September 30, 2009

the missing link

I am appreciative of the folk who put together the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). I am very grateful that they didn't leave the divorce pericope all by itself but added to it the bit about entering the kingdom like a child. But up until yesterday, I could't work them together. There was a missing link.

And then, it was found. It was found in my lectionary group yesterday, and I am thankful to Jay, JodyBeth, and Keith for helping me find it. The link is submission to authority and discipline. Moses made soft the rule on divorce because the people were insistent on doing it their way. Their way led to marriages that were not mutually beneficial, which led to divorce (love wasn't really part of the equation yet).

Enter the kingdom of God like a child means realizing that God's way, the way of discipline and discipleship is better than our way. It means letting go of all the we've "learned" and getting back to the basics. Trusting that another has our best interests in mind, and doing what they command knowing that it will lead to the best possible outcome (today, tomorrow, and beyond).

The journey of discipleship is one of letting go our own ways and following The Way, it is the path of children.

September 29, 2009

Mark's chronology

There are times that, for the disciples' sake, I hope that Mark's ordering of events is wrong. I mean seriously guys - are you that hard headed?

Mark 9 - The Transfiguration, The failed healing of the boy with an evil spirit, the arguing over who is the greatest, trying to stop the competition, and the cut it off narrative.

Mark 10 - Jesus teaches about divorce, then the disciples yell at people for bringing their children to Jesus, the rich young man, a 3rd prediction of death, and then James and John vying for top spot.

C'mon Mark, tell us you are wrong. Tell us that the disciples aren't that daft.

Or maybe it is better if they are. My faith journey often looks like the highs and lows of Mark 9 and 10. I get it for a minute, then I realize that "I" got it, forget about God and start vying for top spot again. Maybe there is a lot of hope in the stupidity of the disciples. There is for me anyway.

September 28, 2009

St. Francis and Romans

This Sunday, October 4th is the Feast of St. Francis a well known friend of nature and animals. In our tradition we don't usually celebrate a feast like this on Sunday as it is reserved as the Lord's Day. But it is almost too easy this week. The lesson from Romans begs that the preacher spend some time talking about what it means that God "subjected all things at our feet."

In the course of human history we've seen the two extremes of subjugation. We've seen kings that exploited their land, exploited their people, exploited their livestock and in the end saw their demise. Sure, there were periods of relative bliss for those kings, but in the end exploitation is not sustainable. And unfortunately, most ruling powers end up here because exploitation seems to much easier. And I guess it is; at least in the short term.

The American ruling power seems to find itself realizing that exploitation is not a long-term option. Whether or not it is too late for that realization is up to someone else, but what Scripture tells us is that while all things are subject to us, we are still subject to the King who created all things. As Brian McLaren says, (my paraphrase), "nature is not our mother but our sister, and we should treat her as such; working hard to protect her."

Seems like a good time to talk about this stuff, don'tcha think?

Readings for Proper 22, Year B

Job 1:1; 2:1-20
Pslam 26
Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 8

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

September 23, 2009

The Man in the Mirror

"If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and make the change."

Wise words from the late Michael Jackson's song "Man in the Mirror."

"If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off."

Wise, albeit disturbing words from Jesus in Mark's Gospel.

At our pastor's study yesterday we bounced all over the text for Sunday. We talked about children. We talked about competition. We talked about how weird and choppy the Esther text is. But our energy was around this idea that sanctification is not a passive process. And it goes both ways.

M. told the story of a trouble maker in his church who the elders ignored for a long, long time. Finally, he could be ignored no more and upon reflection they realized that their passivity had been the stumbling block for this man's journey of faith. Sometimes you've got to tell the truth in love.

The other side of that is, if you aren't happy with your relationship with God, YOU have to do something about it. Miracles happen, but more often real change occurs because a person, having discerned the will of God, got off their butt and did it. You want to hear God's voice? Well then find a quiet space and time and listen. You want to overcome your lust? How about stepping away from the computer screen filled with pornographic images.

This sounds awfully close to self-help, which I abhor in the church. And so I feel like I have to clarify. These changes are all God-help because God is the instigator. The desire to hear God's voice comes from God - the time and space to do it, well that's up to you. The desire to eliminate recurring sins from your life comes from God - actually doing it, well that's gotta be on you.

If its your hand - cut it off
Foot - cut it off
Eye - pluck it out

Want to get rid of that sin that keeps showing up, the thing my friend Erin calls "Uncle Baggage"? Well let it know it isn't welcome anymore. Take a look at yourself in the light of Christ and make the change.

September 22, 2009

"Well, we'll just offer something different everyday...

and hope somebody shows up."

I acutally hear somebody say this quote once. Their church was struggling with getting new faces in the door. They were, in their opinion, struggling so much that it was of greatest import that they get new bodies, new pledging units in, or they would most certainly fail.

Desperation must never be a motivator for parish ministry. The excitement of the possibility of reaching new people with the saving grace of Jesus Christ - fine. Getting the budget holes filled - not fine.

And while I'm preaching to the choir, allow me to remind you that programming for the sake of proramming will do nothing but burn peopleout. It isn't about who's doing the most - who's got the best programs - who's got the better U2charist (ugh). It is about being faithful to the call of good. As Jesus tells his disciples, there is no competition - only fellow ministers. And so, we are called to be faithful to the admonintion of James and "pray, sing, anoint, and seek forgiveness."

cartoon from the Church Pension Fund - (c) 2002

September 21, 2009

everyone will be salted with fire


Umm... Jesus... I think... well... maybe you've got that wrong. I mean, I know you will taste a bitter and tortuous death and descend into hell for three days, but well, you do that so I don't have to right?

I've read this verse many many times, and ever noticed that Jesus says that "everyone will be salted with fire." And what does that mean anyway, to be salted with fire? Eugene Peterson (there you go Peter A.) translates it "everyone will go through the refiner's fire." I guess I get that. Either the impurity goes away now or it goes away later, but if you want into the Kingdom, its gotta go away.

So then, Jesus is telling his disciples (and us) that perhaps we should choose sanctification now over fire later. Sounds like a good idea to me.

Readings for Proper 21, Year B

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
Psalm 124
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Psalm 19:7-14
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; 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 20, Year B

This afternoon at 4:30 fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students from around Foley will gather to form a new community. This new group, an ecumenical youth ministry between St. Paul's, Foley United Methodist Church, and 1st Presbyterian Church in Foley is called 3by3. I can't remember why we decided on that name, all I know is I prayed long and hard that another name would arise from the imaginations of the leadership team, but alas 3by3 stuck. And the more I think about it, the more I like the name. Three churches working together to reach kids who so often fall through the programming cracks. Jesus sent his disciples out two by two, but we need more help than that so we're going 3by3. Anyway, this evening event is called The Great Foley Road Trip.
Kids and drivers will load into vans and suvs and cars and leave their home churches to experience a new place, to meet new people, to find out that classmates of theirs are Christians too. They will, we hope, see that being a Christian can be cool at a time in their lives when cool is so very important. On a much more figurative level, we're hoping that these kids will join us adults on the journey of faith. We hope that in the Great Foley Road Trip they will begin to see that faith is a journey that we do not walk alone. It is a trip that should only be taken with friends who will care for each other along the road.
And as much as that meaning is important for our kids to come to know, it is vitally important that we know it too. We can't share a message that we don't know ourselves. And it just so happens that this morning we join up with Jesus and his disciples on what will be, for us, a six week, round-about journey to Jerusalem. What happens over the next six Sundays will be our own Great Road Trip as we walk together, eavesdropping on Jesus and his friends. We will walk where they walked, hear what they heard, see what they saw, and hopefully learn some profound truths while we're at it. And so, I invite you to join me and Keith over the next six weeks as we pack our bags and begin our journey along The Way. Before we get going, however, we need to lay out just a couple Rules of the Road.
Rule #1 - Don't be afraid to ask questions. As Jesus and his disciples begin this leg of their journey, they leave behind the mountain of the Transfiguration. Taking what was most likely a rather circuitous route, the group passed through the region of Galilee without, if at all possible, anyone knowing. Along the way Jesus told them again what being the Messiah, the chosen one of God, really meant. "The Son of Man," that is to say, Jesus, "is going to be betrayed into human hands, and be killed, and three days after they kill him, he will rise again." It had been about a week since the first time Jesus had talked like this. Last time, Peter had tried to talk Jesus out of it. And he got called Satan. This time the disciples are still clueless. Betrayed? Killed? Rise Again? None it makes any sense. But they were afraid to ask.
Have you ever been afraid to ask a question? Sure you have. It is one of those universals. Life, death, taxes, and the fear of asking a question. Why? Why were you afraid to ask a question? Were you afraid of what the answer might be? Were you afraid you might look stupid in front of a group of people? Were you afraid to get out of your car in that particular neighborhood to ask for directions?
On this trip, there are no stupid questions. On this trip, there is no poking fun at someone's inability to understand. On this trip, all the neighborhoods are safe. So ask questions. As Keith so wisely reminded us last week, we learn by asking questions. What is that? How does it work? Why do you do it that way? This journey is all about discipleship, all about learning from The Teacher, so ask questions. Maybe if the disciples hadn't been afraid to ask questions we wouldn't need rule #2.
Rule #2 - There will be no competition. No greatest. No worst. If the disciples had engaged their teacher along the way on what he meant by "be betrayed, killed, and in three days rise again" they probably wouldn't have had time to argue amongst themselves about who was the greatest. Not that we can't understand their debate. Peter, James, and John had been the only ones allowed to see Jesus transfigured on the mountain. Surely they were number 1, 2 and 3. Numbers 4 through 12 had been unable to cast out a demon while the others were away. Maybe they could do something to make up for that mistake. What could they do to crush fingers as they climbed up the corporate ladder?
How much of your life is spent in pursuit of "the greatest" status? From grades to first string linebacker to the right college to the right job to the right title to the right car to the right house to the right beer to the right retirement portfolio to the right vacation spot to the right headstone on the right plot under the right tree. Whether we know it or not, the pursuit of the American Dream often means we spend the majority of our lives on the pathway toward "the greatest." But this way, this journey with Jesus is different. This way has but one "greatest" and that is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The rest of us - well we will be sorted out on a reverse scale. Which brings me to our last rule.
Rule #3 - Serve one another. Upon entering a house in Capernaum, Jesus sat down and said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." He took a little child - the very least in 1st century Palestine, (the rule wasn't women and children first here - no it was eldest to youngest and men first ). Jesus embraced this nothing of a person, this little child and said, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."
On this journey, the last, you will be first. The first, well just be ready to wait. If there were a greatest on this journey, and I remind you there is not, well he or she would be the servant. I think most of us have filled that role at one time or another. Breakfast chef. Elementary tutor. Altar guild trainee. Sunday school teacher. Yard mower. Junior Warden. Youth ministry volunteer. Lay reader. Acolyte. Torch Bearer. Servants. Hospitality workers. Caretakers. They who are never first. They who might not even think of themselves of worthy to be first. They... they will be first.
That's all. Three simple rules. #1 - don't be afraid to ask questions. #2 - There will be no competition. #3 - Serve one another. Taking a trip with Jesus is light on rules, but heavy on commitment. It is not a journey to be undertaken alone. Jesus knew that, so he found himself a group of 12 guys to walk with him, and when he sent them out, he sent them in pairs, and when he left them he told them to wait until somebody else, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, came to walk with them. There is not such thing as a lone ranger Christian. This journey is tough and so we do not walk it alone. At the very least, we gather here each week to commiserate, to share stories, and to be nourished at the table so that we can leave here prepared for another week of asking God questions, staying out of the world's competitions, and serving one another.
As we embark on this six week journey called "The Great Discipleship Road Trip" I encourage you to follow the rules. I hope that you will encourage one another. Call. Check-in. Send notes. Let your St. Paul's family members know that you are praying for them, and know that they are praying for you. Together, as disciples of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as servants of one another, we will come to know what it feels like to be first, to walk beside Jesus, knowing that it will only last a moment, for as soon as we get there, the work begins again.
May God give us strength for the journey ahead. May we strive to be first by being last of all and servant of all. Amen.

September 17, 2009

a preaching schtick

In seminary, there were, on a few occasions, people who decided that their one and only chance to preach in the seminary chapel should be accompanied by some sort of schtick or gimmick. I guess some of them worked. Sorta. I remember one guy who walked up the aisle with a walking stick, but I have no idea what he preached on. I remember a woman who told us nothing would be more profound than the silence, and then proceeded to stand there staring at us for what seemed like forever. I don't much care to remember what she was preaching on.

As a lectionary people, it isn't often that we get to run a theme through more than a couple of weeks. We don't get to do the 10 week sermon series that our Baptist brethern get to do. Excepting perhaps the next 6 sundays. This week we begin our journey "on the way" and along the way we will fill our bags with various discipleship tools; hospitality, service, relationships, right use of wealth, service (again), and faith.

Maybe I'll start a gimmick and see if Keith will carry it through. Discipleship carry-on anyone?

September 16, 2009

the argument

The context for our Gospel lesson for Sunday is kind of interesting. The Lectionary people have taken us forward from Mark 8.27-38 all the way to Mark 9.30-37. In between those two pericopes we have:
  • Jesus' proclomation that some standing with him will not pass away before the Kingdom is seen
  • The Transfiguration
  • The disciples' failure to heal a boy with an evil spirit
Their arguing seems to make a whole lot more sense to me now. Who will be a part of the "not pass away crowd." Only 1/4 of the group got to see Jesus chillin' with Moses and Elijah - shouldn't they be among "the greatest"? And why could none of them do what Jesus did? Surely the greatest should get the sweet superpowers. Right?

Notice that in his response, Jesus doesn't rebuke the group of 12 as sternly as one might expect. He doesn't negate their desire to be "the greatest" he just turns it on its head. The greatest is the least. The most powerful is the servant. One who extends hospitality useless useless child who can offer less than nothing in return - that's who wins the game.

Arguing over who the greatest might be will forever forget that Jesus called us to stand greatest on its head. But if, by some miracle, we were to remember that, imagine what the arguing might be like then. Well, I served lunch to 1000 homeless today. Oh yeah? I built a habitat house all by myself. Oh yeah? I opened my home to a family who lost theirs in a fire. Oh yeah? I'm being martyred tomorrow.

The bickering and one-ups-manship that tends to define "greatest" conversations is kinda silly in this new context. Kind of unneccesary. Still, we can forgive the disciples for arguing, for we would have done it too.

September 15, 2009

questions - not questioning

Keith's sermon last week was all about questions, "Who do people say that I am?" "Who do you say that I am?" Questions help us learn. Questions help us teach. And yet. And yet questions have become almost a bad thing in the 21st century American Church.

Jesus' disciples were on the way to Jerusalem with him, and once again, he tells them the plan that they don't want to hear. "I'm going to die and on the third day rise again." Mark tells us that they didn't understand, but were afraid to ask him what he was talking about.


Why were they, and why are we so afraid to ask God questions? Why are we so afraid to ask our priests questions about God, or about what they say about God?

Questions are fine. Questioning... well even questioning our faith, from time to time, is ok. It is how we learn. It is how we grow. It is how we develop. Had the disciples gathered the courage to ask Jesus what he was talking about, maybe they would have avoided the argument about who was the greatest and realized it ain't about greatness - its about childlike humility.

Come to think of it, children are pretty good at asking quesitons. Why? Why? Why?

September 14, 2009

a good sunday for a clergy conference

In my tradition, Episcopal, it is said that the Bishop is the pastor to the clergy of a diocese. As my boss says, "he's got the most dysfuncitonal congregation of any of us." Additionally unfortunate for the Bishop is that he only gets to see us as a group three or four times a year, and even then, rarely does he have the opportunity to preach to us, his gathered congregation.

In reading the lessons for this Sunday, it seems like a good week to let our parishioners have Sunday off, while the clergy gather together at the cathedral to listen to the bishop.

We all, I guess, need to be reminded against vainglory, envy, selfish ambition, and hypocrisy. It just feels like the last few weeks have been beat up on the membership weeks - and I want to cheerlead every once in a while. I guess the letter of James will have that effect, and I guess coming near the end of ordinary time will have that effect. But still. As I said two weeks ago in my sermon, the clergy are proof beyond a doubt that the devil works through pride for the downfall of the Church, and maybe, just maybe, this Sunday the bishop needs to tell us so.

Readings for Proper 20, Year B

Proverbs 31.10-31
Psalm 1
James 3.13-4.3, 7-8a
Mark 9.30-37

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

September 8, 2009

Sermon for Proper 18, Year B

Last week, Father Keith was very honest with us as he admitted that his place on THE LIST is pride. I sat just over there, listening and shaking my head in agreement because I too find myself struggling with pride. It is, I think, the greatest temptation for the clergy. Every other Sunday, I stand in the back of the church as you file past, shaking hands, and basking in the kind words - good sermon, great service, that sermon spoke to me. It is so easy to believe the hype. It is super simple to forget that I've forced you into the awkward position of coming up with something to say in the dreaded receiving line. I am a good preacher. I am a great preacher. I am great! It is so easy for me to fall into that trap.
But I'm fairly certain that pride is not a sin exclusive to the clergy. It probably wouldn't have made its way onto THE LIST if it weren't a more universal temptation. Pride is one of the three temptations that Satan himself tried to use on Jesus during his 40 days in the wilderness. Pride is the temptation of choice for marketing executives across the globe; buy this product and you will look better, feel better, be better. Unfortunately, pride and its close cousin self-reliance are even the motivations for many churches out there - YOU can get YOURSELF YOUR best life now.
Pride, however, is not the way into the kingdom of God. Lifting ourselves up by our own bootstraps, our own good works, our own efforts leads only to folly - another member of last week's dreaded LIST. It is only through humility, by remembering that God is God and I am not, that we are able to even begin to understand God's desires for us and for his Creation. In this morning's gospel lesson we have two prime examples of humility from the unnamed Syrophonecian woman and the anonymous "They" both of whom are said to have "begged" Jesus on behalf of someone else.
Jesus, in search of a little rest and relaxation from the constant onslaught of his own people, has decided to enter Gentile territory, the beach community of Tyre. Doing his best to stay under the radar, he settled into a house, and hoped to recoup a little. But as is the case in Mark's Gospel, immediately, his presence is known by those who need to know it. It is as if the Spirit just can't allow him to rest, the work, especially its expansion beyond the people of Israel must continue, right now. And so, immediately, a Syrophonecian woman arrives on the scene, she throws himself at Jesus' feet and begged Jesus to to cast the demon out of her daughter. The exchange that follows has all the markings of a prideful encounter, but I want to challenge us today to think that the woman was not claiming any sort of special place, she fully accepted Jesus' claim of the Gentiles as dogs, instead as one who had nowhere else to go, no self to rely on, she laid before Jesus fully resting on his ability to save her daughter.
Realizing that rest was not going to be an option, even in parts where had presumed he'd be unkown, Jesus prepared to return to Galilee but first he continued up the coast toward Sidon another port city on the Mediterranian Sea. During his travels a group of friends bring a man who is deaf and mute to Jesus and they beg Jesus to lay a hand on him.
That word - beg - has no other connotation than humility. No one begs from a position of pride. In fact, it is most often pride that keeps us from admitting any sort of weakness and asking for help. God asks us to put away our pride and rely on him for everything. The beginning of that reliance is trust.
In researching for my sermon this week, I ran across a story of pride and trust that just had to be shared. "It is the story of a man who falls over the edge of a cliff and manages by some miracle to grab a branch that stops his fall. Hanging in midair, growing weary, he cries out to God in desperation. 'Is there anyone up there?' Eventually a voice says, 'Let go of the branch.' The man continues to hang, in silence for a few moments, looking up at the rock ledge above and down at the cavernous drop below. Finally, he looks up and yells, 'Is there anyone else up there?'" (O'Driscoll)
We prayed this morning that God would grant us the ability to trust him with all our hearts. Something that, even as we prayed it, many of us thought to be impossible. When things are going well, do we trust that God will keep them that way, or do we tend to thank God for the help, but assume we can handle the rest on our own? When things are going poorly, do we trust that God will lift us out of despair, or do we tend to turn to work or alcohol or something else to raise us up? Or are we, no matter the circumstances, humble enough to place our trust in someone else?
The Syrophoenician woman was on her last gasp with her tormented daughter. The deaf/mute man's friends were on their last hope for him. And so, they begged for help. Most of us don't find ourselves in their predicament quite yet. Hope is not lost, the point of despair has not yet been reached. For most of us, the difficulty is remembering that even when we are not at the point of throwing ourselves at Jesus' feet and begging, we are still called to humility, to trust in God, to rely on him, and to gain our strength from him. Many of us, however, have been, are, or someday will, for a variety of reasons, be left with only one option - begging. For those of us who find ourselves there, the humility thing is easy - it is the trust thing that is hard. We aren't really wired with the ability to listen to a voice from above and let go of the branch.
And like I said earlier, it is hard even for those of us who are supposed be the experts. I want to end this morning with a story of humility and trust that last week, even I couldn't have imagined. As you've no doubt read or heard already, on October 3rd St. Paul's will begin offering four services a week - Wednesday at noon, Sunday at 730 and 10, and now Saturday at five15. This fourth service has been in the works since before I arrived on scene. Over the last two years, Keith and I have been really intentional about hanging on that branch, waiting and listening for a voice from above. And that voice has started to speak loud and clear. Saturday night. Five15. In the chapel. Something experiential, interactive, creative, with a touch of the ancient and a splash of the modern all wrapped up into one service where God meets us in Word and Sacrament. In order to make all that happen, however, we needed some stuff. So on Wednesday, I sent out a flash message asking you to look in your attics, guest rooms, and under beds to see if you had a digital piano to share with us. Within 24 hours, we had over $1300 in donations to make the digital piano and other audio/visual needs happen.
God is so good. I don't know if you've ever experienced the supremely cool feeling that comes from watching the Holy Spirit work and knowing that you get to be a part of it. If have, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, then know this. It is the most exciting and humbling experience of your life. To know that the Creator of everything has decided to allow you to help create something new is beyond awesome, it is quite possibly the coolest experience ever. Well at least top 5 - getting married and having a baby are up there too. But those blessings would not come, they could not come, if we had not a) given up the pride trap, b) embraced humility and c) trusted that the Lord would provide even something as silly as a digital piano.
Let go of the branch my brothers and sisters. Its a long fall from pride to humility, but it is so worth the ride. Amen.

September 2, 2009

Martyrs of New Guinea Sermon

Today we remember the Martyrs of New Guinea, slain on this day in 1942. Prior to preparing this sermon, I had never heard the story of the Martyrs of New Guinea, but now I know that our prayer for today is true, that while 10 were killed on this day in 1942, hundreds if not thousands of others went on to lay down their lives, in a more figurative way, for their friends, neighbors, and complete strangers.
New Guinea is the second largest non-continental island on the globe. It sits to the north of Australia and has a formidable topography. It is currently a divided island, held in part by Indonesia and in part by Papua New Guinea, but in reality it is the home to a thousand different tribes who speak more than 500 different languages. Christian missionaries were first sent to the island in the 1860s, but because of the difficult terrain, the varied cultures, and a huge language barrier, Christianity has spread very slowly.
In 1942 the Japanese invaded New Guinea and the island saw significant fighting in the south west pacific theater of World War 2. As the threat of war spread throughout the island, it became obvious to the white, European missionaries that they would be in the most danger, and many hoped to leave the island quickly. The talk of leaving became so loud that Bishop Philip Strong was forced to write to his clergy, "we must endeavor to carry on our work. God expects this of us. The church at home, which sent us out, will surely expect this of us. The people whom we serve expect it of us. We could never hold up our faces again if, for our own safety, we all forsook Him and fled, when the shadows of his Passion began to gather around Him in His spiritual and mystical body, the church in Papua."
Thanks in large part to the stirring words of Bishop Strong, the majority of missionaries stayed, and almost immediately their fears came true. Arrests became common place and on September 2, 1942, eight clergymen and two laymen were executed "as an example." Undeterred, in the years that followed many Papuan Christians of all denominiations risked their lives to care for the wounded in the ravages of World War 2.
Last Sunday, we heard James tell us that we should, "be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act-they will be blessed in their doing."
The martyrs and servant ministers of New Guinea followed the call of James to be doers even in the face of great danger. How much more then can we, who live in the relative comfort of the Foley, Alabama live into the call? As we stand in the midst of the Kingdom of God that has already come and yet is not fully known on this earth, how do we see ourselves? Are we clothed in white, washed clean in the blood of the lamb? Do we, by our words and deeds, stand before the throne of God and worship him day and night? Are we prepared to stand with Christ as a part of his mystical body to share by word and example the good news of redeeming grace?
Most likely, none of us will be called to literally lay down our life for a friend, but there are endless chances for use to lay it down figuratively. In service to others we imitate the martyrs of New Guinea and we imitate Jesus Christ. May we each, by the grace of God, have the power to choose to imitate Christ. Amen.


"Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet."

The structure of the third sentence above is quite interesting. "Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet."

This is reminicient of the passage a few weeks ago, where Jesus, having walked most of the way on the water, steps into the boat with his disciples, and immediatley the boat arrived where it was headed.

Mark is sort of known for his immediately(s), the message he is trying to share is entirely too important to wait on, but in this case it almost seems like something else is at work. Like the Spirit is moving through *gasp* Gentile territory telling those who need to see him that Jesus is there immediately upon his arrival. It is a moment where the will of the Father overcomes the will of the flesh and Jesus, as tired as his human body must have been, was faithful and he talked with the woman and eventually cast the demon out of her daughter.

I wish I was as tuned into the Spirit as this Gentile woman. I wish that the author of my life had to spend a lot of time coming up with clever ways of saying "immediately." But often it is a struggle to hear the still soft voice among the sundry distractions. Often, as I've said here before, God has to reach out with a 2by4 to get my attention. May God open my eyes and ears and mind and heart to his Spirit this day so that I too might rush immediately to where he calls.

September 1, 2009

The Problem

As I read and re-read the story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician Woman, I can't help but think that perhaps as a Church, Episcopalians (and those we've trusted to write our liturgies) are shooting ourselves in the foot. Read again the Collect for Sunday -

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always risist the proud who confide in their own strenght, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

NB - I am not a 1928 Book of Common Prayer Guy

But, look at the way we've changed how we approach God between 1928 and the most recent liturgies published for use.

1928 (Rite I) - And we most humbly beseech thee, O merciful Father, to hear us; and, of thy almighty goodness, vouchsafe to bless and sanctify, with thy Word and Holy Spirit, these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine; that we, receiving them according to thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ's holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood.
And we earnestly desire thy fatherly goodness mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; most humbly beseeching thee to grant that, by the merits and death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, we, and all thy whole Church, may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his passion.

1979 (Rite II) - We celebrate the memorial of our redemption, O Father, in
this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Recalling his death, resurrection, and ascension, we offer you these gifts.
Sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him. Sanctify us also that we may faithfully receive this holy Sacrament, and serve you in unity, constancy, and peace; and at the last day bring us with all your saints into the joy of your eternal kingdom.

Current (Enriching our Worship I) - Now gathered at your table, O God of all creation, and remembering Christ crucified and risen, who was and is and is to come, we offer to you our gifts of bread and wine, and ourselves, a living sacrifice.
Pour out your Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Body and blood of Christ. Breathe your Spirit over the whole earth and make us your new creation, the Body of Christ given for the world you have made.

Can you see it? We've gone from hoping against hope that God will even deign to hear us, to offering a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, to full on gathering at his table. I wonder if we wouldn't find ourselves in a much different place if humility and boasting only of the mercy of God were the order of the day rather than pride in our place as "chosen" in God's kingdom.

Lot's of inside talk today, sisters and brothers, I'm sorry about that. A better post tomorrow, I pray.