November 23, 2009

The Promise

This year, the St. Paul's family will be participating in the decorating of a Jesse Tree. Each day it is our hope that our members will read the lesson, ponder the theme, and then create an ornament relating to that theme that can be hanged on the Jesse Tree as a part of the liturgy each Sunday. It is from that context that I read the lessons for Sunday and am forced to focus on the lesson from Jeremiah, because it, like the Jesse Tree, is all about the promise.

At five15 on Saturday we had fun with metaphors as we tried to expand our understanding of what it meant to have Christ as King. One that came from a small group was that God is a keeper of promises. In particular we were thinking about the new Ark supposedly being built in the Florida Everglades and how thankful we are that the promise of God to never again flood the whole earth is secure.

Anyway, what is intriguing and scary about the fulfillment of the promise in Jeremiah is that the one who is coming is said to "execute justice and righteousness" which is of course a wonderful and frightening idea because when this happens, I'm in deep trouble, and so are most of you. See, our concepts of justice and righteousness are nothing compared to Jesus' understanding of them. And our comfort is, by and large, based on injustice; the injustice of the haves and have nots, the injustice of outsources labor and cheap production, the injustice of a me first theology of scarcity.

And so today, as I think on the promise, I also realize, I've got a long way to go until I'm ready for that to happen. Lord Jesus come, but maybe no so soon. Amen.

Readings for Advent 1, Year C

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-9
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

November 19, 2009

Jesus as the Restorer

Sunday's are always a blur. Two services, Sunday school, breakfast, coffee hour, and almost 200 people are a lot to keep up with. It is with that in mind that I tell you that somebody talked to me, I think at coffee hour, about how changing our focus from "the end" to our new beginnings is aided by holding up Jesus as the Restorer.

I had forgotten that conversation until this morning as I read the Collect for Sunday.

"Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

The writers of the Collects most assuredly took the role of "namer of God's attributes" very seriously, and so it is not a mere coincidence that God is described on Christ the King Sunday (the ultimate ending and new beginning Sunday) as God, whose will it is to restore all things.

Think about that. God's will is to restore all things in Jesus. It isn't about whether or not I make it to heaven, but about bringing all of Creation back into its former glory. It is about relationships. It is about ecology. It is about spending. It is about justice. And yes, it is about salvation too. Ultimately, the end and with it the New Heaven and the New Earth is all about restoration; wholeness.

Christ as King is a little hard for us to understand, but Christ as Restorer, that I can begin to wrap my mind around.

O God, if it is indeed your will to restore all things in your Son, I pray that you find in me enough good parts and a clear enough picture of the original to begin that work today. Amen.

November 18, 2009

From Philosphy to Practice and Back Again

I love my lectionary Bible Study. We are a wild and wooly bunch of priests, pastors, and licensed lay preachers who are passionate about our traditions, sure of our theologies, and loving all at the same time. For those of you who went to seminary with me, you'll be shocked to know I'm probably the most liberal member of our group, and this week that almost got me in trouble.

The gospel lesson for Sunday is all about truth. For whatever reason the lectionary folk decided to skip the last line of the interaction between Pilate and Jesus. You know, the one where Pilate asks, "What is truth?"

That amazingly complex question took us deep down a philosophical rabbit hole. I mean deep. I won't bore you with the details, but it involved Jehovah's Witnesses, Jamaican Rum Cream, and capitalization. Anyway, Dr. Jay brought us around to the fact that a philosophical conversation from the pulpit is pretty darn worthless and when it came down to practical preaching, my thought is this.

One of the earliest creedal (and political) statements that followers of Jesus made was, "Jesus is Lord." This meant that Caesar wasn't. This also is a totally foreign concept to 21st century Americans. We've got a President when can vote out of office in 4 years. We've got a government we can openly question. We wrote Kings and Queens out of our Prayer Book 230 some years ago. We don't get Lord, King, Reign, etc.

So I think the task of preacher this week is to translate for the congregation what it means that Jesus is Lord. Not based on other creeds, not based on theological presuppositions like the Virgin Birth, but based on real ways of living. If Jesus is Lord that means nothing else; money, sex, power, xbox, meth, winning - nothing else can be Lord if Jesus is Lord.

November 17, 2009

Psalm 109.8 and the King of kings

The part of my job that I like the least is the fact that I have to stay current with the news. All of it. I end up having to listen to a whole lot of talking heads in order to get my "news" and that makes my head hurt. And so, yesterday I began to hear rumblings of the Psalm 109.8 Obama bumper sticker flap. Apparently, some marketing whiz printed up some bumper stickers that say

Pray for Obama
Psalm 109.8

And Psalm 109.8 says, "May his days be few, may another take his place of leadership"

Kinda funny if you ask me. Misses the entire point of Psalm 109 and is one verse away from landing somebody in jail for threats against the President, but still kind of clever, even if I don't agree with it.

Anyway, the theological point of this whole flap is very timely. This Sunday the Church celebrates Christ the King. We pledge our allegiance to someone whose tenure is defined by the whim of the American public and the success or failure of his cleverly cloaked partisan politics. (BTW if Obama ever suggests a flat tax and the Republicans balk, my head will explode). We may be Americans, subject to all rights and privileges and laws thereof, but our kingdom is not of this world. Our rule of law is higher yet. Our leader is one who knows no nation, race, or probably even creed.

Jesus, the crucified one, is our King, and that means that we have been set free from sin in order to do good works. Unfortunately, most of us liked our sin (if only we were back in Egypt) and we spend most of our life fighting with it rather than doing the work of the Gospel. But still, no matter who is in office or for how long (Psalm 109.8) our King reigns for ever.

Readings for Christ the King, Year B

2 Samuel 23:1-7
Psalm 132:1-13 (14-19)
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 93

Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one god, now and for ever. Amen.

November 16, 2009

The End - five15 Convo Starter

Click here to see the .pdf version of our conversation starter at five15 on Saturday evening. The notes follow all the slides.

November 15, 2009

sermon for proper 28B

There are very few cultural similarities between America in 2009 and the streets of first century Palestine. I mean, of course there are some universals that still exist; the desire to be accepted, the need to be safe, Maslow's hierarchy stuff, but in reality there are very few things that we think of on a day to day basis that concerned the minds of Jesus' disciples. This is what makes the job of the preacher so difficult; turning ancient references and idioms into something that makes sense for our lives today. I think that's why the prayer for today was originally written. Unless we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the holy scriptures, they aren't going to do much teaching. We must spend time with them, listening to their still living voice to speak truth into our lives.
This Sunday, however, is different. This Sunday we deal with something that has been at best a fascination and at worst an obsession for humanity since probably the first dinner Adam and Eve had outside of the Garden of Eden. What about the end? What happens when this long strange trip is over. Where will I go when I die? What will become of the world at the end of its useful life? Be it the 2012 doomsday clock or the Left Behind series of books and movies or some of those crazy apocalypse cults that spring up from time to time, it seems as though we are constantly reminded that there will be an end, and most of us have given at least some thought to what it might look like.
And knowing that everyone ponders the end at one time or another, there have been frauds, hoaxes, liars, and money makers waiting in the wings to take advantage of susceptible minds worried about the end. They read the newspapers and listen to the news and read the prophets and seers of old and will tell you down to the minute when it'll all come to naught, and suggest that you buy their book or their prayer cloth or their DVD series to better understand how, why, and, most importantly, when it'll all happen.
We find ourselves this morning in the waning hours of the Tuesday in Holy Week. Jesus has had a series of run ins with the religious authorities that ended with the sad story of the widow giving her whole life to the treasury. As they left the Temple that evening, the Disciples have to be feeling the weight of it all. They have been pretty hard headed up until now, but surely after the day they just had they know that Jesus is in a heap of trouble. Almost as if to change the subject one of them looks up and says, “Hey Jesus, look at how big these rocks are that make up these huge buildings. That's some amazing engineering work. Can you imagine the effort that went into making this Temple?”
Jesus, however, is not up for idle chit-chat. He too feels the pressure building. There isn't much time, and so he has to teach his followers everything he can before it is too late. “Yep, they are certainly big,” Jesus responds, “but someday there won't be stone left on top of another. It'll all come down some day.”
You can hear the air go out of the collective group. “Geez Jesus, what's with the buzz kill. This is hard enough as it is, we don't need you spouting doomsday nonsense.” But after some time, as they sit on the Mount of Olives and look over the city of Jerusalem, four of his disciples are ready to hear more. They had thought about the end. They thought were going to war with the Romans, surely they had given thought to the destruction and death that would come with it. But the Temple being thrown down, that sounded more serious than even they had imagined. And so, they, like us, are curious to know more. “When will it happen? How will we know its starting?”
Jesus' answer is simple, yet so often misunderstood. “Watch Out!” he says. The call to beware, to watch out, isn't to be on the lookout for signs of the end, but rather to protect ourselves from those who claim the end is near. Those who claim to speak for God, the great I AM, and say, it is finished. They'll see wars and hear rumors of wars; they'll read about earthquakes and famines, and they'll say that they are signs of things to come. But wars and earthquakes and famine are as old as our wondering about the end. These things happen. They happen a lot. Watch out for those who, for a price, will tell you the end is coming soon, and instead focus on what happens next. Life is full of ends. It is the beginnings that matter.
“These things,” Jesus says, “are just the birth pangs. They are the necessary pain that happens when something new is being born. They are not to be feared, but they must be endured in order for new life to be born. In referencing birth pangs, Jesus is calling on a fairly worn image of the end of time. Most ancient religions used it because it was a well known image. “Jesus' disciples would have known more about birthpangs than even many modern women. In the ordinary world of the ancient Middle East, and many other places even today where epidurals and C-Sections aren't commonplace, birthpangs were known and understood because they happened in their full glory in the one room your house had. Mom or Aunt or Cousin or Sister had given birth without the glories of modern medicine.” (NT Wright, 177) So when Jesus says, “birthpangs” everyone gets the reference.
But birthpangs end. And with their end comes new life.
Our passage from Mark ends in the labor and delivery room, but we all know the story continues. With new life comes all sorts of new lessons. As Cassie and I have heard many a time, “your life will never be the same after a baby.”
The same is true of life after the end. It won't be the same. But I think we get a glimpse of what that life looks like in the Letter to the Hebrews. In his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus paved a new way of living. He is our example of new life. Life that is lived “with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” A life that finds “our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” A life of baptism in which we die to ourselves and live only for Christ. A life where our sin is continuously washed clean so that we may enter over and over again into new life in Christ Jesus.
Practically speaking that life is one in which we are constantly provoking one another to love and good deeds. It is a life in which we gather together continuously for fellowship, prayer, and most importantly encouragement. It is a life where the faithful gather, over and over again, not in disappointment or worry over the Second Coming, but in joyful expectation and hope for a totally new life; one where these things are possible all the time, one where the power of sin and death have been overcome for ever.
It is so easy to get bogged down by doomsday prophecies and countdown clocks. Maybe you'd rather just sit and wait and worry about how and when the end will come. But Jesus is clear that this is not how we are called to live our lives. We are called not to a life of fear and worry but to lives of faithful service and encouragement. As followers of the new way paved by Jesus we should be on the lookout for false prophets and protective of those susceptible to their money grubbing ways. But most importantly, we are called to listen to the living Word of God and to do his will each and every day.
The bumper sticker in the Parish Hall that says, “Jesus is coming. Look Busy” used to make me angry, but now I get it. Don't sit pining away about the end, but rather keep up the work of the Gospel. Keep up the practice of encouragement because the end of the birthpangs and the beginning of new life is coming, one way or another, sooner or later.
There aren't many worries that stretch all of human history, but The End is certainly one of them. Jesus calls us not to worry but to good works. May the Scriptures be alive to you today as they call us all to follow the new path paved by Jesus that leads to eternally new life. Amen.

November 12, 2009

Watch Out!

The lessons for Sunday are finally starting to come together for me. It is one of those Sundays where careful nuance seems to be required. As I read in one commentary article; don't take on LeHaye and Jenkins because you'll either sound like a condescending bully or a polite, well-intentioned bully.

So here's what I'm thinking. Jesus seems to be clear that we shouldn't be nosing around for "signs of the end." He tells us to "Watch out" not for the end of the world, but for those who claim it is coming; deceivers, money makers, liars. Catastrophic events happen, have happened, and will continue to happen throughout human history. Wars, earthquakes, famines; they happen, but it doesn't mean Jesus is rounding up his angel army. It means people are fighting. It means that the earth is under constant pressure. It means the haves will horde and the have nots will starve.

In referencing birth pangs, Jesus seems to be raising a common image, one of new birth. As far as I've read, it was one of the prevailing images of the apocalypse in ancient worlds. Anyway, here's where the nuance come in, I think that the letter to the Hebrews can expand on what Jesus is saying. The new birth that Jesus references is fleshed out by the author of Hebrews as a heart sprinkled clean and bodies washed with pure water.

Our response to that new, clean life, is a new way of living; one that isn't focused on self, but on the other - therefore ending famine. This life is one of provocation, not to anger, but to good works - thereby ending wars. God will have to take care of the earthquakes. It is a life where the faithful gather, over and over again, not in disappointment or worry over the Second Coming, but in joyful expectation and hope for a totally new life; one where these things are possible all the time, one where the power of sin and death have been overcome.

In the meantime, don't scan the papers for numbers or signs or names, but do the work of discipleship; receive forgiveness, press forward toward good works, gather together, and encourage one another. If this were the Modus Operandi of Christians everywhere, it might just be the end of days.

November 11, 2009

That Pesky Religion

Debra Dean Murphy over at the ekklesia project writes what so many of us are thinking:

"This week we are admonished to 'provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together.' That’s the inconvenient thing about religion: it asks you to do stuff – like worship with other people, love other people, do good to and for other people."

I mean really. The demands of Christianity are just so freaking hard. [sarcasm noted]

Often the Christian faith is made to be difficult with the addition of all sorts of unnecessary and clearly power playing rules; don't dance, don't eat meat on Friday, don't drink, don't play Yahtzee on days beginning with "T", don't consort with non-Christians, don't whatever. But honestly it isn't all that hard. The author of Hebrews clearly thought that Jesus was a-comin' soon, and yet, he doesn't use that to his powerful advantage. Instead, he continues to encourage people to love God and love neighbor by provoking each other to good works and by getting together.

It may be pesky, but it sure ain't hard.

November 10, 2009

a late start

I'd like to that the busyness of preparations for TS Ida kept me from posting my thoughts on 28b yesterday, but that probably isn't true. It seems we have made it through with a lot of rain, but our coastal and river communities are all reporting in that things are OK. Thanks be to God for cold water, cool air, and a weakened Ida.

The real reason I didn't post yesterday has a lot more to do with the lessons that anything else. I must have read them 5 or 6 times yesterday. Each time, I started with the Collect and by the time I was finished I wasn't really sure that ALL holy Scripture had been written for our learning. Or better said, perhaps not all verses were meant to stand alone for Sunday morning lessons at certain times of the year.

The lesson from Mark, for example, makes little sense outside of the context of a) Holy Week, b) last weeks lesson, and c) the larger "Little Apocalypse" of Mark. So why have it? What purpose does it serve on the last Sunday of Ordinary Time (Next week is actually the end, but it is Christ the King Sunday and we don't have to wear green).

The semi-continuous reading from Hebrews is fascinating, and would do well for a Bible Study, but I just don't think it preaches. And Daniel, don't get me started on Daniel.

So there you have it. I'm getting a late start on sermon prep this week not because of any weather event or busyness of life, but because I have no clue as to where to start with these lessons. O God, help me to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest these lessons so that I have something to say to your people.

November 9, 2009

Sermon for Proper 27B

This is a tough Sunday to be a preacher. There is a big elephant in the room as we hear the lesson of the Widow's Mite. It is stewardship time and by now you should have received your pledge cards in the mail. It seems almost criminal to not preach on stewardship when the Widow's Mite story is at our feet. But the question then comes, how do I preach it?
There are two popular interpretations of the gospel text for today; both of which put me in an awkward position. The first and perhaps most well known sermon on this passage revolves around the idea that the widow who offers her two copper coins should be the model of our giving to the Church. If I were to choose this interpretation I would stand in this pulpit as one whose lifestyle is dependent upon your generosity and say, “give more; give until you've got nothing left.” And that, is, a) not a fun thing to do and b) not at all what Jesus is saying in this passage.
The second possible interpretation is that Jesus is so angry at the Temple, its treasury and leadership that he is condemning the whole thing for taking the last of this widow's money – literally taking her whole life from her. If I chose this tack, I would stand in the pulpit as one whose lifestyle is dependent upon your generosity and say that all religious institutions are bad, they take your money to perpetuate themselves and make no real impact. This way of thinking is a) detrimental to my career and b) while it may be what Jesus has in mind, it is not quite so easily generalized.
So either I tell you to give all you've got or I tell you not to give at all – and both options, quite frankly, make me very uncomfortable. There has got to be another way; a middle road. For me, the middle way comes when I get out of the churchy-ness of the gospel and spend some time with Elijah in the coastal town of Zarephath (ZEREFATH).
King Ahab has just recently married Jezebel and with her arrival on the scene her nation's practice of worshiping the god Ba'al gets introduced into God's own land. Needless to say, God is not happy about these developments and begins to use his mouthpiece, Elijah, to call the people of Israel back to worship of him alone. After announcing a drought of three years, Elijah is led, by God, around the land living off the bounty given directly to him by God. Ultimately, he finds himself in the coastal community of Zarephath (ZEREFATH) where God has promised that widow would feed him.
The widow, it seems, didn't get that Email. She is glad to get Elijah a drink, but a morsel of food? Well that is impossible. She is collecting sticks in order to build a fire and bake some bread from the last of her meal and oil so that “she and her son might eat it and die.” It doesn't sound like this Phoenician woman has heard the message of Israel's God. And yet she is somehow swayed by the prophet. His words of assurance, “thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.”
Now here's the amazing thing. She goes and does just as Elijah said. This woman of Phoenician origin. A woman who has no reason to believe this Hebrew nomad. A woman whose beliefs have nothing to do with the LORD the God of Israel. A woman who had no reason to trust anyone. She and her son were on their last leg, having been forgotten by family, government, and religion alike. Her generosity was not out of guilt. It didn't come from the pressure of an institution. Her willingness to give came only by way of a word from a stranger on behalf of a God that she didn't believe in. And yet she gave. Sacrificially, she gave. And her reward wasn't 1000x or 100x or even 10x. Her reward was this: the oil and the meal lasted as long as she needed it to. She had what she needed for as long as she needed it.
You may be thinking, OK, here's where the stewardship sermons starts. But you are wrong. This text has nothing to do with stewardship. It has to do with faith. God doesn't want your stuff. He doesn't need it. What he wants is your heart. He wants you to trust him enough to give up everything – even down to your last drop of oil and handful of meal – so that he can replace it with fruit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. The problem for most of us is, we don't know desperation – we don't know what it is like to have nothing to hold on to. Most of us have never been where the widow of Zarephath (ZEREFATH) is. Most of us don't know what it is to not know where our next meal would come from. Most of us don't know what it is like to not be able to provide for our children. Most of us just aren't there. And therefore, most of us don't know how to trust like the widow in our story. To steal a turn of phrase from Jesus, We trust out of our abundance – holding comfortably onto all we have. She trusted out of her poverty – hands wide open ready to accept anything that came her way.
Now, I understand, the recession's only been over for like a week. I know that the market is still working its way back to the overinflated numbers of the late 90s and mid-2000s. I know talking about our abundance is still kind of awkward, but honestly, most of us are so ridiculously well off we don't know what to do with ourselves. Take the Pankey family for example. With Cassie staying home to be with Eliza we are essentially a one income household. I make $54,220.08 a year. That makes me one of the richest people in the world. I am in the top 1%. Cassie and I have made the decision to give 10% away. We give two-thirds of our tithe to St. Paul's and one-third to a school and development organization our friend has started in the slums of Kenya. Our tithe is about $5400, if we were to pay it to a person, would put that person in the richest 14.3%. Our tithe is richer than 85.7% of the world's population; our tithe is richer than 5.99 billion people. If we were to measure only by money, we certainly could claim to have an abundance.
But what we have even more of are the things that are important. Relationships, laughter, joy, faith, love. In these things we are far richer than we can even imagine. And it is these things that God desires from us. God wants everything from us. He want our whole life: from Monday to Sunday and back again. He wants our relationships, he wants our work, he wants our minds, he wants our hearts. He wants us to hand everything over to him, trusting in HIS abundance, knowing that even when we give him everything, we will have all that we need.
But in addition to all the good stuff, he'd like you to hand over the ugly stuff as well. We prayed this morning for the ability to purify ourselves as Jesus himself is pure. God would like nothing more than for us to remove all the impurity in our lives, so that he's got all that's left – all that's good - for himself. But just like the Pur filter in my refrigerator, I can only muster at best a 99.9% purification rate. (Probably more like 75% on a good day or maybe, on my bad days, 50%). And so, God wants us to hand over the ugly stuff too. He'll take it so that you can be made clean, made whole, made his.
It has nothing to do with money or oil or corn meal. God doesn't need any of it. What we learn from the widow of Zarephath (ZEREFATH) is that God wants our trust. And trust is only really available in relationship. We gain trust only be getting to know the other better. Sure, we can offer blind faith like the widow, but the good stuff comes over a lifetime of trusting and being trusted; giving and receiving. It this were a stewardship sermon, which it is not, this would be the key. It is about trusting the Lord's abundance. It is about removing the direct line between your giving and the church budget. It is about your trusting God enough to give him everything AND the church trusting God enough to give him everything too. Those pledge cards you got in the mail are helpful. They do help keep the lights on and pay salaries. But what they really do is free up the 500 block of North Pine Street and the lives of Steve Pankey, Keith Talbert and Karla Harmon for full-time service on your behalf. Your tithe might keep the wheels turning, but the other 90% brings the kingdom of God to earth each and every day.
So this morning I beg of you. Don't be like the widow Jesus saw in the Temple and give the church everything you've got out of guilt or fear. And, on the same token, don't let the church die just because it is an institution in need of funds. But give to God your heart, your soul, your mind, and your strength. Trust your whole life to him and spend your money and your time and your talents where He thinks they are best suited because as the Lord provided for the Widow of Zarephath (ZEREFATH) he will provide for you and for me and for this Church. All he asks for in return is everything. Amen.

Readings for Proper 28, Year B

1 Samuel 1:4-20
1 Samuel 2:1-10
Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm 16

Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25
Mark 13:1-8

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

November 5, 2009

What we are not...

helps us define who we are.

As I said in Tuesday's post, Jesus seems pretty clear about the stuff we should not do; the type of people we should not be. I always struggle with negative definitions. You could spend days defining what something is not, and not even be close to shoring up what it is. It seems to me that definitions of what we are not should help us define who we are.

And so that is, I think, what we will do at five15 this weekend. We will begin the work of defining who we are. And there seems no better place to begin that conversation than in the Psalm. It has a beautiful trajectory from negative to positive. It flows from sinfulness to redemption. In defining who God is, it defines who we are called to be.

[The LORD] gives justice to those who are oppressed, *
and food to those who hunger.

7 The LORD sets the prisoners free;
the LORD opens the eyes of the blind; *
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;

8 The LORD loves the righteous;
the LORD cares for the stranger; *
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.

And so we too are called to be justice seekers. We are called to feed he hungry and set the prisoners free. We are called to open the eyes of the (at least the spiritually) blind and lift up those who are laid low. Because we are the body of Christ. We are God's hands and feet and if we really believe that then we have no choice but to live into the work of God. As our prayer says, we are to be like him. Who we are is so much nicer than what we are not.

November 4, 2009

Stewardship vs. Sacrifice

At lectionary group yesterday Scott raised an interesting point. One which I've chewed on for 24 hours now. Scott is big on language, wanting us always to be careful of what we say and how we say it, and so he takes issue with Stewardship.

"We are not stewards of time, talent, and treasure. We are stewards of Jesus' ministry."

And he's right. Jesus didn't leave his disciples with instructions about how to order themselves as Church, how to raise funds, how to make promotional fliers, or how to get volunteers. Jesus told them to preach the good news and baptize. The rest, the administrative stuff, well that is mostly just a continuation of the Temple.

But Scott didn't stop there, and that's dangerous. Because, he notes, the origin of the Biblical tithe was not food for the priests or coin for the treasury, but burnt sacrifice. He's probably not the first to say this, but the first I've heard admit it.

"If we were going to be true to the basis of the biblical tithe, we give 10%, in cash, and burn it, and then raise the money to run the church."

The problem, it seems to me, is that we see a direct line between my pledge card and the budget of the church. Thus our giving is to the church and not to God. Instead, if we saw our role in life as Stewards of the Gospel and our giving as sacrifice to God, the Church would be an entirely different place. One not worried about mortgage payments or salaries (stipends - another big language thing for Scott). We'd find a church run amuck, doing Kingdom work, whether or not the money was there.

We'd see the Kingdom of God.

November 3, 2009

Mark 12:38-40 or Why I am a Low Churchman

Jesus seems to be pretty clear about his expectations for religious leaders. Or at least he is clear in what he thinks they should not do. They should not be prideful. They should not wear garments so as to set themselves apart. They should not expect to be greeted with praise and honor on the streets and in the marketplace. And at parties, they should be in the back, allowing guests of higher honor to have the best seats.

As I've said before, I consider myself a soft literalist when it comes to the Bible. Do I think the earth was created in seven literal days? No. Do I believe that God provided enough for Elijah, the widow, and her son? Yep. Do I think that Jesus said what the Gospels tell us he said? You betcha.

And so, if I believe that Jesus said these things, I think that I should probably take them to heart. I wear a long white robe on Sunday mornings because it is the cultural expectation of our community. I wear a collar from time to time, not to be greeted with honor, but sometimes to grease the wheels of the medical establishment, and sometime to offer comfort those who will be in my presence. On Friday I will sit at a head table by invitation, not by assumption.

But for the most part, I try to avoid these things. Because, for me and my personality, to get caught up in the robes and collars and honor and praise would cause me to stumble, and, quite probably, devouring widows houses with my need for more. The materialist game is an easy trap for me, so I do my best, even in the Church, to avoid it at all costs.

Mark 12:38-40 is why I am a low churchman. Any high church priests out there with a counter theology?

November 2, 2009

All Saint's five15 Convo

Here is the link to the slideshow and notes for our five15 conversation on All Saints' Day.

Dear Stewardship Season,

I thought we had an agreement. I told you I needed some space. You said you understood. You said you'd wait for me to call. It really isn't you. It is me. I just need some time. Can you not understand that? Instead, you appear in full force in both the Old Testament and Gospel lessons? It is so not like you to be so pushy.

Me <3

Here's the thing about the texts for this weekend. They have nothing to do with money. The oil, the meal, the money, they are all metaphors for something much larger; something much more important.

God wants everything from you. He wants your whole life: from Monday to Sunday and back again. He wants your relationships, he wants your work, he wants your mind, he wants your heart. He wants you to hand everything over to him, trusting that he we give you everything you need.

He wants you to purify yourself, to remove all the impurity, so that he's got all that's left for himself. But, just like the Pur filter on my refrigerator, you can probably only muster a 99.9% success rate in the purification department. And so, he wants you to hand over even the ugly stuff so that he can make you clean, make you whole, make you his.

That's all. Just everything. And in exchange, he offers life, abundant life, full life, joyous life. Seems a decent trade to me. So don't let stewardship season back into your life, let God back in. It is so much better to give him everything.

Readings for Proper 27, Year B

This will be my first week leading the conversation on Saturday and preaching on Sunday. Should be interesting. But I am extremely grateful to Father B. who will take Wednesday's off my shoulders for the next two weeks.

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
Psalm 127
1 Kings 17:8-16
Psalm 146

Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen