April 30, 2009

loving tangibly

"We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us-- and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?"

In 21st century America, laying down ones life for another is very rarely literal.  Laying down ones lifestyle for another, well that's a different story.  Even with SHW not working, we sit in the top 0.95% of the richest people in the world - on one income - and if we are to take the call of 1 John (and quite frankly of the whole of Jesus' ministry) seriously, we should be looking for people whose need calls us to lay down our own lifestyle.

As my faithful readers know, I have a love/hate relationship with my own calling.  Full-time, professional, paid clergy seem so hard to justify.  When half the church budget goes to the priest's stipend, it doesn't leave a whole lot of room for helping those who have need.  Buildings with high ceilings and poor insulation don't help either.  So how is it that the church has returned so closely to the old model of Temple worship that Jesus was so upset about?  How do we change the model so that those with excess and those with need are closer to each other?

Loving tangibly, and by that I mean addressing needs in the name of Christ, is a calling for all disciples, but the Church has made it difficult.  In making me the 57,476,149th richest person in the world, we have made it all the harder for those who pay my stipend to live the calling of laying down their lifestyle for one in need.

Any thoughts?

April 29, 2009


There are times when it feels like all I do from he pulpit is nag.  Jesus calls us to do this, so do it.  Paul says don't do that, so don't do it.  Do this, don't do that, can't you read the signs...

Then there comes a point where even I am sick of hearing myself nag because, quite frankly, St. Paul's Foley does a whole lot of Kingdom building stuff.  So, from time to time, I put on my smiley face and play cheerleader.  I think this Sunday will be one of those cheerleading days.

"Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action."

St. Paul's loves in truth and action.  On Saturday, May 16th Foley will hold a civic fair, where, if we do it right, St. Paul's will have a booth to share the good news that Christ is Risen and we, his people, are doing our best to follow his voice.  We do that by
  • Volunteering at Foley Elementary School
  • Hosting Family Promise of Baldwin County
  • Donating food to the EMI pantry
  • Sending cards to the infirm and mourning
  • Cooking meals for the same
  • Writing checks to various charities
  • etc.
  • etc.
We do a bunch of good stuff.  And for that I give thanks.

Of course, there is always more to be done.  Recently, one of our number has called us to account.  He notes that "churches are good a charity, but are often lacking on justice."  And I think he's right, but even there we are trying.
  • Giving our kindergarteners, especially those of families new to America, a head start means that their chance at education is vastly improved.
  • Giving our space (and some, though not a lot of our time) to the folks with ACTII who are working toward Homeowner's Insurance Reform
Hooray to you St. Paul's!  Keep up the good work(s).  As John promises in his letter, "All who obey [God's] commandemnts abide in him, and he in them."

April 28, 2009

Too Well Known

The longer I work in the Church the more I realize that there are sacred cows everywhere.  One, which I happen to like, is the reading of Psalm 23 in the King's English at funerals, burials, and memorial services.  It seems a peculiar tradition, though it is a beautiful Psalm, I hope Dr. Prichard reads this and can tell me the history behind it.

What gets lost, however, in the rote recitation of Psalm 23 (KJV) is what a great promise it is to those who are living in the Lord.  It is kind of the second half of yesterday's post; if you listen, know, and follow, here's what the Lord offers you.

He offers rest in green pastures
He leads beside still waters
He revives souls
He guides along the right path (if we listen, know and follow)
He offers a great banquet even in the midst of trouble
He anoints with oil
He fills to overflowing
His goodness and mercy are everlasting

It takes reading Psalm 23 outside of its normal context for me to remember the great promises contained therein.  It is almost too well known for me to remember any other way.  When I hear it in the King's English, all I can hear is "ye though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..."  But today I hear a word for the living; life in the Lord is good, enjoy it.

April 27, 2009

hear, know, follow

The Collect of the Day for this coming Sunday is deep.  It wades through the Gospel lesson with it convulted dying and rising stuff rather well and, I think, breaks down discipleship into three easy to swollow steps.  (Of course each step is life changing and hugely dangerous).

1) Hear - Romans 10.14 asks the obvious quesiton - how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard.  The first step toward the kingdom of God is hearing about the kingdom of God from the King of Kings himself.  This can happen by way of the still small voice of God, the booming tenor of a preacher, or the word of scripture - among other ways.  This step 1 is also, kind of, step 4 - as the hearer becomes the speaker who tells the Good News.

2) Know - with Pentecost comes the Spirit and with the Spirit comes the ability to discern between the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world.  With that ability we are able to hear what God has in mind for us over and above the tempations of power, wealth, etc. that the world offers readily (with a price, of course).

3) Follow - once the Spirit has helped us determine which door is opened and which path we should persue, it is up to us to get up and walk.  To follow the Lord down the path of his choosing by doing good works, by telling the good news, by continuing to listen, know, and follow down a new road when the time comes for change.

Three easy steps that take a lifetime to perfect and an open heart to even begin.  Easy, yes.  Simple, not at all.

Sermon for Easter 3, Year B

People have asked Cassie a lot in the past weeks, "Can you believe its been x days since the baby was born?"
    To which she responds, "I haven't had x days, I've had one long very long day."
    This morning is our third week of that first Easter Day, it has been one long and one very good day.
    Two weeks ago, when we first heard the story of resurrection by way of an empty tomb, I argued that God is in the business of rolling stones away.  Does that ring a bell?  Saying that God is in the business of rolling stones away is a clever Easter-y way of saying that God opens doors.  God is in the business of opening things up, and He does so in two very different ways.
    The first way God opens doors can be thought of quite literally, like opening the tomb.  The Greek word for this type of opening is Anoigo and is used by Luke seven times in his gospel, all in the first thirteen chapters, mostly in parables by Jesus about entrance into the kingdom of God.  The other side of this type of opening, which is clear in Jesus' parables, is that sometimes God closes doors.  We experience this type of opening all the time, one door opens and another closes. The work, then of followers of Christ is to discern in community what doors are opened and what doors are closed.
    In January of 2001 I had one of those life changing moments - deciding where to spend my spring break.  The door that seemed open to me had me spending my spring break in Germany. A good friend of mine from High School was studying abroad in Munich that year, and she invited me to spend a week enjoying all the sites and sounds I had missed during my first trip there in 11th grade. I was working and saving and planning in order to walk through that door, but for some reason, and I can't even remember why, it shut. I was disappointed, but within a few weeks I found a new opening, and ended up spending spring break in Pittsburgh where I met Cassie for the first time. One door closed, but another door - a much much better door was wide open.
    Decisions about where to spend spring break aside, the work of discerning the real choices in life is difficult.  Knowing which doors are really open and which are really closed is often hard to really know.  We can spend a whole lot of time forcing doors opened that are, in reality, closed.  It requires the help of prayer, scripture, and the community of the faithful to test and retest our intuitions, but it is fruitful work; be it a new job, a new relationship, a college decision, what-have-you, finding the opened door is infinitely more rewarding and ultimately a whole lot easier that pushing your way through a door that is closed.
    But, as I said, God opens things up in two ways.  A couple of weeks ago, one of our EYC kids asked me, "do you think Eliza June is going to negatively affect your preaching?"  I didn't really have an answer, but I thought to myself, "yeah, for a while, Eliza might affect my preaching."  I learned this week, as I prepared through bleary eyes and prayed while trying to not fall asleep that perhaps the self-sufficient way in which I prepare sermons might be closing.  So on Monday I reached out for help and set my facebook status and asked my online friends for help.  A door opened at 1:30pm that afternoon when John Talbert called me and said, "I've got something that might help your sermon."
    He pointed out that when Jesus opens the minds of his disciples, he does something different Anoigo opening; He opens them such that they might be closed again, and then he opens things by dividing them in two, or to use that great line from the marriage ceremony, to put asunder.  This type of opening, dianoigo in Greek, happens once and that which is opened remains that way forever.  This particular type of opening, Luke only describes four times in his gospel, three of which come in chapter 24 in post-resurrection stories.
    In our Collect for Today there is a clear reference made to the well-known story of Jesus' encounter with Clopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus.  After their long walk and talk Cleopas and his friend still did not recognize Jesus.  It was getting late, so the disciples invited the stranger they thought they were walking with to have dinner with them, and he obliged.  He took some bread, gave thanks, and broke it, and as he gave it to them, their eyes were opened, dianoigo, and they recognized Jesus.
    Their eyes were opened, and would never again be closed.
    In the gospel lesson for today, we hear of Jesus appearing in the middle of the room while the disciples were still discussing the crazy events of that first Easter Day - a room filled with fear and trembling.  After once again explaining to them the story of salvation; from the law of Moses to the Psalms to every word of the prophets pointed to him and the work he had done on the cross, Luke tells us he opened, dianoigo, their minds.  He ripped apart the old understanding they had carried for so long, and replaced it with a new understanding, and they would never again misunderstand his message and his mission.
    Jesus blew their minds, (hand gesture of mind blowing) and replaced it with the knowledge that he was the anointed one of God and he had risen from the dead to give new life through repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
    The funny thing about mind blowing experiences is that it often takes quite a while to figure out what actually happened.  We stand, slack-jawed, awe-struck, dumb-founded for some time trying to put words around the amazing events that took place.
    It will take the disciples 50 days for the disciples to figure out what this new knowledge means.  It will require the help of the Holy Spirit to turn spinning thoughts into concrete actions, to turn gibberish into words for all nations to hear, but as evening drew near on that first Easter Day the disciples gathered together in awe would finally open their minds to the plan Jesus had been trying to tell them all along.
    We prayed just a few minutes ago that God would open, dianoigo, the eyes of our faith.  This is one of those "be careful what you pray for" prayers.  Are you willing to have your eyes open to the will of God so that they can never be closed again?  Are you ready to see the pain and the heartbreak that God sees every day?  Are you capable of the compassion required to see with the eyes of God?  Do you want to see Christ in all persons, even your nosy neighbor or your annoying boss or your worst enemy?
    God is in the business of rolling back stones and leading us along the path of his desires.  In the resurrection, God is also in the business of blowing our eyes and our ears and our minds wide open so that we see and hear and know only as a part of the body of Christ.  Are you ready to have that kind of life changing experience?  Be careful what you pray for, it might just happen.

Readings for Easter 4, Year B

April 23, 2009

Earth Day 2009 Sermon

While I was in seminary I served a church in a small hamlet called Potomac, Maryland.  I couldn't begin to guess the average home price in Potomac, but in my two years there a several hundred unit townhouse neighborhood was developed with a price-tag starting at $700k.  A half mile in the other direction was a cul-de-sac of McMansions that had a banner espousing their 6 bedrooms, 6 baths, and elevators.  The people who lived and played in Potomac were comfortable, to say the least.
    One of the members of that church, Andrew, was a British national who worked, as most people there did, for the Federal Government.  He and his Romanian wife, were living the American dream in the DC Suburb of Potomac.  One Sunday, after I had preached a sermon openly wondering why an able bodied family in need of a six bedroom house would need an elevator Andrew and I got talking about the excess of materialism.
    "I don't mind people having second or even third homes," he said to me, "I just wish everybody could have a first home first."
    I've thought a lot about that statement in the four years since Andrew said it to me.  And it has been in the front of my mind for the past week as I've wrestled with the narrative we heard from Acts.
    It is hard for us, in 21st century, capitalistic America to fathom the life of the early church.  No one held any personal possessions, everything was held in a common purse.  It conjures up images, for me, of hippies living in communes in the 1960s.  Mostly getting high, but occasionally doing enough work to cultivate some string beans or goat's milk.  The lifestyle seems awfully difficult to reproduce in our time and place.  But there is a standard toward which I think we can strive, "there was not a needy person among them."
    We prayed, in the Collect for Today, to our God who in the Easter mystery established a new covenant of reconciliation.  And I think that if we take that quality of God seriously, and really mean it when we pray that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven, then we, as the Church and as individual followers of Jesus must strive for a world where there is not a needy person among us.
    To be reconciled to all people is to understand how our lifestyle impacts the life of all of God's creation; from our neighbors, to the coral reefs off the coast of Australia.  I believe that in our baptismal covenant God calls us to take seriously the basic needs of all people.  By promising to respect the dignity of every human being, we say that we will do all in our power to allow every person to be fully human.
    Today is International Earth Day, a day on which our attention is turned to the impact we are having on the environment.  As Christians, Earth Day should mean so much more.  Today, and everyday, should be days in which we ponder the impact we are having on the whole world and every living creature contained there-in.  How do our consumption habits further complicate the drought-fed famines in Sub-Saharan Africa.  How does our sex obsessed Western culture feed the HIV/AIDS pandemic?  How does the American philosophy of scarcity lead to over production, over spending, and pollution?
    Help us to show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith, O Father, that the world which you created might return to its brilliance and bring you honor and glory.  Amen.

April 22, 2009

a constant reminder

Ever since FBC was born two weeks ago, I've noticed that my short-term memory is shot.  I  answer the phone having already forgotten what the caller id said.  I walk down the stairs from my office only to return again having forgotten what I set forth to do.  I feed one dog but forget what I'm doing before the second bowl gets filled.

My current state of sleep deprevation and complete life alteration means that I need ways to be constantly reminded of the little things.   So I set alarms, I make to-do lists, and I write down just about everything somebody says to me.

This morning, my reminder came not from a to-do list or a hungry dog at my feet, but in the words of St. Peter in his second speech in the book of acts, "as though by our own power or piety we made him walk..."

One of my several character flaws is my ego.  I have, from time to time, been accused, and rightfully so, of being arrogant.  As a priest, the possibility of ego-inflation is ever present.  "Thank you for your wise advice."  "What a great sermon."  "You need to stay here forever."  "Are you sure you're not the second coming of Christ?"  I mean the accolades can flow down hill quickly and the temptation is to say, "it is all about me, my power, and my piety."

But it isn't.  It is all about Jesus.  It is about the Word who brings light to the world.  It is about the God who wants nothing more than to turn the world right-side-up again.  It is about the Holy Spirit whose words pour forth from our lips even when we have no idea what we're saying.

I need a constant reminder that, well, "I got nothin", and today it came in the form of Acts 3.12-19.  Thanks be to God.

April 21, 2009

I Heart Facebook

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Facebook (and social networking sites in general) are changing the way we do ministry, forever.

My twitter/facebook status yesterday read, "Steve thinks the lessons for Easter 3 are tough for preaching."  At about 1pm, I got a phone call from my rector's son, a youth minister in Birgmingham, who wanted to let me know that he had found that the word "opened" found in Luke 26.45 was not the word one would normally use to say that a door had been opened.  Instead, the Greek carries a meaning like, "the old has been torn to shreads so that a new can be put in its place."

In the context from Luke's gospel it seems to mean, "Jesus spoke to them, torn out their old brains and gave them new minds, the mind of Christ."  Or as my friend said it, "they had a baby in their brain."

This realization has great preaching opportunity for me in light of the lesson from 2Luke (Acts) when Peter tells the crowd of Jews that he "knows they acted in ignorance" because, it seems to me, that he too acted in ignorance prior to "having a baby in his brain" as Jesus opened the scriptures to the disciples on that first Easter Day.

St. Paul's hasn't had Greek dropped on them in a few months.  Maybe the time has come again.

Great Post @ Church for Starving Artists

Jan is at it again.  This time she is pondering, and ivites you to do the same, what 10 things we should throw out of the 21st century church.  There are some great ideas, and the comments sections is ripe with conversation starters.  And, much to Marcus Borg's surprise, the empty tomb is not on the list.

Read it here.

April 20, 2009

While in their joy they were disbelieving...

Hebrews 11.1 tells us that "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the certianty of things unseen."  And yet even in seeing and touching, the disciples can't quite grasp that "assurance of things hoped for" piece.  Or maybe they just aren't sure what to hope for.  Jesus' death was, to say the least, tragic.  The carpet had been ripped from beneath them, life was spinning rapidly and it no doubt felt out of control.  Last weeks lesson tells us why they gathered in a locked room, "for fear of the Jews."

But to have Jesus alive, again.  To proclaim that their rabbi, the one who was so despised that conspiracy brought him to death on a cross, was alive, well that was most certainly a stickier situation.  To leave that room and proclaim his resurrection would, most certainly, assure them of a similiar fate.

So then, perhaps their faith was weak because they hadn't a clue what to hope for.  Or maybe it was because even in seeing and touching, there wasn't much certainty.  Was he a ghost?  An imposter?  An apparation of grief and exhaustion?

Faith is tough to muster.  Jesus helps it along by reminding them of their shared experience.  This is what you've heard me say.  This is how it has to be.  This is what we hope for.

Without their past experience of Jesus, I'm convinced they sit in their disbelieving.  Instead, they have their hearts and minds opened by him, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Readings for Easter 3, Year B

April 16, 2009

tricky stuff

The majority of our Tuesday morning pastor's Bible study was spent dealing with the very uncomfortable commission that Jesus gives his disciples.  He begins by sending them out as the Father had sent him.  Then, he breathes on them and gives them the Holy Spirit.  And then he says, "if you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven.  If you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

If you surveyed 1000 people throughout the last 2000 years of history, I'm guessing that the #1 question that group would have for Jesus is, "why did you give power to your church to retain sins?"

What this difficult bit of text seems to be saying, as far as I can tell, is mostly lost in translation.  It would be better to read it (and Bill please tell me if I'm wrong), "If y'all forgive the sins of any - they have already been forgiven.  If you retain the sins of any - they have already been retained."

So the job of the Church, then, becomes not the judge of what sin is forgivable and what sin is not, but instead the job of the Church is to discern whom God has forgiven and who He has not.  From my experience the former will include everyone and the latter, well the only people who God does not forgive are those who do not themselves forgive.  Remember that old prayer, "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

This small piece of scripture has been abused, a lot, and for that my heart aches.  But to ignore it because of its past is to allow that abuse to continue.  As preachers, we must work to find the spirit of the text and then educate our congregations.  We can't change the whole Church, but we can be faithful in our little corner of it.

April 15, 2009

the power of the plural

TKT noticed in our Pastor's Bible Study yesterday that the lessons and Collect for Sunday are all plural.

all who have been reborn... show in their lives

the whole group of those who believed

how good and plesant it is when brethren live together in unity

we declare to you

a week later his disciples were again in the house, and this time thomas was with them

It is the story of Thomas' return to the community - from singular to plural - that strikes me today.  For whatever reason, Thomas was not there when Jesus showed up for the first time.  Last year I wondered if he was out following "the way, the truth, and the life."  This year, I wonder if it was a self-imposed exile.  Was Thomas out there wandering, wondering what next?  It had all fallen apart right before his eyes.  He had gone from "let us go with him to die" to "lord show us the way" to not even being there while the rest prayed together for a new course of action.

But with the rolling away of the stone and the resurrection of Jesus, it was time to get Thomas back.  So some of (or all of) the disciples went and found him.  They encouraged him to return to the plural, remembering that it was the singular that lead Judas to betray Jesus.

Are we taking seriously the call to reconcilation that brings people, all people, out of singularity and into the plural?  Who do we ignore?  Where are our blindspots?

April 14, 2009

Easter Day Sermon

On a friday evening 2000 years ago on a hill near Jerusalem a man said three words that should have had no impact on the course of human history.  According to John's Gospel, Jesus breathed his last breath on Friday and said, "it is finished."  For all intents and purposes, it was finished.  Jesus of Nazareth the one so many had followed as a great teacher, a miraculous healer, and the anointed one of God was dead.  The revolution that it seemed like he would usher in was over.  It was finished.
    We may not speak with such certainty, but often life is lived with the assumption that it is finished; that evil has won.  As they stood on the banks of the Red Sea, watching the army of Pharaoh approach rapidly, the people of Israel cried out with terror to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?"  Is it finished, Moses?  Are we finished?  Is the release from bondage that you promised already over?
    There are many times in our lives where the question, "is it finished" comes creeping in.  A less than favorable diagnosis.  The announcement of layoffs.  A spouse leaving.  A loved one dying.  The devil will, over and over again, use the events of our lives to convince us that it is finished, that evil has won, and the kingdom of God is no longer worth pursuing.
    This is where the story begins this morning.  Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome begin their week cleaning up after the events of last week because, for them, it seemed as though there was no future, the time for hope was over.  As soon as the sun had set on the Sabbath the women went about buying and preparing the spices and oils that they would need to anoint the body of their friend and Rabbi; work that should have been done when he was placed in the tomb, but the with sun setting rapidly and there was no time.  Early, very early Sunday morning these three women set out from their homes, spices in hand, to finish the work that needed to be done.
    The main problem, as they saw it, was how they might get the very large stone out of the way so that they could get to the body.  It was, as Mark tells us, the sole focus of their attention.  The walked and talked and wondered, "who will roll this stone away?"  With their hope snuffed out, all these women wanted to know was, who will roll the stone away so that we can finish our task and get back to living life.
    So they walked, and they talked, and they wondered, "who will roll this stone away?"
    And then they stopped talking, and they looked up, and the stone, the great symbol of their hopelessness had already been rolled away.  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man where Jesus had once been laid to rest, and they were scared.
    "Don't be afraid," he said to the three women, "You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen!  He is not here!"
    And with those words Mary, Mary, and Salome became the first to know that it was, in fact, not finished.  There is more to the story.  Evil has not won.  Jesus is alive.
    The full weight of this story lies in the very large stone that had once blocked the door of Jesus' tomb.  When the women came upon the tomb, the stone had already been rolled back.  God is in the business of rolling stones away; he is all about giving new life; he says when it is finished, and the story is not over.
    With the rolling back of one stone, death has been defeated and life will never be the same.  Because that stone was rolled away, life can be lived with hope rather than despair.  For even when the diagnosis is death, even when it seems as though the worst possible ending is certain, even when we think we know that it is finished - it is not.  God longs to restore his creation to the fullness he intended for it.  He offers hope when things look grim.  He offers peace when life is in turmoil.  He offers love when hurt abounds.  And he offers it all to you, this morning, in the form of one very large stone having been rolled away.
       All he asks is that you walk with him, that you join him as the story continues to unfold.  "Go, tell the disciples, and Peter, that he will meet you in Galilee," the young man tells the women.  Jesus has risen, and the work continues, and he'd like for you to join him.  Al it requires is a belief that the stone has been rolled away and the motivation to meet him in Galilee.
    The trembling Israelites on the shore of the Red Sea had to step our in faith with a wall of water on their left and on their right.  In order to be freed from slavery they had to walk where it made no sense to walk.  So too, we must step out in faith and walk in the way of the kingdom, the way of self-sacrifice, the way of love, the way of compassion.
    On a friday evening 2000 years ago on a hill outside of Jerusalem a man said three words that forever changed the world.  It was finished, and yet it had only just begun.
    The tomb is empty.  The kingdom of God has prevailed.  Join in the celebration.  Let's get going, the king is alive  Amen.

there was not a needy person among them

When Jesus tells the young rich man that he should sell all his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow him - we say, that was an isolated case, you don't have to do that.  And, as a good capitalist with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration, I tend to think that's right.  God is not a socialist.  But neither is God a capitalist.

Perhaps getting rid of all material possessions is a bit much, but the Church, in Acts, has one standard that I think we should all strive for, "there was not a needy person among them."  A young-ish man from the church I served in Maryland once said to me, "I don't mind that people have second homes, I just think everybody should have a first home first."

When we, as the Church, pray to a God who "established as new covenant of reconcilation" it seems to me that we are talking about a God who longs for a world where there is not a needy person among us.  It is difficult, seperating wants from needs.  Does everybody NEED an ipod?  Probably not.  Does everybody NEED a roof under which to live?  Yeah, I think so.  It is difficult, people will abuse the system.

But, it seems to me, the system will be self-policing for when no one has need, no one has reasonn to cheat or steal.  "There was not a needy person among them" is a high bar to live up to, but I think it might be time to at least start trying.

Readings for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Year B

April 7, 2009

Tuesday in Holy Week

My Isaiah knowledge is a bit shaky - it has been several years since I've done much work with 1, 2, 3, Isaiah and the Suffering Servant, but the word coming to me from that prophet is powerful.  It is just offered almos as a side thought in the midst of a long pericope, but it again opens my eyes to see the vastness of God's Passion - his deep desire to restore all of creation.

It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the trives of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the end of the earth.

Restoring his chosen people, again, was not on the agenda when God sent his only Son to walk the earth.  Well, it was and it wasn't.  Restoring God's chosen people would happen, but only as all the nations - the the end of the earth - were restored to right relationship.  Only as salvation made its way around the globe.

"Among those who came to worship at the festival were some Greeks.  They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." (Mk 12.20)

By Tuesday of his last week, the news had spread.  God's dream, his desire to restore everything was coming to fruition.  The larger plan was fixin' to start.

April 6, 2009

Monday in Holy Week

In preparation for next year, when, God willing, the whole congregation of St. Paul's will walk through the entirety of Holy Week togehter, I'm trying to very intentionally walk it this year.  My reflections this week will be based on the Daily Eucharistic Lectionary texts.  The title of each post links to the readings.

Upon my first reading of John's account of the Anointing of Jesus I chuckled at John's editorial notes about Judas Iscariot.

(the one who was about to betray hime)

Judas was upset at the waste he saw; thought it should be given to the poor.

(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)

I thought surely this was a late addition by an angry church, upset that Judas ruined everything.  But then I thought about it again.  Jesus had to have known Judas was a thief; being the Son of God and everything.  Yet he allowed Judas to continue to run with the other 11.  Even this notorious sinner, if we are to believe John, was allowed in, close in, to the mission and ministry of God himself.

I usually think that if I'm going to walk alongside of Jesus, I need to get cleaned up first.  Today, however, it seems different.  If Judas, with all of his chuztpah was allowed to tend the common purse because of the love Jesus had for him, how much more am I called to and allowed to do, even in my vast messiness.  Hopefully, my sins don't directly lead to the death of Jesus, but more than likely they do.  And still, Jesus invites me, and he invites you to walk right beside him.

April 2, 2009

the same mind

I haven't watched it in a while, but Dogma is probably still one of my top 10 favorite movies of all time.  The language in it is very, very dirty, but it is just so very good.  It points out some spectacular holes in organized relgion generally, Roman Catholicism specifically.

When I read Philippians lesson for Sunday (2.5-11) I can't help but be reminded of the scene when Bethany (the main character) is confronted with the fact that she is the rightful heir of the line of David and will at this time and in this place be the savior of the world.

She does what any thinking human being would do; she runs.  She runs and she hides, and tries to figure out what on earth she is going to do now that she knows her history, knows her place.

I can't remember if it is Chris Rock's character or another that finds her, but the conversation that follows is priceless.  I goes something like, "Why do you think there isn't much in the Bible about Jesus in those interim years.  He had to deal with being the Son of God."

Paul calls us to do that same work.  To have the same  mind as Christ is to come to understand that God has chosen us as his children.  He wants to be in relationship with us.  He wants to to, indeed is glad to, give us the kingdom.

Dealing with that can be hard.  It can be hard to imagine that God would care about me, much less love me.  It can be hard to be forgiven when the guilt is so very comfortable.  It can be almost impossible to come to terms with the new life that comes from the knowledge that God chose me.

But with time and practice and prayer, it is possible to have the same mind as Christ.  To find forgivness, to live no longer for self but to lay down my life so that God can give it back to me again.  It just might mean disappearing for while to think and to pray.  And that, well I think that's ok.

April 1, 2009

F.D. Maurice Homily

There is something quite profound about the church celebrating the life and ministry of Frederick Denison Maurice on April Fool's Day.  For me there are equal parts joy and trepidation in honoring this man with whom I hold both strong agreement and deep disagreement.

F.D. Maurice was born in 1805, the son of a Unitarian minister.  In 1827, when he should have received his law degree from Cambridge, he instead had to refuse the degree as he could not subscribe the the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion.  Only confessing Anglicans could receive a degree from Cambridge, and Maurice most certainly was not a confessing Anglican in 1827.   Over time, however, his thoughts and opinions changed so that he was ordained an Anglican priest in 1834.

As I said, on one hand, I love F.D. Maurice.  In 1843 when Karl Marx penned his famous line, "Religion is the opiate of the Masses," Maurice wrote, "We have been dosing our people with religion when what they want is not this but the living God."  Perhaps growing out of his long and varied history with the Church of England and the requirement to sign off and agree with every jot and tittle of the doctrine of a religion in order to even receive a degree for his studies, Maurice knew better than most that strict religion is, in fact, very different from one's worship of and encounter with the living God.  He saw the liturgy as the meeting point of time and eternity, the place where God and humanity could meet, if only for a moment.  He saw worship as the fountain from which humanity drew its strength.  Maurice understood how the line could get fuzzy - when liturgy is where we encounter God it can be hard to discern between God and liturgy.  He wrote, "I do not think we are to praise the liturgy but to use it."

This side of F.D. Maurice makes me want to stand up and cheer.

But as Randy Travis wisely reminds us, "On the other hand..."  On the other hand F.D. Maurice is the source of much angst for me.  My undergraduate degree is in Business Administration and I am a fan of capitalism and the Adam Smith's invisible hand.  As noted earlier, Maurice and Marx were contemporaries.  At least as far as I can tell, they occupied two sides of the same coin.  Maurice founded the Christian Socialist Movement which saw itself as a key player in the pending conflict between "unsocial Christians and unchristian  Socialists."  A conflict that didn't really pan out.

This side of F.D. Maurice makes me very, very itchy.

What we stand to learn from F.D. Maurice, however, has nothing to do with our agreement or disagreement with his writings about liturgy, his opinions of the church, or his politics and economics.  Or maybe it has everything to do with that.  What the life and ministry of F.D. Maurice teaches us is the breadth and length and height and depth of our own tradition, and more importantly, the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge.

As followers of the King of kings, we are called to his service, to the best of our abilities.  Some are called to be teachers.  Some are called to be doers.  Some are called to work for justice.  Some are called to offer charity.  And all have a place within the glorious mess we call the Church.  At the altar we have the opportunity to partake of the fountain of life in the Body and Blood. We find ourselves nourished and renewed in order that, for the 1st, 50th, 300th, 10,000th time we return to the world.  We are sent forth from this place filled with the peace that surpasses all understanding, freed from sin, blessed by God ready to serve the Lord in his various incarnations.  Or, as our baptismal covenant says, "To seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves."

Love him or hate him, F.D. Maurice is a piece of our tradition.  Agree or disagree with his theology, politics, or economics, he was loved by God, gifted for service, and is remembered for his "passion for justice and truth."  It may be April Fool's Day, but perhaps the most foolish thing of all is to forget that in Christ the triumph of the kingdom is assured, despite our differences, or perhaps, even, because of them.

Drink from the water of life this day so that you might be prepared for the service of the Lord in the minutes, hours, and days to come.  Amen.

Consider yourself sent

My homily for Morning Prayer this AM.

    I have spent a great deal of the last 21 months of my life pondering what it means to be sent; to that point that Keith and I and small group of St. Paul's faithful made the decision to start a ministry that was intentionally "sent."
    We based our name and our purpose in the 21st verse of 20th chapter of John's Gospel, "Jesus said to his disciples, 'Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."  And so, 2021 was born as "a community sent."  We meet on one Saturday evening a month in a home somewhere near Magnolia River to tell people about the love of God without the strings and baggage that come with a church, and a steeple, and an organ, and finger sandwiches.  I believe God is glorified by 2021.  I believe that all of heaven rejoices when the several people we have met who haven't set foot in church in a long time join us for a conversation and a meal.  Being sent is a good thing.
    In the process of creating something "new", however, it became abundantly clear that contrary to what the research and the experts and the talking heads tell us, our small town, run-of-the-mill, 1979 Prayer Book Episcopal Church itself is very much committed to being "sent."
    Maybe being named after the best known missionary in Christian history helps.  Maybe being a strange mixture of people that lives in the hazy boarder of old south money, old south poverty, and shoot the dog and sell the couch retirees opens the door to experience all sorts of different types of people.  Or maybe the parish has come to take seriously the call its patron Saint, Paul, makes to the Romans.  "How are they to call on one in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to  believe in one of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?  And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?"
    With Jesus as the gate, we have each been given the permission to go.  And while we all go to different places and offer different gifts, we each do so with the Good News of God in our hearts and on our lips.  God is glorified in a word of encouragement to a child struggling in school.  He is glorified in a caring mother sharing a dinner with her busy children.  He is glorified in the offering of a hand, or an ear, or a shoulder to a lonely neighbor.
    As we prepare to be sent forth from this place and begin the day, give a thought to where you will go?  While you are there, what will you proclaim?  And as the evening draws to a close, who will you have glorified today?  May God bless you this day, for as it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"  Amen!