February 25, 2010

trouble all around

This week, I was intruiged on textweek.com by a post entitled, "That's why they call it the blues." Not one of my usual resources, but interesting this week, at least, Peter Woods expanded Jesus' epithet toward Herod in an interesting way. As we come off his temptation in the wilderness, where Satan tempted him with food, power, and protection, and then left until an opportune time, we see in our Gospel lesson for Lent 2 that trouble continues to come from all sides.

Herod, the fox in the hen house, is obviously a concern, but Peter notes that there is trouble from the skies too, Rome. One of the key symbols of Rome's military might was that of the eagle.

Peter writes, "As a caring lover of all people, Jesus knew how threatened the vulnerable chicks of Israel were. The poor, the widows, the outcasts, were at the mercy of the Foxy Herod and the Roman Eagle. In a homely farmyard metaphor, Jesus likens himself to the vulnerable hen who, despite the danger to herself, gathers her chicks when the eagle is soaring and the fox is stalking. Did he know even then that Herod and Caesar would rip him apart at the end? Jesus sang the blues"

Trouble is all around for Jesus, but he has already set his face toward Jerusalem and knows where that will lead. Thank God, literally, for Jesus' faithfulness in spite of all the danger.

February 24, 2010

the disobedience of one affects us all

One of the members of our lectionary study grew up on a farm. He has seen a mother hen with her chicks, and gets, a lot more than I did, what Jesus is saying in his lament over Jerusalem.

Apparently what happens when a mother hen gathers her brood under her wings is, almost inevitably, one chick tries to get away. The mother then gets up to give chase and rather than staying behind in the relative safety of the nest, the rest of the babies get up and give chase too.

What God is really saying here is, "You were supposed to be a light to the nations, a blessing for the whole world, but I've spent the last 3000 or so years chasing you down and the whole world has suffered because of it."

This runs smack up against our western individual mindset. We want to have the freedom to run away, but when we do, and when God then chases after us, we affect the whole kingdom as those left behind are left without protection and are forced to chase after God as he chases after us.

So then, how do we find a home under God's protective wing? We trust in his plan and his protection. We quit running after more and become thankful for what God has given us. It is supremely counter cultural, but it is the way of peace and life abundant.

February 23, 2010

Jesus, CEO

My undergraduate degree is a BS in Business Administration with a concentration on management. I've got management books coming out of my ears. As my call began to come into view toward the end of my senior year of college, the books began to change from "Who Moved my Cheese?" to "Jesus, CEO." These books aren't bad. They speak of Jesus' leadership style, compassionate, hard working, goal oriented. Seems to make sense that the Son of God would be a halfway decent manager, though the success rate of his inner circle during his time with them is less than spectacular.

As I read the Gospel lesson for Sunday, I'm struck by just how much Jesus sounds like a CEO in this text. The Pharisees could be warning him about a hostile take over or a lunch meeting with a rival, as Jesus responds, "today and tomorrow aren't good. Tell that lousy SOB that my plate is full until I get to Jerusalem. We can talk then." Since I am tech obsessed, I picture Jesus flipping through the calendar on his blackberry (Jesus wouldn't use Apple products - see bad translations of Gen 3) and pondering to himself, "hmmmmm, when can I squeeze this in."

Jesus knew the time was near, his death was coming upon his entry into Jerusalem, and yet he continued on the way. He didn't pull a Jonah and run toward Tarshish. He didn't dig a hole and spend the rest of his days hiding from the authorities. Instead, he confidently pushed toward Jerusalem teaching and healing along the way. And all that we might have life, but not just us, his hope was that everyone might come under his wing, even Herod and the Chief Priests and the Scribes. But people being people, this was not going to happen. Those in authority weren't going to give it up without a fight, and Jesus wasn't going to fight them. And so, as we journey toward Holy Week we see the end result.

In the meantime, I'm struck by how calm, cool, and collected Jesus sounds. Sure he calls Herod a fox, but wouldn't you? I'm surprised he continues his journey long after most (if not all) of us would have abandoned ship. He had a plan, a singular focus, and he would see it happen; humanity was going to be restored.

February 22, 2010

Jesus can say "no" but I can't

As always, there were some changes in pulpit, but I haven't made them in this text. Also, I would be remiss if I didn't thank Barbara Brown Taylor and the section she "threw away" from her Day1 sermon this week. BBT's trash, is my preaching treasure.
I'm not sure when in started, but at some point in the last ten years, I developed an unhealthy obsession with Chinese Buffets. In college when I went with a group of buddies to visit an old friend in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, we didn't seek out good southern barbeque. Instead we looked for the best Chinese buffet in town. One of the saddest moments in my two-and-a-half years in Foley was the day Cassie and I tried to eat at the Buffet next to Superior Furniture, only to find it had closed. The unhealthy part of all this is not Chinese food, of course, it is the buffet part. I always eat way, way too much; too much lo mein, too many helpings of beef and broccoli, too many friend chicken balls covered in glowing red sweet and sour sauce. By the time the eating frenzy ends, I'm always uncomfortable; filled to the gills, stuffed beyond belief. And yet, I go up one more time to grab a small bowl of the most sugary and delectable Jello ever made; Chinese Buffet Jello, the food of the gods. Even though I am full, I always succumb to the temptation to have just a little bit more.
Jesus didn't eat a Chinese buffets, obviously, but he certainly knew what it was like to be stuffed silly and tempted for more. On this first Sunday in Lent we hear the familiar story of Jesus' forty day fast in the wilderness. Because of a poorly placed lineage list in Luke we miss some of the context, so let's step back a verses and figure out where we are.
Late in his third chapter, Luke us that "when all the people were being baptized [by John], Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." When we then skip the lineage list and jump to the opening of our lesson for today, we find "Jesus, full of the Spirit, returning from the Jordan and being led by the Spirit into the wilderness."
Jesus is full of the Spirit and empty in his stomach when the devil arrives on the scene offering him more and more. "Why are you so hungry, Jesus? If you are the Son of God, turn this rock into bread... Why are you so vulnerable, Jesus? If you are God's Son why would he let you suffer so, worship me, and I'll give you more power... Why do you have to die, Jesus? If you are the Son of God, let him protect you." More bread, more power, more protection... the devil offers Jesus all the mores he could want, but Jesus says, "no, no, no. No bread, no power, no protection."
While I am categorically unable to say "no" when I am already full at the Chinese Buffet, Jesus is able to say "no" to the devil's great temptation because he is already full. Having been baptized by John in Jordan, having seen the heavens opened and the Spirit descending like a dove, having heard the voice of his Father, Jesus entered he wilderness not with a glass half full or half empty, but as a man full to the point of overflowing with the Spirit of God, and the Spirit is more than enough.
Each of us, by virtue of our baptisms, have been filled with the Spirit. Even as infants, we were full to overflowing and needed nothing else. Over the course of time, many of us have acted like me at the buffet and tried to stuff ourselves with things we didn't need; more bread, more power, more protection, more sex, more drugs, more money, more, more, more.
And as if we needed any help stuffing ourselves, the devil remains on the prowl, tempting us at every turn. Luke writes that the devil left Jesus until the opportune time. The note in my study Bible says the "opportune time" comes at 22.3-6, when the devil enters Judas. Others argue that it comes in the Garden of Gethsemane. As Jesus' two wills battle against one another, "take this cup... but your will be done" the devil must have been right there hoping against hope that the human will would win. I have suggested in the past that the opportune time was as Jesus entered the Temple for the first time during what would become the week of his Passion. I think there was a pause while Jesus looked around because he pondered for a moment about whether or not he could really do it all by force. During our lectionary study this week, Keith suggested, quite wisely I believe, that the devil comes right back on the scene in the next story, and then continues to appear over and over again. There are temptations all through Jesus' ministry; to give into the crowd at Nazreth, to let the unclean spirits tell everyone who he was, to let Peter fight his battle. If one believes this logic, and I am inclined to do so, it seems then there is no more opportune time than right now. As the body of Christ assembles around the altar, eats of the bread and wine of grace, and leaves full of the Spirit. As we leave this place, full of the Spirit, before we even enter our cars, the devil will be waiting, offering us more. And though it is hard, though he uses the very word of God, though he knows all our soft spots and all the tricks, we, like Jesus, should be able to say "no" because we are already full, and we need no more.
There is always super sweet red and green Jello on the buffet, and the opportune time occurs over and over and over again. The lesson we take from Jesus is that, as baptized disciples, we are already full, we need nothing else. And so, during this season of Lent, many of us will attempt to live on less; not because what we already have is bad, but because the tempter's modus oporadi is always toward more, and we beat the devil by breaking the cycle of the constant pursuit of more. No more bread, no more power, no more protection, no more calories, no more tv, no more facebook, no, no, no.
This is hard, especially when we find ourselves in Jesus' position, full of the Spirit but empty in the stomach. I hope that we will journey through the wilderness together. I hope we will draw strength from the Spirit as a community. I hope you will learn more about it during our Wednesday evening dinner and program called "Filled with the Spirit" that begins this Wednesday. The fact that telling the devil "no" is hard makes it no less true; those who confess with their lips and believe in their hearts are filled with the Spirit, and encouraged to stay full so that despite the unending assaults of the enemy, we are able to say, "no, I am already full." May God fill us again today, and tomorrow, and every day, that we might be able to join with his Son in saying, "no, Satan, I am filled with the Spirit." Amen.

February 18, 2010

Opportune Time

Luke 4.13, "When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time."

The note in my study Bible says the "opportune time" comes at 22.3-6, when the devil enters Judas. This seems odd to me, as he does no work of temptation, only that of turning Jesus over to the authorities. The devil had to know that a dead Jesus was bad news for him.

So then maybe the "opportune time" comes in the Garden of Gethsemane. As Jesus' two wills battle against one another, "take this cup... but your will be done" the devil must have been right there hoping against hope that the human will would win.

I'm inclined to think differently, however. I've argued elsewhere that the devil was there tempting Jesus as he entered the Temple for the first time during what would become the week of his Passion. I think there was a pause while Jesus looked around because he pondered for a moment about whether or not he could really do it all by force.

My boss, however, expands the "opportune time" even further. His suggestion, that I am apt to agree with, is that the devil is right back in the next story, and the one after that, and the one after that. There are temptations all through Jesus' ministry; to give into the crowd at Nazareth, to let the unclean spirits tell everyone who he was, to let Peter fight his battle, and on and on.

If one takes this tack, then it makes a whole lot of sense to me that the "opportune time" didn't end on a cross at Cavalry, but continues to plague the Body of Christ to this day. The devil is here, tempting us with Biblical literalism, with the social gospel, with arguments about sex and money and women's ordination. The opportune time is now.

So then, what do we, the modern incarnation of the Body of Christ, do with this all? We stand on the power of Christ, remain filled with the Spirit, and confess him alone at all times and in all places. May you have the strength to withstand the devil at his most "opportune time." Amen.

February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

The folk over at CCBlogs have a great wrap-up of all sorts of thoughts, opinions, and prayers for this Ash Wednesday. I encourage you to click on over... after you've read my sermon for Ash Wednesday, of course.

Today we begin a forty plus six day journey toward the tomb. In a few minutes you will be invited to come forward to receive the ancient symbol of mourning, ashes, upon your brow. In a few minutes we will join with the chorus of believers throughout the generations and lament our sinfulness in reciting Psalm 51. But before we get there, we take a moment to pause and reflect on the Scriptures appointed for this most holy day. Ash Wednesday is a day filled with mystery, but perhaps no more so than the lesson from Joel, a book we only hear read on Ash Wednesday.
There is next to nothing known about the prophet Joel. We aren't sure who he was, where he lived, or when he wrote his prophecies. We don't know if his warnings are about an upcoming military battle or an already past invasion by locusts. What we do know is that the community that God had chosen, his people Israel, were being threatened. Their economy was on the brink of collapse. The very way they ordered themselves was on the in danger. Most importantly they had lost sight of the One through Whom all Things are Made. Joel, whose name means, "YHWH is God" calls the people to gather in prayer. "Blow the trumpet in Zion!" He goes on to describe an impending doom that is unlike anything that has been and unlike anything that will ever happen again, a devastating horde that threatens to destroy everything that God has made.
True to his name, however, Joel reminds the people that even under the threat of utter destruction, YHWH is still God, and God's desire remain the same; that all the earth might come within the reach of his saving embrace. Even in the midst of their sinfulness, God again calls for them to return to him, to repent, to be restored in right relationship by the practices of fasting, weeping, and mourning. But what really matters, the reason this lesson is central to Ash Wednesday and Lent, is the next verse, verse thirteen, "Rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for his is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing."
In the light of events like the earthquake in Haiti and the crippling blizzards in the northeast, we are reminded over and over again that God's will is a mystery to us. We might understand better now how tectonic plates shift and how weather patterns like el nino and la nina affect our lives, but we still don't know why they happen; they just do. As much as we have come to learn, much still remains a mystery. What we do know, however, what we stated emphatically in our prayer for today is this, "God hates nothing he has made and forgives the sins of all who are penitent." Nothing else on earth may make sense, but that does. God loves everything he has made, and longs to restore to right relationship all who seek his ways.
And so today we take on the outward and visible sign of death and mourning, a cross of ashes upon our foreheads, as we seek the inward and invisible grace that is the rending of our hearts. We admit to YHWH who is the God of all Creation that we have erred and strayed from his ways like lost sheep, we have followed too much the devices and desires of our hearts, we have offended against his holy laws and for that we are truly sorry and we humbly repent and turn back to him. We call upon God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and pray that he would relent from the punishment due us, and once again, today, and probably again tomorrow, forgive us for the mistakes we make.
Our God is not a God of vengeance, but a God of love. He longs not for blood, but for restoration. His joy is made complete when we have love for him, for one another, and for his whole creation. Today we blow the trumpet and call together the assembly as we ask God to be true to who he is, to forgive us, and through these next forty plus six days, to help us grow closer to him.
Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

February 16, 2010

A Confident Collect

The prophet Joel may not know if God will relent from his anger, but we certainly do. Or at least the Collect for Ash Wednesday makes us think so.

If I remember correctly from my seminary days, a collect has three parts: 1) the address, 2) the petitions, and 3) the praise. The address for Ash Wednesday is ripe with the confidence necessary on a day spent pondering a) our own sinfulness and b) our own mortality.

"Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent..."

That is a serious statement about the God we follow. This God is first and foremost about the love and forgiveness of as much as possible. Even the messiest, ugliest, most screwed up person on this planet, God does not hate. Even the 11th hour deathbed convert is forgiven. Despite what others might tell us, groups with signs picketing soldier's funerals or yelling over a loudspeaker at the Indy500, tomorrow, we will confess with confidence that God hates nothing he has made and forgives the sins of all who are penitent.

This is the good news of Ash Wednesday.

February 15, 2010

hearts not garments

If you are a reader of Scripture, or even a regular worship attender, you've probably noticed that the regular way of showing grief in the Old Testament was to tear one's clothing. As God called the people of Israel back to obedience through the prophet Joel, the command to mourn their sinfulness was followed by a word that speaks a truth even for us, 21st century, non-cloth-tearing Americans.

Rend your hearts and not your clothing.

As Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Season of Lent, rapidly approaches, many people are pondering what they will give up; snacks, facebook, I've even seen someone list snow: Or what they will take on; prayer, Bible study, exercise, etc. While preachers have been known to question the motivation behind these practices, I'll suffice it to say, "rend your hearts and not your clothing." That is to say, outward changes might be good (and even healthy) but what matters is that we open our hearts to the very God who "hates nothing he has made and forgives the sins of those who are penitent."

So whatever you do (or don't do) this Lent, may it be a practice of rending your heart; opening yourself up to the living God who wants nothing more than to restore you and all of his Creation to right relationship.

February 11, 2010


I complain about the Lectionary. A lot. But this week, I need to give some kudos. As we begin the process of moving from Christmas/Epiphany into Lent the lessons selected for Last Epiphany Year C are perfect.

As we prepare for Jesus to be lifted high on the cross and for the curtain of the temple to be torn in two, it only makes sense to deal with the transition from the Old Covenant to the New. Moses (the law) and Elijah (the prophets) stand with Jesus on the holy mountain and "speak of his departure (exodus)." The Old Covenant is not rendered moot be Jesus, but made full. When Elijah and Moses disappear it is not because God has given up on the old way, but because Jesus must walk this new road alone. They are important enough to be given a place at this moment of transition.

This transition is summed up nicely in the interplay between the Exodus text and 2 Corinthians. Moses wore a veil because the Hebrews were desperately afraid of God; as well they should be. They were a royal pain in the butt in the days, months, and years following the Exodus. They complained, the moaned and groaned, they longed for the good old days, and to top it off, when they heard God, they were so scared they told Moses to take care of it, and while he did so, they built a god they could tame and worshiped it instead. Moses face scared them as much as it reminded them of their own idolatry. So Moses wore a veil.

Fast forward to Paul. We have to know that, as a good Jew, Paul isn't throwing out the law of Moses, but reminding people that the veils were self-inflicted. God didn't require the veil; if he did why change Moses' countenance at all? Instead, Paul reminds the Church in Corinth that God has been, is, and for ever will be about removing the veil so as to see him face to face; to see the bright shining light of his glory.

Sure, what God's glory shows us about ourselves is enough to make us want to filter it, but God wants it all; the good, the bad, the ugly, so that he can free us from the fear and the guilt. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. May your veil be lifted so that your likeness might change from glory to glory.

February 10, 2010

The Cross

The prayer for this weekend points to what Jesus tells his disciples before Peter, James, and John head up the mountain with him. It is that passage that none of us really like to hear, "If anyone would follow me, let him deny himself and daily take up his cross and follow me."

We don't like denying ourselves and we really don't want to take up our crosses, so we put veils over top and try to make it all so easy. "We can't afford Speed Network, but that's my cross to bear." or "I'd love to find a good mate, but eHarmony moves slowly, that's my cross to bear." But that's all just too easy. Jesus' cross almost crushed him before it held him high in the air and suffocated him with excruciating pain. Our cross is not made of toothpicks, but is the full weight of God's great hope for his Creation. Our cross is the burden of sanctification, restoration, and hope. Our cross is turning the world upside down.

Peter, a youngish guy from my diocese, is studying at Sewanee where he sat in on an emerging church seminar yesterday. This being one of my favorite topics, I began a conversation with him on facebook, where he posted this video, orginally created for an AARP video contest that shows better than most, what it means to hope and to carry the weight of the cross meant to turn the world upside down.

February 9, 2010


There is a resolution that will come before the Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast that is the first in a two step process to officially change our name. Apparently a graduate of the Protestant Episcopal Seminary in Virginia, who will go unnamed, is spearheading this effort and our high-church(ish) bishop is all for it.

As the resident low church Protestant in this diocese, I wonder about it. As I read the story of Moses' shining face and his veil and then I read Paul's interpretation of the veil, I can't help but wonder which "side" is arguing for a veil to cover our faces?

I realize that it doesn't matter one iota whether Protestant is in our name or not, but it does matter that we think about these things. Heck, it is important that as the Body of Christ we think and pray and discern in all things. What does it say, the southern depths of the Baptist belt, to remove Protestant from our name? Does it make it harder to reach out to those who may be rejecting their old ways and seeking a new way to express their thinking faith?

The Church is notorious for putting veils on important things. We water down the gospel to make it more appealing. We argue about this, when we really care about that. We buy more land and build more buildings and collect more debt while the poor among us go hungry and the rich among us follow our example to their own peril.

No matter how hard we try to make them invisible, institutions are veils, that's just the way it is. We argue of the beading and the details of the veil, but it is a veil none the less. My hope this day, and in the days leading up to our Convention later this month, is that we get out of the way and let God's glory shine.

February 8, 2010

the devil might really be in the details

I'll admit it. I think I'm beginning to fall in love with Luke. His care for the outcast and oppressed; it's nice. His balance between Jew and Gentile; enjoyable. His use of detail; divine. This weekend, the last before the journey of Lent begins, tells the story, as always, of the Transfiguration of Jesus in front of Peter, James, and John. But in Luke's account, we find out that Peter isn't the bumbling fool of Mark and Matthew, wanting to build booths for no apparent reason. Instead, he and his friends are so sleep deprived that he doesn't know what he is saying.

Which leads me to the title for today's post, the devil might really be in the details. I am usually first aboard the "let's poke fun at the stupid disciples" ship. They spend three years with Jesus. They saw him die and then saw him alive. And even to the moment before his ascension, they still wonder when he'll pull an army together to run Rome out of town.

But Luke's account of the Transfiguration has given me pause. What if, in the midst of those three very intense, travel-heavy years, the disciples were just so tired that they just could not put the pieces together? I'm probably saying this because of my own state of exhaustion, but seriously, do you think Luke offers up that detail for no reason? I really think that the disciples inability to comprehend what Jesus was up to can be related to a lack of sleep; the devil really is in the details.

If this is in anyway plausible, then there is a strong teaching for all of us who profess to follow Christ, but work/play/family too much. The fullness of our relationship with him is not possible without rest and a clear head. I mean Jesus, Elijah and Moses are talking about his death right in front of them, in plain Hebrew (or maybe the King's English), and the three disciples on scene are oblivious.

Sleep is not for the weak my friends, it is for the wise. Take care of yourselves, and be strengthened for the Kingdom.

Sermon for Proper 5c

    I am not a fisherman.  Ask Brad Stevens, he'll tell you.  I mean I know how to throw a line in the water and sip on a beer, but tying lines, picking the right lure, removing a fish from the hook; yeah, I don't do any of it.  In my two-plus years in Foley, however, I've come to really appreciate the art of the fishing story.  Most of the time, I can guess the end before it happens; it is either about one, huge fish or a short-time-period, limit catch.  Our gospel lesson this morning is probably the most famous short-time-period, limit catch fish story in human history.  It is such a well known story; a favorite in Sunday School curricula, an easy wing-it talk for youth ministers, and probably a top-5 preaching text.  It is such a well known story, and has held that title for so long, that by now, most of us don't really even know the story.  All we remember is Jesus, a net, and fishers of men.
    I found out just how un-well-known this story was on Monday afternoon.  I was on the phone with Scott Trotter, the rector down in Bon Secour, and we were lamenting the NRSV translation of this text.  We both wondered why the translators would choose catchers of people when fishers of men is so easy to remember, so punny.  Why change the translation?  Well because fishers of men is Matthew's version of the story, not Luke's.  Luke wrote catchers of people.  Doesn't say much for two seminary educated priests, surely, but what it made me realize is just how un-well-known this story is.  And with that, my preaching challenge was set.  A story so popular, so important in our life together, has to be known, well-known.
    Last week, we left Jesus having narrowly escaped an angry mob in Nazareth.  In the interim, he has made his way to Capernaum where he taught in their Synagogue with authority, he healed a man with an unclean spirit, healed Simon Peter's mother-in-law, cured the sick, released those held captive by demons, and then took his message on the road to all the Synagogues of Judea.  This morning we find Jesus on the bank of the Sea of Gennesaret or the Sea of Galilee with a crowd pressing in on him.  Simon Peter, whose home Jesus had been in already, was finishing up a fruitless night of fishing when Jesus spotted him and asked him to push his boat out in the shallow water so that he could reach more of the crowd with the word of God.  After he finished teaching, Jesus asked Simon to move out into the deep water and throw out the nets.
    So we have Jesus the carpentry trained preacher telling Simon the fisherman where to fish.  Simon thinks that he ought to protest, if only a little bit.  "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets."  My friend Bill has argued, and I am apt to agree with him, that we need a sarcasm font so that when people write things that are dripping with sarcasm, everybody knows it.  Believe it or not, there is sarcasm in the Bible.  Moses and God hit each other with sarcasm on more than one occasion.  In this case, I think Simon is really treating Jesus with the contempt only a true fisherman could have toward a novice telling him what to do.
    "We, the four professional fisherman, have worked all night and caught nothing, but you obviously know what you are talking about oh wise carpenter slash rabbi, nut you did heal my mother-in-law so we'll do what you say."  So with great reluctance, Simon puts the boat into deep water and throws out the net, and lo and behold, the catch is huge.  It is the ultimate short-time-period limit catch.  The nets begin to break and Simon frantically calls to his buddies James and John for help.  As fast as they can, they join Simon and Jesus in the deep water and both boats get filled to the point of sinking.  As a congregation full of fisher-folk and boat owners, I feel the need to give you an idea as to how big these boats were.  A recent archaeological find near the Sea of Galilee tells us that these boats were in the neighborhood of 26.5 feet long, 7.5 feet wide, and 4.5 feet high.  These are not dugout canoes, these are sure-enough fishing boats, and to fill them to the point of sinking is serious business, and our sarcastic friend Simon has changed his tune.
    "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!"  I don't think the sarcasm font is needed here.  If you were paying attention to the Old Testament lesson, you've probably noticed you heard this before.  Simon's miraculous call to ministry is not unlike Isaiah's, and their responses are essentially the same.  Isaiah, having seen the glory of the Lord says, "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips..."  Peter having realized that the carpenter-slash-rabbi in his boat was indeed the Lord cries out, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!"  Jesus' response is not to leave Simon alone, but instead to invite him to join him on the journey.  "Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching people."
    A few things of note in that sentence.  First, unlike in Matthew and Mark, Jesus is not addressing a group of people, but Simon alone.  For Luke this call story is important, it needs to follow the ancient motif, like that of Isaiah, and it needs to solidify Peter's place in the story, a place that will be even more important in his companion text Acts.  Secondly, also unlike Matthew and Mark, the verb Luke has Jesus saying to Peter is not to fish, but to catch.  Even as a non-fisherman, I know that there is a huge difference between fishing and catching.  Matthew and Mark are concerned with fishing; they want to use the right lure in the right depth of water to catch a very specific type of fish.  Luke, on the other hand, is much more concerned with Jesus' wide net.  His ministry starts not in Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish world, but in Galilee where Jews and Gentiles lived side by side.  His message, the one that got him run out of Nazareth was one of freedom and redemption for all people.  And for Luke, it is all about throwing a net into deep water and bringing in whatever comes.
    Now I know what you are thinking.  Steve, thank you.  Thanks for helping us learn the intricate details of Luke's version of the miraculous catch story, but what on earth does it have to do with us?
    I'm glad you asked.  There are three details from this story that really apply to our lives in Foley, Alabama in 2010.  The first is the sarcasm of Simon Peter.  I think it teaches us two things; that being a disciple does not preclude us from having a sense of humor and that God can use us all, even the most sarcastic sinner among us. [raises his hand].
    The second is the way in which Jesus calls Peter; his nets are tattered and his boat is sinking, and Jesus says, "come, follow me."  It reminds me of the way my former bishop told the story of St. Francis of Assisi.  We've all heard the story of the rich young Francis giving back of his possessions to serve the Lord.  Bishop Creighton told us that Francis' father, afraid of what his son would do with his new found call and a lot of money, took it all away from him, and it was only after Francis was poor that he took his vow of poverty.  Does it matter which version is true?  No not really.  Either way, the life that Francis went on to live is an example for us all to model.  Did Jesus call Peter when his nets were still full of fish or did he wait until he could see was a tattered sinking mess?  It doesn't matter because in the end, Peter dropped it all to follow.  This morning we prayed that God would set us free from the bondage of our sins, which sounds a lot more like, take all this stuff away from me and leave my life tattered and sinking so that I have no choice but to follow you than allow me to give it all up for you.  Either way, the fact remains that Peter walked away from it all and followed Jesus, and we are called to do the same.
    Finally, we learn that Jesus ministry is one of casting as big a net in as deep a water as possible.  Adding to his mission is not about having all the right answers, but about sharing his love to everyone we meet, no matter what.  So join me, a transformed sarcastic sinner, who is still trying to leave the tattered sinking mess of his old life behind to follow Jesus and let's share the love of God in all times and at all places and be catchers, not just fishers, of people.  Amen.

February 4, 2010

Anskar Homily

I don't know about you, but I like schedules. I like due dates. I like to-do lists. I like to know what needs to be done and when it needs to be accomplished. And so, Jesus' last words to his disciples before his ascension are troubling to me, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority." Not for me to know? Well, why the heck not? I've paid my dues, I should be in the know.
Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. We all know experiences where we just can't know the reasons that God works sometimes and doesn't others. He works by his own authority, and that has to be good enough.
Today the Church remembers Anskar, Archbishop of Hamburg and Missionary to Denmark and Sweden who died in 865. Anskar is the patron saint of "it is not for you to know" and "these shall plant the seed, but others shall reap the harvest." Born in Corbie, France in the year 801, Anskar was educated in a top-notch monastery there. His skill as a teacher led him to be sent to Saxon Germany to lead a new monastery school, but his heart was set on missionary work, after receiving a vision calling him to serve God.
In 826, King Herald of Denmark put out a call for missionaries for his country and Anskar was selected much to the astonishment of his friends and family. Why should he wish to leave his brothers to deal with "unknown and barbarous folk?" Some of the monks tried to deter him; others considered him a freak. Nice way for a bunch of monks to think...
Anyway, Anskar worked diligently, albeit unsuccessfully, to convert the hearts of those in Denmark. Encouraged by a second vision calling him to missionary work, he took a call to Sweden in 829 where he was again frustrated by meager aid from both the Church and the State. At the age of 30 he was consecrated as Archbishop of Hamburg and continued his work in Scandinavia until he retired at the ripe old age of 47. In his 22 years of missionary work, at least according to the records I found, he is credited with having established two churches in Denmark, planted one priest in Sweden, and for some reason with only one priest, consecrated the first bishop of Sweden.
Long after his death, one hundred years later, however, the fruit of his work came into full bloom as the Church in Scandinavia, free from Viking detestation, a weak Frankish Church and limited institutional missionary zeal, flourished. It is not for us to know the times that the Father has set by his own authority.
Over the years, I've had some pretty frustrating jobs. I waited tables and made very little money at a Red Lobster in a small rural community. I learned the American's with Disability codes for restrooms in three different attempts to design a restaurant that the city government was never going to approve. But the most frustrating job I've ever had was that of youth minister. Seeds are planted. A lot of seeds are planted. And fruit is rarely seen. At the height of my frustration with a particular group of kids, someone told me, "Steve, did you know the average person hears the gospel seven times before it makes sense? We are all links on the long chain that God uses to restore his people. Sometimes you are the last link, and you see God's action immediately. Sometimes you are the first link, and it might be years until a connection is made. Just be happy to be a link in God's chain."
Anskar did not know the time or the period when the Father would act. He was just a faithful link on the long chain of human history. Today, I take comfort in his example of faithful perseverance, and I hope you will too. We do not know the why's and wherefore's of God's working, all we can do is be faithful to his call and be happy to be a link in God's chain. Amen.

tattered and sunk

My good friend, Bill, is something of a Greek god. By that, I don't mean that he's tall, dark, and handsome (and I don't mean that he isn't), instead, I mean that he is really good with Biblical Greek. Having given me, a Greek tragedy, props for yesterday's live-catching post, he pointed out on facebook two things that I had missed even in the English.

Bill M. - The things I love about Luke's story is Peter's sarcasm on fishing on the other side of the boat. But I love that Jesus effectively destroys their livelihood (the boats are swamped, the nets torn) and THEN invites them to something new and different.

Bill has been known to say that we need a "sarcasm font" and I'm apt to agree with him. How much easier would exegesis be if we were able to read the sarcasm the right way? Who else but Simon Peter could say to the Lord, "whatever you say" and get away with it?

But what I love, and I'm thankful to bill for pointing out is that Jesus really does destroy everything Simon Peter, James, and John knew. Their nets are tattered and the boats on the verge of sinking, and now Jesus says, "c'mon and follow me."

It reminds me of the version of the St. Francis story that my former bishop, Michael Creighton told. According to Bishop Mike, Francis' father, fearful of what this new life as a devout Christian would mean for his son, took away everything he had; his money, his housing, even his clothes, and it was only after that even that Francis took his vow of voluntary poverty. Knowing that version doesn't make his life any less exemplary. Whether he gave it all up or had it all taken from him, matters not, it is what he did after it was all gone that matters.

So too with the first disciples. Did Jesus call them to follow while their nets were still full of fish? Or did he wait until all that was left were some tattered nets and sinking boats? Either way, it is that they left to follow him that matters.

This weekend, we pray that God would set us free from the bondage of our sins, which sounds a lot more like, take stuff away, leave my life tattered and sinking than it does, allow me to give it all up for you. Either way, however, it is the fact that we follow him that matters; how you get there, that's up to you.

February 3, 2010

a well known tale

The story of Jesus and the miraculous catch is probably the best known fishing tale in history. It is a favorite of Sunday school programs, an easy teaching for youth groups, and it gets preached all the time. It is so well known that we barely know it at all. We've heard it so many times, we think we know it, but we know only bits and pieces.

A fellow priest and I were on the phone on Monday lamenting the translation of the NRSV when Jesus tells Simon from now on he'll be "catching people." Why ruin the pun of fishers of men, we both wondered. Well, mostly because that's Matthew's version, not Luke's. In Luke the Greek verb means "live catching" and not "fishing." Did you know that? I didn't.

But what that does is amazing. It opens up this story, and the whole of Luke/Acts. The disciples want to use a particular lure in a particular way to catch particular fish. They are fishermen. Jesus, on the other hand, uses a net drug through deep water to catch anything and everything. He is a catcher. Jesus' way will get him and his disciples and Paul, and many others in trouble, but Jesus' way is one of eternal life.

What sort of Church do you belong to? In Luke, Jesus is clear, we are called to be catcher churches not fisher churches.

February 2, 2010

guilt - a two edged sword

I've been fascinated with Isaiah's call (6.1-8) since OT1. It is a beautiful story full of imagery, myth, and legend. It is the call narrative we all wish we had; God with his flowing white robe and angelic attendants in our very presence. It'd make discernment so much easier.

There is one detail that I'm glad I didn't have to experience; the whole live coal to the lips thing sounds less than appealing. But it happens, and then the angel of the Lord says something interesting to Isaiah, "Now that this [coal] has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." Were that it was so easy to have our guilt depart. What the angel is actually saying, of course, is that Isaiah, who was once guilty of sin is now innocent by the grace of God. This state is somewhat foreign to the Hebrews, but is well known to modern Christians. We have been washed clean in the blood of the lamb, as it were. Most of us know that, intuitively. We who were once guilty have had our guilt depart from us.

But most of us know in our hearts that the guilt doesn't go away quite so easily. The feeling bad, the self-loathing, the wishing for a do-over; that seems to stick around long after our guilt has departed.

As we pray this Sunday to be set free, I think a lot of us are really saying, "Oh God, let my guilt, both kinds, depart from me." The first step is to really believe that I who was once guilty am now forgiven, the second is accepting that God's forgiveness wipes the slate clean; that I can't live in the past, but can only be present and, with God's help, change my future for the better. Let God take away your guilt and enjoy the abundance of his grace.

February 1, 2010


If you made your living catching fish and found yourself one afternoon with a record catch, what do you think the odds are that you'd drop your nets to follow some itinerant preacher?

I know the scenario isn't quite fair since it was that preacher who got you to drop your nets in the first place, but let's imagine for just a minute. You've been fishing your whole life. Your father before you, and your grandfather before him; all fishermen. It is in your blood. It is all you know. And one day you give it all up to "catch people" (a good translation, but not a very punny) What do you think you'd do? Would you throw down a net full of fish, a livelihood, a life, to follow him?

Since five15 began in October, I've begun to read the Scripture with two hats; preacher and liturgical planner. I'm always looking for stations to use in the chapel. This week it seems obvious that our fishing net is full, the economy is slowly coming back, spring will soon arrive in Baldwin County, life is good; but Jesus continues to call us forward, he calls us again and again to drop our net full of goodness and trust in his abundance. Will you drop your net again today?

Sermon for Epiphany 4C

Last week, Keith left us with a challenge. His hope was that in the coming weeks and months, through an in depth study of ourselves, our community, and our God we would leave the people of South Baldwin County scratching their heads and asking, "what has gotten into those St. Paul's people?" It is a good challenge. One that I too hope to see happen. But thanks to the wise folk who put together our Lectionary, Keith only had to deal with half of the story of Jesus preaching in his hometown of Nazareth. This week, we are reminded that "what has gotten into them" is not always asked in a kind and awe-inspired tone. Sometimes, it means, "y'all are nuts" or "you can't be serious" or as is the case for Jesus in Luke's Gospel this morning, it can mean, "hey take a look at that nice high cliff over there." Unfortunately, that attitude doesn't always come from the outside. In the Church it is often those on the inside who are happy with and deeply invested in the way things are and don't want to see change happen. Often, like in our Gospel lesson this morning the anger and contempt comes from well meaning religious types who are, on some level, trying to live out the life of faith. Beyond that, sometimes the anger and contempt comes from ourselves as we struggle to give things up or add things onto our calendars. Change is not easy; whether it is changing ourselves or most especially changing our church.
The more I think about the universal human reluctance to change, the more I think it has to do with expectations. The people in the Synagogue had expectations of Jesus. He's Joseph's son; a carpenter by trade. His brothers and sisters still lived there. Most likely, they expected Jesus to hang around Nazareth and teach for a while. They expected his family to throw a party to celebrate his return. They expected him to perform the miracles they had heard about in other town. And then, as he taught, their expectations began to grow even larger. Remember what he preached to them, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor... Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." This is Joseph's son? He sounds an awful lot like a radical preacher, maybe even the Messiah! And if so, then he would probably begin to create an army, march to Jerusalem and remove the Romans from their oppressive seat of power. They began to expect some sort of special treatment; that he'd give them positions of power in his regime. The people in the synagogue really thought they knew who Jesus was, and expected him to act a certain way.
If we are really honest with ourselves, we too have expectations of Jesus, and we think we know him pretty well. This is especially true of his body still on earth, the Church. Each of us has an idea of what we think the Church generally and this church specifically should look like. We have expectations of our national leaders, and our bishop. We have expectations of our worship services. We have expectations of the groups we belong to: the ECW, the Men's Group, the Altar Guild. We have expectations of our clergy. And we have expectations for ourselves; we volunteer for things that we assume we are good at. All of our expectations are based on the assumption that we know ourselves, St. Paul's, and the Church pretty well. But if we are honest with ourselves, how well do we really know these things, and how much is just assumed? Expected?
I heard a preacher one time say that "expectations are resentments waiting to happen." Certainly, life is not as universal as that statement, but I think we could maybe agree on the fact that silent expectations; our unsaid but strongly held assumptions, are resentments waiting to happen. Jesus gets that. In our lesson this morning he names the crowd's silent expectations. "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, 'Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'" Jesus is in the business of naming expectations and then blowing them out of the water. "Do you think you are special because I grew up here?" "Do you think my life is going to be one of relative ease?" "Do you think this whole thing will end well?" People don't like to have their expectations challenged. In this story Jesus goes from preaching to meddling and it leads to his almost being thrown off a cliff. People really don't like to have their expectations challenged. But like I said, Jesus is in the business of naming expectations and blowing them out of the water.
As some of you might know, I was able to spend this past week in Alexandria, Virginia. My seminary offered every member of the classes of 2006, 7, and 8 the chance to spend a week on campus as a sort of mini-sabbatical. Being back in a place where I had spent such a long and intense period of my life brought all sorts of memories flooding back. Each time I sat in a seat or walked past a building, I was reminded of a story from my three years on the holy hill. One thing that was brought to mind for me over and over was the whole ordination process; a messy roller coaster of emotions spread out over five-plus years. As I reflected on the process, however, and thought about the Gospel passage for today, I found myself feeling extremely thankful for at least one aspect of the whole messy ride. Early on, before the physicals and psychiatric evaluations, before the internships and theological reflection papers, before almost anything else, there is a period in which the Church facilitated my really getting to know myself. As a wet-behind the ears 22 year-old, I thought I knew myself pretty well; honestly I thought I knew just about everything pretty well. But on a weekend retreat, a group of seven or eight of us were encouraged to spend the weekend really getting to know ourselves. We told stories, we took inventories, and in the end we found out the gifts of the Spirit that God had given each of us for his use in the up building of the Church and the restoration of the world, and most of us were surprised by what we had found.
In the coming weeks and months, each of us will have the opportunity to look at our own expectations and assumptions. We'll look at what we expect of ourselves, and ask questions like, "Am I really gifted at this or do my talents lie elsewhere?" We'll look at all the pieces and parts that make up our common life at St. Paul's and ask questions like, “are we, corporately, equipped to do this work or does something need to be tweaked?” And we'll try our hardest to dream about those things that we are not yet doing and ask, “who is gifted by God to lead this new venture?” All with the hope that the folk of South Baldwin will soon be asking, “what has gotten into those St. Paul's people?”
As our gospel lesson reminds us, this process will certainly not be an easy one. We might find that we are ill equipped in some areas that we assumed we were good at. We might find out things about ourselves that we didn't want to know. We might want to run Jesus (or Keith or me) to the edge of the cliff, and that is somewhat natural, but in the end this period of honest self-reflection isn't for us, but for the people we serve and for the Kingdom we profess. My brothers and sisters, I invite you to set aside your assumptions, turn away from your expectation,s and open your hearts and minds to God. Allow him to show you your gifts and talents. Allow him to build his Kingdom with you. What has gotten into us? The very Spirit of the living God. Amen.