January 29, 2009

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

I'm thinking this morning about the dangerous call of the prophet. Moses tells the people of Israel that they will have prophets, just as they requested, but he is clear that some will come along who speak words that God has not commanded. Some, it seems, will be led astray. I feel like we're still seeing Moses' promise play out even today.

I've mentioned before how sometimes I get stuck on the religious channels that our cable company provides. Last night I was mesmerized by the platinum blond locks of Mrs. Jack Van Impe (sorry my feminist friends, I didn't catch her name). Anyway, Mr. (or is it Dr.) and Mrs Van Impe were selling a DVD entitled, Decemeber 21, 2012: The End of History. In this DVD they explain why they agree with the many "seers" who over the last 2100 years have pointed to Dec 21, 2012 as the end of the world. I won't go into the development of the Gregorian calendar here, but suffice it to say, I'm not buying.

What amazed me, honestly, was that on a channel like TBN, where the battle between the spiritual forces of God and wickedness is so readily acknowledged, a DVD would be sold promising the return of Jesus on a date picked out by "seers" (i.e. false prophets, astrologers, pagans, etc.) I mean, come on.

So this morning, as I read, I was once again struck by that high calling for prophets. I'm reminded by the Psalmist that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," and that when wisdom is founded in pride, conceit, or greed - it will lead not to blessing, but to death. I realize yet again, that my call to preach the gospel must be rooted in humility that comes from a healthy fear of the Lord; I must never be so bold as to think I speak for God, but instead must allow God to speak.

January 28, 2009

spiritual direction

My buddy Sam over at the River Community in Milton, Florida gave a great presentation at the Waterfront Rescue Mission on the first thing God notes as being "not good." "It is not good for man to be alone." For the men in the addiction recovery program at Waterfront, this is so very true. For those of us who are called to lead congregations, this is so very true. For anyone who strives to follow Jesus, this is so very true.

It is not good for man to be alone.

We need prophets like Moses. We need wise theologians like Paul. We need teachers who have authority (who do what they teach) like Jesus.

Quiet Day ended for me today with the ringing of the final bell as I read these words of St. Barnard, quoted by Garrret Keizer in A Dresser of Sycamore Trees, "If anyone makes himself his own master in the spiritual life, he makes himself scholar to a fool."

It is not good for man to be alone.

January 27, 2009


Eugene Peterson translates the response of the crowd in Mark 1.27 as "a new teaching that does what it says."  He picks up so clearly the message of Moses (just after the lesson for Sunday) in Deuteronomy 18.22 "  "If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord but the thing does not htake place or prove true, it is a word that the Lord has not spoken."  Or, the converse - how do you know a prophet is real?  What s/he says happens.

As preachers we are given authority by the people who have called us to preach God's word to them.  If, however, we don't speak with authority, having listened for God so that we might speak his word, we are those false prophets whom Moses promises "will surely die."

That authority things is delicate.  The scribes, who we hear didn't preach with authority like Jesus preached with authority, spend the next three years angry that Jesus is trying to take their power away.  How often do we do the same thing?  Isn't it the key interest of those with power to keep things the way they are, lest they lose their power?  Do we as preachers tread into that dangerous water?  How do we hold loosely onto our authority?  First, and foremost, we recognize that any authority we might seem to hold is only the authority of one greater than us.  Hold onto it loosely, lest it be removed by force.

Readings for Epiphany 4, Year B

January 21, 2009

answer readily the call

In some interview at some time near the election, someone asked Barack Obama if he had reconsidered his run for the presidency as the nation had changed drastically during the "campaign that would never end."  His answer, to paraphrase, was "no."

Herm Edwards, tentitavely the coach of the Kansa City Chiefs, is famous for noting that even in the worst of times, "there is something we can build on."  Even when his team is falling apart at the seems, he is not willing to walk away.

How much moreso are we called to stick to it, when we are called to a task by the Lord himself.

Jonah, not the example of "answering readily", halfheartedly told the people of Nineveh that they were about to be exterminated, and they "answered readily" and turned to the Lord God of Israel.

The Psalmist waits upon the Lord, ready at a moments notice to "answer readily" the call, whatever it may be.

Paul, writing to the Church in Corinth, calls upon them to give up the trappings of earthly living so that they are fully prepared to "answer readily" to the call to resurrection at the return of Jesus.

Simon, Andrew, James, and John though gainfully employed drop everything to "answer readily" the call from Jesus to follow him.

Am I ready to be called?  Having been called am I willing to stick to it even when things seem disasterous?  Is there really a choice in the matter?

January 20, 2009


A retired priest in the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast once told me, and I guess I believe him, that this diocese has more water running through it than any other diocese in the US. That may, or may not be fact, but what is certainly true is the fact that there is a LOT of water in this area. The Gulf of Mexico, Mobile Bay, Perdido Bay, Pensacola Bay, Escambia Bay, Fish River, Magnolia River, Alabama River, Soldier Creek, Palmetto Creek, the drainage ditch just off the back of my property - there is a LOT of water. Because there is a LOT of water, there is even more fishing. In my year and a half in Foley I've learned just a little bit about fishing, but one thing I am sure of - fishing requires patience and a lot of lures.

I get that when Jesus calls Simon and Andrew to be "fishers of people" they were fishing with a net, but bear with me. When Jesus calls us to be "fishers of people" we must be aware that it will require patience and a lot of lures. As Paul says, "I became all things to all people so that by all means I might save some." The Kingdom of God should be draw enough, but humanity, having fallen so far, often finds it difficult to choose anything other that its own self-preservation. So be prepared with all sorts of lures - justice, peace, freedom, forgiveness, cheesy worship music, liturgy, love, grace, compassion, historical Jesus... to a liberal become as a liberal, to a conservative become as a conservative, to the weak become weak... just be patient and allow God the the opportunity to work through you and through the other.

For a lot of people fishing is too time consuming and without reward. But, fishin' can be a lot of fun. If you go into it understanding that you'll have to throw all you've got into the water, and even then you might not get a bite (I've seen it) then you will not be disappointed. Just enjoy the chance to fish.

Readings for Epiphany 3, Year B

January 15, 2009

a systematic theology

According to wikipedia, a systematic theology is "a discipline of Christian theology that attempts to formulate an orderly, rational, and coherent account of the Christian faith and beliefs."

According to common knowledge (though most recently read in the prologue to Jesus Wants to Save Christians) theology is made up of two greek words; theo - meaning god and logos meaning word. Theology is a word about God.

Our collect for the 2nd Sunday after The Epiphany is one of the best of the Church year.

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

I think it is so good because it has within it a systematic set of words about God. Let's explore.

1. God, who is almighty, has a son
2. That son, is our savior, Jesus the Christ
3. That Son is the light of the world
4. Grant - we believe that you can do things that we cannot
5. that your people - this is tricky; who exactly are God's people? Jews? Christians? Muslims? All people? The oppressed?
6. illumined by your Word and Sacraments - that light we mentioned earlier has been and can be shared by way of study and life in the communion of the faithful
7. may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory - that shared light, at best, can shine fully in sinful humanity because Jesus took on flesh. He brought heaven to earth and earth to heaven.
8. that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed - that light seen by the right people will change hearts, will open minds, will free the oppressed, and allow God to make himself known so that then he can be worshipped and through worship his will can be discerned (so that he might be obeyed)
9. to the ends of the earth - we hope, with God, that this light will have an impact across the globe in every city, town, country, rural route, etc.
10. through Jesus Christ our Lord - Jesus told us that the Father would give us anything we prayed in his name
11. who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. - The Trinitarian formula - God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are pre-existent, they are the persons of one substance
12. Amen. - So be it. We agree. Even those who did not, or could not, say those words hope that they are true.

January 14, 2009

The word of the LORD was rare in those days...

I think this is the theme running through all three lessons, the psalm, and the collect for Sunday, and we are meant to wonder, "what causes the word of the LORD to become rare?"

Do we quit listening/looking/seeking?

Does God quit talking/showing/calling?

I'm more apt to think the first.

The people of Israel under the leadership of the judges and the failure of the house of Eli were fat and happy in Jerusalem and did what we all do when things are good - they patted themselves on the back.

The church in Corinth was living life no differently than the cult in Corinth - they hadn't heard (or didn't want to hear) that freedom from sin and death means giving up the way of sin and death.

Nathanael wanted to know God, but knew that God wouldn't manifest himself out of Nazareth - "what good can come from that hole?"

The Psalmist, however, knows.  He knows that God is there even when he is incapable of knowing, even in the womb.

The collect prays that we might have the ability to hear/see/feel and then go to tell/show/share.

The word of the LORD becomes rare when we listen more intently to our own words.  The Word of the LORD came so that we might hear/see/feel more often and not allow the old adage, "out of sight, out of mind" to define our relationship with the LORD.  May God grant us the ability to see/hear/experience his word today.

January 13, 2009

a sense of humor

Sometimes it is hard for me to tell if a biblical author is trying to be funny or not. I read John's account of the calling of Philip and Nathanael with my sense of humor glasses on. Imagine hearing this story in the house of a follower of Jesus 30 years or so after the Ascension.

So Jesus "decided" to go to Galilee. He runs into this guy named Philip, said, "follow me," and I'll be darned if he didn't drop what he was doing and follow him. Well, sort of. First he ran around looking for his brother Nathanael. He found him seeking enlightenment under a fig tree, whistled and said, "hey, we've found the guy that Moses and the prophets talked about, and his name is Jesus bar Joseph from... get this... Nazareth." "HA!" comes Nathanael's reply, "can anything good come from Nazareth." "Get out from under that tree and I'll show you," retorts Philip. Jesus, seeing Nathanael off in the distance, and knowing what he said about Nazoreans, yells out, tongue firmly in cheek, "Hey guys, look, here comes and Israelite in whom there is no guile [a much better word than deceit]." Nathanael, now scared to death that Jesus some how heard what he said about Nazareth asks, sheepishly, "um, dude, where'd you get to know me?" As if to say, "how long have you been listening?" "Um, dude," Jesus replies, "I saw you looking for enlightenment under that fig tree while Philip, who is supposed to be following me, was off looking for you." "Wow! OK, I'm sold, nice trick, surely you are the Son of God."

"You ain't seen nothing yet. Before this is all over you'll see the floodgates of heaven opened and blessings will be flowing like a mighty river. And don't call me Shirley."

See. It is funny.

January 12, 2009

Living in Fast Forward

David Lee Murphy and Rivers M. Rutherford II wrote a fantastic song that Kenny Chesney appropriately sang and spent two weeks at the top of Billboard's Hot Country Song Chart in 2005 called "Living in Fast Forward."  It starts out with a nod to the lesson from 1 Corinthians that will make everyone uncomfortable in the pews this Sunday.

"The body's a temple, that's what were told/ I've treated this one like an old honky-tonk"

Paul puts it like this,

"...do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?"

I know it is dangerous to take a piece of scripture out of context, but I also know that all sorts of people are all sorts of mad about how passages of scripture like this one are being interpreted from the Supreme Court to Mayberry.  I wonder how many intrepret preachers will venture into Paul's letter to the Corinthians this Sunday?  It will, no doubt, be the source of a lot of opening attention getters and jokes, but will people do the hard work of understanding what Paul is saying, or, more importantly, what God is saying?

I won't.  Mostly because I'm not preaching this week, and I've got a pile of work a mile high to do in its place, but I'm writing today to encourage you to do it.  Maybe not preach it because, quite frankly, I think people are tired of hearing about sex (homo or hetero) and most certainly because the light that came into the world was much more interested in healing the sick, freeing the prisoner, and loving the unlovable than anything else.

Sermon for Epiphany 1, Year B

Admittedly, one of the problems with the full-text bulletin is when my sermon gets a little dry, you flip through it rather than the Prayer Book. The consequences being you do not have the opportunity to stumble upon great pieces of our tradition, and so we try to find other ways to share our rich history with you. One way is celebrating those honored on the Church Calendar when the opportunity arises; like at the Wednesday service or in the E-Pistle. This past Thursday the Church celebrated for only the third time the trial use feast day of Deaconess and Missionary Harriet Mary Berdell. It is expected that she will become a permanent fixture on the Church Calender at General Convention this summer. Deaconess Berdell was born in New York in 1875. Her plan to become a school teacher was forever changed when she heard the voice of God speak to her through a missionary who came to her church to share his story. In 1906 she was accepted into the New York Training School for Deaconesses and studied there for one year; learning about religious matters, missions, teaching, hygiene, and hospital nursing. Her ministry first took her to the Cheyenne Indians of Whirlwind Oklahoma, then to Stevens Village, Alaska and finally in 1933 she founded the Glade Cross Mission in Collier County Florida where she ministered to the Seminole Indians until Hurricane Donna destroyed the mission in 1960 and at age 85 she retired.
Though a teacher at heart, Bedell was taken by her nursing training and became convinced that spiritual and physical health were the most important ministries she could offer. She focused on health, education, and breaking the cycle of poverty by encouraging the Seminole to relearn their ancient crafts of patchwork, doll-making and basket-weaving. Her friendship with the Seminole was so strong that they adopted her and gave her the name Inkoshopie which means, "the woman who prays."
For thirty years Harriet Bedell had thought herself to be destined for the classroom, but then God spoke a new truth into being. From that day in 1906 forward, whether or not she knew it, Harriet Bedell was a missionary. God spoke a new Truth into being.
This is the lesson we glean on this the First Sunday after the Epiphany - God speaks Truth into existence. By that I mean Truth with a capital "T". I believe that only God can speak capital T Truth. I can stand here and say that this book is red, which is the truth, but it is not a capital T Truth. It is, instead, a lowercase t truth because while it is true that this book is red, it is just as true that this book is Burgundy or Carmine or Fire Brick or whatever hue of the color red we might interpret it to be. God, on the other hand, speaks capital T truth into existence. When God speaks what he says becomes reality.
In the beginning there was nothing but the flood waters of chaos. Then God spoke God spoke and said, "let there be light." And all of a sudden there was light, the first glimmer of creation. God spoke about something that had never before existed and immediately it did. For five more days God would speak of things that did not exist and they came into being. For millenia since, God continued to speak new realities. Even today, even this very moment, God continues to speak Truth into existence.
The Psalmist knows that powerful voice of God well. He has heard it, he seen the results of it. "The voice of the LORD is a powerful voice;" he writes, "* the voice of the LORD is a voice of splendor. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedar trees; * the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon; ... The voice of the LORD splits the flames of fire; the voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; * the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD makes the oak trees writhe * and strips the forests bare. ... The LORD shall give strength to his people; *the LORD shall give his people the blessing of peace."
The voice of God is the great voice of Creation. He speaks words and they become reality. He speaks blessing and it comes to be. Jesus comes up out of the River Jordan and immediately God declares, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." With that word, Jesus is equipped for the ministry that will follow. As God spoke, the Holy Spirit tore through the heavens and penetrated the soul of Jesus giving him the gifts and talents and stamina necessary to manage the road ahead.
And while it may be hard to believe, the same is true for each of us who have been baptized into Name of Jesus. You may have been too young or too nervous or not quite ready to see it, but the same Spirit that descended upon Jesus came crashing through the heavens and landed on you at your baptism. The same, powerful voice of God spoke to you and said, "welcome my child" and immediately you became a chosen child of God, fully equipped for the ministry to which God would call you. It is the same Spirit that Paul called down upon the believers in Ephesus who got up prophesying and speaking in tongues. It is the same Spirit which equips us to fulfill the prayer for today, "that we might boldly confess Jesus as Lord and Savior."
God speaks Truth into existence. For Harriet Bedell that truth meant a life of ministry to Native Americans from Alaska to Florida. For me it meant ordination and a call to serve in Foley, Alabama. What does it mean for you?
As per the tradition of the Episcopal Church, in just a minute we will stand with millions of others and renew our Baptismal Vows. In those words of promise, I hope you hear what capital T Truth God is speaking to you. I hope that as you recall the vows made at your baptism you might also remember that the Spirit tore open the heavens to get to you and in so doing gave you the great gifts you would need for your journey. In baptism, by the utterance of God, you are equipped for ministry. Don't forget that. Don't let anyone take that away from you. Remember that God's Truth does not change - it might take you a lifetime to figure out what he said, but the Truth he has for you will wait just as the one who speaks the Truth will wait.
At the end of the Examination at an ordination service the Bishop offers a prayer meant for the ordinand, but it is my prayer for all people who seek to follow the Truth God spoke into existence in their lives, "May the Lord who has given you the will to do these things give you the grace and power to perform them." Amen.

Deaconess Berdell info was compiled from http://naples.floridaweekly.com/news/2009/0108/undercover_historian/008.html and http://satucket.com/lectionary/Bedell.htm

Readings for Epiphany 2, Year B

January 7, 2009

What does "boldy proclaim" mean?

Keith, my Rector, is reading Rob Bell's latest book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, and I think it is safe to say is having his mind blown and his spirit refreshed.  I ordered it yesterday based on the strong impact it seems to be having on him spiritually.  Here's what the About the Book section of the website says:

Jesus wants to save us from making the good news about another world and not this one. Jesus wants to save us from preaching a Gospel that is only about individuals and not about the systems that enslave them. Jesus wants to save us from shrinking the Gospel down to a transaction about the removal of sin and not about every single particle of creation being reconciled to its maker. Jesus wants to save us from religiously sanctioned despair, the kind that doesn't believe the world can be made better, the kind that either blatantly or subtly teaches people to just be quiet and behave and wait for something big to happen 'someday.'

I cut my spiritual teeth in the world this describes; one focuses on heaven vs. hell, personal salvation, and washing oneself clean in the blood of the lamb.  In seminary I began to see that perhaps that was a very narrow understanding of God's dream.  Now I am often lumped in with the "crazy liberals" who want to argue that Jesus was much more concered with restoring all things to God than he was with making sure I personally go to heaven when I die.

So as we pray on Sunday that God might "grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenent they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior<>

No answers today, just more and more questions.  What does "boldly proclaim" mean?

January 6, 2009

even Jesus gets grace

Mark's gospel is light on details, and, if I remember my New Testament correctly, that means that when Mark offers a detail we should pay attention to it. So this morning I'm noticing that God pronounces his pleasure in Jesus before his ministry has begun. I mean, we're only 11 verses into Mark and God is already happy with what Jesus is up to, "with you I am well pleased" (emphasis mine). Note that it doesn't say, "you're fixin' to accomplish some great things" or "someday I'm going to be really happy I sent you to earth" but right here, as you emerge from the water of the baptism of John (for the forgiveness of sins (that you don't need)) I am well pleased.

Even Jesus gets grace from the Father. He is offered blessings before withstanding the temptations. He is loved on before three years of proclaiming the Good News. He is God's great pleasure before he willingly offers himself unto death. Grace, even for God the Son.

I don't really know the deep theological ramifications of this, and most likely I won't take the time to figure them out, but today I'm thankful that God's grace is offered so widely that even the only one who didn't need it, still received it.

January 5, 2009

incarnation day

No post today, just wanted to say that I'm taking an Incarnation Day today. Taking down the award winning Christmas tree in John B. Foley Park, helping Foley Elementary School teachers pack up for the big move, and re-setting the sanctuary for the Service of Light tomorrow night. Jeans, T-Shirt, and Boots today. Incarnation here we come.

Readings for Epiphany 1, Year B