July 30, 2009

amazingly easy... impossibly hard

"What must we do to perform the works of God?"

The crowd asks a question of Jesus that, on the surface seems inocuous. How do we get what you've got? We want to see more good stuff, can you share it with us? It is kind of like asking the magician to show you how to do that card trick - Ackerman, I'm still waiting for you to teach me the watch trick.

What they don't get is that what Jesus is doing isn't slight of hand stuff, it is kingdom of God stuff. And so, when Jesus answers, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent" the wheels begin to fall off. Doing this work is amazingly easy. It doesn't require the ability to divert another's attention. It isn't time consuming. It won't take away from career, family, etc.

And yet, it is impossibly hard. It requires every minute of every day; every dollar; every thought; every action. See believing in the one whom God has sent isn't merely the ability to tick of a list of attributes you can get behind - born of a virgin, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one being (homousious) with the Father. Believing in the one whom God has sent means trusting him, giving your life over to his kingdom, and following him no matter the cost.

Faith in Jesus is amazingly easy - just say, "I believe." The life of faith in Jesus is impossibly hard. Thanks be to God for his grace to make the impossible possible and TBTG for the Holy Spirit who guides us along the impossible route.

July 29, 2009

one Lord, one faith, one baptism... a whole lot of ways to get there

I could probably link you to the blog of my friend and colleague, Jan, every day. She writes great stuff, and I pray that her book is one day finished and available for me to read. In the meantime, I look forward to her nuggets of wisdom every morning (and sometimes I cheat and read her new posts before I go to bed at night).

Anyway, all that to say, you need to read her latest post, More than 1 way of being a Christian? When you are done with that you need to read the Ephesians lesson for this Sunday, especially hear these two lines:

"There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all."

"The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ."

There is but one body and one Spirit. There is one hope. There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism. The is one God and Father of all. But we are called to that faith, that hope, that Father in many different ways. We experience that Spirit, that Lord in many different ways. We respond to, serve, and glorify the God and Father of all in many different ways. The end goal, of course, is perfection of understanding and knowledge, but rest assured we aren't getting there any time soon.

Today, I read Jan's post, then I read Ephesians, and now I'll pray for the humility to remember that I am not the one God and Father of all, that my faith tradition is not the one faith, and that my gifts as varied as they might be from yours might build up the body of Christ "until all of us... reach maturity." Amen.

July 28, 2009

if that had been too little...

While the story of King David is sensational and hugely dramatic, I think the reason it holds such a prominent place in 1) our lectionary, 2) in children's church story times, 3) in our collective conscience is because we can really resonate with it. The details of our lives are most certainly different, but the trajectory, unfortunately, is often the same. Listen again to the word of God spoken by the prophet Nathan.

"I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight?"

Do you hear it? Do you hear what I hear? It is the human story - God gives and gives and gives; God desires to give even more; but we decide we'll take it on our own; and, inevitably we do what is evil in the sight of the LORD. This is what sin is, taking on life by yourself - it leads to greed and glutton and pride and envy, but it all seems to start with a lack of trust in the promises of God. It all seems to come from a forgetfulness of God's prior faithfulness. God gives and gives; God desires to give even more; be we forget that, thus far, every promise has been fulfilled, and so, we attempt to do it on our own. We turn from the way of God and follow the path of our own devices and desires. We do what is evil in the sight of the Lord.

But there is good news for us (even if the lectionary folk don't want us to hear it.)

2 Samuel 12:13a reads - "David said to Nathan, 'I have sinned against the Lord.'"
The lesson for Sunday ends there, but 2 Samuel 12:13b reads
"Nathan said to David, 'Now the LORD has put away your sin; you shall not die.'"

As easy as it is to forget God's faithfulness and go our own way - it is that much easier to repent and return to the LORD. Confess and be forgiven.

That is the good news of David's life, the good news of our lives, the good news of all eternity.

July 27, 2009

"the fullness of God"

A friend, collegue, and fellow student body president at VTS, Robin Gulick posted her sermon from yesterday on Facebook, and it is gem. I'm sorry to those of you not on facebook, but I guess you can't read it (I tried, you have to log-in).

Robin wisely, but subtly looks ahead to this Sunday's explanation of the feeding of the 5000 and lays it up against the story of David and Bathsheba as well as the prayer of the author of Ephesians.

Her assertion, and rightfully so, is that we try to fill ourselves up with all sorts of things, but it is only the Bread of Life that allows us to know the fullness of God.

If I were preaching this Sunday, I'd totally steal her very good stuff. Thanks Robin.

Readings for Proper 13, Year B

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Psalm 51:1-13
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sermon for Proper 12B

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away there lived a man named Moses who had been adopted into the court of the king. Now it came to pass that Moses did some stuff that he wasn't proud of and he was forced to run away from the land he knew for fear of his life. For a long time he lived with his wife in the town where his Father-in-Law, Jethro, had welcomed him. One day, Moses was doing his work when he noticed something off in the distance that caught his attention.
He thought to himself, "What is going on over there? I've gotta see this thing, it appears to be a bush that is one fire, yet not consumed"
So he walked toward this great sight, and in that very moment God spoke to him saying, "Moses, Moses!" God told Moses of his plan to save his people from the oppression of slavery in the land Moses once knew. God gave Moses a job to do, he said, "I'm sending you to save my people."
Moses responded to God quickly by saying, "Who am I that I should accomplish this great and impossible task you have set before me?"
And God replied, "I will be with you."
Moses doubted his own abilities and was nervous about trusting God. And God was speaking to him from a burning bush. It is a story we see play out over and over again in Scripture, in Church history, and, I'm afraid, even in our own lives. God calls, and people hedge their bets. Jesus didn't use a burning bush to call Philip and Andrew to greatness - he just asked them a simple question - but the response was the same. Umm, well, umm, yeah, er...
Jesus give Philip a chance to do something great. He asks Philip "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" And Philip responds, "Six month's wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little."
Just like Moses, Philip asks, "Who am I that I should accomplish this great and impossible task you have set before me?"
Andrew, only slightly more helpful points out to Jesus a young boy "who has five barley loaves and two fish." "But," he is quick to add, "what are they among so many people?"
And with that caveat, Andrew joins the long line of people who have asked God, "Who are we that we should accomplish this great and impossible task you have set before us?"
God's presence in the burning bush wasn't enough for Moses to think, "hmm, this could probably happen." God's presence in the person of Jesus wasn't enough for the disciples to think, "ok, yeah, maybe we could come up with something for these five-thousand-plus people to eat." How much harder is it for us, when it seems like God is often still hanging out in that far away time and place -and he certainly isn't lighting fire to any bushes - how much harder is it for us to follow through when he says to us, "I'm sending you to save/feed/comfort/revive/clothe/renew/restore/educate my people"? The excuses flow like a river, "who am I, how could I, I'm no good, well, but, maybe..."
Sixteen months ago, Wayne Verry and I sat with Dr. Lawrence, the Principal of Foley Elementary School in the cramped office he shared with is secretary at the old school. He told us of the great need at FES: 50% of their students have no male figure at home, 70% are enrolled in the government's reduced or free breakfast and lunch program, a majority of that 70% won't have a nutritious meal between lunch Friday and breakfast Monday, and a full 20% of their student population spoke no English. The meeting came to an ominous conclusion as he finished by saying, "I've had this conversation with two other churches and never heard another word from them. I hope this won't end the same way."
Truth be told, I left that meeting pretty sure that our encounter with Dr. Lawrence would, in fact, end the same way as those other two churches. I returned to my office and continued the long lineage of excuse makers from Moses to Andrew and Philip and asked God, "Who are we that we should accomplish this great and impossible task you have set before us?"
But those words from Dr. Lawrence stuck with me. Mostly because they stuck with Wayne who kept reminding me that we couldn't be the third church to let FES down
Still, the thought "who are we" continued to weigh on my mind.
But as they old saying goes, what matters is not who you are but whose you are. And we are people of the same God about whom Paul writes, "Now to [God], who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations." Almost as an afterthought, in the midst of a call to praise, Paul articulates an attribute of God that brings to mind the story of Moses at the Burning Bush, the story of the disciples at the feeding of the 5000, and, more recently, the story of Wayne and me at our meeting with Dr. Lawrence. It is reminder for all of us who have ever asked, "who am I that I should do this thing?"
God promised Moses, "I will be with you."
Jesus told the disciples, "Make the people sit down," and then proceeded to multiply five loaves and two fish into a feast for thousands.
And God tells each of us, "just give me what you've got. I'll take it and use it to do amazing things."
God could have saved the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt by himself. Jesus could have "poofed" up some food for the masses. For crying out loud the kids at FES already have good and faithful teachers, God could have done everything he wanted to through them. But he chose not to. He chose instead to use the power at work within Moses and within the disciples and within you and within me to quite literally do abundantly far more than any of us could have asked for or imagined.
The people of Israel walked through the Red Sea and did not drown. The disciples fed more than five thousand people with five mini-muffins and two sardines and had more left over then when they started. And just Thursday morning I sat down with Terrie and Jeannette at the Chamber of Commerce to discuss how the Chamber's Education Foundation might replicate our program and bring volunteers from local churches into all 10 schools in the Foley High School feeder pattern. God has amazing things in mind.
And all God asks for is our trust. Trust that when he asks you to do something he will equip you to do it. As the sign in my office says, "What would you do if you knew you would not fail?" God said to Moses, "I will be with you, and here's how you'll know you've done the right thing, when you are standing on this very mountain praising my name." Jesus said to the disciples, "Make the people sit down" and then as the meal ended he said, "gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be wasted." With God nothing is wasted; be it five loaves and two fish among five thousand plus people or your ability to utilize a copy machine or your knowledge of the alphabet or your keen understanding of the Dewey Decimal system. God takes our gifts, large and small, and turns them into amazing blessings for the honor and glory of his name.
What gift will you offer the Lord? What is he asking you to do that you're hedging your bets on by asking, "who am I that I should accomplish such a great and impossible task?" Is he calling on you to teach Sunday school? Is he calling you to volunteer in the office on Tuesday mornings? Is he calling you to sing in the choir or read the lessons on Sunday, or start something brand new like a food pantry or a mother's day out program? I have no idea what God is calling you to do this day, but I am certain he's calling. I assure you that his promise to stand beside you is trustworthy. I know that with his power at work within you, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish. Offer him your gifts, you will not be disappointed. Amen.

July 23, 2009

always a word of hope

On Monday I said my rule was that I don't preach the Psalm, and that is still my rule, but we are discussing the Psalm during the Christian Formation hour this summer, and I really think Sunday's conversation might be a whole lot of fun. As far as I can tell from a quick perusal of the BCP lectionary, Psalm 14 was not read as a Sunday lesson, and somewhere in VA, Efel is rejoicing that it will be read this Sunday.

On the heels of David and his illicit and horribly unclean rondezvous with Bathsheba, this Psalm adds the the very heavy Old Testament tone for this Sunday. It feels like it wants to add to the notion that the OT is nasty and the NT is happy clappy, but to assume that is to miss the entirety of the Psalm.

Even as "there is none who have done good..." God still promises deliverance for his people Isreal. Grace abounds, even in Psalm 14. I haven't done the research myself, but if I recall my Hebrew Bible from seminary, there is nary a word of judgment in all of the OT that isn't followed in due time with a word of hope.

God has always, is always, and will always be about restoration - even when it seems as that there isn't a single person left on earth who desires to do his will.

July 22, 2009

The power at work in us

There is a theme beginning to appear for me in the end of the Ephesians letter and the feeding of the 5000 narrative. It is bassed on Paul's notion that God, "by the power working in us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine."

Two things are of note in this rising theme. First, that God works "by the power working in us..." It is not out of the realm of possibility that God will intervene supernaturally, but more often than not, he works through broken humans like you and like me. Jesus doesn't "poof" up something to eat, but works through the little boy who Andrew found with five loaves and two fish (not two loaves and five fish as the class cross of the VTS class of 2006 might have you believe).

Secondly, that he uses to "accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine." "What good is this among so many," Andrew wondered aloud. Well, if you'll just give him a moment, God's gonna blow your socks off. So much is created that a) everyone of the group of 5000+ is stuffed silly and b) more is taken up than they started with.

God's waiting for you to offer whatever it is you have to him. Is it musical talent? Is it public speaking skill? Is it the ability to swing a hammer? Is it time? Or is it money? Whatever you've got, God'll use it through you to "accomplish abuntantly far more then you can ask or imagine."

Homily for St. Mary Magdalene

Even more so than the story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead, the story of Saint Mary Magdalene is perhaps the greatest story of redemption in the gospel tradition. Mary, saddled with the anguish of seven demons, was healed by Jesus and thereafter devoted her life to his ministry. She followed Jesus with the twelve. She stood at the foot of his cross while at least 11 of the disciples had fled in fear. All four Gospels tell us that she was among the women who, just after dawn on Sunday, headed to his tomb to finish preparing his body. And, as John tells us, she was the Apostle to the Apostles, the first to share the good news, "I have seen the Lord!"
In the life of St. Mary Magdalene we see the truth of Paul's message to the Church in Corinth, "If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away,... everything has become new!" Her life is, for us a lesson in miracles. It is clear from Scripture that Jesus did not see his ministry as being centered on healing - his focus was on proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Yet, he healed and exorcised and changed water into wine with great frequency. His miracles, however, weren't done just to perform magic; he never healed someone just to heal someone - it always came with a word of teaching behind it. His miracles were signs of the Kingdom - glimpses into the way things were meant to be - reasons to hope and to ask questions and to change lives. Reasons to enter the Kingdom now and work toward its fullness this day.
Mary, having been exorcised of her seven demons, took that call to heart and devoted the rest of her days to the Kingdom of God. She gave up all that she knew and all social convention to follow an itinerant rabbi. She stood in shame and horror as he died upon the cross. She did her faithful duty as she went to the tomb. And she shared the good news of restoration far and wide in the years after Jesus' resurrection; following his example of sign AND message.
One tradition concerning Margy Magdalene says that, over time, Mary became a very influential person and found her way into an invitation to a banquet given by the Emperor Tiberius. When she met him, following the tradition of the day, she carried a plain egg in her hand, a symbol of new life, and proclaimed "Christ is risen!" The Emperor laughed, and said that Christ rising from the dead was as likely as the the egg in her hand turning red while she held it. Before he finished his sentence, the egg in her hand had turned a bright red. She was then permitted to share the Gospel that had so dramatically changed her life with the entire imperial house.
The Good News of God in Jesus Christ is that in Him we are made new. While we await the fulfillment of the new heaven and new earth at the end of time, the Kingdom of God is not some far away place and far away time, but available here and now. Accepting the great gift of forgiveness, allowing God to make us whole, seeing the signs and wonders of life as invitations into a lifetime of redemption is the lesson I believe we learn from Saint Mary of Magdala. Her transformed life is not for her alone, but available to each of us who professes with our lips and believes in our hearts that we too "have seen the Lord!"
This day the Church celebrates one of its most controversial saints, but putting all rumors and doubts aside, we have a great lesson to learn from Mary Magdalene - Jesus is in the business of changing lives. May he change your life this day, may he renew you with his Spirit and motivate you to proclaim with Mary that "Christ is Risen!" Amen.

July 20, 2009

the usual monday routine

I probably should have noted in my post from last week, "A Day in the Life" that not everyday starts at 430 or ends in the waiting room at the mechanics. Today is a more typical Monday - catching up on emails, thinking about my homily for Wednesday's healing service, and deciding which lesson to focus on for Sunday.

This week offers three interesting options (of those we've already selected - and the Psalm is nice too, but I have a standard policy to not preach the psalm - not sure why, just a rule I have).

2 Samuel tells the story of David and Bathsheba complete with a peeping Tom, impure extramarital sexual relations, an "oopsie" pregnancy, and conspiracy to commit murder. It is one of those lessons you read and say, "do I think the congregation will hear this lesson and be so stunned that I have no choice but to preach on it?"

In Ephesians we hear Paul's prayer for the Church in Ephesus. It is full of beautiful language that we have gotten very comfortable using - God's riches in glory, the bredth, length, heighth and depth of God's love for us; His power to do infinately more that we can ask or imagine. One of those lessons that you read and say, "Paul' s wordiness is on the level of Mark Twain, but sometimes his poetry is just magnificent."

Finally, the lesson from John's Gospel that fills in the gap we left in Mark's gospel las week with the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on water. The sort of lesson you read and say "a) why didn't we have part of this last week instead of 2 paragraphs of transition scenes and b) which do I choose the 5000 or the walking on water bit?"

All three have their merit and all three have their challenges. It is a Sunday where the temptation to touch on all three is strong, but the knowledge that gong that way will result in one confused preacher and 175 or so confused worshippers. More prayerful consideration is required, but it should be a week full of fun research, exegetical wrangling, and several re-writes (though I'm hoping to avoid the Sunday morning at 5am rewrite from the last time I preached).

Readings for Proper 12, Year B

2 Samuel 11:1-15

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I couldn't have said it better... ever.

A great post from The Center Aisle Blog

John Ohmer, a priest in Leesburg, VA, has a great analogy for the bohemith that is the Episcopal Church:

"[W]e’re still trying to make the horseshoe factory of General Convention and 815 (Episcopal Church headquarters) more efficient and responsive so that horseshoes are more affordable for local congregations.

And most of us switched over to automobiles a few years ago."

July 16, 2009

a God without walls

I have to say that I absolutely love the 2 Samuel lesson for this coming Sunday. I love that God isn't all about getting walled up in a fancy and expensive Temple. I like that he says, "really, you want to build me a house? How about this, I'll build you a house instead, ok?"

I'm guessing here, but I have the think that the Church started building buildings the day after the Emporer Constantine said he was cool with Christianity. Over the years the buildings have been huge and expensive; small and beautiful; multi-use; orante; and simple, but always with one goal in mind - to give God a place to live.

But what God seems to say here is "I don't need a place to live. I'm always moving, always active, always looking for hearts and minds and actions to change." The back cover of Rob Bell's latest book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians says, "There is a church not too far from us that recently added a $25 million addition to their building. The local newspaper ran a front-page story not too long ago about a study revealing that one in five peopel in his city lives in poverty. This is a book about those two numbers."

Have a place where the body of Christ can come together to worship the Lord God Almighty is not a bad thing. That place costing millions, being impossible to heat and cool, and generally sucking the money, time, energy, and life out of the congregation - that is a problem.

Our God is a God without walls. He doesn't need high ceilings, brass candlesticks, or fancy organs. He doesn't need anything. What he wants, however, is quite simple. He wants you and he wants me and he wants us now. That's it.

July 15, 2009

finally, somebody gets it

This Sunday will be the third in a row that deals with the ongoing struggle to identify who or what Jesus is.

On the 5th we heard the story of Jesus' hometown visit. Those folks knew Jesus, or so they thought, and his hocus-pocus-holier-than-thou-rabbi-stuff was not welcome there. He was Mary's boy (not Joseph's), just a carpenter, who did he think he was?

Last week we heard from Herod who knew, or so he thought, who Jesus was. He was John, who Herod beheaded, risen from the dead. His miracles and exorcisms were based on some sort of supernatural-post-death-casper-the-friendly-ghost-magic. Guilt-ridden, Herod wondered what JBap's return might mean.

This week, we hear about two crowds, or better said, the regular folk, who recognized Jesus from a far and ran (they did not walk) to where he was to touch even the hem of his robe. Finally, somebody gets it. Or do they? Still seems very magic centered; very supernaturally based exuberance. What the crowd gets that the other two stories didn't, however, is his teaching. Miracles come only when the Word is proclaimed. Jesus' power from God is manifest only when the Kingdom of God is made known. Repent and be forgiven = be made whole = in some cases be healed physically or emotionally or mentally = in all cases be healed spiritually and return to God's loving arms.

Maybe the crowds still didn't get it. We'll hear in a couple of weeks that the disciples still aren't getting it either as they fight over the VP and Secretary of State positions in Jesus' kingdom. But what they receive from Jesus, more than the physical healing, is the chance to hear and accept his message. The Kingdom of God has come near, repent and return to the Lord.

July 14, 2009

a day in the life

Over the last few years, I've talked with a handful of people who were interested in full-time ordained ministry, and on almost every occasion I've had to field the question, "what is a day like as a priest?" Most often I say, "it is different everyday." Today, though, I'm thinking that today is the example I'd like to give. So while the circus in Anaheim gets the headlines, here is a day in the life of an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church.

4:30am - the alarm goes off. it is way too early. baby and wife are up already (baby is hungry) still it is way too early.

5:30am - hit the road for the 50 minute trip to Baptist Hospital in Pensacola, FL.

6:00am(ish) - see the sun rise over Perdido Bay - breathtaking!

6:20am - arrive at Baptist Hospital just in time to catch D being rolled from pre-op to the OR a full 1 hour and 10 minutes before her scheduled surgery. Anoint D with oil and pray in the middle of the hallway with disgruntled orderly waiting impatiently beside.

6:27am - arrive with D's husband at the Baptist Cafeteria for breakfast - they don't open until 6:30.

6:30am - load up a tray with powdered eggs, salty grits, sausage and coffee and enjoy stories from D's husband about life as a Navy Bombardier.

6:50am - notice lady standing awkwardly next to the table and ask her what I can do. "are you a priest?" she asks.

<-- I look like this, and so my answer is of course, "yes ma'am" "can you visit my dad?"
"sure thing, it'd be my pleasure."
Get dad's room number and name and finish breakfast with D's husband.

7:30 - leave D's husband in the surgery waiting room to visit random woman's dad. we pray, he begins to vomit profusely. Daughter asks if I have oil. I do. Anoint dad, pray some more, he vomits several more times. As I prepare to leave, dad looks up from his bucket and says, "you're a catholic priest right?" daughter says and I echo, "yes." (Not really a lie as I am ordained a priest in Christ's one holy catholic and apostolic church).

7:50 - return to surgery waiting where phone call comes in that D's surgery is just starting a full 20 minutes late.

8:00 - meet man sitting next to D's husband whose wife is also having surgery, who is also catholic and thinks I am too.

8:05 - D's husband asks about my wife and daughter.

8:15 - leave D's husband again to head across town to Sacred Heart Hospital where another parishioner was admitted yesterday.

8:30 - arrive at Sacred Heart, visit with, laugh with, talk seriously with, and pray with B.

9:15 - leave B and his wife to return to Baptist.

9:30 - arrive back at Baptist. On the way in, encounter two men who need money for a bus to the food stamp office. Having no cash, I say, "sorry, but God bless you."

9:35 - return to surgery waiting room where D's husband has been joined by Third Born Child - surgery is complete, all is well, waiting to meet D in recovery

9:45 - I excuse myself, after checking in again with guy sitting next to D's husband about his wife, and return to car for 50 minute drive to office.

10:40 - arrive at office, send flash email message about Thursday's men's dinner. Meanwhile, the rector is working on getting some new shoes for the transient who has been using our chapel as a safe haven when storms roll through. Rector leaves to get shoes.

10:45 - rector calls to say his wife is ill and he needs me to tak over the shoe mission.

10:55 - pick up P to head to Wally-World for new shoes.

11:15 - leave Wally-World with new shoes and head toward the beach where P will spend his day. He plays me several nice harmonica tunes on the way.

12:30pm - arrive home for lunch.

1:00pm - drop second car off for tire repair, walk to office, and, as usual, end up in a good conversation about the scriptures of Sunday with the rector.

2:00 - help parents fax some stuff

2:15 - sit down to blog

2:33 - finish blog and consider heading home, but remember that car is still at shop. d'oh!

July 13, 2009

a word we need to hear

I just finished reading a thoughtful piece by a dear friend on the issue of same sex blessings and the Episcopal Church. The comment conversation that has followed, is, as is to be expected, less than civil. I am also thinking about today's hearings for Justice Sotomayer, and am generally underwhelmed currently at the tenor of conversation in America. As the foolishness of the pseudo-liberal-conservative-divide gets more and more apparent, the adherents of both extremes - fundamentalists and fundaliberals - get more and more angry and less and less charitable, and quite frankly I fear where the escalation will take us. We fancy ourselves sophisticated westerners, but I'm not so sure that fists and guns and bombs won't, at some point, seem reasonable.

But today, in the letter from Paul to the Church in Ephesus, I hear a word of hope. Paul, speaking to Gentiles and Jews, uncircumsized and circumsized gives them this vision - "For [Jesus Christ] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us.

If the majority of American's still profess to be Christian and if Judeo-Christian morality and ethics still, for the most part, define the debates in our government, then why are we ignoring so blatently the fact that as Jesus breathed his last the great curtain of the temple was torn in two; rent asunder? Why do we insist on thinking that God is on my side and not on yours? Why does it have to be and either/or conversation? In Christ there is no east or west, in him no north or south. In Christ there is no either/or. In Christ there is only peace; only walls of division being torn down; only the end of hostility.

On this day my prayer is for the end of hostility in all the world, but most especially in the Church I love and the nation I pledge allegience to. May God remind us all daily of the peace of Christ that could settle even the differences between Jew and Gentile.

Readings for Proper 11, Year B

2 Samuel 7:1-14a

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion onour weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindess we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,n ow and for ever. Amen.

Sermon for Proper 10, Year B

For the first time in the two year history of our Tuesday morning pastor's
Bible study, we did not spend our time looking at and working with the
Gospel lesson for today. The group gathered, we engaged in some small
talk, and then, almost in unison said, “why is this section of Mark 6 a stand
alone lesson for Sunday?” None of us, at the time, planned on preaching the
Gospel lesson, so we focused instead on the lessons from 2nd Samuel and
As the week went by, however, I began to think harder about this text.
We have it as a stand alone lesson for this Sunday for a reason. I thought
and I prayed and I consulted friends and I read facebook feedback, and by
the time sermon writing time rolled around, it seemed apparent that I
needed to preach on this very strange text. I just don't think we can all go
home today saying, “what was the deal with that Gospel lesson?”
First, some context. If you'll remember back to last Sunday, we heard of
Jesus' disgrace in his hometown. Recall that he was “unable to perform any
miracles there, except for laying hands on a few people and healing them.”
Undeterred Jesus leaves town and moves from village to village proclaiming
the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near. The response to his
message is picking up so much momentum that Jesus has a hard time
keeping up with all the places and people who want to see him, so he sends
out the twelve, in groups of two, with his name and his authority to preach
the good news, to heal the sick, and to cast out demons. Things are looking
up for the Kingdom of God. Its full time staff has gone from one group of 13
to six groups of two plus Jesus – a 700% increase.
Lest we, the reader, get too excited, and too complacent in the fact that
Jesus' message is being well received, Mark stops, mid-story, and takes us
to the fortress of Machaerus, the most menacing of homes of Herod of
Galilee. “[A fortress that] stood on a lonely ridge, surrounded by terrible
ravines, overlooking the East side of the Dead Sea. It was one of the
loneliest and grimmest and most unassailable fortresses in the world”
(Barclay, 172). We find ourselves in the middle of a conversation in Herod's
court. The other side of Jesus' message traveling so swiftly and being
received by so many is that he had gained the attention of the powers that
be. Who is Jesus, they asked, trying hard to figure out what his challenge to
their power might be. A guilt ridden Herod is quite certain who Jesus is – he
is John the Baptist, who he beheaded – raised from the dead.
As the Kingdom of God is picking up steam – the Kingdom of the World
once again rears its ugly and powerful head to remind us that we are living
in a period of waiting; what my seminary professors loved to call “the
already and the not yet.” For Mark's Church that means that Jesus has
already been raised from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God,
but he has not yet returned to finish off the Kingdom of darkness, the
Kingdom of this world, the Kingdom of Rome for good.
For Herod, this already and not yet plays out in his bipolar relationship
with John the baptist. “Herod was the one who had ordered the arrest of
John, put him in chains, and sent him to prison at the nagging of Herodias,
his brother Philip's wife. John had provoked Herod by naming his
relationship with Herodias 'adultery.' Herodias, smoldering with hate,
wanted to kill John, but didn't dare because Herod was in awe of him.
Convinced that he was a holy man, Herod gave John special treatment.
Whenever he listened to him he was miserable with guilt – and yet he
couldn't stay away. Something in John kept pulling him back” (The
Message). What kept Herod coming back? I believe that he was compelled
by the message John preached. Herod heard hope in the call to repentance
and the promise of forgiveness. Herod hoped to be free from his
imprisionment of guilt, but over and over again was unable to accept the call
to righteousness; he enjoyed his position too much, he feared weakness too
much. The Spirit was at work in the heart of Herod; calling him again and
again to listen to the message of John the Baptist. Without the Spirit at
work, there is no reason for Herod to misconstrue the Spirit's call to right
relationship and instead be “miserable with guilt.” In an effort to escape his
prison of guilt, Herod imprisoned the one who made him feel so bad. But
still there was something about John that kept him coming back. His guilt
and the freedom that John offered lived side-by-side; each struggling for
control in Herod's life, until one fateful night it all blew up in his face. At a
party he threw for his own birthday, Herod's step-daughter brought the
conflict to its conclusion; where it wasn't guilt or freedom that ultimately
won, but pride. Herod's pride, his ultimate “not yet” won and the head of
John the Baptist was handed over to Salmoe on a platter.
For us, the already and the not yet means realizing just how much like
Herod each of us really is. While I'm fairly certain none of us has ordered
the beheading of a prophet from God, most us know what it is like to
struggle with misplaced guilt, with pride, with lust, with greed and on and
on. Even with a pretty solid understanding that God has already forgiven us
from all our sin; past, present, and future – we spend a heck of a lot of our
time in the not yet; feeling guilty, harboring resentment, and ultimately
building up walls between us and God.
The freedom that comes from knowing and loving God is often
overshadowed by a list of oughts and should nots that feel almost impossible
to live up to. Christianity is often sold as a package of self-help steps
toward a better life - if you follow these 800 rules. Even our Collect for
today assumes at least some series of oughts. But oughts, more often than
not, lead to guilt, and I don't think guilt has any place in the kingdom of
The good news is, as Paul told the Church in Ephesus, living in the
Kingdom of God is much easier than sorting through a long list of laws. God
is so kind, so generous, that he has cleared up the mystery that surrounds
his will and made his plan for the fullness of time known to us in the
ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God's will is simply this, that all
things in heaven and on earth would be gathered up in him. Do you see
how freeing that is? A life of faith in God through Jesus Christ is not a guilt
ridden journey of missed opportunities and failed attempts to do all the
shouldas, wouldas, and couldas that come our way. No, the kingdom life is
one where the only question is this, "am I helping God with the restoration
of all of Creation?"
In that party hall on that fateful evening, Herod had a choice. He either
risked embarrassment in front of the crowd and risked being changed by
John the Baptist's message by allowing him to live or he kept his relatively
comfortable station in life by allowing Salmoe to have her wish. Herod's sin
that night was not murder, but it was his pride that lead to another moment
in which the world chose to undermine God's work of redemption.
This day and every day, you have a similar choice. On one hand the
world offers you pride, power, and prestige in return for a lifetime of
thinking of yourself first and others second. On the other, the Lord God
Almighty has already given you the freedom that comes from not worrying
about self; all he asks is that in response you choose redemption, love,
compassion, and the restoration of his good creation over self, over pride,
and over guilt. It isn't that hard; help a stranger with her groceries, pick up
that coke can you would rather step over, spend the night with Family
Promise, help a kindergardener learn to read, bring attention to the plight of
Christians in Darfur, speak out against racism, sexism, agism, love God and
love your neighbor as yourself. The freedom that comes from not worrying
about self opens up all sorts of time with which so much restorative work
can be done.
This morning, in a very strange gospel lesson, we hear the call of God to
give up the life of oughts and shoulds and guilt. We hear him asking us to
worry not about ourselves but instead to work as his hands and feet and
ears and shoulders to help fulfill his will, that all things in heaven and on
earth might be brought back into relationship with him. The Lord has given
you a choice this day, I pray that you choose freedom over guilt. May the
kingdom of God reign this day and forever more. Amen.

July 8, 2009

thankful, again, for social networking

Though most of my thanks goes to my wife, for her great insight into the Gospel text for Sunday. I think she changed my mind (as she is wont to do) and I'll preach Herod, Herodias, and JBap this week. Here's why, becuase if you are sitting in church, you've been where Herod is, and pride and guilt still carry a lot of weight.

She got to her interpretation by reading Eugene Peterson's translation in The Message. Here it is, see if it doesn't help make sense of why Mark includes it (and moreso why the lectionary folk gave it its own week in Ordinary Time).

14King Herod heard of all this, for by this time the name of Jesus was on everyone's lips. He said, "This has to be John the Baptizer come back from the dead—that's why he's able to work miracles!" 15Others said, "No, it's Elijah." Others said, "He's a prophet, just like one of the old-time prophets." 16But Herod wouldn't budge: "It's John, sure enough. I cut off his head, and now he's back, alive." 17-20Herod was the one who had ordered the arrest of John, put him in chains, and sent him to prison at the nagging of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife. For John had provoked Herod by naming his relationship with Herodias "adultery." Herodias, smoldering with hate, wanted to kill him, but didn't dare because Herod was in awe of John. Convinced that he was a holy man, he gave him special treatment. Whenever he listened to him he was miserable with guilt—and yet he couldn't stay away. Something in John kept pulling him back. 21-22But a portentous day arrived when Herod threw a birthday party, inviting all the brass and bluebloods in Galilee. Herodias's daughter entered the banquet hall and danced for the guests. She dazzled Herod and the guests. 22-23The king said to the girl, "Ask me anything. I'll give you anything you want." Carried away, he kept on, "I swear, I'll split my kingdom with you if you say so!"
24She went back to her mother and said, "What should I ask for?" "Ask for the head of John the Baptizer." 25Excited, she ran back to the king and said, "I want the head of John the Baptizer served up on a platter. And I want it now!" 26-29That sobered the king up fast. But unwilling to lose face with his guests, he caved in and let her have her wish. The king sent the executioner off to the prison with orders to bring back John's head. He went, cut off John's head, brought it back on a platter, and presented it to the girl, who gave it to her mother. When John's disciples heard about this, they came and got the body and gave it a decent burial.

The other piece of all this comes from a convention friend named Marcy. She is quick to point out the larger context of this story - the gap between the sending of the 12 and their return with stories of healings and exorcisms. The kingdom of God is alive and kicking in some places, but at this birthday party of Herod's, well the kingdom of the world is showing its muscle too.

Good stuff. Thanks for all the help everybody. Keep the thoughts coming.

July 7, 2009

How do you preach this?

Generally speaking, I'm ok with the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). It rightfully picks up some things that were missing from our old lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). But there are occasions when I read the lessons for a Sunday, especially the Gospel lesson as that is where most preachers focus their attentions, and say to my self, "how do you preach this?"

I'm in such a position this week. Last Sunday the RCL folk combined several of the old BCP lessons giving us a hodgepodge of preachable texts, which left us this week with Mark 6.14-29, The Death of John the Baptist. I'm starting to believe that somebody in the RCL camp has a crush on ol' J.Bap because he shows up all the time. This week, in particular, I have no idea what to say. What teachable moment is there in the pericope for this Sunday. I hope my faithful reader(s) can help.

Do you go simple and say, "don't get drunk, let your step-daughter dance for you, and make promises you're going to regret"? I dunno, seems pretty obvious. Do you preach on ancient near east marriage customs, focusing on why Herod and Herodias' marriage is unlawful? What's the purpose of that? I just don't know what you preach on with this piece of narrative. It is, don't get me wrong, a powerful piece in the larger story of Mark's Gospel, but as a stand alone lesson for a Sunday morning, it leaves a little something to be desired.

So dear reader(s) what say you? What will you be preaching this week?

July 6, 2009

The Will of God

If you run in Christian circles long enough, say 15 or 20 minutes, you will inevitably hear someone say that they are "seeking the will of God." We churchy types use this to mean all sorts of things. I'm seeking the will of God on whether I should ask that beautiful woman out to dinner. I'm seeking the will of God on whether I should change jobs. I'm seeking the will of God on dessert tonight. Etc. Etc.

We use it as an excuse for wise action, an excuse for poor action, and sometimes an excuse for inaction. We seek the will of God... a lot.

What I find interesting this morning is that Paul gives us the will of God. Paul, the Christian whose rules for life many post-enlightenment Western Christians spend most of their time trying to follow, gives us a glimpse into what God's will really is - and it has nothing to do with women talking in church, marriage, or homosexuality.

"With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan of the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth."

It is really that simple. The will of God is to bring all things back to him; earth and stars, men and women, dogs and cats, trees and bees - ALL things.

So then, the question that we "ought" to be asking as we struggle to figure out the will of God on the issues mentioned above is will whatever I'm thinking about doing further the purpose of bringing all things back into God or not? If not, well than it isn't the will of God, no matter how tastey that $1000 sundae might be.

Readings for Proper 10, Year B

2 Samuel 6.1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 24
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and undersand what things they ought to do, and also may have grave and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives andreigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.