Friday, December 28, 2007
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2007
Singing Owl said: It is hard to believe, but 2007 is about to be history, and this is our last Friday Five of the year.
With that in mind, share five memorable moments of 2007. These can be happy or sad, profound or silly, good or bad but things that you will remember.
Bonus points for telling us of a "God sighting"-- a moment when the light came through the darkness, a word was spoken, a song sung, laughter rang out, a sermon spoke to you in a new way--whatever you choose, but a moment in 2007 when you sensed Emmanuel, God with us. Or more particularly, you.
1. We went on our first real vacation in 4 years. We drove up to French Canada visiting Montreal and Quebec City. We had several wonderful French meals. But most of all we visited the Ursuline houses (Order of St. Ursula) in Trois Riveiers and Quebec City. It reminded me of my stint as an Ursuline novice back in the early ‘70’s. And while it was not my vocation, it was a time when I learned much about who God was and was not. I am so grateful for that time in my life and the influence that those nuns had both in my history and the history of the development of Canada and the US.
2. I was called to St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Sept. There is such a good feeling in the parish. I know I am in my honeymoon period and I am savoring it because it will not last too much longer. I need to introduce the new hymnal! There have been other parishes where there was never a honeymoon so I am relishing this time with the parish. So this time is a blessing that I am trying to soak up for when the difficulties do come.
3. Diocesan politics have reached a new low for me. To watch our diocese continue to destroy what once was holy and blessed is a grief that is almost unendurable. God is in this somehow but it is hard to see in what way. I will continue to attend diocesan affairs because I refuse to abrogate my responsibility for the diocese. But I know that I cannot affect any change there until there is some change at the top. I will just have to bide my time.
4. Observing the world of Church from the Lutheran side of things has been interesting and healing for me. It has allowed me to step away from the nasty mudslinging in the Episcopal Church and find a group of people who are more about living out what Christianity means rather than denominationalism. I am changing, I know, in my thoughts about denominationalism, about theology, about God in general and Redemption in particular. I don’t have these ideas worked out completely but I am pleased that in my 60’s I am still trying to work out such theological issues in my life. It means that I am not too set in my ways that I can’t change. I have watched others become too set in their ways that they cannot even allow others to discuss issues anymore. I don’t want that to happen to me.
5. I spent some days with my mother this year that may be the last days of any substance I will have with her. She has slowly lost much of what made her my mother that it is sad. And yet I am now able to do things for her that she would never have allowed me to do. Even cleaning her up after she had gone in her pants was hard but built something between us that even though she cannot speak about it, I know that it has created a bond that we have never had. I feel blessed.
Bonus: I am reading some of my blogpals comments that God is so far off for them. I have known that in my career. I finally had to come to the place where I had to lay back and float on the prayers of those around me. It is was what “having faith” meant to me then. Presently I am experiencing much consolation from the Divine and am thankful. Now it is my job to hold up all of those who are feeling either lost or that God is too far away. That is my New Year’s Resolution!
Monday, December 24, 2007
Many years ago when I was in my twenties I made my living teaching school and playing French horn in various orchestras. I played Church gigs a lot—they paid pretty well and the Christmas season provided a boost to my rather paltry income. I had not been raised with much religion. I respected it. I believed in a god and knew the basics of Christianity, but faith didn’t enter into my life.
I had been asked by a nun who sat next to me in the French horn section in one of the orchestras I played in to play for the Christmas Eve Mass at her convent. It was at midnight so I could play for a gig for the Methodists, who paid pretty well, early in the evening and still do that gig. “Sure,” I said. I would do a favor for Sister.
I hadn’t been in a convent chapel before. It might be interesting, I thought. I got there half an hour before the gig as the professional musician’s code demanded. The chapel was dark, warm and quiet. The nuns all were sitting there praying. Some lay people came in, but still it was quiet. Under the Altar was a crèche that was lighted and everyone’s eyes were on it. In hushed tones I checked in with Sister who was directing. I sat there in my black dress—oh so professional, and began to soak in the evening.
As the service began, I followed the service. Most of it was in English but some was in the kind of Latin that I had learned by being a musician—like the Ave Maria we heard at the beginning of the service tonight. There was something important going on but I couldn’t figure out what. I not only watched what the priest was doing, listened to his sermon and the words of the service. But it was in the faces of those who were attending that I began to understand the reality of what I was doing. I played the parts that Sister gave me but as the night progressed, it was no longer a performance, it was gift. No longer was what I doing was playing—it was service, to God and those who were attending. I moved from being a jaded professional to being a suplicant. I got the worst case of stage fright I have ever had because what I had to offer was my best but even then I found it wanting.
I had found out what the season meant. Something changed in me that night. I went from observing to living out what this night means. The God who had always been “up there” was firmly rooted in me after that night. And even though that happened almost 40 years ago, I know that Christianity moved from a being a religion to a relationship. It moved from a series of beliefs to a friendship with the holy. No longer did I need proofs for the unprovable. No longer did I have to have answers to the questions that plague us all when we are in our twenties. I KNEW that somehow God knew me and had touched me. I understood the meaning of the Feast of the Incarnation—the infleshment of God.
Now, even though I understand the meaning of Incarnation I cannot explain it. If I could explain it I would be teaching in some great school of theology, or preaching in some great pulpit somewhere. I can no more articulate what it means for God to become man—to take on what it means to be human—than I can describe what it means to be faithful. But every week I stand up and try to do that. It is what you pay me the big bucks for!
All I can do is offer to you the opportunity for you to make yourselves available to that touch of God. I do understand what God’s becoming human says about what it means to be human. I believe that in God’s willingness to come to be born among us says that humanity has been touched with the divine for all time. For God to participate in the human experience says that for all time, we humans have a direct link to that which is beyond us.
When I was a seminarian I spent a summer internship at a big church in Ithaca. During my first sermon in that big church with its high and lifted-up pulpit, a small child got away from her parents and crawled under the pews and proceeded to climb up the steps to the chancel. I learned something about preaching that day. I have learned NEVER to try to compete with children! Every eye in that church was on that little child. NO one was listening to my sermon.
Christmas has us focus on a child born in Bethlehem. Jesus catches our eyes just as Isaac, Cadon, Hannah and Cristina take our hearts and eyes here in the parish. We never hear of Jesus being obstreperous, but I believe that he gave his parents a tough time of it too. Take heart, parents! I don’t even think that Jesus was a perfect child, because Jesus came to become one of us—-human with all that that entails.
This metaphor—this mystery of faith—that God became human reminds us that in our humanity we are touched with the Divine. We no longer have to worry about death. We no longer have to worry about being saved. We no longer have to strive for righteousness for its own sake. We do not even have to be good. With this act of God touching humanity by becoming a little Child, says that we who are human have a chance to walk with God. We do not have to wait for heaven to know that God. By becoming human in the conventional way God reminds us that we may not think of ourselves as less than what we are.
I am not sure what people thought of themselves in the First Century. But I do know that by the early Middle Ages, humanity was seen as damned. It is interesting that the concept of Original Sin does not figure in Judaism. Neither Jesus, nor his followers thought of themselves as fallen. Sinners in need of repentance?-- yes, but not damned. It has been a mistake in our theology throughout the history of Christianity that we have come to an idea that humanity is totally depraved. Luther struggled with this. He finally came to the opinion that even though Humanity was depraved, God’s sacrifice redeemed all humanity.
One of the things that has disturbed me about this Christian position is that all too often I see people, good Christians constantly putting themselves down, seeing only the sinner part of themselves rather than being willing to accept the blessedness that God has bestowed upon them. In Christ all are called to Sainthood. Luther understood this touch of God when he said that we are both Saint and Sinner. But somehow all folks seem to have heard was that we are sinners. And that is why I think it is important for us all to hear the promise of Christmas.
The promise of Christmas is not about Ipods, or new clothes, or fascinating toys. The promise of Christmas says that humanity is raised to a new level. We who are human can call upon ourselves to live a humane life. We are called by a Child born in a barn to a life that not only has meaning, but that to be human means that we are invited to live a life open to the Divine. We are called into relationship with all that is holy. We can encounter the sacred in our lives everywhere if we but prepare ourselves.
In choosing to appear to us on earth as a child God has opened our eyes and our hearts to hear and receive that message that cannot be articulated but can only be KNOWN in that non cognitive way. God has come to us in a wee child, to draw our attention not to might, not to the flashy, not to the grandiose. We are to know the power of the powerlessness of the child. We are to experience the magnificence in the lowliness of a stable. We are to embrace our own humanity just as surely as Jesus embraced it—through selfless love.
My prayer for you tonight is that somehow during this season—perhaps even at this service that God will touch your humanity with Divinity. My hope is that you will once again know the power of the child to draw your eye to dream. And my wish for you that you know how honored it is to be human when God can be infleshed for the sake of the world. May the Christ who came to us as a tiny child enliven in you a faith in God and in yourself that we can be about loving this world in to peace for the sake of us all. AMEN
Saturday, December 22, 2007
The conditions late in the first century before Christ and the first century of the Common Era were times of tremendous upheaval in what we call the Holy Lands. The Jewish people had been promised one who would come and rectify all the ills of the world. The prophet Isaiah in the last part of the 700’s BC had prophesied that a leader would come to lead the people of Israel to greatness once again. This anointed leader would not be like the other kings of Israel or like the kings of nations around Israel. He would be God with us, Emmanuel.
That is a tall order. But that is what the people waited for—the Messiah, the Anointed One, in Greek is he was called, Christos. Now in the first century day there were many christos—there were kings all around who had that title. But this Christos—this Anointed one was to be from the line of David, the greatest king that Israel had ever had. He was to be a direct descendant of King David. And it is for that reason I read the first part of the Gospel reading for today—the birth of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew doesn’t make any sense without all of these “begats”. The whole point of Matthew’s Gospel is to remind his Jewish-Christian followers that Jesus was the descendant of David and therefore the Messiah.
In Greek the opening words of this Gospel parallel the opening words of the book of Genesis. We can’t hear it in English but in Greek, the word in Greek for “begat” is the same word for Genesis. “In the beginning” is the same as “the birth of” and it comes out saying the same thing. The people who heard Matthew’s Gospel would have understood the Gospel in the same way as they heard that Moses had proclaimed Torah. The Messiah was to be the New Moses—the bearer of a New Law of love. He was to be God-with-us. Emmanuel.
For the people of the First Century to have God-with-us meant that they would not be under the dominion of the Roman Empire. Some time in the century before Jesus was born, there was an idea that many people believed was that when the Messiah came, God, God’s self would be the ruler of Israel. And with God on the throne, other nations would come streaming to Israel’s doors in tribute to their King. The image of the time of God-with-us had been distorted into the end of the world when time would come to a stand still and God would reign and heaven on earth would commence.
I believe that to be a distortion of what Isaiah had meant some 700 years before, nonetheless, many of the believers of the first century understood this as the cataclysmic justification for wars and revolts. Isaiah foretold of one who was to come—born of a young woman—please note, not a Virgin in the biological sense--who would be God-with-us.
This God-with-us was to be a leader, but he was also to be one who taught others how to live. Isaiah does give us many different images of what Emmanuel was to be. “A bruised reed, he will not break.” He will be “Wonder-Counselor, Mighty God, the Prince of Peace.” They had an idea of what kind of leader he would be. But I would suggest that we in the Twenty-First Century do not know what Emmanuel means, especially in the mainline Protestant –or even in the catholic theologies that I hear bandied about these days. I DO hear descriptions of who God-who-is-to-come from more fundamentalist traditions that are quite disturbing to me. And with the depression of what I call Apostolic Christianity—that which is founded and stems from the teaching of the Apostles rather than on imaginations that have come up with rather recent descriptions of Emmanuel in such traditions as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church of the Latter Day Saints or many of the independent Christian churches—I am concerned that we need to have some idea of what God-with-us means.
The Christ that comes as Christmas is the God who stays with us. And while we relive and reenact this Advent anticipation each year, it is not a matter of Christ is coming again that is important. It is how we prepare ourselves to see the God-with-us throughout the year and each day of our lives that is important. Joseph named the child Jesus, Yoshuah—one who saves. We all know the saving power of God. We have all become one who has put away the requirements of Mosaic Law so that we can know the freedom of Christ in our lives. And yet all too often we live lives of enslavement—lives so invested in work, family, relationships, promises, etc. that we have lost our ability to free ourselves to remember the love and joy that those relationship used to have. We have forgotten the simplicity that God-with-us reminds us of—the kind of unfettered loving that first moved us to love.
Joseph did not put Mary away because his dream spoke a reality that he had forgotten—a reality about relationships that had gotten so intertwined with the laws of righteousness that the original feeling of the freedom to care had been lost. And I would suggest that the reason that people go nutz around Christmas time is in their trying to conjure up that simplicity for themselves. We buy more and more. We give more and more and we enjoy it less and less. And I would suggest that even in our alms giving we have lost the sense of loving that comes when giving things away.
Emmanuel is the God who is with us at all times to remind us of the reason for the season. The God that we worship is one who is with us spiritually and physically in the kindness that come at every moment of our lives.
I met a former parishioner in the mall on Friday. I haven’t seen him for almost 4 years and didn’t know he had gone on a vacation last spring and had had a heart attack and almost died. He was better now. But he said he knew the prayers of those who loved him. He said they were palpable and lifted him and his wife up during those very desperate times. He knew that God-with-us was in the prayers of those around him when he could not pray himself.
I have heard stories like this before. Emmanuel is the God we draw into our lives with our prayer. Emmanuel is the God who stands beside us when we are alone. Emmanuel is the God who when we are feeling either the most deprived or the most exposed rubs shoulders with us and reminds us not only of the fidelity of the Divine, but of the fidelity of those who are God-in-skin for us.
One of the greatest fears that we Christians often have is “becoming gods ourselves.” We cling to humility because we do not want to transgress the First Commandment. But sometimes I think we need to think a bit more of ourselves in the light of God’s call to be God’s hands and hearts to the world. We need to be more willing to step into the shoes of God-with-us, to be Christ’s hands to the world. We need to trust God a bit more to be about “the Father’s work” in the world. We need to step up to the plate and accept the role of Emmanuel for others.
This does not mean that we become God. It merely means that we have been willing to take on the role of Christ to the world because we have been loved and saved by him.
Embracing Emmanuel calls us forth to minister to one another with confidence that we are doing the work of Christ. Being willing to live in a world in which God is with us all the time means that there is so much more freedom, so much more simplicity, so much more peace in our lives. And in the midst of all our hustle and bustle over the next few days, I would invite you to take some time and allow yourselves to think on how you are making Emmanuel present to those around you. Slow down! Rest a moment! Pray! Spend a bit more time loving even if you don’t get everything done.
Meeting Emmanuel is by far more important. Amen
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
December 16, 2007
A sermon preached at
St. Luke’s ELCA
The people of Jesus’ day waited for the Messiah to come. The Messiah was one who was going to return Israel to its past glory. He would be just like David. The ten tribes who were lost in the Babylonian Captivity would return, all nations would look to the Temple as the center of their faith and justice would reign in the land because God would be in charge.
It was a nostalgic look at the past, just like we who are older often look to our youth as the time when all things were wonderful. We want the “good old days.” But the prophecy of Isaiah foretold a time when God would be in charge again. The kind of “good old days” that Isaiah foretold had never happened except in the dreams of the older generation.
If there was ever a time when God seemed absent to folks it was in Jesus’ day. Rome held the people imprisoned in their own land. Taxes were hideous. Puppet-kings controlled the people with terror rather than with laws. It is not surprising that people longed for the Messiah, the Anointed One who would come and bring in the time that Isaiah envisaged.
But how were they to tell that the time for the new age had come? That is the question that John the Baptist has for Jesus in today’s gospel. Jesus does not tell John Baptist that he is the one. He just tells the messenger:
“Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
These were the signs of the Messiah. Anyone who heard of these events would know that the Messiah had come. They didn’t have to wait anymore. The Christ was here.
I think that the only ones who chart the signs of the times in our own age are politicians, actuaries, and clergy. The other night I heard an actor being interviewed who said that he went to church every Sunday because he wanted to hear what “professional thinkers” had to say. I thought that was a heck of a reason to go to Church, but sometimes we need to hear those who say things differently than we normally get if nothing more than it gets our imaginations running. But for me, the reason I preach is that there is a message –some good news that Christ came into this world to make our lives valuable, livable and important. That is good news. I am not sure that we who wait on the Lord are waiting for the same signs that John Baptist waited for. We don’t especially wait for the lepers to be cleaned, the deaf to hear, etc. because through modern medicine much of this has been done. We wait for the dead to be raised. We know that the poor hear the good news. But I wonder if we are willing to set up new criteria for the coming of Christ? What if we said “the AIDS epidemic was ended, the hungry were being fed, corrupt leaders were being overthrown, democracy—real self-rule was being practiced by the majority of the world’s populace and fairness in trade was the norm in big business. Would that not look like the Messiah had come? Would they not be the signs that we would like to see at the advent of Christ’s coming?
I signed up to read the book of Revelation before Christmas. I am still not happy with this book. Like Luther didn’t believe that James should be in the Bible, I think that people’s dwelling on the dreams of John inhibit and distort the Gospel. As I have said before, the God that I know does not mean for the world to end in fire, be a time of judgment or people who have loved to be left behind. And much of Revelation is the response to a time of persecution following the Jewish Revolt rather than a mirror into the life of Jesus, the Messiah who came so that the blind could see and lame to walk.
That said, I do believe that we are called to live in a time of newness. The Good News is that we are to know what it means to live a saved life—a life that is considered holy—albeit with the tinge of the sin we always have with us. But we are called to live not just waiting for Christ to come, but living as if we are in the kingdom. We are to rejoice in the coming of Christ because we know from his first appearance that God’s love is being acted out in us because we have the witness and the liberation that Christ brought us in his life and his death upon a cross. Christ came so that we would know how to be about living in the fullness of his love.
Are we about abolishing hunger in the world? Are we about ending the AIDS epidemic throughout the world? Are we about demanding fairness from our politicians, our leaders, the producers of products sold world wide? And we think, what can I do here in Sidney, NY?
An Anglican theologian Marilyn McCord Adams said recently that the difference between liberal theology and conservative is that liberal theology is concerned with systemic change and conservative theology is about individual change-or repentance. And to a certain degree I agree with her. But I would also say that all systemic change begins at home with the individual. That is the reason that John Baptist did preach a baptism of repentance. But when one person changes, all around him or her has to change too. The drop in the bucket changes the bucket.
The good news of Christ’s coming reminds us that we have some serious living to do, that our lives are not to be lived in vain. It reminds us that together we are to bring in the kingdom, not because our salvation is dependant upon it, but because we return thanks for our salvation that way. The Coming of Christ, the incarnation of God-with-us reminds us that we do not wait for judgment, but foresee what God envisions for us.
One of the problems of present society says Neil Postman of Technopoly is that we have become so preoccupied with computers that we have lost our imagination. He says that we wait around for more data and that we have more data than our brains can consume. “We don’t need more data,” he says; “What we are dying of is lack of courage, lack of dreams, a failure of nerve and no computer can give us that.” And I believe that is right. As we have gotten more and more capable to make realistic toys, we have eroded each successive generation’s ability to practice in the world of imagination. Do we even think about how life could be better? Do we even bother to think about how others live in other countries and try to make their lives better? Do we even hope for a life that is just and beautiful for our children, grandchildren or great grandchildren? Are we really ready to work so that this fragile earth can be handed on to our great grandchildren in a way that they can receive it the way we did?
While I was in TX last month I watched my mother, who cannot speak, see or hear and can’t remember what she did a few minutes before, hold her great-great grand child. It was a powerful moment—because the look on her face was wondrous. The hope in her blind 95 year-old eyes was palpable. She lives her life waiting to die but for that brief moment the hope was there. The imagination was there even though she could not explain it. It is what we all hope for—a future, whether we are 5 or 95. It is the gift of Advent, that hope. And Advent’s hope is that we can bring in the kingdom with God’s grace. We don’t wait around for the good news, we live it. We who are baptized embrace what it means to be Christ’s own. It is a time of rejoicing that our work is not finished and that we have the mind's eye to re-image the hope for each generation, because without that hope we are dying.
All too often I hear parents or grandparents wanting their children and grandchildren to have lives like they lived, or better. But often those who are older are unwilling to hear the hopes and dreams of the younger ones.
This is one of the things that I think that we need to do in church. This does not mean that what the younger ones dream will get accomplished before or in lieu of the elders. It just means that we hear both old and new dreams. But I have a sneaking suspicion that many of those dreams are the same, just articulated a bit differently.
Rejoicing in the Lord is what it means to hear the good news. We today need to hear the good news just as surely as did those of Jesus’ day. We need to know that because Christ has lived, died, and rose we may have imaginations, that we may have hope, that we may live in a freedom that allows us to be the hands of Christ to each successive generation.
Now, I have no children. I have no offspring that will remember my recipe for chili or my nurture of them. But the hope I have is that what I do will change the bucket just a bit for the next generation—that the love of God that I live will somehow impact those who will attend this church or the churches I have served in the future. It isn’t what I do. It isn’t the data that is important, but if I can help others to reach into their souls and draw out their imaginings of what a future in Christ’s love could mean, then I will have done what I am called to do.
In what ways do you wish to change your bucket? In what ways to you want to envision the future for another generation? How can you make the changes in yourself so that your visions can be caught by another generation? Is the good news being heard because of you? This is what Advent asks of us this week. They who have ears---listen. AMEN
Friday, December 14, 2007
Can you believe that in two days we'll be halfway through Advent? Gaudete Sunday: pink candle on the advent wreath, rose vestments for those who have them, concerts and pageants in many congregations. Time to rejoice!
Rejoice in the nearness of Christ's coming, yes, but also in the many gifts of the pregnant waiting time when the world (in the northern hemisphere, at least) spins ever deeper into sweet, fertile darkness.
What makes you rejoice about:
1. Waiting? It is always more fun to wait than it is really to get there I have found. Christmas in Church is always the greatest of the feasts for me. The anticipation and expectation that are part and parcel of Advent is especially significant. I liken it to the kind of anticipation that my cats have when the electric can opener runs. Not because of gifts, but because the Christmas Eve service speak so warmly of the meaning of the Incarnation. For me the Incarnation—that God became human for my sake is far more important to me than that he died on the cross for me. It says that God so loved humanity as to honor us with a spark of divinity. What a marvelous act!
2. Darkness? I am a SAD sufferer so the darkness means that I have to take better care of myself that I normally do. Advent and Christmas used to be very difficult to get through without going into depression. But since I started getting more sleep than I normally would, eating less sugar that I normally would and paying attention to my emotional needs ---which means I stay out of shopping malls as much as possible, I have more energy to meet the needs of work and community. Like M. Laura I like praying in the dark with just a candle as long as I am warm.
3. Winter? I basically like winter. It is why I live in Upstate NY. I do not ski or do winter sports but the beauty of snow, especially on those cold days after a snow when the sun comes out and it is clearer than the rest of the days of the year, are wonderful. But the snow has come quite early this year and I am afraid that winter is going to be long and tiresome. There is nothing worse than snow that gets black and grubby to dampen one’s spirits .
4. Advent? I love purple seasons, not because they are penitential but because the readings are so lush. Advent with all its hope resonates in my soul.
5. Jesus' coming? I am one of those who acknowledges that Christ has come. I also make the distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of eternity. So I am not so taken by the “Jesus is coming soon” mantra that seems to fill the more evangelical teaching. I believe that Christ comes to me at every moment and the important part of living the Christian life is to be awake at the moment God comes so I can be present. I do not believe in a cataclysmic event at which Judgment with a capital J is meted out. The God that I know is not that kind of judge. God is the kind of judge that poses a question that calls me to wrestle until I can make a decision for God. The God I know wants all to be saved, and I must choose that salvation. But I can only do that with God’s grace.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
I grew up with a father who was very big into Boy Scouting. Scouting was by far the religion practiced by my family when I was growing up. I knew the Scout promise before I knew the Ten Commandments. And “Be Prepared” was etched into my soul at such an age that I still don’t know the Ten Commandments in order—that’s in part that they are in different order in different parts of the Bible….but that is another sermon.
For those of you who did not live with “Be Prepared” sewn to your sleeve, we have John the Baptist. The character of John Baptist is an interesting one in the New Testament and in history. He was according to Luke, a cousin to Jesus. In Mark it seems as though Jesus and John have never met until Jesus is baptized by John at the river Jordan. We do know that John the Baptist was a holy man called a Nazir, or a nazirite. This does not mean that he was from Nazareth. It means that he was dedicated to God in a way that he did not eat or drink anything from the grape family, he did not cut his hair and did not touch the dead. It also seems that he wore camel skin and ate locusts and honey. Such practices were not uncommon for those who were dedicated as a Nazir. Such nazirs were to be respected by the faithful and they occasionally carried on the prophetic tradition that so characterized the Jewish faith. John saw himself as a herald. He was to remind the people of their faith, of their heritage and what had happened to Israel in times past when they had forgotten God.
John’s work was to wake up the people and prepare them for the Messiah. It was a difficult time in the history of the Middle East. It was easy to just ignore the law of God. It was easy to just go along with the injustices that the Roman Empire was perpetrating. It was safer to just ignore that King Herod Antipas was consorting with the enemy, ignoring the needs of the poor, rejecting the commandments of God and being a tyrant. But John Baptist was not the kind to keep quiet about those injustices. John said, “Be prepared.”
What was he preparing his listeners for? Just how can you be prepared for the Messiah? John is not too nice to the Pharisees or the Sadducees, the religious leaders of his time. Why? I believe it was because he thought that the religious leaders were leading the people astray—allowing them to ignore the requirements of faith—the care for the poor, the sustenance of widows and orphans, the injustice in business practice, the need for repentance at all levels of their lives. These are the same things that we, two thousand years later still need to heed. John Baptist’s call is still as fresh for us today. We too need to know what it means to be prepared to meet the Messiah, the Christ.
Being prepared for Christ is not just a matter of having our packages wrapped or knowing Jesus as our personal Savior. Being prepared for the Christ to come again is being about the work of being fair and honest. It is about being willing to forgive and be forgiven. It is about not attributing motives to people are wrong: such as blaming the poor for being lazy, or the sick for not taking care of themselves. We do it all the time. We don’t like having to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves, and yet that is exactly what Jesus tells us to do.
Another thing that John Baptist preached was that we cannot depend upon our status in life. There were those Jews who thought that just because they were ethnically Jewish, they were justified. John reminded him that such happenstance as our ethnic background had nothing to do with fidelity.
John baptized with the water of repentance. There are two words in Hebrew for repentance. One is the word for “to return” shuv. The other is nicham which means “to feel sorrow.” These words show that repentance was an activity--it was something that we are called to do. That’s what it took to “Be prepared.” It meant that there was a sense of humility that was required in being prepared for the Messiah. It recognizes that to be ready for God to be present, to be Emmanuel, the God-with-us means that we must be supple, we must not be so convinced of our own righteousness, that we cannot hear God calling us to new depths in our faith.
We often confuse this call from John Baptist as a call to those who have never heard of salvation. Salvation is just the beginning of our journey in the kingdom. Salvation has been worked for us by Christ two thousand years ago on a Friday afternoon. But the constant encounter, the continuing relationship is what it means to “Be Prepared”, to be ready to meet Christ at each moment of our day, at each turn in our journey, at every difficult task we have before us.
So often I see people who see hardships in their lives as punishment by God. They want to know what they have done “to deserve such a misadventure.” Faith in God does not mean that we won’t have trials or tough things happen in our lives. Coming to Christ merely gives us a way to be prepared for the tough things that come--to face the hardships. We have someone who will walk with us through the tough times. It means that we have the humility that allows us to know that we cannot and do not have to go through things alone. ‘Being prepared’ for a Christian means we can always call Christ into our lives to walk with us.
Jesus, the Messiah, the anointed one of God, the Christ, is the one who reminds us that ‘being prepared’ is a matter of constant vigilance. ‘Being prepared’ requires constant refresher courses. And those refresher courses are held while we are at prayer, studying Scripture, sharing faith, doing good works. Each time I am doing any of those things, God brings me another step closer. And the closer I get to God the more I am clear that I am not as prepared as I would like to be in the presence of the Lord of my life. That is why repentance is a constant part of my life. It isn’t because I am so sinful, although I am. But it is because I want to be prepared when my Savior is with me—I want my house straight, or my nails clean, or whatever it is that means ‘ready’ to you. This is the reason for the season of Advent. It is to remind us how much we anticipate this coming of Christ.
I have friends who make their own Christmas cards. Libby is an accomplished photographer and each year I look forward to their cards. But one year there was a picture of their two cats up on their hind feet with their whole attention looking out the window. My cat has the same attention whenever I run the electric can opener! It is that kind of anticipation that we need to look forward to the Second Coming of Christ.
I do not believe that the God that I know is going to come with war, pestilence or fire. I do not believe that the God I know is going to come and slay those that don’t follow some kind of rule that they do not understand. I do not believe that the God I have committed my whole life to is the kind who would leave any behind. The Second Coming is not a time to be fearful of. Death is not a time to fear either. The God that I know is one who welcomes those whom God made from the beginning of time. The God that I know that loves me and whom I love is one who is waiting for us to treat one another with the kind of respect that we desire to be treated with. The God that I know wants us to anticipate the full meeting of God and humanity with the kind of celebration of a new year, a new era, a new life in Christ.
In Jewish spirituality it is considered appropriate to repent before you celebrate. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement comes just 10 days before the New Year celebration. It is considered inappropriate to celebrate if you aren’t cleaned up both physically and spiritually. Advent is a time of repentance for the same reason. Before we celebrate the wonderful season of the Incarnation, of God with us, I invite you to clean up your spiritual house, to ‘be prepared’ for the coming of the Christ child. This does not mean that God is going to love us any more. It is just good manners! I don't know if your mother had the same mantra as mine had--"you don't decorate a mess!" and "Clean up your room before you invite your friends in."
If you need help cleaning up you spiritual space, feel free to call upon me. Pastors do that sort of thing. That is what the old idea of confession was all about. It was about inviting someone in on your spiritual journey and asking for help when you wanted to reach a new depth in your faith life--not stand between you and God. I know that “Lutherans don’t do confession.” But I do know that at times we all need someone to help us to discern what is next in our journey in faith. I am here to do just that.
So our ‘Be Prepared’ is not attached to our sleeve as Christians, but it is a part of what we as are called to do. I pray that this time of spiritual house cleaning is full of the joy of the season. AMEN
Friday, December 7, 2007
Sally at Revgals has set this Friday Five:
“This has been a difficult week for me, the death of a little six year old has overshadowed our advent preparations, and made many of us here in Downham Market look differently at Christmas. With that in mind I ask whether you are the kind of person that likes everything prepared well in advance, are you a last minute crammer, or a bit of a mixture.....”
Here then is this weeks Friday 5:
1. You have a busy week, pushing out all time for preparing worship/ Sunday School lessons/ being ready for an important meeting ( or whatever equivalent your profession demands)- how do you cope?
Part of the way I cope when there is too much on my plate is by floating on all the prayers of others. I really do allow myself to trust that God will give me the words I need for sermons, or important meetings. We as clergy spend a great deal of our message on trying to get people to trust in God and yet as clergy we all too often fall into the secular realm of trying to do it all. We have to live with the reality that God will provide for our every need. If I am not prepared for a meeting, I have to have the temerity to say that “because of so and so’s funeral, or because I have had to be with a parishioner who is in crisis, I am not prepared” and leave it at that I am not doing what is necessary for my parish. If we are prepared most of the time, most congregations are willing to call forth from themselves the kind of forgiveness that they themselves want. (I have also been in parishes where that kind of dynamic was significantly absent, but I did not stay there long!).
By depending on God when things getting jammed up, I not only remind myself of the primary things of my ministry—being there for a family in crisis, but I also model for those in my parish that ministry is about caring, not a job. Sometimes they get it. Sometimes they don’t but at least I can present myself to God and my congregation with integrity.
2. You have unexpected visitors, and need to provide them with a meal- what do you do?
I don’t have a good place where I can wine and dine my friends even though I love to cook, so I take them out. Taking folks out for a meal is a way that I can value them and show them that I care. Sometimes it really takes a bite out of my billfold, but it all comes back in someway. My small town doesn’t have very many places, but there are a few restaurants that do the trick. If it is a parishioner, I will often use discretionary funds to do it. I have been known, on a nice day, to pick up sandwiches and go to a beautiful place and have a picnic.
Three discussion topics:
3. Thinking along the lines of this week’s advent theme; repentance is an important but often neglected aspect of advent preparations.....
It is interesting that in Jewish culture it was considered highly unseemly to celebrate before while one was “unclean” or not “at shalom” with another. It is the reason that Yom Kippur comes before the celebration of the New Year. It seems appropriate to clean the house before the Second Coming, so repentance seems to go with Advent. I presently am trying to clean off my desk at the office and clean the house at home. Both are disreputable. This time of clean up has always been a part of how I prepare for Christmas.
Decoration always has to begin with being cleaned up. I am not sure where that idea comes from, but I would imagine that my mother had something to do with it. It was unheard of to decorate a messy house. I guess I have applied that maxim to my spiritual life. But then again, I am not much for Christmas decorating.
4. Some of the best experiences in life occur when you simply go with the flow.....
As one who has spent her life swimming upstream, I find it rather difficult to go with the flow. But the older I get, the more that I am finding that I allow some things to slide. I don’t get as gnashed as I used to when things don’t go the way I had planned. I am also more able to deal with events that insert themselves into my best laid plans. I am more able to see that those incidents are as much gifts from God as they are problems for me to deal with. Also I think that I have had more practice at dealing with problems and I don’t have to think about how to deal with them as much. Experience is a wonderful gift! It is a shame that the present generation doesn't listen as much to the older one these days. They spend so much time doing things that we older ones have finally figured out how to do and we would be glad to share our experience.
5. Details are everything, attention to the small things enables a plan to roll forward smoothly...
I am not a detail person. (It has taken me a long time to admit that, because I like being in control.) I am lucky to have an over-all plan; I depend on others to deal with the details. And I have found that there are so many who really want to help me with the details. The important thing is for me to get out of the way of those for whom detail is their thing. I have to be willing to allow them to do their work. The parish I now serve has people in it who are absolutely wonderful with the details. I am bowled over at their ability to “sweat the small stuff” and what’s more, they don’t seem to mind that I come up with the big stuff. Thank you, God, for finding me the right spot.
Bonus if you dare- how well prepared are you for Christmas this year?
I just finished my sermon for Sunday on being prepared. And the older I get, the less I get up tight about being prepared. Part of it is because I know what I can do and can’t do. As I said, I don’t decorate. But I am preparing my sermons a bit more carefully not because I am not prepared, but because I want to be clear and clean and the message be clear. I guess there is less ego involved and it is more a matter of faith that is part of preparation.
The Christmas liturgy is ready to go to press. Advent III and IV are still on the drawing board but Christmas Eve is done. Tonight is the Christmas Play, which is a grown-up affair at St. Luke’s. I am anxious to see what this parish does to celebrate the Advent/Christmas season. It helps me get in the spirit.
But the Feast of the Incarnation figures in my faith life even more profoundly than does Easter. (Easter I am usually just too tired to appreciate.) I spend so little energy on Christmas Day and opening presents and so little time with family for this holiday, that Christmas at Church is the event that articulates my faith. I care more that Christ became human for my sake than he died and rose for my sake. That God became frail flesh, so entered into my life and the lives of my fellow human beings moves me beyond all other statements of salvation. God has so chosen to be part of me is a mystery that goes beyond my ability to calculate. And so I am always prepared for Christmas.
I am never prepared for secular christmas, that plastic holiday that is advertised in malls and such. I generally ignore that holiday.
Friday, November 30, 2007
I stopped in at Revgalsblogpals today to find that the Friday Five was about the things that we disliked about Christmas. It had more respondents that I can remember a Friday Five getting. I don’t think I will play because I don’t want to “out” myself too soon. But it sounds that the Winter Blahs have settled upon my sisters of the cloth.
I know that blah all too well. Curiously I am not in a funk this year. I think having a job after too long unemployed helps. But I think that the later change in the change of the clocks has put off the usual blues that attacks sometime during November. I am fussy now when it is dark when I go to the office and dark when I get home. But the dread is not there.
All clergy know about the November-January depression that often hits a number of parishioners. And those of us clergy who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) try to hold it together through Christmas. We have to deal with more funerals, more marriage counseling, more despondent teens and usually problems in our own families than the rest of the year combined. And this year because Easter is so early, we feel that there is no rest for the weary.
With that said, Christmas is still my favorite of the major feasts. There is a hope in Christmas that is special. It is a celebration of the Incarnation, an embracing of the goodness of human existence that I love. I am sure that this puts me in opposition to Luther who believed in the inherent evil of humanity. But Christmas, I think, points to the Original Blessing of humanity rather than Original Sin. I do not ignore the tendency towards sinfulness of humanity. One needs but try to shop on Black Friday to experience that. I am not naïve in my understanding of our existence. But there is a quality of holiness that Christ brought to human nature in the Incarnation. And Christmas and the preparations for Christmas through Advent help me to see the goodness in others despite the Christmas rush.
I do enjoy the “blue” season or “purple” preparations for the Nativity. The crèche, the changes in the service, the music, the gathering of people who have finally found their way back to church after the summer, and the anticipation that all have. Granted, many of the expectations we hold for the season do not get fulfilled, but each year they are there nonetheless.
Perhaps that is as it should be. Our faith is built on hope—the hope for a better life, the hope for a better future, the hope that the fears that we also hold will not be realized.
My sister clergy at Revgals have “dumped” their grumpiness before the beginning of Advent. It is probably a good sign. We all need to ‘defrag’ ourselves before we head into the next 5 seasons without a breath. My prayer that we can find in all of it the sustenance of Christ’s love and joy in God’s Original Blessing.
Monday, November 26, 2007
This is the final Sunday of the Church year. Next week begins Advent. We call this the Feast of Christ the King. I have been celebrating this feast my entire life and I was surprised that the feast of Christ the King was only instituted in the mid 1920’s in the Roman Catholic Church as a way to fight the secularization of modern society and as a response to the loss of Papal lands in Europe. I expected that this feast originated in the medieval era with its emphasis on the Kingdom of
God, but this feast was the response to the failing of so many monarchies in the 19th and the early 20th centuries. Now, Episcopalians often love this feast because of their close ties with the English crown. But I find this feast difficult. But the readings help us ferret out what this feast is about. This feast is about Judgement--of Christ coming again.
The Jeremiah reading is a prophecy to remind the kings of Judah of what their responsibility was. The chosen people of God had been nomadic herders so the pattern for good leadership was that of a shepherd who cared for the people of their kingdoms like shepherds cared for their sheep. False shepherds were those kings who fleeced their flocks for their own benefit.
The Colossians reading reminds us that Christ is head of all. Paul does not call him King, but he reminds us “He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.”
But it is the Gospel that brings us up short. Rather than a reading about the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, or perhaps the Transfiguration, the Gospel reading is part of the passion of Jesus. It is the story of the two thieves who are crucified on either side of Jesus. This doesn’t really portray kingship at all in our minds. And it should remind us that the kingship of Christ is not the kind of kingship that we see on the pages of the tabloids these days in our history books.
The kind of kingship or dominion that Christ portrays is not the imperialistic model with which we are so familiar either through the royalty of our present generation, or the history of kingship through the medieval era. The kind of kingship that Christ portrays for us is one that turns dominion and domination principles on its ear for one important reason: The Cross.
Friday night I listened to the Rev. Dr. James Cone being interviewed by Bill Moyers on PBS. I have always like Moyers' reporting. We grew up not far from one another in TX. James Cone, the leading African-American theologian who teaches at Union Seminary in NYC, also grew up in Arkansas not far from where Bill and I grew up. But James’ African-American experience of faith was quite different from Moyers or mine.
Cone described the Lynching Tree in African-American culture as having the same kind of transformational qualities as the image of the Cross did in the first century. Now that is not an image that any white person in America wants to think upon. But as I listened to Cone I began to not only understand what he was talking about, but a deeper understanding of the Cross than I have ever had. Like many Christians and I would suggest Anglicans in particular, I have a difficult time with the Cross as the symbol of my faith. I believe Lutherans have less difficulty with the theology of the Cross because of Luther’s clear understanding the transcendent nature of the Cross because much of Luther's theology centered in the Cross. But most Christians don’t have that central understanding of the Cross to know that. In many Protestant churches the cross is the sign of the resurrection, not the suffering.
Lynching, says Cone, did not come about until after the Civil War because slaves were too valuable to be killed indiscriminately. It was after the Civil War when intimidation became the name of the game that lynching became such an act of terror. If we look back to the First century, we can find that same issue giving rise to crucifixion as a way to terrorize the people in occupied lands like Judah. For many of us, the Cross has become such a symbol of love, that we have emptied the Cross of much of its meaning. It was an instrument of terror. It was a statement of failure which today has transcended its original meaning. Because of what Jesus did on that Cross makes the symbol something that transcends its original intent. No longer do we shake in our boots at the sight of the Cross as did the first century Christians. It has become for us a sign of hope, a sign of stalwart faithfulness, a sign of love—the kind of love that calls from us our best, our all. I wonder if the pipe bomb or some other terrorist device will become for future generations the symbol of God’s love for us.
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” can also be translated, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your POWER.” This is NOT about dying and going to heaven. The good thief understood that the crucifixion of Jesus had to do not with him being called the “King of the Jews”, it had to do with Jesus’ POWER transcended that of Herod or Caesar. Jesus’ POWER went beyond the domination elements of the Roman Empire or all the empires since. Jesus’ power turns all systems of domination upside down---or as my friend, Pastor Carol Krause says” turns things “right-side up.”
The Cross, the Lynching Tree, even perhaps the pipe bomb remind us that Domination Systems are forces that terrorize can kill the body but not the soul. They can do damage, but they cannot separate us from the love of God.
The Feast of Christ the King reminds us that Kingship—monarchy is not about who is on top. The Feast of Christ the King tells us that our king is not the kind who lords it over us. The Feast of Christ the King reminds us that the real relationship with God is not about the kind of “power over” or systems of living together that dominate some to the advantage of others. It reminds us that Christians cannot be supportive of a nation that lords it over others. The Feast of Christ the King means that our faith calls from us a kind of image of life here on earth that says humans do not have to tyrannize others in order to be safe. So in fact, the Feast of Christ the King comes out being just the opposite that Pope Pius the Eleventh had in mind.
Pius the Eleventh, the pope that started the Christ the King feast, was a fairly reactionary pope. In the early 20th century he saw most things that were modern in his days as threats to his papacy, his control. It is ironic that this Feast of Christ the King which he instituted has become a feast in which we recognizes that Christ’s power turns all other power “right-side up.” It challenges humankind to live in harmony without the age-old system that requires class, privilege, or license. Christ’s kingdom calls for the last to be first, the smallest to grow to the greatest, the poorest to receive the kingdom and the lost to be found. Christ the King is the exaltation of one who was one of the least. The Feast of Christ the King says to us here in Sidney, today that we are chosen but not above others. We are loved but not holier than others. We are saved but not at the exclusion of others. We are blessed but cannot expect to be more blessed than others. And we have a God who calls us to live sharing what we have so that others may live as we live—free. AMEN.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Thanksgiving is not a feast day of the Church. It is a feast that was founded as a harvest festival by presidential fiat during the Washington administration in 1789. It was a time national thanksgiving to God. I doubt if we could get such a day passed in today’s anti-religious climate. It would be declared as a violation of Church and State or some such complaint. For all the religious rhetoric of the present administration, it is interesting that there is more virulent opposition to religion now that I can remember.
Thanksgiving today is more like Church-Lite. It has all the warm-fuzzies of a Christian holiday without having to go to Church, without having to be reminded of our sinfulness, without denominationalism or church-fights. What a luxury!
The original liturgies of Christianity were ones that were celebrated around the family dinner table. The Seder meal from which we derive much of the Eucharistic celebration comes from a thanksgiving meal. It was a meal that celebrated one’s gratitude to God for all one had, all one had received from God’s bounty and especially for the freedom to worship the God of their ancestors.
So the real question is which came first—the thanksgiving or the freedom to worship? And what kind of thanksgiving do we give in such secular times in which our family meal, the gathering of family and friends speak loudly of our gratitude toward a God who provides us with myriads of blessings and yet have a society in which the majority finds no reason to return thanks? We gather as families have done for millennia to stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before and hope for a future that is rooted in our past. We will offer gratitude even when we don’t always know whom we are thanking. We find ourselves stuffed even when we know there are so many are starving. And hopefully we will have a twinge of conscience.
It is natural to give thanks. It is part of mature human nature to recognize that we all that we have does not come from our own personal talent. At some level we know that most of what we possess is from something or someone beyond us.
Perhaps what we celebrate this Thanksgiving Day is a recognition that we are not here simply because we have evolved into a turkey and pumpkin pie drugged existence. We have evolved into those who can give thanks to the one who began this whole existence. May it be so.
Monday, November 12, 2007
I am presently visiting my family in Texas. It is always fun to be with them. We are not a family that I would call “tight.” But we enjoy those times when we are together. Members of the family don’t interfere in each other’s lives, and we have very different interests. But when we are together, the stories begin to flow.
Today is my mother’s 95th birthday. She is not able to serve as the matriarch any longer because dementia has set in and her ability to speak is impaired. But we will all gather to celebrate her life, have a meal, give gifts and catch up with each other.
I used to think of our family as small. But over the years we have become a blended family with second marriages, adoptions and additions that make family meals buffets rather than sit-down affairs. Mom will be able to hold her great-great-grandson this evening even though her blood will not flow through his veins, there is no less a sense of family.
My family is not especially religious. Some attend, but not regularly. They have always been respectful of my faith but our vocabularies differ. My interests don’t include sailing, horses, oil wells, children or golf. And their vocabularies don’t include words like “justification,” “salvation” or “dish-to-pass.” One faith we do have in common is Cowboy football and there is agreement all around… WE BEAT THE GIANTS!
Small parishes are like families. We gather together for important dates. Some of us are regular in our attendance others come intermittently, but we enjoy each other’s company. We come to hear the stories of our community, the stories about our faith and we share meals with each other whether it be a symbolic Eucharistic meal or pork and sauerkraut. Some of us are born and bred Lutherans, some of us come from all kinds of Christian traditions but we all know that we belong. It is the place we find a spiritual home.
We have matriarchs and patriarchs in the parish, those to whom we look or have looked for leadership. We have those who are welcoming and see to our adoption into the St. Luke’s family. We have those who are keepers of the history and those who see to it that the proper rituals are observed. We have those who are there when things go wrong and those who are ready to rejoice with us when things go right. There are those who nurture our Lutheran heritage and those who are on the edge clamoring for the new theologies that allow us to grow and stay vital.
Like families we sometimes fuss, but the important thing is that the love that has drawn us together is nurtured so that when the fussing is over, we have a community of faith to which we can return. The small parish is the community par excellence in which we can practice our Christianity—living out as best we can the teachings of Jesus. Larger parishes provide an anonymity in which one often does not have to take responsibility for one’s actions. Small congregations like St. Luke’s provide no such buffer. Like the family, there are always some personalities that clash. But this is where we learn the hard part of Christian living—how to live with those who are difficult for us and still maintain our faith. And it is also where we can learn to accept the forgiveness that is so difficult to learn.
Small congregations are more about relationships than creeds and doctrine. And while What we believe is important, it is not any More important than How we live our what we believe. If Christianity is to survive this present millennium, it is not going to survive because of What we believe. It will survive as it has for the past 2 millennia, by how we live out our relationship with God and Christ.
Saturday, November 3, 2007
All Saints 2007
Today we celebrate All Saints. I am thankful that I am not preaching on the day after Halloween. It is always difficult to make the jump from “goolies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night” to giving thanks for the Saints. I had always considered Saints as an important Catholic thing. Growing up in Baptist-rife Texas, I always had to defend the idea of Saints. So it was not difficult to accept a contract to write a series on various saints for the American Bible Society as a way to make a living a couple of years ago. It was also interesting to find that Lutherans had a calendar of Saints too.
Saints are those who have preceded us in life and have become a witness to us of Christ’s life for us. In the Roman Catholic Church there are all kinds of hoops that the cause for sainthood must jump through in order to become a saint. There must be miracles or other such unexplainable occurrences before sainthood may be conferred. In the Episcopal Church it takes a resolution at General Convention, and I would guess something similar is done at National Assembly of the ELCA to have someone added to the calendar. But what does it mean to memorialize Saints?
A friend at bible study this week commented that she had odd dishes of deceased members of the family that she brought out for family meals. It was like the deceased aunt was sitting at the table. It was a presence that kept her connected with those of her family who had gone on ahead.
I have had a similar sense when the name of the donor of the communion vessels is engraved on the chalice or paten. When I have been the supply pastor, I have remembered those persons I have never met but who were, or whose family was enough of a presence in the congregation and remember them in my prayers. It is the sense of being related to those who have gone before.
We remember those whose lives emulate some aspect of the faith life. I have always liked those saints that were a little less saintly than the others. Jerome, the 4th century translator of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin was evidently a rather fractious individual. His brothers didn’t much like living with him, but because of the seminal work he did on translation he was sainted. Saints aren’t perfect. They often aren’t even holy. They just seem to hold up for the Church some aspect of the faith life that is important.
I have met saints—I met Mother Theresa of Calcutta" .
Her presence was awesome. And while I don’t agree with everything she espoused, I cannot deny that she had the Spirit of God about her.
I have met Desmond Tutu,
the great Anglican archbishop who was leader in the South African Church at the abolishment of apartheid-- who I believe will be a saint one day. His sense of joy no matter the situation radiates. I remember Dag Hamerskjold back in the 50’s and 60’s and the kind of leadership he gave to the world in the name of peace while nurturing a deep and abiding Lutheran faith. All these people keep me connected to my faith—they are ones who lived life to the fullest while maintaining a nourishing faith in God. They did wondrous things not because they were especially blessed by God, but because they used the faculties that God had given them to serve others.
Most of the time we think of Saints as being people not like us, but what a wrong concept! My friend Judy, whom many of you met at my installation, had a boy friend when she was in seminary. Jon Daniels was a fellow seminarian who with Judy and thousands of clergy and seminarians responded to Dr. Martin Luther King’s call to stand as a non-violent witness to the brutality in Selma, Alabama in 1965. Judy and Jon decided to spend their spring semester doing voter’s registration and integrating the Episcopal Church in Selma for they knew that if all the white folk left, the bully-boy police would use the opportunity to wreck havoc on the Black community. Jonathan was murdered by a deputy sheriff while saving the life of a Black girl. It was his death that galvanized the Episcopal Church’s effort to bring an end to the discrimination against Black persons in the South. At that time, about third of the US Congress was Episcopalian and that influence brought together the efforts between Church and State that brought about legislative action that made discrimination because of race a federal offence
Jonathan Myrick Daniels was added to the calendar of saints in the Episcopal Church not because he was any holier than anyone else. Judy can attest to that! He became a saint when he was willing to lay down his life for a fellow human being. As Judy said, Jon did not go to Selma to be a martyr. He went there so that life could be lived more abundantly by others.
Whenever we know those who make living life more abundant for others, we find sainthood. Some of these saints are not even Christians. Mahatma Gandhi comes to mind—his life taught us how to stand fast for peace. Does Christ mind if God is magnified by those who profess a different faith? I don’t think so.
We need these people in the world, in our faith that helps us know what it means to be faith-filled. We need to be connected with those whose lives have mirrored to us the life of Jesus because it is that connectedness that calls us to respond to the events in our lives with the integrity of faith.
Are saints braver than us normal folk? I don’t think so. They may be more willing to address the events of their days with confidence because they know unequivocally that God is present to them. But I think that sanctity has to do with being true to the faith one has been given.
We need the Saints in our lives. We need the link to what has gone before. We need to have that cloud of witnesses at our dinner table. For me to invite Jon Daniels, or Desmond Tutu, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or Teresa of Avila, or Joan of Arc, or my friend Sister Lorene who taught me to pray, into my life allows me to see how the Christian life is lived by ordinary persons, people like you and me. It reminds me of the blessedness of the life Christ has invited me to live. It recalls what I have promised in my baptismal vows. It encourages me when part of me would rather choose the easy path.
I hope each and every one of you have special Saints who remind you of what it means to live a Christian life. They may be the formalized ones observed by the Church or they may be some loved one who taught you how to live with integrity. I would ask you to remember those Saints today when we remember those who have gone before us because in remembering them, you will find the strength to live the life that Christ calls us to.
Friday, November 2, 2007
Revgalsblogpals, a blog of women clergy that I follow has a ‘Friday Five' each week. They are usually fun to play. This one on interviews is fairly timely as I have just gone through a calling process.
1. What was the most memorable interview you ever had?
I guess it was my first interview 25 years ago. There were eleven!! interviewing me. One fellow was NOT going to have NO woman priest in HIS church. “Interviewing a woman was a waste of time.” He hurumphed his way through brunch. They seated this man directly across from me. Each interviewer had a question. This fellow slowly came around. He was a patriarch of the church. He was an old insurance salesman. Finally when we got to his question, he asked, “How are you going to sell yourself to our parish?” I said that if they wanted me as their rector that was HIS job. He broke into a smile. They called me the night I was ordained priest and he was the greatest supporter I had. The last thing I did in that parish was to bury that man. I still hold him close to my heart.
2. Have you ever been the interviewer rather than the interviewee? If so, are you a tiger, a creampuff, or somewhere in between?
I have interviewed choir directors, secretaries, parish administrators, education directors and youth ministers and sextons. I am not a tiger but I do ask the hard questions. It isn’t fair not to. To hire someone who is not willing to walk with you through the difficult questions will not always make the best employee.
3. Do phone interviews make you more or less nervous than in-person ones?
I HATE telephone interviews! I am too intuitive and depend too much upon the facial characteristics and body postures of people to understand how to interact with the people who are interviewing to appreciate telephone interviews. People are less in tune with What is said than How it is said in any kind of interview, but telephone interviews are too narrow. When I am interviewing in a parish, I want to see the people and evaluate who THEY are.
4. What was the best advice you ever got to prepare for an interview? How about the worst?
The best advice I got was “be yourself”. It still stands as the best of advice. You need to allow an employer know enough of you to know whether they can work with you. And you don’t want to work for someone who isn’t willing to share themselves in the interview either. The worst advice is for you to try "to manipulate the interview so that you have the upper hand" It is dishonest and comes across as manipulative. I wouldn't hire anyone who tried to manipulate an interview.
5. Do you have any pre-interview rituals that give you confidence?
I try to be prepared with the information about the parish, or the job so that my questions about the position are on the mark. Always an interview is about you interviewing them as much as it is an interview of you by them.
The interview I had for my new congregation was great fun. I had been substituting for them for some time before the interview so we knew enough about each other that we could joke around. They already knew of my penchant for preaching too long and losing my place in the liturgy. I already knew that no one liked to sit in different places. We could bust each other pretty well by the time we got to the interview and so it was quite relaxed. We had a good time.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
On October 27, I was installed as the Pastor of St. Luke’s ELCA in Sidney, NY! I am still reeling from the day. It was a blessedly cool, October Saturday in upstate that finally broke into sunny spots after a wet morning. I am always a bit anxious about such liturgies hoping that everything goes off well. It went without a hitch!
There was a good showing despite the rain, and the Choir was awesome. Somehow, I have landed on my feet at St. Luke’s. As much of a musician I am at heart, I have had the good grace to find myself in a parish that counts good music as much of their ministry as good food! Deo Gratias! God is Good!
St. Luke’s is the youngest parish I have ever served, founded only in the 1950’s. I am older than it is. It is modern in design and small which means that it fits the congregation. I preach to a pretty full house on Sundays which is satisfying. There is room to grow too which also keeps me hopeful.
I am called “Pastor” here, so much better than “Muthah” or “Reverend”. It says what I do, not what I am. Like so much of Lutheran theology, it says was macht? rather than was ist?
This congregation is what you would call a Family Sized parish. Sunday attendance is a mere 60. But it is a very healthy parish. There isn’t much push and pull, just the normal stuff that comes when people have strong feelings. They are German and Scandinavian for the most part, but I find just as many Anglophone names as northern European. They have accepted me as I am, warts, Episcopalianism and all. And I am able to accept them as they are and only expect from them what any pastor wants, for them to love Christ with their whole hearts because I know that they will be happy. I am learning to laugh just as easily at Sven and Ole jokes as I have at Paddy and Mike.
We have our first new couple who have come and decided to stay. They are twenty-somethings, newly weds and come from a Catholic/Protestant mix. I am glad that they have found in the parish what I have found—a home.
Most of all it is a wonderful shelter from the sturm und drang of the Episcopal Church these days. I can go on about the ministry of Jesus Christ and still comment on the Episcopal Church on my other blog---www.stoneofwitness.blogspot.com I will never be a Lutheran, St. Luke’s will never be Episcopalian, but it is wonderful to be together to love God and celebrate Christ with us in this town of generous people. May we continue to be good for one another. May we continue to find Christ in each other so we can teach the people of our area what real Christian community is all about! All are welcome!
Monday, October 29, 2007
Someone said after my first Reformation Sunday that she heard more about Luther from me than she did from some Lutheran pastors. I said I was overcompensating. I want to be clear that it is important for Lutherans to be Lutherans. I know it is important for me to be Episcopalian. But more importantly it is important that we are all Christian. I know that when I was still a Roman Catholic that some of the children I taught knew they were Catholic, they didn't always know that they were Christian. That does not mean that they weren't good people. It was that their self-identification was not as Christian.
I have said that I believe that we are in the throes of a New Reformation. I am sure that each age has those who might claim a new era, or a new time of re-formation. Each generation tries to do that: some want a completely NEW age, and there are those who want to RECLAIM a previous one. In neither case can a completely new nor a reclaimed age be developed. We can only stand on what has gone before us, trying our best to make the best of what has come our way.
Reformation is what goes on in our hearts when we are faced with our sinfulness or our inadequacy. It is what goes on when we ask of ourselves to be more than the previous age has been. It is an anxiety-producing time but it is also an energizing time. The real difficulty comes when I see this time as an age of reformation and you, don’t.
I know that this is what is going on in the Episcopal Church at present. I know that there are places in the ELCA where this is going on. And other denominations are watching all of this to see which way to jump.
But jumping is not the way that we need to look at the changes that are facing us in our churches. I believe that all of our Christian denominations are being confronted with a new way of understanding Christianity. We are going to have to find new ways of describing the saving grace of God. We are going to have to find new ways of communicating the Good News. We are going to have different words that communicate the joy that knowing God in our lives.
Terms like Justification, Redemption, Sin, Transgression, Trespass, Original Sin, Guilt, Law, while so important to our theological understanding of faith, may have to give way to new expressions. This new reformation may require of us a new vocabulary the same way as words like Internet, Blog, computer, technology, etc. has enhanced our global understanding in the past 10 years.
We are going to hear more about a relationship with God or Christ. We are going to hear the words of Liberation, the throwing off of the yoke of Domination. We may even find our Christian life taking on a “subversive” role when trying to speak the Gospel which calls for the equality of humanity, the care for the poor, the speaking for the disenfranchised. We may find our new Christianity at odds with the majority culture that is bent on grasping all the gusto of life to the exclusion of honesty, integrity, sharing, etc. We are not going to hear of a Protestant work ethic that means that we can work to get more than our piece of the pie.
It is a scary Gospel that is being heard in the New Reformation. It is a Gospel that is at odds with a society that is willing to step on the poor to get more for themselves. It is a scary Gospel that says that the God who loves us more than life calls us to lay down our lives for others, not for patriotic reasons, but for faith reasons. It is a reformation in thinking that says that human liberation from all kinds of tyranny, even the tyranny imposed by our nation must be at the center of faith. It means that no one nation may dominate others even for the sake of the Gospel.
Yep, we are heading into a new age. We may be heading into a new church. But it is the Church of Jesus Christ—the one who taught the world that the Kingdom of God was about serving others in his name. Reformations are tough times. There are those who won’t like the message. But truth and integrity are at the center. Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” And for those of us who follow him, we have no other way to go.
Friday, October 19, 2007
The Revgals Friday Five has hit me in a tender spot. It has asked questions about FOOD. I have to confess. I am a “foodie.” I love to cook when I have time. I watch the Food Channel. And for those who know me, they know that I love to eat too. I am a visual reminder that “there is wideness in God’s mercy.”
With that in mind, here is this week’s Friday Five
1. If you were a food, what would you be? I guess that the first thing that comes to mind is ris de veau. The whole idea of sweetbreads of veal (pancreas) is really revolting to many. But I love them. Once you get past the idea of it, the meat is sweet and the way that the French prepare them is exquisite and almost too rich. I am a rare beast, I admit it. But once you get past the idea of a gay priest, I am pretty sweet. But I am not sweet like too much pie. The sweetness is honest, not sugar coated.
2. What is one of the most memorable meals you ever had? And where? I have a few memorable meals. One was in Beaunne, France while I was on sabbatical. It was ris de veau. I think we are still trying to pay that meal off. Another was at a gourmet restaurant in Mexico City. It was a gourmet meal of traditional Mexican dishes superbly rendered, and the most memorable thing was having lunch with the Archbishop of Mexico and the Dean of the seminary there. It was a lovely meal because of the lovely people. And just last month Sistah Priest and I went to Quebec City and had a lovely meal of venison, barley risotto (to die for) and other Quebecois cuisine.
3. What is your favorite comfort food from childhood? I am hard pressed to decide: Mac and cheese ranks right up there. The other is a family recipe of Tahitian Rice that the family still has when we get together—a rice dish with sausage, water chestnuts, green pepper, celery, and almond slivers in a risotto-like one pot meal. This one is good for church dinners too.
4. When going to a church potluck, what one recipe from your kitchen is sure to be a hit? I have a one pot meal with kielbasa, onions, mashed potatoes, kale and Munster cheese that most folks like. It was one I adapted from a Gourmet magazine article years ago.
5. What’s the strangest thing you ever willingly ate? I have eaten grasshoppers and snake. But I would not recommend them especially. And I am not fond of mountain oysters. But true to my Scots heritage I eat haggis--weird stuff but not bad.
6. Bonus question: What’s your favorite drink to order when looking forward to a great meal? It depends. A good red wine when I am looking at French food. I love beer in the face of spicy food—it calms the stomach. But for most, give me a tall glass of unsweetened brewed iced tea and I am usually happy.
Monday, October 15, 2007
I am reading a new book: The Highjacking of Jesus. It shows how right-wing evangelical religionists have taken over what Christianity means to the larger audience of the non-churched or the minimally churched in the US. It also shows how this has been a calculated and well planned onslaught that tears at what it means to be a Christian in present day.
Now, I am not taking political pot shots at the conservatives! There is a significant difference between what I understand as good ole, conservative Republican upstate NY politics and right-wing religion. What I understand right-wing religion to be is fundamentalist, anti-intellectual, and a non-apostolic distortion of the Christian message as it has come down through either mainline Protestantism or Roman Catholicism. It is often concerned with the New Dispensation, the Rapture, the Second Coming very soon, and a type of evangelism that is down-right scary. It advocates the “bringing in of the kingdom” by creating the war that will bring about Armageddon and the Return of Christ. Much of the theology comes from a 19th century evangelist who invented the “Rapture”. The “Left-Behind Series” has promulgated this theology that does not connect with the apostolic faith that has come down to us from the followers of Jesus. Part of the problem is that the Bush administration and the Republican Party tied itself to the coattails of this kind of Christianity and now the world believes that American Christianity is of this ilk.
For me, there is no place for anti-intellectualism in faith. God gave us gray matter. In fact it is this gray matter, our ability to think, remember and communicate, which gave us an ability to worship God. When we have to bend out intellect around an article of faith, then it is time to address such an issue with our intellect. Can we look at the parting of the Red Sea, the Virgin Birth, walking on water, etc. as articles of faith, and can we address those wonderful stories with an intellect that allows us to see the allegorical weight of such stories to tell us what God has done for humanity and creation over the centuries? Can we look at the Bible as books of various authors which have told the stories of God’s acts in the world without making them historical fact books? Can we not find in them the truthfulness of human experience without having to have them be factual? I believe we can, and must, so that our faith does not fly off into some realm of fantasy. Faith in God requires suspending factual credibility but not taking fantasy as fact.
One of the failings of mainline Protestantism over the past 50 years has been in teaching its members the Bible. The study of the Bible is difficult. For clergy, we have learned how difficult scripture scholarship is. It requires biblical language fluency that most of us have not mastered. Computer helps are making it easier, but it is still a daunting task to unpack a Scriptural passage for the congregation each week. And teaching lay folk the depth of the meanings of the Bible is often a thankless work. Many would rather just stick to the stories and deal with the surface rather than enter into hard work of interpretation of Scripture. It is so subjective, we say. Clergy too, want solid facts we can pass on. But God is always revealed to us in the in-between-ness of life: in-between fact and speculation. Also the difficulty with teaching the Bible as something that is not factual takes a great deal more work. It means that members of our parishes have to be willing to place their trust in God rather than the facts of the Bible. Once again faith must be based on something that is not tangible. It is what faith really means, after all.
Over the past 150 years or so—ever since the beginnings of scholarly Biblical study began, the reaction to Biblical scholarship has been to literalize the Bible. This was never a traditional way of interpreting Scripture. Even in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the early Greek theologians and preachers understood that stories in the Bible were allegorical descriptions of how God acted in the world. The kind of mindless literalism that we find in Biblical interpretation in fundamentalism is not historical; it is not rooted in the ways that the apostles or the early church approached Scripture. It is, in fact, a post-Enlightenment type of proof that is rooted in the scientific method rather than in the rich symbolism of literature.
I am challenging every member of St. Luke’s to read a book of the Bible before Christmas. (I told them also that Philemon was not fair—its just one page!). I want them to get used to reading the Bible for themselves. I want them to know the wholeness of reading a book in its entirety rather than the way that the lectionary chops it up. I want them to know the authors of various books of the Bible and see the differences that each one brings to the experience of God. I want them to find a version that they enjoy reading. I want them to have some common experience to share that is rooted in Scripture. I asked some folks on their way out of church yesterday what book they were going to read –nothing like putting someone on the spot! One said, John because she felt that the people she met who were new to faith might need that book. One chose Revelation—my most un-favorite, mainly because it IS my un-favorite! Another said Job, somewhat factiously, because of where he may be emotionally at the moment. Another said First Kings because he didn’t know that history very well. We all have different beginning places in reading the Bible. I guess I am going to read Revelation too simply because I don't know it well.
But all Christians need to be reading the Bible. Those of us from mainline Protestant churches need to know the Bible to keep the fundamentalists from high jacking the Bible—making it solely their purview. We need to take back the Bible from the fundamentalists by being willing to study, by being willing to do the hard work of faith—knowing the stories and myths that fill out the faith in a God who is beyond all knowledge, description or fact.
I would invite any readers to choose a book of the Bible to read in the next couple of months. I would invite you to study the book you choose, not simply take it for fact and allow God’s words to take root in your heart. You can share your learnings here if you would like.