April 24, 2008

John's "world"view

In our weekly prayer/Biblestudy/Staff meeting this morning we looked at the readings for 7 Easter. The reading from John 17 there has a lot in common with the reading for Sunday, John 14.15-21. What got me is that in both John uses this word world in conjunction with humanity, but not to actually define any group of people.

It seems like we often read "This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him." as "This is the Spirit of truth, whom they cannot receive, because they neither see him nor know him."

"I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours." as "I am asking on behalf of those who truly love me; I am not asking on behalf of them who don't get it, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours."

We read it as "us v. them" but what I think is really happening here is that the people who the Father gave Jesus, the one's for whom he asks protection, are all of us; that is to say, all of humanity. It isn't the orthodox pulled out from the revisionists. It isn't the fundamentalists made special against those who make their worship and idol. It isn't about us v. them, but about God giving Jesus all of humanity to be redeemed, and Jesus accepting that request.

It is about the Spirit of Truth that lives within us all. It is about how we hear/see/respond to that Spirit. It is about a "world"view that says, all are good, but a "world" that says, "buy, consume, hoard, destroy." That, I think is what the "world"view is of John.

Last night the EYC watched Rob Bell's Everything is Spiritual here is the crux of it.

It isn't about "us v. them" - those who get God and those who don't. But rather it is about being that liminal group - Spirit and Creation and which path we will choose.

April 23, 2008

you can call me anything...

just don't call me religious.

Next to "being green" the next big fad in American Christianity is the label spiritual. I once taught a class (a terrible, terrible class) called "I'm Spiritual, not Religious: finding God in spite of the Church." For a long time I thought that this was a new trend, until this week. I was re-confronted with Paul's words to the people of Athens.

"Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way."

You can almost hear the sarcasm in Paul's voice.
And then you can hear all the air being sucked out of the Areopagus at once.
How dare he call us religious!

I'm sure it wasn't new when Paul said it in the mid-to-late 30s - but being called "religious" is still considered by many to be an insult. It carries with it the baggage of terrible things done in the name of religion (or worse yet in the name of God). To be religious seems to mean that you've bought into the system of oppression. To be religious is to be considered closed-minded, which in contemporary circles means that one is labeled the dreaded "exclusive" toward the other (by race, gender, creed, sexual preference, etc.)

Merriam-Webster Online defines religious as
1 relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity : religious attitudes>
2 of, relating to, or devoted to religious beliefs or observances
3 scrupulously and conscientiously faithful

So, if this isn't new, what are we to do about it? I think we are called to reframe it. What if we were to retake the word religious? What would it look like to be live into its first definition and remove ourselves from the damage done by definitions two and three? What if being "religious" meant that we were doing the best we can to live our lives devoted to the way of Jesus rather than the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church (or your church of choice)?

I imagine it'll take a lot of work, but if we were all to give up our religion and take on a religious life we might not stop at retaking the word, but in the end, might take the world and make it the Kingdom of God.

Desperate Housewives Go To Church?

Abandon Image: Desperate Housewives Go To Church?

This will be the source of conversation for next week's "New Face of American Christianity" Email, but since only 7 people are on that particular list, I wanted to share this blogpost with a wider audience.

Two things are worth note.

1- "The church is a place for answers, not for questions." (att. to Bree Van De Camp) is, I think, the MO of the Modern Church, but things they are a-changin'

2- The comments conversation surrounding the use of Desperate Housewives on a "theological" blog and the merits of TV in general are fascinating. Clearly I am not of the TV is bad camp, and I get offended when others insinuate that I am either dumb or not a real Christian because I enjoy American Idol, but the conversation is worth pondering.

April 22, 2008

two videos you must see

The first is Barack Obama using Jay-Z of all people to express his philosophy for responding to the attacks thrown his way by Hillary Clinton. HT to Susan for the video and the following disclaimer:

common-sense disclaimer: this article does not in any way reflect the stance of The Episcopal Church, The Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, or St. Paul's Foley. That is because the Episcopal Church does not issue recommendations on how to vote, believing that each individual has the responsibility to weigh Scripture, Tradition, and Reason in issues of moral discernment. And is voting an issue of moral discernment? I certainly think so.

The Second is the first webisode from Tony Jones. He will be posting various videos as part of plugging his new book, The New Christians.

loving God in all things and above all things

It is Earth Day. I'm not sure if you've noticed, but being "green" has become all the rage these days. Surely there are unintended consequences, like high food prices due to corn's new found value, but we should be giving some credit to those who are trying; failure on the way to new ways of seeing is not a bad thing.

Anyway, I was struck this morning by the environmental implications of Sunday's readings.

The collect that calls us to love God in all things and above all things is so appropriate for this day. Many have and will go overboard on the "green" thing and worship Creation as God, but our prayer instead calls us to love God in Creation and above Creation. God is so much bigger than our planet. To worship the Creator means to give due reverence to his Creation, but to worship him who is much larger. Brian McLaren has a quote about the problem with most environmental movements. I don't have it handy, but in effect it says that when Creation is our mother it is lifted to the status of God and thus Christians rightfully have a hard time jumping on board. Instead, we should think of Creation as our sister - created by God just as we were. If we saw our sister being treated like the Earth is, we'd react without a doubt. This reaction is part of living out the commandments of Jesus. Loving our neighbor as ourself doesn't have its end with loving people who annoy us, but we are called to love all things God has created. It wasn't that God saw humanity and said it was "very good [good good]", but God saw "everything he had created" [the whole system that was in place] and IT was "very good."

As Christians we must find a balance between loving neighbor and worshiping Creation. On this Earth Day, and since it is the fashion of the times, I vow to work on finding that balance for our household.

Happy Earth Day!

Readings for Easter 6a

homily for Easter 5a

Before I went to seminary I worked for 18 months for my father-in-law’s construction company. It was a wonderful experience and I learned a lot about what makes a construction project successful, and what can cause it to fail. And so, now living in a brand new neighborhood, I like to put my little knowledge to the test as I watch new homes being put together. My favorite guys to watch aren’t the bricklayers or the framers, but the guys who stake-out the house. This is the most important job in the construction process because these guys and gals define the shape of the house; and most importantly measure over and over again to be sure everything is square. Their stakes and string are the guides by which the foundation crew digs and pours, and from there on out a house that is not truly square will become more and more difficult to build; leaving windows crooked, trim bowed, and, as is the case in our bathroom, a tile floor that is way out of line. Making sure the house is square is the most important job in the project.

Construction has changed a lot since the first century, but one thing remains true; if the layout is not square, the project is destined to fail. That is the image that Peter works with in his letter. We as living stones each have a place within the Father’s house. We are called to lay ourselves one upon the other to build the kingdom of God here on earth and our guide to square and true is none other than the rejected cornerstone, Jesus Christ. Our job as Christians is to line ourselves up with him. The example of his life defines for us what it means to live out the will of God. To align ourselves with him allows us to bring into this world the way of God; one of justice, freedom, hope, and love.

Sometimes, however, it isn’t easy to keep ourselves aligned. Often our first attempt at laying down square and true leaves us a little out of line. We don’t trust the cornerstone. We don’t trust the other living stones around us, and want to do it ourselves. This inevitably leads to a version of the Father’s house that isn’t quite true. Windows are crooked. The trim work doesn’t fit quite right. Others who have lined up with us lie down a more and more out of square wall. And, in the end, the building is brought to ruin. To trust our own ability to see the will of God is to take the cornerstone – our guide in a life of building the Father’s house – to take his job of keeping it all square and true away from him. And, in the end, the wall falls down.

But that is not the end of the story because the cornerstone remains, and we are called again and again to align ourselves to him. It may take many attempts. There will be mini-successes and many failures along the way, but the cornerstone will not waiver. We will get momentary glimpses of the Father’s house as the everlasting construction project goes on, until that day when the Father determines it is finished.

We continue the work because we are called to be a holy nation, a royal priesthood, and God’s own people. We have no choice but to continue to work with began in Christ Jesus; that of bringing Creation that is crooked and out of sorts back in line with the rejected cornerstone; that of setting the world right-side-up by following Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life. We do this by following his example of compassion, of love, and of mercy. We do this by reaching out to the poor, proclaiming freedom to those enslaved by sin, by loving our neighbor as our self, by protecting Creation, and by living as servants of the most high God. We are sustained in this journey by coming to this table where the bread and wine are the spiritual milk we crave that allow us to taste that indeed the Lord is good. So, living stones, as we go forth from this place look to the cornerstone as an example and then lay yourself down square and true for the glory of God the Father. Amen.

April 18, 2008

an interesting parallel

Sorry to be lax this week.

I've had swirling in my head since Monday night the parallel between this story of Jesus comforting and commissioning his disciples at the last supper and God comforting and commissioning Moses in the burning bush story.

John 14.12-14 - Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

Exodus 3.12 - God said, "I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain."

We've struggled some in our Draughting Theology conversations around the issue of God in the Old Testament and God in the New. I get it. We even talked about it a lot in seminary. The God of the OT seems vengeful and angry. The God of the NT appears to be all about love. A real study will show that the God of the OT and the God of the NT are the same God - characterized by judgment and grace (for one can not exist without the other). And I think one can read the parallel above and note that God is doing the same thing (in two persons) in both stories.

1. God sends (Moses/Disciples)
2. God asks for more than we think we can do (free from Egypt/greater works than Jesus)
3. God assures us of his promises only if we follow through (you will worship me on this mountain/you will do greater works than these)

It is scary to think that the only way we can know that we are following the will of God is after the action is over. But to rest in promises so sure that the proof is at the end seems much more comforting than the fear that might arise. God of the OT, God of the NT, God provides provided we trust in his promises.

April 16, 2008

Sermon for Easter 4a (Wed)

1 The LORD is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
3 He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those
who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days
of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
A Psalm of Celebration

There is a Peanuts cartoon from many years ago, in which Charlie Brown is asked what "security" means. He describes the experience of riding in the back seat, while your parents are in the front seat, driving. You can sleep worry-free, he says, because they're taking care of everything.

We have what seems to be a very peculiar psalm appointed for the fourth Sunday of Easter. It is probably the best known psalm for most of us. If we didn't learn it in Sunday School as children, it has no doubt worked its way into our minds having recited it at just about every funeral. It carries with it a lot of baggage, that if we are honest with ourselves makes it a very heavy psalm indeed.

Our Prayer Book offers the following instruction for the burial office:

The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all meaning in the
resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we too, shall be

The liturgy, therefore, is characterized by joy, in the certainty that
"neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present,
nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else
in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ
Jesus our Lord."

This joy, however, does not make human grief unchristian. The very love
we have for each other in Christ brings deep sorrow when we are parted
by death. Jesus himself wept at the grave of his friend. So, while we
rejoice that one we love has entered into the nearer presence of our Lord,
we sorrow in sympathy with those who mourn. (507)

It seems natural that we tend to associate Psalm 23 with the later part of that instruction; grief, over and above the joy of the resurrection. Viewing funerals as a joyful celebration of the resurrection is easy to say but very hard indeed to live out. Naturally there is grief and sadness at the loss of a loved one. We miss them here on earth even as we await with joyful expectation of our meeting again in the age to come. There is something to be said, however, for placing Psalm 23 in that service of resurrection as well as its showing up here in Easter 4. Death has been defeated. Our focus is not on the Valley of the Shadow of Death nor the tomb in which our Lord and Savior was buried. Instead, we are called to look toward the heavenly banquet that comes as a promise from the empty tomb. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead to walk ahead of us as our shepherd. He offers us the security that is worry free existence; life abundant.

Not that it'll be all green pastures and still waters, but that he will be there with us. He will protect us from the thieves and robbers who would lead us astray. He will lay across the gate of the sheepfold as a first line of defense against the animals of prey who would have us for dinner. It certainly won't be an easy life, but the Good Shepherd will be with us all along the journey. I think it is this image that Charlie Brown was after as he pondered the true meaning of security. Mom and Dad may well be taking care of everything, but it certainly does not mean that the journey is not without its dangers. Instead, to feel secure is to trust fully in their willingness to do the best they can to bring us home safely. The same is true of our Father in Heaven. The right pathways of life are not without danger; like those found in the valley of the shadow of death, but it is God's promise to us that if we trust in him fully he will guide us along the best path possible.

I guess that's why I like Psalm 23 so much. It isn't rosey in its depiction of life, but it is confident in the assurances of God, the one true shepherd. Surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.

April 15, 2008

how can we know the way?

I touched on this in my sermon for Easter 2; Jesus may have given mission statements and utter many fine teachings, but by far his most long-lasting impact came in how he lived his life.

"How can we know the way?" Thomas asks. It is a question that so many of us have. From the selfish, "how can I be sure of my salvation?" to the selfless, "how can I be a part of bringing the Kingdom of God to earth right now?" The question may change, but the answer remains the same. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life."

For every "how" the answer is simple, follow the way of Jesus. Live a life as he lived his; seeking justice, loving neighbor, serving humbly, praying ceaselessly, etc.

It seems strange to return to the Last Supper discourse in Eastertide, but to return to this portion seems to make so much sense. Jesus is beginning to get ready to leave again; a week and a half 'til Ascension Day, and many of the disciples questions remain. How will this all work without Jesus here? Just as their questions repeat, so too does the answer, Jesus is the way, follow him.

April 14, 2008

Readings for Easter 5a


Sermon for Easter 4a

While Cassie and I were living in Alexandria we lived in an apartment complex. It was built in the post-world-war-2-boom as lodging for the new Pentagon. Each building held 10 apartments. Immediately around our building were five others - all over looking a parking lot that held about 50 cars. This parking lot was constantly active. People coming and leaving at all hours of the day and night. Secret service officers, teachers, coaches, Pentagon employees, students, retirees, young families, nurses, etc. were awake and active across all three shifts. And with King Street, I-395, and the helicopter flight path to and from the Pentagon all within earshot there was no stop to the sound of traffic. Over the three years we lived there, we got used to the noise and it didn't really bother us. We almost stopped hearing the constant sounds and only noticed the out of the ordinary instead. Our cats, too , got used to the sound. They stopped running and hiding when the Blackhawks flew only a-couple-a-hundred feet above our roof. One thing, however, always amazed me. In the midst of the cacophony of sound that was Northern Virginia, Libby and Lucy could still hear our cars. They somehow knew the distinct engine noise for both cars. Without fail, one of us would pull into the parking lot and at least one cat would jump into the window and offer us a "meow" of welcome. I still don't know how in the midst of all that sound they knew our cars. There were other Mustangs and other CRV's that regularly parked in the lot. There were a hundred different cars moving in and out on any given day. Yet somehow they knew and responded to our sound.
Jesus seems to tell a similar story to the Pharisees this morning. He sets up for them an image that isn't out of the ordinary; A sheepfold. "Jesus' imagery would have been familiar in a society where sheep-farming was a a staple of the economy. The 'fold' or pen was probably a large, communal enclosure where several flocks were herded for safety at night. The calling of the sheep in the morning would be crucial as each shepherd assembled his own flock from the larger herd in the fold. During the night a guard would be hired. He would remain at the only door to the enclosure. Robbers would enter only by scaling the enclosure. The guard would admit only the true shepherds by the door when they arrived in the morning." Bruce Milne, The Message of John, page 145, emphasis mine The sheepfold was a lot like our suburban parking lot - there was constant activity. Sheep from various flocks were coming and going. Animals of prey were lurking about waiting for the opportunity to sneak in through the gate for a snack. Thieves and bandits were trying to scale the walls in order to steal precious wool and meat. I imagine sheepdogs barking, shepherds yelling, and the guard constantly moving about. There must have been noise constantly. Yet in the midst of the cacophony, Jesus tells us, the sheep knew the voice of their shepherd. They would run away from the thieves and the bandits. They were most likely quite leery around the watchman. They didn't come when another shepherd called. Only their shepherd, his distinct tone of voice, would bring them out of the fold. Somehow they knew and responded to their shepherds voice.
We live in a world with an ever growing cacophony of sound and image. I wake up every morning and turn on SportsCenter on ESPN. The screen is almost overwhelming these days. Across the top is the ESPN logo on a blue stripe. The right quarter of the screen is also blue and holds a lineup of the next 6 or so stories. Scrolling across the bottom is constant news, score, and statistical updates. In what is left over they show highlights. These are feeds from ESPN and other network broadcasts and they have network logos, scrolling news, score, and statistical updates, as well as the scoreboard for the game being shown. The SportsCenter anchors talk about the highlights; making witty comments over top of a music track which plays over top of the play-by-play and color announcers from the original broadcast. And somewhere in the midst of all of that, the viewer is supposed to be able to pull out the necessary information of who won and by how much. It is sensory overload, and it happens everywhere. CNN, FoxNews, MSNBC, CSPAN. Even as I watched a Scrubs re-run on the CW the other night there was a reminder that in 11 months broadcast television will be a digital signal and that if I was affected I should visit a website to get a coupon. Webpages, newspapers, magazines, and even books - we are bombarded by inputs from all sides. It is a wonder we know anything at all. Somehow, though, we know and respond to the information we are seeking to find.
The cacophany of life exists all over. And, it seems, most especially as we search for the will of God. Jesus was speaking a real truth as he used the image of a sheepfold. There are so many things that would love to have our attention. Thieves, bandits, dogs, watchmen, and other shepherds - each with motives good and bad - each are trying to get us to respond to their voice. Just looking at the religious/spiritual growth section down at books-a-million it is clear that there are many voices. Joel Osteen offers us our "best life now". Joyce Meyer gives away "The Secret to Happiness". Brian McLaren says "Everything Must Change". While Sallie McFague argues that Global Warming gives us "A New Climate for Theology." Where in the cacophony of voices do we find the will of God? Which voice should we be listening for?
It seems to me that the voice we should be listening for is still Jesus'. In the very next verse he declares, "I am the good shepherd." His is the voice we should listen for - and we are given five reasons why. First, Jesus is the one who comes through the gate. He has been given his status by the Father, not by his own will. Second, the people know and respond to his voice. Our setting this morning is just after the healing of the man born blind. He has recognized Jesus as the true shepherd in calling out "Lord, I believe." (9.38). Third, he calls his sheep by name. "It is still common for Eastern shepherds to give particular names to their sheep descriptive of some trait or characteristic of the animal; Long-ears, White-nose, etc. It is in personal terms that Jesus calls his followers."ibid, 146 -Steve Pankey 4/10/08 2:15 PM The fourth feature that identifies Jesus as the true and good shepherd is "the direction he provides. Jesus is the guide to his people. To follow him is not to walk in darkness but to have the light of life (8.12)." He came that we might have life and have it abundantly. "The Pharisees saw their strength lying precisely at this point. They had the law and its application in their hands so were competent to teach people how to live. But they failed to provide guidance because for them living meant 'following the rules'. By contrast, Jesus teaches that living means following a Master. True, there are rules which reflect his character, but the essence is a living relationship with a living Lord." ibid. -Steve Pankey 4/10/08 2:21 PM Finally, Jesus elicits obedience. "Jesus is recognized by his own and they gladly follow" ibid. -Steve Pankey 4/10/08 2:24 PM
It isn't necessarily easy to hear Jesus' voice over and above all the others. But with practice - through prayer and discernment it becomes easier. Just as Libby and Lucy know our car amid many others, and just as I have learned to filter out everything but who won the penguins game so too can each of us learn to be sensitive to the voice of the living God; the one true shepherd. Fortunately enough, we are not left without some clue as to how we might go about learning which voice is the voice of God. The Pharisees to whom Jesus was talking didn't get it. They didn't recognize the voice of the good shepherd. But in the course of history many have. And the it seems to be about perseverance in the tenants of faith we heard read from Acts 2.42; the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayer. We learn what the voice sounds like by hearing the story of others who have heard it. We meet them in places of fellowship from the outlet mall to this church building. We meet the good shepherd every Sunday as we break bread. And ultimately it is through prayer - the two-way communication between God and his Creation that each of us as disciples of Christ meet him as shepherd and Lord. That, it seems to me, is what discipleship is all about - learning to discern the voice of God above all others. In the midst of the cacophony of noise, Jesus calls us each by name offering abundant life. With practice; the Apostle's teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayers, we can discern the Good Sheperd's voice above all other noise. What a gift What a promise. Amen.

April 10, 2008

some clarity

I think I finally have some clarity about this passage. I think I might know where to go (which is good since I'm supposed to be off the next two days).

I got it while reading Bruce Milne's commentary in John Stott's The Bible Speaks Today series. He sets up what Jesus' hearers would have seen in their mind's eye as he spoke this "parable."

Jesus' imagery would have been familiar in a society where sheep-farming was a a staple of the economy. The 'fold' or pen was probably a large, communal enclosure where several flocks were herded for safety at night. The calling of the sheep in the morning would be crucial as each shepherd assembled his own flock from the larger herd in the fold. During the night a guard would be hired. He would remain at the only door to the enclosure. Robbers would enter only by scaling the enclosure. The guard would admit only the true shepherds by the door when they arrived in the morning. (145, emphasis mine)

It brought to mind the word I woke up with this morning - cacophony. Between the other shepherd and the thieves; the sheep and the dogs, there must have been a cacophony of noises in and around the enclosure. It took a look of training, it would seem, for the sheep to know the distinct voice of their shepherd in the midst of all that noise.

Isn't that what discipleship is all about? Learning to hear our shepherd's -The Shepherd's - voice? Maybe all the other voices we hear aren't thieves and strangers so much as other shepherds - maybe it is hard to discern whose voice to follow because there are a lot of good voices out there. But the truth is, that there is only one voice that brings life; that of Jesus.

Know to turn that into a sermon.

April 9, 2008

the irony of it all

I am really struggling with where the Spirit would have me go with the lessons for this week. I have all sorts of ideas; from politics to gate construction. In my research one paragraph has really struck and stuck with me.

As Scott Black Johnston points out in his article on John 10 in “The Lectionary Commentary,” there is some irony in John 10 considering that Jesus makes a big point to say that the sheep know and follow the recognized voice of the shepherd. They don’t listen to a stranger’s voice but they do so to the familiar voice of the shepherd. And yet given all that, how ironic to note that in John 10:6, right after Jesus says all this, we are told that the disciples and others listening to Jesus that day “did not understand what he was telling them.” Apparently even when we recognize the Good Shepherd’s voice, we don’t necessarily always understand what he is saying to us! (footnote)

I think the reason I'm having such a hard time with it is that Jesus seems to be so utterly wrong. All the sheep seem to do is listen to strangers. We have been sold a bill of goods by everyone from the President of Coors to the President of the United States. We have listened to the voices of so many who tell us to consume, to think for ourselves, to live this way, to do this thing, to go to this college, to worship this way, to do this program, and on and on and on. Seems all we do is listen to the strangers, but Jesus seems sure that his sheep don't. It certainly makes me wonder about the surety of my salvation. Maybe that's why it is so hard. It is tough to preach on how to do this Kingdom thing, when it is now so very clear that I haven't a clue as to how to do it.

So I rely on the irony card. Though it assumes an audience I'm not sure I agree with. I guess I just hope the disciples missed it too. I mean I know the Pharisees (the audience I read) didn't understand; I'm just hoping the disciples were standing close by and didn't get it either.

I hope your sermon prep and discernment is going better than mine.

April 8, 2008

It ain't about the sheep

The Lectionary is not known for being good at context. While it isn't quite as bad as "proof-texting" it seems to, at times, point you in a direction without the text really allowing for it. This weeks seems to be one of those weeks. Our Collect (prayer) focuses on Jesus as the Good Shepherd and we, his followers, as the sheep. But, if one were to read the section just before this text one would notices that Jesus isn't talking to his disciples or even the crowd here; he is talking to and condemning the Pharisees.

It ain't about the sheep - it is all about the thieves.

Jesus as the gate, as Peter pointed out, means that Jesus is protecting his sheep from those would enter to do them harm. Those who would do them harm are those who, in the name of God, lead people in all sorts of bad directions across the theological spectrum. The gate is closed to those who come with all the answers. It is closed to those who have missed the Kingdom message. It will not be opened for those who claim self-help as Discipleship. It will remain shut for those who deny Christ as divine because it harms their message of self-salvation through social justice.

We are just sheep; susceptible to the variations of direction from the hired hand. Jesus the gate protects us from those who would lead us astray; if we could only figure out who was allowed in and who had jumped the fence.

April 7, 2008

everybody's favorite Jesus quote

Jesus said, "I am the gate."


It is a very strange Gospel lesson for Sunday. Our Collect (prayer) for the day talks about Jesus as the good shepherd, but the lesson stops before he claims it for himself. Instead we hear Jesus claiming his authority as the gate. I suppose that the Easter message is that in Christ the gate has been opened, but it is just a very strange lesson. I'd love to hear ideas from y'all on how to preach it.

I think that I will instead preach on Acts 2.42, "Those who were baptized devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers."

It was the theme of our Lenten series, it plays well alongside Keith's sermon yesterday as well as mine from two weeks ago. What does it look like to be devoted to teaching, fellowship, bread breaking, and prayers? How were the lives of those baptized different by the time chapter 2 verse 42 rolled around? How does "the apostles' teaching" get unpacked; what were they teaching? How do we find a balance between these four keys to the life of the Church? Are we too devoted to bread breaking? Or perhaps fellowship? And where does doing the work of Christ come into play? Social Justice, if you will, doesn't seem to appear on this list.

Keith led a 5 week series on Acts 2.42. If I go this route, please pray that my sermon is slightly shorter than that.

April 4, 2008

Emerging Rural

I've spent the last 10 months trying to figure out what in the heck emerging xianity had to say to a small town/rural context. Apparently, I am not alone. So today I add to my sidebar a new link that you must check out. Emerging Rural is a blog and a conversation for those of us without a cohort to have a beer with. Please do check it out.

I still think Peter's a little too excited

As you have no doubt noticed from my posts this week I believe that the Holy Spirit or the nudging of the Father, or Jesus knocking at your hearts door - whatever you wish to call it - can and does work prior to any action the Church might offer to recognize it.

It is often said of ordination services that it is the Church catching up to what the Holy Spirit (or any other person of the Trinity) was already doing. I believe the same is true of baptism - even for infants. When Peter tells the crowd that was "cut to heart" that they must be baptized "so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." I think that, in usual Peter fashion, he has gone a little overboard. The keys to the kingdom have already gone to his head.

I know that this will take me down a slippery slope (see marriage), but it seems to me that the sacraments of the Church - Baptism, Eucharist (a stretch here), confirmation, ordination, holy matrimony, reconciliation of a penitent, and unction - are all the Church catching up with what God is already doing. I hate to talk bad about Peter in the midst of his classic Acts 2 sermon, but c'mon brother - it isn't about you, it isn't about the Church, it is about God. Our outward and visible signs are after-the-facts of God's inward and invisible grace.

Certainly won't preach this, but I thought it worth a post.

April 3, 2008

We had hoped

"We hoped..." and "We had hoped..." seem to say the same thing. They both tell of a hope that is gone. But for some reason, as I've spent two weeks on the road to Emmaus, it seems that we had hoped sounds a lot more final. Cleopas and Mary, along with hundreds, if not thousands, of others are completely and utterly without hope. They express it in their story.

"Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him."

Nothing had worked out AND his body is gone. It is no wonder that their hope is gone. It is no wonder that their eyes are blind to him. It is no wonder that their hearts burn within them yet they still do not understand.

But what does Jesus do in the midst of their grief, despair, hopelessness? He unpacks the whole of salvation history for them. He, the Word, opens up the word so that they might understand. And even when that does not open their eyes and break open their hearts; he breaks bread with them. He repeats the action he called them to do in his memory, and their consciousness is flooded. Hoped had moved to had hoped, but in an instant hope was restored. That is what our resurrected Lord give us on our various roads; hope.

April 2, 2008

What kept their eyes from seeing?

We had some discussion in lectionary group yesterday about what it was that kept Cleopas and Mary from knowing it was Jesus walking with them to Emmaus. Some said it was God (and the HarperCollins Study Bible thinks that is right). Some thought perhaps it was the devil. Others thought maybe it was their own grief, guilt, shame, fear, etc. Still another suggestion was that they assumed him dead and his body stolen, so even if they recognized him, they wouldn't have been able to believe it was really him.

My answer was, it doesn't matter. What matters is that their eyes were, in due time, opened. For me, God could have been at work in three of our four answers. Be they blind due to grief, disbelief, or some other reason, the Holy Spirit was no doubt at work, and how much more are they blessed by having their eyes opened by the breaking of bread. Even if it was the devil, God was really at work - the power of the devil was defeated on Friday and the sting of death was overcome on Sunday - God is in control.

When a group of clergy get together to study the Bible it can often get nit-picky. We can spend hours on how one word's (mis-) translation has changed Church history one way or the other. But when it comes down to it - when the focus is the continuous revelation of the Word - all that matters is the Good News.

Who kept their eyes from seeing? Honestly, who cares? Who opened their eyes? The Risen Lord! Alleluia!

April 1, 2008

It is not about me

The lesson from Acts for Sunday is a helpful reminder that the work of ministry is not about the ministers. I find it helpful as I continue to search for the best way to approach those outside the church.

"Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the multitude, 'Let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.' Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, 'Brothers, what should we do?'"

Peter didn't do anything special or flashy. He wasn't holding Bible Studies in a bar. He didn't have a kick-ass praise and worship band. He didn't have slick glasses, nice boots, and an Emergent Village book deal. He stood up and proclaimed Jesus as Lord and Messiah. That is all he did. The Holy Spirit/Christ/the Father did the real work so that the crowd was "cut to the heart." It is a good reminder for me as I get frustrated with my "lack of success." I know that it is all self-inflicted, but still, it feels good to be reminded that all I must do is proclaim that Jesus is Lord and the rest isn't up to me.

As a side benefit, as I admit my sense of a "lack of success" it also makes me think about all the good that has come in the 9 months we've been in Foley, and for that I am grateful. Remember friends, It isn't about us.

Readings for Easter 3a

click here.

Sermon for Easter 2a

Saint Paul's Episcopal Church is a ministering community, reaching up in worship, reaching in to serve, reaching out in love, to the glory of Jesus Christ. I don't know how old this statement is. I have no idea the context in which it was written. I don't even know who the rector was when this statement was first put to paper. I do know that this is, whether we like it or not, the mission of St. Paul's. It is a good mission. It looks nice shortened on my business cards to Reaching Up, Reaching In, Reaching Out. I've even played around with it as a logo, hands reaching in every direction. This statement defines what we do and who we are trying to be.
In this morning's Gospel lesson we hear John's account of Jesus handing out a Mission Statement to his disciples. It is that first Easter Day. Jesus has appeared out of thin air into a locked room. He breathes on the them and says, "As the Father sent me, so I send you." A week later, they haven't moved very far. Jesus once again enters the closed and locked room to find his followers huddled up. The Mission Statement Jesus gave had only one measurable; they needed to be spread out. It seems pretty simple, to be sent is to be called to leave where you are. After one week, the followers of Jesus had not yet started their work. They were afraid.
Well not all of them. One of them wasn't there to receive the mission statement. He missed the ideating workshop. For most of Christian history, he has been given a bad wrap for his absence. Doubting Thomas he gets called; he wasn't with the rest on Easter, he missed out. Having grown up in St. Thomas Episcopal Church I have heard this story a thousand times, and I don't buy it. I think there is something else at work here. It seems to me as though Thomas is the only one who has lived into the new Mission Statement for the Way. The text offers no suggestions for where Thomas was or what he might have been doing, but I like Thomas and so I think that maybe, just maybe, he was out doing what Jesus had done. Just as the Father had sent Jesus, Thomas was sent; and go he did. He didn't need to hear the new Mission Statement, he had figured it out on his own. Thomas had asked Jesus to show him the way. Jesus told him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." And so Thomas followed that way, the Way of Jesus.
What Thomas got right that the rest of the group missed was that Jesus had already told them how to live. Despite the circumstances of the past few days, Thomas was going to keep on keeping on. He was out there doing the work of Christ. For a moment, Thomas comes back. He wants or perhaps even needs to touch the wounds of Jesus. What he doesn't realize is that in living the Mission, by being out in the world, he has already felt those wounds. The wounds of the God-man are still open to this day. Every time a child dies of malnutrition, every time a mother dies needlessly in childbirth, every time a person turns to drugs to hide from their pain, and on and on. The wounds of Jesus are not far from us. They are very much within our reach.
Over the coming weeks and months we will be given the opportunity to touch those wounds. As we strive to live out our own mission statement it is imperative that we reach up, reach in, AND reach out. As we work hard to follow the Way of Jesus we are being sent, as he was, into the world. "If you want to touch Jesus, if you want to KNOW that God is real, that Christ is alive and at work in the world, the best place for you to be is out there, in the world."
(bookmark) And the world need not be some far away land. We can reach out to the lonely and the shut-in in our own parish. We can reach out to the 70% of Foley Elementary students who receive some sort of breakfast or lunch benefit. We can reach out to the thousands of Baldwin County residents who are a missed paycheck away from living out of their cars or in tents out in the boonies and those who are already there. We can reach out to those who since Katrina are still without adequate living arrangements in Mobile County, Mississippi, and Louisiana. We can reach out to the 1 billion plus people around the globe who struggle to survive on less than a dollar a day. We can reach out to the 18 million children who are AIDS orphans.
We can reach out by writing checks and saying prayers. Or we can be like Thomas and reach out by being there. We can take seriously the Mission Statement for the Way and feel ourselves being sent into the world to proclaim
by word AND deed the Good News that Jesus is risen. Parker Palmer once wrote that “the mission of the church is not to enlarge its membership, not to bring outsiders to accept its terms, but simply to love the world in every possible way – to love the world as God did and does” (In the Company of Strangers). This, I think, is what it means to be sent by Jesus as the Father sent him. We are to be in the world, loving it despite its failings, working to heal it, despite our role in its wounding; and its role in ours.
The easy thing to do would be to turn in and lock the doors. But this is clearly not what Jesus calls his followers to do. We must move beyond the fear of being hurt; physically and emotionally, and live into the promise that Jesus is with us in our suffering. We are called to get dirty with sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, prisoners, beggars, orphans, widows, those who are sick, those who are alone, those who's minds have long since left them. We are called this Sunday to be like Thomas. To see the invisibly poor here in Foley. To help those who for whatever reason can not help themselves. To show that God's love doesn't come with strings attached or manifest itself only in nice homes and comfortable clothing. To live in constant pursuit of the One who was and is the way, the truth, and the life.
St. Paul's is a ministering community, reaching up in worship, reaching in to serve, reaching out in love, to the glory of Jesus Christ. In a year where it seems like all we hear is that finances are tight, we have a unique opportunity to be imaginative in how we live out our common mission. Jesus continues to offer peace to those who follow him. He wants for us a life lived following his example as the way, the truth, and the life. He is risen to new life so that we might know that our faith is not just about where we go after we die, but rather it is about how we live the life God has given us here and now. We have the chance to reach out and touch the wounds of Jesus. It will hurt. Like Thomas, it might mean that we miss some things. But it is where Christ would have us go. "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." The risen Lord is out there waiting to serve along side us. Get up. Get out. Get moving. Amen.