June 29, 2010

Sermon for Proper 8, Year C

Good morning! My name is Sailor Steve. Early Monday morning, I boarded a boat I thought was a week long Caribbean cruise, prepared for a week of fun. I've got my sunglasses, my trusty pirate hat, and a life-preserver, just in case. Instead, I ended up on the Clipper Ship, High Seas Expedition, where I received this mop, useful for swabbing the deck. Instead of sitting by the pool sipping drinks with umbrellas in them, I ended up working with 90 plus kids ages five to twelve and 40 or so adult volunteers for some Vacation Bible School fun! During the week, we learned all about the God's word, the Bible. We learned that the Bible is truth, that the Bible is comforting, it is surprising, it can be life-changing, and most importantly, we learned that the Bible is for everyone.
This morning, however, God's word, and by that I mean lowercase “w”, the Bible, and capital “w”, the second person of the Trinity, Jesus the Christ, God's word is down right confusing. Take, fore example, the story of Jesus and the Samaritan town. Jesus, having set his face for Jerusalem, sent messengers ahead to prepare a place for Jesus and his crowd to rest. The first town they arrive at, a Samaritan city, will not accept Jesus, and so James and John ask Jesus a seemingly ridiculous question, “would you like us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Really? Did they think Jesus would say yes to this?
Well, actually they did. They thought Jesus would say yes, because they still weren't sure who Jesus was. Most of his followers were still pretty convinced that Jesus was the return of Elijah as promised by the prophet Micah. Jesus, like Elijah, had raised a widow's son from the dead. John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask, “are you the one we've been waiting for?” Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus to his house thinking he was a great prophet. When Jesus asked his followers who people were saying he was, “Elijah” came the answer. On the mount of the Transfiguration, Elijah stood with Moses and Jesus, further confusing the issue for Peter, James and John. And so, when the city won't accept Jesus, James and John think “Elijah” and recall that Elijah had a knack for commanding fire from heaven. Once in the epic battle between prophets that Keith told us about last week. And, in a scene just before his assumption into heaven, Elijah called down fire on three separate occasions consuming three groups of Samaritan soldiers sent by their king to kill Elijah.
So, in all honesty, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Jesus would allow his disciples to call fire down from heaven, except for the fact that Jesus was not Elijah. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Most High God, and his was not a journey toward war, but a path of peace.
And so, our confusing morning with Jesus continues as he is met by three different men who are willing to follow him, but seem to be rejected. Truth be told, Along the way, Jesus encounters many who would like to join him on the journey. Some, like the man we encountered last week, have been healed by Jesus and want to follow him out of gratitude. Some, like James and John, have been with him all along, and will continue to follow him even though they haven't a clue what is really going on. Still others want to follow out of curiosity or because of a recent tragedy or because they feel called.
Jesus takes this opportunity, at the very beginning of his journey to Jerusalem, to tell his disciples and any would-be follows and us what it means to follow him. His message is clear, that the gospel matters. The in-breaking of the Kingdom of God is more important than anything else.
So important that even though he has been run out of his own hometown, he doesn't change his tune. So important the even when the Samaritans won't let him in, he stays the course. So important that it means traveling all over Palestine to share the Good News. Jesus really has not place to lay his head but by the provision of his Father, and the message he has to share is so important that sometimes the Father says, “just keep moving.”
The message Jesus has to share is so important that all familial obligations go out the window. For a son to bury his father was the most important and holy task a son had in Jewish tradition. Additionally, the Deuteronomy requires that a body be buried as soon as possible; often the same day. The man who wishes to bury his father first comes to Jesus in a raw place. His father hasn't been dead for weeks or months while the family waited to get together for a proper burial. His father died today, and while he'd like to follow Jesus, maybe tomorrow would be better. But now is all Jesus has. There is no time to waste, the message of the Kingdom is too important; more important than everything else.
Jesus doesn't turn these men away, but he does test their resolve making sure they are willing to commit everything to the Kingdom. In the story of those three nameless me, we are invited by Luke to place ourselves in their stead, and ask, honestly, are we willing to journey with Jesus, are we willing to take up our cross and follow him? Last fall, I invited you to join me on a six-week journey with Jesus. We had three basic rules for that trip: don't be afraid to ask questions, there will be no competition, and serve one another. This year, our journey with Jesus is much longer. This morning we hear of Jesus setting if face toward Jerusalem and we will follow him on a Vast Voyage all over the Palestinian countryside from now until Halloween. As the theme song for VBS said, “This great adventure through God's word will change our lives, change us for good. It will surprise us and show us the truth.” That is to say, if we go about the next four months with an open mind, an open heart, and an open soul, we will be changed for good by finding the truth because we are on a journey of discipleship and journey that is, by definition, life-changing. This journey will take us all over the map. There will be stories of joy and of heartbreak; narratives and lessons; parables and explanations – in every instance, however, there will be a lesson on what it means to journey with Jesus.
Which leads me to a fourth rule for this year's Vast Voyage. Rule #4 is that we go in peace, and we go right now. Even though I have just returned from a week long, very exhausting expedition, I am eager to go again, out into the world to proclaim all that God has done for me... for us. The stained glass window above the main entrance reads, “Go in Peace...” Not “come and rest,” not “taste and see,” not “sit and wait,” but Go in Peace. We return to this place each Sunday to be refreshed and renewed for another week of following Jesus along the way. We come to the table to eat of the flesh and blood so that his peace is within us.
And so we leave this place and follow Jesus in service and in love. This past week a group of fifth and sixth graders (along with a lot of seventh and eighth graders who tagged along) spent their VBS week dong just that. Much to our surprise we had someone complain that their child wasn't learning about Jesus. My thought, however, was that the best way to learn about Jesus is to act like him, and so they went and saw the light of Christ shining in washing a handicap van, serving food for the home bound through meals-on-wheels, mixing paint for Habitat for Humanity, distributing clothes for the needy, doing yard work for the elderly, and stuffing hair booms that were later deployed at the mouth of Week's Bay. They gathered with the whole group at the start and end of each day to sing praises to God and learn the Bible Point, but then they did what each of us is called to do and followed Jesus out into the world to share his love in word and deed.
Jesus and his disciples are beginning a long and winding journey to Jerusalem that will end in death. This voyage is not one of conquest, but a a peaceful march toward the Kingdom of God. As we join Jesus and his companions on this four month voyage, may we remember the rules: don't be afraid to ask questions, there will be no competition, serve-one another, and go in peace and go right now. When we leave this place, refreshed by our time at God's table and begin our own journey, may we go in peace, to love and serve the Lord. Go in peace, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit. Go in peace, and go right now. Amen.

2 is the absolute minimum

As you may have picked up on by now, my rector has begun his sabbatical. He'll be back to cover me for a couple of weeks in July, August, and September, but, for the most post part, St. Paul's is a one-priest show until November.

Jesus sent the 70 out in groups of 2.

After three years of shared ministry and three days of planning it all on my own, I've decided that Jesus did this to tell us that 2 is the absolute minimum for ministry. Had there been more than 70 and had there been more time, I think Jesus would have used even larger groups. But at this point in his ministry, on his way to Jerusalem, he had very little time and only 70 willing to go, and so he sent them, IN GROUPS OF TWO!

In reality, TKT and I are still working as a group of two. If I weren't here, the whole sabbatical thing would be really, really tough to pull off, if he hadn't laid such a solid foundation over the last three years, this would be impossible.

But to all of you folks running solo out there, know this, two is the minimum. I don't mean that two seminary trained, ordained, ministers need to be on staff, but I do mean that you have to share the work with at least one other person; lay/ordained, staff/volunteer, pastoral/administrative. If you look around and notice that you are doing it all, remember, your church didn't do that to you, you did, and Jesus wants to see you share the ministry entrusted to you.

So go on, ask for help, invite someone to share her gifts, and be ready to live by my cardinal rule - 2 is the absolute minimum.

June 28, 2010

The 70 and the 4th

The Church calendar is a strange contraption. This year, the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost falls on July 4th, Independence Day for the United States. As per Church rules, the Church's celebration of Independence Day is moved to Monday the 5th, and so we get very strange lessons for the 4th in a community filled with retired military who will expect some reference to the holiday at hand.

O joy.

I think I see an in, however, in the very last line of the lesson from Luke, "Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

I never served in the Armed Forces. I've never been in a war zone. I don't have a clue what those experiences are like, but my guess is that in the midst of battle there is a whole lot of joy when the side determined to be evil (that is to say, not our side) submits in the course of battle; they retreat, they surrender, whatever. That would have to be a good thing.

But there is something better. The end of war, the installation of peace, the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. That is better. The freedom that is received when our names are written in heaven. That is better. This country hasn't always lived up to the values of the Kingdom. OK, this country has never fully lived up to God's dream. And yet, post-slavery, post-women's suffrage, post-civilrights, we are closer now than ever.

Don't rejoice because the enemy turns away, rejoice because of your freedom, freedom that comes from you name being written in heaven.

It is a start... at least.

June 23, 2010

the Church's one foundation

... is Jesus Christ her Lord.

St. Paul's will sing this classic hymn as we begin our worship on Sunday. It reminds us of our unity, our strength, our hope not in church or in trappings or in vestments or in programs, but in Jesus Christ, our chief cornerstone.

It reminds us that following Jesus might mean tough times, it might mean mistakes are made, it might mean the tumult of war, but because we are in communion with God, the three in one, we will one day be victorious.

As we hear lessons of chariots of fire, sinfulness, and Jesus calling for the Kingdom to be priority #1 it is worth remembering that we worship the God of provision who has promised us the Kingdom. Now to keep our eyes on the one who saved us, leads us, and sustains us, Jesus the King of kings.

June 22, 2010

a double portion

The great story of Elijah's chariot ride to the heavens has me thinking about leave taking. I'm not planning on going anywhere, just so you know, but as my Rector prepares for his sabbatical to begin, I'm feeling a lot like Elisha.

I'm excited for TKT. I'm glad he is finally taking the time he is due. I'm thankful for a parish that both gives him the space and gives me the help so that the Rector can be gone for three months.

And as the days count down to his departure, and as I think of all sorts of last minute questions to ask, I'm also thinking it'd be super if he could leave me a double portion of his spirit too.

What a request. Elisha knows that Elijah is God's great prophet. He knows how he had orchestrated the overthrow of Ahab and Jezebel. He knows about the crazy altar fire scene, the wind, earthquake, fire, and silence on Sinai. Elisha knows all that Elijah has done and in whose power and name he has done it, and Elisha knows that he will need twice as much help to follow in his footsteps.

I'm feeling the same way. Give me a double portion, o God, that I might serve you and the people of St. Paul's ably and faithfully. You can have it back when TKT returns, I just need it for a little while. Amen.

June 21, 2010

the sons of thunder and the fruit of the Spirit

The lesson taken from Paul's letter to the Galatians this morning is all about sanctification; what happens when we allow the Spirit to live and thrive within us. Over time, the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control grow and mature in us. There have been times in my life when I have looked back on situations that would have driven me crazy before, but thanks be to God, the Spirit has carried me through with patience, generosity and love.

Compare that, then, with James and John, the Sons of Thunder, and their reaction to the Samaritan city that would not welcome Jesus. "Hey Jesus, you want we should call fire to rain down from heaven upon them?" Where did they even get the idea for this? Had Jesus done this elsewhere? Had Jesus ever just gone ballistic and destroyed a town because they hadn't welcomed him properly? I doubt it. Jesus, the Son of God, a part of the Triune Godhead is tapped into the Spirit, he lives on her fruit. He knows only love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. James and John weren't there yet, they didn't know the fruit of the Spirit, yet.

Do you know the fruit of the Spirit? Do you live on it? Thrive on it? Fill us up with your Spirit, Almighty God, we need her fruit.

June 17, 2010

sheer silence part 2

Keith noticed a parallel between the 1 Kings lesson and the experience of Jesus in country of the Gerasenes which might be worth noticing.

1. the great wind 1. the screaming demoniac
2. the earthquake 2. the screaming pigs
3. the fire 3. the screaming townspeople
4. the sheer silence 4. the man, clothed and in his right mind, testifying
by just sitting there

God shows up when we least expect it, often when we least want him to. He arrives in the silence of a town blown apart by a tornado and in the silence of a hospital room after someone's final breath has been taken. Sure, God was there before, but it is in the midst of the silence that we hear his voice, discern his call, and feel his peace.

June 16, 2010

Joseph Butler

I don't have $30 to shell out for "Holy Women, Holy Men" so I will continue to celebrate whatever feast day the Lectionary Page tells me to celebrate.

The Great Summary of the Law is given to us in Luke's Gospel not by Jesus, but by a lawyer who was trying to test Jesus. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus smells the trap and gives him a simple instruction, “do this and you will live.”
No problem, right? Love God? I can do that. Love God with all my heart? Hmmm. With all my soul... how? With all my strength... what does that even look like? With all my mind... maybe. Love my neighbor as myself? DANG!
If we are really honest with ourselves, the Great Commandment is really hard to live up to all the time, and in all phases of our lives. Still, the commandment remains, and so I am thankful for examples in the life of the Church who have excelled at one or more of the avenues of love of God: heart, soul, strength, and mind.
Today the Church remembers Joseph Butler, Bishop of Durham, who died in 1752 and was once called “the greatest of all the thinkers of the English Church.” He grew up a Presbyterian, but in his early twenties joined the Church of England and was ordained in 1718. Butler served during a particularly high time for British philosophy. It was a time when the greatness of humanity knew no limits, the push towards enlightenment was moving steadily forward and the sciences, natural and social, would soon explain everything. Of particular obsession in England was human nature; especially as it pertained to that great unknown, the mind. Folks like John Locke were running around saying that the mind was an empty vessel that could take a man only as far as the physical body can take it. Butler, himself a brilliant thinker, loved God with all his mind and set out to create rational arguments for the Christian faith especially as it spoke to ethics and life beyond the self. His book “The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature” was published in 1736 and offered a careful, rational argument for the reasonable probability of Christianity. Butler called for action upon that probability as the basis for faith. If it makes rational sense then believe it.
As I look back on Butler today, I can't help but think he went about it backwards. His was an understanding faith, while mine is a faith seeking understanding. Belief to me is not about rational arguments but about trust, but in his context his work was vitally important. Rationalism reigned supreme and Butler took it and made it a tool for evangelism, and today we thank God for that.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” As one who tends toward the analytical I'm grateful that the mind got at least a nod in the Great Commandment, and strive to work harder to grow in heart, soul, and strength. I'm certain that each of us tends to be stronger in one of the phases of love. Where are you gifted? Do you find it easiest to love God with your strength through service to others or through working around the grounds? Are you one who loves God with all your heart and can offers God's compassion to those who suffer and grieve? Maybe you are best at loving God with all your soul; a pray-er extraordinaire who can spend hours in silence just basking in the overwhelming presence of God while offering praise and thanksgiving and intercession. All of you, I'm certain, are good at loving your neighbor – I've seen it – and I pray that you are able to love yourself as well.
Today, as we remember Joseph Butler and his great mind, I hope that you will take some time to look at yourself and take honest stock of how you are living into the Great Commandment. Jesus told the lawyer, "do this and you will live" and that statement is as true today as it was when Jesus said it. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Do this and live. Amen.


During my first year of seminary, I met with a spiritual director who was well versed in Ignatian Spirituality. He suggested that I use one of the practices in my prayer life and begin reading scripture with my imagination.

I can't find the link for these instructions, but I found them online somewhere as I've recently engaged in the practice again.

Praying as St. Ignatius
1. Sit quietly for a few minutes, relax and breathe deeply.
2. Spend a brief time in prayer. Offer thanks, and ask for guidance as you open yourself to the scripture and to God’s presence.
3. Choose a scriptural passage that speaks to your needs or turn to a passage you have previously selected. Stories from the life of Jesus work particularly well for this exercise.
4. Read the scripture slowly and prayerfully, perhaps as if for the first time. Pay attention to details of the story that make it come alive. Note descriptions of people, setting, situation, and emotions. Pay attention to images or words that grab your attention.
5. Close your eyes as the group leader reads the passage again. As you listen, use your imagination to recreate the story. With your senses, be aware of the time of day, the landscape or buildings, weather conditions, colors, odors, sounds, voices, moods, and emotions. Try to get a sense of the setting, even if you cannot clearly see actual images.
6. After the second scripture reading, remain quiet with eyes closed as you continue meditating on what you have heard. Imagine that you enter the scene as one of the characters or an observer of the events. Who are you? Where are you standing or sitting? How do you feel as you become this person in the story? What are your reactions as the story continues to unfold?
7. If the story includes an interaction of one of the characters with Jesus, are you that person? What happens as you encounter Jesus? If you are an other character in the story, how do you feel as you observe Jesus interacting with the other person? What does this interaction tell you about your relationship with Christ?
8. Now leave the scene in your mind, but remain in prayer. What did you learn and how did you feel about your experience? Share your responses and questions with God. Be still in God’s presence and listen for additional insights.
9. Close your meditation time with a brief prayer of thanks. Move around, open your eyes, and return to the present. You may want to write about your experience in your journal, or share it with a spiritual friend or support group.

I find it to be really helpful during this season of Ordinary Time when the lessons are so often narratives without the help of a teaching from Jesus. So I engage a character: Simon the Pharisee last week; the townspeople this week; etc. and imagine their reactions, the thoughts running through their minds.

This week as I ponder the townspeople, I wonder if they don't ask Jesus to leave hoping that they will take the demoniac with him. As it is, he is a constant reminder of how poorly human beings can treat one another. His mere presence reminds them of their own demons. He proclaims God's dream without saying a word.

What character do you identify with? Where do you fit in the story of Jesus healing the demoniac? Try Ignatian Reading, it can really be quite helpful.

June 15, 2010

sheer silence

It seems as though the ipad is the end of civilization as we know it.

Like with the advent of the personal computer, the internet, and social networking, the ipad spells the end of human interaction. Which, from my view as an introvert, isn't really a bad thing.

But what I'm hearing more and more, and reading in this nyt piece as well as Father James Martin's Huffpo blog post is that technology is also changing the way we relate to the world and increasingly our relationship with God.

Elijah found God not in the mighty wind or the earthquake or a fire. Elijah found God in the sheer silence (more literally a tiny feminine whisper).

There is no silence in our lives anymore. There is barely any whispering. This KFC commercial is indicative of our current life.

For me personally, though, the sheer silence doesn't always work. My mind is always racing and so my focus comes by action - prayer beads, reading, etc. Still I rarely find God in the midst of my cell phone buzzing, car horns blowing, and life moving rapidly by.

Where do you find the space to hear the still small voice?

June 14, 2010

holy Name

Now that we have Dish Network, I don't stumble on EWTN as much as I used to, but there was a time when EWTN was the channel before ESPN and sometimes whatever craziness was happening on the Roman Catholic channel was more exciting than day old highlights.

One term I remember hearing on that channel is "the holy Name of Jesus." This is a term that I'm guessing carries a lot of meaning in Roman circles but is rarely used excepting to end a prayer in most protestant churches. This got me wondering, how many of our weekly Collects have inherently Roman concepts in them that I haven't even noticed?

Not that it matters, but, like in the example of this Sunday, couldn't we tap into some of those ancient Holy Name roots in our musical choices? Couldn't we perhaps choose a Eucharistic Prayer (or, gasp, write one) that play on Holy Name themes in Roman theology? As Episcopalians we are blessed with a rich heritage based in the first 1100 years of a somewhat unified church; then 400ish years of the Western Rite, followed by 500 years of Protestantism. There is so much history and depth to our worship that churches looking to become liturgical often just buy a copy of our Book of Common Prayer. And yet there is so much of our past, the Holy Name as an example, that we don't utilize, don't teach, don't understand, and therefore don't seem to care about.

"At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth." (Philippians 2:10)

June 10, 2010

happy are they whose transgressions have been forgiven

There was an article in the local newspaper a year or so ago about hell and why it rarely gets mentioned anymore. I received a copy of that article from a member of our congregation with the reminder that every once in a while we need to hear about the consequences of our choices.

Last Sunday, I tried to share with the people of St. Paul's about the consequences of worshiping a false god. Had I not preached that last week and if our small corner of the world wasn't teetering so perilously close to the edge, I might preach on consequences this week.

I hope maybe you will.

I hope that you'll talk about God's grace. About how God spared David from the punishment that David himself had said he deserved. About how God spared the life of Paul and turned him into the greatest Apostle though still a transgressor. About how Jesus forgave the woman her sins by no merit of her own.

But you can't talk about God's grace without talking about why we need it. There are consequences to our choices. When we choose self over God, God lets it happen. When we choose money over God, God lets it happen. When we choose false gods over God, God lets it happen.

But when we choose to live for God, God welcomes us back with open arms. Sure, we might still feel the wrath of our choices, but God's abundant love will carry us through.

The Psalmist writes, "Happy are they whose transgressions have been forgiven..." We can not be happy if we think we have no transgressions. We cannot be happy if we don't want to be forgiven. We can only be happy when we admit our faults and accept God's grace.

We all screw up. We all have forgiveness. But we are not all happy.

June 8, 2010

at arms length

There was a lot of discussion in my lectionary group this morning about Simon the Pharisee. We wondered why he invited Jesus over. We wondered what happened to him after dinner. We pondered why he didn't extend the normal rituals of hospitality to Jesus.

In the end, we decided that we don't know, but we have some thoughts based on the choices Luke makes in telling the story.

First, Luke tells us that Simon thought to himself, "if this man really is a prophet..." Last Sunday we heard that Jesus was being hailed as a great prophet after raising the dead son of the widow at Nain. Seems to me that Simon's invitation was an exploratory mission; an attempt to learn more about Jesus. This is why he doesn't extend hospitality, that is to say, this is why Simon does not enter into relationship with Jesus. It is just too risky. Jesus is at the very least unclean from having touched a coffin, so best not to touch him with a kiss or even allow a servant to touch his feet. Simon is making, in his culture and position, a wise decision. Learn first, enter into relationship later.

This is what makes the encounter with the woman so wonderful. She too has heard about Jesus. She knows he's unclean. She knows the risks, but jumps in to the deep end with extravagant gestures of relationship; tears, hair, kisses, ointment. Her response is to dive into relationship while Simon chooses instead to keep Jesus at an arms length.

In the end, though, I believe that Simon has an epiphany. I think in the midst of the parable and Jesus' explanation, Simon hears Jesus talking to him. After Jesus tells the woman her sins are forgiven, Luke tells us that table erupts in conversation, but I take note that Simon is not mentioned. I picture Simon, sitting next to Jesus sitting quietly, pondering what Jesus has said, having taken at least one step closer to entering into a relationship with him.

We will never know the motivations of Simon nor what happened to him after that crazy dinner party, but each of us can know what it is like to stop holding Jesus at an arms length and instead welcoming him into our lives, into relationship, and thereby be saved, healed, and made whole.

June 7, 2010

Sermon for Proper 5, Year C

God's chosen people are in the midst of a colossal mess. They finally wore God down to the point that he gave in and gave them the king they so desperately wanted. But that had, to say the least, not worked out so well. Following the reigns of David and Solomon a civil war broke out and divided the Kingdom into two parts. Judah, the Southern, weaker kingdom held the Davidic lineage and the holy city of Jerusalem. The northern kingdom, more powerful, with the great name of Israel, had no line to God's beloved king David, and its capital city was Samaria.
God's chosen people are in the midst of a colossal mess. The King of Israel, a man named Ahab married a Phoenecian princess, who was a worshiper of Baal, the Canaanite storm god and allowed her, of all things, to set up places to worship Baal in the midst of God's chosen land for God's chosen people. Elijah, a prophet of YHWH, is obviously not thrilled about this situation, and he prophesies to Ahab, “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” Baal, the god of rain, has no power, YHWH has power, and Elijah is the mouthpiece of God. Needless to say, this does not sit well with Ahab or his Baal worshiping wife, Jezebel, and Elijah finds himself on the run.
God's chosen people are in the midst of colossal mess. Elijah, the mouthpiece of God, has the promise of God that he will provide him with water at the Wadi Cherith and the ravens will be commanded to feed him, and they do, and it is amazing, but after a while with no rain and no dew, the Wadi becomes what it is, a dry creek bed, and God tells Elijah to move again, this time to the the Baal worshiping, Phoenician city of Zarephath where a widow would feed him. It has been a long time since Palestine had seen rain and the widow that Elijah finds, while happy to share water with him, has nothing in the way of food to offer. “As we speak, I'm gathering sticks to build a fire and bake the last of my bread, so that my son and I can die.” Everyone in God's chosen land was in the midst of colossal mess.
And today, we, too, are in the midst of colossal mess. After forty some odd days of waiting and worrying and praying and hoping, the Deepwater Horizon oil leak arrived on the beaches of the Alabama Gulf Coast this week.. As the Press-Register editorial said on Wednesday, “Now the sorrow and the anger we felt for Louisiana have hit home. The oil spill is personal.”1 The mood might not be so depressing or the fear so great if it had arrived a few weeks ago. Instead, after the failure of the top-kill last weekend, failure upon failure of the other experimental techniques to stop the gusher, and at best a 50% success rate for the cut and cap solution currently in place, the sheen and the tarballs and the oil mats have hit us at our weakest point, when it honestly feels like there is no end in sight, no hope for restoration, no chance of this ending any time soon. As I speak, many of you are lost in your thoughts and worries – gathering sticks to build a fire to bake the last of your oil and meal so that you might eat it and die.
Everyone in God's chosen land was in the midst of colossal mess, but in the midst of the mess there was hope. “Do not be afraid,” Elijah responded to the widow, “go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For 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 Lord sends rain on the earth.” The jar of meal does not empty, the oil does not fail, and yet in the midst of their sustenance, tragedy strikes, the worst possible thing happens. The widow's son gets sick and dies.
We are the widow at Zerephath. For forty-some days we have mustered just enough faith to believe that our jar of meal would last. The foundation of our economy would not be harmed. The beauty of God's creation would not be marred. But now the worst has happened. On Friday morning, our son died. This week, the last of our hope was stripped from us. And now all we see is sadness.
The widow yelled at Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” Elijah, in turn, yells at God, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her Son?” We too yell at God, “What do you have against us, O God? Why do you constantly remind us of our sin? Why did you pull the rug out from under us? Why don't you just leave us alone, God, we are tired of it!”
The widow yells at Elijah. Elijah yells at God. We yell at God. And God is full of compassion. The kind of compassion Jesus felt for the widow at Nain, a full body, visceral kind of compassion. God is big enough to take your anger and your frustration. Its OK to yell at God, but it is not OK to forget that even in the midst of our colossal mess, God is here. God listens to the pleas of Elijah. He hears his people's cries, and he knows their sufferings and he is moved to deliverance. He sees the sorrow of a widow who has lost her only son and is moved to compassion.
God was with his chosen people in the midst of the colossal mess of their own making. God was in his chosen land even as the leaders of Israel made the choice to worship Baal instead of YHWH. And being a false God, Baal did what all false gods do when prayed to... nothing. It could not hear and answer their prayer, and so rain did not fall.
God is here, with us, in the midst of this colossal mess of our own making. God didn't cause the Deepwater Horizon rig to explode. He wasn't underneath the dome creating crystals causing it to float. He didn't make the top-kill fail. We worshiped the god of oil and being a false god it could not hear our prayer. We wanted oil. We wanted a lot of it. We wanted it as cheaply as possible. British Petroleum could give us oil. BP could give us a lot of it. BP could even give it to us cheaply and still give a good return on investment to their shareholders, but to do so, they had to cut corners.
We won.
They won.
And everyone lost.
But look back on the promise of Elijah to the widow. He didn't promise a winning lottery ticket. He didn't promise a full grain bin. He didn't promise the keys to a Wonder Bread Bakery. He promised only that if she trusted YHWH enough to share out of her scarcity that her meager jar of meal and her tiny jar of oil would be sufficient. Each day would still be a struggle. Each night she would still go to bed hoping tomorrow there would be enough. Each morning she would still wake up wondering if she could keep her and her son and her house guest alive for another day. But she always had enough.
God will provide for us in this crisis too. Maybe our tourism will all but dry up. Maybe our current way of life will change. Maybe our economy will tank. We have no promises about any of that. All we do know, is that God hears the cries of his people and is moved to compassion. God calls the widow to share out of her scarcity, and we, I believe, are called to do the same. Give God the first fruits of your time and your talent and your money. If you want the tax deduction, do that by giving to one of our discretionary funds. But I'm not asking you to give to the Church today. Sure, we need it, but there are folk, even sitting near you in church this morning, who need it a whole lot more than we do, whose livelihoods are tied directly to the beach. Share with God by sharing with them, share with your neighbor, share with your brother or sister in Christ, share with our big sister Earth, and the many good creatures that God created right alongside us. Be faithful that there will always be enough, even in the midst of this colossal mess.
When the widow's son rises from the dead, she says to Elijah, "Now I know you are a man of God." Really, she knew it all along, but now she knows something new about the God that Elijah served, the God of provision. Sometimes, that provision is barely enough to squeak by and sometimes it is a miracle beyond our wildest imagination. Either way, God's promises are true. Right now, it feels like we are barely squeaking by, but have faith my brothers and sisters. God is here. God calls us to share from our scarcity. God promises there will be enough. DO NOT BE AFRAID. Amen.

a sinner

What a funny way to introduce someone. "A woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that [Jesus] was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment."

Couldn't we all be introduced that way? Steve, who is a sinner, preached yesterday.

After I grew out of my self-righteous phase in seminary, I survived on the fact that the church had no choice but to ordain sinners.

And yet the Pharisee thinks Jesus should know she is some sort of special type of sinner, maybe she just has a lot of vices or something. Maybe her sin was a lot more visible than his, but the poor decisions that go along with being a boozer are just as bad as the poor decisions that go a long with being arrogant; though the consequences are much less severe.

All of this to say, that this would be a good Sunday to talk about sin and its consequences. How sin blocks us from seeing the will of God. How sin keeps us self-centered rather than Christ centered. How sin feeds bad decision making which leads, most often, to more sin. How the sins of the father really do touch the lives of generations. How living a life of grace means calling a sin a sin and being forgiven of it. How living a life of sanctification means living in forgiveness and working to remove sin from you life.

Nobody likes to talk about sin. I take that back, a lot of people like to talk about someone else's sin. Nobody likes to talk about their own shortcomings, their own growing edges, the places where God's light has a hard time shining. But if we don't talk about it, if we don't get introduced at Steve, the sinner, then we never have the chance to receive the forgiveness freely offered.

Hi, my name is Steve and I am a sinner.

June 3, 2010

Homily for the Martyrs of Lyons

Thanks to the work of Emporer Trajan and a governor in his Empire, Pliny the Younger Christians in the Roman Empire went relatively unscathed for several decades in the early second century. The official position of Rome starting in the mid-110s declared Christianity “to be illegal, but hat members of the faith were not to be sought, but killed if the charge was proven.” The not being sought part was huge.
Anyway, by the mid-170s the political climate toward Christianity was beginning to heat up again. At first it was mostly political persecution; Christians were excluded from Roman homes, public baths, and the marketplace. Tensions grew, however, and insult throwing turned into fists and stone. Homes were broken into an vandalized. Christians were drug from their houses into the marketplaces where they were questioned, beaten, and sent to prison. Slaves were stolen from their masters and, under threat of torture, made to say that Christians were engaged in acts of cannibalism, incest, and other perversions, until, finally, the crowds clamored for Christianity to be wiped out.
In the city of Lyon a missionary center that had drawn many Christians from around the Empire in what is now France, the anger toward Christians fell squarely on the shoulders of a small group that included a Deacon, Sanctus, a recent convert, Maturus, a disciple, Attalus, and a slave, Blandina. According to the 3rd century historian, Eusebius, the group was arrested and tortured. Balndina, the only woman of the group, was thought to be the weakest, but sustained such torture that “even her executioners became exhausted 'as they did not know what more they could do to her.” She remained faithful and repeated the same answer to every question, “I am a Christian, and we commit no wrongdoing.”
After their frustration with Blandina, the Roman authorities became so enraged that they scheduled a public games during which Blandina, her companions, and many others were to be tortured and killed. Blandina was bound to a stake and wild animals were set on her, but according to legend they did not touch her for days. In the final day of the event, having been forced to watch her the sufferings of her companions, Blandina was beaten, branded, tied in a net and thrown to a wild bull who gored her with his horns, but only died upon being stabbed by her tormenters with a dagger. Of her, Eusebius wrote, “Blandina, last of all, like a noble mother who had encouraged her children and sent them ahead victorious to the King, hastened to join them.”
As I've said before, we, as 21st century Christians living in Foley, Alabama has no real clue what it is like to be persecuted for our faith. When we stand to recite the Creed and say proudly that “We believe” we don't do it with the fear of torture and death in our hearts. And yet, each of us knows what it is like, as the author of First Peter writes, “to suffer various trials.” Life isn't easy, it is rife with frustration and heartbreak, and yet, because of our faith in and the faithfulness of Jesus we, like Blandina and her companions, know what it is like to receive the great mercy of God.
We live, born anew, with the hope of that imperishable, undefiled and unfading inheritance of the Kingdom of God; an inheritance that is available to us right here and right now. An inheritance given to us not upon the death of our Father, but upon our death to our self. An inheritance given to those who take up their cross and follow Jesus on the road to Calvary. An inheritance given when we choose to be martyrs, witnesses, to the God of all Creation, the God of provision, the God of love who's love is self-giving and overflowing.
“I am a Christian and we commit no wrongdoing.” May our faith be so rooted in the love of God and the pursuit of his Kingdom that we might say, with true conviction, those powerful words of Blandina. Amen.

Put not your trust in rulers...

...Happy are they... whose hope is in the Lord their God.

That is all.

June 2, 2010

God's promise

It is a sad day on the Alabama Gulf Coast. Forty-some-odd days of waiting and hoping and worrying have ended and the is oil is expected to make beach-fall in Baldwin County sometime today. This might not be so depressing if any of the attempts to slow/stop the gush of oil had been successful, but instead, with the top-kill failing over the weekend, hope dwindling of stopping it before August is fading, and with that, the mess arrives at our beaches/marshes at the worst possible time.

I'm debating this week whether or not to preach about the disaster this Sunday. In light of everything I said above, it seems like now is the time.

We are the Widow of Zarephath.

We have stared a disaster in the face. We have *barely* mustered enough faith to trust God, and now, the worst has happened. Our son is dead. Our world has changed. Our last string of support has been cut. We need help.

"What do you have against us, O God? Why do you constantly remind us of our sin? Why did you allow our world to change? I hate you God. Why don't you just go away!"

These reactions are a) not abnormal and b) OK. Yell at God, he can take it, but know that God is in the midst of even our worst suffering. He didn't cause the rig to explode or the top-kill to fail, but he is letting us reap the results of our own selfish actions. We want oil. We want a lot of it. We want it cheap. BP will give us oil. They will give us a lot. They will even make it cheap, but to do so, and to maximize profits, they will have to cut corners.

We win.
They win.
And yet we all lose.

Look back, though, on the promise of Elijah to the widow who was about to run out of food. He didn't promise her a winning lottery ticket, or a full grain silo, or a bread factory. All he promised her was that, if she trusted God and shared her food, she would not run out. Each day would still be struggle. Each night she'd still go to be hoping tomorrow there would be enough. Each morning she would wake up wondering if she could keep her Son alive another day. But she would always have enough.

God will provide for us in this crisis too. Maybe our tourism will all but dry up. Maybe our current way of life will change. Maybe our economy will tank. But, if we are faithful, if we can muster enough trust, we will survive.

When the widow's son rises from the dead, she says to Elijah, "Now I know you are a man of God." Really, she knew it all along, but now she knows something new about the God of provision. Sometimes, that provision is barely enough to squeak by and sometimes it is a miracle beyond expectation. Either way, God's promises are true. Have faith. There will be enough.

June 1, 2010

think, do [understand]

This Sunday is full of resurrection. The son of the widow at Zerphath and the son of the widow at Nain are both raised from the dead. One by the great prophet, Elijah, and one by the greatest prophet, Jesus of Nazareth.

These lessons are curious, however, in light of the Collect for Sunday as we pray that God might help us to "think those things that are right" and that "by his merciful guiding we may do them."

I can honestly say, I've never had the inkling that laying face down on a dead body was the right thing to do. I've never heard my heart say, "touch the coffin and he will rise." But I have known and done some things that were "right" that I will never understand.

What strikes me this morning is how, even in Paul's rambling in Galatians, the Christian faith is boiled down this week to God leads and I follow. But what makes it even better is that God leads not by example, necessarily, but by steering our hearts.

The one who is defiant, "I shall not be a missionary" serves the people of India because her heart was changed. The one who is certain, "I will live a life of singleness" finds himself married to a partner in ministry because his heart was changed.

When we let him in, God changes our hearts and steers us toward what is right for within. Oh, but how often do I keep God out by saying "no" or "it isn't possible" or "I don't want to." Thanks be to God that he is persistent. Otherwise, who knows where I'd be.