Friday, February 29, 2008
It's Leap Day!! Whether you're one of the special few who have a birthday only once every four years, or simply confused by the extra day on the calendar, everyone is welcome to join in and play our Leap Year Friday Five.
Tell us about a time you:
1. Leapt before looked Oh yes, I HAVE leapt before I looked and regretted every bit of it. But it isn’t something that I would put on my blog!
2. Leapt to a conclusion I have leapt to conclusions. In fact I do it rather regularly. So I have a good bit of practice of having to go back and retrace my steps. In fact leaping to conclusions has been one of my better characteristics—it is absolutely necessary for someone who is big on the Intuitive part of the Meyers-Briggs scale. Going through all the step-by-step parts of decision-making is just too plebian for Intuitive thinkers! It makes for creative moments for Intuitives. It also makes for many mistakes. Ah, the cost of being an Intuitive.
3. Took a Leap of Faith When I first came to grapple with faith in my mid twenties, I had to make a decision to believe or not believe. There had been little religious training in my family. In undergraduate school I studied history from the perspective of historical thought (philosophy). I understood that scientific thought and theological thought were much of the same thing—trusting in a process outside of one’s self. As I began to wrestle with the issues of faith, I wasn’t really aware of God’s action, per se. I knew that I needed to believe that there WAS a God. I chose to believe that there was a God. It was then that I began to experience God in Christ. It sounds so mundane—and there was a certain sense of my own volition about it. It was only after that decision that I was able to embrace God, I think. And after that decision I was aware of God’s action and gift that faith was.
This part of the reason why I don’t demand that people have a “born again” experience of God: some folks have always known that there is a God. They must come to a place in their faith where they can trust in God, but many people don’t remember how God saved them. For me, it wasn’t a matter of having to LEAP as much as being willing to construct for myself a reality that went against much of what I had been brought up to understand. It was a matter of choosing God rather than not having faith.
4. Took a literal Leap I remember vividly starting to leap down from a 3ft high strut of a pier at a lake in Mexico when I was doing missionary work there. I missed the jump and broke my hip at the age of 27. It ended my missionary aspirations. But it did point me in the direction that I have followed ever since.
5. And finally, what might you be faced with leaping in the coming year? Since I am still in the “honeymoon” of a new parish, I know that this coming year will be moving from honeymoon to reality. This is not so much a leap as it is trying to avoid potholes! I may have to leap—make some definite reversal or jump forward. I know I have to introduce the new hymnal to the parish—a task I rank right up there with pulling teeth. But it must be done
Sunday, February 24, 2008
There is a Greek word that is often found in the First Letter to the Corinthians that I find Lutherans using –at least Lutherans of the pastoral type. The word is adiaphora. It is a term used in Christianity to denote things that are not necessary for salvation. According to Wikipedia it was used by Philip Melancthon when there was some argument of what was necessary and what was necessary in the Book of Concord: "church rites which are neither commanded nor forbidden in the Word of God."
It seems to me a way of saying “don’t sweat the small stuff.” Today’s Gospel reading of the Woman at the Well is a good example of adiaphora. The Samaritan woman challenges Jesus when he has told her that she has she has had 5 husbands and the one she has now is not her husband. “We worship on the mountains and you Jews say one must worship in Jerusalem” And Jesus says “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.” (Jn.4:23)
It did not take a genius or even a prophet to know that Judah was “cruzin’ for a bruisin’” in Jesus’ day. There had been one uprising after another against Roman authority. Most people understood that Rome would not tolerate endless rejection of Roman occupation. It was a mere 40 years after Jesus’ death that the Roman Legion bore down on the rebellious province of Judah and brought about the total destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of God that was the center of Jewish resistance. The region of Samaria and the province of Judah and the city of Jerusalem were placed under interdict which forbad the worship of the Jews and Samaritans.
Jesus, the prophet, spoke to a woman of Samaria about adiaphora. It wasn’t going to matter if the Samaritans worshipped in the high places. It wasn’t going to matter if Jews worshipped in Jerusalem because one day it would all be gone. How one worshipped didn’t matter much. But WHO one worshipped and in what manner DID matter. “God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."
All too often we Christians put an emphasis on things that are not necessary for salvation to distinguish ourselves. Episcopalians are likely to say that things must be done the English way. Lutherans often divide themselves between the German ways of worship and understanding and the Scandinavian ways. The Presbyterians are likely to say that we are predestined to salvation. Roman Catholics are likely to say that good works are a way to salvation. Methodists want to know if we have had a “spiritual experience” of God, while Baptists want to know if we have been baptized by immersion. Those outside of Christianity are often totally confused by denominational differences. They don’t understand why we sweat the small stuff.
Christians often have important doctrines that people must espouse, or sacramental actions demanded of them in order to “prove” they are of one flavor of Christianity or another. We even have a tendency to identify ourselves as being “liberal” or “progressive” or “conservative”, or “independent” or even “hard shell.” And yet it does not even touch what is necessary for salvation. And more often than not, what we argue over is for naught. It is adiaphora.
In the Anglican tradition we say that there are two sacraments necessary for salvation—Baptism and Holy Communion. And even those we fudge on—for God can save whomever God chooses! And we will never know. God does the saving—nothing that we do can change that. All we have to do is receive the work of God.
And that is about the most comforting thing that I know.
All the rest are ways of knowing God. For the Baptist to know in the believer’s baptism that Christ is present to her is awesome. For the Roman Catholic to find purpose and Christ’s friendship in the good works that he does brings him to his knees. For the Presbyterian to understand that events in her life have been planned by God since time immemorial is comfort indeed. For the Anglican or the Lutheran the finding of Christ in the sacrament of the altar is thrilling. All of it brings us closer to the God who has loved us more than life.
All too often we end up arguing about the things that are not necessary for salvation. We fight over minutia rather than share what we have in common. Rather than quibbling over how we handle the sacraments, perhaps we need to be talking about what the Spirit is doing in our hearts when we receive the Real Presence of Christ. Perhaps we need fewer rules about what to do with “reserved sacrament” and more discussion about how God changes us when we are humbled by his law of love. What would happen if we spent less time talking about how we are different and more talking about what we hold in common?
This is less a problem for lay folk than it is for us clergy-types. Clergy have a vested interest in all the ‘jots and tittles’ in the religious world. It is how we can tell ourselves apart! We need ways of deciding who is in our flock and who isn’t. But the reality is that they are all anaphora—things not necessary for salvation.
We need this word today when fewer and fewer people want to be tied up in denominational squabbles. If there is anything the Episcopal Church can teach the rest of main-line Protestantism is that church fights hurt. And the hurt is deep and often meaningless. It may be a way of purifying the Church, but in the end we are a scandal to ourselves and to others. And most of all, we have accomplished little.
Ultimately we as Christians are going to have to do some serious listening to those who are different from us. We are going to have to develop vocabularies and understandings of those who worship and think differently. We must be willing to hear the experience of the Holy One in the rites of others. We need to hear the Spirit and Truth that Jesus enjoins upon the Woman at the Well. "For the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.”
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Singing Owl at Revgals has developed an interesting Friday Five:
I am in Seattle assisting with family stuff and preparing to attend a memorial service (Saturday) for my sister who died of complications of early-onset Alzheimer's disease.
I am not grieving much, since the shock and tears and goodbyes and losses have been many and have occurred for a long time now. I am mostly relieved that my wonderful sister and best friend is free from pain and confusion, and I am thinking of eternity. That sounds somber, but I don't mean it to be. I decided to have a little fun with the idea. So how about we share five "heavenly" things? These can me serious or funny or a combination of the two.
This seems to be quite timely. I have had 3 funerals in the past 2 weeks. I have had several deaths in the parish since I came there in September and I have lost someone close to me. I am constantly coming into contact with what is heaven. I have generally avoided talking about what heaven is like. No one that I know has been there, save Jesus. I have no idea what heaven is like so I seldom call something heavenly. So I will have to really think on this one.
Part of the reason I have difficulty with ‘heavenly’ as a construct is that I have been trying to rid myself of the idea of “perfect”. This is an Aristotelian concept. In Aristotle’s philosophy there is an idea or concept of everything in its perfected status to which we compare everything to. I believe I have tried to live up to ‘perfection’ and driven myself crazy trying to. ‘Perfection’ does not exist. And when I can strive for what is the best I can do, then I can realize my goals. Heaven is like ‘perfect.’ I spend little or no time wondering what ‘heaven’ is like because I really want to know what is the best I can do.
What is your idea of a heavenly (i.e. wonderful and perfect):
1. Family get-together:
There is no such thing as a heavenly family get-together! A good family get-together is when we have all had fun, no one has abused alcohol, people have been kind to one another, and everyone is there.
2. Song or musical piece:
I do have some perfect musical pieces, however. The Mozart Requiem, Brahm’s Deutches Requiem, Mahler’s First Symphony and Schostokovich’s Fourth Symphony.
The heavenly gift would be something I needed or wanted and it was a total surprise.
4. You choose whatever you like-food, pair of shoes, vacation, house, or something else. Just tell us what it is and what a heavenly version of it would be.
I do have a ‘perfect’ house—it is because I don’t have a house of my own. But I would like a house on a small lake with a deck. It is a ranch without stairs or a split level with only a few stairs. It would have a large kitchen in which I could cook and entertain. It would have lots of light and lots of storage space. It would be warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The deck or patio would have a place where I could sit in the shade or the sun. And most of all would have someone else to clean it!
5. And for a serious moment, or what would you like your entrance into the next life to be like?
Since I don’t think about the next life much—I do want to know more of God—that will make me joyful. I hope I can go easily into the next life, but that is up to God.
What, from your vantage point now, would make Heaven "heavenly?"
Saturday, February 9, 2008
Today is the first Sunday of Lent. The readings remind us of the fall of humanity and the temptation of Christ. We have all heard the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden. We have all heard of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. And most of us know that we are supposed to do something for Lent. Either give something up, or take on some kind of spiritual practice for 40 days as we try to clean up our acts. And this is all noteworthy and wise. But after preaching the same thing on the First Sunday of Lent for 25 years, I am wondering if there is something more I need to be saying.
I wrote a good sermon on Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness, but it seems to be the “same old-same old”. There is something else I would like to challenge you to. You can ignore this sermon and just say, “That’s just the Episcopalian talking!” But I would like to challenge you to step outside of being a Lutheran, or Methodist or Episcopalian or Roman Catholic or whatever for just a few moments this morning.
I told those who attended the Ash Wednesday service that I had taken on a discipline for Lent of reading James Carroll’s book Constantine’s Sword, a hard look of a Roman Catholic at his Church’s theological stand on Jews which led to the Holocaust. It is a difficult book to read because it takes Christian theology to task for the antipathy toward the Jews that culminated in an outrage against all humanity. And because most denominations trace their theologies back through Western Christianity, it is a legacy that mainline American Protestantism must share. It makes me squirm and at times feel embarrassed for the ways that my theology—my way of expressing faith, has been used by others to debase other human beings simply because they do not express their faith the way I do.
Because we are faced with the themes of sin and temptation on this first Sunday of Lent, I think that it is appropriate to look at the ways we declare our faith in Christ which diminish the faith of others. It is a sin that many of us unwittingly fall into. I do it all the time when I make comparisons between Lutherans and Episcopalians and so do you. Most of the time we do it in good humor and that is fine—but there is often a sense of superiority underlying it all. It isn’t worthy of the God that Jesus taught us to love and if left unchecked, left without some personal critique it can lead to the same kind of hatred that ended in holocaust.
Now I am treading close to the bone here. And I want to say that I do not have all the answers. I am just saying that it is time in our Christian faith to look hard at past ways of declaring our faith and own up to areas where the Church, and those in the church have obscured temptation and sin with theological jargon. It went on in the First Century; it may have gone on in what has come down to us in various translations of scripture, or the interpretation of that scripture. It certainly got imbedded in the way that we have expressed our faith. We have excluded others as a way to control our society. We have used faith as a reason to murder and if we pay attention to the growing rhetoric of the extreme religious right, they are demonizing Muslims with the same effect that demonizing those of Eastern Orthodoxy in the 11th century which allowed for the sack of Constantinople. We are beginning to hear calls for extermination of all of Islam because of the terrorist actions of some.
Any religion can be manipulated by the unscrupulous. Christianity at times has been misused and abused by those with other motives than the mission of Christ. But in each instance, there have been those who have been willing to remind us who remain in relationship with the God who loves us more than life, that there are certain principles that we must adhere to if we are going to be true to our Creator.
That is the meaning of the scene of the temptation that we have in Matthew’s gospel today. Jesus is not tempted by Satan just to fall down and worship evil. He is tempted to do GOOD—“make these stones into bread”, Satan commands. Just think, if Jesus could feed 5,000 with 5 loaves, what he could have done with the bread made from the stones of the wilderness! We are often tempted with doing good for our own sakes rather good for the sake of others. If Jesus had fed all the hungry in Palestine, would that have helped the people understand God’s love for them? The reason that Jesus came was to teach us of the Father not just provide food.
All too often I hear critique of the Church because we don’t do enough for the poor from both sides of the aisle. And I am often one who is making that critique. But at the same time, what is the purpose of the Church? Is it to be a social agency? To a certain extent, yes. We are called to serve others in the name of God.
The second temptation of Jesus in the wilderness is to security. “Throw yourself down and you will be saved” Satan commands.
Salvation is what it is all about, isn’t it? And yet I daresay that none of us feel too secure. It is why we are here week after week. It is why I call on the sick and the infirm, to remind them that they are safe in God’s care. It is what I tell you each week—you are saved by a loving God. And yet… and yet…. We still need to hear that we are saved. Why? Is it because we have too little faith to believe that God really wants us? Is our own self-image so poor that we cannot believe the promises of God? No, it is because we are being tempted by those who would have us put our security in the cars we buy, the insurance we get, the stocks or bonds we invest in, or the real estate we pay for. They are tangible. We can touch those things.
We have a hard time trusting in a God we cannot see or touch to be there when we need. Jesus was not willing to trust in what he could see. He could only trust in the God he knew in his soul and called “Daddy”—Abba. And we have only that God to trust in too. We cannot depend even in all the pronouncements of Church, or preachers, or pundits. We have only the relationship we have in God that can tell us what is right and what is of God. And if Jim Carroll’s book is right, we cannot even believe in the Church to guarantee our salvation. And that’s what makes the Christian journey so terrifying.
Ultimately we have to answer for ourselves before God. We have to be willing to step out in faith—we have to be willing to try to understand the difficult issues of Christianity ourselves, not just be content with what others tell us. We must be willing to enter into that personal relationship with God ourselves through prayer, reading of scripture and make up our own minds.
The specter of holocaust hangs about us all. It was not just a Nazi thing. The pogroms of Middle Europe and Russia, the Inquisition in Italy and Spain, the execution of Jews in medieval England taints all of our histories. And it is not just against Jews. It is anyone who is different. Today we would exclude gay folk. In recent history it was African-American folk. And in some places in upstate NY it is “downstate folk.” It is because we cannot feel secure if there are those who aren’t like us. And Jesus tells us our security is in God alone.
The third temptation of Jesus is to power. “I will give you power over all these nations,” Satan chides Jesus. And Jesus tells him to leave. It is the temptation to have power that is so hideous. To be able to be above, to be superior to—that is the greatest of sins. Jesus sweeps that temptation. He sees it for what it is. How few of us can see this temptation for what it is—the invitation to power is always to be at the mercy of the powerless.
Whenever the Church chooses to side with power, we have to be wary of this sin. Every time in the history of Western Christianity when the church and state have merged it has been to the detriment of the Christian message. Whether it has been forced conversions or the co-opting of the message of a poor itinerant rabbi to serve the wealthy, or the bending of Christian theology to serve the state, Christianity has failed to save. It is no wonder that people are fleeing the Church today. Politics and religion are too much alike. They no longer hold each other in tension to maintain balance.
On this first Sunday of Lent, I would challenge you to take your relationship with God seriously. I would challenge you to look hard at the faith you hold and see if there are things in it that keep you from knowing God better. I would challenge you to ask the God you love how we can better express what it means to be Christian without the need to exclude or feel superior too. And over the next 4 weeks of Coffee Hour Adult Education may we discuss this Church we love—not just our parish, or our denomination—but Christianity as a whole. It is time to embrace our faith and tell Satan to flee. AMEN
Friday, February 8, 2008
1. Did you celebrate Mardi Gras and/or Ash Wednesday this week? How?
I celebrated Mardi Gras by not going in to the office. Our church does not have a Shrove Tuesday Pancake supper. So I had a nice supper by myself and enjoyed an easy day.
2. What was your most memorable Mardi Gras/Ash Wednesday/Lent?
When I entered religious life, I entered in New Orleans. The school where I taught had many members who were part of crews and so I celebrated my first Mardi Gras in New Orleans watching the parades from a fancy home above the parade route as a guest of one of my students. My novice mistress was a New Orleans native and wanted us to experience the joy of her home town before we went into our canonical year of novitiate. It was more fun seeing the holidays through her eyes. Mardi Gras is so much more than just the craziness of Bourbon Street.
3. Did you/your church/your family celebrate Lent as a child? If not, when and how did you discover it?
I was in my twenties when I first came to Christ. I spent my first Lent preparing for baptism. I was baptized at the Easter vigil so I was able to live into the liturgy as it was originally intended. I made a retreat at a local convent for the Holy Triduum and went from the retreat to my parish for the Baptism. It was in a humble little church in a poor part of town. Some of my students were present and that was fun. I will never forget that experience—and how sweet Christ was on my tongue when I first received Holy Communion.
4. Are you more in the give-up camp, or the take-on camp, or somewhere in between?
I am definitely one to take on disciplines rather than give up things.
5. How do you plan to keep Lent this year? I am taking on the reading of John Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword. It is not a pleasant topic. But I feel that I must come to grips with the anti-Semitism that Christianity and the Church have engendered over the centuries and figure out how I can address it in myself and in the Church. Carroll has taken on this journey in this book, a journey he had to address in himself and face in his Church. I as a Christian cannot ignore it any longer otherwise I continue to be a victim of my own history.
Through Biblical study I have come to understand the places where Judaism and Christianity began to split. I continually grapple with Jesus’ desire to teach us how to be faithful Jews –faithful to the God he called Abba. But I am not that certain that all that the Church has extrapolated either from Scripture or from theological discussion has provided us a faith that can be lived honestly in the light of the Holocaust. I continue to struggle with the Gospel of John and its love juxtaposed with the exclusion of the Jews.
Over the years, much of the theology that has spoken to me most readily of God’s love has come from the pens of Martin Buber and Abraham Heschel. I am in no way Jewish yet their descriptions of God speak most eloquently of my experience of God than many Christian theologians. So wading through the pain of the Jewish /Christian journey for the past 1700 years is appropriate. I hope it will prepare me better for Holy Week and the drama of th
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Nestled in between the various buildings of the World Trade Tower was the little chapel of St. Paul, a chapel of the much more well-known Trinity Church, Wall Street—the bastion of the Episcopal economic might and prowess. When the towers of the World Trade Center came down, debris was sent everywhere, but somehow the Chapel of St. Paul was miraculously spared. The ancient graveyard that abutted the church was not so lucky. Feet of debris and ash fell into that cemetery.
St. Paul’s Chapel became the staging area for rescue workers and then became the place of ministration to those who were working on recovery for over a year following the disaster. That Lent, St. Paul’s put out a card of remembrance. On the face was a picture of the cemetery the day after the attack with the subscription: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It is still the most sobering image I have of that event and it will stay with me the rest of my life.
On Ash Wednesday we begin the period of the Church Year that reminds us of our mortality. Lent was originally a way for the Church to mark the days before Easter that those waiting to be baptized had to prepare themselves for that event. It was a time of being at one with those who were surrendering themselves to Christ for the first time. It was a time of fasting, studying, praying and alms giving in solidarity with those who were doing the same.
It became a remembrance of Jesus’ time of temptation and retreat in the desert following his baptism. It became a time of preparing one’s self for Easter. But most of all it became a time of doing penance together—recognizing that there is spiritual power in doing spiritual discipline together even if in silence.
It was a time to think upon one’s sinfulness, not to grovel before God. But as a reminder of how easily it is to ignore sin, how easy it is to justify our sinfulness with our rationality, and how easy it is to dupe ourselves into believing that we are not sinful. So it is no small thing for us to have ashes place upon our foreheads as a reminder of our tendency to cut ourselves off from God.
In the times before Jesus, the sign of mourning was to sit upon the ash heap and tear one’s clothing. Even in observant Jewish homes, loved ones tear a bit of their clothing at the event of a death in the family.
Christians sign their mourning at their failure to live up to the calling of Christ by acknowledging their faithlessness with ashes upon their faces. I never make a cross on people's heads. This is not a blessing we mark ourselves with. We need to mourn our lack of consideration for others who have been created by God. We need to wail at our blithe ignoring of God’s events in our lives. We need to fast and abstain from that which gives joy simply because we have failed to respond to the grace that God has lovingly heaped upon us. It is a sign of failure and yet it is the sign of our hope too. It is the sign that it is grace alone that makes us worthy before God and our fellow human beings.
Lent is not a time for scruples either—that overly pious denial of God’s goodness. This is not a time for rigidity. It is a time of discipline that is filled with the humble joy of being able to start anew. It is a time that reminds us that we are dust and to dust we shall return. But it also reminds us that God’s grace provides us with resurrection even in our most dismal abjection.
May the marks upon our foreheads be a reminder to us that God is not finished with us yet—not a badge of honor that we have been to church on a Wednesday.
Monday, February 4, 2008
This is the final Sunday of Epiphany. This season we have heard of wise men and guiding stars, the baptism of Jesus, the calling of disciples and today we hear the story of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain top. This story is filled with all kinds of symbolism that we, who were not raised Jewish, might miss.
Many Jews would have caught on that Jesus was going up on the mountain to pray, just like Moses did. Jesus took his important leaders, just as did Moses. While he is there he takes on a luminescence, just as Moses had when he went up to Mt. Sinai to receive the Law. When Peter says he will make dwellings, any good Jewish boy would know that he meant the ‘booths’ or ‘tabernacles’ that were erected at the Festival of Sukkoth to remind the people of the time before the building of the Temple when God was present to the People of Israel in a tent in their midst.
Everything in this story designed to tell Matthew’s followers that Jesus is not only the New Moses but the law that he gives is a new law and that the Temple which has just been destroyed, is not necessary for the people to know that God is present to them.
We, who hear the story of Jesus today, do not understand the kind of upheaval the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem was in 70 AD. It brought about the development of Christianity, to be sure. But it also brought about the development of modern Judaism. Judaism in Jesus’ day was a religion that was centered on the sacrificial acts held at the Temple in Jerusalem. And even though the Pharisee Party which becomes Rabbinic Judaism, had a religious practice that was not centered in the Temple, most Jews still saw the Temple as the center of their faith. Following the Jewish Rebellion from 65AD to 70 AD when the city of Jerusalem fell to the Romans, there was no longer a center for the Jews to gather, to offer sacrifice, or to remember the God of Israel as the great national relgion of Israel. Judaism became a religion that was centered on the ethics of righteous living with celebrations centering in the home or synagogue (the schools) of Jewish people. No longer was God the God of the People of Israel, God was the God of those who had faith, who lived in the light of the Law of Moses.
Christianity, however, became a religion in which Jesus was honored and emulated. Christ was the new giver of the law, a law of love and peace became the gospel for a people who were seeing the need for an expansion on their old faith moving into a new era. But at first, Christianity was merely a denomination of Judaism. Some continued to follow Mosaic Law or some kind manifestation of it. The followers of Matthew were certainly Hellenistic Jews--those who had taken on the culture of the Greeks and Romans, but worshipped the God of the People of Israel.
The transfiguration was a story to not only show how Jesus was the direct descendent of Moses and the prophets, it was to help all who followed Jesus to understand that transfiguring was part of the Christian journey—that what Jesus did was open to those who followed him.
To be transfigured—the word in Greek is metamorphosis means to change in character—or completely change. It is not some kind sci-fi shape shifting. It is the act by which one changes by the grace of God from one lost in sin to one who is aware of one’s liberation. It is what happens when one is finally gratefully aware of what God has done for them in the Cross.
When I lived in CA, I was a member of an all-women’s fly fishing club. We were a zany group of women who enjoyed going on fishing junkets with one another. One woman’s boy friend had never been baptized, she said, and his mother who had Lou Gehrig’s disease always felt she had done something disastrously wrong by not having baptized her son. I told them I would baptize him if he came on one of our fishing trips. He was not a church goer, but I believe that the desire to be baptized is one that one should not ignore. So I baptized him in a small ceremony at the stream’s edge in the dark with his girlfriend and a couple of others present. I then told the man that all the sins that he had ever committed were gone. He looked at me in disbelief and then he broke down and cried. It was the kinds of deep seated sobs that come when we know we have sinned but God is so generous to have forgiven us.
At that moment he knew the power of the Cross. At that moment he knew that liberation that God gives when we turn our lives over to Christ and submit ourselves to the law of love. That fall he went home for Thanksgiving and was able to tell his mother that he had been baptized. It was an enormous gift to his mother who died that year.
I do not know what has happened to the man. My friend and he broke up and I never heard of him again. It doesn’t matter. For a moment—for that brief moment of transfiguration, the man knew the power of God in his life as he had never known before. It changed his life if but for a moment. I pray that he has found faith in Christ that he was obviously looking for. All I can do is but provide the actions of the Church. He and Christ had to do the rest.
We all have transfiguring moments in our lives—those moments when we are brought to our knees at God’s loving kindness and grace. They are moments that we look back upon and give them great significance in our lives. They can be pivot points upon which our lives may take dramatic turns or they can be just cherished times that re-enforce the love we have come to know at God’s hands. They are moments that we look back upon and remember which feed our faith and nurture our moral fiber.
It is significant that we have this reading on the last Sunday of Epiphany and more importantly on the Sunday before Lent. Transformation is what we are all about during Lent and the story of Christ’s Transfiguration tells us that we too can change; we too can be transformed by God’s grace to live the law of Love that Jesus came to teach.
Throughout this coming Lent, we will be given opportunities to make changes in our lives that we need to make. Each will have his or her own particular effort. Some will chose to fast in order to gain some discipline over some habit you have. Some will take on practices that you have not tried before. Some may just take more time for prayer; others may choose to do nothing out of the ordinary. But Lent can be a time of transfiguration. We need but prepare ourselves to accept it. We don’t do the transfiguring—God does. But when it happens, we won’t want to forget it. We will fill it with incredible meaning, as it should be. We will tell stories about it if even only to ourselves.
I invite you to tell your stories of God’s transfiguration in your lives—if only to yourselves. If you can share them with friends, you will be proclaiming the gospel—the promise that life is more because of that precious moment of surrender in your life. It is those stories that probably convey God’s promise more than all the sermons I could ever preach. They are the mighty acts that God has done in your lives that speak the power of Christ’s sacrifice. AMEN
Friday, February 1, 2008
There is so much going on this weekend that I thought I'd provide an options Friday 5!!!!
First Superbowl ( someone explain to this Brit the significance)- love it or hate it?
1. Sally, American football is about as incomprehensible to Brits as is Cricket to us. I grew up in TX where there was only one sport that anyone followed—football. Everything revolved around the local teams. High school football is taken to extremes there and is about as vociferous as rugby or soccer is in northern UK.
2. Obviously I love the sport. I even understand some of it. I was in the band from 5th grade through college and went to every schools’ football games for 16 years. Then professional football caught my fancy and I have watched, or now later in life more precisely, I doze through all the games I can get.
3. When I was younger, I am sure that attendance was a part of growing up in TX. In my childhood it was one of the few things that whole families could do together with other families in the neighborhood. It was one of the few things that both men and women could do together. We didn’t do tailgate parties then, but it wasn’t long before snacks came out and beer was passed around.
4. I remember Super Bowl #1. (Yes, Virginia, I am THAT old!) I was teaching in Dallas and one of my colleagues was the wife of a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. (The team had been originally the Dallas Texans.) A bunch of teachers got together and cheered Abner. It was the first party in an African-American’s home I had ever been to. (This was in the middle of the integration of Dallas public schools) We did brave things in those days.
5. I am a Dallas Cowboys’ fan to this day even though I live in NY. Now that the NY Giants have beaten the Cowboys to get to the Superbowl, I will cheer for the Giants. This will ingratiate me with the guys of my parish.
As for other celebrations of Feb. 1 or 2? Though I am quite catholic in my religious bent, I don’t pay much attention to Candlemas Day, or even St. Bridgid. Groundhog Day is a bit more important because I live in an area noted for our nasty weather. If the groundhog comes out of his hole and sees his shadow, we are bound for 6 more weeks of winter. It would be best if it were just cold and rainy here.
And you forgot St. Blaise day when you got your throats blessed so you wouldn’t get strep the rest of the winter.
Meanwhile, have a Happy Birthday, Sally.