May 30, 2008

a bumper sticker seen on a jewish chariot in rome

"My LORD can beat up your god."

I'm so glad that the parish secretary chose to keep the optional ending to the Romans lesson for Sunday. It has a ton to say about the current state of affairs in the church (not to mention national politics). Polarity and polemic seems to be the name of the game these days. We operate in a mode of scarcity that says "I have all of the limited truth that is available and thus whatever you have is wrong."

Instead, the author of Romans offers a different model, "Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one"

Yes, God is one. The OT/HB lesson is a pretty good chunk of the Mezuzah that to this day gets nailed to doorposts in Jewish households. It begins "Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one."

Does God live only in the open source theology of Emergent? No
Does God live only in the classic prayers of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer? No
Does God live only in the Holy See of Rome? No
Does God live only in the hearts of Pentecostal Christians who can speak in tongues? No

Is God one? Yes
Does God reside with all of these believers and more? Heck Yeah!

I guess what I'm getting at is that God doesn't live exclusively in our boxes, but is in and beyond them all. God is the God of Jews, Gentiles, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Conservative Evangelicals, and much, much more. So while the bumper sticker above might be true, we should be careful when using our God to beat up our neighbors God - they might be the same YHWH.

May 29, 2008

get it through your thick skull

Sometimes I think we miss the emotive quality of the words we read in Scripture. I hear Moses talking to the Hebrew people today saying something like, "I've said a lot here today. And you now have a choice. You can choose blessings or you can choose curses. If you choose blessing, get what I just said through those thick heads of yours and live this life rightly and for YHWH!!!!!"

The opening phrasing for this Sunday's OT/HB lesson is a famous one.

"...put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates..."

We have stopped doing all these things. Our churches don't really teach what it means to follow Jesus. Our houses are suitcase villages for a people connected, it seems, by last name only. Our doorposts, hands, and foreheads are without the Word. And, it seems to me, for the most part, we have chosen curses.

But I think the promises of God through Moses remain. We can choose blessing by turning our attention to God. By having his commands in our hearts and on our minds so strongly that they influence every decision we make from our career to where we will grocery shop (still working on letting God overrule the wallet on that one).

It is about immersing ourselves in the Kingdom lifestyle, about getting it through our thick skulls that Jesus offered the perfect example of God's will for life on earth, about being a people focused in all things on God.

As Moses said elsewhere - choose life!

Readings for Proper 4a

here you go.

May 19, 2008

Lite Week

I will be traveling around the northeast for the next 7 days so I may or may not be as faithful to this blog as I should be this week. Bear with me, and I'll see you again soon.


Trinity Sunday Sermon

I tried to make it as un-dense as possible. But I think I failed. Oh well, people liked the ring-around-the-rosie image - thanks Marge.

Today we celebrate one of the Principal Feasts of the Church. In fact we are celebrating our third Principal Feast this month. Ascension Day and the Day of Pentecost; having just been celebrated, Trinity Sunday, along with Christmas, the Epiphany, Easter, and All Saint’s Day make up the seven Principal Feasts. And all over the world today, congregations are being put to sleep by deep theological treatises on Trinitarian Theology. Good church goers have been blessed by these sermons since the early 14th century, and as Anglicans we can thank Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, who two centuries earlier dedicated his Consecration on the Sunday after Pentecost to the Holy Trinity, for our long history of terribly thick sermons on this Principal Feast Day.

As I pondered over how to preach my first Trinity Sunday I have to admit I really struggled. I didn’t think I would, how hard can Trinity Sunday really be to preach? I chatted with old seminary friends and got laughed at by seasoned priests, and ultimately realized that Trinity Sunday was indeed hard to preach. At the same time, however, it is like every other Sunday; my task in preaching is to make it alive to you. To ignore the Trinity part of Trinity Sunday and preach on discipleship instead was to do a disservice to you just as giving you a heady term-paper type lecture on the Trinitarian theology laid out in the Creed of St. Athanasius would. As Reginald Fuller, the late professor emeritus of New Testament at Virginia Theological Seminary, wrote, “We need to guard against the notion that the Holy Trinity is a mysterious formula or still more a perplexing and complicated dogma, intelligible only to theologians. We must therefore interpret the experience of the believers, particularly their prayer and sacramental experiences, in such a way that they see that they are themselves constantly involved thereby in the life of the Blessed Trinity." [Then quoting Thomas Hancock, a 19th Century Anglican Divine,] ‘Thus the rudest man or woman who cannot reason about the Trinity may know the Trinity more perfectly than some acute theologian who has by heart all the writings of St. Athanasius or St. Augustine, and all the controversies of the first six centuries.’”[1]

And so despite the fact that both New Testament lessons have explicit references to the Trinity, I'd like instead to go back to Genesis. It is in this wonderful Hebrew poem that I believe we get our best understanding of what this Triune God we worship and follow is all about. There are three parts of the first story of Creation that give us wonderful insight into the life of the Trinity. We will begin our journey in the beginning. This time from the New American Version, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. 3 Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. We must always be careful when we try to read Christian theological innovations into Old Testament, Hebraic, texts, but I have not found a more carefully designed Trinitarian formula then that of Genesis 1.1-3. It starts with the idea that before the beginning, God is; thus he is there to create “in the beginning.” But it does not stop there; for we have in these three verses God the Father who creates, God the Spirit who moves over the surface of the water, and God the Word who speaks things into being. This One God is in effect Three Persons. Here is where sermons often fall into lectures, and I promised I wouldn’t do that to you, so suffice it to say that this One God in Three Persons is “some sort of community of creativity.”[2] Or perhaps better said, our Triune God is a relationship, is relationship, is in relationship.

This relationship gets fleshed out for us a little better in the second passage we should look at this morning. The first half of verse 26 gives us a glimpse into that relationship of the Godhead - God talking to God. Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…’” We have here a rare glimpse into the God relationship. As I imagine it, I see God the Father ruminating on the idea of making humankind and offering that suggestion to God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The Steve Pankey translation is something like, “What do y’all think about making humankind in Our image, you know like us?” And in so doing, the Triune God of relationship makes us as relational beings. We are created by a relational God to have a relationship with Him and with one another.

The loving community that is our Triune God couldn’t help but create more things to love. This was made clear to me during the “building respectful Christian community day” during orientation at seminary. They took three volunteers and asked them to join hands and move around like they were playing ring-around-the-rosie. This symbolized the relationship among the Godhead; three in one, in perfect harmony. They then invited the rest of us to join; as created beings of God into that dance. We each have the opportunity to join in the life of the Trinity as members of their relationship which in turn brings us into relationship with one another. It was a terribly embarrassing way to go about teaching the image, but it made clear to me what it means to join into the dream of God; to be made in the relational image of God; to engage the Trinity.

This lifestyle of relationship does not end with us and God, however. The last verse I’d like to look is 1.31, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” As we hear the story of Creation it is easy to fall into the rhythm of evening/morning. By day six we have often tuned out to the cycle. We hear that God created light, sky, land, and vegetation, sun, moon, and stars, fish, and birds, cattle, creeping things, and beasts of the earth, and finally humankind, and we know that these were all good things. Then, on day six, we hear that it was very good. The routine has been shifted, and we are awake again. “What was so good?” we think to ourselves, “Day six, hmm, humankind, that was very good; awesome.” But when we look at it we see that it wasn’t humanity that made God so happy. When God saw each and every thing he has made working in perfect relationship with one another, then he said it was very good. This has profound ramifications for our lives. God didn’t get all excited by us, but by the relationship of all of Creation. This means that as relational beings made in the image of God we are to be in relationship with God, with one another, AND with all of Creation. This makes God declare things very good. This means that our relationship to light, sky, land, and vegetation, sun, moon, and stars, fish, and birds, cattle, creeping things, and beasts of the earth is as important as our relationships one with another.

These are the lessons of Trinity Sunday. Not that God is beyond our comprehension, we know that already. Not that the Trinity is so deep as to be the territory of trained theologians. Instead, we are to know first and foremost that God is Three Persons of One Substance in perfect relationship. This perfect union that was before the beginning poured out its abundance in Creation, and we as humankind were made in the image of this relational God. Our three point charge is to join in the relationship of our Triune God; to be match that perfect relationship one with another; and to carry that dance beyond humanity into all of Creation. We live out this charge by following the example of the One through whom all relationships are made and obeying all he has commanded us to do: keeping Sabbath, offering praise and worship, living in peace, and taking great solace in the promise of God the Son that “He is with us always.” Thanks be to God; the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Reginald B. Fuller, Preaching the New Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1974, p.385.

[2] Rob Bell, Everything is Spiritual DVD, 2008.

May 15, 2008

out of the mouths of babes

It was an awkward show, but always good for a laugh. "Kids Say the Darndest Things" was hosted by Art Linkletter (best name in TV?) and Bill Cosby. And by and large the title of the show held true, kids did really say the darndest things.

The Psalm for Trinity Sunday offers us something else kids say, (8.2) "Out of the mouths of infants and children *your majesty is praised above the heavens." I have found this to be very true; often when they say nothing at all. I was honored to splash holy water around for the first time this weekend. Our friends J & C allowed me the privilege to take part as their almost 5 month old baptized this weekend - it was cool. (Kinda like my wedding though - Four days later and I don't remember many of the details). Anyway, I don't have a good, rock solid, theology of infant baptism, but it is holy none-the-less. The look in the eyes of a 5 month old baby (screaming or not - she wasn't) in that sacramental moment makes me certain that God is there.

Then, in my Tradition, being baptized is all you need to approach the altar rail and receive Communion. There again, without saying a word, I see infants and children praising God above the heavens. The joy that is in their faces as they receive the body of Christ leads me to believe that they have a much better grasp of what is going on that just about everybody else (clergy included). I don't remember where I read/heard it, but there is an author out there who writes about the regression of the human ability to experience the holy. Seems as the memory of God with us in the womb fades in those first few years that it becomes harder and harder to received from God his presence. At least of a while, however, as young children we are able to see, feel, and hear God much more really.

"Out of the mouths of infants and children *
your majesty is praised above the heavens."

May 14, 2008

The Royal We

I read an article yesterday that argued for a reading of the "Let us..." statement of God in the Creation Narrative as being an utterance of the "Royal We." This seems like a valid point, but it causes us (plural) to lose something grand about the basis of life and faith that is presented in the poetry of Genesis 1.1-2.4. As you saw, I hope, in the Rob Bell link I posted a few days ago the story of Creation gives us two great insights: 1- God is relationship and 2- God is creative. To read the "Let us..." of Creation as simply God's ordaining of bishop speak is to lose the fact that God, the Triune One, is perfect relationship of three Persons of one Substance. Losing that seems then to lose the power of that perfect relationship spilling love out such that the Earth moves from formless void to a "good good" system of relationships.

I prefer to read the "Let us..." statement as God's conversation with God's Self. The Father musing with the Son and the Spirit about what to do next. This allows, then, for the splendor of the relationship with the Godhead to be our perfect example of relationships of all types; familial, friendship, pet-owner to pet, consumer to product, co-created thing to Creation. It is the great benefit of Trinitarian Theology; God as 3-in-1 teaches us how to live as a part of a world of relationships. Sure, we miss the mark, a lot, but at least we have a goal, an example; one which the Royal We removes without offering a replacement.

May 13, 2008

Beyond the Shadow of a doubt

The Gospel lesson for Trinity Sunday is the Great Commission, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you." It is a very powerful text; one that calls us to a life that many aren't willing to live, I am going to save that post for another day.

Today I am struck by the fact that 50% of the Gospels (in their truest forms) end with doubt and fear. Mark's short ending and the ending of Matthew we read this week both end very quickly and both without much in the way of redemption. It is very representative of the life of faith to me that they end that way. How many days do we wake up and say, "wow, what the heck am I doing?" Or how often does our mind start to wander as we ponder the Trinity so that we end up saying, "how is this possible?"

The life of faith is one of questions. As we search for God we ask questions of (and about) God in the hopes of finding a glimpse. Today I am thankful that some doubted. This morning I am glad that the women "told no one for they were afraid." Today I'm asking questions again. Today, God is faithful.

Readings for Trinity Sunday

May 8, 2008

on a violent wind and being sent

As I sit here trying to process what it means that by no stretch of the imagination 100,000 people could be dead in Myanmar after a cyclone ripped through the country I am struck by the language of Acts where the Holy Spirit is said to sound "like a violent wind." After a tragedy like this one some variation of the question "why did God do this?" alway arises. It is all the more powerful a question with the unfortunate word choice in the Acts lesson for Pentecost Sunday. While I have no real answers to questions like this, I do have my theological best guesses. And, like many I know, it is all about sin. Not that the people of Myanmar did anything to deserve God's wrath in the form a cyclone and an oppressive government that is slowing aid, but the world family has created the conditions such that storms like this and governments like that are not only possible, but, without a return to Kingdom living, are more and more likely.

Perhaps we would do well to take the image of the Holy Spirit as a violent wind and claim it, not as a powerful force that punishes, but as a powerful force that clears out all the parts of our lives that we hold onto; all the sin, all the messiness, all the evil. Then, when we've reclaimed that vision of the Holy Spirit, perhaps we should look to other story of the coming of the Spirit in John's gospel as see that by it we are sent (perhaps as wind drives a sailboat) out to help those who have been negatively affected by the sin systems that have long been in place.

The CNN headline this morning says, "Rotting corpses pile up as Myanmar stalls on aid." A violent wind created part the first half of the problem, sin is directly involved in the second, but the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to work toward redemption; to blow the crap out of our souls so that we can be sent, in the same vein as Jesus, to a world in desperate need.

May 7, 2008

the Spirit moves

I love the story of Eldad and Medad from Numbers. We aren't using this reading this week, but I still have the pleasure of reading it in my own devotional time, and I love it.

Moses has some great lines attributed to him in the OT, but this has to be in the top 5, "Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!" Amen Moses, Amen.

It is an interesting contrast to the Gospel option we've chosen, John 7.37-37 where John's editorial note smacks of bad theology, "Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified."

See 1:00-2:03 of this clip from Rob Bell's Everything is Spiritual video for some insight as to why John is wrong and the movement of the Spirit in Numbers is so cool to me.

Anyway, all that to say this; the Spirit moves a lot. She was at Creation, she was in the tent AND the camp in Numbers, she was in and with the disciples of Jesus on Pentecost, and she is hovering over us and with us and in us to this day. The Spirit moves before faith; is faith; and empowers faith. The Spirit as breath, the Spirit as wind, moves us, guides us, directs us around the stormy sea that is life in this world. The Spirit opens our eyes, our ears, our hearts to the outpouring of God's love for his Creation and motivates us to pour out our love as well. The Spirit prays when we cannot, loves when we cannot, hold out hope when we cannot. The Spirit moves a lot.

As we approach the Day of Pentecost we would do well to remember that the Spirit is at work all over the place. We are deluded when we think that we have the corner on the Spirit market and they are missing out. Even as the Spirit came upon the 68 she sought out Eldad and Medad back in the camp.

May 6, 2008

I chickened out

Have you ever read the prophets of the Old Testament and wondered how much of that stuff they actually had the courage to say and how much they wrote but maybe skipped over it as the preached?

In the sermon that follows you will find 2 sentences in double strikeout. It is because I chickened out and didn't say it. Dang it!

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? Seems like a stupid question for these two men in white to ask the disciples. Their friend, their mentor, their rabbi was just taken up on a cloud into the heavens – why wouldn’t they be looking up into the sky? Wouldn’t you be looking up too? And yet I believe there is something very profound in the question raised by the men in white robes. The real question they seem to be asking the disciples is “now what?” “You missed the point of just about everything Jesus taught and showed you. You freaked out when he was arrested. You hid away out of fear while he died and for the three days there after. Then, when he appeared to you in the middle of a locked room and told you to go out you sat around for another week. He promised you the Spirit of truth, spent the better part of 40 days preparing you for when he would leave again, and now he is gone. So, what have you learned? What are you going to do now?” Speechless, it seems, the male and female disciples of Jesus head back to the upper room and begin to pray. “What on earth are we going to do now,” they must have repeated over and over again in prayer, “now what?”

As the Church calendar goes today is day four of that prayer marathon. The Feast of the Ascension is celebrated forty days after the Resurrection of Jesus; or for those of us who aren’t church calendar people; it was Thursday. As we know now, the promised Holy Spirit will arrive next Sunday, the fiftieth day; Pentecost. Just try to imagine, however, what it must have been like for the group praying in the upper room. Jesus didn’t leave a schedule; he only gave them a promise.

I think I got a glimpse of that trust last weekend when Cassie and I joined three others from St. Paul’s as Cursillo Pilgrims. The first thing they did was ask us to give up our reliance on time. The God’s Time clock went up on the wall. Our watches went into our pockets. Cell phones were in the off position. Time was measured only in [this much]. We weren’t given a schedule; only a promise that we’d get more than enough to eat and just barely enough sleep. It is not easy for a severely Type-A person like myself to let go of all real notions of time and trust a group of touchy feely types to keep me on schedule. In those first few moments of panic as I checked my naked wrist every [this long] desperately hoping that the time might appear on my arm that I think I got a glimpse into the feeling in that upper room. As the disciples huddled together they must have reflected on what had already happened.

Jesus had predicted that he would die and be raised on the third day, and it happened. So there was at least some past experience upon which they could base the hope that the Holy Spirit would actually come. Still, those ten days must have felt like an eternity. “Now what” takes about a second to say, having repeated it some 864,000 times, they must of thought the Holy Spirit was never going to arrive. And what if it did?

There was that the second half of Jesus’ promise; “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The Spirit is coming, someday, and then the expectation of proclamation begins. You can imagine that half of the group might be praying for the Spirit to come soon so that their fears might be eliminated and the other half was praying for the Spirit to take its sweet time because the ends of the earth sounded awfully frightening. The time of waiting, which ever camp one may have fallen in, must have been unbearable. “Now what?”

And lest we think we got off easy because we know that the Spirit did arrive, the question still remains. Why do you stand here looking into the sky? Or perhaps more to the point; the men in white robes are standing here looking at me asking, “you’ve got the Bible, the teachings of Jesus are in plain English, God’s passion for justice hasn’t changed, you have committed yourself to a life of discipleship, why are you looking into the sky for Jesus to come back and magically fix things? What are you doing for the Kingdom of God in the here and the now?” You’ve heard me say this before, and no doubt you’ll hear it again, but a life of faith in Jesus Christ is not about going to heaven when we die, but about how and for whom we live our life here and now.

We find ourselves today in the midst of another indefinite period of waiting. In probably every generation there has been a person or some people who have, for whatever reason, read the spiritual dice such that Jesus’ return could be predicted in their lifetime, and up until today each of those people has been wrong. We have no way of knowing when the promise of Jesus and the two men in white robes will come to fruition. Did Jesus rise from the dead? Yes. Did the Holy Spirit come with great power and glory on the disciples? Yes. Will Jesus return to earth on the same cloud he rode into the sky? Most assuredly. In the mean time, we find ourselves in year two thousand and eight or so of the prayer marathon for his return. And the prayer for this period of waiting is the same as it was while the disciples waited on the Spirit, “God, What on earth are we going to do now? Now what? Amen.”

The specific answer to that prayer will be different for each of us. In general, however, we already know the answer. “Be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This commission has not changed in over 2000 years. We are still called to testify by word and deed the good news of God in Jesus Christ. That’s what this eternal life thing we’re all hoping for is all about. Jesus himself said in John’s Gospel, “this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Eternal life has nothing to do with pearly gates and harps of gold, but it is knowing, intimately, in the Biblical sense, the only true God. And knowing God is very different from knowing about God. I have a master’s degree in knowing about God, and I could spend hours on end telling you about God. In reality, however, it is only through living out our baptismal covenant together that we come to know God. Through prayer, proclamation, and the service of others we develop our relationship with God; we get to know God.

Men and women of St. Paul’s Foley, why are we looking into the sky? Let’s turn our attention to the here and now, and strive to be the answer to the real underlying question, “now what?” Amen.

as the Spirit gave them ability

Somewhere in the middle of the Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 12 lessons is a profound theology of Spiritual Gifts. Having taught several different classes on the topic, phrases like "as the Spirit gave them ability" and "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone" really jump out at me, and to be quite honest they make me smile.

I try to be very careful (nowadays) about ever saying that a body of faithful believers has gotten it wrong. There are enough theological potholes in my own tradition that to point out where others may be missing the point is a dangerous activity indeed. However in light of these two lessons and the great spectacle that is the Day of Pentecost I would like to affirm that there is no place in the Church for a Spiritual Gifts litmus test, and if someone has told you there is, you tell them I said "no!"

The most common of these "must haves" is the gift of tongues. But, even in the Acts lesson, where it seems that all the faithful have it, we get the caveat that they speak out only "as the Spirit gave them ability." It has nothing to do with them. Let me repeat that, the ability of the apostles to speak in various tongues on Pentecost has everything to do with the Spirit and nothing to do with them.

There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. As we prepare ourselves to remember once again the day the Spirit emerged with great power and glory we are wise to move beyond litmus tests and instead be discerning. With what gifts has God equipped me? How best can I use those gifts for the common good? How can I help others to see the gifts with which God has equipped them?

Readings for the Day of Pentecost; Whitsunday

May 2, 2008

Homily for Easter 6a (Wed)

“Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you…” If you’ve picked up on anything in the 10 months I’ve been with you at St. Paul’s it is that, for me, the gospel lessons are of central importance. It isn’t that I think less of the Old Testament or the Epistle lessons, but I believe there is a reason why we stand to hear the Gospel. By our actions we make it clear that Jesus Christ is alive as the Word when the Gospel is made alive again in its proclamation. It is with this in mind that most of the time when I preach I turn to the Gospel lessons for my text. Today, however, is different. The lessons for the Sixth Sunday in Easter in Year A bring with them perhaps the single most critical admonition for followers of Jesus Christ that did not come from the lips of our Savior himself.

Writing to a church in the midst of a dire situation, Peter calls his church to “always be ready to proclaim the hope that is within them.” Speaking to St. Paul’s Foley, a church of relative comfort in the Bible Belt of America I suggest that Peter’s appeal should be central to our life of faith. I am reminded of the first assignment of Homiletics 3 when Professor Hooke assigned us each the same sermon. We had no text to work from, only Peter’s call to his church to “offer the class the hope that is within you.”

Hopes take on various forms. We hope to get a tax refund each year (or at least that we don’t owe anything). We hope that our loved ones will find success and be happy and healthy. We hope for a good report from our annual physicals. And on and on. But when asked what hope lies at the core of our being, are we ready to give an answer? For Peter’s church that answer would have most certainly meant harm. To proclaim Jesus as the Messiah put him up against the Temple and the Romans, and neither side was happy to be challenged. For us, the consequences of our hope are not nearly as dire, but the challenge remains the same.

What is the hope that lies within you? For me the hope remains the same as it did in Homiletics 3; through the saving help of Jesus Christ I am able to grow in grace and in the Kingdom life. I found that sermon and wanted to share it, with a few modifications, with you this afternoon as a glimpse into my hope. I pray that you might hear some of your hope within it as well.

Ten years ago Februrary I was somewhere I never thought I’d be. I was sitting at a table at a Young Life banquet, wringing my hands, nervous to be sitting with some of Young Life Lancaster’s top givers, even more nervous to share my testimony with them in but a few short minutes. Fletch had helped each of us write and rehearse what we would share, but until that moment after dinner came I had no idea what to expect. I tried to take solace in the fact that I would be sharing with some of my best friends parents. I tried to take solace in the fact that I didn’t have a terrible back story of abuse, drugs, drinking, or the like that might get back to my parents. I tried to take solace in the fact that I would be sharing what God was doing in my life with those who had helped make it possible that I was still looking toward God.

The moment came, dinner was over, and it was time to share my testimony. I ended with a verse of Scripture, as Fletch had suggested. “Going forward, getting ready to look at colleges and choose a career Proverbs 3.5-6 reminds me of what I need to do, ‘5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.’” (NIV)

In the ten years that have followed I haven’t always trusted in the LORD with all my heart. I made major life decisions like college and career without as much as a thought of praying over it first. I began at the University of Pittsburgh studying Civil and Environmental Engineering in the fall of 1998, and by Christmas I realized the error of my ways. “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Since Christmas of 1998 I have worked hard to acknowledge God in all my ways with varying levels of success, and in return God has made my paths straight -ish.

Today I am somewhere I never thought I’d be, standing in a pulpit in Foley, Alabama. I am here for no other reason but that God has shown me the straightest path and by his grace I have been able to trust. God has blessed me with a wife whom I love and adore. God has blessed me with a call to serve him in ordained ministry. God has blessed me with a community of fellow believers. God took the mistakes of my youth and straightened them out. There-in sits the hope within me. With eyes focused on God, through the saving power of Jesus Christ, I have been given the ability to trust the LORD. With this trust came acknowledgment of the will of God. With this acknowledgement came straight paths, even in times of trial. With these straight paths comes blessing beyond my comprehension.

That is my hope; to trust in God and follow his pathways toward a Kingdom life. What is your hope? Are you ready to give account of that hope if need be? I am reminded today to be ready at all times. Thanks be to God!

It is Friday...

and I finally have a pathway toward a sermon.

I pray that I'm never writing a sermon Sunday morning, but on weeks like this one it seems very very possible.

Anyway, after getting halfway through a sermon on guilt that as I reflected on it had absolutely nothing to do with the texts for Sunday, I started over. I read, and I read, and I read, and at some point I begin reading with sarcastic eyes and it hit me.

Acts 1.11, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?"

But as it was heard rattling around my mind, "hey morons, he's gone, now what!?!"

It is a valid question to most, if not all Christians today. "Why are you staring slack-jawed at the sky? The Christian life is lived here, now."

And, I might add, it is based on trust in the promises of Jesus. He said he'd rise from the dead, and he did. He said the Spirit would come, and (while the disciples don't know it yet by 1.11) he did. He said he will come again, and he will. But in the meantime the question still stands, "why are you looking up toward heaven?" Even if he's coming back this afternoon, he's gonna be mighty peeved if you spent your years of discipleship sitting on your rear staring up toward heaven. Instead, he commissions his disciples (and by extension us) to "be [his] witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." That's what a life of faith is; proclaiming the good news of God in Jesus Christ to your household, your neighborhood, your enemies, and to the ends of the earth.

So what am I doing? Well in the hopes of finding a sermon text up there, I'm staring at the ceiling. Hopefully by Sunday, I'll be prepared to be Christ's witness.

May 1, 2008

eternal life

Jesus' high priestly prayer in John 17 serves as a very early systematic theology of the Christian faith. Of supreme importance to most is Jesus' understanding of eternal life.

"And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."

The Catechism for the Episcopal Church seems to get at this as it deals with the two possibilities for eternal life.

Q. What do we mean by heaven and hell?
A. By heaven, we mean eternal life in our enjoyment of God;
by hell, we mean eternal death in our rejection of God. (BCP, 862)

It goes back again to choices. It seems that if we live our lives choosing to pursue the kingdom of God then eternal life with God (in heaven and on the new earth) will be the end result. If, on the other hand, we choose to live our lives rejecting the presence of God in this world then eternal death results. It gets all sorts of gray when we put 2000 years of speculation on it; harps and golden streets versus forked tails and fire; but in the end it seems as though the reward for faith is that of living in the presence of pure love for eternity and the punishment, if you will, for the faithless is knowing that love but being outside of its embrace.

Putting it that way, it almost sounds worse than the cartoonish imagery we've put on heaven and hell, but maybe that's the point. The best we can come up with is a life in the fire to portray just how terrible it must be to live outside that embrace. And while we get glimpses of heaven on earth when we do the work of the Father, the feeling is so fleeting that all we can do to put an explanation on it is add the things we strive for in this life; joy, contentment, ease, etc.

It seems like a great Sunday to challenge the long held notions of heaven and hell. But I probably won't.