August 28, 2008
This is probably a top-10 best known line from the lips of Jesus. It has been preached on countless times (every year in lectionary based churches), and, as with most things Jesus is purported to have said, it has often been watered down.
I hit every red light on the way to Pensacola this morning. That is my cross to bear.
I always pick the slow line at the grocery store. That is my cross to bear.
My wireless cuts in and out at Panera. That is my cross to bear.
These are the most trivial renderings of this watering down of Jesus' lesson on discipleship; the logical progression to an absurd end, but there are others that carry much more weight, yet still are a dangerous idiomizing of a call to new life.
My child is autistic. That is my cross to bear.
My mother and father-in-law are both battling cancer. That is my cross to bear.
See how the feeling changes? Yet here too, I think the point is missed. The cross that we bear isn't an inconvenience, no matter how minor or major it might be. The cross that we bear is the means by which we lose our life. Our faith in the Triune God is the cross we bear. It means giving up everything for the will of God. It means laying down our lives for the betterment of the other. It means inaugurating the kingdom of heaven in the midst of the kingdom of the world. The cross we bear is not a difficult part of life that God gives us, but our life given back to God. Just as Jesus would carry his own cross to his execution, so too do we carry ours, by way of following in the footsteps of Christ, to the the end of our own life so that with him, we too might know the resurrected life.
August 26, 2008
Anyway, in Jesus' rebuke of Peter's rebuke he decides to teach a lesson to all of his disciples; namely what following him is all about. Following Jesus is taking up our cross and following him. Following Jesus is impossible. Well impossible unless Jesus helps us. The unfortunate irony of it all is that our hands are so full of our own stuff; good works, worries, ambition, etc. that we haven't a free hand to pick up our cross. You'll note that in every picture you see of Jesus on the road to Calvary he is carrying nothing but his cross. It is impossible, without Jesus having shown us how and now being able to take into his hands all that fills ours, to pick up our cross.
Believe it or not, that is the good news in the Gospel lesson for Sunday. That God expects so much from and hopes to give so much to us that it is impossible to handle it all; so Jesus, God the Son, takes care of it all for us. This frees us up from all the good works, worries, ambitions, etc. that cloud our focus and demand our attention so that we can follow Christ, and him alone, in the pursuit of God's perfectly freeing will.
Sounds tricky I know, but thank God we don't have to do it on our own.
August 21, 2008
It seems only right to challenge Jesus in his word choice. Why does he change his question to the disciples? First he asks them, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" Then he asks them "But who do you say that I am?" The first question is easy, it is a pre-k/kindergarten level Sunday School question. Isn't it always easy to answer for other people. But more importantly here Jesus seems to be asking about somebody else, the Son of Man, as he is made known in Scripture and in the common life of 1st century Jews. The second question is much less general in nature; not about some ethereal Son of Man, but about Jesus himself. "Who am I?" Jesus asks. Or maybe he asks, "Who I am?" With the emphasis on the ego emi of I Am. It'd be interesting to know.
The second word study fun came from a footnote in my Study Bible. It noted, but didn't flesh out, that Jesus uses two different forms of the pronoun "you" in the following sentence, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." The red you is singular, indicating that Jesus is still talking directly to Peter - "YOU, Peter, will get the keys to the kingdom of heaven." The blue you(s) are plural as Jesus turns his focus from Peter to all of the disciples - "whatever Y'ALL bind... whatever Y'ALL loose" Read from 21st century America it feels like Jesus is installing a check and balance system; Peter gets the keys, but the community lays down the law.
Which leads to the third opportunity for word study. The English language is notoriously weak in its ability to interpret the nuance of ancient languages. Coupled with translators who are paid by a church which gets its power from binding and loosing we get, "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." But what it actually seems to say is, "whatever you bind on earth has been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth has been loosed in heaven." Seems like the job of our Church authorities isn't to tell heaven who to let in and who to keep out, but to discern what God's will is and make it so on earth (sounds like a familiar prayer our savior gave us). This has profound ramifications not just for the Magesterium in Rome, but for all forms of Christianity, not least of which including my own Anglican Communion as it struggles with binding and loosing in various corners of the globe.
See, I told you word studies can be fun.
Here's an excerpt:
Newark, NJ - Representatives of the Episcopal Church USA announced on Monday plans to begin allowing the ordination of straight males within the denomination. The news was received with mixed results within the denomination, but many reacted favorably to the news.
Remember folks this is SATIRE
August 20, 2008
Peter maybe the first disciple to call Jesus the Messiah to his face, but it seems abundantly clear that he has no idea what it means to say Jesus is "the Messiah, the Son of the living God." They are standing in the major military city of Caeserea Philippi. Jesus has been challenging the Pharisees openly. He has performed feats of great strength (miracles). Jesus is going to lead the rebellion to free Israel from oppression. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
They are standing in the major military city of Caeserea Philippi. Jesus has been challenging the Pharisees openly. He has performed feats of great strength (miracles). Jesus is going to march toward Jerusalem where he will offer himself to death on the cross. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
See what matters is only that we are trying to get it. We confess Jesus as the Messiah even though we have no idea what that really means, and that's OK. Jesus knows Peter is using the term in a way that is vastly different than Jesus uses it, but he doesn't correct him, instead he offers him this blessing, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
Today I am realizing how little I really understand, and being very much ok with that.
August 19, 2008
Still another anyway, I bring all that up because it feels like here as year a slowly heads toward home that the guys and gals who made up this new lectionary decided to give us the command salvation history... Go! Just two short weeks ago we found ourselves reading the most profound sentence in scripture, "they took Joseph to Egypt" and today we run through a new Pharaoh who does not know Joseph and Moses being saved by Pharaoh's daughter. Now I know that's how it goes in the bible I understand that all that happens very quickly in the text, but the forty years are coming quick, and my guess is they will last only half of the OT lesson Sunday week.
The story of salvation history, especially that of the Exodus, is so very important to the Judeo-Christian monotheists. It is something we recall often in psalm, in song, and, for Christians, in the story of Jesus of Nazareth. It could easily be the focus of a sermon series, but this Sunday especially there would be much work to do as Ex 1.8-2.10 runs through such a large stretch of human history.
OK preachers, salvation history... Go!
August 18, 2008
We've done a bunch of work here at St. Paul's reflecting in thought, prayer, conversation, and study on what a gathered community must do in order to worship together. As part of our planning and dreaming for our new ministry twentytwentyone we've followed the pendulum from it requiring a collect, a lesson, a sermon, the peace, and the eucharist TO just showing up at a habitat build. Right now we feel fairly settled with the Acts 2.42 model of apostolic teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayers. But once again today God is reminding me to "let it happen, not make it happen." Maybe even Acts 2.42 is prescribing too much. What about Romans 12.1-2?
Seems here that worship is two things - offering ourselves (souls and bodies) and renewing our minds toward God's will. I sorta get how we can renew our minds, but what does that look like? How does a community gathered offer themselves (souls and bodies)? To be honest, I'm not sure, but I think it means that we gather as open people - open to God and to one another - completely vulnerable to the everlasting Word and to the Christ we see in the face of another. Still it seems hard to ask a group of people to come together to do this without a structure - without a plan for openness - without something... more worshippy.
Hmm. More drawing board material.
August 15, 2008
As most of my readers know, we begin our service of Holy Eucharist Rite II with an opening acclimation, the collect for purity, a song of praise, and then the collect of the day where, this Sunday, we will pray, "Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life." We will then sit down and hear the lessons before standing again to hear this from the gospel, "Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon." But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." He answered, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."
Um, isn't this the same Jesus who just finished teaching about what comes out of one's mouth defiling? Isn't this the same Lord who is our "example of godly life" in whose steps in "his most holy life" we pray to follow? Sound the tension alarm, something feels diametrically opposed!
This is one of those passages of Scripture that keep people from attending church. Granted that probably isn't a good excuse, but as preachers we need to be aware of it and deal honestly with what seems so apparently to be ugliness from Jesus toward another human being. We must do this especially as we lift up his example so highly in our prayers this week; the juxtaposition is astounding.
Thousands of interpretations are floating around out there for why Jesus appears to be so mean to this woman (some say he is calling her a puppy not a dog - I'm not sure that helps). I'm not a Matthian scholar, nor have I done the exegetical work to comment on what is really happening here between Jesus, his disciples, and the woman and what the whole encounter means to Matthew's community, but I am certain that the last line of the lesson is the tension resolver, ""Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly."
August 14, 2008
I am really trying to work on the first, as I feel it will impact the second. It is really hard, however, to change the way one thinks about the world. It is really hard to stop thought patterns that seem to be so ingrained. When we head to the grocery store I fell predisposed to ugliness, and I want that to change. I'm tired of being defiled.
Unfortunately, the Bible is less instruction manual and more a spiritual connect the dots. There is not advice, that I can find, regarding the changing of one's heart, except that it is only by God through Christ that it happens. All that to say that I'm kinda glad that we can ignore the defilement conversation this week, if we so choose, because I'm just not there yet. I'm still working on my self, still hoping that my heart of stone will be softened, and that perhaps I can make it through a grocery store trip without being defiled.
Don't overlook the power of the campfire begins the work of answering this question.
Here's an excerpt:
Those of us in rural communities have, in my opinion, been guilty of overlooking or ignoring practices or methods that, on the surface, do not appear to be “emerging” because they aren’t the practices or methods of emerging churches in L.A. or Minneapolis. So, when we ask these questions, we need to be open to answers that may appear to be ‘foolish’ to someone living in a city-center, though the answer is extremely effective in a rural setting.
August 13, 2008
Paul writes that God has "imprisoned all to disobedience so that he may be merciful to all."
Jesus calls the Canaanite woman a dog (or worse).
Not an easy set of lessons for the preacher this week; which isn't me :-). I think the hardest part to reconcile for me is that last line from the lesson from Paul's letter to the Romans. What does he mean that God "imprisoned all to disobedience"? It sounds like that whole free-will bill of goods is worthless. Was God conspiring with the serpent so that Adam and Eve would eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Humans to this day are incapable of not doing something they were told not to do.
I'm not convinced that this is the case. The context of what Paul is saying seems to be much larger than "God's out to get us." It seems as though Paul is pointing out that we are imprisoned to sin by our disobedience, that without God we cannot be restored to God's dream for our creation - the Creation.
Or maybe it is much smaller than "God's out to get us." Maybe it is really specific to the people of Israel, as the context seems to state. Maybe it is another way for Paul to say that the law condemns but grace gives freedom. Maybe it is Paul's way of getting the attention of his Roman audience by saying, "in the old model, not even God's chosen were promised redemption, but with Jesus Christ all have the possibility of being set free."
Tough lessons this week - lots to chew on - glad I'm not preaching. ;-)
August 12, 2008
One of the reasons I am still a fan of the Rite I service of Holy Eucharist (sorry, lots of inside speak there) is that it approaches God with humility and tenacity. It begs that God might hear our prayer rather than assuming that God will do whatever we ask (see Enriching our Worship for that drivel).
I think we will incorporate the Prayer of Humble Access into our service this week (in modern English of course). It will give us a chance to ponder what it is to gather crumbs from the heavenly banquet, and perhaps offer us a reminder of how we are to approach the altar and how we are to approach God.
When I was in high school I was a member of a non-denominational youth group called Young Life. One of the friends I made through that group is Zach. Zach is a weird, weird guy, but his faith has always been amazing to me. He always knew more about the Bible than I did. He always prayed more fervently than me. He was a nicer guy, he volunteered more; he had me beat in every area of the Christian life. I loved hanging out with Zach, but when we would get together for Bible study I always left feeling guilty of my own weak faith or envious of his maturity.
Over the years since High School I have met all sorts of people who have made me feel the same way. Maybe you have felt this way too, envious of someone’s Biblical knowledge or eloquent prayers or faithfulness. As much as we do this to ourselves, we must have learned it somewhere. One place, I think, we learn these attitudes and behaviors is from our preachers and the way they choose to preach sermons on texts like the gospel for today. I am just as guilty as the next guy, having preached a sermon that goes something like this.
“If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat.” Peter’s faithfulness to Jesus allowed him to walk on water, and when his faith faltered he began to sink. If only we had such strong faith like Peter we could constantly be walking on water. I have preached this sermon, and I planned on preaching it again today, but was challenged by the group of pastors and preacher who meet in my office on Tuesday morning. While htis is a valid reading of the text, what happens when we only hear this interpretation? What are the ramifications? This reading can, unfortunately, lead down the path to “if I only had more faith I could; walk on water, my uncle would have been healed, my marriage wouldn’t have crumbled,” and on and on. We end up looking at Peter with the green eyes of envy wishing and hoping and praying that we might have the power within ourselves to muster up enough faith to walk on water. Unfortunately I have been part of perpetuating this life of self-focuses faith that is always trying to outdo our brothers and sisters in Christ rather than rejoicing in the gifts God has given us and using them to the best of our abilities.
The followers of Jesus in this story are of two very different types. The first type we know very well, the Peters. The Peter’s of faith are like my friend Zach, always ready to jump out in faith, sometimes too eager. The second type often get’s glossed over they are the rest of the people on the boat. If you want to follow Jesus, sometimes you have to stay in the boat. Our lesson today begins with Jesus giving his disciples an instruction, “Immediately [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side…” If you recall from last week Jesus had come to this lonely place in order to catch his breath. Having been run out of his home town, Jesus learned that his cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded by Herod. Jesus is attempting to retreat for a while to regroup, to pray, and to mourn the loss of his dear friend. Life, however, interrupted and he found himself healing and teaching and feeding five thousand plus. He is still looking for that chance to pray when he sends the group on ahead. Having had sometime to himself Jesus heads out to meet his friends and while Peter jumps overboard the rest of them keep to the task of rowing in the midst of the storm; making slow but steady progress toward the other side.
Rowing is an important task in the life of the church. Without people at the oars it is impossible to move forward. Without people who are willing to do the work of setting up the altar, singing in the choir, volunteering for outreach projects, joining the vestry, etc., St. Paul’s Episcopal Church would not exist, and if we didn’t exist, well, we wouldn’t be of much use to the kingdom of heaven now would we? Peter gets reprimanded by Jesus for his lack of faith, but I don’t think it was only because he began to sink, I think it was because he got out of the boat in the first place.
There is a time and a place for leaving the boat, but more often than not I think we are called to faithfully tend to the boat; to row and to steer so that the boat that is the Church can make steady progress toward the kingdom of heaven, our version of the other side. Listen to the story you just heard only reframed through the imagination of author Christopher Moore and see if it doesn't make you rethink getting out of the boat, “A half-day later we docked in Bethsaida, where the other apostles were waiting for us. ‘He’s led them to the other side of the mountain,’ Peter said. ‘He’ll deliver a blessing then send them on their way. Hopefully they’ll go home and he can meet us.’
‘Did you see any soldiers in the crowd,’ [Biff] asked. ‘Not yet, but we should have been out of Herod’s territory by now. The Pharisees are hanging on the edge of the crowd like they know something is going to happen.’ We assumed that [Jesus] would be swimming or rowing out in one of the small boats, but when he finally came down to the shore the multitude was still following him, and he just kept walking, right across the surface of the water to the boat. The crowd stopped at the shore and cheered. Even we were astounded by this new miracles, and we sat in the boat with our mouths hanging open as Joshua approached. ‘What?’ he said. ‘What? What? What?’ ‘Master, you’re walking on water,’ said Peter. ‘I just ate,’ [Jesus] said. ‘You can’t go into the water for an hour after you eat. You could get a cramp. What, none of you guys have mothers?’ ‘It’s a miracle,’ shouted Peter. ‘It’s no big deal,’ [Jesus] said, dismissing the miracle with the wave of a hand. ‘It’s easy. Really, Peter, you should try it.’ Peter stood up in the boat tentatively. ‘Really, try it.’ Peters started to take off his tunic. ‘Keep that on,’ said [Jesus]. ‘And your sandals too.’ ‘But Lord, this is a new tunic.’ ‘Then keep it dry, Peter. Come to me. Step upon the water.’ ‘Peter put one foot over the side and into the water. ‘Trust your faith, Peter,’ [one of the disciples] yelled. ‘If you doubt you wont’ be able to do it.’ Then Peter stepped with both feet onto the surface of the water, and for a split second he stood there. And we were all amazed. ‘Hey, I’m.’ Then he sank like a stone. He came up sputtering. We were all doubled over giggling, and even [Jesus] had sunk up to his ankles, he was laughing so hard. ‘I can’t believe you fell for that,’ said [Jesus]. He ran across the water and helped us pull Peter into the boat. ‘Peter, you’re as dumb as a box of rocks. But what amazing faith you have. I’m going to build my church on this box of rocks.’
The Church celebrates the lives of those who have stepped out in faith and walked on water; people like Peter and my friend Zach. We also remember many who for whatever reason found it wiser to stay in the boat and continue to do the work to which they felt called; people who here at St. Paul’s fill the list known as Those Who Serve, Family Promise volunteers, Foley Elementary Volunteers, Vestry, Galileans, ECW, Prayer Shawl Knitters, etc. Without both groups of people the Church would have been doomed to failure, the disciples would have starved to death while preaching had no one offered them a meal.
While most of the time when I read this story I am humbled as I remember the great faith of Peter and friends like Zach, today I am encouraged that so many of us have such strong faith as to work hard for the kingdom of God by cooking, cleaning, reading, singing, walking, and generally staying in the boat. May God bless our ministries with and to one another as we row our boat across the sea of life toward the kingdom of God, the other side. Amen.
 See the book by that title by John Ortberg, it is a fine book, but not where I’m headed here.
 Christopher Moore, Lamb, p. 390-1.
August 5, 2008
Full of zeal (among other things I imagine) Peter calls out to Jesus, "If it is really you, let me walk out there too." How often is our first instinct in a crisis situation to bargain with God. "If I'm supposed to take this job, marry this person, battle this disease, wear these socks give me a sign." I wonder if this is the moment when God wrote off bargaining for good. Anyway, Peter is desperate to muster some faith, and he thinks that by walking on water with Jesus it'll come easier.
Jesus, to his credit, gives Peter the opportunity to try. "Come on out," Jesus says, and Peter steps off the boat. There are times when faith seems quite easy, when Jesus seems quite close, when prayers stream forth from us at every given moment. Those times (years, weeks, minutes, seconds) are fantastic; we too feel like we can walk on water. There is excitement, joy, and comfort (seemingly) in those times.
But faith is susceptible to doubt, questions, and temptation. Having a free will, the great blessing and curse of God's plan for Creation, means that every moment of every day requires us to choose the kingdom of God over and above the world or worse. There are times when distractions dry us out. There are times when the devil creeps in and tempts us to choose another path. There are times when we take our eyes off Jesus, and begin to sink. There are times when it is "we of little faith."
So Jesus reaches out, gives Peter a hand, returns him safely to the boat, and the faith journey continues. By grace alone are we saved from ourselves over and over and over again. Through the faithfulness of Jesus to God and the God head's faithfulness to us we are given another opportunity to find the face of Christ and muster faith enough to step out of the boat.
August 4, 2008
The Genesis lesson with Joseph's brothers scheming to get rid of their brother culminating in one of the most weighted sentences in all of Scripture, "And they took Joseph to Egypt."
The lesson from 1st Kings as Elijah hides from the enemies of God, and God having none of it commissions him for a great (and bloody) ministry. The imagery here is beautiful, "Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence."
The great evangelistic lesson in Paul's letter to the Romans carries a lot of excess baggage down here in the Bible Belt, but with some good exegetical study and an open heart even polite Episcopalians can wrap their minds around, "But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?"
Finally, there is a ton, A TON of ways to preach Matthew's account of Jesus, and Peter (for a short time) walking on water. In our case it is all about stepping out in faith, leaving our comfort zone, and giving it all over to God. It is about and active faith that means sleeping on an uncomfortable cot somewhere in our education building or being open to Foley's youngest and neediest residents just by showing up in their classrooms once a week or helping to re-form a men's group when you've only been coming for a few months.
So much good stuff this week. Where to focus? Hmmm, lots to do.