October 29, 2008

now its time for a breakdown

As we discussed the Beatitudes lesson for All Saint's Day two things became clear to me that had not been clear before. The first is that, in his life, Jesus lived out each and every Beatitude.

1. He was broken in spirit in the Garden of Gethsemane (he was poor too)
2. He mourned for his friend Lazarus
3. He was meek (humbly patient while under pressure) during his "trials" under the hight preist and Pilate
4. He hungered and thirst for righteousness each and every day (he was hungry and thirsty in the desert too)
5. He was constantly merciful
6. He was, by definition, pure in heart
7. He was, most of the time, a peacemaker
8. He was persecuted for righteousness' sake and hung on a cross
9. He had all kinds of false evil utter against him

He has walked the road of suffering that each of us who follow him walk every day, and he has made it holy. He has turned tough times into blessings because he, God himself, lived those tough times.

The second thing I noticed was helpful for reading this lesson on All Saints'; the Beatitudes can be broken down into three parts. Part one consists of Beatitudes #1-4 - they are the sufferings of the faith life - broken in spirit, mourning, meek, and hungry and thirsty for righteousness. Part two is make up of Beatitudes #5-7 - they are the ambitions of the faithful - mercy, purity, and peace. Part three is what happens to people who embrace parts one and two - they are persecuted, slandered, and, in the fullness of time blessed beyond understanding.

I think my second observation will make preaching All Saints' easier because of my Protestant understanding that the saints are all who confess with their lips and believe in their hearts that Jesus is the Son of God as it balances with my Catholic understanding of Saints who have lived Beatitudes 1-7 with special conviction and attention. As saints, we all have a standard, given by Jesus, to live up to, Saints have done it such that they can serve as an example for the rest.

October 27, 2008

a few more instructions

Yesterday, we heard from the lips of Jesus the two, most important rules for kingdom living - love God, love neighbor. Next Sunday, from a completely different context we will hear, in effect, an expansion of those commandments. At first glance, I admit, I thought The Beatitudes a strange reading for the celebration of All Saints' Day, but the more I think about it, the more I think that it only makes sense. Loving God and loving your neighbor isn't always peaches and cream; there are times when it will be hard, ugly, and exhausting. For those times, Jesus offers us these words of comfort:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

When it gets hard - remember God is there.

When it gets ugly - remember God is there.

When you are exhausted - remember God is there.

Words of comfort, indeed.

Readings for All Saints, Year A

October 22, 2008

clarity in paradox

Yesterday's lectionary group was one of our best. We ran all over the place and, while we generally ignored the second half of the pericope for Sunday, I think we found some insight for ourselves and our congregations. The greatest of these insights was from Dr. J, as usual.

"This encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees gives us the most clarity and places us in the greatest paradox. God actually tells us what is most important; love God, love neighbor, love self and sets up for us an impossible proposition; love God with ALL your heart, ALL your soul, and ALL your mind AND love your neighbor as yourself."

The question arose, "then what do we do with it. We know what to do and know that we can't do it."

The answer, as far as I can tell, "keep trying - love God with ALL your heart, ALL your soul, and ALL your mind AND love your neighbor as yourself. When you fail at one of those things, then love God with ALL your heart, ALL your soul, and ALL your mind AND love your neighbor as yourself."

It is a kind of mantra for us Christians, the only Abrahamic faith without one. It is a mantra we should repeat to ourselves at the start of every action of every hour of every day. It is the question that our accountability partners should be asking us daily. It is the message the Church should be repeating over and over and over again every Sunday.

It is what God himself said is most important, and just because it is impossible doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

So I say it as much to you, the reader, as I do to me, "Love God with ALL your heart, ALL your soul, and ALL your mind AND love your neighbor as yourself."

October 20, 2008

sermon for proper 24a

The text you see below is close to what I preached at 730am. To make the corrections I made with a pen is too cumbersome, so you get the draft version. The picture you see above is what I preached from at 10am. 730 felt like it had no energy, like I was avoiding what I was trying to say, 10am felt good. I am grateful for the Holy Spirit.

I have been critical of the lectionary people in the past for various reasons, and I suppose when I find that they've done something helpful I should mention it. So today, I am grateful to the lectionary people for making it possible to spend some time unpacking the sabbath life or the kingdom life. It is a whole-life model of Christian discipleship that Jesus calls for in today's gospel lesson.
I'm not sure if it has been mentioned or not, but the gospel lessons from Proper 21 (Sept 28th) through the end of Year A on Nov 23rd are all from Matthew's account of Jesus' last week. As we come to the end of the Church year we find ourselves in the midst of Holy Week which is a bit of context that we should not forget to think about as we hear the lessons Sunday after Sunday. The confrontation between Jesus and his opponents is rapidly escalating. They overtly questioned his authority and he responded with three parables that question their devotion to the Father's kingdom. In today's lesson it is his opponent's turn to be on the offensive.
The Pharisees, a group based on strict religious rule following, and the Herodians, a group of Jews who were intimately tied up in Roman law put aside their huge differences to trap Jesus in his own words. They begin with flattery, which only serves as an opportunity to catch them in their own words. They say literally, "you do not look upon the face of people."(1) Offering us a wonderful pun that gets lost in the NRSV version's " you do not regard people with partiality." In the very next verse Jesus calls his questioners “hypocrites.” A hypocrite, as Jesus used the word here, was an actor, and in the Greek and Roman world of that time, actors wore masks to cover their faces when on stage. A hypocrite is someone who hides his true face behind a mask —a hypocrite grins at you and butters you up with words of flattery but is secretly sneering at you. So Jesus’ opponents say that they know Jesus does not look upon the “face of people,” and if by that they meant the public face people show, they were right. But Jesus does look upon the true face of people, that which they hid behind the mask of flattery.
Anyway, they eventually ask their question, "Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" Again the setting gives us some inkling as to why this question is such a good one. First, they are standing in the courtyard of the temple; mere feet from the holy of holies where God resides. Secondly, it is Passover week so the temple is teeming with Jews in town for the high holiday which remembers the Israelites' exodus from slavery in Egypt. As a result, Jerusalem is overflowing with Roman soldiers on high alert for anyone who might be looking to start a new exodus by over throwing the Roman occupation. So, if Jesus says, "yes, it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar" then the Pharisees could easily whip the whole crowd of Jews against him and all credibility for his message is lost - paying taxes to Caesar is the constant reminder that their promised land was once again under the authority of someone other than their God. If Jesus answers, "no, it is not lawful to pay taxes to Caesar" then the Herodins could use their influence with the Roman authorities to have him arrested and crucified for treason, which will happen in just a couple of days, but the time is not yet right.
Knowing the true face that lies under the mask of his hypocritical questioners, Jesus responds by once again turning their question back on them. "Show me the coin used for the tax," he says, apparently not having one of his own. They produce a denarius, worth about a days wage, the annual per head tax paid by every man between 16 and 65 and every woman between 14 and 65. Let me repeat the punch line, THEY PRODUCE A DENARIUS. There, in the midst of the Temple complex, the Pharisees have allowed a ROMAN coin carrying a GRAVEN IMAGE (see Commandment #1). Argument over, Jesus wins. There were two types of coinage running around Jerusalem at that time. One, the Roman coins, carried the image of the Caesar Tiberius with an inscription that read something like, "Tiberius Caesar, son of the god Augustus." Obviously this currency was a bit offensive to the graven image averse monotheistic followers of YAHWEH. So in an attempt to show deference to the Jews, the Romans allowed the region of Palestine to have a second coinage; one that carried no image or inscription. Roman taxes were to be paid in Roman coinage and Temple taxes were to be paid in Jewish coinage, and the Pharisees of all people should have thought that perhaps a Roman coin in the midst of the temple might be in bad taste. Jesus tripped them up beyond any hope of recovery by showing that they were bearing proclamations of Caesar's lordship into the very Temple of the God they claimed to be serving with such single-mindedness.
Having won the argument, hands down, Jesus still goes on to answer the question. Expanding a bit on the rhetorical device I think Jesus used in his answer, it comes across as something like, "If the coin you carry has Caesar's image and title on it, then it must belong to Caesar - you should probably give it back. And those things that carry the image and inscription of God - well they should be given back to God."
I can't be sure, but all this talk of image makes me wonder if Jesus was intentionally referring to Genesis 1.26 "Then God said, "let us make humankind in our own image..." It is good to remember here that each of us carries the image and inscription of God, and so Jesus' instruction to Pharisee's and the Herodians is his instruction to us, give yourself to God. Practice with your whole life imitating the Lord, giving your life back to God as an offering of thanksgiving; living the sabbath life of thanksgiving and praise that Keith challenged us to strive for last week.
I have been accused, and rightfully so, of being sloppy with my words. I often use words interchangeably that shouldn't be used that way; words like faith, belief, and trust - religious and spiritual - holy and divine. There is one word, at least, that I use on a regular basis that I know is safe. There is one word, at least, that's usage I have given a lot of thought. The word is practice. You have, over the last 16 months heard me use the word practice on numerous occasions. I use it to a fault. I use it on purpose. I firmly believe that all of the things we do to grow in this life of faith are practices. I call them practices because I don't believe we ever get it quite perfect, so we practice and practice and practice. The practices of the faith life are things like prayer, hospitality, meditation, discernment, stewardship, worship, and peacemaking. Each of these things individually require daily practice in order to develop the skills required to produce fruit.
As we practice these things they begin develop and play off each other; prayer deepens into meditation which leads to discernment; hospitality to a stranger leads to a better ability to make peace in our daily lives with those we love. Over time the individual actions of the faith life infuse all aspects of our lives and our whole lives are devoted to the practice of talking to, listening for, and following God.It requires all of the practices I mentioned earlier, especially discernment. In the busy-ness and messiness of life it is often difficult to remember what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God. We often give ourselves over to our work or our play or our 401(k) without stopping for a moment to think, "am I rendering unto God that which is God's?" The kingdom life is one of practice and practices. Our relationship with God is strengthened through prayer, discernment, worship, and stewardship. Together they lead to a life lived offering back to God our whole self; all that is marked with his image, so that we might bring him honor and glory by having only his will on our minds. May each of us be given the motivation to practice so that all that we do might be giving back to God that which is His. Amen.

it is all about love

St. Paul's has heard for three straight weeks now about Sabbath. We began with the day and moved to a life lived in sabbath - one where we cease to live for ourselves and instead live for God by clothing ourselves for the banquet and offering back to God the portion of us created in his image. In all honesty, I think we could spend another week on Sabbath living (kingdom living) with the gospel for Sunday - Love the Lord your God and Love your neighbor as yourself.

Clothing our hearts with thanksgiving and giving back to God the things that carry his image and inscription are acts of love toward him. Acts of love toward our neighbor are acts of love toward God. The kingdom's foundation is the outpouring of God's love and construction will continue as long as their are followers of Jesus willing to love radically.

The kingdom continues to grow. The wheels continue to turn. Love makes it all work.

Now, if we jut knew what "love" meant.

readings for proper 25, year a

October 14, 2008

okay fancy preacher man

What does it look like to give to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God what is God's?

Great question! It was raised in our lectionary discussion group this morning, and we had a great 30 minutes seminary-type, 2nd glass of bourbon conversation around "doing" and "being" and "community" and "free-will" and all sorts of stuff that would leave our imaginary parishioner googling "church, foley, al".

What does it look like to give to God what is God's? What does it look like to wear the wedding garment every day; to be kingdom focused consistently and constantly? What are the practical, hands on things I can do to give to God what is God's?


Hands on?

Oh dear, I gave up practical and hand's on for seminary.

What about voting? How can I vote and give God what is God's?

What about working? How do I give God what is God's at work?

What about my family? How do give God what is God's in my family relationships?

It seems to come to this.
1) What is Caesar's is that which bears his image
2) We were made in the image of God
3) What is God's is that which bears His image
4) Give God your life back. Work excellently for the glory of God. Vote your conscience as it discerns the will of God for this country and the whole world. Interact with your spouse, your kids, your parents, your loved ones with respect, honor, and a spirit of forgiveness for God's glory. Be kingdom oriented - that is to say - "let the whole world know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things what had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were make."

Give Caesar back his face, and let seek the glory of God's face (his countenance) in all that you do.

October 13, 2008

Stewardship... heck ya!

Thank God for the lectionary! Without it I might not know when stewardship season was. And despite the fact that this is probably the worst time for a non-profit since 1929, next Sunday, come hell or high water, according to the lectionary, is the time to remind our parishioners to "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and render unto God that which is God's."

Stewardship... heck ya!

You know what? As I read the story of the ever heated interaction between Jesus and his opponents during holy week, I'm fairly certain that these famous words from Jesus have nothing to do with stewardship - at least as it has come to be known as the season to ask for pledges for the upcoming budgeting process.

What really belongs to Caesar?

What, then, really belongs to God?

Give Caesar back his name and his ungodly image - give God the rest. Not 1%. Not 5%. Not 10%. Give God 100%. It is a repeat of the wedding banquet parable from last week. If you wanna party, you've gotta give up the rest of the stuff you carry around with you; you've gotta put on the clothing of the kingdom and let the world have what belongs to it.

I am preaching this Sunday, and I need to come up with a way to preach NOT stewardship that doesn't sound condescending toward those do preach this text during stewardship campaigns. Any ideas?

2021 "talk" on the economy

I ran into a friend of mine in the coffee shop on Wednesday morning. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and I asked him how he was doing. His answer surprised me. "You know," he said, "I've been in a fog for the past few weeks. I think this situation with the economy has really been weighing on me. I've got a friend who after the whole challenger explosion thing wasn't right for more than a month. I think that's happening to me."

I left the coffee shop and returned to my office where my google desktop updated the news every 15 minutes, but it never really changed. "Fed, central banks cut rates to stem meltdown." "Market slides despite rate cut." "McCain and Obama disagree on use of $700b in bailout money." And I got to thinking. What is the role of faith communities in all of this.

Part of me wants to say, "people seek out faith communities to avoid all of this. It is the job of the body of Christ to talk about kingdom oriented stuff and forget about all the sloppy stuff that happens in this world." But most of me knows that that part of me is full of it. People who are in debt up to their eyeballs need somebody to give them hope. People who have watched their 401k dwindle to half of what it was last year need somebody to give them hope. We all need somebody to give us hope. There is no way to really separate this world from the stuff of the kingdom. To say it another way, the separation of the kingdom of God from this world is how we ended up in this mess in the first place.

Dishonest lenders gave out loans to people who they knew couldn't afford them in order to make a buck. Dishonest home buyers lied on applications to buy homes they couldn't afford to keep up with the Jones'. The cycle of distrust, greed, and envy perpetuated itself to the point that subprime - a nice way of saying less than ideal - loans were given to subprime - a nice way of saying less than qualified - candidates in every income bracket of every race, color, and creed. The subprime mortgage meltdown has nothing to do with the prime interest rate, as the name might suggest, and everything to with poor decision making on the part of millions of people costing the world's economies trillions of dollars.

Tonight, I want to give us the opportunity to be creative about economics, even and especially if we have no idea how the invisible hand works or where Wall Street is located. I want us to think about economics in the context of two pieces of Scripture. The first is Genesis 1.31. It is the sixth day of Creation and God has just wrapped up making humankind, male and female, and "God looked over everything he had made; it was so good, so very good!" Contrary to the way I learned the story, God didn't look at Adam and Eve and see that they were very good, God looked at everything he had made, everything that he had spoken into existence, everything that he had just set into order - into relationship one with another - he saw those perfect relationships and saw THAT as "so good, so very good!"

If the subprime lending meltdown teaches us anything, it is that somewhere between day six and today those relationships became royally screwed up. Relationships between people and God. Relationships between people and people. Relationships between people and animals, plants, rocks. Every relationship that God looked upon and saw as so very good, has, at one point or another, been busted up, battered, and bruised.

?????So what does economics, which comes from the Greek words for the rules of the household, look like when the relationships within the household are restored to their perfect condition? Is it possible to even dream of it? Is the system so broken that we can't even fathom that "very good" sixth day?

Hold that in your mind, as we move to explore what God the Son had to say about economics. Did you know that second only to the Kingdom of God, Jesus spent most of his time talking about money? In the sixth chapter of Matthew he talks quite frankly about money, in terms that seem to have a lot to say to us in 2008. Beginning in verse 19,

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Let me be clear and say that I am not arguing against, nor do I think Jesus was arguing against, prudent financial planning. I don't think he was banning ownership of possessions. I don't think he was telling us not to "save for a rainy day" or buy life insurance policies. And as I mentioned before, I don't think he was calling us to despise the good gifts which the God of Creation has offered us.

What I do think he is banning explicitly, and I draw heavily on mission theologian John Stott for this, is "
1.the selfish accumulation of goods (do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth";
2. extravagant and luxurious living;
3. the hardheartedness which does not feel the colossal need of the world's underprivileged people;
4. the foolish fantasy that a person's life consists in the abundance of his possessions;
5. and the materialism which ties our hearts to this earth."

In the days of Jesus nothing was safe; moths ate clothing; mice ate stored grain; worms ate anything else; and thieves stole what was left. Today we can protect a lot with insecticides, mouse-traps, rustproof paints, and alarm systems, but as we know all too well we can still "lose it all" through inflation or devaluation or recession.

Our "treasure in heaven" on the other hand, is incorruptible. Practically speaking, our treasure in heaven are the things we do whose effects last for eternity. Things like: the development of a Christlike character; the increase of faith, hope, and charity; growth in the knowledge of Jesus who we will one day see face to face; the active endeavor by prayer and witness to introduce others to Christ; the constant work of restoring relationships; and the use of our money for the Kingdom of God, which is the only investment whose dividends are everlasting.

This all assumes that the kingdom of God, the restoration of all of God's created relationships, is "not some getaway vacation after our death", but it is a real possibility in the here and now. By focusing our attention on God's dream for today instead of our hope for tomorrow we become open for God to use us in the restoration work that keeps the kingdom wheels in motion. Working with God to return the systems of the world to their so very good starting point will help us avoid future crises like the one that stares us in the face today. Store up your treasure in heaven by bringing heaven to earth today.

What are the "treasure in heaven" practices that you can do? Where do you feel God's hand leading you in the restoration of relationships? How does moving heaven from up there to down here change the way you interact with your neighbor? with God? with creation? How do we remove the tethers of materialism and instead place our treasure in heaven?

readings for proper 24, year a

October 8, 2008

think about these things

Last night at draughting theology we talked about fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) as it relates to faith that calls for "trust without reservation." The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that FUD is the status quo of 21st century America. Even before 9/11 the tech bubble was popping, and economists were feeding us worry.

As I struggle with the parable of the wedding banquet, I think that perhaps nothing is new. The invited guests who "made light" of the kings invitation went back to their fields and to their businesses. They were worried about their livlihoods over and above the ability to enjoy the festivities of the weeklong party. Those who did end up at the party chose to enjoy the promised revelry of the king's party, except for one guy.

One guy didn't show up in the celebratory clothing. I'm guessing he showed up in his coveralls worried that he might have to run out to the field to fix a busted hydrolic line or maybe he was still in his suit expecting his iphone to blow up any minute about a meeting with high level bank executives. Whatever the story, I wonder if he was worried about the outside world rather than invested fully in the party that was at hand.

When Paul calls his friends in Philippi to think about "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, any excellence and anything worthy of praise." He is asking for them to stop worrying about the other stuff and put on the garment of celebration.

In our world full of worry, is it possible to do such a thing?

October 7, 2008

what i forgot to say

In my sermon for last week I admitted that in my life I have really only kept 2 of the 10 commandments. I'm safe on the murder and adultery ones, but the rest, well, I've been less than pure. I listed some of my sins; stealing penny candy, bearing false witness against my sister, and coveting my neighbor's i-phone, but I forgot the most important one.

I create false idols.

As I read the Exodus lesson for this Sunday, that great story of Aaron caving under pressure from the masses and helping them create the golden calf, it hit me, I didn't admit my propensity to bow down to other gods.

Read the history of this blog and you'll see that my number one other god is my to-do list. In the last few years, however, I have found that money, or perhaps the lack there of, has become a god clamoring for my attention. Why I can't trust the one true God on issues related to money is still beyond me. I mean I see his hand at work, but I quickly forget to worship him and not my monthly mortgage bill or credit card statement.

When we moved here, thanks to Alabama's stellar hygiene laws, SHW was unable to work for 9 months. We bought a house and furnishing for said house, on the assumption that she would be off work for, oh, 9 days maybe. So we carried a lot of credit card debt around for quite a while. Until we decided to bit the bullet and cash in her little nest-egg to give us some breathing room. Today, we are essentially consumer debt free! If we had not done that, we would not be, and the nest-egg wouldn't be enough to pay the transaction fees to free it from Wall Street.

I can thank God for his work there, and yet, knowing that we will soon face another extended period of time when SHW will not be working, I can feel the golden calf coming again.

I can't imagine I'm the only one with a weakness for golden hamburgers. I can't imagine that I'm the only one who sees it, and tries hard to trust the LORD instead, but falls short. Thanks be to God for his grace, the grace that caused the Lord to change his mind about destroying his people in the golden calf story.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." Prov 3.5-6

October 6, 2008

sermon for proper 22, year a

The last time I heard the 10 Commandments preached was at my field education parish in Potomac, Maryland. The Rector preached that Sunday, and I remember it well. She recounted the last time she heard the 10 Commandments preached. The preacher stood up and said, "I have a confession to make. I fail to keep one of the 10 Commandments on a regular basis." After a long pregnant pause, he continued, "I do not remember the Sabbath." We all got a good chuckle out of this opening as the rat race DC lifestyle made certain that no one was able to keep the Sabbath. Twenty-four hours of rest to honor God's work in Creation? Nice pipe dream God, but we've got a nation, a business, a church, a household to run.
I remember it well because St. James' Episcopal Church in Potomac, Maryland has as its immediate neighbor the Beth Shalom Congregation, an Orthodox Jewish Congregation that held at its core a deep respect for and heartfelt attempt to live out all of the Torah and especially the 10 Commandments, even the call to remember the Sabbath. The neighborhood surrounding St. James' and Beth Shalom was filled with Orthodox Jews who needed to live within walking distance of the Synagogue because they were forbidden to start their cars on the Sabbath. The Congregation's website updates weekly, just before the Sabbath, the status of their Eruv, a series of naturally occurring and man made land features that act as the walls of their city inside which, according to tradition, the rule against "carrying outside of the home" may be expanded; one may "carry" within the boundaries of the Eruv. Even the local appliance stores carry, in stock, stoves by KitchenAid and Whirlpool that had Sabbath settings on them so that observant Jews might be able to heat up a meal without violating the rule forbidding lighting a flame.
Their strict adherence got me thinking that perhaps there is something to this Sabbath thing. Maybe God's dream isn't so crazy after all. Certainly the members of Beth Shalom think so. The intricacy of their rules might be hard to understand, but the underlying desire to honor God in every aspect of one's life is to be commended and modeled.
Even beyond that tough Sabbath commandment, the vast majority of the list of ten can be difficult to live up to. In my lifetime I'm fairly certain I've only really kept two of the ten as they are traditionally understood in the Episcopal Church. I rarely am able to keep Sabbath; days off mean mowing the yard, washing love bugs off the car, and grocery shopping. I have, though less and less as I mature, made wrongful use of the name of the Lord. There were times when I did not honor my father and my mother. I stole some penny candy and smashed a pumpkin or two as an adolescent. I most certainly brought false witness against my sister when it meant saving myself from being grounded or losing the car for the weekend. And just Thursday I found myself coveting my neighbor's i-phone. As one who routinely falls short, I realize that the dream of God articulated in the ten commandments is a difficult calling. And yet, it is a life that seems worthy of the effort as I strive to live into the covenant that God has made with us.
Whenever someone mentions a covenant these days, it is almost universally assumed to be a list of can't do's; he "Covenants - Conditions - and Restrictions" form many of us had to sign when purchasing a home. You can't park a boat in your driveway. You can't paint your house pink. You can't have a pet pig. Covenants are seen as narrowing, as drawing strong lines, as keeping us penned in.
I think the underlying cause of our apathy toward the 10 commandments is that we often read the 10 Commandments as the covenants - conditions - and restrictions of our lives, our faith, and even our worship. There are many churches that to this day have 10 commandment style architecture; standing tall as huge white boxes with clear windows so as not to disobey the commandment against making idols.
Seeing the Commandments this way makes them ugly things; top down initiatives; the stuff that boomers, gen xers, gen yers, and millennial children have spent the last 50 years breaking for the sport of it. Even the name, the 10 Commandments set it up with a negative feel. Almost all of us dislike commandments. We don't like being told what to do and how to live our lives, thank you very much. Which brings me back to the Beth Shalom Congregation in Potomac, Maryland because for them the text of Exodus 20 is not the 10 Commandments but they are the 10 Words which God spoke to his chosen people; the only words spoken directly to the people at large by their God. They aren't the CCR's of their lives but the establishment of a relationship. For them, the first word or commandment is not, "you shall have no other god's before me", but it is "I am the Lord your God, who brought you our of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." Typically, "commands and laws have the imperative form." Thou shalts and Thou Shalt Nots... "But “I am your God” is not an imperative; there is no rule to keep or action to do. It is an announcement: good news for a people desperate to hear it. This reorients the [whole of the passage from 10 Commandments to 10 Words because it means that the one who keeps the first commandment—on which all the other commandments rest—is Yahweh, the faithful One of Israel. The other nine commands for Jews —all imperative in form, call for Israel’s active response to God's initiative— they simply shape a life of gratitude, a life poured out in grateful response to the gospel announcement that precedes: I am your God." (1) Looking at the 10 Commandments this way they become a lot easier for us to buy into. We understand lifestyle changes for the sake of a relationship.
Look at our baptismal covenant. We articulate first our belief in, our trust in, our relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and in light of that relationship we promise to live our lives a certain way; we will continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers. We will persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord. We will proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. We will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. We will strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. Like the Hebrews at Mount Sinai, in light of our new found relationship with God we make promises about how we will live our lives.
The service of holy matrimony follows a similar pattern; first the bride and groom are asked if they will take the other as a spouse within the covenant of marriage; that is to say, do you desire to be in relationship with this person? If so, then this is the set of rules in which that relationship will flourish; Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live? Again, a set of promised behaviors which promise the health of the hoped for relationship. (I used this image at 10a)
It is easy to get bogged down by a commandment oriented faith, but if we reorient ourselves from the stuff we can and can't do and instead seek the full relationship with God promised in his first word we quickly begin to see what a blessing the rest of the words from God can be. May God's promise to be the Lord our God motivate each us toward living a life worthy of God's dream. May we take seriously the words he spoke to the Hebrew's at Sinai. May our lives always be pointed toward him in thanksgiving for the relationship that he initiated. Amen.


As we continue to slog through the season after Pentecost eavesdropping on Jesus telling parable after parable against the Scribes and the Pharisees and having slipped into the Holy Week narrative without so much as a context clue these Sundays can feel a lot more ordinary than they do Pentecost-y. It becomes increasingly hard to find good news in the words of Jesus as the weeks press on. He seems angry, bitter, on edge. Last week, though I didn't post, I did preach, and decided to go with an exposition on the 10 Commandments from Exodus 20. I'll post that in just a few minutes, but it felt good; it was nice to take a different look from a different book.

This week, I am not preaching, but I am still looking for good news. I would still like to ignore the looming worldwide economic meltdown. I don't want the Ron Paul supporter/conspiracy theorist guy at the coffee shop to have more evidence for the "new world order." I want big purple dinosaur faith this week.

And thanks be to God, we get it in Paul's letter to the Philippians. That great blessing from the 4th chapter; the end of which is still the only one I have memorized for liturgical use.

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Ignoring completely the fact that Paul's letters are often used to beat us up and tie rules around our necks, this simple yet beautiful paragraph is why I love Paul (and, incidentally, think he gets a bad wrap).

I wonder if the church in Philippi was in the same spot I am; sorta tired, sorta poor, sorta stressed out, loosing close fantasy football game after close fantasy football game, etc. I wonder if that was the exact word they needed to hear, "rejoice!"

God's blessings are so great that even in the midst of fantasy football hell, or whatever hell you might find yourself in, we can still find a reason to rejoice!

May the peace of God which surpasses all understaing guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus!

readings for proper 23, year a