June 27, 2008
Elsewhere in this blog and in my life I have been very critical of so called "praise and worship" music. Most of it is trite and it often is very personally focused, forgetting the role of the corporate in corporate worship. There are a few songs, however, that are very powerful for me, and the collect today reminds me of one that used to be on my lips every morning in chapel. Sanctuary, made famous by Jaci Velasquez, while falling into the personal trap is a great song to prepare my heart for worship.
The chorus is all I really know,
"Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tride and true. With thanksgiving, I'll be a living sanctuary for you."
As I sit here and drink too much coffee, thinking about the fine fried shrimp po'boy with fries and onion rings, and fried pickle and hush-puppy appetizer I enjoyed last night, I'm not feeling much like a holy temple or a sanctuary. Knowing that it isn't what one puts into his body that defiles doesn't much help. Most of my recurring sinfulness comes around pride issues as I build my own foundation and sometimes even try to be my own cornerstone. That's when the collect comes back and reminds me that it isn't about me and my personal house of worship but about the Church, unified and making up the walls that sit upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets that makes up the holy temple. As it grows so too does the temple and the Kingdom palace moves closer and closer to its rightful place on earth.
Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary not for one, but a part of the much larger sanctuary you have planned of your Creation. Amen.
June 26, 2008
It seems to happen more often than not. I end up standing in this pulpit wondering aloud what I think we are all thinking, "why these lessons? Why not fluffy bunnies and white dresses?" What I realized in these lessons this week is really a lesson for me. My worldview is upside down again. God doesn't exist to please me - I exist to please God. So then the question goes from "why these lessons?" to "how do we go about pleasing God?" Above all else, to please God, Jesus tells us, we are to trust in God and have no fear. To trust God fully means a life of constant surprises. To trust God fully means dealing with the question, "what did you expect?"
William Willimon was for some time the Dean of the Chapel at Duke University. As the Dean he dealt with all sorts of people as they related to Duke; students, faculty, staff, visitors, and parents. He often sponsored mission trips for the students to spend spring break serving the poor in Latin America, building houses in rural North Carolina, etc. A young student came back very charged about what God was doing in her life and felt called to focus her studies on international affairs so that she might one day be a foreign missionary. When this got back to mom and dad, they were less than happy and came to pay Dean Willimon a visit. "We encouraged her to attend chapel so she'd be a good person and maybe find a good husband," they said to him. His response was polite and to the point, "God had something different in mind for your daughter." (i can't find this story again so i used what i remembered) Had he not been such a kind hearted man, his answer could have easily been, "it sounds like your priorities are all wrong, God's expectations of us are much higher than becoming a good person and finding a good spouse."
Willimon's story comes to mind for me this morning as it raises that question, "Well, what did you expect?" It is a question that should be at the forefront of Dewayne and Jennifer's mind today. What do they expect for little Marissa as she grows up and grows into faith in Jesus Christ? It is a question that should be at the forefront of our minds as well as we take the vow to do all in our power to support Marissa in her life in Christ. It is a question that should be at the forefront of our minds each and everyday as we "go in peace to love and serve the Lord."
For Jesus' disciples, the answer is clear, expect hardships. "They call me Satan," Jesus says, "and I'm the teacher, just imagine what they'll call you." "But have no fear..." Jesus continues, "for there are no secrets in my kingdom." Jesus doesn't promise them safety and security - only that their mission will succeed. "While they are on duty delivering their message, they will be guarded, but even this does not exclude [them from] martyrdom. One way or another, the message will be delivered. That is what is important." (1) The danger is real and present, but the expectation is that they trust and live beyond fear - for even in death they will receive their reward.
As Paul writes in Romans, the expectations remain the same for those of us baptized into the body of Christ after his death, resurrection, and ascension. For us, Paul writes, we are expected to live in trust and without fear because we have already died and rose from the dead.
The preferred method for baptism, even in our own 1979 Prayer Book, is full immersion. In that outward and visible sign the true gravity of baptism is made clear. As the candidates are fully immersed, as if drowning, as if being buried, those who witness the event get a real sense that something has really died. As the candidate then rises from the water it is as if they have been raised to new life, they have escaped the tomb, they have joined with Jesus in the resurrection life. Having defeated death once in baptism then, we are called upon to have no fear of death, for even as our physical bodies die, we remain alive as resurrected members of the Body of Christ.
This is clearly not what liturgical architects expected from baptism as fonts became smaller, less utilitarian, and more ornate. What they expected has, I think, defined what we expect, a polite service where some water gets splashed and smiles abound. Theologically speaking, however, it is clear that baptism is serious stuff. Vows are not to be taken lightly. Think about the other places in our common life where vows are taken; in marriage, at ordinations, at inaugurations; the stakes are always high. The stakes high are very high, Jesus tells us, for those who choose to proclaim with him that the Kingdom of God is near.
"What did you expect?" is a question that I often ask myself. Vacation Bible School is for kids from age 4 through grade 6 - what did you expect? It is a Saturday afternoon in June and you're going south on 59 - what did you expect? You left the dog in the backyard for 6 hours and he dug a hole - what did you expect? It is a question that I most definitely need to ask more often about my expectations of God and a life of faith. We shouldn't expect it to be easy. We shouldn't expect it to be all white dresses and smile. And while we're at it, we should expect that with God in control we need not fear.
As we welcome a new member into the household of God today, we each bring our own set of expectations for her. Of course the expectations that matter most are those of DeWayne and Jennifer, but it seems as though even their expectations may pale in comparison with what God has planned for little Marissa. There are literally millions of different ways her life could play out and chances are that however it happens, it won't be what anyone expected, but that seems to be the point. What pleases God is so often not what we expected for ourselves or for our loved ones. Don't settle for your own expectations, God's are much greater. Amen.
Two things seem apparent. 1) you either trust God or you don't.
God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you." So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him.
No hemming and hawing is apparent in the text; just a command from God to do the unthinkable and Abraham goes off to do it. This seems to be a trademark of trust. One might argue that Abraham had enough experience with God living up to his promises to just do it, but I would point you to their first run-in when Abram, as he was called then, is told by God to leave the land he knows, to leave his family, and go to a land that God will show him (Gen 12). There too, Abram just does it.
2) Trusting God means to have high expectations of God.
Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you." Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, "Father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." He said, "The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Abraham said, "God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son."
Abraham trusts in God's promises over the years. His experience of God in the past meant that God would do something amazing here too; heck Isaac himself was a miracle. So when it looks like the worst is going to happen, Abraham can say, with some confidence I'm sure, "God himself will provide the lamb..."
It is, for sure, a tough way to learn about trust, but Abraham 1)trusts and 2) holds God to a high standard and it is reckoned to him as righteousness.
June 24, 2008
I appreciate that as I read the lesson from Romans as Paul writes about the shift from salvation (freedom from bondage) to sanctification (working to stop returning to the slave master). I think that part of the disagreement over baptism was based on differing views of the transition point between salvation and sanctification. By grace alone are we saved, by works and grace we move toward sanctification. Where salvation happened was in the person of Jesus Christ. Where sanctification happens is in our hearts and minds.
There is a lot of nuance of language in theological discussion which quickly turns the 2-sided coin into a 100-sided die. I'm thankful for the various positions held by my friends in the church; professionally trained or working in fear and trembling. All I know for sure is that today, like every other day, I must work out the sanctification-thing, attempting as best I can to bring eternal life, the kingdom of God, to the here-and-now.
www.trollandtoad.com sells all sorts of dice. the picture above is a fancy 100-sided version.
June 20, 2008
MM - I had a few minutes in the midst of doing some work and saw your post. What are your thoughts about infant baptism? (I'm sure I already know this.) And how is confirmation affected as a result? I have my own thoughts about baptism and confirmation, but am curious about yours.
SP - i don't have a good theology of infant baptism and i don't think the prayer book does either, but i do it. i do it because of the canon about communing only the baptized. having seen the Spirit in the eyes of infants and toddlers who reach out with great expectation at the altar rail - i am fully convinced that God is very much at work AND they probably grasp just what is going on there more than even those of us who studied it graduate schools. that being said, i would rather we hold dedication services for infants, have an open communion policy, and then do believers baptism.
from that you can probably guess that i hold a very low theology of confirmation. it seems to me that it was (not is) a rite of passage that worked well in its day. you know the old "from Xian loins come Xian children" thing? anyway, if baptism brings with it permission to come and receive then what is left? do we need hands laid on by a bishop in apostolic succession to join a vestry - i highly doubt it.
if it were more an service of ordination into the lay order of ministry - i'd be all about it - but as it stands as a repetition of baptism - it seems redundant.
care to share your thoughts?
TB - I'm a big fan of infant baptism, even though I was baptized when I was 20...or maybe I was 19. Anyway, among other resources, Augustine has a great bit in the Confessions about wishing he had been baptized as an infant. I think a lot of it depends on who you think is doing the work in baptism - is it truly a sacrament in which the water bears grace to the receiver? Or is it merely a confirmation of what the believer already believes the Spirit to have done - "believer's baptism," I think, comes dangerously close to this perspective. Then again, I am not persuaded by, but do have some sympathies with, early Calvinist ideas about election and irresistability. Anyway, the point is that a believer's baptism only sort of thing (and having been raised a Baptist, I know a few things about it :-), I think, focuses too much attention on the one being baptized at the expense of God's role in baptism, and mostly ignores the salvific grace given in this particular sacrament. There. :-)
CL - It's funny, infant baptism is one of the few things that really feels right to me these days. I do not worry abt how much the parents "get". I try teach that it's not about checking off the first step on the list of sacraments... that it's about becoming adopted as children of God, joining the family that is the church etc etc. And I think most of the time that is probably not really heard by my just-about- Roman Catholic parishioners. But in baptism, I don't care. Because it's about God in that child's life. And the potential future of that relationship. And I LOVE giving the kids the bread. I think I find so much hope in those moments... hope in their future with God.
We have confirmations for my first time Sunday. And that has been harder. Because again it is a check mark on the list. And people don't even know why they are there. Do not know what they are confirming. And I can teach that.
But it still feels disappointing and a bit hollow. I am not sure I "got it" when I did it in 6th grade. But if confirmation is supposed to be accepting and taking on our baptismal promises made for us by others originally, I just don't know if it works when it is done at a specific age. When in reality I think most people ebb and flow in their relationships with God.I don't know, I cannot even verbalize it at this point, I do not know what I would change. And it is important to make the commitment, but something feels pretty off to me.
SP -to TB - I wonder if you could expand on the "salvific grace" of baptism. I guess the thing that is so hard for me in infant baptism is that we say "baptism is not salvifiic" and then "mark them a Christ's own for ever." With the service's primary hope being baptism of older children and adults it seems to sway the way of with this water the vows you just made will be possible (see the last words said by the bishop at The Examination).
to CL - "In baptism, I don't care. Because it's about God in that child's life." Thanks for that. You are so very right - the only way, for me, that infant baptism makes any sense is as a planting service - we are planting the seed of God in this child's life and parents, godparents, and congregation all promise to tend to it over the years, but ultimately, as Scripture tells us, it is up to God as to whether or not it grows.
There is a great (albeit it somewhat long) interview with my hero Tony Jones and "pastorboy". In it Tony is asked if he is 'born again" and Tony's reply is priceless. This link - http://www.youtube.com/wat
TB - The "planting" is exactly what I'm talking about - the Church has long taught that in baptism, as a sacrament, grace is given to the child, a grace that saves. The Arminian influenced Protestant teaching that the person's response to God saves them (meaning only those past the 'age of reason' can be baptized) is an innovation of the post-Reformation era. Who says baptism isn't salvific? I say it is. That is the teaching of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. The baptismal liturgy says as much in the Thanksgiving over the Water, "in it we are buried with Christ in his death. BY IT we share in his resurrection. THROUGH IT we are reborn by the Holy Spirit."
Also, those questions in the baptismal liturgy are for the most part an innovation of the '79 BCP - to see the original examination, where the rubric actually says that the priest "demand[s]" the questions of the godparents, not the one being baptized, check the Elizabethan BCP (1559), p. 273 in John Booty's edition. For further thought, check out the Catechism, p.857 in the '79 BCP, the response to the question "What are the sacraments?" and in particular the last line of that response. And of course, the 'Holy Baptism' section of the Catechism is useful as well, especially the response to "Why then are infants baptized?"
And Steve Pankey, who is telling you that baptism isn't salvific? That would be, in my opinion, an extremely heterodox thing to say. I'm sure there's a third century heresy about that, but I don't have time to check my history books before my vacation starts...woo hoo!
MM - hmm. my head's kind of swirling with thoughts at the moment. without much explanation (because i have to babysit my unbaptized niece), i'll simply say that i tend to lean away from baptism and confirmation as they currently exist. this is a topic that i feel i may need to do some more in-depth research and prayer on, but, for now, suffice it to say that i would prefer to see us doing dedications and believers baptisms.
TB - Why does it matter if the baptized person believes or not? Upon what is their salvation dependent?
SP - i've been telling myself it isn't. baptism offers grace that could save, should be be accepted, but it could very well be rejected also.
i carry a dual-theology of baptism
for infants - it is a planting of grace that could one day save
for adults - it is the outward and visible sign of what the grace that the Holy Spirit has been working in the newly baptized persons life.
in neither case does the action of baptism do the saving - thereby it is not a salvific action. grace filled - of course, but not salvific.
i'll post more as they come.
Boy am I with Todd on this one. Why name just one heresy you are committing, when you are swimming in so many of them. You are having issues with not heresy in particular, but with:
2. Nature of Original Sin
4. Joyless, rigid Protestantism
As for the seed theory, I agree to a point. Infant baptism does indeed plant the seed for a life lived in communion with God, but the metaphor falls short in that baptism is not the beginning of a longer conversion, but the conversion itself. Baptism is salvific by nature and opens the door to the other sacraments, which is why Orthodox babies are baptised, confirmed, and given the Blessed Sacrament at the same time, so that all righteousness might be fulfilled. By the way, I am doing a baptism on the 29th with the full rite - exorcism, baptism, anointing. Why take chances?
i'm still not buying. what do we do with the person, baptized as an infant, who then lives the rest of their life denying God's grace. Are they bound for the new Jerusalem because mom and dad got them splashed even if they would prefer to not accept God's love? Doesn't your way lead on a slippery slope toward universalism?
i have argued elsewhere that all the sacraments are the Church catching up with what God is already doing. From baptism to ordination and back - it is all a means of celebrating God at work - not putting God to work by our action.
As for the sacramental questions you raise, you are doing two things here that cause you to worry about infant baptism:
1. You aren't giving God enough credit. I know this sounds paradoxical, but you aren't allowing God to work His grace by any means He deems fit. If He has chosen to mediate grace temporally in the sacraments, than who are we to question that?
2. I'll never give the Church that much credit. It is inherently flawed - a human means to interact with God. If God chooses to work through a flawed system, fine, but the day we ever get out of our own way and really fulfill the work we have been given to do is the day I return to Rome.
Thanks for weighing in Deacon Tucker. I choose to ignore your push for Purgatory, though will agree that those who have chosen a way other than the Kingdom will most likely have to wait until the 2nd coming for a chance of redemption (Dante's vision notwithstanding).
Yet I can hear Jesus speaking his commissioning speech to the 12 directly to me. "Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows." I hope that means that I'll have all of Saturday to myself, but I doubt it because he goes on to say I have to love him more than my own family, my own wife, my own self, even my own Saturdays. As much as it sucks to have Jesus telling his disciples that he didn't come to bring peace, but a sword. As much as it scares us to have Jesus say that there is one who can destroy our souls and bodies in hell. As much as we might want cuddly, buddy Christ back. There is something strangely comforting in these words from Jesus. "Do not be afraid" "Those who lose their lives for my sake will find it." "And even the hairs of your head are all counted."
Life ain't gonna be easy, but God will be there. In the cross Jesus came to know more suffering than we can imagine - he can walk with us through strained relationships, personal attacks, even physical violence. I have been weak this week, but Jesus promises to be strong in my weakness. And for that, as I prepare to run through the last day of VBS, I give thanks.
June 19, 2008
So why the mean blog title about quaint baptismal fonts?Because how is one supposed to understand the depth of meaning in death and resurrection when a handful of water is very undangerously sprinkled on the newly baptized persons head? It often feels more like playtime at the pool or at the least being very careful not to ruin the 18th century baptismal gown that has been passed down from generation to generation. This is one place where our baptist brothers and sisters do have a more truer version of the faith - baptism by full immersion is, it seems to me, truer to the reality being articulated in the liturgy.
picture is the baptismal font at Botkyrka Parish, Stockholm County, Sweden from http://rexhenrik.se/AHolmersSpace/Botkyrka%20Church/Botkyrka%20Church.htm
June 12, 2008
Good Evening. For those of you who don't know who I am, allow me just a moment to introduce myself. My name is Steve Pankey and I am the Curate at St. Paul's in Foley, your neighbor to the north. It is a great pleasure and privilege to be asked to offer a word this evening. Thank you Scott for such an honor.
The 1928 Book of Common Prayer had been soaking up the sun, laying on the beach in Gulf Shores, drinking Caronas, and generally enjoying retirement for a few months by the time I was born in January of 1980, and yet I still find myself wrestling with its long, long legacy. Portions of it that are not to be found in the 1979 Book are unfortunately quite familiar to me 28 years later. It is probably fair to say that there are pieces of the legacy from the Prayers Books of 1928 and earlier that will indeed live forever. High on that list is the nomenclature for the service in which we take part this evening. The Celebration of a New Ministry as it is referred to in the 1979 Book is still widely referred to as the Institution (or Installation) of a Rector, which I can only assume is the short form of its official name from every previous American Book of Common Prayer, "An Office of Institution of Ministers into Parishes or Churches." (1) That office, as I read in the 1928 Book seems to make it quite clear that Minister in the parlance of that day means, for all intents and purposes, Rector. So I can see why the short form became The Institution of the Rector.
Not knowing the whys and wherefores of the name change, it strikes me as odd that a good portion of the highly clerical, highly rector/parish oriented Institution service remains in its new incarnation, The Celebration of a New Ministry. As is clear from this great turn out of lay ordered ministers in the pews and the various gifts for ministry that will be given this evening, what we are celebrating here is not the Institution of The Reverend John Scott Trotter as Rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church, but a new stage in the life of the church family named St. Peter's, Bon Seqour. Tonight is not about one man, who happens to wear a collared dickie under his polo shirt, but it is about a community of disciples, who tonight make a renewed commitment to minister to the people of Bon Sequor with the passion and love of Jesus Christ. So let us cast out from this place language of Institutions and embrace The Celebration of a New period of Ministry in the life of St. Peter's.
I believe we can do this by stepping beyond the beautiful piece of land in the sleepy fishing village of Bon Sequor, Alabama to get in touch with our Church History. Today, June 11th, we celebrate the Feast of St. Barnabas the Apostle. Barnabas was born Joseph to Jewish parents on the Island of Cyprus. He was given the name Barnabas by the Disciples of Jesus when he, according to the Acts of the Apostles, sold his land and laid the proceeds at the feet of the disciples for their ministry. Literally translated from Aramaic, Barnabas means the son of the prophet, but Acts 4.36 gives us insight into what the Apostles really meant by giving Joseph the name Barnabas. It has come into English in various ways, son of comfort, son of exhortation, and most often - son of encouragement. (2)
It seems only fitting as we attempt to shed the outmoded Office of Institution of Ministers into Parishes or Churches this evening by embracing the life and martyrdom of the Son of Encouragement. Having gotten to know Scott in the past several months it seems clear to me that his vision for the role of a rector is to be a Barnabas. He is the chief encourager for the ministers of St. Peter's Church. His position as rector allows him oversight of the various areas of ministry that you already do. You've been ministers here long before Scott Trotter showed up and you will continue that ministry long after he is gone. Ultimately his task is to instill courage into each and everyone of you so that you are encouraged to do the work which God has called you to do. (3) His job is to stand beside the fryers and say, "It is hot, but it is worth it." His job is to stand at this ambo and speak words of courage from the Good News of Jesus Christ. His job is to cherish the past that is represented in the cemetery behind us, while pointing to the future that is bright and ripe with possibility as this sleepy fishing village becomes a vibrant coastal community. His name in this place and time must be Barnabas, son of encouragement.
Yours then shall be Ecclesia, the Church, the body of Christ. As Eugene Peterson so gracefully articulates from Paul's letter to the Romans, "...since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ's body, let's just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren't." (4) Take heart that you are not called to be the chief encourager in this place. Instead, having been instilled with courage be ready to fill the role that has been set for you in this, the St. Peter's Bon Sequor incarnation of the Body of Christ. "Be what you were made to be" - hush puppy fryer, youth ministry director, Sunday school teacher, altar guild member, lector, acolyte, pastoral visitor. Whatever it is that God has called you to do as a member of St. Peter's, recommit yourself to it in this service of The Celebration of New Ministry. Though Scott is the new guy, it is more importantly a new period in the life of St. Peter's that we celebrate tonight and as a member of this body you play an important role.
Paul offers many suggestions of how you might learn to play well with one another as you co-minister to and with one another. This list should, I think, comprise the litany suitable for The Celebration of a New Ministry, or whatever it might be called, in the next Prayer Book should such a thing come to pass.
I wish to end by offering these words of Paul to you as a commission for your co-mission - ministers of Christ in Bon Sequor, Alabama. Would all the members of this parish please rise.
"...If you help, just help, don't take over;
if you teach, stick to your teaching;
...if you're put in charge, don't manipulate;
if you're called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond;
if you work with the disadvantaged, don't let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them.
Keep a smile on your face.
Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it.
Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good.
Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
Don't burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame.
Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant.
Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder.
Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.
Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath.
Laugh with your happy friends when they're happy; share tears when they're down.
Get along with each other; don't be stuck-up.
Make friends with nobodies; don't be the great somebody.
Don't hit back; discover beauty in everyone.
If you've got it in you, get along with everybody."
And Scott, called to be Barnabas, Son of Encouragement, in this parish, to you especially these words of Paul ring true, "When you preach, just preach God's Message, nothing else, and when you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don't get bossy."
Tonight we celebrate a new phase in the life of St. Peter's. May God bless this new incarnation of the Body of Christ in Bon Sequor. Amen!
(2) Various sources, mostly common knowledge, also, http://satucket.com/lectionary/Barnabas.htm, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barnabas, and http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02300a.htm
(3) http://www.ssje.org/sermons/061207cga.htm(4) Romans 12.6 (The Message)
"Remember how I got you out of Egypt?"
"Yeah, that was awesome."
"OK, if you have faith in me, obey my rules, and keep your half of the deal, I will make you my treasure so that you might be a blessing to the whole world. Deal?"
"Oh heck ya! That's a deal."
So Moses goes back up the mountain to get the details. For 13 chapters he is up there while God tells him how to be a chosen people. And that chosen people can't wait any longer. They build a golden calf and start their own gods.
Sometimes faith and trust are really easy. Often it comes on the heels of remembering all that God has done for us. Then life begins again, we start to trust ourselves, and BAM, we're placing an idol on the altar of our heart.
With time, practice, and discipline, however it seems to get a little easier to hold onto the right kind of faith; faith in God. 15 seconds grows into a minute, an hour, a day, and more. Constantly giving up our lives to God so that we might be a blessing to others is not easy, but it is God's will for us.
June 11, 2008
The earliest mission of Christianity was simple. Jesus sent his disciples with these instructions, "As you go, proclaim the good news, `The kingdom of heaven has come near.' Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons" Somewhere between there and here things went wrong. At some point Christianity became the Church. We forgot what the kingdom of heaven was all about. We failed to cure the sick. Except for Peter we couldn't raise the dead. We are scared of lepers. We deny the existence of demons. Somewhere, some time, we got lost. We were lost when I started in the church, and it seems we had been for quite some time. I'm sorry to say that things have gone very wrong, and it seems as though we will never get back to right. Church will always beat down the kingdom of heaven, for it behooves the institution to do so.
Dr. J then suggested you split the congregation into small groups to create a list of the 5 things they want the Church to do. Then, as preacher, sit down, shut up, and pray.
I understand why he could never do this. I am sad that I probably wouldn't either. I pray that someday I do get the strength to be so bold.
June 10, 2008
We had a young boy in the in which church I grew up who didn't realize that any of the rest of us existed anywhere else but inside the church building. These stories popped into my mind as I read the Collect for Sunday which asks God to "Keep, your household the Church in [his] steadfast faith and love..." It seems to me that many of us are still confused like that little boy as to what it means for the Church to be the household of God. It isn't that the building at 506 North Pine Street in Foley is God's mailing address, anymore than God residing at your church. Instead, it is in the Church Universal that God makes his home. While the Holy Spirit might be at work in the souls of all of humanity, it is in the hearts and minds and souls of every Christian that God sets up his residence. It isn't about space or liturgy or doctrine - it is about people who have decided to live, not for themselves, but for the passion and ministry of Jesus Christ.
As we pray the Collect on Sunday I plan to be diligent within my own heart to make sure that there is room enough for God.
June 9, 2008
I have a bad habit of asking the same question every time I begin a phone conversation with someone. I know I do it, but it is so ingrained in my phone routine that I find I can’t break it. “Hello.” “Hello.” “This is Steve (or Father Steve or Uncle Steve), how are you?” Three little words that I can’t get rid of - three little words that I know are trite – three little words. More often than not I get the polite answer of “I’m fine” or “I’m well.” Occasionally, however, I will stumble across the wrong person at the wrong time and get the dreaded, “It’s just one of those days.” We all know what that means. One of those days are days that we dread. They mean interruptions, frustrations, annoyances, or worse. One of THOSE days.
Our gospel lesson today finds Jesus having two of those days. If you were to read the whole of Jesus’ two-day adventure in Matthew 8.23 through 9.35 you would be exhausted by the time it was over. It is a quintessential, one of those days. It begins with Jesus and his disciples on a boat. Jesus is asleep, but not for long. As a storm begins to develop on the sea the disciples wake Jesus up yelling, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” What a way to be awakened. Jesus’ blood pressure must have been through the roof as he gets up and rebukes the wind and the sea. It must have taken forever to get back to sleep. By morning they have landed near
Phew! I’m tired having just recounted the tale, can you imagine how Jesus must have felt – how exhausted he must have been – how spiritually draining that series of events must have been for him? And yet, in the midst of it all is perhaps the most important piece of teaching Jesus utters in Matthew’s gospel; more important than the whole of the Sermon on the Mount. While having dinner with Matthew, the tax collector, and Matthew’s friends Jesus is challenged for his actions. The Pharisees, who no doubt were snooping around for a way to catch Jesus in some unholy activity ask some of the disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus responds, “Go and learn what this means,” and then quoting from the prophet Hosea, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”
This quotation, repeated again by Jesus in another controversy with the Pharisees in Matthew 12, is the hub in Matthew’s discipleship wheel. “God desires mercy, not sacrifice” is for Matthew’s community the key to Christ-like living. Pulling from the context of Hosea’s prophecy it is a call to righteousness that exceeds the standards of religious piety. It is a call to mercy; a call to justice; a call to chesed (ds,x).
This mercy, this chesed is used often in the Old Testament “to speak of the way God loves, as when God is said to be abounding in or showing steadfast love (ex. Ex 20.5f, 34.6f). In Hosea’s prophecy, however, steadfast love is used not to speak of what God will show to
By the time Jesus is uttering these words of Hosea to the Pharisees not much had changed. “As it turns out, the Pharisee’s expression of righteousness in Matthew is just as wrong as
And lest we once again go on a Pharisee bashing trip, our lesson is interrupted by a set of ellipsis. What we skip is another fine example of sacrifice getting in the way of mercy. A group of John the Baptists disciples, as if compelled by the irony of what they are about to say, ask Jesus, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” It is as if Matthew needs us to understand how hard it is to live a life of chesed. Hard, surely, for the Pharisees, they always get it wrong. But hard even for the disciples of John, the last prophet of the Old Covenant, the cousin of Jesus, the baptizer of the Lord. Even those who were close to the kingdom were prone to putting sacrifice over mercy. Jesus answers their question, but as is always the case jumps without delay at the chance to show mercy. He talks to the talk, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” and then he lives it out by leaving the debates behind and going to raise a young girl from the dead.
Action over and above talking is central to the ministry of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel. It was the foundation of stone that Jesus called us to build on last week. It was what made his teaching different than that of the Pharisees; it was all about living chesed not espousing sacrifice. “Like the Pharisees, Jesus is a teacher of the law, except that unlike ‘the hypocrites,’ Jesus’ way of life reflects the substance of his teaching.” What about us? Is our way of life reflecting the substance of Jesus’ teaching? Are we actively offering mercy, steadfast love, chesed to God and to one another? Or are we passively talking about the sacrifice others must make to follow God the right way?
It seems to me that Jesus had “one of those days” just about every day. Yet without fail he was ready and willing to offer mercy to people of all shapes, sizes, and stripes. The disciples on the boat, the demoniacs in Gadara, the paralytic in Capernaum, Matthew, tax collectors, sinners, Jairus’ daughter, the woman who couldn’t stop the bleeding, the blind men, and the demon possessed mute were the grateful recipients of mercy in a mere two days. Who have you extended mercy to today? This week? This month? This year?
June 6, 2008
The short answer is nothing. There is nothing we in and of ourselves can do to ensure our entrance into the kingdom of heaven. It is by Christ alone that we are given access. We can, however work to bring that kingdom to life here on earth, and in seeing it manifest on earth we can get a sense of what Christ has promised for those who hear his words and act on them.
The longer answer, and perhaps more theologically correct, is that while we can of ourselves do nothing to ensure our salvation, we can live fully for Christ and take assurance in his faithfulness. It is in living our lives for the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ that we can come to know that salvation is available to all, and that might just be our own assurance of the kingdom.
It is all related to the nuance of the Greek language. My New Testament professor in seminary was quick to point out that in Greek the same word can be translated "in" and "of". So are we saved by faith in Christ or are we saved by the faith of Christ? The answer is Yes. Jesus' faithfulness to the will of God meant that he came to earth, lived as one of us yet without sin, died at the hands of Rome, AND rose from the dead. It is through the faith of Christ that the avenue for salvation is opened. Our faith him, in the Truth of his teaching, in the power of the cross, in the glory of the resurrection that allows our entry onto the path of the faith of Christ.
What Jesus seems to be saying here is that while his faith opened the pathway our faith must be consistent like his was. It isn't about saying the right prayers. It isn't about writing a check to Ecumenical Ministries. It isn't about helping with Family Promise. It is about the foundation of our lives. One-time random acts of kindness are fine and good, but even the faithless do good for goodness sake. Instead, it is about putting the whole of our lives into the faith of Christ. It is giving over to God our money, our time, our talents, our families, our homes, EVERYTHING. It is about meeting God face to face in every person we meet. It is about a holistic way of living that brings Jesus Christ back to earth on a daily basis by the living out of his teaching; loving God first and loving our neighbors as ourselves.
This, I think, is the truth in these very scary words. Not that we should be nervous about our salvation - for that is not up to us. Instead we should focus on the whole of our life and how we might model it after the faith of Jesus Christ. It is living into that model of perfect humanity that we get glimpses of the Kingdom of heaven here on earth until that day when the Kingdom of heaven resides here permanently. So will you build your house upon the rock that is the faith of Jesus or will you build it upon the sand that is good deeds done for goodness' sake? As I prayed on Sunday, I pray again today, may God give us the strength to choose the rock. Amen.
This morning, as I think again on these things I am struck by how well the collect for Sunday (prayer for the week) really sums it all up.
"...Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them..."
What it says, that I may have been missing, is that this two-fold turn toward Jesus isn't an activity we can take on ourselves. We have freewill which allows us to place our desires above that of God. I believe that even of our own power we can offer our wills fully over to God. What we lack, I think, is the ability to follow through. Our sinfulness and messiness will, from time-to-time, get in the way and make our best effort to follow God's will fall short. So, we pray that God might be in our hearts and minds and wills - that by His inspiration we may think those things that are right. We pray also that He might walk with us in the fulfillment of those things that are right - by His merciful guiding we may do them.
June 5, 2008
I haven't done the research, but this has to be a relatively recent phenomenon. For most of human history, as far as I can tell, it hasn't been wise to stray too far from home. Family was important, for sure, but so too was security, job training, education, inheritance, and much more.
Which makes it all the more strange that God tells Abram to leave home and Abram just does it. This is the first of many opportunities Abram will have to show his faith and trust in God, but it is perhaps the most dangerous. For that reason, and for the many others, Paul is so right when he says of Abram, "No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised."
Oh, if I only had faith like that. Faith to not waver. Faith to always give glory to God. Faith to be convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. But alas, I am no Abram. I fight with God instead of having faith. I give myself and my luck the glory instead of God. I'm never fully convinced that God will do it all; I'm always hedging my bets.
With God's grace we can grow in our faith. From my current state of faith like an atom (or an electron or a quark) perhaps, in time, God will bless me with faith like a water molecule or if I'm really steadfast like a mustard seed. Faith enough to follow whenever God calls. Faith enough to come to God first. Faith enough to have it reckoned to me as righteousness. Wouldn't that be nice?
June 4, 2008
104:24 O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
104:25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.
104:26 There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.
104:27 These all look to you to give them their food in due season;
104:28 when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
104:29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
104:30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.
104:31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works--
104:32 who looks onthe earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.
104:33 I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
104:34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.104:35 But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more. Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!
Tony writes, "a beautiful and provocative Psalm, to be sure, and a reading that's slated for on of the most important days in the church calendar, Pentecost, in all three years of the lectionary cycle. But strangely, the lectionary calls for this reading: 'Psalm 104.24-34, 35b.' In other words, the preacher is instructed to excise the line, 'But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more.' This happens over and over in the lectionary: Sunday morning Bible readings are purged of their unsavory - some might say 'politically incorrect' - content. this dubious practice raises the obvious questions: how does censorship serve the faithful who sit in congregations across American? The answer: it doesn't. Instead, this practice is an injustice to both the Bible and to those who place their trust in the Bible's words. It assumes that average Christians can't handle all that the Bible has to offer, or worse, that preachers can't manage the prickly parts of the text." (pgs 131-132).
This a lot of filler just to say that a set of ellipsis in the Gospel for Sunday makes it almost impossible to see how the story relays the message of Jesus. Verse 13 of chapter 9 finds Jesus quoting Hosea from the Septuagint and adding on his own mission statement, "`I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners." Then we miss the fact that he is immediately asked a question about sacrifice and Law:
"Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often,often');" onmouseout="return nd();">*151617 but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.’"
Instead the passage picks up at verse 18 where "As Jesus was saying these things" he is asked to perform an act of mercy. Without hesitation, as if he were waiting with baited breath to get the heck out of there, Jesus is off and running to help, of all people (in Matthew's context) a Jewish leader. See what we miss.
1. Jesus articulates that mercy is above sacrifice.
2. People just can't let sacrifice go.
3. Jesus leaves to perform acts of mercy.
The ellipsis may not remove the "unsavory" but certainly causes the periocope to miss the full weight of its punch. The irony that it is disciples of John who ask the sacrifice focused question - gone. The image of Jesus creeping toward the door to get away from it all - gone. The relief that he must have felt when he was asked to, of all things, raise a girl from the dead - gone.
I complain a lot about the Lectionary, especially the RCL, but thanks to my actually reading a book I feel justified. Now, back to contemplating what I'll actually preach this Sunday.
June 3, 2008
“… 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…” “Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe, for you are my crag and my stronghold; for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.” “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell-- and great was its fall!”
Our lessons for today are ripe with metaphors for instruction in the Kingdom life. The Word is to be written in hearts. It is to be tied to foreheads and hands. It is to be inscribed on the doorposts of our homes. God is our strong rock. He is our castle. He is the place of security from which our guidance comes. The Words of Jesus are a solid foundation upon which we are to build our lives. It is a rich set of images that coupled with our collect are aimed to teach us to seek out that which is “profitable for us” and to run away from “hurtful things.”
As you no doubt know by now the deal was that after seminary Cassie would finally be able to get the dog she’s wanted since she left home for college. Before we had even closed on our house plans were in the works to have a fence built for the dog that we did not yet own. A year later, we really wish we had thought a little more about that fence. There is one section that we’d really like to move, but moving it won’t be easy. Each of the 3 main support posts on that section is set in the ground encapsulated by a goodly amount of Portland cement, and as you probably know, cement isn’t easy to move around. Well at least in its current form it won’t be easy to move.
I tell you this because I think that perhaps all of the metaphors in todays lessons for the Kingdom lifestyle can be summed up in cement. If you go to the hardware store and buy a bag of cement, what you get is a bag of sand-like powder. It doesn't look very strong and by itself it wouldn't hold up much. A child could kick the stuff around and scatter the grains to the wind. But add the right amount of water to that sandy stuff and you get a substance that will soon set up as hard as a rock. A child could not kick it around anymore--in fact, I could dig around the cement that holds our fence in place, occasionally striking it with the shovel and the only thing hurt would be my back.
The Word that Moses is talking about in Deuteronomy, and the closing words of Jesus' sermon on the mount are each in some ways like that bag of cement: they are all the ingredients needed for a solid foundation in life. Mixing those words into your daily life is what adds the water that finally sets up the cement. There's just something about taking these words and then really living them that makes the difference between mere sandy powder and durable cement.[Center for Excellence in Preaching]
This is what Moses seems to be getting at as he finishes his sermon on the law of God in Deuteronomy 11. Just as the water must mix throughout the sandy cement mix, so too must the tenants of God permeate all of us. Moses is trying to help the people of God create a good foundation. It has three parts.
First, he says, “…put these words of mine in your heart and soul…” As 21st century Christians this is the easiest call to obedience for us to understand. The Word of God should be so a part of our lives as to live inside of us; as if it were written upon our very soul. Prior to Gutenberg’s inventing the printing press this was a difficult task indeed. Written texts were very expensive and most Church communities had only one Bible. In 2008, however, the story is very different. I’m willing to bet that every one of us has at least one Bible at home. If you are like me, you’ve got upwards of a dozen in various translations. Websites like biblegateway.com are out there with fully searchable Bible texts in dozens of different languages. Putting the words of God on our hearts and souls is not difficult. We can read the Bible in bed. We can listen to it on our ipods. It is available for our perusal on our smartphones. Just about every hotel room in the country has a copy waiting to be picked up. The problem isn’t ease of access, but setting aside the time to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. How many of us are really immersed in the Word? How many of us take time each day to let the Bible speak to us? Is God’s law in our heart and soul or has it been replaced by worries of recession, inflation, election results, and daily schedules? The call to obedience in heart and soul is easy to understand but difficult to live out, but being immersed in the Word is the first ingredient in a foundation of Kingdom Living.
Secondly, Moses tells the people, “…you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead…” Here it gets a little difficult to comprehend. Carrying the Word in our hands and upon our foreheads isn’t the way things work anymore. I have a bad habit of forgetting things. So I developed a rule that I do not delete an email asking me to do something until I complete the activity or have placed it on my calendar. If it doesn’t go through my inbox, chances are it won’t get done. More often than not these days I can send myself an email instantaneously. If someone asks me to do something during breakfast I can stop, type, and send. But, there are still times when I am forced to use the original palm pilot [show hand]. Writing notes on my hand is as close as I’ll ever come to binding the Word as a sign on my hand or fixing It as an emblem on my forehead. We just don’t tie boxes of scripture to our hands and head anymore. Without these physical reminders we are out in the world without a tactile, physical reminder of God’s will for us. This makes it easy to fall prey to the will of the things we do carry around; our wallets, our cell phones, our business cards, our labels. Some have found ways to keep the physical reminders of obedience close by. They wear crosses around their necks. Others carry prayer beads or a cross or a smooth stone in their pocket as a reminder to pray; of God’s supreme love on the cross; or of the foundation upon which we set our hope. Still others have pocket sized Bibles that they carry so that the Word, while not bound physically to them, is never far away. Having a real and tangible touchstone that reminds us who is in charge is the second ingredient in foundation of Kingdom Living.
Finally, Moses says, “Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates…” To this day devout Jewish families will have attached to their doorway a Mezuzah - a parchment inscribed with the commands of Moses including the most important – the Shema which begins, “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” This serves for them as another reminder that the Law of God is to be upon our hearts and our souls and our bodies. It is to permeate all aspects of our lives; the spiritual, the emotional, and the physical. The Mezuzah serves as a visual cue that God’s will is to be the sole focus of our attention. Every time they enter or leave their house they are reminded of whom they serve. Here too we have Christian allegories; a cross above a doorway, a last supper scene, a nativity set, a Jesus bobble-head doll. What is it in your home that serves as a visual reminder that God is in your life and should be the focus of your attention? Being reminded each time we enter the world that God’s will is to be done is the third ingredient in the foundation of Kingdom Living.
It is human nature to forget. It has become second nature to turn from God’s way and follow another plan; a career path, an investment strategy, or the TV Guide. Every time we turn to those idols it is like removing water from the cement that makes up our foundation of rock, and we are left as just sand – easily tossed about by wind, wave, and child. Following God’s will for our lives is about a lifestyle; every moment of everyday; in our souls, on our bodies, and in our homes we either live for God and choose the blessing of a solid foundation or live for ourselves and choose the curse of a house built on sand. May God give us the strength this day to choose blessing. Amen.
"And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6.8
"For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners." Matthew 9.13
One of the lessons I appreciated the most from our Sunday School study of The Last Week by Crossan and Borg was their reclaiming of the word "sacrifice." If you look it up these days you get lots of circular logic:
"1: an act of offering to a deity something precious; especially : the killing of a victim on an altar
2: something offered in sacrifice
3 a: destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else b: something given up or lost thesacrifices made by parents"
But to be fair to its original meaning, the context in which sacrifices happened one must understand that to offer a sacrifice was, in reality, to make it holy. It was a similar concept to sacrament in my church - an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace. The animal on the altar was the outward sign of the people's offering of themselves back to God. It was the place where God made Himself known. It was holy ground.
So when we hear language like "I don't require sacrifice..." we easily justify our not offering animals to God anymore, but I think we lose something. The call to a holy life remains. Is steadfast love a sacrifice of self? Does the knowledge of God bring one nearer to holiness? How do we act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with our God without first sacrificing our selfish desires to act for self to love self and to tell God how it is?
Jesus came for sinners because they could offer the sacrifice of self; the "righteous" for all of their good qualities can't offer themselves anymore; they have been made righteous. So for me, a sinner, today will be all about sacrifice.