July 22, 2010

and now for something completely different

I didn't blog this morning because I was researching in the hopes of making a cogent response to a facebook status thread. I'd like to share that conversation here, but first a little background.

The Episcopal Church doesn't venerate saints in the same way as the Roman Church. We have some Saints, and we celebrate the life and ministry of many saints with lesser feasts and fasts (note the intentional use of capitalization). At the last triennial gathering of TEC the decision was made to move away from our old resource for saint's days, Lesser Feasts and Fasts, and to replace it with a new resource which included all the old saints along with 112 or so new ones called Holy Women Holy Men.

As I was putting together a service for Monday, September 13th, I noticed that different resources listed different saints for that day. My go to site, The Lectionary Page (for which Kelly Pucket should be canonized) is still running off of LFF and names Sept 13 as the Feast of Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr, 258. The Church Pension Fund calendar haniging in our office says Sept 13 is the Feast of John Chrysosotom, Bishop, 407. Bishop John's day used to be January 27th, and Oh by the way, they changed the propers for his feast too.

This got me wondering. First, why the switch happened on September 1 on the CPF calendar (most of our changes occur on the first day of the Church Year, Advent 1) and two, why we needed this new resource in the first place.

My facebook status, snarky as it was, read, "wonders if anyone knows why "they" chose Sept 1 as the date to implement holy women holy men? seems random and confusing, and now I have to buy the stupid $35 book."

As of 11:17am Central Time there are 37 comments on that status. Some were uber cynical, mostly from my high church friends who won't be happy until we're back under Rome and any reference to Calvin or Luther is wiped clean from our history. Some were just funny. Some were a sign of where we stand, seemingly on a precipice, in the Church. Names have been obscured to protect the cynical.

1.MT - Buy a 1954 Marian Missal instead. More holy men and women, and no heretics or non-Christians!
2.PD - "...and now I have to buy..."  Do you though, Pankey? Do you?
3.MH - it's far less expensive on amazon... although perhaps you don't have to buy one because PD is sending you his spare as a gift
4.PH - I'm with these two. Get in the habit of opting out now, so you'll feel less awkward when you have to opt out of the 2025 BCP that names the Trinity as Root Mother, Sun Beam and Chocolate Milkshake.
5.TB - I haven't looked at it, so I am not going to pass judgment yet (mark this date down folks, won't happen often!). That being said, and whether he is in Holy Women Holy Men or not, I am really annoyed by the whole Thurgood Marshall as saint thing going on right now. I remember in a Post article a few years ago, they were talking about it and how he rarely attended church (St. Monica's, I think); seems to me that active participation in the Christian community should be part of being a modern saint. Though I could be wrong.
6.MT - Calvin is in there too. My parish opted out of the Hymnal 1982 when that came around, but that could have been a reaction to accepting the '79 BCP and figuring out they were duped.
7.BH - Thanks for reminding me that the damn thing exists! Now I have to delude myself all over again.
8.PD - c'mon, BH, no one believes you had ever stopped deluding yourself.
9.MV - One does not have to implement HWHM, as it is only been authorized for trial use. I have not heard anything from Dio CGC about it...do you know something I don't?
10.BH - Sweet! Then the delusion can continue unimpeded.
11.TB - Eh, I'm not as cantankerous as Tucker. I'm looking over the additions to the Calendar, and most of them are pretty good, actually, but some I have some questions about. Guess the book will tell me about their religious beliefs. Some really good additions though, Isaac Watts and Fanny Crosby, the Dorchester Chaplains, Eric Liddell, Oscar Romero, ... See MoreChristina Rossetti, the Righteous Gentiles; Tucker should be happy to see Byrd, Merbecke, and Tallis, and that George has returned as well. But Jeanne d'Arc, really?
12.PH - I'm a fan of continually adding comments to this status update until Pankey cracks and deletes his facebook. BH I absolve you for your delusion in the name of the one God: potted plant, table lamp, and ham sandwich.
13.JM - hi P.H.
14.PH - Hey JM!! Hope you're doing well. How's M.??
15.Steve Pankey - I'm on my phone so I'll save my cogent (or the best I can muster) response for later and say this - ham sandwich 2012!
16.JM - he is great- growing up too fast. He is really attached to B, of course
17.MT - I think PH needs a holy day. It would be called Saint P's day and we could have parades for him and hang the Texas flag from our steeples and drink beer while wearing preppy clothes. I know BH is down.
18.JM - we'd have to drink diet coke
19.TB - Hmm, if PH had a holy day, we'd have to change the name of the book back to "Lesser Feasts..."
Spankey, it's kind of you to let us run rampant on your status update! So kind and generous, what of model of Christian community building!
20.PD - So, beer, diet coke, and looking sharp? This might be just what it takes to get me to actually care about saints days. Throw in this ham sandwich you keep mentioning and I'm in.
21.PH - Ok fine PD ham sandwich is in. You can't eat him yet though. He needs to win the presidency first.
22.PD - Right - because as we know, attaining political office is a sure sign that you're divinely inspired. (as long as I voted for you.)
23.MS - There is a survey from Church Publishing for users of HWHM. It is an opportunity to make your feelings known in a way that might have an impact. Or, talk to your delegates to the 2012 convention. If they don't hear from you, they will probably move the book from trial status to ordinary use. The survey is here –https://www.psychdata.com/s.asp?SID=136205
24.CA - Hey, I couldn't find the top of the thread, what are we talking about?
25.DS - Opting out.........
26.KT - You win. Most comments for an update. Save the $35 and take me and L out to dinner.
27.KT - BTW, I like your updated pic. Very convincing of your status.
28.PC - I do like a nice ham sandwich...so I'll be thinking about buying the 2025 version...
29.PC - what about a MLT...mutton lettuce and tomato sandwich, with the mutton nice and juicy?
30.PH - MS, i'd guess they'll move the book to ordinary use whether or not i fill out a survey. And that's ok. I will always observe a Saint's Day for Ham Sandwich in my heart.
31.MS - PH, for the past 2 GC's I choose to sit in the liturgy committee discussions (instead of some o f the other groups that generated the interest of the press) What I learned is they do their work the best they are able and repeatedly have to deal with groussing from the masses after the fact, when we all have the opportunity to give them input. It is frustrating for them. I think we should all purchase the right to complain by becoming active in the work as it is done. They have given us the vehicle to make inputs -- lets do it.
32.Steve Pankey - The reason I am interested is that I am in charge of the Monday morning Eucharist at our clergy conference on Sept 13 which used to be the feast of Cyprian but is now John Chrysostom. Which should I use, I wonder?
The reason I am annoyed is not who they included (though there is a great piece on the criteria change that each of us should readhttp://www.episcopalcafe.com/daily/saints/sanctity.php) but the format itself. Nothing says a church striving for relevance in the 21st century like a $35 (or $23 on amazon) 800 page doorstop. Why not an interactive calendar or a downloadable pdf that I can cut an paste?
Additionally, why do I have to buy this book at all? In the corporate world, when the book of Standard Operating Procedures is changed by company executives, the revised versions are distributed to all parties asap. In TEC, however, I have to shell out my own money to buy a book that, at least according to ens, could be scrapped entirely in 2012 (http://www.episcopalchurch.org/79901_112222_ENG_HTM.htm)
When it comes down to it, the switch to HWHM is just one more reason for me to be frustrated with the outmoded way GC and 815 continue to do things. John Ohmer said of the last GC that we were arguing over the best way to build Pontiacs when even GM knew it wasn't time to build them anymore. Or maybe Scott Gunn says it better as we "argue over who is the best horse at the glue factory."
I'm guessing the survey doesn't have a place for these comments, but I'll look at it and hope for the best.
Ham Sandwich 2012!
33.Steve Pankey - another good article http://cariocaconfessions.blogspot.com/2009/05/holy-women-holy-men.html
34.BR - I was going to add something until I saw Steve's closing discussion. Can't say I disagree with anything said here. I haven't seen the text, but the idea behind it really frustrates me.
@MS, thanks for the encouragement to make our thoughts known!
35.‎Steve Pankey - @BR - that was not a closing, just my first chance to weigh in since my wall was attacked by crazy clergy (and their spouses)
36.BR - Oh, not a closing? Awesome. Game on and day lost!
37.AJ - not sure what "they" you are referring to, but and quite sure "they" are out to get you and your $35 so...RUN, AAAAA

I love facebook for allowing conversations like this to happen. I love when some of the best minds in the church get together to question why we are doing things. I'd love to know why. So that's what I've been pondering the last 18 hours or so. I hope you enjoyed Church Nerdery at its best.

I'll be sporadic in posting the next two weeks, but know I am thinking about you, dear reader, and praying for your preaching.

July 21, 2010

be careful what you pray for

There is an old joke that says, "I prayed for patience and God gave me a child" or something along those lines anyway.

Jesus, as he discusses prayer with is disciples, seems to know something about that joke. "Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?"


But I know that sometimes FBC asks for a cookie and I give her some fruit. Or she asks to go swimming and she gets a bath instead.

The old adage remains true. God answers prayers, just not always the way we want. Sure, he won't give us a snake if we ask for a fish. And probably there is no scorpion in the egg carton. But there most certainly could be a difficult situation on the horizon. There might even be silence on the other end.

I headed down the blogosphere rabbit hole yesterday and stumbled upon the blog of a priest in Rhode Island whose husband died just a few month ago. Her About Me reads "Trying to listen for God - but God is silent." And the silence can be the absolute worst.

In the end, however, it isn't about stuff. It isn't about selling your house. It isn't about where you should go, what you should do, or what color socks you should where while doing it. Prayer is about praising God, it is about giving thanks, it is about lifting up those we care for, and it is about listening, even when God is silent.

Be careful what you pray for because you won't always get what you expect. Be more about listening, because God is speaking even in the silence.

July 20, 2010

Yikes RCL!

Part of me wants to send a quick survey out to my congregation; a survey of only one question, "How many of you have actually read the book of Hosea?"

I get what the RCL is trying to do. They want to to experience more of the Bible - its women, its laments, its tough spots. I get it, and I applaud their work. But Hosea 1? Really?

Oh God, if you can find 5 faithful people at St. Paul's, please don't let his be read.

Even as it ends, as every prophecy does, with hope, Hosea 1.2-10 is really hard to hear, and even harder to explain. If we were hoping to perpetuate the heresy of the God of the Old Testament being different than the God of the New, this would be a good place to start. If we wanted our people who are struggling and hurting to think that maybe God really does just mess with people sometimes, this would be the proof-text.

Marry a whore. Have children to the whore. And then feel my pain when she leaves.

I am not your God and you are not my people.

This stuff is so hard to hear that if your parish has chosen this track, you almost HAVE to preach it. Your people won't hear another word after Hosea is read, unless you grit your teeth and share with them that sometimes being a prophet really sucks.

But seriously, RCL people, you skipped the psalm verse about breaking teeth, maybe you could have skipped over the poor plight of Hosea. I'm just saying.

July 19, 2010

Shalom - Sermon for Proper 11C

The story of Jesus' afternoon at the home of Mary and Martha is a difficult one for many people. It is a difficult one for me, too because I am very much a Martha. I can sit and do nothing for maybe two-hours before I get antsy. Eventually, the need to “do” something takes over and I'm up and moving; doing the dishes or picking up the baby's toys, anything to be “doing” rather than sitting. Beach vacations are the worst. Sitting all day in the hot sun reading a book is like the worst punishment I could be given. I might rather die.
So when I hear Jesus say to Martha that Mary has chosen the better part, I get uncomfortable. And I imagine many of you do as well. How many of you associate yourselves with Martha in this story? The Church is full of Marthas. It is how anything gets done. Marthas set the altar. Marthas cook breakfast. Marthas serve the liturgy. Marthas tend the buildings. Marthas volunteer in the community. Marthas are everywhere. And so, every three years when the story of Mary and Martha shows up in the lectionary we get our feathers up because Marthas make Church happen.
The problem, as I see it, is that we read this story completely out of context. We pull it away from the surrounding narrative and then give it the status of a Aesop's Fable so that all we seek is one universal moral truth. “Sit at the feet of Jesus” is all we can hear, and when we know we can't do that, we get angry and quit listening.
But this encounter between Jesus, Mary and Martha did not happen in isolation. This story is part of Luke's much larger narrative of Jesus and his journey toward Jerusalem. As Jesus prepared for his journey he sent out seventy disciples to every city and place that he intended to go. Do you remember his instructions to them? For the road, Jesus says, “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.” This is an urgent journey, and one of great import. There isn't time to stop and make idle chatter, there isn't time to be slowed with extra luggage. Jesus goes on to describe what they should do when they arrive at their destination, “Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.”
“Peace to this house!” The peace that Jesus is talking about here is the Jewish concept of Shalom, the deep peace of God. It is the peace of God's dream for his kingdom. The peace that surpasses all understanding. The peace of wholeness, restoration, and healing. Jesus instructs the 70 to offer that peace to the people of the homes they would enter. If anyone shares in peace, it will rest on that person. If not, it will return to them. Either way, Jesus says, stay in that house, eat what they give you, cure the sick, and proclaim the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near.
Jesus enters the home of Martha and Mary and most certainly offers the shalom of God to them. “Peace to this house!” Mary receives that peace. She accepts it wholly and is comfortable just sitting at the feet of Jesus as he teaches in her living room. Martha, on the other hand, does not receive the peace that Jesus offers. Luke says she is distracted by her many tasks, which is true. But Luke can only see Martha from the outside. Jesus, however, sees Martha from the inside. Martha comes to Jesus complaining of her sisters laziness, “Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me.” Sounds a lot more like two siblings of about eight or nine, rather than two adult women with a home of their own. But, Jesus sees what lies beneath the surface, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.”
Worried and distracted. Luke actually uses three different words for the various descriptions of Mary. As Luke describes her from the outside, he says she is distracted. As Jesus describes what is going on inside, he says she is worried and troubled. Worried and troubled. Sounds like the exact opposite of peace to me.
For those of us who are Marthas this is good news. This story, properly understood, doesn't tell us that you can't do for the glory of God. Martha's activities readying dinner for Jesus and his crew are to commended, as Jesus told the seventy, the laborer deserves his wages. Or as Jesus told the lawyer in last week's story, “do this and you will live.” What you can't do is worry for the glory of God. When you worry, when you are troubled, you have left God's presence. Faith has gone out the window and the adversary has taken control. Worry not only distracts us, but it subsumes our self-esteem. Worry tells us we are not worthy. Worry tells us that our best efforts are lacking. Worry tells us that we are weak. Worry keeps us from embracing the gift of God's grace and love. Worry kills. As Jay Warthen from Foley First Pres put it, “do this and your gonna die.”
Now, I want you to know that I am not standing here pontificating against worry from the high pedestal of ease. Here again, I self identify as a Martha. I am a top-notch worrier. When I'm not distracted by my many tasks, I'm usually worrying about how I will get them done. The first week of every semester in college and seminary were worry-fests as I looked of the various syllabi for my classes and thought to myself, “there is no possible way I can get all of this done in the next 13 weeks.” In fact, I'm such a good worrier that my body has figured out ways to relieve stress without me by way of an eye-twitch that can last weeks on end.
As I preparing to complete my last semester of college I was engaged to be married, I was contemplating a call to ordained ministry, I was getting ready to graduate with the whole world ahead of me, and I didn't have a sniff at a job. One morning, as I was taking a shower I noticed a sore spot in my left bicep. Just under the surface of my skin was a lump about the size of a dime. It had seemingly appeared from nowhere. After a week or so, when it still had not gone away, I scheduled an appointment with my family physician. He referred me to a specialist who did some crazy sort of torturous electro-shock testing on my arm to test for muscle reaction and nerve damage. After a while I returned to my family doctor, fully convinced I had a tumor or something, and he diagnosed me as being stressed about the upcoming life changes. I needed to quit worrying and the knot in my arm would go away. I was 22 years old. I am a worrier-extraordinaire.
Worry is the adversary's way in to our lives. The devil tells us we can't do it. He tells us we are not worthy of God's love. He tell us that we haven't done enough. And so we turn into Marthas and do, do, do. Not for the glory of God but to try to dig ourselves out of the hole we ourselves have created. And I know Martha and I are not alone in this reaction. One of the most common questions I hear in ministry is “How do I hand this over to God? How do I stop worrying?”
Worry is one of the great universals. It is something we all experience and something that very few of us is really good at battling. Corrie Ten Boom described this universal experience well, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” We know this. We want to get rid of the worry, but how? The answer so often given is “hand it over to God,” but what does that look like practically?
Here I return to Jesus' response to Martha. “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” The way out of worry is choice. Choose to accept God's peace, and when it feels like that peace is slipping away, choose to take the time to get it back. So often we can feel ourselves slipping into worry, but are too proud or too lazy or too busy to stop the slide. By the time we've made room to pray we are so anxious that the climb out of worry seems almost impossible. The key, I think, is to not let worry have that power. Don't let the adversary the time and the space to work. When you feel that first twinge of worry coming on, stop immediately, and pray. Pray for the shalom of God. Pray for wholeness and restoration. Pray that God will make his presence known to you in the midst of your crisis and that his grace will be complete in you.
Grace is the antidote to worry. Worry says “you are not worthy.” Grace says “I make you worthy.” Grace forgives paper plates and plastic cups. Grace forgives a paper that maybe isn't perfect but at least it is done. Grace forgives all those things, big and little, that we allow to eat us up with worry.
Worry kills my friends. It is a poison that lives within us causing us to be distracted and troubled and pulls us away from God's grace. Don't let it have that power. Whether you are an active Martha or a contemplative Mary, worry will creep its way in. Choose the one thing that can not be taken away from you. Choose grace. Choose the shalom of God. Choose life. Amen.

Opening Reflection for our Quester Mission

Our 5th-8th grade group did a 24-hour Habitat Overnight from noon Wed til noon Thr. We began by joining with the usual crowd at the Wednesday Eucharist. Here is the homily I preached to begin our time together.

What must I do to inherit eternal life?
A simple enough question, but one full of danger. What can we really do to inherit eternal life? Nothing. God's Son, Jesus, gave his life so that we might live. We have each been given a gift. What is the normal response when you get a gift?
Thank you.
Right, to say thank you. Or, if you are really thankful you might even show your thankfulness by writing a note or giving a hug or a kiss or by doing something in return.
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 love your neighbor as yourself.
That is our response of thankfulness to God.
How do you love God?
How do you love your neighbor?
How do you love yourself?
Do this and you will live.
I ran across a variation on this story this week. Once upon a time some guy fell into a pit and could not get himself out. A therapeutic person came by and said, "I really feel your pain down there." A common sense person came by and said, "It was inevitable someone would fall in there eventually." A fundamentalist said, "Only bad people fall into pits" even as a Calvinist swung by and said, "We all deserve our pits." A mathematician came by and calculated the odds of falling into the pit, and a self-centered person exclaimed, "You haven't seen anything until you've seen my pit!" An optimist saw the man and said, "Could be worse" even as a pessimist rejoined, "It will get worse before it's over." Then Jesus came by, dropped down onto his belly in the slippery mud around the pit, reached out a pierced hand, and pulled the man free. And this Jesus says to us, "Go and do likewise."
We lay down in the mud and serve our neighbors out of thankfulness to God for his many blessings, and we do it in so many ways. A group of us will go to build stepping stones to help Habitat for Humanity raise money so that a family can buy a quality home at a decent price. Some of us write cards. Some volunteer at the elementary school. Some make phone calls. Some build houses. Some bring people to church. But each of us loves God and neighbor and serves God and neighbor in a spirit of thankfulness.
Go and do likewise, Jesus says, for God loves you. Amen.


The favorite prayer in the vesting room at St. Paul's in Foley, AL is one word. Well it is actually a contraction of two words, "C'mon."

It is our prayer for the Spirit. "C'mon."

We pray fully anticipating God to answer our prayer. We pray living into the promise of Jesus in Luke 11:13, "how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" We pray knowing that it is only by the Spirit that our worship is honest. We pray knowing that it is only by the Spirit that our words become sermon. We pray knowing that it is only by the Spirit that we are able to do anything.

As the Collect for Sunday says, "without [God] nothing is strong, nothing is holy"

This is my prayer for you, dear reader, that the Spirit will "c'mon" and fill you up to overflowing. It is a week of prayer, my brothers and sisters, a week in which we hear the stories of God's intention to listen and respond. It is a week, like every other, in which we need the Spirit to show up and make us strong, make us holy.

"C'mon. Amen."

July 13, 2010


Luke sees Martha from the outside in. "But Martha was distracted by her many tasks..."

Jesus sees Martha from the inside out. "Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled by many things..."

Martha was distracted from what Jesus was saying in her living room. She was distracted by making the tea and gathering the cookies and washing the fine china. We all get distracted. We all can see when someone else is distracted. Distraction is not Martha's problem.

Worry is.

Jesus sees into her heart. He sees that her distraction has gone beyond the busyness of life and become worry and disturbance. To continue the theme from the good samaritan, "do this and yo will die." Worry is the adversaries way in. Worry not on distracts us, but subsumes our self-esteem. Worry tells us we are not worthy. Worry keeps us from embracing the gift of God's grace and love. Worry kills.

Jesus tells her to focus on the one important thing, grace. Grace forgives paper cups. Grace forgives off-brand oreos. Grace saves.

*A side note on the text - three different words appear in the Greek. 1 - Luke says Martha is perispao (distracted) 2 - Jesus says Martha is merimnao (worried) and therubazo (troubled). Jesus sees more than the eye can behold.

A Crummy Week to be a Priest - Sermon for Proper 10C

This is a rather crummy Sunday to be a priest for two very strong reasons. First of all, I am stuck preaching one of the best known parables in all of scripture. The story of the Good Samaritan is so well known, that I probably didn't even have to read it. I could have stood up, said, “The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke. The Good Samaritan. The Gospel of the Lord” and you would know the story almost exactly. Whatever I say now will lay upon years and years of Sunday School lessons and Vacation Bible School experiences and Bible Studies and sermon upon sermon on the topic of the Good Samaritan. I seriously considered preaching the sermon that Karla is always suggesting. The sermon that Jesus himself preaches in the story, “You heard it, now go do it. Amen.” But I can't. The Rector is on Sabbatical and the Associate can't just mess around for three months while he's gone. I can't dress up like a silly sailor one week, heavily reference the Declaration of Independence the next, and then preach a 3 second sermon the third. You wouldn't stand for it. The Vestry meeting on Monday night would be my end for sure.

And that's just one reason why it is tough to be a priest this week. To top it all off, the most well known story of Jesus, second only maybe to the Prodigal Son, features a priest who sees a man, beaten and bleeding in a ditch, and then crosses the street to avoid him! I mean come on! What a terrible Sunday to be a priest. But we'll get to the priest in a minute.

An expert in the Torah, the Jewish Code of Law, stands up and challenges Jesus to a debate. “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Really, the story should be over before it begins. Anyone who has paid any bit of attention in church knows by now the answer to the lawyer's question. There is nothing you can do to inherit eternal life. It is all grace. God's gift to you in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Open the gift and you will live.

But, for some reason this time Jesus doesn't head that direction. This time, Jesus engages the question and turns it back on him. “You are the expert. You tell me. What do you read?” Boom Deuteronomy 6:5 – “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 Boom Leviticus 19.18b “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

“Sounds right to me,” Jesus responds, “do that and you will live.”

Just to be clear though, the lawyer would like to know who exactly Jesus includes in the neighbor category. Fredrick Buechner imagines the response the lawyer is looking for, "Henceforth a neighbor (hereafter referred to as the party of the first part) shall be defined as meaning a person of Jewish descent whose legal residence is within a radius of no more than three statute miles from one's own legal residence, unless there is another person of Jewish descent (hereafter referred to as the party of the second part) living closer to the party of the first part than one is oneself, in which case the party of the second part is to be construed as the neighbor to the party of the first part and one is then oneself relieved of all responsibility of any kind to the matters hereunto appertaining." But Jesus does not give him a legalistic answer. Instead, Jesus tells a story.

The story begins, “anthropos tis” which the NRSV translates at “A man” but we might hear it better as “Some guy.” So, some guy was headed down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and was jumped by a group of robbers. They stripped him, beat him, took his wallet and left him for dead on the side of the road. Some guy. Could be anyone really. Jew. Greek. Slave. Free. It doesn't really matter, just a guy who for some unknown reason decided to take the dangerous route from Jerusalem to Jericho by himself. Surprise, surprise, he got mugged, beaten and left for dead. It just so happens that the next person down the road, also traveling inexplicably by himself, was a priest. The priest saw the man, there is no doubt about it. He probably even heard him crying for help and heaving for breath. He saw the man, and he heard the man, and he passed by on the opposite side of the road.

Over the two-thousand years since Jesus first told this story, the vast majority of people who have taken to the task of making sense of it carried some variation of the title of priest. That being the case, many wonderfully rational arguments exist for the priest crossing the street to pass by on the other side. Maybe he was headed to the Temple for his rotation and so he couldn't risk becoming ritually unclean. Maybe he was headed to the home of founding member of his parish who was at death's door and so there was no time to stop. Maybe he was so lost in his prayers that he saw the man, but what was happening didn't compute. These possibilities seems awfully self-serving though. Maybe the priest was just a jerk. As you probably know, that is not beyond the realm of possibility. Whatever the reason, reasonable or not, the priest exerts the energy to cross the road and avoid the man.

So this guy continues to writhe in pain half-dead in the ditch. When, as it would happen, a Levite came upon the man. Now a Levite, for those who don't know, as a descendant of Levi would have been a man set apart to perform the duties of the Temple sanctuary; duties like reading the Torah, performing music, and preparing the sacrifices. The Levite, like the priest, was probably on his way to Jerusalem to take his turn in the service rotation of the Temple. He had the same reasons for seeing the man and promptly moving to the other side of the street; he was very busy, very important, and couldn't risk the ritual uncleanness that came from blood and guts. Or maybe, as some have suggested, the Priest and the Levite were both fearful of helping the man as it was the custom of bands of robbers to have one man fake injury while the rest hid in waiting for an unsuspecting passerby to stop and help. But again, my guess is that he was probably just a jerk.

But, OK, best case scenario, we give them the full benefit of the doubt and the Priest and the Levite were adhering strictly to the Torah. The Law, the very thing our lawyer friend was so learned in, had kept the priest and the Levite from showing mercy to the man in the ditch. Loving God had outweighed loving neighbor. But the lawyer himself just said that we were supposed to do both. Jesus just affirmed that, “do this and you will live.” So how do we accomplish both at the same time?

Jesus continues, “As luck would have it, a third man came down the road all by himself. This man, however, was different. This man was himself an outcast, a half-blood, a Samaritan. The Jews of Jesus' time hated the Samaritans, and for their part the Samaritans hated the Jews. So the guy, the random man in the ditch, who was more than likely a Jew, finds his very life now in the hands of a hated Samaritan. And this Samaritan, rather than see the man and move to the other side of the road, he sees the man and is moved to compassion. The same sort of gut-wrenching compassion Jesus felt for the Widow at Nain. The same all consuming compassion that the Prodigal Father would feel as he scanned the horizon and saw his youngest son, the one who told him to drop dead, coming back up the road having squandered his inheritance. The Samaritan is moved with compassion, which brings us back to the lawyers original question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Compassion, the kind that Luke writes about in the story of the widow at Nain and the Prodigal Son, and the Good Samaritan is a verb. Compassion does something. It moves. So the Samaritan man, moved to compassion, bandages the man's wounds, pours oil and wine on them to clean them out, and then, on his dime, pays for the man to recuperate in a nearby inn.

“Go and do likewise,” Jesus says. Be filled with compassion. Show mercy. Do. Not as a ticket into heaven, but because at one time or another you too were the man in the ditch, helpless and hurting. Jesus, an outcast himself, has saved you and the only logical response is to turn around and show mercy and compassion to your neighbors. And just who is your neighbor? Well it is quite obvious from this story that everyone is your neighbor; every some guy or some gal on the planet.

I ran across a variation on this story this week. Once upon a time some guy fell into a pit and could not get himself out. A therapeutic person came by and said, "I really feel your pain down there." A common sense person came by and said, "It was inevitable someone would fall in there eventually." A fundamentalist said, "Only bad people fall into pits" even as a Calvinist swung by and said, "We all deserve our pits." A mathematician came by and calculated the odds of falling into the pit, and a self-centered person exclaimed, "You haven't seen anything until you've seen my pit!" An optimist saw the man and said, "Could be worse" even as a pessimist rejoined, "It will get worse before it's over." Then Jesus came by, dropped down onto his belly in the slippery mud around the pit, reached out a pierced hand, and pulled the man free. And this Jesus says to us, "Go and do likewise."

I started out by telling you how crummy a week it was to be a priest, but that really isn't true. Any time that I get to tell you that God loves you so much that he risked his very self, his very nature, to move into the neighborhood, become your neighbor, and then pull you out of your ditch is a good week. God, moved with compassion, has saved your from the brink of death. Go and do likewise. Amen.

July 8, 2010

finally, we talk about mercy

Mercy. It is the crux of this week's Gospel lesson. It is the "do likewise" of Jesus to the lawyer. It is what we, as followers of Jesus, as inheritors of eternal life are called to do.

So, then, how does one act merciful?

It is not as easy as it sounds. Mercy isn't all cupcakes and hugs. Mercy isn't just being nice. Showing mercy is hard. On Tuesday I offered some questions about mercy, for example, what do we do with the "stupid decision factor"?

This morning, I'm thankful for the folks over at the Center for Excellence in Preaching for the time they took to discuss compassion (they chose this translation over mercy, I'm not sure why).

An image I found particularly helpful was that of a baseball mit. As Neal Plantinga says, compassion is a little like the leather of a baseball mitt: soft enough to wrap around the baseball but tough enough to absorb what would otherwise be a hand-breaking blow. We need to be tender enough to feel genuine grief and yet strong enough to do what's necessary to help.

The thing that is clear, especially from the story of the Good Samaritan, is that mercy does not allow us to ignore our neighbors. Even when they've done something dumb, even when they don't believe what we do, even when they are royal pains-in-the-a**, we are called to show mercy and showing mercy always involves a) feeling compassion and b) doing something about it.

Do... see I told you yesterday.

Living a life of mercy is one filled with risk and is amazingly counter-cultural. Often it means putting one's self at risk for another. Often it means putting one's place in polite society at risk to reach out to those who are considered outsiders. Know this, deciding to live mercifully is not a decision one can make on their own. Only by the Spirit are we capable of living beyond ourselves. So, if you find that mercy is tough for you right now, pray for the Spirit, pray for an open heart, and pray to be transformed. Mercy flows from grace, not the grace we show others, but the grace God gives to us.

July 7, 2010


I try not to be too culturally relevant in my sermons these days. During the sermon, my congregation is made up of people aged as young as 12 months to as old as 88 (plus or minus). It is hard to make a reference to a movie or TV show and have everybody get it. Two and a half years ago, I preached Ricky Bobby's Baby Jesus Prayer, and a lot of people were clueless (though when I repeated *most* of the prayer from the pulpit, laughter came from many generations.

Anyway, all that to say, that I'm thinking about Yoda's wisdom, "do or do not, there is no try" this morning as I read Jesus' Parable of the Good Samaritan. Twice in the interaction with the lawyer Jesus uses that scary, two-letter word, "do."

"You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
"Go, and do likewise."

The "do" that Jesus is talking about is particularly difficult. "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 love your neighbor as yourself."

Do that and you will live. In the words of my 16 month-old daughter, uh-oh.

And then there is that pesky call to "show mercy" which is amazingly hard to do. Being merciful is a specific quality of God. Our Muslim neighbors, when they utter the divine name, Allah, always follow it with two qualities of God, most gracious and merciful.

The "do" that Jesus is demanding of his inquisitor is love and mercy. The "do" that Jesus is calling us to is to emulate God. And this is something you either do or don't do, there is no try.

Not sure if I'll invoke Yoda from the pulpit this week. I'm not quite nerdy enough for that. But, the point remains. We're called to "do."

July 6, 2010

be careful what story you tell

My friend, Scott, offered us some advice he received from his homiletics professor during Lectionary study this morning. The advice was simple, but poignant, "be careful of the story you tell - if the story is too good, nobody will hear your sermon."

We decided that Jesus violated that rule this morning. Ask a group of 100 people what they know about Luke 10.25-37 and 98 of them will stare blankly back at you. Ask them what they know about the Parable of the Good Samaritan and they will surely list
  • robbers
  • priest passes by
  • other religious type person passes by
  • Samaritan helps and pays
  • the end
What they miss is the sermon, one of the best ever preached, one that if I ever tried to pull off would have me updating my resume.

"Go and do likewise."

The story is too juicy for us to remember what really matters, we are called to a) go and b) show mercy. That's it. That is the Kingdom of God wrapped up in a nice, tidy package. That is the answer to WWJD?

Of course, knowing what mercy looks like is hard. Take Jesus' own story as an example. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was a very dangerous road. Robbers, like those who attacked the man, were not above faking injury while a group waited to ambush a "Good Samaritan." The road was not unlike your local interstate, and how often do you stop to pick up a hitch-hiker? Then there is the "stupid decision factor." Travelling that road alone was a stupid decision. Do you enable someone by helping them out of their own stupid decision? Or, are there times when you are called to help no matter what? Mercy is tough to discern. But that is the stuff of another post.

Today, I'm pondering stories to use on Sunday and being very careful not to entertain people right out of the sermon. Remember, Jesus didn't stop at the story, he continued and said, "go and do likewise."

Sermon for Proper 9, Year C

On the fourth of July 1776 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania a group of 56 men representing the thirteen colonies long and sore oppressed gave their approval to the final draft of a document detailing the reasons for their July 2nd vote for independence from the tyranny of King of England. That beloved text, The Declaration of Independence, states in its second sentence, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Truth be told, the Declaration as a whole was generally ignored in the first few decades following the American Revolution. Few Americans knew, or for that matter cared, about who had written and signed the Declaration or what it said. Over time, however, the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence has become one of the best-known sentences in the English language" ( Lucas, "Justifying America", 85.)and has been called "the most potent and consequential words in American history.” (Ellis, American Creation, 55–56.) In many respects, it has come to define the moral standard of the United States of America. Despite what it has come to mean, for most of its history, the United States has lived as a contradiction unto itself as it has been standard practice to subjugate various peoples, and too often, it has not been often self-evident that all men were created equal.
It was four score and seven years later that Abraham Lincoln used the phrase in his Gettysburg Address to re-frame the Civil War as not merely an economic or political war, but the labor pains of “a new birth of freedom.” Just three months shy of one-hundred years after Lincoln's Address, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior stood in front of Lincoln's memorial and declared, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.'”
While most of the men who signed that creedal document in American history didn't really believe what it has come to mean, especially as it related to African-Americans and women, I feel safe in asserting that this nation was founded on the ideal that each of us was created by God as a whole person deserving all of the rights, privileges, and responsibilities given thereto.
A quick blush of Scripture might lead us to believe otherwise, but careful study reveals to us that this truth, that all men were created equal, has been key to understanding God's dream for his Kingdom from the very beginning. Take, for example, the story of Naaman we heard this morning. Naaman was the ultimate outsider in Israel during the ninth century BC. He was a commander in the Syrian Army, one of Israel's chief enemies at the time. He joined the brutal King of Aram in worshiping the pagan god Rimmon who we know as Baal. Naaman suffered from leprosy, one of the chief sources of fear and ritual uncleanness in ancient Israel. But, as 2nd Kings tells us, Naaman was used by “The Lord,” by YHWH himself, to bring about Aram's most recent victory of Israel, God's chosen people.
So the story goes like this, Naaman, the outsider, had a skin condition that his wife was eager to see go away. So eager, in fact, that she would listen to her slave-girl and go so far as to suggest trying track down the foreign prophet of a foreign (and as she saw it, relatively weak) god in the land of their pesky neighbor and favorite punching bag, Israel. So this Syrian, pagan general who, unbeknownst to him, has been God's hand in victory over Israel, sets off to see if Israel's God can really help him.
Nobody in this story believes that all men are created equal. The King of Israel is so fearful of another defeat at the hands of the King of Aram that he tears his clothes in fear and anguish as he reads Naaman's letter. Elisha, for his part, won't even come out of his house to address Naaman. Instead, he sends a messenger out to tell him to bathe seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman, well Naaman doesn't even believe all rivers were created equal, “Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn't I wash in them and be cleansed?”
Nobody in this story believes that people are created equal, excepting, of course, God. God, who has used the pagan worshiping leper, Naaman, to teach his people, Israel, a lesson about fidelity knows for a fact that he has created all men equal and that his whole creation is good. He knows that one man singing his praises in 9th century BC Syria is as beautiful a sound as one woman singing his praises in 9th century BC Israel, and both are as desirable as any one person singing his praises in New Zealand or Haiti or the United States today. And so, despite Naaman's unbelief and protestations, God blesses him with healing so that Naaman's next words, just beyond our text this morning, are “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Isreal.” YHWH, not Baal, is King. Of course, Naaman still has a lot to learn about the God of Israel. He still doesn't believe that all men are created equal. He doesn't even believe yet that all dirt is equal as he loads up enough Isreali soil to build himself an altar for YHWH in Aram. But we who hear this story gain insight into the very nature of God who is beyond borders, races, classes, and genders.
For most of its history, at least one hundred plus four score and seven years of it,. if not more, the United States of America has struggled to live up to God's truth as it is stated in our creedal document, The Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal. Over time, and through many hard lessons, not unlike that of Naaman and his leprosy, God has taught generation upon generation to see that initially overlooked second sentence as a statement of his unchanging truth, his dream for the Kingdom. Surely, there is work still to be done as men, women, and children in this nation, and even in this very city still find themselves sore oppressed, but every day we get a little closer to what God had in mind when he first created Adam and Eve as equal partners in his Kingdom Garden. Today, as we celebrate Independence Day in this great land, we give thanks for those, like President Lincoln and The Reverend Doctor King, who over the last 234 years, in this nation, and thousands of years beyond that, have taught us to follow God's Dream no matter the cost, to pursue life, liberty and happiness based on that God-ordained truth that all men (and women) really are created equal. May God bless us with the eyes to see and hearts to live into that truth. Amen.

July 1, 2010

Freedom - Proper 8C Homily

The freedom that we are offered in Christ has two strong enemies. Chapter five of Paul's letter to the Galatians begins with the first enemy: “Now make sure that you stay free, and don't get tied up again in slavery to the law.” We have been set free from the power of guilt as we, despite our best efforts, fail again and again to live up to the fullness of God's law. The lectionary skips ahead twelve verses to inform us of the other enemy of the freedom of Christ, “you have been called to live in freedom-- not freedom to satisfy your sinful nature, but freedom to serve one another in love.” Too often, our freedom in Christ becomes an “I'm OK, you're OK love-fest.”
In Christ, we are set free from guilt in order to love one another more fully. Human nature tempts us back toward guilt or ahead to the love of self, and that is exactly what Paul has to argue against in the fifth chapter of his letter to the Galatians. There were many in the Church who heard Paul's call to freedom as an excuse to live however they wanted to. They asserted that Paul's claim that Christians are no longer subject to the law meant that Christians were free from moral restraints of any kind. “Not so,” says Paul, “your freedom isn't the freedom to self-indulge, but he freedom to love one another without bounds.” This freedom to love was exemplified in the life of Jesus who healed on the sabbath, who touched lepers and dead bodies, and reached out to Samaritans and Roman. Jesus broke all the rules, but not so that he could, in the words of Jimmy Buffett, “get drunk and screw,” but in order to show that God's redemptive love had no limits.
This unending, no-boundaries love was the fulfillment of the law. The whole law, he says, is summed up (or fulfilled) in a single word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Everything God was trying to do in the 618 or so laws for the Israelites was, Paul tells us, so that God's people would love one another, and this is so very Pharisaical of him.
My colleague Rob Bell, who studies these things, writes that “Rabbis would spend hours discussing (and sometimes arguing) with their students about what it meant to live out a certain piece of the Torah – God's law. If a student suggested a way of living out a certain text that the rabbi thought completely missed the point, he would say, 'you have abolished the Torah,' which meant that in the rabbi's opinion the student wasn't anywhere near what God wanted. But if the student got it right, if the rabbi thought the student grasped God's intention in the text, the rabbi would say, 'you have fulfilled Torah” (Velvet Elvis, 48).
Paul the Rabbi,wants his students in Galatia to know how they can fulfill the Torah without circumcision, without food purity, without every jot and tittle. They can live out Torah by loving one another. See how that puts restraints on going the other direction? One cannot love another while engaged in acts like, sins of the flesh, “sexual immorality, impure thoughts and eagerness for lustful pleasure,” or sins of religion “idolatry and participation in demonic activities,” or sins of relationship “hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group and envy,” or sins of the bottle “drunkenness, and wild parties,” or, for that matter, any “other kind of sin.”
No, Paul says, instead of living enslaved to the law and instead of living enslaved to yourself, live in the Spirit, for when you live in the Spirit, you won't be living for anything else. When you live in the Spirit, when you fulfill Torah by mimicking God's extravagant love, then the rest of the fruit flourish within you as well, “joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” There is no law against these things. In fact, the law is fulfilled in these things.
Life in God isn't about being shackled by laws, and it isn't about doing whatever feels good, it is about fulfilling God's dream by following the Spirit. It isn't easy. The temptation is always there to slip to one extreme or the other, but God is faithful and eager to forgive. So today, choose to live in the Spirit, fulfill Torah, and love your neighbor. When you wake up tomorrow, apologize for where you fell short, and then choose again to live in the Spirit, fulfill Torah, and love your neighbor. And then, as my shampoo bottle says, repeat. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Here there is not conflict with the law. May you be filled with the Spirit today in order to fulfill Torah and love your neighbor. Amen.