January 31, 2008


One can not spend a week reading and thinking about Matthew's version of the Transfiguration without taking at least a moment to ponder ol' Peter. We all know Peter(s). They can't deal with silence. They have to sound wise. They jump at the chance to talk. We all know Peter(s).

This is perhaps the quintessential Peter moment; he's dumbfounded, but can't keep quiet. "Der, Um, Well, it is good for us to be here... how 'bout I build some houses... um... yea."

As obnoxious as the Peters of the world are; in this particular instance, he has a point. Meeting the holy is something that we a) can never be fully prepared for and b) can never really hope to understand. Jesus took him and a couple of other guys up a hill and BAM he glows and gets enshrouded by a cloud with Moses and Elijah standing next to him (how'd they know it was them anyway?).

How often have we found ourselves walking along when BAM God shows up. Pounding nails in a Habitat house or sitting in a hospital waiting room with a friend or praying or pumping gas; the Holy comes out of nowhere leaving us as dumbfounded as Peter. And what can our reaction be but, "it is good that I am here! And, how can I make this last longer?"

Sure, Peter never shuts up, but in this case, I think he has something to teach us.

January 30, 2008

cleverly devised myths

A buddy of mine from seminary is a magician. I never saw him saw somebody in half, but dang if he can't do a mean card trick... how did he set my watch to the hour of the card I had picked... Anyway, I've often given thought to the magic and myth of religion and the power it has over and above the truth of the Gospel of Jesus.

Peter's letter seems to ponder the same point. How much of the dreadfully long debates of seminary were working out cleverly devised myths? How much of the same was actually helping us to come to understand the Good News of God in Jesus Christ?

It is something I am working through especially these days as I come to grips with having "magic hands" anointed as they were at my ordination that allows me now to pronounce blessing, pronounce absolution, and celebrate the sacrament of Holy Eucharist. We joke in our house that the laser beams installed at the service are dangerous, but really it is a dangerous thing. Balancing the myth and magic with the reality of the meaning of those actions will take a long time I think.

Still, I hope to approach the faith life as Peter does, not with cleverly devised myths, but with the Spirit of Christ Jesus.

January 29, 2008

The Mountaintop

For those of you who may not have heard, I was ordained to the priesthood on Thursday evening. The service was spectacular, even with a sung Eucharistic Prayer; I couldn't have scripted it better. SHW and I returned from PA last night and I'm back in the office for the foreseeable future. It is fortuitous that the readings for the Last Sunday in Epiphany speak directly to my life right now. Like Moses, Joshua, Jesus, Peter, James, and John, I have found the mountaintop. Kneeling before the bishop until my knees hurt comes second only to my final goodbye to the kids at St. Thomas for spiritual mountaintop moments. I met God face-to-face again on Thursday night, and though I don't believe there was any sort of ontological change, that is to say my DNA has not been altered, I was, for a while, sitting high atop that mountain.

And like Moses, Joshua, Jesus, Peter, James, and John, I too was forced to leave the mountain. I had to return down the path and find myself once again in the plain; I'm not in the valley quite yet. See, for me, the mountaintop is a bitter sweet place. It is sweet because it is as high as we can go in this life. It is bitter because it is as high as we can go in this life. I come to terms with my humanity on the mountaintop. I'm still a sinner; God comes down to me.

I think most of us have had similar experiences. Be it the top of an anthill or a mountain we have all gone up only to realize that we must go back down. For some the thought of having to return is too much so that they never venture up. Others work hard to stay up as long as they can, to no avail. Those who seem to get it right however are like Jesus; they go up, they get empowered, and they return ready to do the work to which they have been called; even if that means not revealing just how great the mountaintop was; if for a moment.

readings for last epiphany, year a

Can be found here.

January 24, 2008

Guest Post - You Have Been Called

I feel that I need to explain that I have 3 baptisms this Sunday and so my reflections on this week’s readings are filtered through that lens.

I am first struck by the reading from Matthew – it is almost 2 separate passages and reflects 3 of the themes from Matthew – Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises made in the OT, the communal nature of his ministry, and his mission focus. I seem to be caught up in the idea of community and how that affects our mission to the world. As we baptize these three children into the Body of Christ, I’m wondering what that means for them, what that means for the Church, and what that means for the world. For Christians, Church ought to be our community in which we learn how to be disciples. When it works well it is a place where we learn (or remember) how to pray, to laugh, work and share. It ought to be where we learn our story and how to participate in the ongoing chapters of our story, and it ought to be where we share a world view different than that of our society or culture. Church is where we ought to receive our sustenance to travel down our road that is not necessarily culturally “correct,” a place where we find companions for our journey – where we hold up one another during times of doubt, pain, and joy. Somewhere this week I read a comparison of the church to Noah’s ark and I really like that image of being safely – albeit roughly at times – carried through chaos.

Jonathan Marlowe on Theolog, the blog site of the Christian Century, reminded me of Rowan Williams remark that when we get to heaven, God will not ask us why we weren’t more like one of the saints, but God will ask us why we weren’t more fully ourselves. Living into who we were meant to be is risky and scary business. But it is not a journey we ought to have to take alone, and it ought, also, to be one that is full of the same kind of excitement, thrill, and joy that any adventure is.

Jesus sought out the four who are called in this reading. The fishermen followed Jesus because they were looking for more – they wanted a larger story than daily fishing. We come to church – we follow Jesus – because we, too, are looking for more. And yet….we fight the urge to change – the call to do our lives differently, but it is what we truly desire – to be so awakened that we know we must live our lives differently. We are looking to be reborn. We want to be brave enough to leave our old lives and take up the new. We want to be energized, excited, sure, overwhelmed, secure, loved enough to dare to follow Jesus – to be our own truest selves. What if Jesus were to come to each of us and call us to follow him – call us by our names?

That is what the church, in the name of Jesus, does at our baptism. And yet I am reminded of a book entitled Mighty Stories, Powerful Rituals. Do we still think of our stories as mighty? Do we still find our rituals powerful?

January 17, 2008

Guest Post - Here is the Lamb of God

A huge thank you to my dear friend Candyce for guest posting a couple of times over the next several days. With diocesan requirements and ordination in a week, I'm feeling swamped. She has been so kind as to offer some reflections that will add a great voice to this blog. Enjoy her work.

“Here is the Lamb of God” – spoken not once, but twice in this reading from John. It’s easiest for me to read over this – I’ve heard it most of my life – Jesus is the Lamb of God, but what does it mean to us and what did it mean to John and to the people of 1st Century Israel?

I need to put in a disclaimer here. I am reading N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian on the recommendation of Phall (and I thank him immensely). The book has me thinking about how I put scripture into the context of God and the world. Also, I have just finished the first two parts of this 3 part book and so I may not have all the pieces of the puzzle just yet. But Wright talks about how we “see” the relationship between God/heaven and humanity/earth and gives us three options. The third is the one that Bishop Wright embraces and it sees that heaven and earth are separate, but have places where they meet and overlap. Early in our story, he says, we found this overlap in the Torah – the way we were to enact our part in the covenant. Later – after the rescue from Egypt – it was the Temple – the place that was built to house God when God came to earth. And finally – or the last that we know at this point in time – this union came in the form of Jesus Christ and – as we are baptized into the body of Christ – to us.

So now, how does the Lamb of God image fit into this picture?

We’ve all heard that Jesus was the first born, spotless lamb sacrificed for our sins – replacing the Passover lamb that saved the lives of the Jews in Egypt.

This idea of sacrifice has made me stop and think about what sacrifice may have meant – throughout Jewish history, at the time of Christ, and how it fits into our current ideas of God, church, and culture. According to The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology sacrifice has been part of religion from its beginnings and that there has never been one, unified concept of its efficacy. So if we look at sacrifice from the point of view of the intersection of heaven and earth, then no matter what its justification it was performed at those places and times when we were most trying to invite or experience that union of holy and secular. Christ, as the Lamb of God, I believe then, could be just that intersection. Who would not follow the one who was the union of heaven and earth?

What an invitation that is!! It was a remarkable invitation to those in Jesus’ time – Andrew and the unnamed disciples in Sunday’s reading, but it is also an amazing invitation to each one of us. Do we think of our relationship with God through Jesus as just such a union? Do we realize that we’ve been linked to this union in our baptism? Do we live out such intimacy?

January 16, 2008

the ends of the earth

"And now the LORD says... 'It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.'"

My daily struggle is balancing the call to serve the good people of St. Paul's, Foley and the call to serve the good people of Foley. I fear that the balance is impossible to find. I love this church. I love the people in this church, but I know that preaching to the choir and tending to the 99 is not what Jesus calls us to. I know that somehow, someway I need to be in the community helping the poor, the needy, the widowed, the orphaned. I know that somehow, someway I need to be in the world sharing the good news of God in Jesus Christ with those who have not heard, those who have heard and have not believed, and those who have heard and had at one time believed. But it is hard to get there. Sermons, teachings, bulletins, pastoral visits, administration, etc., etc. means that most of my time is spent "restoring the survivors of Israel." Now, a part of that is equipping the good people of St. Paul's, Foley to "reach the ends of the earth," but I, myself, have got to do that work too.

That seems to be the call for me today. As I approach my ordination to the priesthood it will be easy to forget my ordination to the diaconate. It will be easy to get comfortable in my office dealing with people I know. I know, however, that "it is too light a thing" to be called to serve only those who already have heard and believed. I know that my call is much larger than that. I know that the vision of St. Paul's, Foley is larger than that. I guess I just needed Isaiah's reminder of that today.

Sermon for the Baptism of our Lord

As I approach the end of a six year adventure toward being ordained a priest, I can’t help but look back over the time Cassie and I have spent on this journey. To say the least, the ordination process is full of hoops and puzzles. One of the earliest steps is a psychiatric evaluation. That was a lot of fun; eight hours with a psychiatrist and his post-doc assistant doing all sorts of tests. Ink blots, personality profiles, loaded conversations, on and on; all to make sure I was just crazy enough to pursue ordination. In the midst of this 8-hour marathon I was put in a very awkward position; as I stared at a computer screen taking yet another personality profile in hour number five, an interesting question appeared before me, “Have you ever heard voices?”

“Hmmmm,” I thought, “This raises a bit of an issue. If I say ‘yes’ I’ll be deemed crazy. If I say ‘no’ I’d be lying; since I heard a clear and distinct voice telling me that business was not where my gifts would be best utilized.” I had to spend some time thinking about it before I pressed the y key. That question still gives me pause, how, as Christians who believe that God continues to reveal himself by spoken word, do we toe the line of social science which, for the most part, associates the hearing of voices with various mental illnesses? As Doctor House put it on Fox a couple of seasons ago, “If you talk to God, you’re religious. If God talks to you, you’re crazy.” It is a question that is relevant for us in all four of our readings for today.

First, Isaiah, like all of Israel’s prophets, acts as a conduit for God. He has heard God’s voice and been called to share that Word with the rest of Israel. Secondly, The Psalmist has heard the voice of the Lord and in the Psalm for today takes the time to proclaim the majesty of that voice. Thirdly, Peter is at the house of Cornelius because both men had plainly heard the voice of God in the middle of the day. Finally, John the Baptist experiences the fullness of the Trinity while hearing the voice of God in two distinct persons in just four verses. First, he hears Jesus, God the Son, speaking to him; man to man. Secondly, he hears the voice of God the Father coming from heaven, affirming Jesus as the Son.

For the most part, we mainliners get nervous when talk turns to the voice of God speaking directly to us, but it is clear from our lessons today that hearing the voice of God was important, is important, and will continue to be important for those who strive to follow God. It is important, but it sure is scary. Hearing the voice of God is not something we take lightly. Listen again to the Psalmist, “The voice of the LORD is a powerful voice; * the voice of the LORD is a voice of splendor. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedar trees; * the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon; He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, * and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox. The voice of the LORD splits the flames of fire; the voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; * the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD makes the oak trees writhe * and strips the forests bare.” It is clear that we are rightfully afraid of the voice of God. Couldn’t each of us add to this Psalm? “The voice of the LORD makes us move to South Alabama.” “The voice of the LORD calls us to minister to prisoners.” “The voice of the LORD calls us to bounce between a biker meeting and Draughting Theology.” “The voice of the LORD calls us to pray without ceasing.” And on and on. When we hear the voice of the LORD in our lives we can be sure we aren’t being called to easy street. No, instead our lives will be turned upside down so that we too might take part in the “fulfillment of all righteousness.”

It is also clear in all four readings that this fulfillment of all righteousness, this setting the upside down world right side up didn’t begin when Jesus was born in Bethlehem and it didn’t end when he died on a cross at Calvary. It is the whole of the story of salvation; from God’s Word spoken at Creation to Jesus’ triumphant return to usher in a new Creation. It was the work of Noah. It was the work of Abraham and Sarah. It was the work of Isaiah and all the prophets. It was the work of John the Baptist and of Peter and of Martin Luther and his namesake Martin Luther King, Jr. And it is the work of you and me. We are called to listen for the voice of the Lord so that we might fulfill our role in the larger story of God’s righteousness.

Where will we find the voice of the Lord? For some, it will be audible. It will make it hard to answer that question poised to me during my psychiatric evaluation. For others, it will be in relationships. Spouses, coworkers, friends, acquaintances; God has been known to speak through them all. Still others will find the voice speaking directly to them in Scripture; as the Bible, the Word, remains alive and continuously reveals the will of God. The voice of the Lord can be found in many, many places.

When we hear what we think is the voice of the Lord, we are then called to test it; to make sure. We get two lessons for this work of discernment from our Gospel lesson; in some cases we can rely on our history with God while in others we will need to turn to the Word of God as it is revealed for us in the Scriptures. John and Jesus seem to have a pretty good relationship; we get the sense that they have hung out at family gatherings over that past 30 or so years. John who while in his mother’s womb knew that Jesus as someone special must have honed that feeling over the years; he knew when Jesus was speaking Truth to him. He could trust his gut. And so when Jesus comes to him asking to be baptized John needs to ask only one question, “Are you sure?” The feeling is there, but he wants to make sure it is accurate. Jesus responds, “let it be so for now…” John knows this is Truth; it will fulfill all righteousness to do this; it will help to set things right even if it makes no sense in the here and now. John knows because of a longstanding personal relationship with Jesus. He can tell by the way Jesus says it. He can see it in Jesus’ body language. He can feel it in his gut. Over time we too can learn how to discern based on our relationship with the one who speaks. As we grow in faith it becomes clear to us based on our gut feeling, based on the tone of voice God is using, based on the body language of family and friends as they speak Truth to us. But getting there takes a long time. That is not where we begin and is not the norm.

Where our discernment starts is in the one place we can be sure that the Word we will hear is of God, in the Scriptures. The Bible, a set of texts honed over centuries, put into writing by those who knew God well, is where our discernment begins. Our test of whether or not our word will “fulfill all righteousness” is to see whether or not it is in accordance with the Word, the continuous revelation of God through the scriptures. If all else fails us, the Bible will not. If our heart and our mind lead us astray, the Spirit can refresh us anew in the reading of the scriptures. This is where our discernment begins. This is where we first test the voice we hear. This is where we bring the Word we receive from family, friend, neighbor, pastor. This is where we hone our skills so that later, in due time, it is the comfort of our relationship with this same living Word that will make us sure.

The voice of the Lord is dangerous. There is no question as to why we associate hearing voices with mental illness; the voice of the Lord calls us to do some crazy things. Ultimately, however, that same voice is leading to the restoration of all things. When we follow the voice of the Lord we have the honor of joining with God in the work of putting the world back in order. What a blessing. What a gift. What a responsibility. Listen carefully. Test accordingly. Join in on the crazy work that God is doing. Amen.

January 15, 2008

a great combo

Kudos to the Lectionary types who made for a really long gospel lesson by choosing John 1.29-42. It gives a great opportunity to teach on what was going on with Israel as a people at the time of Jbap and Jesus. Tom Wright does a great job in his Matthew for Everyone for last weeks readings explaining just how radical it was the Jbap was baptizing Jews for the forgiveness of sins. See as God's chosen people it had long been assumed that sinners were "them, not us." So we see in John's baptism for the first time the Nation of Israel admitting that they needed something other than the promises to Abraham and the law of Moses to be in right relationship with God.

So that is huge.

Then we get the story of Andrew and his buddy and Simon Peter who, having been a part of this new fangled form of Judaism that was admitting its need to repent are now ready for what is next. And was is next? Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed, God's chosen. They run for that horizon. It is so cool to see that play out.

So that too is huge.

And it really speaks to me as I sit in 21st century America, a nation that is "spiritual but not religious" and see people daily who are looking for what lies beyond that horizon. They are longing to find out what is next for them on their spiritual journey. Our job, is to be then like Jbap and point people to Jesus. "See him, he's next. I know he's sorta old too, but he's also next. A new way of encountering him that isn't tied to hierarchy and rules and dresses and church buildings and bishops and all that other stuff - that Jesus is on the horizon!" And Jesus, faithful as he is, is waiting and offering us to "come and see."

Readings for Epiphany 2, Year A, RCL

Sorry it has been so long since I posted. Things are hectic, but I'm working hard to get back to it. The readings for Epiphany 2 are here... stay tuned.