November 29, 2010

baptized by fire

Baptisms have become quaint events. Babies dressed in long, white (expensive) gowns get sprinkled with a couple of drops of water in the midst of beautiful liturgies. The symbols of baptism, however, are far from quaint. Dying to self by drowning in a tomb of water only to be raised to new life in Christ are not the things of Victorian picture books.

John the Baptist understood the significance of baptism in Jesus, the one who would come to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Being baptized with fire is a life long encounter with the living God; burning away the impurities like a refiner's fire. It isn't easy and it isn't quaint, but it is the stuff of Good News.

This Advent, as a semi-penitential season, I'm thinking about those areas of my life that are like chaff that need to be thrown into the fire. After all, repentance is the way to salvation.

November 24, 2010


I am not a very good waiter. Well, actually when I worked in a restaurant, I considered myself a very good waiter, but what I'm saying here is that I'm not very good at waiting.

In line at the grocery store.
In traffic at the Wallace Tunnel.
In the waiting room(s) at the Doctor's office.
For a phone call/E-mail response.

I'm just bad at it. I have very little patience. I imagine that if I was in the position of a first generation disciple, I'd be especially bad at waiting for Jesus to return. Life was pretty tough for those first disciples. The Jewish leadership didn't like that they were shaking up the status quo. The Romans didn't like that they were confessing someone other than Caesar as Lord. It was all a rather big mess, and the best way out, it seemed, was for Jesus to come back and make it all OK.

And so they waited... and waited... and waited... and they died... still waiting...and 2000 years later we are still waiting.

In all of my waiting examples above, I'm being asked to wait without anything to do. In our waiting for Jesus, on the other hand, there is plenty to do to keep busy. Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel should keep us busy for at least a week or to.

So today, as I think about waiting, I'm thankful that there is plenty to do in the meantime. Still, maranatha seems an appropriate prayer this Advent. Lord Jesus, come soon.

November 23, 2010

are we taken up or left behind?

I've been gone for a while, and I'm sorry about that. Vacation time was good, though I missed my blog especially when it came time to preach the Sunday following. Then a cold took over my body and kept me from sleep, food, and yes even thinking straight enough to blog. I'm still in the fog, but trying hard to get back into routine.

So here I am. I'm back, and I've stumbled upon a line of thought that has me pondering the end of days. Obviously, we are all invited to ponder these things with the Advent 1 lesson from Matthew's Eschatological Discourse, but this morning I'm really feeling it because of the commentary I read from this week. Dr. Ben Witherington looks at those two famous passages about one being taken and one being left and asserts that it is the one who is left behind are "blessed to have escaped the great judgment just as Noah's family escaped the flood."

This kind of turns the world upside down. Popular religious culture has told us, whether we buy their clothes-line theology or not, that the righteous will be swept up to heaven while sinners will be left behind to endure the ravages of the end. What if we aren't waiting to be swept away, but rather we are waiting for God's kingdom to be fully realized on earth as it is in heaven? What if the infidels are to be swept away in judgment and the saints left to inhabit the new heaven and new earth of the Kingdom of God?

It changes things, to be waiting for the Kingdom to come here rather that waiting to be swept away to the kingdom, doesn't it? As Scott Hoezee at the Center for Excellence in preaching puts it, "being faithful to the Lord in our everyday routines demonstrates watchfulness for his return." So, then, are you doing your part? Are you faithful in your routine life? Are you working to clear the path for the Kingdom to come here? Or are you sitting idly by waiting for the great rapture? I'd say the advice in Matthew 24 is "get to work."

November 8, 2010


In Paul's second letter to the church in Thessolonica he warns the Christians there about hanging out with followers of Jesus who are living in idleness, and since laziness is one of my key struggles in life, it hit me right between the eyes this cold fall Monday morning.

Idleness is so easy. It is physics, for crying out loud. An body at rest will remain at rest until some outside force causes it to move. I often find myself at rest, and not much in the mood to get moving. The trash might need to go out, but my chair is much more comfortable. The baby might be fussing, but the Steeler highlight is coming up next on SportsCenter. The elementary school might need help mowing the grass, but my evenings are already pretty full. Morning Prayer beckons every day, but the act of saying a corporate service by myself feels silly. The excuses for my idleness go on and on and on.

There is, however, and outside force at work. Jesus, who after his resurrection called on his disciples to meet him where he had gone on ahead, is always just ahead of me, calling me to follow, to get up, to keep moving.

We have a saying in our household, "Laziness creates more work." And its true. You always end up fixing the mistake you made in your laziness AND doing the task you originally had to do anyway. So this morning, in the spirit of Paul, I'm praying for my tendency toward idleness to be taken away and for the Spirit of God to propel me ever forward.

November 3, 2010

Feast of Richard Hooker

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany and changed history forever. Churches of various shapes, sizes, creeds, and doctrines celebrated that event this past weekend as October 31st, Reformation Day, fell on a Sunday. Churches born out of the Protestant Reformation include the Lutherans, the Presbyterians, the Congregationalists, the Reformed Churches, and our own, Anglicanism.
Luther didn't start his protests with the thought of beginning a whole new branch of Christianity, instead it was his hope to reform the Roman Catholic Church from within. Ultimately, that proved to be impossible and so Protestantism was born and within it various denominations took hold. In England the battle between the Romans and the Protestants was particularly ugly, and so, in 1559 Elizabeth the First enacted two pieces of legislation known as the Elizabethan Settlement that attempted to assuage a civil war and find a bridge between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants in England. The fighting, of course, continued. It wasn't until the late 1590s that a theologian arose who was smart enough and savvy enough to make the via media, the middle way, make any sense. And even then, the fighting went on.
Richard Hooker was born on or around Easter Day in 1554 and died on November 3rd, 1600. He was ordained a priest in August 1579 and spent his 21 years of ordained ministry serving the Church of England in various capacities amidst some of the most tense controversies in English history. His most important work is the eight volume “Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity,” but the one that really matters, the one that a normal person might take the time to read, though no one in their right mind would preach these days as it would take nearly two-and-a-half hours to cover, is his sermon “A Learned discourse of Justification.”
In an earlier sermon, Hooker said, “I doubt not but God was merciful to save thousands of our fathers living in popish superstitions, inasmuch as they sinned ignorantly” basically stating that he hoped to see many of his Roman colleages in heaven some day. A Puritan preacher took him to task claiming that because the Roman Catholics did not believe in justification by faith, they couldn't get to heaven. In his discourse, Hooker attempts to answer that challenge and argues that just because one doesn't rightly understand the way in which God saves us, it doesn't mean that one cannot be saved anyway.
This is why I like Richard Hooker. He takes to heart Jesus' high priestly prayer when he asks that his disciples might be “completely one so that the world may now that God sent Jesus and loves his disciples just as he has loved his only Son.” It seems appropriate to me that we remember Richard Hooker on the day after one of the ugliest election seasons in history. We have been inundated with attack ads that would lead you to believe every person running for office from County Commissioner to Governor of Alabama is a closet racists who steals taxpayer money and runs around on his or her spouse. It was unbelievable the vitriol. It seemed as though the candidates forgot that their opponents were human beings and saw only an ideology they disagreed with.
In that regard, not much has changed since the time of Luther and Hooker. But thanks to Richard Hooker we have a fighting chance, an opportunity to see God's love in and for those we disagree with. We don't have to get it all right. We won't get it all right, but God loves us enough to look beyond our mistakes and see only the perfection of his Son. God looks past our divisions and calls us to be one body in Christ united by the one Spirit of God. May we be reminded today that we are more than our beliefs and ideologies. May we be reminded that those with whom we disagree are loved and saved by God. And may we be reminded that Jesus prayed that we might be one so that the whole world might come to know the love of the Father.
Spread the Good News. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, unites us and nothing can separate us from his love. Amen.

the best choice

My friend Mitch was lamenting the lectionary on facebook this morning. His issue, as I read it, is that a lectionary with so many options isn't really prescriptive and in no way guarantees that worshipers around the world will hear the same lessons read and preached on in the context of corporate worship. Valid complaints, until you look through the 7 possible choices and realize that there is really only one best choice.

All Saints. BCP. Service I.

It is the only place where you hear the text from Ecclesiasticus 44, which is the perfect lesson for a celebration of all the saints; lower case.

"Some of them have left behind a name,
so that others declare their praise.
But of others there is no memory;
they have perished as though they had never existed;
they have become as though they had never been born,
they and their children after them.
But these also were godly men,
whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten;"

This weekend St. Paul's will dedicate its newly refurbished Memorial Garden. Already buried there are 10 folk who for the most part fall into the latter category, except, of course for those whose faith was nurtured by them and their example. So, Mitch, there are many choices, but only one worth selecting. I hope that helps.

November 2, 2010

blessings and woes

Since this seems to be "bare your soul week" at DT, I'm going to take the chance today to let you know that I prefer the beatitudes in Matthew over those found in Luke's text for this All Saints' Day, and I'll tell you why.

Matthew's version (here) are more spiritual in nature, less concrete, and therefore are easier to handle. I can deal with the poor in spirit, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. These are discipleship issues; a means to the end of sanctification. They preach easily.

Luke's version (here), on the other hand, are sticky and real and have been used by the powers that be to keep the impoverished and oppressed down for almost 2000 years. How can middle class Americans hear "blessed are the poor, the hungry, and those who weep" and "woe to you who are rich, full, happy, and well liked" and have them make a real impact on their lives? The poor and rich alike are lost and in need of God's grace. The hungry and full are in the same place. Even the happy and the sad are in need of God. So why is one group blessed and one woe'd?

Many of the names in my now outdated copy of Lesser Feasts and Fasts came from well-to-do families, and we celebrate their lives and ministries, but shouldn't they be cautionary tales based on Jesus' Sermon on the Plain?

I get that I'm taking this too far and probably too literally, but as preachers it is imperative that we struggle with these texts. When they make sense and are easy, we have lost their meaning. When they make us feel good, we have fallen out of God's path, I am certain. So, how do you hear blessings and woes? Do you spiritualize them like Matthew? Are they concrete? Do they bless you or curse you?

November 1, 2010

a week late

There are some parts of church life that I just don't understand. For instance, why, when All Saints' Day falls on a Monday do we wait until the next Sunday to celebrate it? It makes sense to me that Mon-Wed you celebrate on the preceding Sunday, Thr-Sat the Sunday following. But then again, the Church rarely makes sense.

This week, however, I'm more upset about the stupid rules than usual because we missed a great preaching opportunity by pushing All Saints' back a week. Imagine preaching on this line from Luke three days before the end of one of the ugliest election cycles in history, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you..."

Even the worst of us preachers would have the chance to actually say something relevant from the pulpit, but instead we got Zacchaeus, the wee little man.

Nowhere in Scripture is the counter-cultural nature of the Good News more apparent than in those three prescriptions by Jesus. Nowhere! Imagine how different the world would look these days if we actually loved our enemies, did good to those who hate us, and blessed those who curse us. John Mayer wouldn't have had to sing that God-awful song about waiting for the world to change. Our neighbors would already be home from war. The impoverished would have a chance at life. Our TV ad space would be filled with the good qualities of our candidates rather than the overly dramatized "bad" stuff.

But, as usual, the church is a day late and dollar short on a topical issue. I guess I should be used to that by now.