October 1, 2011

Draughting Theology is moving

After six years with blogger, I've decided it is time to move.  Please adjust your rss feeds to reflect my new site at http://draughtingtheology.wordpress.com/

Thanks for following! I appreciate each of you.

September 29, 2011

Have you never read the scriptures?

I'm pretty sure that Jesus could not have hurt the Pharisees any worse than by asking then, "have you never read the scriptures?"  That was their job. They were among the very few who were literate. They were the teachers, nee the perfecters, of the law. All they did, day in and day out, was read the scriptures and argue about their meaning in daily life.

When Jesus asks them, "have you never read the scriptures," he says openly what he's been veiling in parable all this time, "y'all don't have a clue."  It hurts to have your worldview challenged like that. Especially as it relates to one's religion, to be accused of being so ignorant of the basics as to have never even read the scriptures, that's about the worst challenge I can think of.

No wonder the Pharisees, realizing he's talking about them (clueless even here), want to arrest Jesus immediately.

As an Episcopal priest, I have two sacred texts: the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.  It assumed, rightfully, that I've read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested both of them.  Despite some holes in the narrative of the Old Testament that I've failed, as yet, to inwardly digest, I can honestly say that I take those texts very seriously, and when it comes to the BCP, when I break a rule, I do so knowing the tradition in the rubric and the reasons for my changes.

What comes to mind this morning, is that challenge.  What could Jesus look at in my life and ask, "have you never read or heard or lived my message?"  That, I'm certain, would sting just as much as it did for the Pharisees.

September 28, 2011

the produce?

When Jesus asks the Pharisees what the father would do to the evil tenants in his parable, they highlight something that is easily glossed over in this story, especially as it gets used in many pulpits as the basis for the first sermon in stewardship season.  Their response is as succinct as it is hard to hear, "The father will put those wretches to a miserable death and lease the vineyard to tenants who will give him his produce at the harvest time."

Did you catch it?  Here's a hint, look at the title of this post.  Riiiight, the produce.

The story starts, after the allusion to Isaiah 5, with the landowner sending his slaves "to collect his produce."  They didn't go to take his cut of the profits.  They didn't go to get the first fruits.  They didn't go for any partial payments.  They went to get the produce.

All of the produce.

Or at least that's how I read it (disagreeing with my recent favorite translation the NLT in doing so).  We did stewardship during the Great 50 Days of Easter, so our worship services in October are safe from the fall stewardship campaign, but lots and lots of preachers will use this text as a reminder to give God his due.  Then they'll say something like, "and the biblical model of giving is the tithe, 10%."  Which is well and good, and if everybody gave 10% the Church would not be in need, ministries to the poor and sick would be overflowing with cash, and natural disasters wouldn't require a $10 donation by text message, BUT the biblical model of giving is not 10%.  The biblical model of giving is the Father sending his slaves to collect his produce.

None of it is ours. It is all a gift from God who created the land, built the seasons, waters the plants, and gives breath to the workers.  Lopping 10% off the top is going about it the wrong way round, God gives us back 90%, which is more than we could ever need.  The evil tenants in Jesus' parable don't get it.  They think they've done all the work. They think they can rebel and take ownership of the vineyard.  They forget where it all came from.  And often times, so do we.  Offer the Lord his produce, and you'll be amazed at the results.

September 27, 2011

but... and...

At lectionary group yesterday, I noticed something.  When M read the lesson appointed for Sunday, the NIV differed from the NRSV in its usual ways.  Except for one big difference, coming in verse 44.

NIV - He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.
NRSV - The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.


These are very different words, and, at least as far as my Greek knowledge goes, both are acceptable translations.  There is the funny form in Greek that makes a statement contingent but doesn't define its contingency.  So verse 44 could read "but" or it could read "and."

Let me tell you why I prefer the "but" translation.  I think, what Jesus is asking for in this exchange with the Pharisees, elders, and chief priests, is that they lay themselves down upon the altar of the Lord - the altar finished by the capstone of Christ.  Sacrifice to self. Death to self. Repentance. Baptism.  This plays to the surrounding context in the story and is the call of discipleship right through time to today.  Die to self, live for Christ.

He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces...


But he on whom it falls, the one who refuses to die to self, who seeks after selfish ambition, who ignore the pleas of the poor, who hoards the kingdom for himself, who defines who is in and who is out.  On that person the altar of the Lord will fall hard, and they will be crushed (and literally in the Greek scattered).

Jesus desires that we repent and live.  He desires that we choose to be broken into pieces and rebuilt in his image.  But when we refuse, he'll do that work for us.

So I choose "but."  I'm sure others will read this differently, like, say, the folks who translated the NRSV, but I'm OK with that.

September 26, 2011

Actions speak louder than words

Here's my sermon from yesterday.  You can listen here - or read below----
Posts are going to be behind this week - sorry.  I'm just behind already.

I heard a story this week about a guy, let's call him Jason, right here in town, who got a phone call at home one evening. On the other line was a person who lived next door to one of Jason's rental properties. Seems someone had broken into his vacant rental house a block or so from where he lived. He hung up, called the cops, grabbed his pistol, and met the would-be robber on the front porch. As the robber tried to continue on his way out, Jason suggested as kindly as one can with a loaded gun, that he should probably not move. The robber responded by saying, “Did I break into your house? I didn't mean to break into your house, I meant to break into another one.” Obviously neither Jason, nor the police took much solace in the man's story. Actions, it seems, always speak louder than words.

That's the theme of the story Jesus tells the elders and chief priests in this morning's gospel lesson. In case you missed it, which you most likely did since the lectionary skips the details of it all, as our long summer season of Pentecost comes to an end, we join Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem during the final week of Jesus' life. In between the portion of chapter twenty we heard last week and today's lesson, Matthew's gospel tells the stories of the mother of James and John asking Jesus for choice spots at the dinner table for her sons. Chapter twenty-one begins with the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday which brings Jesus into the Temple Court where he turns the tables of the moneychangers and heals the blind and the lame. Monday finds Jesus cursing the fig tree for not bearing fruit and promising his disciples that if they have faith they can tell the mountain to jump into the sea.

AND THEN, we get to our lesson for today. Jesus is back in the Temple after yesterday's tirade. If you look carefully, you can still see the glimmer of a piece of change or two, strewn across the Temple floor, as the men who make their living selling sacrificial animals try to put their businesses back together. The collective breath exits the room as Jesus walks through the door, and order to eliminate any further problems before they start, the elders and chief priests meet Jesus near the Temple gate.

“By whose authority do you do these things? By whose authority did you mess up our well established system? By whose authority are you causing a raucous? Who gave you such authority?” They know that the only valid answer is “from God.” They know that only the anointed one of God could justifiably act like Jesus acted. They also know that if he answers that way, they’ve got him, dead to rights, for blasphemy and treason.

Jesus knows that too. Jesus knows that the trap has been set; it’s been there a long, long time. He can see the writing on the wall, but the time isn’t right. It’s only Monday, there is still a lot to accomplish before it all comes crashing in on him. And so, as a good Rabbi, he answers their question with a question. The long running game of oneupsmanship continues as Jesus looks at the group standing before him and pulls something of a Willy Wonka, “I’ll tell you where my authority comes from... but first, answer me just one, simple question. Where did John the Baptist get his authority? Was if from heaven? Or was it merely of human origin?”

And with that, the hunted-one escapes to fight for at least another day. Matthew spells out for us the catch-twenty-two. If they say that John’s Baptism was from God, then they admit that they didn’t catch on to what God was doing at the time. If they say it was merely human, they risk a mob scene as the vast majority of Jerusalem had heard John, been baptized by him, and believed his message of repentance and the kingdom. Collectively, they look at their sandals, shuffle their feet, and answer in a mealy-mouthed chorus, “we don’t know.”

Jesus won’t be answering their question, at least not directly, but if answering a question with a question was Jesus' favorite activity on earth, then telling a parable must have been a close second. “Tell me what you think about this. A certain man had two sons. He went to the older boy and said, ‘Go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘Nope, not gonna do it,’ but later changed his mind and went to work. Knowing only his elder son’s rejection, the man went to his younger son, ‘Boy, you go and work in the vineyard.’ This son answered, ‘Yes, lord, I’ll go.’ But he didn’t go. Which one did the will of his Father?”

The obvious answer, of course, is the first son because actions speak louder than words. And that’s the answer the religious leaders give, and Jesus seems to tell them they’re right when he responds, “Truly I tell you, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do.” But honestly, this has bothered me all week. Maybe I expect too much from people, but it seems to me that neither son did the will of his father. One son disrespected his father in saying “no,” but felt guilty enough or sorry enough or whatever enough to put down his xbox controller and go to work. The other son heaped politeness upon his dad, calling him “kyrie” (sir or lord), but then goes right back to staring at the new facebook layout trying figure out if he likes it or not, never giving a second thought to his dad’s request for him to work. Both boys ruined their credibility by disrespecting their father. Both boys fell short of the ideal Jesus sets forth in the Sermon on the Mount, “let your yes be yes, and your no be no. Anything else,” Jesus says, “is of the devil.” The one who did the will of his Father is the one who says yes, follows through, and does it.

John the Baptist said yes to God and followed through.

Jesus said yes to God and followed through.

These men had the authority that comes from authentically living into the will of the Father. It brought them both to early ends, but that seems to be what happens in this world when your “yes” is yes and your “no” is no and your goal in life is to seek after the Kingdom.

Going to work in the vineyard is hard. It’s hot, dirty, back-breaking work. And it is the ultimate privilege to be called. This conversation that Matthew lets us overhear is between Jesus and the religious leadership of his time, but the call to work in the vineyard is not exclusively the purview of guys and gals who wear collars and get paychecks from churches. By virtue of your baptism, you too are employees of the Kingdom pursuant to all rights, privileges, and obligations thereof.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

The answer, in case you’ve forgotten, is “I will, with God’s help.” Roughly translated, that means “Yes Lord, I’ll work with you.” Many of us have answered “yes” to these questions more times than we can remember. Most of us are actively doing that work on an ongoing basis. All of us, from time to time, fall short, get distracted, or otherwise shirk our duties. But the LORD is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness, and despite our shortcomings, he allows prostitutes, tax collectors, priests, sinner, saints, and all the rest into his Kingdom. Let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no. But when you fall short, remember that actions speak louder than words. Repent, return to the Lord, and get back to work. The vineyard, and the Father are waiting. Amen.

September 22, 2011

Jesus' actions speak louder than my words

There are four possible outcomes in the story of a dad asking his sons to work in the vineyard.  Two of them, the two that sit in the gray areas of life, are mentioned by Jesus in Sunday's Gospel.

1) Son says "yes" but doesn't work.
2) Son says "no" but does work.
3) Son says "yes" and does work.
4) Son says "no" and doesn't work.

Ideally, as we discussed yesterday, the son says "yes" and then goes and does the work, and I think I'm leaning towards this as THE only scenario in which the will of the Father is actually fulfilled.  But, it seems clear from the interaction between Jesus and the elders and priests that one can, at the very least, partially fulfill the will of the father by going out into the vineyard.

Actions speak louder than words.

Saying yes and doing no sucks.  It is a lie.
Saying no and doing yes is pretty crummy, but at least you DID something.

It is the work of the vineyard (a topic of conversation last week, this week, AND next week) that is important. In Jesus' setting, Israel was the vineyard.  God asked the priests to tend his vineyard, to help the people grow in faith, to live the will of the Father.  The priests, in taking on the mantle of their office, said "yes," but failed miserably at the task at hand. The prostitutes, tax collectors, and Joe the Plumbers or Israel, the vineyard, were left to figure it out on their own.  Weeds were growing unabated, irrigation ditches were clogged with debris, grapes were going unharvested.  And so the Father went to his only Son and said, "go to work."

Jesus said yes, went to work, and died because of it.
Jesus fulfilled the will of his Father.
Jesus made the vineyard ready for harvest.

As much as I want this story to be a moral tale that we should "get to work," I'm realizing this morning that the work has already been done. In many ways, I'm just a grape. My job is to soak up the sun, the drink in the water, to receive the gifts of grace from the Father, and to await the harvest.

September 21, 2011

Use your words

We'll deal with actions tomorrow.

On Wednesdays, because of five15 and Draughting Theology on Ice, my work day begins at noon.  It is my attempt at keeping some semblance of a family life in this 24/7/365 world.  This morning was a bit of a rough one as FBC decided to sleep past 6:30 for the first time in months.

Trouble is, the school bus stops right outside her window at 6:55am.  The squeaking breaks woke her up, of course, and she was a grouchy, sleepy two-year-old until nap time blessedly arrived at 11:55.  When she is tired like that, her favorite activity is the point and cry game.

She points at what she wants and cries until she gets it.

This is not my favorite game.

All morning SHW and I took turns saying, "use your words. Tell me what you want. I don't know what uhhh-ahhh means."

What, you know this game?  Great, then you're up to speed.

Anyway, for whatever reason I thought of the annoying brothers featured in Sunday's Gospel lesson.  They both use words, but neither uses them positively.  The first says, "heck no, I'm busy," but puts down his Edward Forty-hands and goes out to work. The second says, "sure dad, I'll do it," and then goes back to playing Halo Reach on XBox Live.

Earlier in Matthew (5:37 to be exact), Jesus is teaching about all sorts of serious life issues like divorce, revenge, and vow taking.  Here, he rather famously states, "let your yes be yes and your no be no.  Anything else comes from the evil one.  I take this to say that neither son did his Father's will, despite what the Priests and elders suggest in 21.31, and another lesson in the ongoing saga that is "use your words."

Use them honestly.  When you say yes, honor it.  When you say no, mean it.  When your word is suspect, what else is left?

DT on Ice #1 - air puffers and rubber gloves

Draughting Theology (on Ice) the real-life, face-to-face, get together restarts tonight at Gelato Joe's and the Tropic Ice Deck Bar @ 6:11pm.  We're loosely basing on conversations on the Rob Bell & Don Golden book, Jesus wants to save Christians.  Here's tonight's handout for those who can't make it but want to be involved.

Air Puffers and Rubber Gloves
But first... The introduction to the introduction

1. Courtesy and respect will be shown at all times.
2. Commitment will be made to listen to the perspectives of others.
3. All statements that are not explicit facts must include the attitude of “it seems to me.”
4. All participants will work hard to increase their understanding of the issues between meetings.

“In the Scriptures, ultimate truths about the universe are revealed through the stories of a particular people living in particular place. As [we] explore, the nation of Egypt and the Jewish people feature prominently in the biblical narrative. When we [talk] of Egypt then, we are not [talking] about Egypt today. When we mention the Jews then, we are not speaking of our Jewish friends and neighbors today. We realize that some of these words, such as Egypt and the Jews, have power to evoke feelings and thoughts and attitudes about the very pain and division in our world that [Jesus wants to save Christians and this group] will address. We join in this tension, believing that the story is ultimately about healing, hope,and reconciliation.” (p. 008)

Theology – from the Greek theo meaning “God” and logos meaning “word” - Theology is a word about God.
Draughting – the British variation of draft – here we use it two ways.
  1. Draught – verb – to make a blueprint of – our vision of God is never fully formed, the box we use is always too small, here in this group we strive to hold loosely to what we already have, while always seeking to redraw our theology of God. 
  2. Draught – noun – beer from a keg, you are welcome to have some, but always in moderation. 
OK, now to our topic at hand –
Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell and Don Golden
Introduction - Air Puffers and Rubber Gloves
Biblical Text – Genesis 4:1-16 (Cain and Abel)
Now Adam slept with his wife, Eve, and she became pregnant. When the time came, she gave birth to Cain, and she said, "With the LORD's help, I have brought forth a man!" Later she gave birth to a second son and named him Abel. When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain was a farmer. At harvesttime Cain brought to the LORD a gift of his farm produce, while Abel brought several choice lambs from the best of his flock. The LORD accepted Abel and his offering, but he did not accept Cain and his offering. This made Cain very angry and dejected. "Why are you so angry?" the LORD asked him. "Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you respond in the right way. But if you refuse to respond correctly, then watch out! Sin is waiting to attack and destroy you, and you must subdue it." Later Cain suggested to his brother, Abel, "Let's go out into the fields." And while they were there, Cain attacked and killed his brother. Afterward the LORD asked Cain, "Where is your brother? Where is Abel?" "I don't know!" Cain retorted. "Am I supposed to keep track of him wherever he goes?" But the LORD said, "What have you done? Listen-- your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground! You are hereby banished from the ground you have defiled with your brother's blood. No longer will it yield abundant crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless fugitive on the earth, constantly wandering from place to place." Cain replied to the LORD, "My punishment is too great for me to bear! You have banished me from my land and from your presence; you have made me a wandering fugitive. All who see me will try to kill me!" The LORD replied, "They will not kill you, for I will give seven times your punishment to anyone who does." Then the LORD put a mark on Cain to warn anyone who might try to kill him. So Cain left the LORD's presence and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. (NLT)

Getting our frustrations out first, why is it that the first family, the very first people, who were supposed to be closest to God – physically and spiritually – was already dysfunctional? Why did God create in us the ability to rebel?

What sort of indicators do you experience in your day-to-day life that we are living East of Eden?

Is it your sense that we are moving further east, or have you found ways in which (individually or corporately) movement is headed back westward?

We are east of Eden. Something is not right.

Ursprache – German word and thought for the primal, original language of the human family. It's the language of paradise that still echoes in the deepest recesses of our consciousness, telling us that things are out of whack deep in our bones, deep in the soul of humanity. Something about how we relate to one another has been lost. Something is not right in the word. (p017)

Am I my brother's keeper? Am I supposed to keep track of him wherever he goes?

How does the way in which we relate to one another tell us things are out of whack?

In what ways do you see us harming ourselves?

Do you hear/feel/experience that Ursprache deep within your bones?

What does it say? How does it call?

Is there a way to turn this eastbound train around?
Next Time – 10/5 @6:11pm – the cry of the oppressed – exodus 1:1-2:11, 23-25

September 20, 2011


I enjoy going back and forth on issues of churchmanship with friends who are of a higher ilk than me.  We rag on each other about vestments, manual actions, and all the minutia of life as a parish priest.  It is usually good natured, sometimes funny, and never to be taken too seriously,

Putting all that stuff aside, since most everyday disciples don't care much about it anyway, the real question of the warring factions in our church, be it the high church, low church battles of the 19th century or the progressive, evangelical arguments of today, surround the question of authority.

By what authority do you do these things?

My anglo-catholic friends would say that we operate under the authority passed down from Christ to St. Peter and through the laying on of hands in the Episcopate.  This is not a bad argument, though I feel like it gives too much power to people.  Instead, my argument is that we operate under the authority of Christ as He is continually revealed through the Holy Spirit.  I like the authority buck to stop at someplace higher than some human being's desk.

Either way, the authority we carry as lay and ordained ministers of the gospel, is given to us, primarily through our being made in the image of God.  We are his children, inheritors of his kingdom, and our work, be it through the Church or through the Spirit or both, is done under the umbrella of the authority of the King.

Questions of authority plague the Church.  They have been the motivating factor behind the vast majority of schisms throughout history.  They have been the impetus for war.  They continue to muddle the message of the kingdom to this day.

No matter where we think our authority comes from: Bible, Bishop, Bag-o-tricks - we must not forget that their authority only matters because it has been given them of the Father.  May God guide us in his will, for his honor and glory.

September 19, 2011

ahead of you, not instead of

Rob Bell's latest book Love Wins happened because of an event at a community art show held at Mars Hill church, where Bell is a pastor. Here's Time Magazine's take on the event.

As part of a series on peacemaking, in late 2007, Pastor Rob Bell's Mars Hill Bible Church put on an art exhibit about the search for peace in a broken world. It was just the kind of avant-garde project that had helped power Mars Hill's growth (the Michigan church attracts 7,000 people each Sunday) as a nontraditional congregation that emphasizes discussion rather than dogmatic teaching. An artist in the show had included a quotation from Mohandas Gandhi. Hardly a controversial touch, one would have thought. But one would have been wrong.

 A visitor to the exhibit had stuck a note next to the Gandhi quotation: "Reality check: He's in hell." Bell was struck.

Really? he recalls thinking.
Gandhi's in hell?
He is?
We have confirmation of this?
Somebody knows this?
Without a doubt?
And that somebody decided to take on the responsibility of letting the rest of us know?
Read more 

There have been numerous discussions like this one that have come up in my life in the Church. Is Gandhi in hell? What about those with special needs? What about those who live on a deserted island? What about... Heck, is Rob Bell going to heaven? My answer is always, "I don't know." I can't. I'm on the wrong side of the River Styx to have definitive answers. I know that I believe Jesus when he says "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me." But I kind of think that confining one's ability to live in grace to the years they spend on earth is selling God short.

Anyway, this all came to mind today as I read the Gospel appointed for Sunday. Jesus is embroiled in a debate with the religious powers that be. After he tells a parable (more on that later in the week) he tells them, point blank, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you." For the first time, I was struck by that one, simple phrase, "ahead of you."

So much of our time is wasted trying to change what Jesus says here from "ahead of you" to "instead of you." We want, for whatever reasons, for some people to be outside of the Kingdom. We want to know, for certain, that there are boundaries, walls, even pearly gates, that will keep riff-raff, wrong believing, nasty types out. And while Jesus does, very clearly, tell us there will be some outside the Kingdom, most of the time, the people he describes as in are those nasty types.

Prostitutes and Tax-Collectors?

And those wrong believing types, the Pharisee, Saducees, Scribes, and other powers that be? Well even they are still in, just at a later seating. There is a lot of power in Jesus' declaration of "ahead of." I'm just beginning to wrap my head around it.

September 15, 2011

anxious about earthly things

The prayer appointed for this Sunday is one of my least favorite. Not because it isn't eloquent, it is. Not because it isn't theologically compelling, it is. Not even because it is hard to understand, it isn't. I dislike the Collect for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A because it hits too close to home. As I preached and written about before, I am an expert worrier, and to pray that God might grant that I might not be anxious about earthly things means that I'll have to find another use for a lot of brain power I otherwise waste worrying. I worry about how I might spend that time I now spend worrying. I might be alone in this. Perhaps you don't worry. Perhaps you've got it all together. Perhaps the Spirit is active in your life that you don't have time to worry. To be honest, I'm kind of anxious that I'm the only one who does worry. How great would it be, in the midst of things that are passing away, to hold fast to those things that will endure? How great would it be to be free from worry? Not by my own merits. Not by my own hard work. Not because I've some how convinced myself that I've got it all together. Not because some big toothed "pastor" told me to think of every day as Friday. But because I trusted in God enough to say, "it isn't about me and what I can or can't do, but it is about God and the amazing, mighty, miraculous things he does." How great would that be?

September 14, 2011

Angry? Yep... angry enough to die!

The end of the Jonah story is tragic. You can watch the VeggieTales interpretation, one I've seen too many times to count, on youtube. The story closes with a question mark, and not just because it ends with a question from God. It ends with a giant question mark because we never hear Jonah's response. We never hear Jonah's response, I think, because he's too angry to speak. God asks him, after the Unpredictable Plant dies and Jonah gets miffed about it, "Is it right for you to be angry?" Jonah's response is emphatic, "Yes! Angry enough to die!" Sometimes, God's grace is like that. The story is usually about the serial rapist/murderer/child abuser sitting on death row who is converted by the prison chaplain, and as they come to the end of their days, they are at peace because they know they will be with Jesus and the thief who repented in paradise. It offends us. It makes us uncomfortable. It just doesn't sit right. For some people, it makes them angry enough to die. Or at least angry enough to leave the church. As it is with the story of the generous landowner, God's grace is offensive to those of us who keep worldly score. The undeserving always get God's grace. Of course, we forget that we too are undeserving. It is just that our sins are paltry compared to that other guy. Our failings don't hurt anybody... right? For some people, the extravagance of God's grace is just too much to bear, too offensive to be plausible, too big to be accepted, and that is a real shame. As soon as I narrow down God's grace, I'm afraid the first one falling outside of it is me. I'll end today's post in the same way Jonah ends, with a question mark. Should God not be concerned with those who still need his grace?

September 13, 2011

What time did you show up?

I think I've written on this topic before, but I can't seem to search it in a way that blogger/google can find my old posts, so I'll write this as if it is a new idea. Caution! The story Jesus tells about the landowner and his day laborers is a trap! I'm guessing you fell into it. I know I did. The trap lies in this question - what time did you show up? In the scene that follows this parable, Jesus predicts his death for the third time. Immediately following that, the mother of James and John brings them to the feet of Jesus, kneels down and says, "Grant that one of these my sons will sit at your right hand and the other at your left in your kingdom." Or, to put it in the context of the parable, "Jesus, my two sons, James and John, have been in the field since before sun up. They were there yesterday, and they'll be back tomorrow. Promise me you'll pay them better than everyone else." The assumption made by Mama Zebedee is wrong in two ways. 1) How does she know what time her sons showed up? 2) She forgets that the last will be first and the first will be last. I've been in church since I was three. I went to Sunday school. I attended 3 different youth groups. I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior at 17. I answered the call to ordained ministry at 22. I plan on (and hope to) serve the Lord in full-time ministry for the rest of my days. I'd like to think that I'm the worker who showed up first thing in the morning. And if I am, I'd like to think I'll be happy with my full days wage, no matter what everybody else gets. I'd like to think these things, but I know myself better than that. I know that most days, I don't really show up until at least noon. I know that most days, I'm relying on me rather than God. I know that most days, I'll be grumbling when we all get paid the same. See the trap? We all like to put ourselves in the starring role in Jesus' parables, but more often than not, I'm showing up late, grumbling, weeds sown on rocky soil. But God loves me anyway. And for that, I'm eternally grateful.

September 12, 2011

bad for business

For good or for ill, my brain thinks in management terms. Cost/benefit analysis, while not always the perfect model in parish administration, is my go to decision making tool. Thus, it always grieves me to read the parable of Jesus assigned for Sunday. I guess it is well and good that the Kingdom of Heaven can be related as a generous land owner, but it is just bad business. Imagine the scene the next day. The landowner hits the Home Depot, ready to pick up another mess of day laborers, and, low and behold, nobody is there. He returns at nine; nobody. Noon; nobody. Three; maybe a few brave souls. By five o'clock, with the day nearly spent and nothing accomplished, he returns to find 100 guys ready to work for a full days wage. What about the poor slobs who own other pieces of land? Are they supposed to suffer at the hand of this landowners generosity (i.e. foolishness)? When Jesus told parables, people got mad. That rarely happens when we read the parables of Jesus these days, mostly because our cultural vocabulary is so different. But this parable makes me angry. As one who holds a BS degree in business administration, this makes me angry. And, if I'm honest, as a disciple who like to think of himself as one who was in the field no later than 9am, this makes me angry. Am I the only one?

September 11, 2011

The Lord is full of compassion... and we are not.

Here is the unedited text of today's sermon. The audio will be up tomorrow. The text is Matthew 18:21-35 and my life experience in the 10 years since 9/11. The LORD is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, and of great kindness... So began our reading of a selected portion of Psalm 103. Truth be told, the Lectionary allows the option to read all of Psalm 103 on the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, but it seems to me, that on this day, we should echo the prayer of David by giving particular attention to this ancient creedal statement, The LORD is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, and of great kindness. And we should probably rightly finish it by adding, “and we are not.” The LORD is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, and of great kindness... and we are not. Which is, for many of us, why gathering for worship on this particular day, this 11th of September, 2011 is so very different than just about every Sunday we have experienced. We join with Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Agnostics, Atheists, and whatever else, united not by creed or color, but by universal memory, we all mark this day as a somber anniversary when two-thousand-nine-hundred-seventy-seven men, women and children senselessly lost their lives and more than six-thousand others were injured. If you are anything like me, you come today with a myriad of mixed emotions, which is why, I believe, our mantra for today should be, “The LORD is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, and of great kindness... and we are not.” September 11th, 2001 fell on a Tuesday, and by the weekend, for most of us, life had at least found its way back to some semblance of routine. On Friday night, as was my custom, I joined my work buddies in the basement of the Travelodge to drink some beer while terrible karaoke singers ruined good songs. We were all a bit dazed, still in many ways in shock at the events of the week, but as is the case after tragedies, life, though changed forever, goes on. I remember this evening more vividly than most, not because the singing was any better or any worse than usual, but because of an impromptu speech given by the Karaoke Jockey. With words unfit for the pulpit, he turned his emotions into a very graphic description of what he would do to Osama Bin Laden should he ever run across him on the streets of Lancaster or the caves of Aghanistan. I remember feeling icky, to use a technical term, profoundly icky. I want to think I felt that way because, even thought I was a 21 year-old who spent too much time at the bar and not enough time in church, I could recognize the dignity of every human being, and the thought of one human being feeling such hatred and anger toward another made me uncomfortable to the point of feeling icky, but I'm afraid I felt icky because, in a lot of ways, I understood what the guy on stage was feeling, and I didn't like those emotions in me. The LORD is full of compassion, and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness... and we are not. On the 26th of May, 2009, Lt. Col. Mark Stratton, very much a child of this parish, died with two others, from wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated as their Humvee traveled the well worn road outside of Bagram Airfiled in Eastern Afghanistan. Mark was serving as the commander of a Provincial Reconstruction Team helping to rebuild the war torn region, and was, in many ways serving to ensure and protect the freedom of the Afghani people more so than his own country. To think that people tasked to build a school that would help bring children up from the depths of poverty would be the target of such an attack is hard to stomach. This community gathered, filling this nave beyond capacity to remember and give thanks for Mark's service. Today as we mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11, we also remember the five-thousand-seven-hundred-ninety-six American lives that have been cut short and forty-one-thosuand-two-hundred-twenty-one others forever altered by injury in the ongoing war on terror. No matter our political affiliation, we all grieve these numbers, especially the multitudes who, like Mark, were killed not on the field of war, but in the honest attempt to offer a better life to those who had nothing to do with the geo-political machinations that lead to 9/11 and the war on terror. The LORD is full of compassion, and mercy, slow to anger, and of great kindness... and we are not. On the 2nd of May 2011, mastermind of 9/11 and leader of Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, was killed in an well orchestrated strike on his family compound by a skilled team of Navy Seals and CIA operatives. As news spread, massive celebrations spontaneously erupted around the country. As the pictures of those celebrations filled our 24 hour news cycle, many looked arrogantly and begrudgingly down their noses at the joy, and I was, once again, feeling profoundly icky. On one hand, I gave thanks that a seed of hatred and violence had been eradicated from the earth. On the other hand, I grieved that another one of God's created children, broken and sinful as he was, had found a violent end. One one hand I felt like celebration was the wrong response, and on the other, I thought smug self-righteousness wasn't any better. The LORD is full of compassion, and mercy, slow to anger, and of great kindness... and we are not. BUT... But God calls us to strive after compassion, mercy, and kindness no matter how hard it may be to attain them. Perhaps by chance, but more likely by Providence, the universal theme running through today's lessons is the one topic we really don't want to talk about today: forgiveness. After Jesus taught his disciples the art of reconciliation that we heard last week, Peter, probably acting as spokesman again, walked up to Jesus, stretched the very limits of his imagination and asked, “If a brother or sister sins against me, how many times should I forgive them? As many many as... seven times?” Peter is beginning to figure out that Jesus works on a much larger scale than the rest of the world. Earlier in their time together, Peter would have said something like, “Should I forgive someone two or three times?” Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, I might forgive you. Fool me three times, and forgiveness is just a crazy pipe dream. But by now, Peter has expanded his thinking, how about seven times? Jesus, however, is thinking even bigger than that. Even if you get burned seventy-seven times or seventy times seven times – forgive, forgive, forgive. “Forgive beyond your ability to keep track,1” and then forgive some more. Conceptually, this sounds fine and good, but with a nod to C.S. Lewis, “everybody agrees in principle that forgiveness is a mostly lovely idea and this agreement continues right up until that moment when you have an actual person in front of you whom you must forgive—then suddenly caveats, nuances, and provisos start to fill the air.”2 Forgiveness is hard because forgiveness is a life changing endeavor. To hold onto a grudge is to yoke yourself to another person. To forgive them not only frees them from that bondage, but it removes the weight from your own shoulders as well, and most of us don't know what it feels like to stand up straight, free from the bonds of animosity. Be it a husband, or a wife, a child, or a parent, the Republicans, or the Democrats, Al Qaeda, or Timothy McVeigh, the inability to forgive another, whether they deserve it or not, whether they ask for it or not, is detrimental to your health: spiritually, emotionally, and even physically.3 Jesus never tells Peter that forgiving someone four-hundred-ninety times is going to be easy. Seven times is hard enough. The reality that we all know, is that forgiveness is difficult and messy and awkward and sometimes sad, but it is always a requirement. On the 2nd of October, 2006 a man named Charles Roberts backed his pick-up truck up to the entrance of a one-room Amish school house in West Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. Based on the elaborate materials found at the scene, his plans were grotesquely sinister. His sloppiness allowed the police to respond quickly, but in then end, five young girls were dead and five more critically wounded before he turned his gun on himself. As early as that afternoon, a grandfather of one of the dead little girls was quoted by CNN warning others against hating Roberts, saying, “we must not think evil of this man.” Another man reiterated the point, “I don't think there's anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts.”4 And reach out they did, as community leaders met with his family, attended his funeral, and one Amish leader even held Robert's sobbing father in his arms for an hour. As one unnamed Amish man told CNN, “The acid of hate destroys the container that holds it.” Our culture is not rooted in forgiveness the way it is for the Amish. They have their own areas of brokenness, just like us, but I add the story of the Amish 9/11 to our own corporate memory to prove my point, “The LORD is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, and of great kindness... and we are not... but with God's help we can be.” May we always remember. May we strive to forgive. May we seek to be set free. All for the glory of him though whom all thing are being brought to their perfection, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

September 8, 2011

not for the purpose of quarreling

Paul's advice to the church in Rome is sound, "welcome those who are weak in the faith." Here at St. Paul's we are taking a look at the ways in which we welcome the stranger, whether brand new or a mature disciple, when they walk through the doors. One topic we haven't broached is whether or not we should welcome them for the purpose of quarreling with them. Maybe it is because Paul has already made it clear we should not. In many ways, however we (St. Paul's, sure, but the Church as well) do welcome the stranger and immediately get to quarreling. Allow me to explain. How many folks, weak in the faith as they may be, walk into a church and are expected to: 1) Know the layout of the physical plant, including but not limited to bathrooms, nursery, and even the worship space 2) Know which of the five books in the pew to pick up when the service starts. 3) Know how to read music and/or follow along to words on a screen with no music 4) Know what H82, BCP, S108 means 5) Recite the Creed 6) Know the proper procedures for receiving the sacraments/blessings 7) ... ? Maybe we don't take them to task on the theologies they carry with them through the door, but often we do a pretty good job of making them feel like a big, fat, outsider - often before the first hymn is sung. My friend Eric tells his congregation, ad nauseam, that the church is the only institution that does not exist for the benefit of its own membership. I agree, but I wonder how often, by our very nature, we work toward the opposite goal? This, quite frankly, has no bearing on a sermon for this week, just a question that bounced around my brain as I read the lessons today.

September 7, 2011


Joseph speaks an extremely interesting line as his tumultuous story comes to a head in this week's Genesis lesson. His brothers, having once again attempted to lie, cheat, and steal their way through life, come seeking (maybe) forgiveness in the hopes (certainly) of not being killed for their past sins. Joseph, unable in his humanity to offer much forgiveness, lays it all at the foot of God. "Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good..." Margaret Odell over at WorkingPreacher does an amazing job with this whole story, but her understanding of this peculiar line is extremely helpful. Whether we know it or not, this response of Joseph gets a high place in modern, western Christian philosophy. How often has it been said, "God has a plan"? How often has tragedy been shrugged off by saying, "God's will is perfect"? How often has damage been inflicted to a grieving family member, especially when a life has been cut way. too. short. by a well meaning friend or pastor who said, "We may not understand this, but God knows what he is doing"? That is, admittedly, one way of reading Joseph's word to his brothers. God's plan includes short-term evil, but in the end, it is all good. This is, I'm afraid, a terrible image of God. Odell argues, and I have no reason to disagree, that this word "intend" has its roots in weaving, and so we should read this not as God using evil to make good, but that evil stuff happens, children die, planes crash, cancer strikes and God, in his infinite wisdom, can even incorporate, can even weave, that great evil into his good plan. See how that turns things around? David Lose can say it better than me, "Joseph perceives that God can weave from whatever strands of brokenness, heartache, or calamity we have suffered a future that is, in the end, good. Care needs to be taken with these potent words -- "what you intended for harm, God intended for good" -- as they have too often been used to relativize evil or suffering in light of some larger "plan." That is not, however, what I think this scene -- or certainly the whole of Scripture -- advocates. The betrayal and treachery of Joseph's brothers is real. But so also is God's relentless intent to wring redemption and healing even from the most difficult of circumstances." It doesn't help with the "why bad things happen" question, but it does make some progress into the way in which God's plan plays out in everyday life. And for that, as a human being and as a pastor, I am exceedingly grateful.

September 6, 2011


That's it. If you are preaching from the Revised Common Lectionary on track 2, then forgiveness is the theme of the lessons for Sunday. Joseph's brother's conniving attempt to receive his forgiveness. The Psalmists understanding of the way in which God blots out our offenses. Paul's call to cease judgment. Peter's hope that there is some end to the river of forgiveness. That's what you have, dear friends, forgiveness. Normally, this would be easy enough to preach. Even those of us who desire platitudes rather than sermons could find something to say this Sunday. "I remember the time my brother stole the last slice of key lime pie..." 7, 77, 490 - forgive. But this Sunday isn't just another Sunday. This Sunday is already headline news, already the stuff of the History Channel, already inundated with PBS specials for this Sunday, in case you haven't heard (or looked at a calendar) is the 10th anniversary of 9/11/01. This Sunday has weight that many (nee most) other Sundays do not. If you live in the greater New York and Washington DC metropolitan areas, the weight might be too much to bear. If you live on the Eastern Seaboard, it'll be tough. If you live on or near a military base, it'll be a different kind of heavy. And in some locals, it won't feel too bad at all, but watch, every person who walks through your doors will be carrying a little extra baggage. What then, does forgiveness look like on the 10th anniversary of 9/11? How does the releasing of the other's yoke lessen the burden of our own? How do we extend the question of Peter about a member of the Church (literally "a brother") to this pluralistic world? How can I, like Peter, limit the bounds of forgiveness? How does God, in Jesus, call me to the carpet for doing that? It is a tough Sunday on a short week. Forgive me, I've got a lot to do.

August 31, 2011

Gentiles and Tax Collectors

As I said earlier this week, the good Lord willing, I'm not preaching this Sunday. That being said, I'm not delving exegetically into the Gospel lesson as I normally would on a preaching week, therefore I'm not as up to date on the current debates surrounding Matthew 18:15-20 as I could be. But I bet I can guess what they're talking about. "If the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." It is the great question of church discipline. What do you do with the person who refuses to repent, acknowledge fault, seek forgiveness, is a stubborn pain in the...? Jesus tells us to treat that person like a Gentile and a tax collector. Fine. But treat them like who treats Gentiles and tax collectors? If we treat them like the Pharisees do, then we ignore them, leave them for dead, and pray that God never brings them and their rampant uncleanness back into our lives. If we treat them like the earliest of early church leaders did, then we pray that they might be converted to right living (and, in the case of Gentiles, expect circumcision to be a sign of that right living). I fear that these two understandings have dominated the interpretation of Matthew 18:15-20 for, I don't know, 1900+ years. Maybe not in the the ivory towers of academia, but certainly in (too) many pulpits. If we treat them like Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors... well, then we're screwed. We have to eat dinner with them. We have to talk with them when we see them. We have to engage them, and though that might be nice and dandy for Jesus, it is really, really hard for us. This, I think, is where grace comes in. And not that happy, clappy, white light, gentle breeze, peace pipe sort of grace, but the down and dirty incarnational kind of grace that puts that stubborn SOB in your path over and over and over again, until you have no choice but to summon every bit of strength the Holy Spirit has to offer and offer a handshake, a hug, a cup of coffee, you'll know the right course of action for this particular gentile and/or tax collector in your path. It ain't easy, folks, but its the way of the kingdom. No wonder so many of us choose to walk in the ways of the world.

Aidan of Lidnisfarne

Did I spell that right? Anyway, here's my homily for his feast today. “Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” This is one of those statements that most of us wish Jesus had never said, the classic catch 22, damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. If you listen to the world, and follow the American dream, if you seek success, luxury, material happiness, if you strive to be first, if you get everything you wish for on earth, you will only end up last in the kingdom of God. If, instead, you seek after the kingdom, giving up material luxuries to help the poor, risk being used to help the needy, endanger your relationships to love the unlovable, if you seek after God by giving up everything and becoming last in this world, well, then, you will be first in the Kingdom of God. It would be a whole lot nicer if we could be first both ways, right? First here, first there... shouldn't it work that way? Jesus says, you can't have it both ways, and Aidan of Lindisfarne, whom the Church remembers today, learned that the hard way. Christianity first made its way to northern England in 627 with the conversion of King Edwin of Northumbria, but after his death in 632 a vicious pagan uprising threatened to squelch the Gospel for good. Eventually, Edwin's nephew, Oswald became king and summoned from his place of exile, the island Monestary of Iona, a missionary named Corman, who failed miserably in his attempt to convert the Anglo-Saxons of northern England. Bishop Corman, note that key title, returned to Iona complaining that the Northumbrians were a savage, stubborn, and unteachable people. Here's where the story gets fun, or at least where the story gets real human: a story that could have taken place anywhere at any time in human history. The young upstart, Aidan, suggested to the good bishop that “perhaps he was too harsh with them, and they might have responded better to a gentler approach.” Needless to say, Aidan found himself on the first ferry off Iona with instructions to convert Northumbria. The first shall be last. But the story doesn't end there, as I believe, it doesn't in Jesus' classic conundrum. Aidan, an Irishman who spoke no English, now on a hopeless mission to convert the English speaking Northumbrans, would, by the grace of God find his way back from last and least, to a saint remembered fifteen hundred years later. So successful was his mission, that it has been suggested that Aidan be named the Patron Saint of all England. His approach was simple, be a human being and talk to people. Aidan would walk from village to village, politely conversing with whoever he met along the way and slowly bringing forth in them an interest in what made him tick: his faith in the resurrected Jesus. It is said that King Oswald, who often acted as interpreter for Aidan, gave him a horse so that he wouldn't have to walk, but Aidan promptly gave it to a beggar. Aidan patiently walked along side people, he talked to them on their own level, and turned the tide of Northumbria toward faith in the risen Christ. Often, I make the mistake of reading Jesus' words without any human quality to them. They become like fortune cookie slogans, useful only on face value. But this well known saying of Jesus, that the last will be first and the first will be last, I'm starting to think of it more like shampoo instructions: wash, rinse, repeat. The first will be last, the last will be first, and when the first become last, they're next in line to be first, and vice verse. As I'm keen to say, it isn't just about the next life, but this stuff makes sense here and now too. In the end, however, whether you are first or last or somewhere in between, we can glean some good advice from the life of dear Aidan, just be real, be a fellow human being on the journey of life, listen to people and you'll impact more for the gospel than any big-tooth-smiling-thousand-dollar-suit-wearing-fancy-story-telling-tv-preacher could ever dream of. The first will be last and the last will be first, and thanks be to God the cycle continues. Amen.

August 30, 2011

tell two or three...

And then the whole congregation will know.

I'm guessing that's not what Jesus had in mind as he explained his disciplinary procedure to his disciples. Gossip, I'm sure, was not what he hoped for in the ideal situation.

But, we're human, and we sin, and we all know that gossip happens. It is the reason why prayer lists are closely guarded secrets. It is the reason that HIPPA laws make going to the doctor a matter of national security. It is the (a? probably a) reason why confession has gone out of style in most denominations. It is part of what makes my job difficult - a long history of priests (and bishops) who couldn't keep other people's secrets under the stole.

And, in many ways, it is the reason why we all read these instructions from Jesus, roll our eyes, and come up with Title IV revisions. (Title IV is the portion of Episcopal Church Law that deals with misconduct).

What if, in our conflict averse, gossip-page obsessed culture, we took these instructions from Jesus seriously? What if we, privately and with tact, told people when they hurt us? What if we trusted two or three elders to help mediate? What if the Church, the ekklesia (yes 18:17 is the other place Matthew uses this word, and he uses it twice) the community, was serious about its role in real reconciliation (and not just the white guilt sort of reconciliation that for too long has defined the *former* mainline)?

Imagine the example that would set for the whole world? Imagine how it might impact Washington? Imagine how what it might mean as we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11. What if Jesus knew what he was talking about?

August 29, 2011

Ekklesia - when community is broken

My friend Evan wondered aloud on facebook this morning whether preachers would re-preach this weekend whatever they talked about two weeks ago.  Seems as though Matthew and the Revised Common Lectionary people are very much concerned with what the church is binding and loosing.  I'm not preaching this weekend, and Keith talked about the keys rather than the fetters of the Kingdom, so I'm guessing he won't just rehash everything.  I'll probably come back to the whole binding and loosing thing later this week, but today I'm pondering the implications of ekklesia (community) or rather the lack thereof.

See, the NRSV translates Matthew 18:15 as " another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one." But alas, this isn't the only other time Matthew uses that great word, Ekklesia, in his gospel. Instead, he chooses to translate Jesus' word as adelphos, brother.

The NIV gets credit for the better translation this time, "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over." The implications are clearly for the community of the faithful, but the word here is not community, not church, but it is about one person sinning against another (all singular), and boy how that changes things.

Or does it.

When members of the body of Christ act as individuals, and not surprisingly, screw it up, how does it effect the community at large? How does forgiveness and reconciliation or the lack thereof affect the larger body? What difference does it make that a brother sinned against a brother?

Jesus seems to make it clear that the first step is one-on-one relationship (re)building. Go and meet with that person alone, point out the fault, and if reconciliation happens, rejoice. But if it doesn't, if it begins to spread like a cancer to the whole community, well then additional steps are needed. More on that tomorrow.

For now, I'm really wondering about that word, brother, and how it impacts the whole issue of sin and forgiveness within the ekklesia.

Who's the Co-Pilot Here?

You can listen to my interpretation of the text below by clicking here.


I find bumper sticker theology to be a fascinating area of study. Somehow, in the space of twelve inches by three inches, hopefully in a font size big enough to be read by the car behind, whole systematic theologies can be spelled out. Take, for example, a few of my favorites, “Warning: In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned.” Obviously, this is a dispensationalist Christian, who expects Jesus' second coming to not only be soon, but also to involve the immediate whisking away to heaven of all believers. Another classic reads, “If it ain't King James, it ain't the Bible.” Assuming the owner of the vehicle isn't being cleverly ironic, this is a grammatically challenged biblical literalist who understands the only true English version of the Scriptures to be the beautiful, if difficult to understand, prose or the 1611 King James Version. One of the best theological bumper stickers ever made is actually a response to one of the worst. The original bumper sticker read, “God is my co-pilot.” Some wise person, upon seeing all the flaws contained in such a statement, printed another set of stickers that read, “If God is your co-pilot, swap seats!” I can't be certain, but I'm pretty sure this bumper sticker is directed at St. Peter.
Things are looking great for Jesus and his disciples during their visit to Philip's newly updated Ceasarville. They have paused for a bit to regroup after a series of storms, miracles, and a few run ins with the religious and political powers that be. Last week we heard Jesus trying to get a feel from his disciples of the popular opinion, “who do people say the Son of Man is?” Then, in that great turning point moment, we heard Simon Peter declare without question that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one, the Son of the living God. The passage ended with Jesus sternly warning his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. Did anyone wonder about that? I did. Why keep important news quiet? Why not tell the whole world? The disciples had an idea of why they had to keep things quiet, it was the wrong idea, but that didn't much matter at the time. The best way to enter Jerusalem and overthrow the Roman occupiers would be through the element of surprise. Keep the news quiet until an army is gathered, then BAM, strike down the Romans and their sympathizers in the Sanhedrin: the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes. Remove them from power before they even know what them. A brilliant military strategy, but a terrible understanding of the way in which God works, for Jesus, you see, had other reasons why things should be hush hush.
“From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hand of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Let's be honest, none of them heard anything beyond “be killed.” To a man, their brains began to swim with anxiety, misunderstanding, and, most likely anger. And so Peter, as spokesman, takes Jesus aside to explain to him the error of his ways, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” This way Jesus is describing is messy. It is unseemly. It is not the way things are supposed to work out for the anointed one of God and his disciples, and so Peter, as spokesman, as favored son, as the Rock, politely tells Jesus, “why don't you let me drive, clearly you don't have the directions quite right.”
In a lot of ways, I'm a lot like Peter. First and foremost, I'm a terrible passenger, literally and figuratively. As sad as this statement may be, two of my worst nightmares are sitting in the passenger seat for a trip lasting any longer than 30 minutes and sitting in a meeting where the person in charge is running without an agenda. I hate that feeling of being out of control. I hate not knowing the path ahead. My friend Ashley was recently accepted into the discernment process to become an Episcopal priest. Before his last interview, the Bishop suggested I help him flesh out a piece of his story that seemed to be lacking and that the Commission on Ministry would want to hear. As I prepared for our meeting, I recently had the opportunity to read through some of my old discernment process papers and quickly realized just how terrible a passenger I really am. In my letters to my rector, my bishop, the Commission and even in my seminary choices, I tried over and over and over again to steal the reigns away from God and take the road that seemed easier, faster, and smoother, and every time, by way of some very human organization God told me, in no uncertain terms, that he knew the directions just fine, and he'd be driving.
“Get behind me Satan! Peter the Rock, you are a stumbling block to me, for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” In a matter of a few seconds, Jesus finds himself being swept from the room he shared with his disciples in Ceasarea Philipi to the wilderness of his temptation. All of a sudden Satan is back to tempt him. Turn this rock into bread, worship me, throw yourself from the pinnacle of the Temple, raise up an army and take over Jerusalem – you don't have to suffer, you don't have to die, there is always another way. Jesus has had his identity challenged by the Pharisees, the Sadducees and a Canaanite woman, his world has been spinning out of control for some time, and now, in his moment of weakness, Satan returns to tempt him yet again. In five short verses Peter the bedrock of the Church has become Peter the stumbling block of Jesus as he tries to wrestle control away from him, but Jesus is prepared, he knows the directions, he has his mind set on the things of God.
One of the hardest parts about being a disciple is the whole following piece. The rugged individualism of 21st century America predestines us to be leaders, if only of ourselves, and so we find it hard to follow, to sit right seat, and to trust someone else's set of directions. As Peter's encounter with Jesus shows us, our own path, as beautiful and simple as it may seems, is the way of destruction. The way of Jesus, on the other hand, is hard and dusty and fraught with danger, but it is the way of life.
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Jesus lays out before his disciples the way of life: set your mind on divine things, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow.
If, as I suggested in a sermon several years ago, the Great Commandments of loving God and loving neighbor are impossibly simple, then this lifestyle of denying oneself and taking up one's cross is simply impossible. Denying ourselves the privilege of taking the driver's seat is hard enough, but to bear our own cross, the feel the weight of our own torture device, to know the pain of the splinters digging into our shoulders – that is just too much to bear. Fortunately, no one uses crucifixion as an execution technique these days. Thankfully we can't really understand the powerful image Jesus is raising in his disciple's minds. But, unfortunately, the act of taking up one's cross has become so trivialized, that we've lost all concept of the life, the way, Jesus is describing here.
If you were with us for our evening service on Ash Wednesday this year, you heard a little bit of what it means, and doesn't mean, to take up your cross. Your chronic back ache is not a cross to bear. Your pain in the neck mother-in-law is not your cross to bear. Your tough work schedule is not your cross to bear. A cross is only a cross when you make the choice to carry it on behalf of someone else. Jesus chose the cross, he chose to die so that he might raise all of creation to new life. He chose to take your sin and mine with him so that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace. As Keith's friend, Max Lucado says, “He chose nails.” Through the power of Christ living within you, you too can make that choice. You can choose to live a life of self-giving love. You can choose to live a life focusing solely on the will of God. You can choose to live a life that stands up for the outcast and oppressed, the widow and the orphan, the poor and the alien. It may seem simply impossible, but by the grace of God, you too can move yourself out of the way, and gain the life that God had in mind for you from the very beginning.
The battle over who's driving never seems to end. Standing by a charcoal fire, late on a Thursday night in Jerusalem, Peter will three times deny Jesus in a fruitless effort to save his own life. Jesus will take Peter's life back for the kingdom around a different charcoal fire on the shores of Lake Galilee. I continue to struggle with my control issues, wanting God to fit into my plans rather than the other way round. We all struggle to live fully into our identity as children of God, but God, ever faithful, ever merciful, continues to point to the map and say “Trust me, I know a better way.” Is God your co-pilot? Because if he is, you are surely in the wrong seat. Amen.

August 25, 2011


I am a terrible follower. I'm an even worse passenger. I hate being out of control. I hate not knowing where were going. It isn't that I don't trust someone else to lead or to drive or to instruct, it is just that I'd rather do it myself.

This makes being a disciple very difficult, but don't take my word for it. Peter learns very quickly and very harshly how incongruent it is to be a disciple in the driver seat.

Peter wants to be in control. He is fine with Jesus being the Messiah, but that anointedness comes with a certain set of expectations that do not, in any way, include Jesus being arrested much less killed.  Peter is so worked up, it seems as though he can't even hear Jesus finish his thought: the whole, rise on the third day lynch pin to the Incarnation gets lost in translation.  Jesus rebukes Peter, "Get behind me Satan!"  Or, as I like to imagine it "Follow my plan, my route, my way! Let me sit in the driver seat, Peter, I've got it under control."

As the bumper sticker above says, Peter's in the wrong seat, and often, so am I.  A good friend of mine has just been formally accepted into the discernment process for ordination to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church.  As I talk with him about "the process" it brings back all sorts of memories that are deeply wedged into the recesses of my mind.  I'm reminded of the thousand ways I tried to hijack the process from God's hand in order for it to fit the way I wanted it to work.  I'm reminded of all the times that I fought to get my hand on the yoke, only to send the plane into a sputtering tailspin while begging God to take over again.  I pray he doesn't struggle in the same way.

It is really hard to be a control freak and be a disciple, but, it is possible.  Jesus graciously invites us to hand over the reigns and follow his lead.  Jesus gracefully leads us forward into the unknown.  Jesus mercifully forgives us each and every time we wrestle control away from him (even if that mercy feels a lot like an angry rebuke).

What about you? Are you any good at following?

August 23, 2011

What has Jesus begun to show you?

We are halfway through Matthew's Gospel and Jesus is just now beginning to show his disciples what's in store. They've seen healings, heard teachings, storms have been calmed, thousands have been fed, and they've been sent out to share the good news.

And now he tells them he's going to be arrested, killed, and on the third day rise again.

Sometimes we take for granted that the disciples had all the details, and they most certainly did not. Sometimes we take for granted that we know all the details, and we do not.

Jesus is always out there, on the horizon, at the margins, on the edge, calling us to follow him. I wonder, what has Jesus begun to show you?

And as he unveils us, are you able to receive it? Do you want to keep moving forward? Or are you content with where you are? Peter, as I said yesterday, has a set of expectations - he wants Jesus to act a certain way, and as Jesus begins to show him this different way, this better way, it is hard for Peter to get on board.

The same is true for all of us. Change is hard, but when we put God in control, change is inevitable. He loves us just the way we are, but he loves us too much to leave us there.

August 22, 2011

One time...

I love my new Pandora Station.  What was once a station based around The Avett Brothers, by the great wisdom that is the Pandora algorithms I am currently listening to Bob Dylan sing "The Hurricane." Based on the story of Rubin Carter, and the racial tensions of the mid-1960s, Dylan's story-telling, sing-songy rendition of the song written by Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, and Neil Diamon is amazing.

There is a line about midway through the song that struck me as I reflect on Matthew 16:21-28 for this Sunday.

"Put in a prison cell, but one time, he could-a been the champion of the world."

This line made me think of Peter. Peter so desperately wanted (needed?) Jesus do be the champion of the world. He wanted Jesus to overthrow the Romans. He wanted Jesus to reestablish God's reign in Jerusalem. He wanted Jesus to subvert the corrupt religious system of the day.

But Jesus told him that he was fixin' to be put in a prison cell.

And that wasn't OK with Peter. All the couldas and wouldas and shouldas start to race through Peter' mind, and he can't stand the thought of it. "God forbid it!" He says. "This can't, this won't happen, not if I can help it."

But it would happen. It had to. Like in the case of Rubin Carter, sometimes the cards are stacked against somebody. Like Jesus, sometimes, when you act a certain way, live a certain way, call people to account in a certain way, you end up on the wrong side of the executioner. It happens. It is unfortunate, but it happens. In the case of Jesus, of course, the unfortunate events of Good Friday will be transformed on Easter Day. But Peter couldn't hear that yet.

August 18, 2011

Ekklesia - what is the church?

I've written elsewhere about the whole, "what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven" business and my friend Bill the Greek scholar, helped a lot in the comments. I'll leave that for another year.

Instead, I'd like to deal with a peculiarity in Matthew's version of Peter's declaration, one that I know so well, I forgot it only appears in Matthew - Jesus' renaming of Peter.

"Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

We so quickly skip over that word, church, when we read this lesson. We all know what church is. Or do we? For some, church is 10am on Sunday morning. For some, church is a building with stained glass and a steeple. For some, church is lively worship music. For Jesus, church was ekklesia, and it only shows up three times in the Gospels, only in Matthew, and twice in one verse.

What is the church? Ekklesia, according to the Friberg Lexicon, is "(1) in a general sense, as a gathering of citizens assembly, meeting (AC 19.32); (2) as the assembled people of Israel congregation (HE 2.12); (3) as the assembled Christian community church, congregation, meeting (RO 16.5); (4) as the totality of Christians living in one place church (AC 8.1); (5) as the universal body of believers church (EP 1.22)

Church is people, gathered together, confessing the name of Jesus and, as Acts will later flesh it out, following The Way.  It has nothing to do with music, prayer books, vestments, buildings, or, for that matter, going to heaven when you die - it has everything to do with living as a disciple of Jesus right here and right now, to the glory of God.

Peter took his job seriously. He went to the cross, upside down, because of his life of faith in Christ Jesus.  Our means of doing, of being Church are a lot less dangerous, but they are just as necessary.  Standing up for the poor, the outcast, the oppressed, the resident alien.  Sharing our resources with those who have none. Lifting up people from the depths of despair. Offering a place of silence in a world full of noise where people can hear the voice of God.

To be that, and do that, you necessarily have to have places and lights and air conditioning and leaders (who may or may not be masters educated, paid, full time staffers, but they should be mature in their faith, which is a whole different post for a different day) and service times and newsletters and discretionary funds.  But when that stuff becomes the priority, and the community and the way get lost in a plethora of line items, well then ekklesia, the church is no more.

May God look with favor upon his ekklesia, guard us from getting in our own way, and show us The Way that is life.  Amen.

August 17, 2011

Proper 15a - Homily

In many ways we use the Psalms in the same way the ancient Israelites did, and in many ways we don't. For starters, the Psalms were sung, but as far as I know, there is no extant music for us, modern day worshipers to follow. The Psalms were used during worship to lift up the prayers of the gather community. They echoed the words of David as they cried out in lament, asked for forgiveness, or praised God for his loving kindness. If we take seriously that we are praying the Psalms during worship instead of reading them, or hearing them be read to us, then we too take part in that ancient practice of joining with King David to call upon the Lord.
Today's Psalm, number 67, we join with David in doing something we rarely do as a community of faith: we ask God for his blessing. Sure, Keith or I pronounce God's blessing at the end of each service, but most of the time, when we come before the Lord, we ask for everything but his blessing. I tend to think of God's blessing being the stuff of prosperity preachers – God wants you to be rich, so send me ten-grand and I will be – but Rolf Jacobson from Luther Seminary really got me thinking this week in his reflection on this Psalm. You might want to open your prayer book to page 675 again as we walk through this poem, verse by verse.
The Psalm begins at the end of the traditional worship service. The blessing of Aaron from the book of Numbers gets tweaked by the Psalmist, and opens this liturgy of blessing by asking God simply to bless his people. “May God be merciful to us an bless us, show us the light of his countenance and come to us.” The poet then goes on to deal with the crux of God's blessing – something you've heard me say a lot over the years – we are blessed to be a blessing to others. This blessing for which Israel is asking, isn't just for them, but it is to fulfill the promise of God to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 12, “You will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you... and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” After the Exodus, God reiterates his promise, “You will be a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” (19.6) “And what did the priest do in ancient Israel? Channel the divine blessing upon the people. Israel was the conduit through which God's blessing flowed to all the earth. When God blessed Israel, God blessed all of creation.
“Let your ways be known upon earth, your saving health among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide all the nations upon the earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.” Three times the Psalmist uses the word all – all the peoples, all the nations, all the peoples. God's blessing was not, is not, reserved just for a few, but is the free gift of all. It is given to us so that we might give it away.
And blessed we have been. The Psalmist won't let the congregation get away with only asking for future blessing, but instead reminds them, and us, that we have already been blessed. “The earth has brought forth her increase” and here I agree with Jacobson (and almost every other translator) over our Prayer Book Psalter, “God, our God, has blessed us.” As we read stories of children starving to death in Africa or the poverty rate in America increasing, it might be hard to see where the earth is bringing forth her increase, but if we look around, there are plenty of places to find God's blessing in our world, this very day: low humidity, sun shine, health, loving friends and family, the list goes on and on. It is helpful, as we ask God to bless us, to remember that he has and is blessing us already. It runs through my mind time I celebrate that I've already announced that God will bless you for ever more, but I also know it is always helpful to have that constant reminder.
The Psalm ends by asking God, once again, to bless us so that the ends of the earth might be blessed, “May God give us his blessing, and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.” We have been blessed to bless others. We are being blessed to bless others. We ask God to continue to bless us so that we might be a blessing to others. Pour it out upon us Father, make us overflow with blessing, to the honor and glory of your name. Amen.

August 16, 2011

Proper 15A Sermon

I forgot to post this on Monday, sorry. I entitled this sermon "Jesus called her a dog - the moment that changed everything." You can listen to it here. Or, read on.

[It is always wonderful to stand in the center aisle, surrounded by cute, impressionable children while reading Matthew's account of Jesus calling a women, begging for his aid, a dog.] This is a tough lesson, easily top five toughest in the Gospels mixed in with Jesus turning the tables in the Temple, Jesus cursing the fig tree, and perhaps a few others. It shocks us to hear Jesus act this way. He begins by ignoring the woman's cries – the only time he ignores a cry for help – and then goes so far as to call her a slur, an epithet, a DOG! It offends us, and it should, but as Paul said to Timothy, “all scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Tim 3:16). I'll come back to Paul's useful words to Timothy, but first, a classic Steve Pankey extended metaphor.
After vestry on Monday evening, Cassie and I loaded up the baby and the car to meet some friends way over on Florida's Atlantic coast. We arrived Tuesday evening, and by the time Wednesday afternoon rolled around, everybody was ready for relaxation. Eliza took a four hour nap (as did our friend Josh) and I sat down with the History Channel's special presentation on the wreck of the Britannic three miles off Greece's Kea Island in 1916. The Britannic was the younger sister of perhaps the greatest ship wreck in recorded history, the Titanic. Built after Titanic sunk, Britannic was fitted with several upgrades meant to keep her from joining her older sister in Davey Jones' Locker. All of her upgrades were for not, however, as she sank in what the History Channel called a record time for a ship of her size, a mere 55 minutes. The History Channel had sponsored a team of elite divers, charged with the task of finding out why Britannic sunk so quickly. An ironically long 55 minutes later, it was time for “The Dive.” On the second to last day, a team of divers was finally set to wind their way through the generator room to find out if a key door was open or shut. I watched as they entered the crack in her hull, made their way down the narrow corridor, through the craw space next to boiler number 5, only to find the lead diver's progress thwarted by a wheel barrow wedged in the middle of his path. The show went to commercial showing only cloud of silt and hearing only the radio transmission, “Topside to Dive Team One.... Topside to Dive Team One.”
Finally, the divers responded, “abort” and after four hours of decompression compressed into 10 seconds they arrived on the top disappointed, but safe. Luckily, there was still a day of diving left so they could try the longer route past boiler number 3. Except, the Greek antiquities observer on board says they've violated their permits, and there will be no last day of diving. The show ends with the team, regathered several months later, talking about how much they accomplished in finding that wheel barrow, but honestly, I find it a hallow victory for the hour of my life I invested in their program.
Finding a wheel barrow is not what I had in mind when I started the journey to Britannic. I wanted to know if her double skin filled with water. I wanted to see that door, still opened, spelling her demise. I wanted definitive answers in return for the lazy hour I spent on the couch, but all I got were more questions. As the team leader stared, amazed at the first-ever, 3D rendering of the boiler room, as he stared at another piece of his life work coming into focus, all I saw was a wheel barrow, but he saw the bigger picture.
That, finally, is what this story from Matthew's Gospel is like. If we see the bigger picture, if we recognize that all, A-L-L, all of scripture is inspired by God, then we can understand that this seemingly innocuous healing story, this silly example of Jesus' sometimes dirty humanity, this side note of a pericope has something to teach us. What we find in this story, shocking and ugly as it may be, is a turning point in salvation history, and one for which we, Gentile Christians should be exceedingly grateful.
Matthew describes the woman who seeks Jesus' attention as a Canaanite Woman, but Canaanite was an ethnicity that no longer existed by the time of Jesus. Sure, Joshua had left some folks behind after being ordered to enter the land of Canaan, and kill every man woman and child (a top five Old Testament doozy for those of you who are into such things), but they had become so mixed with other races and cultures that Canaanites proper no longer existed in first century Palestine. Matthew chooses not to follow Mark in calling her Syro-Phonecian and in doing so, he evokes in the minds of his hearers the whole range of salvation history – From the First Adam to the Second Adam, the Re-Creator of all things, Jesus of Nazareth. This woman stands as a caricature of everything Israel believed. They, as God's chosen people, were in, and the Gentiles – of all sorts – including Canaanite women, and you and me, were out.
Jesus, as a first-century Jewish Rabbi was ingrained in that culture, in that teaching, in that understanding of the Kingdom, and so, true to who he is and what he came to do, he's focused on the lost sheep of Israel – the Pharisees among many others – who were so lost in the rules, who wasted so much time washing their hands, feet, pots, and pans, who focused on themselves more than others and more than God. He had a lot of work to do to get their attention.
And the Canaanite woman had a lot of work to do to get his. “Have mercy on me! Lord! Son of David! Have mercy on me! Kyrie Elison. Kryie! Elison!” She shouts and cries and shouts some more, until, exasperated, the disciples come to Jesus and say, “Shut her up! Send her away! Apolyson!” But she is undaunted, until she gets what she wants, until her daughter is healed of her demon, she will not leave, she will not be quiet, she will not be ignored. “Kryie Elison! Have mercy on me, Lord!”
As if he hadn't heard her at all, Jesus only responds to his disciples, “I was sent for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Suddenly, she sees her way in, as she rushes up to him, and takes on the traditional posture of worship, down on her knees, begging, pleading, worshiping, and hoping that Jesus will hear her cry and be merciful. His response, is filled with thousands of years of hurt feelings, theological squabble, and all out warfare. “It isn't fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.” The woman, still undeterred, has heard it all before. She's been called worse, but worse people, for sure. “Yep, dog, that's me, but even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the master's table.”
And in an instant, in the bigger picture, everything changes. The walls of Jericho come tumbling down, and everyone – even this Canaanite woman, emblematic of every stereotype, ignorance, and hatred that ever separated any person from another – everyone comes within the reach of God's saving embrace.
“Woman, great is your faith,” is all Jesus can muster, “let it be done for you as you wish.” Her persistence pays off, thanks be to God, and even the Son of God has an Epiphany. In God's Kingdom there is no box, no in or out, just love, grace, and mercy, and that, my friends, changes everything. The Canaanite Woman trusted in that truth, but do we, do I, do you? Do we trust enough to know we've been forgiven? Do we realize that we are loved? Do we accept the grace that we don't deserve, confident in the Master's love?
During the dust bowl of the early 1930s, a preacher scheduled a special prayer service to pray for rain. The church was packed with people from far and wide as the preacher stepped into the pulpit. He scanned the assembled congregation, and told everyone, “Y'all can head on home. This service is over.” The people protested, “But we've not prayed for rain!” “Won't do a lick of good,” the preacher replied, “ain't none of you brought your umbrella!”
The Canaanite Woman brought her umbrella. She believed, fully and surely, despite hundreds of years of history to the contrary, that Jesus would heal her daughter, and because of her great faith, in the great scheme of things, the gates of Kingdom of God were flung wide to include you, me, and every Canaanite Woman in history.
Can you see the bigger picture?
Is it coming into focus?
Have you brought your umbrella?
Do you believe in what God can do?
I do. I believe God has a role for each one of us as the story unfolds. I believe that God has equipped each of you specially for the tasks he has prepared for you. I'm praying for big things. I'm praying for walls to crumble. I'm praying for small things to forever alter the bigger picture. I've got my umbrella. Do you?

Who do you say that I am?

Jesus, while concerned with what the world was saying about him, cared more about the understanding of those who followed him. He knew that this rag tag group of fishermen, tax collectors, physicians, and sundry taggers on would be his representatives, his body, in the days to come, and it was important that they begin to get it.

So far, they hadn't gotten it.

While the world thinks the Son of Man might be Elijah, John the Baptist, Jeremiah or somebody else, it is becoming increasingly important that the disciples know who Jesus really is. Jesus, as Peter declares, is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

I kind of got on the Church yesterday, accusing them of not being able to articulate who they thought Jesus was. The world does a pretty good job of telling us who they think he was, or at least they're good at telling us what they think of his followers. We're crazy, homophobic, anti-intellectual Bible thumpers. And, we've done nothing to agrue to the contrary but act like crazy, infighting, litmus testing, morons (I'm looking at you on the left and the right).

I think we haven't been able to respond eloquently or wisely because we really don't have an answer we believe in when we're asked, "Who do YOU say Jesus is?" All of our definitions are negative - he's not, we're not, they're not, you're not. But who IS he?

Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
Jesus is the perfect example of God's will for the world.
Jesus is the One who turned the world right side up.
Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords.

If we begin to turn our answers around, to become less defensive, less angry, less... well... crazy, then I'm confident we can begin to turn around the perception of Jesus (and by extension his followers).

So, dear friends, Who do you say Jesus is?

August 15, 2011

Who do people say that the Son of Man is?

It is a clunky sentence, that question from Jesus. Does he mean, "Who are people saying is the Son of Man?" Does he mean, "Who are people saying I am?" Is he looking for affirmation? Has his encounter with the Canaanite woman brought up real questions of identity in Jesus?

It is a clunky sentence, that question from Jesus, but it is far weightier than its clunkiness would lead us to believe.

What if you asked that question of your congregation this week? What sort of answers would you get? In Episcopal circles, I suppose some would look to CS Lewis and say he is either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. Some might say he was a great teacher. Other would say he was the perfect the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, killed by Pilate, dead, and risen from the dead. And, I'm afraid, some might stare blankly back at you, unable to express, in any way, who they understand the Son of Man to be.

I started reading "Almost Christian" a few months ago. It is an academic book based on the results of a study of the religious habits of youth and young adults. It was too dense for me. Impractical. The stuff of seminary. So I put it down and bought "Missional Youth Ministry" instead. This is a book I can get behind, a book with feet, a book with heart. Anyway, the gist of both books is this - For 50 years we've taught a bastardized version of the Gospel, and our students are so ingrained in this false message, taught to them by parents who learned it from their parents, who learned it, by example, from folks whose lives were marked by two World Wars and a Great Depression, that they can't speak, intelligently or otherwise, about their faith because all they know is 1) be nice and 2) God's there when you need him.

Tomorrow, we'll look at Jesus' more pointed question, "who do you say that I am?" Today, I'm wondering, how has the Church failed to share the Good News? How have we missed our chance to express who the Son of Man is to a culture hungry for faith? Who do others say Jesus is? Are they right? Or have they hijacked the faith from us all?

August 10, 2011

That dog thing

Can we make a deal? Can we agree to quit watering down the stuuff that makes us uncomfortable? We don't like it that Jesus turns the tables in the Temple. We don't like that Jesus curses the fig tree. We don't like that Jesus calls the Canaanite woman a "dog."

So we try to soften it to make us feel better. "He was just joshing her, trying to teach the Pharisees and the Disciples a lesson." "He didn't call her a dog, he called her a puppy, it was cute not racist and condescending."

Oh come on!

This stuff should and does make us uncomfortable. Jesus was a Jewish rabbi. He lived in a culture that looked with contempt upon certain outside groups. He carried the same prejudices that we all struggle with. He had to deal with that universal question, "who's in and who's out?"

And he decided, learned, grew to understand (however you want to say it) that even the dogs, even the most outside, a Canaanite woman, was inside the realm of God's kingdom. Her persistance paid off. Her daughter was healed of her demon, and we, us gentile types, are now the predominent followers of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah.

It makes us uncomfortable, and that has to be OK. So what do we learn from our discomfort? What do we learn from Jesus?