December 22, 2010

the light shines in the darkness

And the darkness does not overcome it.

Don't get me wrong, the darkness tried. Tried with everything it had. Tried to tempt the light by way of food, power, and (false) security. Tried to turn those who followed the light against it. Tried to snuff the light out by the power of human empires. For four centuries the darkness tried to keep the light hidden in catacombs and fear. For more than a millennium the darkness tried to convince the light's followers that they were wrong, silly, ill-conceived. The darkness used infighting, heresy, wars, whatever it could to try to snuff out the light. Now the darkness is trying to convince the light that it is irrelevant; just another opiate for the masses. The darkness has done everything in its power to snuff out the light.

And the darkness did not overcome it.

The picture to the left is of an Epiphany station from five15. The Christmas light strands were dark, without bulbs, until the followers of the light showed up. Then, one by one, the bulbs were lit, the light grew, the darkness shrank, and God's glory was revealed.

As the final preparations for Christmas commence. As bulletins get printed and sermons get written and family begins to arrive. As stress grows, as resentments bubble up, as the darkness creeps in. My prayer for you this Christmastide is for a confident reminder that there is a light shining in the darkness, and no matter how hard it tries, the darkness will never over come the light.

Merry Christmas dear readers, and a happy, healthy, and blessed New Year.

December 21, 2010

grace upon grace

"From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace." John 1:16 (NRSV)

Robertson's Word Pictures sums up this vision wonderfully:

Grace for grace (charin anti charitos). The point is in anti, a preposition disappearing in the Koine and here only in John. It is in the locative case of anta (end), "at the end," and was used of exchange in sale. See Lu 11:11, anti ichthuos ophin, "a serpent for a fish," Heb 12:2 where "joy" and "cross" are balanced against each other. Here the picture is "grace" taking the place of "grace" like the manna fresh each morning, new grace for the new day and the new service. Emphasis Mine.

Each day we receive a new portion of grace, enough to sustain through the trials and tribulations of the day ahead. The grace of yesterday is gone. The grace for tomorrow has not yet arrived. The grace for today is sufficient.

How often in life to we agonize over yesterday or fret about tomorrow, when God have given us, out of his abundance, more than enough to last through today?

December 20, 2010

a curious case

Here at St. Paul's we use a full text bulletin. For the uninitiated, this means that each week we have a bulletin that conveys the full text of the Book of Common Prayer service without the clumsy page turning, hunting, and pecking.

In the three years we've been tweaking this bulletin, I've found that the folks who complied the BCP love punctuation and love to use it sporadically, and, as far as I can tell, without regard for the actual rules of grammar.

Most of the time it isn't really an issue. Sometimes it means a prayer read in unison sounds funny. Sometimes it means nothing. And sometimes, it is really important.

This weekend I had the joy of attending the ordination of Susan Sowers over at St. Christopher's Church in Pensacola. I love ordinations. They are filled with pomp and circumstance. They remind me of my own ordination to the priesthood on Jan 24, 2008. The renew in me the call that I began pursuing those many years ago.

At every ordination, however, I take issue with one answer given by the ordinand. "I am willing and ready to do so; and I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church."

I take issue with the case of the word "Word." And I take issue with extra fervor as I prepare to preach on John's great prologue for the First Sunday after Christmas.

In my understanding, the Word of God, is the second person of the Trinity; God the Son; Jesus; the Messiah. Co-eternal with the Father and Holy Spirit. Of one being. The one through whom all things were made.

The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are not co-eternal with God. They are not of one being with the Father. Creation did not come into being through them. They are, in my way of thinking, the word of God. The Catechism seems to affirm this, while still using a capital-W when, on page 853 of the 1979 BCP it states:

Q. Why do we call the Holy Scriptures the [w]ord of God?
A. We call them the [w]ord of God because God inspired their human authors and because God still speaks to us through the Bible.

It is, as I see it, the same nuance as saying, "Jesus is the Truth while the Bible speaks truth." Jesus is the Word of God, while the Bible speaks the word of God.

Maybe I'm making too much of this, but I think that the confusion of case has lead to a gross misunderstanding of Scripture, especially in the Western, Northern church, post-enlightenment.

As I read the word from John declaring the incarnation of Word, I'm struck by the power that both give, but know that it is only the Word that gives life, light, and salvation.

December 16, 2010

do not be afraid

I guess angels are scary beings. They are always having to say, "have no fear" or "don't be afraid." I wonder if it their physical appearance or, more probably, the news that they bring.

I was struck this morning by what the angel says to Joseph in his dream. He says, "do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife." Now Matthew only tells us that Joseph is a righteous man and his plan is to dismiss Mary quietly so as not to publicly disgrace her. There is no mention of fear, but I bet there was a whole lot of it inside Joseph.

To stay with Mary is to implicitly admit guilt. She is betrothed to Joseph. They aren't yet married, and, oooopsy, she's knocked up. To stay with her takes the blame away from Mary and places it squarely on his once righteous shoulders. To stay with Mary brings shame upon himself, his family, and his community. To stay with her means he's out of the Elks club, out of the Country club, out of the Home Builders Association. To stay with her is to give up everything he knows.

And that, my friends, is scary.

When the angel tells Joseph to not be afraid, he is asking a lot. He's asking Joseph to trust in God while his whole world falls apart around him. And, somehow, Joseph musters the strength to do it.

December 15, 2010

Advent 3A Homily - Offense

You can hear this homily here.

Or read it.

At five15 on Saturday evening, we talked about John’s change of heart. He had lept in his mother’s womb when the unborn Jesus entered the room inside his mother, Mary. John was Jesus’ cousin. They had to have known each other. John baptized Jesus, heard the voice of God, “this is my son, whom I love, listen to him.” He pointed Jesus out to his disciples and said, “this is the lamb of God, the one I’ve been telling you about.”
Today, however, we find John, maybe a year or so later, in prison. He had said the wrong things to the wrong people. He dared question the moral decisions of Herod. He crossed the power hungry Herodias. His days were surely numbered.
At some point, John began to wonder. Is Jesus who I thought he was? Is he really the Messiah or is he too just a harbinger of another one who is coming after us both? He had heard all the stories of what Jesus was doing. He’d heard that he was teaching, “repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” He knew he was healing the sick. He had calmed a storm in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. He was casting out demons, forgiving sins, even reaising people from the dead. But John was still sitting in prison. Why, if Jesus was the Messiah, was John still sitting in prison. So John sends a few of his disciples to find Jesus and ask, point blank, are you the one or not?
Jesus in a rare move, actually answers the question. “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” Judge for yourself, John, this is what Jesus is doing. This is what the Messiah is doing. And then Jesus adds a strange warning to the end of his answer; an almost cryptic note to his cousin John, “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
Offense? Who is taking offense? Or as the NIV says, “blessed is the man who does not stumble on account of me.” Stumble? Was John beginning to stumble? Were others beginning to fall away on account of who Jesus was and what Jesus was doing? It seems as though they were. Why else would Jesus say this?
But as modern day Christians we don’t really get it. There is nothing on the list of Messiah work that is reason for us to get nervous about Jesus: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” It is all standard Jesus stuff to us.
But not to to the folks that Jesus was living with. To them, Jesus was going off the rails. Take, for example the first two outcast groups on Jesus’ list: the blind and the lame, known in Judaism as “those whom David hates.”
See in the book of Second Samuel we hear the story of David taking the city of Jerusalem from the Jebusites. As his troops were approaching the Jebusites called down to David and mocked him saying, “You will not come in here, even the blind and the lame will turn you back.” Once David had taken Zion he declared, “Whoever would strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates.”
Apparently, over time this story led to a well known saying among the descendants of David, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.”
So, then, Jesus, in describing his Messiah-work opens the door by saying, those whom David hates are restored by me and made first in the kingdom of God. Ahead of John the Baptist, the reincarnation of Elijah. Ahead of the scribes and Pharisees. Ahead of the righteous and rich. Ahead of everyone comes the blind and the lame: those whom David hates.
Well of course people were turning back and taking offense. Jesus was turning the whole upside-down world right-side-up. He restored those who had been outcast since the Great King David took the city of Jerusalem.
If I’m honest with myself there are still people I wish Jesus would leave behind; people who I’ve deemed unworthy of God’s love. If I’m honest with myself there are probably people who see me as not worthy of God’s love either. Here, however, Jesus reminds us all that he came to seek and save the lost; even you and me. Thanks be to God that he has moved into our neighborhood and called us: blind, lame, leprous, deaf. dead, and poor to join him in the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.

The Incarnation Three Ways

One of the shows that has made the DVR cut in our household is the Food Network's Chopped. In it, four chef's battle through three courses and baskets full of mystery ingredients to win $10,000. I've learned a lot from the show. Chocolate and cayenne go well together. Black chickens are gross. Ice cream is hard to make in 30 minutes. Etc.

One thing I've noticed over the course of the shows two seasons is that "Three Ways" is a very popular menu note. Chef's take great pride in using an ingredient three ways. For example, braised duck thighs atop pate de foie gras topped with duck fat potatoes. Duck, three ways.

Over the course of the past few months I've been noticing the "three ways" theme showing up in the way I prepare sermons, and the next two weeks is no exception. It seems to me that Advent 4, Christmas Eve/Day, and the First Sunday after Christmas invite the preacher to examine the Incarnations three ways.

The first opportunity is this Sunday with Joseph's dream. The angel tells Joseph to name Mary's child Jesus, which literally translates at "The LORD saves." Somewhat nonsensicly, Matthew shares this to show how Jesus fulfills a prophecy, but in that prophecy he is called Emmanuel which literally translates "God is with us." So, then, the first way we might look at the Incarnation is in the name(s) given to Jesus; names that are given very intentionally. What does it mean that The LORD saves by way of God with us?

The second opportunity is on Friday night/Saturday morning when most church goers will hear Luke's great birth narrative in which the heavenly chorus tell shepherds watching their flocks by night that unto them has been born "a savior, Christ the Lord." Here we might look at what it means to call Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed one. What does it mean that Jesus, born of Mary is our savior?

Finally, on Sunday we hear the great prologue to John in which we have those great and wonderful words about the Word who became flesh and (literally) pitched his tent in our midst. Here we hear of Jesus as diety much more so than in Matthew or Luke. Here we see Jesus as God, as the light who came into the world. What does it mean that the Word became flesh and, as Eugene Peterson puts it, "moved into the neighborhood."

I'm in an increasingly rare position as a second priest here at St. Paul's. I know many of you will have the duty of preaching all three days, while I am only preaching Christmas I. I don't know if St. Paul's will hear the Incarnation Three Ways. I imagine they won't as I think I know where Keith is headed this weekend, but they most certainly will hear it two ways (my imaginary dish above sounds a lot tastier to me without the pate de foie gras anyway). But maybe you've been looking for a link, a way to make this holy week connect. Maybe you could try the Incarnation, Three Ways.

December 13, 2010

nerd alert

Having a boss as colleague is a pretty sweet deal. Having a fellow priest who is interested in preaching the Gospel is amazing. So this morning when Keith was scouring through Greek Interlinears, I took great pride in my boss/colleague/mentor and remembered for the eleventy-billionth time just how blessed I am.
So, dear reader, if you want to know what I'm thinking about regarding the Lectionary texts for this week it is two words out of Matthew 1:24.

Joseph got up...

I warned you... nerd alert!

Joseph did...

December 9, 2010

Which Jesus are you longing for this Advent?

Several years ago I preached Ricky Bobby's Tiny Infant Jesus prayer on Christmas Eve. It was well received. Mostly. I suggested in my sermon that we not forget that Jesus didn't stay a baby, that he grew up, taught lessons, gave sermons, performed miracles, made people angry, died on a cross, and was raised again that we might be restored to right relationship with God.

Each of us, I believe, has a prevailing image of Jesus. Some like him at the wedding at Cana. Some like him in the sermon on the mount. Some confuse him with Paul in his letters. Some want him to be Santa Claus. But everyone who follows him has an idea of the Jesus they'd like to see return to earth with power and might.

As I read the Collect for Advent 3, I'm struck that even there we are given two different visions of God.

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us... Here we get the visions of Daniel and John's Revelation. Jesus of power who will whisk the righteous off to heaven while leaving "them" to suffer in the lake of fire.

Because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us... Here we get the Jesus of compassion and love. Jesus who will swoop down and carry us all to the bosom of Abraham because there ain't no way we are getting there on our own.

As we get closer to his arrival, both as a baby in a manger on Christmas and as Christ the Victor at his second Advent, I wonder, which Jesus are you longing for?

December 8, 2010


Modern theology is filled with former hippies. It has to be. Otherwise I wouldn't be inundated with people obsessed with Jesus' radical nature. Maybe not former hippies. Maybe former OP wearing surfer wannabes of the 1980s. Not sure. But people love to call Jesus "radical."

And they aren't all together wrong in that, just maybe guilty of overuse. In our Gospel lesson for Sunday, Jesus ends his answer to John's disciples in a rather cryptic way, "Blessed is anyone who takes no offense to me."

Why would he say this? Why would people take offense at him?

The NIV translates it, "Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me."

Still, an odd thing to say to the disciples of his cousin, the guy who baptized him just a year or so ago, John the Baptist. Who is falling away?

What causes Jesus to get caught up in his offensive nature? Looking over the list of accomplishments, there isn't much to get all hot and bothered about: "the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor."

While the scholars I mention above would like to associate Jesus' radical offense with the last item listed, my colleague Michael noted in Lectionary study yesterday that perhaps the offense is elsewhere. He recalled, quite remarkable, two verses from 2 Samuel 5. As David and his men march into Jerusalem the Jebusites mocked David saying, "You will not come in here, even the blind and the lame will turn you back." Once David has taken Zion he said, "Whoever would strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates."

Apparently this led to a well known saying among the decedents of David, "The blind and the lame shall not come into the house."

Michael wondered if maybe the offense Jesus is speaking of comes by his inclusion of (even primacy of as they occur first on the list) the blind seeing and the lame walking in his listing off his Messiah-esqe deeds. Those whom David hates are made first in the Kingdom of Heaven. That sounds pretty offensive to me. Radical even.

Jesus turned the whole upside-down world right-side up. He even restored those who had been outcast since David took the city of Jerusalem. Who does Jesus restore that we find offensive? Is my redemption offensive to someone else? Thanks be to God that his arms of grace are stretched wide.

December 7, 2010

Of Vengeance and Salvation

Advent 3's Isaiah lesson is a great one. The vision of restoration, the foreshadowing of the one who is to come. Full of rich imagery, the author takes his readers on a pinball like journey through the varying emotions that correspond to the moment of salvation. Fear, anguish, anxiety, release, comfort, joy. They are all there.

Perhaps the best line in this excerpt from Isaiah come in verse four, "Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you."

We all, I think, have fearful hearts about meeting the God of our salvation. It either means we are dead, or the end has come, so there's that fear. Then, we wonder if we've been good enough, said the right words, really been forgiven. All the garbage of our lives comes flying back into our conscious mind, and we are afraid.

But the prophet Isaiah calls out to those who fear to say, "Yes, God is coming with vengeance to collect his dues, but he is coming to save, not destroy, so have no fear." What amazing news. That God, even at his most wrathful, even in the midst of vengeance is coming to save and restore.

Have no fear!

December 6, 2010

A Prophet?

Keith's sermon yesterday was a precursor to the Gospel lesson for Sunday. He pondered what it was that brought out the crowds to First Baptist Church of the Jordan River, John (the Baptist), Pastor.

Jesus wonders the same thing. What made people go see John? What made them follow him? What made them bring his message from prison to Jesus?

It certainly wasn't his visual aesthetic. It wasn't the nature surrounding the Jordan.

They went to see a prophet.

I'm fairly certain there hasn't been a prophet since John the Baptist. Sure, many have been gifted with the gift of prophecy, but no true Mosaic Prophets. Because of that, I'm not sure we can get a real sense of what it was that brought the crowds out to see John. We can't understand what it means that he "prepared the way" we can only take scriptures' word for it. Still, the people went to see a prophet, and most of them left probably feeling pretty bad about who they were before they arrived at the River Jordan. I bet a lot of people returned to the Judean countryside pretty angry at ol' John. But the crowds kept coming.

Keith said it was because he spoke the truth and the truth moves us deeply. I think he's right. So then, in our world where prophets are self-proclaimed and the gift of prophecy is hard to discern, where do you go to hear the truth?

December 2, 2010

make his paths straight

How do you prepare for the Lord's arrival?

John the Baptist, as foreshadowed by Isaiah, tells us that we prepare for the Lord's arrival by making his paths straight, but honestly, what does that look like? And shouldn't Jesus be capable of navigating a winding road?

I've spent this week pondering the areas of my life that are chaff; the stuff that needs to be burned away. Things like, pride, envy, status-seeking, and the like. The stuff that is, most certainly, not of God. Paul tells us that even while we were still sinners, the Lord died for us, but the expectation of Scripture is clear, he died yet we were still sinners, but he doesn't expect us to stay that way.

Or better put, the Lord loves us just the way we are, but he loves us too much to leave us that way.

So yes, Jesus is more than capable of navigating the long and winding road, and he does it over and over again as he seeks us out in the midst of our lostness. But the ideal, the dream of God, is to find the road leading up to Zion smooth, level, and straight, lined with redeemed singing songs of praise and shouting with joy.

Prayer. Study. Self-denial. Service. Love.

That is how we make the path straight. That is how we prepare for the Lord's arrival.

December 1, 2010

who gets burnt?

I'm still stuck on Jesus' baptizing us with the Holy Spirit and fire because, it seems to me, that many of our brothers and sisters in Christ don't hear what JBap is really saying. "He will gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

We don't really get what Jesus is saying because we buy our flour already milled and our cereal already puffed. We hear this warning and think, "Thanks be to God that I'm good grain and those other people are the chaff."

But that is not an accurate understanding because in every stalk of wheat there is both good grain and chaff. The threshing floor is the place where the two are separated by the process of winnowing. The grain is stirred up in some way (maybe by a winnowing fork) and the light chaff blows away while the heavier grain falls back to the floor. The grain is kept, and the chaff, well the chaff is properly disposed of (often these days it becomes livestock feed).

All of that to say this: I am both good grain and chaff, and so are you. Nobody is just good grain or just chaff. We all have goodness within us and we all have sin within us. The key to humility is realizing this fact, and the key to repentance is asking for God's help in winnowing out the bad and keeping the good.

So, to answer my earlier question, Who gets burnt? We all do, but it is a fruitful process in the end.