus over to Pilate, made fun of him, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” The soldiers too poked fun at this supposed king with the same snide comments, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” Even one of the men hanged beside him is said to have “hurled insults at him.” Luke chose that word very carefully as it held a meaning as blasphemy, speaking against God directly. His insult seems to carry more weight. He has recognized Jesus not merely as a supposed king, but as King, capital K. His insults were aimed not at the man who hung on the cross but at the God who had sent him; the God whose Messiah Jesus was.
But then there was the other robber. He too in the direst of predicaments can see Jesus as more than the mocking charge that hung above his head. He sees Jesus as an actual king with all the political and spiritual power that goes along with it. Instead of insisting that Jesus save them all, he seeks compassion. “I deserve my fate,” he says, “but please, your royal majesty, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” To him alone Jesus responds, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise, literally the Royal Garden.”
Royalty is a funny thing. Members of royal families look just like you and me. There are those of us who wouldn’t know them from any other Toys R Us shopper. There are those of us who might recognize them, but only from tabloid fame, and then only to poke fun at their lavish lifestyles and apparent hypocrisy. And then there are those who are faithful followers; those who recognize royalty and bow before its presence. Like the penitent robber it is they who are remembered as faithful and who share in the rewards. As we celebrate Christ the King Sunday it is important to note how we respond to the royalty of Jesus. Do we approach him coldly; expecting him to save us like the first criminal? Or is our awe such that all we can hope for is remembrance; praying not expecting, hoping not coercing? How do you respond to Jesus as King? Amen.
Happy Thanksgiving now quit complaining. More comforting words from Jesus on this national day of giving thanks, eating too much, and football. It just seems so strange to have Jesus talking about worry, especially worrying about material things on Thanksgiving.
The more I ponder on it; however, I think that perhaps the guys who settled on this text for the lectionary actually had something. It seems to me that Jesus’ call to his disciples that they eliminate worry from their lives is essentially a call to a life of thankfulness. Maybe we can see in this section from the Sermon on the Mount that worry is the opposite of thanksgiving. To worry about life; food, drink, clothing, etcetera is to rely on ourselves. To rely on ourselves means that we are not relying on God. And not relying on God means we ignore the gifts that he has given us; life, breath, food, drink, relationships, even himself. We cannot be thankful for gifts which we ignore.
Jesus knew of the disciple’s tendency to rely on themselves. So he reminds them of the gifts that they so often ignored. He hammers it home with question after rhetorical question, kind of like the way a parent might make a point to a child. Is not life more than food and clothing? Yes. Does God feed the birds? Yes. So will God feed you? Yes. Can you add a year to your life by worrying about it? No. Did God clothe the lilies of the field? Yes. Will God clothe you? Yes. Do the pagans and unbelievers worry about food, drink and clothing? Yes. Does God know your needs for food, drink and clothing? Yes. If you seek the rule of God in your life, will God give you these things? Yes.
All this to get to the heart of Jesus’ lesson, Why do we insist on worrying about tomorrow? Why do we find it so difficult to be thankful for the moment we have right now; for the life we have this instant? In a video we shot for the ecumenical service we asked kids across our churches what they were thankful for. Family, friends, bedroom, etc. were named. We laughed as a couple of children said that they are thankful for running away and then darted off screen, but there was some wisdom even in their jokes, are we thankful for the ability to run away even as our knees start to ache with the changing weather? Are we thankful for children when they fuss around in the pews? Are we thankful for our families when they stay too long on Thanksgiving night? It is interesting to me how things that I was once thankful for as a child now seem like inconveniences.
As I thought about this sermon I found myself back in childhood at Vacation Bible School. We were singing that long standing VBS hymn, this is the day. “This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” I sat in that image for as long as I could, but only a few moments later I found myself back in the present. I was sitting in front of the TCBY at the Pensacola University Mall waiting for my new pair of glasses to be finished. I was tired from a week of travelling. I was frustrated that my glasses and suitcase had both broken on the trip. I was agitated at church requirements for ordination. I was not rejoicing and I was not glad. “When did it happen,” I wondered to myself, “when did I get ruined? When did I stop recognizing this day as a day that the Lord had made? When did I start trying to make my own days by filling them with frustration and worry?” That is when I realized that worrying and giving thanks have a lot in common; they are, in fact, the absence of one another. To worry is to ignore the gifts of the God from whom all blessings flow. To be thankful is to trust him completely for all things.
Now I need to be careful here. I am making a lot of assumptions about those to whom this message will be spoken. I am assuming that everyone’s worries about food and clothing are worries of taste like mine. I am assuming everyone knows where their Thanksgiving meal will come from. And I realize that the old adage remains true, to assume makes something out of you and me… suffice it to say it makes us all look bad. And so I must address the other side of the coin. The first half of this sermon has no doubt infuriated someone as I come at the text from the point of view of middle-class privilege. You see, this lesson from Jesus made sense to his original audience. The disciples had given up everything and so to worry unnecessarily was no doubt one of their favorite past-times. This lesson from Jesus continues to make sense to most of us in South Baldwin County as we live in relative comfort and worry only that our food will be pleasing and that our clothes will be in fashion. But, this lesson from Jesus seems to make no sense for the billions of people around the world for whom worry is not based in luxury, but starvation and exposure to the elements are actual life and death concerns. What does this text have to say to those who this day have not received their daily bread? What does this text have to say about their worries, one’s formed not out of luxury, but out of unjust systems and societies.
I think that Jesus should be able to say, “Do not worry,” even to the hungry and the naked. Jesus should be able to say that, but I fear that the way things are in the world today are still unbalanced much like they were as he walked the earth. I am afraid that Jesus wishes he could tell the hungry and the naked not to worry, but that he can not in good conscience do so. I am more afraid that I have a part in that. I have spent so much time worrying that I’ve overcooked my shrimp and that my shoes aren’t shiny and that my shirts are out of style that I have missed the opportunity of thanksgiving; the opportunity to stop looking in toward myself and instead to look up and out toward God; and to seek and serve Christ in every human being along the way. If each of us who can afford to stop worrying did so and instead looked at the world with an overflowing spirit of thanksgiving then maybe, just maybe Jesus could offer freedom from worry to the whole world. This Thanksgiving each of us has the chance to work with God to inaugurate his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven if only for a moment. By becoming more faithful stewards, by approaching life with thanksgiving for this moment rather than worry for the future we can be freed to offer the kingdom life to others. Just as we are called to share the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ with the world, so too we are called to share the God-given ability to not worry about food, drink, and clothing with the world around us; both the seemingly invisible poverty in South Baldwin County and the painfully obvious poverty of the third and fourth worlds. This is the day that the Lord has made. Rejoice, be glad in it, and then share your joy, your thanksgiving, and your refusal to worry with the rest of God’s creation. Amen.
 From http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_b_thanksgiving_GA.htm
November 21, 2007
God is so good to me. In spite of myself, or rather my-self-reliance, God shines a light in the darkness.
A Happy Thanksgiving to you all!
November 20, 2007
Power is an interesting thing. It must always be approached with a due sense of perspective. No matter how powerful a king, dictator, prime minister, or president makes him/herself out to be (or how much power we, the people, allow them to have/wield) there is still one more powerful than each of them and all of them combined. One who, when he returns, will be once and for all recognized as the Ruler of all things. One whose power is so great that he will choose when the time has come to return in power and great glory to restore all things to the Triune God.
I sorta like that approach to Christ the King Sunday. It takes some of the weirdness out of the king metaphor and gives it a more universal understanding. I also like that it makes people think about where they stand in a society AND who they give their fealty to. Lots to think about this week. And I have barely touched the Gospel lesson(s). Phew...
November 19, 2007
So as I approach preaching Christ the King Sunday I'm thinking about this language. I'm wondering if the image from Jeremiah isn't a better one. Even though shepherds are few and far between these days, they carry much less baggage with them. To think of Jesus as the shepherd of the shepherds is helpful to me. To see him as the restoring power in a world full of shepherds pulling flocks this way and that. I might work on some other images for Christ the King Sunday. Helpful in this task will be Brian McLaren's The Secret Message of Jesus in which he devote a chapter to postulate various metaphors for the kingdom of God.
November 16, 2007
“And after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God…” “At my vindication I shall see your face…” “God who gave us eternal comfort and good hope…” “He is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” “Make us children of God and heirs of eternal life…” It seems clear enough to me the theme we are supposed to see as we near the end of our adventure through Luke; I’m thinking the creators of the Lectionary wanted people to hear about hope this Sunday. It is just a guess. But, after a summer and most of the fall full of discipleship and faith in the here and now it seems to be time for us to turn our attention to the future. Jesus has entered Jerusalem for the last time but we won’t hear the end of that story for a while, instead our liturgical calendar is about to turn over to Advent, the time when we await not only Jesus’ coming on Christmas, but his coming again to usher in a new creation. The people who developed the lectionary have decided that we need to get ready for the future. On this Veteran’s Day it seems appropriate that we spend some time dealing with the supreme hope of the Christian faith; our hope in the resurrection.
Despite what we might think, the resurrection of the dead was not a settled issue within Judaism as Jesus walked the earth. We often think that because we have a Judaic lineage and we believe in the resurrection of the dead that it was what “the Jews believed.” But this is a mistake. The Jews were not a monolithic group of people; they were split into many schools of thought, not unlike our denominations in Christianity. One of those groups we learn about today. The Sadducees were the upper class of their day. They were the rulers and the priests; the learned who could read; they were the most comfortable with the way life was; the most excited to keep things the way they were. And so, they were very conservative in their theology; only recognizing the first five books of the Hebrew Bible as authoritative. In those five books they found no support for this relatively new fangled superstition of the resurrection of the dead; God’s final reversal of fortune; the ultimate putting of things to rights; so they refused to believe in it.
Their refusal to believe in the bodily resurrection of the dead earns them a lot of flack, but it seems to me to be somewhat justifiable. Certainly each of us has found some new idea hard to wrap our mind around; Christian history is full of debates between thoughtful people who have different understandings of the Christian tradition. There were those who found the idea of God in three persons to be too much to handle. There were some who took offense to the ordering of ministry; deacon, priest, and bishop. There are some who see the gifts of tongues and healing to be scams. We all have our reasons for not accepting different pieces and parts of the larger Judeo/Christian story. We can sort of understand where they are coming from. And so, we also understand the tactic these men employ to prove Jesus and the Pharisees wrong. “If you think that someone has silly ideas or a stupid stance on a given issue, then one way to reveal your opinion is to construct an absurd scenario and try to force the other person to enter it while trying to answer your question.” It is fun to watch the other person wiggle around uncomfortably while they try to fit within your crazy scenario.
Jesus, however, doesn’t wiggle around uncomfortably, but rather steps right over the pile of bull dung in his path. He deals with the question head on. His answer is in two parts. First, he points out that the assumption underlying the question is faulty. “Within the resurrection life there is no room for silly legal matters.” The age to come is not merely a repeat of the present age, but one so vastly different that the ways in which we understand relationships now won’t make sense. The assumption that the 1st century institution of marriage will exist in the resurrection is as absurd as the assumption that the 21st century institution of marriage is the same as it was in the 1st century. “Instead,” Jesus says, “be content in the fact that we will be called ‘children of God.’” Place your hope in that!
Secondly, he argues from within their own Biblical text for the concept of the resurrection of the dead. Jesus, who himself was the Word of God, interprets the well known story from Exodus 3 for them. “Now, if it weren’t for the fact that Jesus himself made this argument, we could almost conclude that the way he goes about claiming the truth of the resurrection is a little lame. We could read the story of the Burning Bush from Exodus a thousand times and never stumble onto the idea that God’s reference to being the God “of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” could be used to prove the resurrection of the dead.” Nonetheless, precisely because it comes from Jesus, we are quick to accept his interpretation; he might, I think, have some insight into the scriptures. “When God identifies himself in terms of the Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – or for that matter when we identify God as the God of Mom and Dad, Grandpa and Grandma before that, and so many more who have come before us in that ‘great cloud of witnesses’ [which we celebrated last week] we are not merely referencing history. This not who God WAS but who God IS. God has no past tense.” To be sure this argument is a matter of rabbinical wordplay. It was true to the way in which the rabbis argued with each other routinely; “I will prove my point by spinning your own words.” But then Jesus steps out of word play and moves into truth, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living,” and then in a text exclusive to Luke he adds, “for to him all are alive.”
The belief in the resurrection is not just the result of a series of mind-bending-riddle-like arguments, but is based solidly on what we say about God. Let me say that again, “The Christian hope depends, not upon wishful thinking, but upon the very nature of the God we believe in.” From the Garden of Eden to Noah to Abraham to Moses to David to Jesus and the Holy Spirit and beyond, it is clear throughout the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the continuing existence of the Church that God is a God who “enters into a personal relationship with human beings, and that relationship cannot be destroyed, even by death.” What once seemed like an absurd superstitious belief in life after death is proved by these words of Jesus to be true to the very nature of God. God does not break relationship. Even when we fail to do his will, when we eat of the forbidden fruit, when we doubt his ability to save, when we go our own way, God is faithful to his promises. That is where our hope lies, not in ourselves, but in the faithfulness of God.
This absurd superstition turned ultimate hope for the future is then our motivation to act in faith now. As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” The strength we find in our hope of the resurrection of the dead motivates us to first and foremost share that hope and secondly to do whatever we can to bring glimpses of that resurrection life to the world around us.
This is the turn our lectionary founders wanted us to make. They wanted us to see the hope for the future that will come with our celebration of Christ as King in a couple of weeks. They wanted us to prepare for the hope that entered into the world on Christmas Day. They wanted us to get a glimpse of the hope of the age to come. They hoped that we might begin to make a connection between our faith and work in the here and now and our good hope in our God to whom and in whom all are alive, so that “having this hope, we may purify ourselves as Jesus is pure.” That is the hope that Job carried inside him in the midst of the worst turn of fate in history, it is the hope that Paul offered the church in Thessalonica, and it is the hope that each of us is offered by the God of our salvation. Be strengthened by that hope. Amen.
November 9, 2007
An excerpt to wet your whistle - the prayer from the end of the post.
Forgive me for squandering your precious gifts and buying so completely into the lies of happiness-through-consumption of stuff and folks. Show me my real worth and give me eyes to perceive value through your economy of mercy. Any change of heart is gonna have to come through you because I (of course) tried doing it myself first and apparently that doesn't work.
In Jesus' name,
I can't help but think about how many people walk around this life in the community of the living dead. For whatever reason they choose to live life on their own terms. They seek earthly gains; money, stuff, political advantage, and find themselves contented by those things. They are very much like the Sadducees, comfortable with the way things are - not worried about anything beyond the comfort of their current state. They are, essentially, the walking, living dead. Surely they have breath, they are scientifically among the living, but in the larger definition of life, they are most certainly dead. The life they live is not one of abundance in Christ, but one of relative scarcity in comparison. They have not acknowledged the God of the living for they remain dead - focused only on their sphere of influence.
It is harsh place to go with this text - I know it. It offends even my own, not-so-delicate sensibilities, but it is a way to go. I think that Luke records these words of Jesus to make that point; the Sadducees and the way they chose to live life were dead, Jesus and those who lived in the Way were alive, and God (YHWH) is the God, of the living, not of the dead. Thankfully, Jesus has shown us the truth of the resurrection, so the hope remains for all, not just those who are alive, really alive, in this age, but also for those who are dead - the hope of the resurrection is available to them as well.
November 8, 2007
As I studied this text, I felt myself going there. I found myself back in seminary, spending hours debating nuances of language in theological discourse; the kind of stuff I complained about when this blog was called "a bored seminarian." Then I ran across these words from William Barclay:
It may well be that we find this an arid passage. It deals with burning questions of the time by means of arguments which a Rabbi would find completely convincing but which are not convincing to us today. But out of this very aridity there emerges a great truth fora nyone who teaches or who wishes to commend Christianity to others. Jesus used arguments that the people he was arguing with could understand. He talked to them in their own language; he met them on their own ground; and that is precisely why the ordinary people heard him gladly... Jesus used language and arguments which people could and did understand; he met people with their own vocabulary, on their own ground, and with their own ideas. We will be far better teachers of Christianity and far better witnesses for Christ when we learn to do the same." (emphasis his, The Gospel of Luke, p. 298).
This might be an interesting place to take this text. It might behoove us preachers to think about the language we use, the arguments we weave, and the wisdom we employ. As Tony Jones has said, "will it play at Wal*Mart?"
I underwent due inquiry last night at our 1st Wednesday potluck as those in attendance had a chance to pepper me with questions, but got my real dose of it this morning as I read Brian McLaren's post over at God's Politics on the syncretism of American Christianity and materialism. It hit hard as I pondered what it means to live a godly, righteous, and sober life.
An excerpt: "The truth is, large sectors of our religion have become "worldly" in a subtle but powerful way: we have been guilty of an unholy but socially acceptable syncretism between our faith and consumerism."
Find it all here.
November 7, 2007
As I read the lessons for this week I saw in Paul's 2nd letter to the Thessalonians a pretty sweet blessing, one I might use from time to time after, God, the people, and the Bishop willing, I am priested. The line, found in verses 16 and 17 of chapter 2 is "Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word."
Man is that cool. I understand it is very Western as it ignores the Holy Spirit. Nonetheless it is good. It is a powerful prayer of blessing to offer another; that the God who by grace gives us eternal salvation might comfort and strengthen us in all things; word and deed. Nice. I'm writing this on a post-it and putting it in my Prayer Book for use someday.
Isn't Scripture great?
November 6, 2007
What it came down to, it seems, was hope. Luke has spent a lot of time dealing with faith and what faith looks like in the here and now. There is an obvious shift in this lesson as Luke has Jesus dealing directly with the age to come, the resurrection. The shift from faith now to hope for the future is stark and is obvious throughout the Propers. Job knows that his redeemer lives. The Psalmist seeks vindication, the Thessalonians are in need of hope in the midst of wicked and evil people, and even the collect looks to the second coming. We are turning a corner here. We are beginning to make our way toward Advent; waiting patiently upon Jesus as he comes again.
So I guess I'll be preaching on hope. I don't really know what that looks like or how it'll sound, but that's where I'm going. Anybody got an idea?
I am re-reading one of my all time favorite books. It is a book about the realities of a life lived following the Way of Jesus called Messy Spirituality; God’s annoying love for imperfect people. It is a great book for me for two reasons. First, I am a superbly imperfect person. For example, I get grouchy in crowds. I expect too much from other people. I yell at other drivers on the road. I am very imperfect. Secondly, there are days when I find God’s love for me annoying. These are the days when praying seems like a chore; days when I’m not sure how I got into this full-time, ordained ministry thing in the first place. So for me, this book is right up my alley.
Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints’ sort of a giant party for all of the people who have gotten it right over the years. The idea that spirituality is messy; that following the Way of Jesus is a daily grind is not an idea we often associate with the saints of the church. Instead, when I think of All Saints’ Day I usually think of it like the lesson from Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) begins, “Let us now sing the praises of famous men” though I would add famous women to that too. I think of people like
© St. Francis of Assisi – the patron saint of animals
© St. Patrick – the patron saint of Ireland, excluded people and engineers
© St. Valentine – the bearer of romance
© St. Nicholas – the bearer of white beards and presents, or was it
© St. Perpetua – the patron saint of cow and female martyrs
These are the type of people we associate with getting it all right; saints are people who famously make following Jesus look easy. And that is all well and good, but for those of us who find following the Way of Jesus to be a little more difficult, it can be quite a burden. So we read on in the lesson and start to realize that maybe following Jesus isn’t all about glitz, glamour, and getting it right. “Some of them have left behind a name, so that others declare their praise. But of others there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed; they have become as though they had never been born… But these also were godly men [and women] whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten…”
We know St. Valentine and St. Patrick, but what about those who have not left behind a famous name? Mike Yaconelli, the author of Messy Spirituality, is one of my favorite saints. He was one of my favorite Christians while he was alive by beginning the book like this, “My life is a mess. After forty-five years of trying to follow Jesus I keep losing him the crowded busyness of my life. I know Jesus is there, somewhere, but it’s difficult to make him out in the haze of everyday life… If I were to die today, I would be nervous about what peple would say at my funeral. I would be happy if they said things like ‘he was a nice guy’ or ‘he was occasionally decent’ or ‘Mike wasn’t as bad as a lot of people.’ Unfortunately, eulogies are delivered by people who know the deceased. I know what the consensus would be. ‘Mike was a mess.’”
Sainthood isn’t all about getting it right. It is about the messiness. Noah, of ark fame, followed God’s crazy plans and built a giant boat; and then when the land dried up he promptly got wasted. Moses, who led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt, was a murderer and a fugitive. Paul, the greatest missionary in Christian history, watched approvingly and with joy as Stephen the first Christian martyr was stoned to death. Sainthood is not as pretty as it might seem. There is a lot of messiness that goes along with living, and even our famous saints are not without there mistakes. There is a lot of messiness that goes along with following Jesus. Frankly, there is just a lot of messiness.
As we hear the stories of saints of the past it is easy to beat ourselves up. It is easy to think, “well I’m never going to walk thousands of miles preaching the good news of Jesus Christ to people so why bother.” When we open the Prayer Book to pages 19 to 30 it is easy to think of only the good stuff these men and women did and only the bad stuff that we do, but that isn’t the point of All Saints’ Day. The point is that God worked and works through all sorts of people. The point is that the good works they did are just as available to us here and now. The point is that one day; we too can be called saints as Jesus welcomes us to his Kingdom.
Following Jesus is messy. We screw up and are forgiven weekly, daily, hourly, even by the minute. But so does everybody else. For every saint that we remember with a date on the Church calendar there are tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of other nameless followers of Jesus whose righteous deeds God will never forget. Take heart this All Saints’ Sunday for God’s annoying love for you will never end, no matter how imperfect you might be.
 Messy Spirituality, p. 10-11.
November 2, 2007
It struck me as I read the Revelation reading for All Saints' I (BCP). We see in it the way John differentiates between All Saints' and All Souls; the 144,000 from each tribe is a number close to the amazing number of Catholic Saints (tee-hee) while the countless multitude reminds of us the great cloud of witnesses whose memory we honor this day.
My theology is based in Web 2.0. I truly believe that left to its own devices humanity could do something decent. I think that a flattish world is better than a world full of strata. So I can't differentiate between those who get the title Saint and those who don't. Where are the lines between a major feast saint like Paul, a lesser feast saint like Teresa of Avila, a non-canonical saint like Mike Yaconelli, and a (to the rest of the world) no-name faithful departed like Bud whose life we celebrated here yesterday? I can't find it. I don't see how we can differentiate between All Saints and All Souls.
So, for me, today is the major feast day. Today take a moment to recall the countless multitude who have praised God in this life and continue to do so in the life to come. Remember those who "have perished as though they had never existed," and give thanks for their righteous works which have brought the Kingdom of God just a little bit closer.
November 1, 2007
I've been digging into a theology of heaven and hell for a while now, and the thing that I keep noticing is how the Bible begins and ends with Creation. The earth as it was created was perfect and it once again will be made perfect by God. Eternity will not be spent in some far off hard to understand place, but it will be on the new earth now inhabited fully by God; his kingdom come.
The oft quoted beatitude above had new meaning today as I read it with this image of the age to come in my mind. The meek may well inherit the earth as it is now. Surely we have seen a move toward the lowest common denominator in our society so that the meek (which we so often read as weak might as well have it), but in reality what this says is that the meek, those docile and seemingly submissive few, are heirs to the world to come as well. The earth as the Kingdom of God is theirs for they have taken the obsolete meaning of meek; kind and gentle. They are not war-mongers, they do not seek to get ahead no matter the cost, they might even be tramped on and ignored, but the meek will get what that kind of humility deserves; a great reward; the greatest reward; the earth as the Kingdom of God.
Now if I could only find that spirit of meekness inside me.
Anyway, I could say something crude here about her leadership style compared with that of her predecessor, but I shall keep this clean and say that I am glad that she is willing to stand firm in her convictions and use the powers given her in the office. Her inhibition of Bishop Bennison is probably the premier example of her willingness to go out on a limb to do what is right, and I applaud her for it.
See the news of it here.