October 29, 2009

a quick thought on language

For every week (at least) there is a prayer (The Collect) assigned that may have, at one time, in someone's mind, worked with the theme of the lessons for that week. This week's Collect works. It is All Saints' Day and so, quite obviously, the prayer deals with the Saints. What I find interesting is how often there are words in these prayers that even I, a master's level educated, ordained Priest have to look up.

I understand that I'm not a very literate person. I don't like to read, I find it difficult to do, and so I am at a disadvantage when it comes to vocabulary. But. But, I still think that there is a lot of language thrown around in the Church that is assumed to be understand, and isn't.

For our five15 service we are using the Collect, offering a prayer on behalf of the whole Church, knowing that with 24 hours tens of millions of people will offer the same (well at least a similar prayer). I've taken to rewriting the Collect in an effort to help them be better understood. I just can't ask people to say "Amen" to something they haven't understood. It is like agreeing to a contract that you haven't read.

This week's example is the word "ineffable." I got a text message from my sister when Chase Utley hit his second home run last night that simply said, "no effing way!" I think the root is being used in two very different ways, but again because I have no idea what "ineffable" means, I can't be sure, and as such I don't think my congregation can either.

Ineffable actually means "beyond description" and so our prayer is that we might come to know the joy beyond words prepared by God for those who love him. Yeah, Amen, I want some of that. The other eff? No thanks.

How do you handle the issue of language in your church? What sort of translation do you offer to the various generations who make up your congregation? And beyond word choice in, say, The Collect, how do you make you sermons "speak" to everyone? Language is important. It can do damage or it can empower. It can welcome or it can exclude. It can teach or it can confuse. As those paid to do theology we must be diligent in our role as interpreters for EVERYONE in our midst.

October 28, 2009

What or Who are Saints Anyway?

Every year I struggle with All Saints' Day. Actually, truth be told, most Wednesday's I struggle with it too. In my tradition we celebrate Saints like Jude, Simon, Paul, etc. We also remember saints like The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John Crysostom (who the Roman Church honors as St. John Crysostom). And except for some changes in the stuff that doesn't really matter; altar hangings, stoles, etc., we don't make a difference between the two.

So what's the difference between Saint and a saint and let's say me? Is there a difference in the Episcopal Church between a Major Feast Saint and a lesser feast saint and one who has died in the faith and one who still lives the faith on earth?

And if there is, who do we remember on All Saint's Day anyway? Do all the Saints need another day when they each have one of their own (or they might share it with another Saint)? Do all the saints need another when they have a lesser feast of their own (which they too might share)? Do those who have gone to paradise already need a day? Do we who still engage the great ordeal every morning need a day?

I'm leading the conversation at five15 this week, and I hope that people will help me answer these questions. What is a Saint? Who is a saint? And what's the deal with All Saints' anyway?

Do we remember those who have done great things or those who perished as though they had never been born? Do we honor those who have lived the beatitudes to a "T" or those who struggled every day in the great ordeal? These are the things I struggle with.

The Rt. Rev. Keith Whitmore, assisting Bishop of Atlanta (is there such a thing as an assisting Bishop aren't they all bishops (and does that make +Neil an Assisted Bishop?)?) has a good piece over at Day1 that is worth perusing on this topic - check it out.

October 27, 2009

the great ordeal

I am not a scholar of the Revelation. I haven't read the Left Behind series. I'm not afraid of 2012. I don't so much care about how or when the world will end. I have two reasons for this. The first, every minute of every day the world as we know it comes to an end. Someone dies, someone is born, science finds something new, God reveals something, whatever it is, it is constantly happening. So the world ends like every millisecond or so. The other reason is that Jesus told me not to worry about it. What's that bumper sticker say? The Bible says it. I believe it.

This all came to mind today as I read that famous passage from the 7th chapter of the Revelation of John; you know the one year hear at funerals all the time. For the first time today I found myself wondering about the "great ordeal" and thinking, "you know what, I'm betting that has nothing to do with an apocalypse or the rapture." It seems to me, awake 15 minutes before my alarm by a hungry baby, planning 2 weddings and a funeral along with the regular flow of our liturgical life, busy at home with grocery shopping, cleaning, doing laundry, paying bills, budgeting money, etc. etc. etc. It seems to me that life itself is "the great ordeal." We are in a constant struggle against what the world would tell us to do and to be that quite frankly I don't think we need some super-cosmic-battle-royal to convince us to wash our robes clean in the blood of the lamb.

Life's hard enough without lakes of fire and seven headed beasts. So, let's make a pact. Let's agree to work together to survive this "great ordeal" so that in the end, whenever and however that may be (again I don't care) we can say, as a community with Jesus as our head we survived. Thanks be to God.

October 26, 2009

they perished as though they never existed

St. Paul's lost a saint this week. J didn't show up to setup for coffee hour with her friends and they were worried. Two people drove to her house to check on her and found her on the floor. No one is sure how long she was there. Medical intervention kept her alive for five more days while they tried to figure out what happened. Her own strength kept her alive for four hours after life support was removed. But at about 1:45 Friday afternoon, J died.

Her friends will remember her.

Her nieces and nephews will remember her.

Her church will remember her.

But J, like so many others, will someday be forgotten. She has gone on to paradise and awaits the Resurrection of the Dead, but as the author of Ecclesiasticus says, she "perished as though [she] had never existed." No state funeral. No eternal flame in Arlington. No sightings at her elaborate Memphis home. No helicopters following her body to the ME's office.

J, a saint in our church and a saint in the Church, has died, without fanfare. But the promise remains true - her glory will never be blotted out. This is why we read from the BCP Lectionary this week. This is why we celebrate all life. This is why when I stand at the altar and celebrate the Eucharist, J's name will be on my heart as I pray that one day we might join all the Saints, even those who have long since been forgotten, in the joy of God's eternal kingdom.

Readings of All Saints (BCP1)

TKT has decided we're using the BCP1 Lectionary for All Saints'. And I don't blame him, the lesson from Ecclesiasticus is a must read.

Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10, 13-14
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-17
Matthew 5:1-12
Psalm 149

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen

October 25, 2009

Sermon for Proper 25B

As the month of October comes to a close so too does our six-week journey with Jesus and his disciples. We've been all over Galilee, The Decapolis, Samaria, and find ourselves this morning fifteen miles outside of Jerusalem on the outskirts of Jericho. The action has been swift all through Mark's Gospel, but the pace quickens as our journey comes to an end. We spend all of one sentence, four words, in Jericho, and then we are off, on the road, on the Way to Jerusalem. The road is packed with pilgrims headed along the same journey; trying to make it to Jerusalem for The Passover. Babies are crying. Children are laughing. Teenagers are flirting. Adults are chatting. Animals of all sorts make noises of all kinds. And in the midst of it all, there is a man, a blind man, who takes center stage.
The road is busy, but the excitement must reach a crescendo as Jesus approaches. How else would the blind man know that the itinerant Rabbi from Nazareth was passing by? Four words describe Jesus' time in Jericho, but details the likes of which Mark has yet to use tell the story of Jesus' interaction with a blind man on the road outside of Jericho. Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting on the roadside.
Here is the first detail – a name. Bar-Timaeus which means the son of Timaeus which means either “the unclean one” or “the highly-prized one.” Which to me, means that a transformation is about to take place. We're about to see the Son of the Unclean One become the Son of the Highly-Prized One right before our very eyes.
Bartimaeus cries out, as loud as he can, above the hustle and bustle of the crowded highway, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” And the crowd barks at him, “Shut up! Jesus is on his way to invade Jerusalem, he is on his way to glory, he doesn't have time for the likes of you, Son of the Unclean One.” Undeterred, Bartimaeus shouts even louder. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”
Here is the second detail – a title. Son of David is not Jesus' title of choice in Mark. It is way too political. It is along the lines of what the misguided crowd expects; a Messiah who will overthrow the Roman occupiers. It is this sort of title that got Peter called Satan. It is this concept of Messiah that made James and John look so foolish. Yet here it comes from the lips of the least. The beggar on the side of the road, one whose standing in life is no different under Roman rule as it would be if the Jews were back in power. Bartimaeus is crying out to the Messiah; God's appointed one for help and healing not for a place in his cabinet.
In the midst of the noise. As if he were existing somehow outside of the ruckus, Jesus hears the cry of the blind beggar Bartimaeus and stops. “Call him here,” Jesus tells those closest to him. And so the large crowd, all those who had worked to stifle the man's pleas turn to him and say, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, sprang to his feet and came to Jesus.
Here is the third detail – an action. The NRSV tells us that Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, but most translations say that he cast it aside; there are very few days in Jericho where one would need to wear a cloak as an outer-garment. In reality, what Bartimaeus did was throw his cloak away. The Son of the Unclean One is claiming a miracle before it even happens. He knows that after his encounter with Jesus he will be made whole, he will no longer be unclean, a beggar, reliant on the harsh streets. He will soon be Son of the Highly Prized One. Soon he will be washed clean. Soon he will be made whole. And so he casts off everything of his old life. His cloak; his suitcase; his wallet; his everything – he throws it away knowing that he will never return to begging on a roadside again.
Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “what do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said, “My teacher, let me see again.”
Here is the fourth detail – an adverb - again. At one time, Bartimaeus could see, but now he can't. Something happened; an illness, an injury, an accident; something happened and it took away Bartimaeus' ability to see. In the worldview of a first century Jew this is a punishment; no two ways about it. In Jewish theology of the 1st century, losing his ability to see was God's way of teaching Bartimaeus a lesson. He had been cutoff from the God of all Creation. God's blessings were no longer available to him. This was not the case of a man born blind, wherein the sin might have been his parents or his grandparents. The only person Bartimaeus had to blame for his blindness was himself. And he wants desperately to be restored. Sure, to see again would be nice. I'm sure he misses the sight of his family, of the beautiful pomegranates and figs that grow in abundance near Jericho. I'm sure being able to physically see would be nice. But what Bartimaeus really wants is to no longer be the Son of the Unclean One. He wants to be restored to wholeness. He wants to be fully human, able to receive God's blessing, able to see the beauty of his Creation, able to see; really see AGAIN.
Jesus responded to him, “Go: your faith has made you well.” Immediately, he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Here is the last detail – a verb - to follow. The healing of Blind Bartimaeus is the final healing miracle in that Jesus performs in the Gospel of Mark. We have experienced him healing other blind people, casting out demons, and raising the dead to life. He has performed healing by touch and healing from afar. He has healed all kinds of people; young, old, rich, poor, men, women, Jews and Gentiles. And, at least as far as Mark tells us, not one of them has responded to their miracle by following Jesus. The last stop on the journey; the last healing in the story; Blind Bartimaeus is able to see again and follows Jesus on the way. Which leads us the detail after that. The way that they are headed is not to the throne, but to the cross. Our journey ends on the precipice of Holy Week. Bartimaeus and his new found crew will reach Bethphage and Bethany where Jesus will mount a donkey and ride into Jerusalem on the Sunday before he dies. Bartimaeus is about to see some things that he never expected.
The question that keeps coming up for me in Mark's surprisingly detailed treatment of the healing of Bartimaeus is this: What obstacle keeps me from following Jesus on the way? For Bartimaeus in his time and in his culture is was his blindness. For him it meant that God's love had left him. What makes me blind? Money? Power? Lust? Envy? Greed? What sort of mercy do I need to cry out to Jesus for?
And then, when he stops and calls me to come to him, what do I need to throw away to accept his blessing? What do I keep trying to hold onto that keeps me from being able to spring up at a moment's notice and follow him? What weighs me down? Insecurity? Laziness? Lowered Expectations? Guilt? Or maybe I don't really dislike my blindness all that much. Maybe I'm slow to respond to Jesus because I think things are better just the way they are.
No matter the reasons for not following Jesus, Mark makes it clear that Bartimaeus – the Son of the Highly Prized One should be our role model. As we seek after Jesus, we are as blind men and women sitting by the road, calling out to him. When he stops and calls us, we must be able to throw everything else aside and run to him. When he heals, we should be prepared to follow him to places much darker, to situations much scarier, on journeys must more dangerous. For it is at the foot of the cross that we find Jesus glorified. It is in death that he is crowned King. It is in suffering that he restores us to our full humanity.
Our journey to Jerusalem may be ending, but the real trip – the lifetime of walking with Jesus through good times and bad – well that odyssey is just fixin' to start.If only you will cry out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Amen.

October 21, 2009

a helpful question

At lectionary group yesterday, TKT asked a helpful question. As we discussed the Bartimaeus story and how it intersected with ours he wanted to know what you say to the person in the pew who says, "I've been asking God to remove this barrier, heal this infirmity, make me whole for a decade now, and nothing has changed"?

It is an unanswerable question. We do not know the mind of God. We don't know what is going on in the secret life of the person asking. But a few hours later, I got a glimpse of maybe why the mountain doesn't always move out of the way when we ask.

Jesus calls Bartimaeus to come, others relay the message and then Mark gets strangely descriptive as Bartimaeus approaches Jesus, "throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus."

Batrimaeus threw off his cloak. His only possession. The thing that made him him. His tie to the days and nights on the street outside of Jericho. He let it all go to approach the Son of David; the Messiah.

How often do we ask God to remove an obstacle to faith from our lives, only to pick up two or three more? When we ask to "see" do we at the same time hope we can go deaf to God's call in our lives? Do we give up our old life even before our new one is fully revealed? Is our faith strong enough to know that we will be made whole even as we approach the Lord still blind?

I don't think the cloak is an idle detail in Mark. I think it is that last item that each of us carries that gets in the way of the fullness of relationship that God wants. My cloak might be pride. Yours might be money. Others might carry lust or laziness or fear or anger. But in order to receive the gift of wholeness we must cast it aside. Otherwise we end up like the blind man in Bethsaida - our eyes are open, but the picture isn't clear.

May God give us the strength to cast aside our cloaks.

October 20, 2009

The Rat Race - five15 Convo Starter

We've made a few tweaks to our new five15 service including a change from thematic lessons (which require a lot of forethought) to the Revised Common Lectionary. I think we still withhold the right to change, but for now, we'll be wrestling with the same texts on both Saturday night and Sunday morning. Follow this link to our first lectionary based conversation on Mark 10.35-45 which I entitled "The Rat Race."

Take heart, get up, He is calling you

Have you ever heard (or said) the following words,

"I don't want God to call me because I know he'll make me do..."

That thought never went through the mind of Blind Bartimaeus. He didn't care what Jesus was going to ask of him, he just wanted to be made whole. Missionary to outer Mongolia? OK. Sell everything, give it to the poor? Sure thing. Be nice to your neighbor who won't cut his yard? Got it.

Bartimaeus was in a place most of us are not. He was at the end of his rope. He was poor in spirit. His only hope was in Jesus. And so, with wreckless abandon he cried out, "have mercy on me!"

Our comfort often keeps us from loving what God commands. Our self-reliance keeps us from "taking heart" when God calls. But the lesson we learn from Bartimaeus is that God calls only when we are willing. If you are crying out to God with a heart that longs to be made whole - he will respond. If you are crying out to God while secretly wishing he won't answer - he probably won't.

October 19, 2009

the journey continues

The story of Blind Bartimaeus is a well known story. There are bits of a song about Blind Bartimaeus running through my head; though I can't really tell if it is a real song.

Anyway, I'm preaching on Sunday for the first time in a month. I've been in charge of getting five15 into some sort of rhythm in the last few weeks. And so I'm getting back into the pattern of Sunday preaching; jumping back on the journey with Jesus. And what I'm noticing here is that Mark, as usual, doesn't allow us to sit and bask in the glory of Jesus healing the son of Timaeus. Instead, we hear that "Immediately, he regained his sight and followed [Jesus] on the way."

That has me wondering, what healing, what restoration, what return to wholeness God has done in your life that has allowed you to follow him on the way? As I look back over my faith journey; from three-year-old in Sunday school to 29-year-old priest - I'm thinking that the biggest healing God did in my life was to heal me of envy and the love of money. If he hadn't, I'd probably be a laid off middle manager today. Instead, I am blessed to follow him on the way.

What is your healing story?

Readings for Proper 25, Year B

Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)
Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 126

Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with yo and the Holy Spirit, on e God, for ever and ever. Amen

October 13, 2009

five15 Oct 10 Convo Starter

here is the link for the second conversation at five15. We're still working out the sound/recording issue. It'll come along.

October 12, 2009

five15 stations

This is our first five15 video which highlights three stations: forgiveness, intercession, and thanksgiving. I'd love your feedback.

Rule #2 - There will be no competition

Little did I know when I made up this idea of a six-week round about journey to Jerusalem as a sermon shtick that the rules for the road will be so applicable along the way. This week in both the Hebrews lesson and in Mark's Gospel we hear that rule #2 - there will be no competition - continues to be a sticky spot.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews is obviously concerned with the order of the high priesthood. I can't help but read in it a controversy brewing within the community as to how priests were to act now that the one High Priest had lived, died, and rose again.

"He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was."

Do you maybe hear discernment process in there? Do you hear maybe holier than thou priests running amuck?

Anyway, where the rubber meets the road is in Mark's gospel as James and John, the sons of Thunder, come to Jesus hoping for the number 1 and 2 spots in the club. They were part of the elite 3 who got to see Jesus Transfigured, and are no doubt thinking they've got Secretary of State and Chief of Staff in mind. Just as those who have SoS and CoS in mind, they might just be too dumb to know what that position means.

The other 10 hear of what James and John are up to, and, not surprisingly, get annoyed. And so, Jesus has to once again remind them - rule of the road #2 - there will be no competition - by giving them his own mission statement. Jesus, the Son of God, the #1 of #1s came not to be served but to serve.

That's it. No competition. No High Priests run amuck. Just service to God and to one another in humility. The kingdom of God is like that.

Readings for Proper 24, Year B

Job 38:1-7, (34-41)
Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37c
Isaiah 53:4-12
Psalm 91:9-16

Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

October 7, 2009

Proper 22B - Wed Homily

One of my favorite movies is Anchorman starring Will Farrell. It came out four or five years ago and is the story of a 1970s local news crew and their experience as a woman reporter/anchor enters their newsroom for the first time. Ron Burgundy is the lead anchor and the one who struggles the most with this new change. The flaw in his character, which leads to his crisis moment, is that he reads, exactly as printed, everything that comes up on his teleprompter. We find this out in an awkward closing segment when Ron says his famous catch phrase, “You stay classy San Diego. I'm Ron Burgurndy.” But a typo makes him say, “You stay classy Sand Diego. I'm Ron Burgundy?”
I think we get the same sort of awkward feel from the reading from Job today. The reader ended, as is our custom with The Word of the Lord. And the rest of us are left to respond. Thanks be to God. Or with this lesson is it maybe “Thanks be to God?”
It is a tough lesson for us to hear. In fact today is the day of hard Scripture passages. But the lesson from Job is a real struggle I think. I used to use the book of Job with those who were really struggling through hard times. Divorce, job loss, illness. Job speaks to those who suffer greatly. Except for the beginning, which we hear part of today. What is God doing leaving his blameless and upright servant, the one who is unlike any other on earth, what is God doing leaving him to Satan's penchant for wreaking havoc?
We pick up the story in the second chapter, after God has already given Satan the power to destroy Job's family, his oxen, his donkeys, his camels, and his sheep. Now, Satan returns to heaven to once again present himself to God. God again points out his servant Job, blameless and upright, unlike anyone else on earth. And Satan once again convinces God to test him. So Job becomes covered in awful sores from the top of his head to the soles of his feet.
Our lesson ends with ominous words from the lips of Job, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God and not receive the bad?”
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God?
This is, of course, only a small portion of the book of Job, a book that we will hear bits and pieces of over the next four weeks. But we don't hear the whole story today. We don't hear the great conversation between God and Job today. All we hear is this absurd story of God giving over his servant to Satan with only the instruction, “spare his life.”
So what do we take away from this passage? Other than setting us up for a four week series in Job, what is the lesson? What do we hear? We hear that God and Satan know each other very well, but enemies always know each other very well. We hear that the heavenly beings presented themselves to God on occasion, but I'm not really sure that's all that insightful.
What I take away from this difficult pericope is the fact that God knows us intimately and has a lot more faith in us than it seems we deserve. God knew his servant Job, knew that he was blameless and upright, knew that he had seven sons and three daughters, knew that he had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants. But what matters is that God knew Job was faithful, not because of all of his wealth, not because of his great position in life, but because he loved the Lord his God, the Creator of all things on heaven and earth. Even though everything might be taken away, Job would be faithful, and God knew it.
I wonder if God knows that about me? I wonder if, as he sees all possibilities, he knows that if one day I lost my job, my house, and my family, that I would still turn to him and say, with all graciousness in my heart, “should we receive the good at the hand of God and not receive the bad?” Does God give me that much credit?
The book of Job is a study of the difference between religion and faith. God knew that Job had faith that superseded his religion – a religion that said his great wealth was a result of God's favor in his life.
As I watched sportscenter this morning I saw the highlights of last nights 163rd regular season game between the Minnesota Twins and the Detroit Tigers. One twins player, being interviewed after their 12th inning come from behind victory said to the reporter, “God is good. He's looked down on us all season.” And I couldn't help but think of Job. Would his response have been the same had they lost?
What about us? Shall we receive the good at the hand of God and not the bad? Is there praise on our lips for the God of all creation even in times of hardship, in times of crisis? Take this lesson from our difficult passage in Job, God knows you and loves you and gives you more credit than you probably deserve. That is great news.

The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

Inaugural five15 conversation starter

Our first five15 service was on Oct 3rd at, well, five15 pm. The conversation ran way, way longer than I expected, but it was good and fruitful. Click here to see the conversation starter presentation. More info about five15, including a youtube link will be available soon.

I vs. thou

One of the reasons that the Church universal has been so slow to adapt contemporary American-style English is because it feels less holy. Saying "you" to God feels a little off, but saying "thou" or "thee" well that just sounds better. So for this post we will assume that "thou" is a reference to God in the most ancient and honored way possible.

What must I do to inherit eternal life? It is a question we hear repeated in Acts 2 when the crowd asks Peter "What must we do...?" But Jesus catches what Peter misses, the first person pronoun.

With humans it is not possible. I, me, we, us - can not DO anything to inherit eternal life. Even if we kept all the commandments. Even if we lived by all the 618ish dietary, cleanliness, ritual laws of Moses. Even if we lived up to the Great Commandments. There would still be something else because as soon as we think we've got it under control, we've failed, pride has entered, and another payment would be due.

"Who than can be saved?" Finally, the disciples ask a wise question. The intention behind it is no doubt selfish, but at lest the question is good. Everyone can be saved because everyone is in need of saving. Everyone can be saved so long as they cry out to thou for help. Everyone can be saved because it isn't up to me/us to DO anything, it is only up to God's graciousness - which is all encompassing.

This passage from Mark's Gospel is all about perspective; all about I vs. thou. May we remember this day from whom our help is to come.

October 6, 2009

living and active

If I were preaching this Sunday, I think it'd be a heady sermon. I think I'd do all sorts of exegesis and research. I think I'd bore myself and my congregation to tears. And I think, ironically, I'd do it in trying to convey the message that God's Word, neh, God's word, is living and active.

We've all heard this line from Hebrews. It get's said over and over again. God's word is alive. But what we say and how we live are two very different things. How we live often says that God's word ceased to be relevant in 1214. How we live often says that God's word being alive means it is my pet and I control its every action. How we live often says that God's word may very well be active, but only in the way yogurt cultures are active - on my terms - when I let them come to life by removing them from the refrigerator.

Tony Jones got in a lot of hot water a few years ago for saying that the Bible is a *%#@ing scary book. But he's right. If the word of God, lowercase "w", is living and active then it is scary. It is scary because it gets inside of us and changes us. It is scary because it opens our minds and begins to root around in there. It is scary because it tells us things we don't want to hear. It is scary because God is scary and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Readings for Proper 23, Year B

Job 23:1-9, 16-17
Psalm 22:1-15
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Psalm 90:12-17

Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

October 1, 2009

just married or holy matrimony

"Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."

This divorce teaching is tough for us because it speaks directly to our own hardness of heart. The Church has made room for divorce and remarriage "for pastoral reasons;" which is, I think, a very polite way of saying "because it ain't going away."

We talked a little bit about this in lectionary group where one of our number is divorced and remarried. We talked about how hard this scripture is to hear; how it judges, and we determined that it is right for it to judge us because just as the Jews could dismiss a wife because she wasn't living up to her requirements, so too we've made people disposable. The sex isn't good enough. She doesn't cook well. I'm just not that in to her. Aside from reasons of abuse, we are mostly just making excuses for why divorce happens.

And the reason we make excuses, we thought, came in whether a couple was just married or brought together in holy matrimony. That is to say was God at the center of their relationship or not. Living in holy matrimony is a whole lot more work than being married, but the rewards are so very worth it. But often one or the other decides that just being married will suffice. Sometimes a couple that was just married gets set ablaze by the Spirit and finds the joy of holy matrimony. And sometimes couples that are just married stay that way forever.

Still, the odds seem best when one takes heed of the words of Jesus and a) let's God bring people together and then b) works hard not to tear that relationship apart.