December 31, 2008

to be heirs - Christmas I Homily with Christmas II Collect

There wasn't much of a selection when it came to Christmas Day movies this year.  Most of the time there are several movies that are on my short list for the week following Christmas, but this year the only movie I think might be worth watching is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  Have any of you seen it?

It is the story of Benjamin Button, a man born as an old man who ages backwards his entire life.  It is said to be a masterpiece, but I don't know I haven't seen it yet.  Anyway, there is a scene early in the movie where a young black woman has found Benjamin on the steps of the nursing home where she works.  As she brings the child in she says to him, "you are as ugly as an old pot, but you are still a child of God."

That might be one of the most profound statements anyone can make about another human being.  You are a child of God.  It is a theme we hear in both the Epistle to the Galatians and in the Prologue to John's Gospel.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

In contemporary Christianity, like in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,  we use the term "child of God" very loosely.  We often hear it said that we are all children of God.  Which, on some level, is quite right.  God knew us all, even before we were in our mother's womb.  He knit us together.  Even the most difficult child, even the worst sinner in history, even the Buddhist monk on top of a mountain in Nepal is a gift from God; a child of God.

Yet the lessons for today seem to paint a much narrower picture of being a child of God.  As Galatians says we are adopted as children of God by the saving grace of Jesus Christ.  While we are all made in God's image by the God of all Creation, we are still children of this world, born of human flesh subject to all the messiness that entails.  I am a child of John and Pat, but an adopted son of God having been given the power to be born again by the Spirit.

Becoming a child of God means joining with Jesus in his divinity.  We are blessed with the opportunity to join with God in the family business; namely the redemption of the world.  Prior to Jesus that work was given only to a select few; the prophets, the kings, the judges, but with Jesus the power to become children and heirs has been blown wide open.  We all now have the chance to join with God in his work and the receive its benefits.

Perhaps we could rephrase the quote from earlier to make it more apt for those us sitting in this chapel today.  "You are a sinner, but by the grace of God you have been made a child of God."  As 2009 approaches join with me in claiming your status as a child of God and join with God in his work of redemption.

O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Collect for Christmas II sums up, better than I can, my thoughts around being children of God from Christmas I.  We share in the divine life because God shared in human life.  It is that simple. Two seemingly seperate worlds have been once again made one in the fullness of God's wisdom.  To be made divine means that necessarily we do things differently from when we were merely human.  So, as 2009 approaches, let's get to work doing God's work.

Happy New Year.

December 29, 2008

What to preach?

Which lesson will you preach on 2 Xmas?
The Psalm
Flight to Egypt
Jesus @ 12
Wise Men free polls
Too many good things to choose from this week. I'm not preaching, but my vote, as of this morning, would be the flight to Egypt. I'm not sure I've ever heard this preached. I think I referenced it once in a sermon back in Franklin, PA - something about how the trip would be like walking from Franklin to Cincinnati, OH and back.

I think it be a great opportunity to preach discernment of spirits; a gift I think we all have and one we could all stand to develop. Or, it'd be interesting to hear a sermon about the faith of Joseph, a character we hear very little about. We talked about him, thanks to Keith, at our last Men's Dinner, so I wonder if he might head that way. hmmm.

Anyway, lots of good stuff this week, and I'm wondering what you'll choose. If you are preaching something that didn't make the Episcopal re-write of the RCL, go ahead and leave a comment.

Readings of 2 Christmas, Year B

Sermon for 1 Christmas, Year B

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo.
Quothe the Raven, Nevermore.
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

There are pieces of literature that carry with them all sorts of memories; of childhood, of memorizing outdated plays, of great books, of all sorts of things. Sometimes others have said things so well that they need not be rewritten or rephrased, but instead translated into every language so that they might be heard by as many people as possible. This, I think, is true of the first half of John chapter 1 verse 14 - perhaps the most significant statement about God ever put to paper.

The Word became flesh and and lived among us... (NRSV)

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us... (Milne)

This word which created the world, this reason which controls the order of the world, has become a person, and with our own eyes we saw him... (Barclay)

The Word became flesh and set up his tent alongside us... (Milne)

The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood... (The Message)

"The greatness of this truth assaults the mind and staggers the imagination..."(1) Remembering that we are strong Trinitarians this first Sunday of Christmas we must hear what John is really saying. The Word that became flesh is God. It is not a piece of God. It is not the essence of God. It is not the littlest bit God could give. It is all of God. God became flesh and moved into the neighborhood. That singular fact is the Good News of Christmas. Our foolish God risked everything by taking on flesh to live among us. Emmanuel, God with Us, in a very real sense abandoned the heaven that sits apart from the created world to bring heaven into the created world. It was the last ditch effort of a wildly imaginative God who, to a fault, wants us to love him and be in relationship with him.
John is saying something very radical about God. Something that even this morning you might be uncomfortable hearing. God changed. And so, God, was made man - He became flesh. "This verb, "was made" expresses that a person or thing changes its property and enters into a new condition, becoming something new that it was not before. The tense is aorist, imply a definite and completed action; there is no going back upon the incarnation. The act of self-humbling on the part of God is irreversible; he is eternally Emanuel, God with Us." God chose to change his very being; to risk everything and permanently pitch his tent alongside us. In God's opinion his Creation was so worth fixing that even he would change to make it so. The enormity of this fact is almost too much to bear. That God - all of God - would choose to value his creation even over himself. "For all our sin and all the world's brokenness, God 'abhorred not the virgins womb'" (3) but instead made his home in the very flesh that appears to be so weak.
And while it is for us that God would change that is most difficult, it is that God would take on the weak flesh of humanity that made John's message so hard to hear for the Greco-Roman world. That God would become flesh and blood - "the whole person - human existence in all its frailty, vulnerability" (4) and utter messiness was an entirely new concept when it first appeared in the fourteenth verse of John's first chapter. Never before had anyone claimed that any god, let alone the God of all Creation, had become flesh.
"This was an impossible thing. The one thing that no Greek would ever have dreamed of was that God could take a body. To a Greek, the body was an evil, a prison house in which the soul was shackled, a tomb in which the spirit was confined... It was nothing less than blasphemy to involve God in the affairs of the world...
And yet John makes clear that "God could and would [and did] become a human person, that God could [and did] enter into this life, that eternity could [and did] appear in time, [and] that somehow the Creator could [and did] appear in creation in such a way that he could actually be seen." (5)
In the Incarnation, God broke out of two very strong boxes built by human hands. He changed his very nature and he was made flesh and blood. He tore down walls and moved into the neighborhood in order to invite us back into relationship with him by asking us to get out of our own boxes. He changed and he calls us to change. He shone a light on the messiness of human existence so that we could see the inherent goodness that comes from the Creator. He risked it all to be in relationship with us so that we might risk it all to be in relationship with him.
I think God ultimately decided to pitch his tent alongside us because he knew that it would be the best way to reach us. He realized that a personal relationship was a lot easier to nurture. Mormon men when on their two-year mission have a conversion rate that is said to be something like 5 converts to Mormonism per missionary per year. So, on average, each missionary will convert 10 people in their two years of mission. In those two years, however, they become so accustomed to talking about their faith and doctrine that when they enter the real world and live in neighborhoods and work in offices their conversion rate is much higher because it is based on a relationship, not a cold call.
God moved into the neighborhood to enter into relationship with you. He risked it all just to have a conversation with you. This Christmastide will you risk it all? Will you break down the barriers you've set up between you and God and restore the relationship he came to fix? As impossible as it may sound, God is alive and living in our neighborhood. Come, let us adore him. Amen.

December 23, 2008

The Single Most Important Verse In All Of Scripture

OK, that might be overstating the case just a little bit, but John 1.14 is, despite what lots of signs at sporting events might argue, the most important verse in John's gospel.

The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood... (1.14a, The Message)

The ramifications of the Incarnation, the Word becoming flesh and blood, are enormous. The word John uses for flesh [and blood] is sarx, the same word Paul uses in those lists of sins of "the flesh"; the same that the Greek philosophers used when railing against the messiness of humanity.

That God (or any god for that matter) would deign himself to the messiness of flesh is radically unorthodox in John's time and place. While we might be very familiar with the great poetry of the prologue to John's gospel we can't forget how mind-shatteringly huge this phrase from 1.14 is.

And it doesn't even stop there. God didn't become flesh and blood for a couple of minutes to prove a point. No, God became flesh and blood and abided with, set up he tent next to, moved into the neighborhood with real people and spent 33 years in that state. 33 years of messiness. 33 years of the divine will coming up against the human will. 33 years of dirt and dust and sneezing and heat and cold and thirst and hunger. 33 years!

It could be argued there are more important verses in the Bible - a piece of the creation poem, a part of God's covenant with Israel, the Resurrection - there are many. What can not be overstated, however, is how supremely important it is that we wrestle with and try to understand the enormous ramifications of John 1.14a.

As you celebrate Christmas this year, please try to keep in mind that God deigned himself into the messiness of flesh for you, and for me, and for the whole of creation.

Merry Christmas!

December 22, 2008

Readings for Christmas 1, Year B

The Episcopal Church (wisely) has forgone the RCL texts for Christmas 1 and 2, so for those of you RCL folk who check-in here, note that I'm working from a different set of texts through Epiphany.

Merry Christmas!

December 18, 2008


Give us this day our daily bread

Purify our conscience... by your daily visitation

The Daily Office

This Sunday tells the beginning of the most important story in human history.  God chose Mary to carry His Only Begotten Son who would live and die as one of us, yet without sin, and then be resurrected on the third day so that the gift of grace might be truly free.  This really is the begining of the best news of all time.

And yet today I'm sort of fixated on the mundane - the daily - especially as it relates to the Collect for the 4th Sunday of Advent.  On a day that is so pivotal in salvation history why do we pray for the everyday?

I'm jumping ahead in my studies to the 1st Sunday after Christmas Day and loving that the Episcopal Church said "no" to the RCL and kept the Prologue to John's Gospel as the lesson for that day and thinking that we pray for the everyday because the Incarnation brought God back into the mundane.  As a man, Jesus knew what it is to be bored, to work, to be hungry, to be frustrated, to wish, to dream.  He knew daily chores, he knew grocery runs, he knew dust and dirt and rain.  His daily walk made possible God's daily visitation in the midst of all the stuff we do each day.  Not that God wasn't involved in the lives of his people before the Incarnation, but his involvement was made new in his knowing.  Yes, I do think God learned something in the Incarnation, he learned what it feels like to be created, to be flesh and blood.

And so, as we hear the beginning of the great story of the Incarnation we pray for the everyday knowing that the great and the mundane are not mutually exclusive because Jesus of Nazareth was fully God and fully man - fully great and fully mundane.

December 17, 2008

A Confluence of Events

Three things have struck me all together this week.
1. The Archbishop of Canterbury's Christmas Message was published this week.
2. God tells Nathan to tell David, "I'm not going to be boxed in."
3. The angel Gabriel tells Mary, "God is going to box himself in."

The ABC's Christmas Message begins with this paragraph,
"Human beings, left to themselves, have imagined God in all sorts of shapes; but – although there were one or two instances, in Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt, of gods being pictured as boys – it took Christianity to introduce the world to the idea of God in the form of a baby: in the form of complete dependence and fragility, without power or control. If you stop to think about it, it is still shocking. And it is also deeply challenging."

It really is shocking and deeply challenging to conceive of a god (let alone the God of all the universe) coming to earth as a baby, totally vulnerable, utterly dependant upon his young mother and a step-father.  That God's plan for salvation would have progressed so far in 1000 years says a lot about how tenacious our God is to restore broken relationships.

God went from not being willing to live in a grand temple to living as a human baby.  Huge!  I think we could learn a lot from the way God tries and tries and tries; the way God is imaginative about his interaction with us; the way that he doesn't give up despite thousands of years of evidence saying that we were beyond repair.

The Annunciation is, in many ways, the culmination of many many attempts by God to restore his creation.  God said yes to a new way.  Mary said yes to a new life.  What is God calling us to say "yes" to?

December 16, 2008

Nothing is Impossible

There are some Sundays when the Gospel lesson is a piece of narrative, a telling of a story, from which it seems almost impossible to glean a sermon. This Sunday is not one of those cases. While it is, most certainly, a bit of narrative, there is much to be pulled. Today, I'm struck by the most obvious, the words of the Angel Gabriel that make my job so very difficult, "Nothing is impossible with God."

As one who wears a collar, holds a divinity degree, and took a couple of pastoral care courses, I'm often expected to have answers to things (or at least I think I should have answers). Often the questions that weigh heavy (especially this time of year) have to do with that powerful promise that "nothing is impossible with God."

Some things seem impossible sometimes:
  • my marriage is falling apart
  • my mother/father still doesn't love/respect me
  • my company is laying off 100 people
  • my son was diagnosed with...
Those words of comfort to Mary have become words of torment and mockery to countless others. And yet, they remain true. God came to earth and was fully man so that he could be in the midst of your struggle. He knows emotional, spiritual, physical, psychological pain; he knows the pain you are going through and promises that it will be redeemed one day. Honestly, even though it doesn't seem like it in the short-term, nothing is impossible with God. In the midst of struggle this probably doesn't help, but over the course of time, with prayer and thanksgiving, it no doubt has to. I mean, if nothing else, it is a self fulfilling prophecy - nothing is impossible with God.

December 15, 2008

Magnificent Magnificat

On Friday night I officiated a wedding for a Baptist bride and a (nominally) Episcopalian groom. It was a small affair, something like 30, counting me, and it offered an opportunity for some interesting conversation as everyone, EVERYONE, waited for pictures to be finished. One conversation we had surrounded the use of Latin in the church, and I was forced, once again, to admit my low churchmanship and my general aversion to all trappings Roman.

But upon my reading this morning, I remembered that there is at least one historically high church tradition that I hold dear, the Magnificat. The Magnificat is the Song of Mary from Luke's Gospel, and I love it. I think I like it so much because of its distinctive blue collar feel. It is a low, high church tradition. It is the mind-bafflingly beautiful response of a young, like really young, woman who has just been told she will carry the Son of God.

As a good Jew, Mary does not keep the focus on herself, but looks back through Salvation History and knows that the promises of the Angel Gabriel on God's behalf will come true. Its poetry, even in English, is beautiful, and while I can only call her The BVM with my tongue firmly implanted in my cheek, she is, in this moment, surely blessed.

Sermon for Advent 3, Year B

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. who sat on the United States Supreme Court for thirty years in the early 20th century was at one point asked about his career choice, and he responded, "I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers."Today in the Word, June 1998, p. 13
Sometimes I feel like Advent makes me act like an undertaker, but then I remember Rose Sunday.
One year and two dead computers ago I came up with the opening conversation we're using as we light the Advent Wreath. I probably stole it from somewhere, or more likely, combined several stolen things, but honestly I have no idea where it came from. What I do know is that I really like what we remember as we light the third candle this week. "The third candle reminds us of the joy that comes with the love of God. We light a pink candle rather than the purple of penitence to show us visually that things will be different when our Lord Jesus returns to earth with power and great glory." It isn't time yet to light the most joyous candle, the white one in the middle, so we tone down the purple with as much white as we can, and light a rose colored candle because this Sunday is all about joy. Rejoicing in the restoration of Israel with Isaiah and the Psalmist. Rejoicing always with Paul. Rejoicing with John the Baptist that there is something even better on the horizon.
If I was musically inclined, I would have written a hymn for this week called "Joy to the World, the Lord is fixin' to change your life!" This Sunday we are called by word and by sign to rejoice in the promises of new life that come with the foolish abundance of God's grace and love. A promise in the midst of slavery to the scattered people of Israel that Jerusalem will again be their home because YHWH is still their God. A promise that God's plan of salvation does include a Messiah, that he is coming, and that he, the one through whom all things were made, will make all things new again. A promise that when Jesus returns it will be a time for joy and thanksgiving. Throughout history God has made promises to his people and asked that in the meantime we join his plans with a joyful heart and then share that joy with others.
Paul's strong recommendation to "rejoice always" is, I think, his nice way of saying, "you get more flies with honey than with vinegar." This Rose Sunday is another Sunday full of prophets, perhaps three of the most famous prophets, EVER. Three models of ministry for us to look to and learn from. Three prophets of God who challenge us to think about joyful things. These three guys, all known for their ability to lay down the fire and brimstone, are instead pointing toward joyful things. Even in the midst of tough times they fulfill their duty to God and point towards the light. So too are we, as followers of Jesus, called upon to point with joy toward the light that dispels all darkness; the light that fills our hearts with joy; the light that is to come.
If you watch the way Christians are characterized on TV however, it seems as though all we do is make crazy medical decision and scream about who's going to hell (because it most certainly isn't us). Unfortunately, this caricature isn't new. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. who sat on the United States Supreme Court for thirty years in the early 20th century was at one point asked about his career choice, and he responded, "I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers."Today in the Word, June 1998, p. 13

I heard a story about pointing to that light that is to come even in sorrow at a funeral on Thursday. It is very Chicken Soup for the Souly, but a good story none-the-less. There was a young woman who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. As she was getting her things in order, she contacted her pastor and had him come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in.
Everything was in order and the pastor was preparing to leave when the young woman suddenly remembered something very important to her.

"There's one more thing," she said excitedly.

"What's that?" came the pastor's reply.
"I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand," she told him.
The pastor stood looking at the young woman, not knowing quite what to say.
"That surprises you, doesn't it?" the young woman asked.
"Well, to be honest, I'm puzzled by the request," said the pastor. “In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, 'Keep your fork.' It was my favorite part because I knew something better was coming . . . like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. Something wonderful and with substance!' So, I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder, "What's with the fork? Then I want you to tell them, "Keep your fork . . . the best is yet to come."

The Light of the World did not come to make life boring. He didn't ask us to sing dirges the whole month of December. He didn't come with a list of don't(s) that needed to be checked over twice. No, as Luke's Gospel tells us, Jesus came to fulfill the words of the prophet Isaiah. "he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit."
We all know that the fact that God came to earth is good news, it is The Good News, it is The Gospel. Sometimes, thought, it seems difficult to remember that fact. We get all caught up in doctrine, discipline, and liturgical seasons and we simply lose sight of the fact that God promises us grace and calls us to rejoice.
That is what this season is all about. As we wait for the center candle to be lit we rejoice in knowing that the best is yet to come. We look with confidence toward sundown on December 24th when we will once again celebrate the Good News that the Word became flesh for us. In the meantime, I offer you a new advent hymn as we look to the horizon for the return of our Lord. It is a song that I learned in Vacation Bible School when I was six. "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart to stay." Sing or hum it or at least repeat the words as you wake up, as you sit down to eat, as you sit in traffic on 59, and as you go to bed. Offer it as a song of praise to God - the source of and reason for all joy on this earth.
"What do we remember as we light the third candle of the Advent Wreath? We remember the joy that comes with the love of God. We remember his promises throughout history. We remember The Good News that God came to earth to set all things right. We remember that he will come again. Keep your fork. The best is yet to come. Amen.

Readings for Advent 4, Year B

December 10, 2008

Homily for Advent 2B

    The life of a prophet is not an easy one.  Not only were they called by God to offer tough words of repentance to their own people, but often they were called to live out those words.  Hosea married a prostitute as a symbol of the way Israel had cheated on YHWH with other gods.  Isaiah walked around naked for three years as a walking symbol of shame and humiliation.  Scripture tells us that many prophets were killed or exiled.  And yet, despite all the hardship, the high calling of a prophet was well worth it.  To do the work of God is always a great honor, and to speak the words that come from his mouth must be the greatest blessing a human can bear.
    One of the other blessings in the life of a prophet is the opportunity to escape time and space for a moment and be in perfect relationship with our triune God.  Many prophets were transported around the world by God's hand.  Some were lifted to heaven to receive a word.  In the case of our lesson from Isaiah this morning, scholars tend to agree that Isaiah is sitting in the midst of the heavenly conference room as God commissions his divine council to issue a message of comfort to the people of Israel.
    In 586 BC, the army of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon breeched the walls of Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple of God, and sent the inhabitants of Israel into exile where they would live as slaves until the fall of Babylon nearly 50 years later.  Life in exile was hard.  Most especially because the whole religious life of the Jews had been destroyed.  The Temple had been the only place where sacrifice could be offered.  It was seen as the residence of God, he made his home in the holy of holies.  To have it destroyed meant God was no longer with them and the ways in which they made atonement were now impossible.  Imagine 50 years of wondering where God was.  Imagine not knowing how to interact with the One who had chosen you.  Imagine your whole world falling out from beneath you with no sign of change for almost 50 years.
    Then, imagine hearing these words from Isaiah.  I have been with God's council and he told them these words, "Comfort, O comfort my people... Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lords' hand double for all her sins."  How sweet those words must have been.  The true comfort that must have come from hearing this message from the prophet who had been the bearer of such harsh news in the past.
    A new Exodus was about to begin.  "Every valley was about to be lifted up, and every mountain and hill made low; the uneven ground will become level, and the rough places a plain.  Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all people will see it together."  Oh how great that word must have sounded.
    How great that word sounds to me, even this day.  We haven't been in exile for 50 years.  It hasn't been so long that we can't remember the fat and happy times, but in the midst of what feels like a very difficult time, while stress piles upon our shoulders, I am grateful today to hear these words from God.  Sure, the were spoken to his people more than 2500 years ago, but I think they are for us today as well, "Comfort, O comfort my people, says the Lord."  Remember that the word of our God will stand forever, and he will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep."
    The life of a prophet is hard, but when he or she gets to share words of comfort directly from the mouth of God is a blessing beyond compare.  Hear these words of comfort today, and then go and share them with those who need to hear it.  Amen.

Agonizing Beauty

The OT Lesson for Sunday is the amazing vision of restoration by the prophet Isaiah. Its language is beautiful, poetic, hope-filled. And yet. And yet, if you really read it, you can't help but know the pain and the sorrow that drips from these words of hope. One can't write of restoration without a precipitating tragedy lurking in the past.

The Exile was/is that precipitating tragedy. God's chosen people had been conquered by the Babylonians and spread to the four corners of the known world as slaves. Their holy places had been destroyed. Their God, it seemed, had left them to fend for themselves. Hope was hard to find.

The lesson from last week, the beginning of Isaiah 40 has Isaiah eavesdropping on the court of heaven as the Godhead determines that Israel has paid its price, its sins had been forgiven, and their return to God's graces should be put into motion. This weeks lesson, from Isaiah 61 tells of what that restoration is made; hope in the midst of trial, good news for the oppressed, binding for the brokenhearted, freedom for the prisoner. It is agonizingly beautiful good news.

December 9, 2008

On 2nd Thought

After our Bible study this morning, I'm thinking that perhaps I was too hasty in eliminating the Gospel lesson from my preaching possibilities.  There is a lot going on that is easily overlooked when someone (me, perhaps) is too hasty in throwing up his hands at the RCL for giving us JBap two weeks in a row.

Time is short today, so my thoughts are as well.

John 1.26b - "Among you stand one whom you do not know..." - those who came seeking were still standing in darkness, the light of Christ had not yet illumined them.  I got to thinking about our Advent Wreath, how the center candle (the white one) remains unlit through Advent and the purple and pink candles mean to point us to that center one, but we fill in the space with a lot of stuff trying to make it all pretty.  And yet, when times are tough (like the funeral this afternoon) or in moments of celebration (like the wedding on Friday) the center candle will be the only one lit, filling in for the baptismal candle, reminding us that only one things sits at the center, Jesus the Christ.  So while we seek in the darkness, we remember that the center light has been lit, and will one day be lit again.

The Pharisees sent liturgists to challenge JBap.  - I mention this only to mention the old joke.
What is the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist?

You can negotiate with terrorists.

December 8, 2008

J.Bap Round 2

Advent 3 is all sorts of busy. We light the pink candle, the rose candle, the Mary candle, the candle of joy, whatever your tradition calls it, the candle that doesn't match is lit today. The Collect weighs us down as it has us asking for help from God due to our being "sorely hindered by our sins." We hear of God's great plan for restoration in Isaiah 61. We have the option of hearing the Magnificat (I guess if its Mary Sunday for you it makes sense, but we're using it in Advent 4 with the annunciation). 1 Thessalonians reminds us to "rejoice always" which makes a whole lot of sense, seeing as it is a joyful Sunday in the midst of an otherwise (somewhat) penitential season. And J.Bap gets a second week to tell us that the Messiah is coming and he isn't worthy to even tie that other guys sandal. It is, to say the least, a very busy Sunday, and the preaching opportunities are bountiful.

I think I have to preach from either Isaiah or 1 Thessalonians. Keith did a great job of equating John's baptism with a lifestyle "immersed in forgiveness" and the nuanced conversation between JBap and those sent by the Pharisees could get really dull. No, I think that as we light the pink candle and despite the fact that we will beat ourselves up in the Collect, I will preach restoration and rejoicing. Now, what to say?

Readings for Advent 3, Year B

December 4, 2008

forsake our sins

There are many, many, many definitions of sin out there.
But the definition I like best comes from a layperson at St. James' in Potomac, MD. "Sin is anything that removes us from God." I like the ambiguity this allows that the sign above does not. For some, drinking alcohol is sin because they are alcoholics and their control rests not in the God of all Creation, but in the 40 of Mad Dog on the passenger seat. For others, a glass of wine over dinner is a good compliment to their Filet, not an idol that replaces God.

As I reflect on the Collect for this Sunday and generally on the task of the prophet I'm realizing that their job has always been calling people to return to God and the only way to do that is to "forsake [abandon, renounce] our sins." As long as we hold onto those things that we place between us and God that restoration of relationship is impossible. Even though Jesus saved us 2000 years ago we still have a role to play in our salvation, we have to choose to accept it by re-turning to God by turning away from all those things that keep us from him.

This week has been one of a lot of pondering for me on the positive spin we can give the prophetic call, and I think using this definition of sin and forsaking thereof feels much more upbeat than the fire and brimstone escape from hell way of offering a prophetic word.

December 3, 2008

Comfort, O comfort my people

The prophet Isaiah is writing in a time of great sorrow.  Many of the people of Israel have been exiled, others remain behind to suffer the fate of a people who had to see everything they knew destroyed and made unclean.  These words from their God that begin chapter 40 of Isaiah's message is almost impossible to comprehend.

Comfort, O comfort my people.

Jan over at Church of Starving Artists writes a brief but poingnent post contemplating why, more and more, people seem willing to admit that they too are in the midst of pain and suffering, and what the church might be called to do as a result.

I think she's onto something.  Whereas yesterday I was calling preachers to a both/and understanding of their role (disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed) today I'm thinking that a lot of other outlets are doing the job of disturbing the comfortable and perhaps for a while the Church is called to proclaim the message of freedom that Isaiah gave to Israel.

Comfort, O comfort my people.

December 2, 2008


Advent 2 is all about the prophets and their call to re-turn toward God. The language of repentance has been given so much extra baggage over the years, it a wonder we have anyone in the church at all these days. I mean, I get that one must understand their sinfulness and the need for a savior, but to hear that every Sunday, or worse, everyday, well that's just emotionally damaging. What happened to the language of 2nd Peter? Why don't we remember that though we are sinners we are still God's beloved. His deepest desire is for us to re-turn and return to right relationship with him. The message of repentance isn't one of doom and gloom. Instead, it is one of the joy of community restored.

"Therefore, beloved... strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish" The process of repentance and sanctification is certainly not an easy one. It requires much in the way of sacrifice. It requires one give up the selfish desires of the old way to pursue God's desires, but it is not sacrifice without reward. It is not emotional abuse for the sake of emotional abuse. And the prophets who call us to that repentance, well there job is equal parts "disturbing the comfortable and comforting the disturbed." As preachers, we should not forget one or the other.

December 1, 2008

Readings for Advent 2, Year B

Sermon for Advent 1, Year B

Advent has always been a really hard season for me. I've never really understood what we are doing in this season of waiting. Someone once told me that Advent is a season of waiting for the first Christmas. As if we are supposed to spend four weeks pretending it is 35 BC and we have no idea when the Messiah is going to be born. This seems a bit disingenuous to me in the midst of all the Christmas decorations that arrived before Halloween, the carols that have been playing for a couple of weeks, and the fact that it is 2008 and we know that Jesus was born, and we will celebrate that great fact on December the 25th. Then it must be that we are waiting for the second coming. Maybe we are supposed to look into some sort of divine crystal ball and for the return of Jesus that might happen this afternoon or might not happen for tens of thousands of years. This too seems a bit odd; that we'd be called to spend four weeks pondering something about which Jesus himself said, "No one knows..." If the words from Jesus are true then we are called to do just the opposite, to not spend our time scanning the pages of Scripture to decode the future in terms of timetables, dates, and signs focused on some far off future time. (1)
Advent has always been a really hard season for me, until this year. This year, for whatever reason, I'm realizing that Advent serves as both a beginning and an end, to remind us of both the past and the future, but most importantly, Advent is about right now. This is most true today, the First Sunday of Advent. This gospel lesson serves as an end to the parables of judgment we have heard over that past few weeks as well as the opening scene in the great story of salvation history that we will once again hear over the next fifty-two Sundays. In order to understand the both/and of history and future we must remember the many times, prior to Jesus, when God called his people back into relationship as well as the way in which his goals will finally be realized in the return of the Messiah with the unveiling of the new heaven and the new earth. Both the past and the future matter in the here and now because Jesus wasn't just talking abstractly to a future generation and he wasn't just talking abstractly to his own generation either. He was talking across years, beyond time, so that we too might take seriously his commandment to "keep awake."
This delicate balance of history, present, and future is no more visible than on this the First Sunday of Advent. On the 10th of November 1942 Sir Winston Churchill spoke following an Allied victory in the Second Battle of El Alamenin, North Africa. As he reflected five days after what history would show as a major turning point in the Western Desert Campaign of World War II, Churchill was moved to say, "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."(3) Advent One is, perhaps, our yearly reminder that the end of the beginning has come. Through Jesus' incarnation, his life, his death, his resurrection, and ascension the Kingdom of God broke into history in a new way. Followers of the Way are invited daily to become citizens of that Kingdom. It is about our past, our present, and our future.
The world may not have literally come to an end during the lifetime of Jesus' disciples, but the world did, in a very real sense, begin anew within just a few short days of Jesus' speaking these words. Jesus told his disciples to be on watch at evening, midnight, cockcrow, and dawn for the world to change, and in less than a week it would. Two days later, at about midnight, Judas approached his Rabbi, kissed him on the cheek, and betrayed him into the hands of those who would kill him. At cockcrow that night, Peter realized that even he, the most zealous of Jesus' disciples was not immune to the growing pressure; having denied his association three times. The following evening, as Jesus breathed his last the curtain of the temple, the veil over the holy of holies, would be torn in two as the Centurion was compelled to say, "truly this was the son of God. Finally, at dawn on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome would find the tomb empty and became the first witnesses of the resurrection. For each of them, Jesus' message of waiting wasn't about an even way off in the future, but their apocalypse, their owning lifting of the veil, their own encounter with the living God was about to happen.
For us who live in the meantime, Jesus calls us to "keep awake" because the Kingdom of God is already here even as we wait for its full unveiling. It is the end of the beginning. Every moment of every day is lived in the presence of the risen Christ while we wait for his "coming on clouds with great power and glory." We stand watch in the evening, at midnight, at cockcrow, and at dawn for THE APOCALYPSE all the while watching for our own little apocalypses, our own lifting of the veil, our own encounters with the living God.
"Don't take this lightly," Jesus said, "I'm not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too. These things will happen." (2) The final setting to rights of history is one the horizon, it could come at anytime. In the meantime, we must be awake in order to see the times when God's dream for us is made clear. The Son of God came to "make straight every crooked way, to right every wrong, to upend every injustice, and to reconcile all things to himself" and he is doing it one apocalypse at a time.
Advent has always been a really hard season for me. I've never really understood what we are doing in this season of waiting. Now I know, I've had one of the eye opening experiences that God has in store for me. I now know that yes, we wait for Christmas. And yes, we wait for Christ's second coming. But moreso, we watch and wait for God to bless us with our own experiences of the risen Christ as he opens our eyes to the vast dream of God. Advent is about the past. It is about the future. Most importantly it is about right now. So, my brothers and sisters, keep awake!

two videos for the day/season

Today is the 20th World AIDS Day. AIDS no longer effects my family directly because, quite frankly, everyone we knew with AIDS has since died. I guess that means, AIDS will forever effect my family. Take a moment (or 10 if you watch the video below) to remember how far we've come, pray for the progress that still must be made, and remember those millions upon millions whose lives are have been/are/will be affected by HIV/AIDS.

This second video is from the folk at Advent Conspiracy. It pretty well describes itself, but let me just say, that since the Great Depression, when my Maternal Grandfather got an orange and a pair of socks, Christmas has been a huge gift giving extravaganza. This is not a culture easily changed (within my own mind especially), but for the first time, this year, my spirit seems to be changing to resonate more with this group. There will still be gifts purchased, but the two weeks back-to-back with family, the time spent with some of our older members who might not see family, a spirit of generosity shared with the woman who checks us out, that will be (as far as I can help it) the most important part of this Christmas for me.