October 1, 2011
September 29, 2011
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
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
NIV - He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.
September 26, 2011
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
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
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?
Air Puffers and Rubber Gloves
But first... The introduction to the introduction
Rules1. 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.
- 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.
- Draught – noun – beer from a keg, you are welcome to have some, but always in moderation.
Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell and Don Golden
Introduction - Air Puffers and Rubber Gloves
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?
September 20, 2011
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
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?
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?
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
September 14, 2011
September 13, 2011
September 12, 2011
September 11, 2011
September 8, 2011
September 7, 2011
September 6, 2011
August 31, 2011
August 30, 2011
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
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.
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.
“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
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
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
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
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
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
[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?
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
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
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?