May 27, 2009

The Hand of God

It is pretty easy for me to think of the Holy Spirit as wind/the breath of God.  The Pentecost story from Acts 2 is the preeminant image of the Spirit in my mind.  It was further bolstered by the etheral nature of the third person of the Trinity in William Paul Young's The Shack.

For some reason, though, this week I'm drawn to the Ezekiel lesson this Pentecost.  I'm preaching a sermon for the summer staff at Camp Beckwith as they have their first service of Holy Eucharist together as summer staff.  I've been asked to preach around the gift of the Spirit for common mission, and Ezekiel is popping up over and over because of the other image of the Spirit in this text - the hand of God.

I've always sort of antropomorphized the hand of God as the hand of the Father, but this week I'm wondering if it might not be a manifestation of the Spirit as she guides and directs (and occassionally actually picks up and flings) those who seek after the will of God.  I'm not sure it makes a big difference if it the Father's hand or the Spirit as a hand since they are all the one God, but it is, for me, a helpful way of rethinking the Spirit as Pentecost arrives - helpful in that it is easier for me as a concrete linear thinker non-sailer to see the Spirit guiding by hand rather than pushing the sail of my boat around.  Anyway, nothing profound today, just where I am.

Wed Homily - Easter 7

My sermon from Sunday, the Seventh of Easter, didn't really take its final form until I found my way to the pulpit at the 10am service, so it will not be posted this week - sorry.  If you'd like to fund a new sound system that can record our sermons, please give drop me a line.  This is the sermon that will be preached in about 40 minutes during our Wednesday service.

I've talked before about "The Discernment Process." In the 
Diocese of Central Pennsylvania it was called, "Total Ministry," but
the name everyone calls it, nationwide, is The Process. The
Discernment Process is a series of events, tests, evaluations,
conversations, retreats, etc. used to vet a pool of people who feel
called to ordained ministry into three various orders - lay,
deacon, and priest.
My particular process began with a meeting with my priest in
March of 2002. Father Bill then scheduled a meeting with my
bishop, who assigned me to a class, which required a lay
committee of evaluators, who recommended me for ordination to
the vestry, which recommended me for ordination to the Bishops
Advisory Commission on Ministry, which required that I be
evaluated by a psychiatrist and a physician, and complete a four
month internship, after which I would be allowed to attend
seminary. During those three years, I went through various
other evaluations by faculty, physicians, and psychiatrists who all
recommended me back to the Commission on Ministry for
Ordination to the Priesthood. They in turn sent word to the
Standing Committee of the Diocese that I should be ordained to
the transitional diaconate, and, in due time, to the priesthood.
The Standing Committee checked all of my paperwork, and
finding no errors, recommended to the Bishop that I be ordained,
which did eventually happen. On June 9, 2007 I was ordained a
deacon, and then priested on January 24, 2008.
In the midst of "The Process" I had a difficult time seeing its
value, but now that it is over, I am glad for it. Glad that there
were several different groups charged with knowing me and
listening for the Spirit to give the thumbs up or thumbs down.
Glad that a system was in place to discern the will of God.
2000 years ago, "The Process" didn't yet exist. In fact, we find
ourselves this afternoon in that interesting 10 day period between
the Ascension of Jesus and Pentecost were the disciples must
have felt very much alone. We know what's about to happen on
Sunday, but the 120 followers of Jesus who remained faithful are
in the midst of some serious unrest. Jesus has been resurrected
and appeared to them on several occasions. In fact, he showed
himself to more than 500 during his 40 days of physical
resurrection on earth, but he has since left again, leaving only
one instruction - stay in Jerusalem until the Spirit arrives. So the
disciples sit and they wait and they wonder and, as Luke tells us,
they go about some business.
Twelve is a sacred number filled with rich history and deeply
significant for the early Jewish Church. In the ancient Jewish
world view, the ministry of Jesus can't possibly be the full
revelation of God if not for the redemption of all twelve tribes of
Israel. And so, as David writes in Psalm 109, "another should
take his place." Judas, the fallen disciple, the one who was
destined to be lost, had to be replaced. And so, the group of 120
go about the work of discernment. They probably didn't come up
with a fancy name like "Total Ministry," but they did go through a
very deliberate process.
First, as I've already alluded to, the group went to the guide of
scripture which told them that they should replace Judas.
Secondly, as a community, the group used their common
understanding to create a series of qualifications for apostleship.
These qualifications were; a witness to the resurrection and a
participant in the whole of Jesus' ministry from his baptism
through his ascension. The same qualifications held by the 11
who remained. From this set of criteria they arrived at two
candidates, Joseph and Matthias. Third, the group prayed to
Jesus for guidance. As he had hand selected the original twelve,
it seemed fitting that he would also pick Judas' replacement, and
so they prayed. Fourthly, they cast lots, which sounds very
strange to us. Didn't the soldiers cast lots for Jesus' clothes?
Seems like a strange way to pick a new twelfth apostle, but in
actuality all the offices and duties of the temple were picked in
this way. All the names of the candidates were written on stones,
the stone were put into a jar, and the jar was shaken until one
stone fell out, and the name on that stone was the winner. And
so, the name that fell out was Matthias, hand picked by the Lord
Jesus Christ through prayer, through community, and with the
advice of Scripture.
The details surrounding "The Process" sure have changed over
the last 2000 years, but I believe that at its basis the process by
which we do the work of discernment remains the same;
scripture, community, and prayer - these are the keys to wise
decision making. Be it finding the twelfth apostle, figuring out
who is really called to ordained ministry, where we should retire,
of what ministry of the Church we should get involved in, the
work of discernment is never ending. Without any piece we are
destined to the path of destruction that Judas took, but as a
whole this "Process" leads to the will of God, and the will of God
leads to his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. May your lives
be lives of discernment in the midst of scripture, community and
prayer, and as such bear the fruit of the kingdom of God. Amen.

May 26, 2009

I will put my spirit within you...

and you shall live.

I've mentioned here before the vast multitude of religious broadcasting available in our household.   With two (or three) prophetic/local/prosperity stations and EWTN (the catholic station) there are plenty of opportunities for me to get sucked in by a preacher/teacher/evangelist who has a nice smile and a good preaching cadence and often some theology that makes me nervous (yep even on EWTN).

What these stations all seem to have in common (yep even EWTN) is their heavy focus on the third person of the Trinity.  The Holy Spirit is so often giving them words of wisdom or prophecy or healing.  And I learned long ago to never doubt when someone says the Spirit is at work (yep even on EWTN).

What I'm gleaning from the lessons for the Day of Pentecost, however, is that the main task of the spirit, even in the days of Ezekiel (even in the days of Creation) is not to offer wisdom, council, healing, or prophecy, but to give life.

Ruach - the Hebrew word for wind, breath, and spirit.  God's breath, breated into each and every human being gives us life.  God's Spirit, breathed, I believe, into each and every human being longs to be made manifest in life abundant, life eternal, kingdom living.

Maintaining life is fairly easy for me.  I eat, I sleep, I breath - I live.  But that sort of living is not the fullness of God's dream.  If His Spirit is within me, then life should be something new, something different, something great.  Are you alive?  Or are you just eating, sleeping, and breathing?  God wants to give you life.

Readings for the Day of Pentecost, Year B

May 21, 2009

your Word is Truth

The NRSV translates John 17:17 as "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth."

The original manuscript of John's Gospel had no punctuation and no capitalization; it barely had spacing.  And so, much of what is done to make it fit our sentance, paragraph, chapter, verse paradigm is guess work.  I'm wondering this week if John might have meant one thing, while the translaters read another.

What if John 17:17 actually read, "Sanctify them in the Truth, your Word is Truth."

Really a small typographical difference, one the casual reader might notice only to think, "hey there's a typo in that verse," but a difference that makes a huge impact on the High Priestly Prayer.  What this latter version says, is that Jesus is Truth with a capital "T".  There are many truths (lowercase "t") out there.  The big bang theory is a truth.  Evolution is a truth.  Creationism is a truth.  Intellegent design is a truth.  All, it seems, have a bit of the Truth within them, but all contextually obligated and all falling short of the fullness of the Truth.

Jesus, on the other hand, has the fullness of the Truth within him.  So much so that what he speaks is Truth.  Make them one - Truth.  Protect them from the world - Truth.  As you sent me, I am sending them - Truth.  These are not moral and religious obligations we are to try to live up to, they are Truth we are called to live into.

So, for example, instead of trite and polite ecumenical conversation as we try to be "one" church, why don't we hear each other with a spirit of charity looking for the bit of Truth that exists in the other, because we are one Church.  We do not create Truth, but live into it.  Those attempts we make at creating Truth by holding tightly onto truth lead only to pain, violence, pride, and sin.  Living into the Truth, however, well that leads to joy, glory, and holiness.

May 19, 2009

the temptation of judas

The folk who put together the lectionary are tempting me this week.  They are begging me to get bogged down in the intricacies of the Judas Iscariot story - they want me to meander down that path with my congregation dazed and confused by the theological presuppositions required for such a journey.  They have laid the temptation before me, and it is powerful.

But, I have to wonder, how concerned are the people in the pews with the Judas effect?  Will they hear the lessons on Sunday and have their hearts broken by talk of a God who chose one to be destined to betray his Son?  Or will it not even phase them?  Is that version of the story so pervasive as to just be "fact" that should not be questioned?  Or do they wonder if Judas is in heaven?  Do they hope in the future judgment where Judas gets another chance?  Do they ponder the church's position on suicide?

Or is this all the work of the tempter(s) trying to tie me in knots while the true message, the word God has for our congregation this week, gets choked out?  The story of Judas, his life, his death, and the apostles strange need to replace him are interesting, but are they preachably interesting?  It sure is tempting.

May 18, 2009

John 17.18 and John 20.21

In the midst of his prayer for his disciples Jesus says to God the Father, "As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world." (John 17.18)

After his betrayal, arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection, Jesus appears to his followers offers them peace, shows them his hands and side and says to them, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." (John 20.21) and then he breaths on them and offers them the Holy Spirit.

The context is different.

The audience is different. (Sort of - I think both parties hear in both instances)

The meaning is the same.

We can't sit in our pews and follow the risen Lord who has gone on ahead.  We can't stand and sign hymns and live out the gospel.  We can't kneel at the altar and bring others to the knowledge of the Lord.

All these things that we normally associate with "church" are good.  They nourish us, enrich us, empower us - but they are not what Jesus had in mind when he prayed for his rag-tag group of followers.  What he hoped for is what God hoped for in sending his Son - that real people, walking and talking and living and working in the world would have more a real impact on those who had not yet seen, heard, or experienced the love of God.

730 or 10am on Sunday is good, but it is not the purpose of our lives as followers of Christ. No, it is, instead, the time from "Let us go in peace..." until "Alleluia, Christ is risen" that matters.  We are sent just as Jesus was sent to a good world that has been broken.  It is when our sleeves are rolled up, when our hands are dirty, when our eyes are swollen with tears that God's kingdom is known.  730 and 10, well that's meal time.

Readings for Easter 7B

May 14, 2009

his commandments are not burdensome

Your commandments might be.  My commandments most assuredly are.  But the commandments of God?  No, they are not burdensome, and today I am thankful for that.

I once heard the commandments of God described as the safe swim area at the beach.  God, the lifeguard, says, as long as you are playing withing these bouys, I can keep you safe, but outside of them - well I can't get to you fast enough, the sharks are waiting, the riptide is pulling, etc. etc.  The commandments of God are not constrictive, but, as counter-intuative as it may seem, give freedom.  Freedom to roam knowing that God's got his watchful and loving eye upon you.

When I was in high school I made some extra cash refereeing under-6 soccer.  I think I was there to keep the parents from killing each other, because, quite frankly, the kids didn't have a freaking clue what was going on.  And because there were no real "rules" the game was no fun.  Just a ball of arms and legs orbiting around a tiny soccer ball on a tiny field.  It wasn't until the kids got older and could see the nuance, strategy, and freedom to play within the rules that the game got fun.

Today I give thanks for the commandments of God.  I am grateful that they are, in fact, not burdensome, and I'll try to give up my own, often unspoken, commandments of others which only serve to frustrate and weigh down.

May 13, 2009

wreakless abandon

My rector admitted to me a week or so ago (with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek) that a sermon I preached left him feeling a little uneasy.  Apparently, using the phrase "wreakless abandon" three times in a sermon is cause for concern when it comes to the health, stability, and viability of a parish (and most especially its clergy).

On some level, his joking is spot on.  Loving with wreakless abandon is dangerous stuff; just ask Jesus how it worked out for him.  And yet, it seems to be the call for those of us who have taken on the task of following him and fulfilling his work - we must reach out with wreakless abandon to any and all.

I think Peter sums up well the call of those who claim discipleship under Jesus of Nazareth, "Can anyone without the water for baptizing these people who have recieved the Holy Spirit just as we have?"  It might go against everything you believe politically, socially, theologically.  It might mean changing your mind about social programs, justice, and peace.  It might mean being the only republican in a room full of democrats (or vice verse), but the call to love with wreakless abandon can not be thwarted.

It is dangerous stuff, this wreakless abandon of God, but it seems to be the only way we've got to live.

Readings for Easter 6,Year B

May 7, 2009

and he went on his way rejoicing

I just read one of those "everybody in ministry knows this story" posts over at A Church for Starving Artists.  The post itself rovolves around one of the most difficult and frustrating parts of life in the Church, people.  Not individuals, per se, but people, that great nebulous and anonymous group called people and the negative impact they can have by their talking.  People in the Church are what sucks the joy right out of it.

I then opened up the Lectionary texts for Sunday and read the Acts Lesson with the Ethopian Eunich and Philip.  It is a great story; almost an Old Testament prophet's tale smack in the middle of the formation narrative of the Church.  What struck me was that bit at the end where the Eunich comes up from the water, finds Philip gone, and "he went on his way rejoicing."

Joy is never a bad thing.  Joy is a fruit of the Spirit and a gift from God, and it seems like we spend most of our lives trying to stuff it down inside.  We find fault instead of seeking goodness.  We complain rather than enjoy what we've got.  Maybe it all gets just a little too routine and we get bored.  I'm not really sure why joy isn't always a part of life, but I'm reminded this morning that when we find God, like the Eunich did on the wilderness road, we find joy.

May 6, 2009

an interesting grammar lesson

Lesson 102 from teaches this handy lesson:

Parts of the Sentence - Predicate Nominative
A predicate nominative or predicate noun completes a linking verb and renames the subject. It is a complement or completer because it completes the verb. Predicate nominatives complete only linking verbs. The linking verbs include the following: the helping verbs is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been; the sense verbs look, taste, smell, feel, and sound; and verbs like become, seem, appear, grow, continue, stay, and turn.

The verb in a sentence having a predicate nominative can always be replaced by the word equals. Examples: Mr. Johanson is a teacher. Mr. Johanson equals a teacher. Mr. Johanson is a father. Mr. Johanson equals a father. Mr. Johanson is my neighbor. Mr. Johanson equals my neighbor.

I find this inetesting because the Collect for Sunday starts out with, "Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life"  Now if my eighth grade grammar is right (which is doubtful)  then one could infer the following theological statement from this Collect.

Knowing God equals everlasting life

Notice what it does not say - knowing God brings/gives/offers/makes possible everlasting life - but instead knowing God equals everlasting life.

This has huge ramifications for the saved for a future time and place theology that is rampant in American Christianity today.  It means that if we know God then we living in the midst of everlasting life right here, right now despite all the ugliness, messiness, hurt, sin, etc. that still exists.  It means that God's Creation is still good and it is possible even in this sinful flesh to live as a part of the Kingdom of God.

Life may change and our perception of the life everlasting will most certainly be altered upon death, but though it is changed, it does not end.

The question is, am I living into the everlasting life?  Or am I existing in the life of scarcity ignoring the gifts of God that are all around?

May 5, 2009

Not my Job

The gospel passage for Sunday is another of those "well-known-pericopes" in scripture.  The "I am the vine, you are the branches" passage is oft quoted in sermons, Bible studies, and prayers.  But I'm noticing this morning that we get the whole vine/branch relationship backwards.

How many times have you heard someone say, "you must bear fruit to be a follower of Jesus"?  The more I think about it the more I realize that we always assume that the branches (that is, we) are the ones bearing fruit.  But as we all know, a branch not connected to the vine, not connected to the root system, dies.  Fruit might grow on the branches, but it is by no means the result of the branches productive abilities - it is only because the vine provides nourishment.

So then, what is required of us?  To remain connected to the vine in prayer, in community, in study, and, as Micah 6.8 tells us by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God.

Growing fruit isn't my job.  I spend most of my time struggling against myriad outside forces just to stay connected to the vine.

May 4, 2009


I've gotten better, but I still find myself starting the occasional conversation with the question, "do you know what I hate?"  The answer is usually related to how another's actions based on their own self-interest/stupidity negatively affects my day.  Things like; people who wait for a parking space before the exiting cars trunk is full, people who stop at the top of stairs, people who start conversations with "do you know what I hate."

True to form, God has once again found a way to challenge my self-satisfying pride by reminding me that it is only in love that I am able to abide in him and remain a part of his vine.

"Those who say, 'I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters are liars."

Dang it.  Convicted again.

It is funny how my dislike of their careless self-focus is always related to how it negatively impacts my own self-focus.  I now have to sit in the Wal*Mart parking lot just a little bit longer.  I now have to walk around your group while you decide whether to hit up the Yankee Candle Store or Brookstone first.  I now have to listen to you gripe about another human being (or group thereof).

As I prepare to head north for a baptism and to make promises about "seeking and serving Christ in all persons", "respecting the dignity of every human being", "strive for justice and peace" my little habit of "do you know what I hate" seems to have a bright line shining upon it.

I hate that.

Sermon for Easter 4B

    Do you remember those four letters?  The buzz that surrounded them a decade ago?  Long before Lance Armstrong and Nike were reminding us the "Live Strong" the Christian Marketing Gurus were selling us bracelets, lanyards, license plate covers, anything they thought we'd buy that would remind us of what seems to be a very simple question - What Would Jesus Do?
    If you promise to not tell anyone I went to seminary with, I'll admit that I remember walking into Provident Bookstore in Lancaster with my lawn mowing money ready to buy a polyester knit bracelet that would forever call me to task - What Would Jesus Do?
    The question is a valid one.  Having it on your wrist or around your neck on on your car makes you pause and think, how am I acting?  How would Jesus act?  It is a question worth thinking about.
    The question, however, seems to be tensed incorrectly.  As it stands it is a highly speculative question.  We don't know what Jesus would do about Stem Cell Research.  We have no idea how he would tip a bad waiter at a fancy restaurant.  Forward looking questions are only as helpful as the history underlying them.  We need not necessarily wonder about the future, what would Jesus do.  Instead, for the question to really be informative, it ought to be backward looking, What Did Jesus Do? And the answer to that question, Jesus tells us and the author of First John reminds us, is that he laid down his life out of his unfailing love for us.  What did Jesus do?  He stooped down from his seat at the right hand of God and was born into first century Palestine.  He lived as a man and worked as a carpenter and taught as a Rabbi and died as the traitor.  He did all of that so we might know God's love for us.  What did Jesus do?  He loved.
    But the questioning cannot end there.  Knowing what God did in the person of Jesus is not enough because in every word and action of Jesus he called his disciples and he calls us to do what he did.  While it is a valid question to wonder of Jesus did, it is of more importance to ask, What would Jesus have me do?  What would Jesus have us do?  As you might guess, the answer to both questions is the same.  Jesus loved and Jesus calls us to love.
    So what is love?  John tells us that Jesus' love was made perfect in his death.  He died for us that we might live.  So too, our love can only be made perfect in death.  Our love must be willing to go the whole way to the grave.  We die that he might live through us.  But death is not often required of Jesus' followers in 21st century America.  What loves means for us here and now is to love actively - in truth and action.  It means reaching out to family, friend, neighbor, stranger, and enemy alike.  At the very least it means laying down our own lifestyle so another might have bread on their table.  In the end, it means laying down our lives for the Kingdom which Christ himself offers.
    "Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action."  John writes this almost matter-of-factly to his community.  It is obvious to him - if you have love and you have resources then you offer help to those who are in need.  Love means, as far as you are able, never allowing a brother or a sister go without shelter.  Love means giving a child the chance to learn to read even if whoever is at home is too busy trying to keep food on the table to help.  Love means a phone call of encouragement to a neighbor who has been struggling.  Love means a prayer shawl mailed halfway across the globe to a stranger battling cancer.  This isn't difficult stuff, and yet it is so counter-cultural that it often feels strange, often elicits fear, often goes undone.  
    Yet I believe that here at St. Paul's we are living out the commandment to love.  From Family Promise to Foley Elementary school.  From the Episcopal Church Women to Coastal Cleanup.  St. Paul's Foley reaches beyond itself and loves, and for that, today and everyday, I give thanks.  Thank you for being willing to stretch outside your comfort zone.  Thank you for allowing God to use you in ways you never thought possible.  Thank you for listening for his voice, knowing when he calls, and following where he leads.
    I believe that your willingness to reach out has resulted in God pouring out his blessings upon us.  If you look at our budget, you know that outpouring of blessings is not in the way of great material riches, but instead, He has allowed us to know with clarity that we are his.  It is by his blessing that we come to know, without a doubt, that we abide in his love as he abides in us.  And because of that blessing, we are able to proclaim with boldness in our community that the love of God can be found here.  We can offer his love because we experience it every single day.  We receive it as the affirmation of our faith.
    On the Sunday's when I lead the liturgy, I always introduce the Nicene Creed by saying, "let us stand and affirm our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed."  This week, however, I've been convicted.  What these words from First John have taught me is that our faith is not affirmed our allegiance is not professed in words about God, but in service toward God.  We stand and affirm our faith in the dismissal when we vow to go in peace to love [pause] and serve the Lord.
    So, this Sunday, I ask that we be sure that we don't affirm our faith in words, but in deed.  I pray that we might choose love.  I hope that we are empowered to proclaim the love which we know so well - love that lays down ones life for another.
    On Saturday, May 16th in Foley Park St. Paul's will have a booth at Foley's Community Resource Expo.  I believe that the love of God is a resource that Foley can always use more of.  From 10am until 2pm that Saturday, I hope many of you will come out and spend some time at the St. Paul's booth sharing the love of God, not in word and speech, but in action and truth.  We will, of course, have pictures and bulletin boards and handouts that tell about what we do, and I hope you will help me make these, because mine is terrible thus far.  These will, no doubt, be helpful.  But, it will be the real stories, your stories of how God has made his love known to you, how you have seen his love alive in your community, and how others might come to know that same life giving love that will make the real difference.  To paraphrase John, "Who has the richness of God's grace and sees another brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?"

So maybe WWJD? is the wrong question.

Maybe even WDJD? What did Jesus do? isn't quite it.

WDJCUTD? What does Jesus call us to do?  He calls us to share his love indescrimantly and with wreckless abandon.  My friends, let us love, not in word and speech but in truth and action.  Amen.

Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B