Saturday, March 29, 2008

We walk by faith and not by sight

For several Sundays following Easter we will hear stories of what Jesus did following the Crucifixion. Most of these stories come from the Gospel of John. This one is about Thomas and his incredulity in the story that Mary told that she had seen Jesus in the garden. Then the disciples told him that they had seen him while they were gathered for prayer. Thomas, the practical one, says he won’t believe unless he can put his hand into the wounds of Christ.

Of course, it is precisely this that Jesus has Thomas do. He enters the locked room where the disciples are meeting fearful that the synagogue leaders are going to find them and make trouble for them. And Jesus comes among them. He wishes them Shalom—the normal greeting and hope of those who believe in God. Then he invites Thomas to place his hands on the wounds of his Passion. Thomas then makes the most profound confession in the Gospels—“My Lord and my God!”

Believing in God is a risky business. It isn’t just a matter of suspending reason to agree to something that happened in the past. It isn’t just a wish that something has happened that will make one’s life more secure. It is placing one’s trust in something that one has not seen and claming it as true. It is not a simple task.

From the time we have our first science class in school, from the time when we find out that Santa or the Easter Bunny is a manifestation of mom and dad’s benefice, from the time that we find that theory is not fact, believing is difficult. In many cases we have our faith leeched out of us by those who would have us learn how to depend upon facts rather than hearsay. I was one of those who sort of believed in God when I went off to college until I studied biology and history. I read about the “facts” of evolution. I studied the various philosophies of great thinkers. It is hard to believe in God the face of all of that. I put away my childhood faith in God in those days thinking that I had arrived as an educated person. I believed in the FACTS—demonstrable proof of events.

Many of us follow this path. We take our Sunday school faith to college with us and then don’t know what to do with it when professors we admire demean our childhood faith. We don’t realize that unless we confront that immature faith, it will not serve us as we move into adulthood. Sometimes we throw everything out with the bath water. We fail to understand that what we believe is not as important as building a relationship with that God.

Sunday, I was not ready for prime time, but I needed to get out of the house. I was no longer contagious and needed to be with people after a week of being in bed. Friends invited us for Easter Dinner with other family and friends. One was a retired college professor whom I had met before. The conversation got to faith as often it does when we gather. The professor, I will call him Art, asked a question about Sin. He had listened to the great B minor Mass and had heard the phrase “who takes away the sins of the world.” He just couldn’t believe that he said. I asked him what sin was and he answered it was ‘disobedience.’ This was a man who was in his 70’s still thinking of sin as ‘disobedience’ rather than something that kept him from knowing the Divine. I suggested that perhaps his definition of sin kept him from knowing who God was. He had to cling to that definition of God because that was what his parents had taught him and to do so would in some way reflect badly on them.

All too often we do not allow our faith to mature in God because we cannot let go of childish forms that we carry. For us to have faiths that support our adult lives we must be willing to trust in the relationship we develop with God. This is what happened to Thomas in today’s reading. Thomas has gotten a bad rep because he doubted—but that little doubt—that suspending of his belief in what others told him to find true faith in the loving scarred hands of Jesus. It provided him the wherewithal to embrace a mature faith in a God who would come to him in the locked rooms of his heart.

I know for me, when I finally allowed myself to set aside my childhood faith, it gave me the room I needed to encounter the God that changed my life. I am able to incorporate evloution in to my faith. I can accept the facts of history, philosophy, the social sciences and still embrace a God who could deal with that. Ultimately all that science, knowledge, education, etc failed to provide the sense of wholeness I sought. It was then when I had no other thing to cling to, I was able to speak Thomas’ words—“My Lord and my God.”

Faith is a journey with someone you love. It is a trust that the God who has laid down his life for you is there and walking your life with you. We can believe all the theological truths we want to, but it is not until we are willing to put our hands into his wounds that we understand what it means to say “My Lord and my God.” It is our willingness to stand and look and SEE the Lord of our life, really see him in our lives, not somewhere up in heaven far off, which gives us the ability to have faith. It allows faith to settle calmly about our shoulders. It allows us to be about the lives God has given us to live in truth and integrity.

Doubt is a necessary ingredient in faith. It is to put aside what others have told us so that we can experience the holy ourselves. And once we have experienced the holy—that indescribable sense of God’s presence in out lives—nothing can remove that. Perhaps it is that encounter in the closed rooms of our lives that we are finally able to ‘believe without seeing’ which John tells us that is more blessed.

I long for Art to be able to embrace a faith that will incorporate his considerable learning. I long for him to put away his childish definitions of belief so that he can embrace a God who is calling to him through his education, his considerable study and academic career. I pray that he might allow himself to know the love that God holds out to him in the considerable companionship of those who do have faith. But he must be willing to embrace himself and the God who loves him with the kind of abandon that is positively frightening. It is trusting. It is what has so often been called the ‘leap of faith’ that poses such a difficult block. Ultimately we have to surrender what we do know in order to know what we don’t. All scientists, all academics, all teachers, all believers have to do that; anyone who wishes to learn anything must believe without seeing.

But in matters of faith it requires that all the time. We engage life trusting in God's presence.
We walk by faith, an not by sight:
No gracious words we hear
of him who spoke as none e'er spoke,
but we believe him near.

2. We may not touch his hands and side,
nor follow where he trod;
yet in his promise we rejoice,
and cry, "My Lord and God!"

Friday, March 28, 2008

A Million Dollar Friday Five

Here is the Revgals Friday quiz. Singing Owl has put up an amazing quiz on this week after Easter. It is what happens to clergy after Easter--we turn into TV junkies! Just kidding!

Lingering effects of a cold have me watching more television than usual. There appears to be a resurgence of the old daytime staple--the quiz show. Except they are on during prime time, and a great many of them offer the chance of winning one million dollars.

I think it started with Regis Philbin and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" but now we have a half dozen or so.

My husband and I started musing (after watching "Deal or No Deal") about what we could do with a million dollars. I thought I'd just bring that discussion into the Friday Five this week. It's simple. What are five things you would want to do with a million dollar deposit in your bank account?

I guess I have always dreamed of hitting the lottery. But I don't know how to buy a ticket--it says tons about my faith in such things. But you can always dream.

1. The first thing I would do is pay off my debts and back taxes.

2. The second thing is buy a house or a condo.

3. The third thing is visit J' relatives on the West Coast.

4. Take a trip to the Holy Land. J and I have been preaching about this place for over 30 years and have never seen it.

5. Contribute to some of the organizations that I think do a good job for the world that I haven't been able to support.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Holy Saturday is an interesting day in the Three Days or Holy Triduum. In the convent Holy Saturday is a day of silence and cleaning. The Stripping of the Altar has allowed all those things that have been out of reach all year on the altar to get a good polish, the wax removed. Nooks and crannies are attended to that have been ignored since Christmas. All is done with loving care and in silence.

Christ is entombed and so is our hope—put on hold to burst at dawn with Mary’s encounter in the garden.

Today is a beautiful day here in upstate. I can hear the robins declaring the spring. I am cooped up knowing that I cannot go greet that spring that has not yet come. I hear that some of my Midwest friends are digging out from under a foot of snow. It probably won’t be long before it arrives here. We have not seen the end of this winter, I fear. And despite the spring-like trapping advertised for Easter, the tomb is still cold. So I wait….

The thoughts of Good Friday are still in my head. Susan Russell, president of Integrity and assistant priest at All Saint’s, Pasadena, CA shared in her sermon

“Twenty years ago I got questions from a child wanting to know what’s good about Good Friday.

Today I get emails from children of God wanting to know what’s good about a church that chooses bigotry over the baptized; a communion that places its institutional preservation ahead God’s inclusive love; that seems to fall so short of being Body of Christ it was intended to be. It seems to many that we stand at a Good Friday moment in the church, as we watch those with dogmas they’re willing to kill for focus their resources on schism and division.

My answer is God is not finished with the church yet … or with ANY of us. But just as the dream of God could not be killed on Good Friday, the dream of a church where ALL are fully included in the Body of Christ is still alive and well in the hearts, minds and ministries of countless faithful witnesses throughout the Anglican Communion and beyond.

I continue in the tomb, knowing that God is not yet finished with me, with the Church, the parish yet. Yes, the dream is still there. The hope is still ready to spring forth. Yes, the parking lot will dry up. Yes, there is life after Lent. And most likely there will be more snow. Sping may not come as quickly as I hope but it will come. "The strife is o're and the battle is won." --But not just yet. That is the sentiment of Holy Saturday.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday Five

Being home sick is not the way to get out of sermon writing on Good Friday. I generally cannot preach after the reading of the Passion. What more is there to say? That my Lord gave himself for me, for all those I love and care for? --For those I don’t even like? There is no more humbling thing in the world. It stops me in my tracks. There is nothing more I can say…
Revhrod at Revgals does save the day though, with her Friday five:

I hope that this Friday Five will be a meaningful part of your Good Friday. God's blessings to you on your journey.
1. Our prayer concerns are as varied as we are this day. For whom would you like us to pray?I would pray first for my enemies—those I find it difficult to pray for: my bishop, the bishops who have caused so much confusion in the church and split us so badly because of their ineptitude and their unwillingness to deal with difficult issues like racism, gay issues, women’s ministry, etc. --Those who are morally dishonest in their ministry and continue to cover their mistakes with what they declare as “God’s will” rather than with humility and truth.
I would ask for prayers for my self. I have been sick too much this year and need strength to serve my people well.
2. Are there things you have done or will do today to help the young ones understand this important day in our lives? Since I am staying in bed today, I can’t say that today is something that I would want others to learn from except that sometimes retreat is the better form of valor. At least I am sick enough that I am not tempted to “sacrifice myself” and infect the rest of the parish.
3. Music plays an important part in sharing the story of this day. Is there a hymn or piece of music that you have found particularly meaningful to your celebrations of Good Friday?
It is interesting that today is not only Good Friday; it is J. S. Bach’s birthday. XM radio is playing an “all Bach” program today. When one is a visual person, as I am, Good Friday is often portrayed with the great painting or crucifix. But as a musician, I know that music can move me more. Even his Well-Tempered Clavier can touch what the Cross does to my soul. No words will suffice. Hopefully I will hear Christ Lag en Todesbanden sometime today and weep.
4. As you hear the passion narrative, is there a character that you particularly resonate with?
Reading the Passion is like looking at a painting. All the characters are necessary to the painting’s conformation. I try not to enter into the picture because all the parts are already there. I am not left out because I am the observer, necessary for the painting to have meaning. In all the Ignatian prayer that I used to do, I was never successful at entering into the scene of the Passion. I didn’t realize for years that Ignatian prayer forms are not especially helpful for me—but the Passion needs to have witnesses. I am the witness. I am the one who has to stand powerless and watch my salvation wrought by someone who has given his all for me. And the job of the witness is to tell the story. So I watch the whole story opening in my heart. The story of love that goes beyond death.
5. Where have you seen the gracious God of love at work lately?For the past 6 or more years I have seen too much of the warring in Church settings to not be a bit jaded by the work of the Church. But for the past 7 months I have watched a small group of people live out their faith in a way that I have not seen in many a year. This little parish has ministered to the dying, the families of the dying, to the young, to the old, to themselves in ways that has taken my breath away. I have watched them begin to grow—not because I am there, but because they faced their need for real pastoral ministry and took on that responsibility. I have watched people continue to struggle with what is needed, not just what is wanted on financial issues and at the same time be willing to trust that God will provide what they need.
In the light of how this parish has ministered to my jaded and sin-sick soul, I am beginning to have some faith in the Church again. God is Good—even on Friday.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Sermon I wanted to preach on Maudy Thursday

Maundy Thursday: First Eucharist

My friend Elizabeth Kaeton, is a priestly colleague. We met at seminary almost 30 years ago now when I was a senior and she came to scout out which seminary she wanted to attend. I must admit I was taken with this woman even then. She was a precociously “out” lesbian with a partner, raising seven children between them at a time when I was still trying to figure out who or what I was. We have gotten back together during this time of the “Great Schism” of the Episcopal Church and I count her as one of my dear sistahs of the faith.

She has not had an easy time of it, but she has become one of the eloquent voices for LGBT folk in the Episcopal Church, but more importantly, as Rector of the large Episcopal Church in Chatham, NJ she continues to be pastor and priest to a whole bunch of folks. I share this story with you hoping you will get the meaning of what Eucharist means. It was the sermon I wanted to preach tonight, but as I am voiceless, I must resort to posting.

The Radical Orthodox Rabbi
by Elizabeth Kaeton

I was asked to go to a local facility - one of those "one-stop-shopping" Residential/ Skilled Nursing /Rehabilitative / Alzheimer / Hospice facilities that are flourishing here in the Northeast corridor - to do the baptism of a 75 year old woman who is a resident there, who had recently been transferred to the Hospice Unit.

Her deceased husband had been Roman Catholic and had insisted on proper instruction and baptism for their two children - one now a Presbyterian and the other an Episcopalian.

She had always refused Communion because she had never been baptized. As she has been preparing for her eventual death, she asked that she be baptized because, she says, she is now ready. At the age of 75.

"I'm doing it for me, not for anyone else," she said. "I'm doing it because I want to, because I want to see Jesus when I get to heaven."

I've visited with her a few times to make certain she understood what was being offered. I didn't want her to think this was some kind of "Magical Mystery Tour" but to be fully cognizant of the Sacrament of Baptism and Eucharist, and the grace being offered to her through them.

We decided to do the Baptism this morning, when her daughter and son and grandchildren could be present. It was a joy and an honor and a privilege to baptize her and then preside at her first reception of Holy Eucharist. Some readers of this Blog will be relieved to know that at no time were any rubrics or canons injured, violated or compromised. All the 't's' were crossed and all the 'i's' were dotted.

As I was leaving her room, I came upon a most amazing site. An orthodox Rabbi was heading into the Dining Room - his seven children and wife in tow - immediately recognizable as orthodox by his beard, fedora, tzitzit or prayer tassels, tallit or prayer shawl and teffilin or phylactery (I think I spelled everything correctly. If not, you should excuse me. I am 'goyim' - non-Jew - after all.)

Curious, I followed him in and saw the dining room filled almost to capacity, with others lining up to enter. As I looked around the room, I recognized many there who were not Jewish. The Rabbi saw me standing at the door and said, "Come in, come in. Welcome!"

"Good morning, Rabbi," I said as I smiled.

"We're about to start the Shabbat," he said, "Come!"

He noted the look of hesitancy and surprise that crossed my face as he glanced at my clerical collar and the cross on my neck. "It's okay," he said. "Do you know someone here? Would you like to sit next to them?"

"No," I responded, more curious now than either hesitant or surprised.

"Still, come in. It won't take long before everyone knows everyone."

His wife came to my side, their seven small children came too, like baby ducks following their Mama. "There's plenty to eat. Come," she said with a beautiful smile.

"Let me guess." said her husband, "You're Rabbi is the one from Nazareth. Jesus, right?"

"Right." I said. "Ah, and a good, orthodox Jew he was. He knew Torah and the Shema. But, you know that, right? You have studied his teaching?"

"Yes," I said, surprised if not taken aback.

"Then," he said, "only one question remains: Are you hungry?"

"A little," I offered sheepishly, "Yes, I suppose I am."

"Ah, good! Wonderful! Come, come! Ruth! Ruth! Make a place for our guest. There, can she sit next to you? There you go," he said as he seated me next to Ruth, adding to the rest of the table, "Isn't this wonderful? The whole family is gathering from near and far and we are going to share a most wonderful meal in the name of our most abundant God."

Then, he leaned and whispered into my ear, "You know, like your Rabbi, I have a little bit of the radical in me, too. In Rabbinical School, they tried to teach it out of me, but as you can tell, it didn't work." He laughed and then he and his wife made themselves busy seating the rest of their guests and finishing the preparations for the service.

Before we began, the Rabbi stood at the table and formerly welcomed us to the Shabbat service by first apologizing for conducting the service in Hebrew - "It's the only way I know how to say it," he said while some giggled and others murmured assuringly, "It's okay, Rabbi. You just do your best."

Ruth touched my arm and whispered, "Did your parents teach you Hebrew?"

"No," I said, "I'm sorry."

"Ach!" she said, "Such a shame! I don't know what's wrong with parents today! Tsk! Tsk!"

The Rabbi explained that what we were about to do three things: First and foremost, we were to remember the gift of our freedom, our liberation from bondage, gained for us by the Great Prophet Moses in ancient Egypt. "Such a gift," said the Rabbi, "should always be remembered, always celebrated."

Second, said the Rabbi, we were to remember the gift of the Sabbath, a time of resting from our labors to remember and give praise to the God who created us, who also rested from his labors. "Work, work, work!" said the Rabbi, "Sheesh! We could work ourselves to death and never enjoy the fruits of our labor! That's not what God wants, does he?" The congregation shook their heads collectively as negative responses filled the air.

Finally, the Rabbi told us that we will have a taste of the Messianic times, when God will send "An Anointed One" to bring true shalom - true, lasting peace, without poverty or war, disease or famine - to the whole earth. That will be a most wonderful time, won't it?" "Yes!" shouted one of the Rabbi's children joyfully as everyone chuckled.

He said some silent prayers, as his wife lit the candles and then he said the kiddush over the wine and the prayers over the bread. I got "Barukh ata Adonia, Eloheinu Melekh ha-olam . . ." (Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe . . .).

And you know, nothing else really mattered.

I found myself weeping (I know. I can be such a girly-girl). Never had I experienced such radical hospitality in any religious service. My gender, my sexual orientation, my clerical collar, not even the small cross which hung from my neck had kept me from fully participating in that service.

I felt my heart pounding wildly in my chest and a surge of joy that must have been like that felt by the tax collectors and women caught in adultery, the widows and orphans, and all the other sinners when invited to Table with that thoroughly orthodox rabbi who didn't have his radical nature "taught" out of him.

I also understood at a deep level in my soul why that ancient "woman of ill repute" anointed the head of her Rabbi with expensive perfume, and wept at his feet and wiped them with her hair.

I didn't have much time to think on these things at the moment because, almost immediately the Oneg Shabbat Service began, which followed by a wonderful Shabbat luncheon of fish and salad and challah bread and the wine which had been blessed, all lovingly prepared by the Rabbi's wife.

Then, we sang songs."Take Me Out To the Ball Game." "My Wild Irish Rose." And, "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." Oh, and someone insisted on singing "The Dreidel Song." We all joined in the singing and laughed and laughed and laughed.

Someone else did a solo of "Sunrise, sunset" from Fiddler on the Roof, accompanied by someone who played the sadly out of tune piano in the corner. When the man who sang it, a big, strapping Irishman whose red hair had turned to silver, finished, he apologized because, he said, it was the only Jewish song he knew. It brought both the Rabbi and his wife to tears as they thanked him.

We talked with each other and some of us danced with the children, and an absolutely marvelous time was had by all. As we left the dining room, I heard the Rabbi and his wife and some of his children say to everyone, "Thank you for coming. We'll see you next month. You'll come? Good! Stay well."

You know, something happened to me in that service. It was transformational. I do believe Jesus was there and fully approved. I saw his joy reflected in the eyes of that orthodox, slightly radical Rabbi.

I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in the room where we did, in fact, experience a foretaste of the Messianic Banquet, where true Shalom, was present.

This morning, none of us was poor. None of us was hungry. None of us was sick. We ate and drank until we were full. When we danced, we forgot our aches and pains, our age and even our diagnosis or that of our neighbor. We were one. We were reconciled with ourselves, our God and each other. We were at peace.

That's what is supposed to happen at our Eucharist. Be honest. Beyond the personal, individual sense of spiritual satisfaction at the altar rail, when is the last time you felt like that in community?

Okay, we've got our rubrics and our canons. I get that. But, surely, as followers of the orthodox, radical Rabbi Jesus, the Christ, we can do better than rubrics and canons. Surely, our Eucharists, when we remember the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and He is truly and fully present, can be a place were, in His Most Precious and Blessed Name, all are welcome, all can sit at table, all can hear the ancient words of prayer and not understand with our heads, but know them deep in our hearts and souls.

What evangelism! What a way to transform the world!

Then again, isn't that more nearly the orthodox, radical Way of Jesus?

I came home and, as I went about my weekend tasks, I found myself weeping again. I wept for the woman I baptized this morning - for the years she was kept from the fullness of community and family because of rubrics and canons.

I wept that some of my 'radical' nature has apparently been 'taught out of me'.

I wept because when Jesus, The Messiah, The Anointed One, comes again to bring true Shalom to all the world, I will have some explaining to do.

I wept with deep joy and gratitude for the simple question, "Are you hungry?" followed by the simple invitation to "Come."

I wept because I'm ashamed to admit it: I didn't know just how hungry I've been.

I wept remembering these words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Cowardice asks the question: Is it safe?
Expediency asks the question: Is it politic?
Vanity asks the question: Is it popular?
But conscience asks the question: Is it right?
And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right."

Shalom, chaverim. Shalom, my friends.

Comment: As a called pastor in the ELCA, I do follow the rules and rubrics of the Church. It is my job. I do respect the contingencies of both the ELCA and the Episcopal Church. But at times one must return to the radicality of the sacrament, to that incredible wonder of being one. Jesus invited not only his friends but his betrayers and those who would reject him too. They knew the radical sense of welcome on the first Maundy Thursday so long ago.

It is too easy to forget the meaning of what that first Eucharist was all about. There is such a temptation to try to “protect” that wonderful feast from those who would not respect the event.

Just last Sunday, I turned over the job of distributing the bread to one of my deacons because I was coming down with a cold. My youngest member comes to the altar rail in the arms of her mother and has just begun to reach out for the Sacrament. But because there are still problems with adoption procedures, she has not yet been baptized. The deacon [and adopted grandfather of the child] promptly gave the host to the child. “Yes!” my radical self said. May she never remember when she was not welcome at that altar rail—her home before her baptism, her home before she was born.

May you live in the radical hospitality of the Eucharist liberated by love, nourished in love and radically one! Amen

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lent 2008

I have not been writing much. I haven’t had the time--too many funerals, programs and such. And the time between Christmas and Easter this year has been the shortest in years with too many things to cram into it.

I am down with the local crud that is infecting the area. I don’t want to get too far away from my Kleenex box or the bathroom. I visited my doctor today to get some magic pills to get me through the week. My doctor is very active in her Episcopal parish where I once worked. We have sung in the same choir and we know each other’s lives fairly well. She greeted me with “So this is Clergy Hell Week, isn’t it?” And while it might be a bit irreverent, she is so right! There are more services in church this week than at any other time of the year. And invariably I get a cold or loose my voice this week. Hopefully, I will be back in order by Maundy Thursday—and more importantly, not contagious.

But with close proximity to Kleenex and laptop, today does seem to be a time when I can stop and contemplate what Lent has been for me. I took on a couple of disciplines that I rarely do. I gave up sugar –at least the sugar I could control. I was beginning to have the feeling that sugar was becoming addictive for me. I have lost 10lbs since I was last at the dr’s 8 weeks ago. That isn’t half bad. I was surprised that I didn’t have a harder time of it. The only problem is that I was beginning to get a bit cocky about it, which of course, defeated the humility that giving it up was supposed to engender in the first place! The purpose was not to lose weight—the purpose was to offer the gift to God. Oh, well. I love being a Lutheran at times like these—being simultaneous saint and sinner. And Luther did say, “Sin boldly.”

The other thing that I did was to take on the voluminous Constantine’s Sword by James Carroll. I found it more formidable that I had expected because he has so captured much of my own era and development as a Christian. It made me uncomfortable reading it. I am still only a quarter into the book but I am determined to read the sucker.

This book forces me to look at what I have learned over the years as necessary to the Christian message. He shows how the gradual separation between Judaism and Christianity led to the kind of antipathy that has grown into the anti-Semitism that resulted in the Holocaust. And while I not willing to give up all that history or tradition, I have to be very careful how I use the New Testament and the early fathers of the Christian tradition to tell the message of Jesus.
Yesterday, when this malady was still at the drippy nose stage, I had lunch with my rabbi friend. I needed his compassion during Holy Week. I needed to hear that the message of Jesus is still the message that he and I share. It is the message that Jesus came to show us the Father. And when we lose that vision of God we forget why Jesus came.

Both Christians and Jews sinned—we both closed our doors to one another. Through history we found reasons to say that we are not alike, that we don’t want the same things for our children or for our eternal reward. We closed up ideas into dogmas and excluded one another from our hospitality. They accused us of worshipping other gods—we accused them of killing God. And so we continued the scandal of the failure to love.

I was scandalized by Roman Catholicism’s recent return to the Tridentine Reproaches for Good Friday that were jettisoned at Vatican II. They are prayers that Jews may become Christians even though our Lord was a Jew. It is a failure to respect the faith of Jesus—the rabbi, the one who taught a radical hospitality in the name of his Abba—father.

Do I ignore 2000 years of Christian history? Not for a moment! But I do have to challenge that history in the name of God. I must be willing to note that we Christians have been sinners as well as my Jewish brothers and sisters. We have not treated each other well in the name of the God we share. And the time for refocusing our efforts on the split that has alienated one from another is here.

I must be willing to look carefully at the theologies that I have always touted because so many touted them before me. I must be willing to look for the ways that we can share each other’s faith respecting the histories that stand between us. And we must be willing to look with hard eyes at the kind of inhumanity that the failure to do so engenders.

Yes, there have been other attempts at genocide other than the Holocaust. We need but look at Darfur, the Tutsi and the various tribal wars since WWII, but none are done in the name of the Cross as was the Nazi attempt at extermination.

Yes, this Lent has been a changing one for me. I pray that I will be able to live up to the new person that I have become.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Holy Week --Episco-Lutheran Style

Holy Week

One of the differences I find between Lutherans and Episcopalian is how we understand liturgy. For me, the Eucharistic service is a re-enactment of the Last Supper. I dive in and try to relive the experience on so many different levels. So when it comes to Holy Week I am really trying to enter into that last week of our Savior’s life.

For the Lutherans, I find that liturgy is less a re-living as an encounter with Christ. They hang on every word of the sermon as if it were Christ himself preaching. I am always startled when someone quotes me from a few weeks previous. I know I am speaking in wide-sweeping generalities here. But I do notice how much more aural—listeners, Lutherans are than Episcopalians.

This year Holy Week will be different for me. I am going to try to bring Lutherans into my experience of faith—one that requires living into the final week of Jesus. I am not sure it will work, and I may have to learn to arrange the liturgy to fit the ‘listening Lutherans.’ But I would like for them to experience the ‘eyeful’ Episcopalians because I want for them to “feel” Holy Week.

The liturgy of Holy Week invites the faithful to exercise all of their senses. It is colorful. It touches our taste, our sight, our hearing, even our touch. I don’t think I can con the Lutherans into incense, but the smell of the lilies will do something! It invites us to use less of our cognitive skills as it requires us trust our senses as did Mary Magdalen on Easter morning.

If Lutherans can appreciate their sight and Episcopalians appreciate their hearing what a wonderful place the Church might be!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

How's and Why's--or the sermon that had to be written before I could preach the REAL sermon

The past few weeks we have been hearing the Gospel of John. We have heard the story of Nicodemus who was a religious leader who came to Jesus with a theological conundrum in the middle of the night because he didn’t want to be seen consulting with an itinerant rabbi. We heard last week of the Woman and the Well, a Samaritan woman who debated the issue of Living Water with Jesus. And today we hear the story of the Man Born Blind.

In all of these stories we hear not only the experiences of Jesus; we hear the experience of John’s community. The Gospels are not factual histories—that genre of writing had not been invented yet. The Gospels are the stories of Jesus seen through the eyes of a specific community of faith. And so in hear the stories from the Gospel of John we need to what is going on in John’s community that would cause his Gospel to be so different from Matthew, Mark and Luke’s versions.

John was writing sometime at the end of the first century or in the early second. It was a time when there was a total upheaval going on in the religious world of the Middle East. Because the Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed in 70 AD, Judaism was in major disarray. There was no place where the sacrifices were being offered. There was no need for a priestly ministry in Judaism any longer so the Sadducee Party had no meaning. Much of the Torah which discussed the priestly duties was no longer relevant to people’s faith. And in the Pharisee community, rabbinic Judaism was providing the center of that faith.
And in all communities that are trying to conserve their faith—conserve the past for passing on to the future—there became a serious retrenchment movement a foot. This is what John often expresses in his Gospel.

I am very sensitive to the use of the word “Jew” as it is often used in John’s Gospel. It often carries with it 2000 years of anti-Semitism that developed between the writing of the Gospel and the present day. And I would suggest that whenever you read John, you keep in mind that Jesus is not casting aspersions against his own people. It is John who is using terms that were defined differently than we do today.

Today’s story is about a man who was healed of his blindness by Jesus on a Sabbath. Once again, this is a story that has so much in it that I could preach 5 or 6 sermons just on this one passage. And each time I read this passage I find something more. But I would like to touch on the issue of Spiritual Arrogance because I think we see it highlighted in this story.

Evidently the Babylonian Talmud makes no provision for healing on the Sabbath except for those in danger of death. I have a sneaking suspicion that Jesus, from Nazareth and not part of a people who were the remnant of the Babylonian exile, might have been a rabbi who found the theological constraints upon Sabbath work somewhat stuffy. Part of the job of a rabbi was to argue and discuss the decisions of other rabbis. Jesus does heal on the Sabbath in violation of an interpretation of Jewish law. But this story has little do with the kind of work’s righteousness that Christianity has laid at Jewish theological feet for thousands of years. Jesus did that which was practical, humane, pastoral and faithful because he understood God as a God who loved.

Over and over the religious officials ask the blind man, his parents and bystanders how this miracle happened. How is an interesting question—how could a person who has violated one of the Ten Commandments like Jesus had, heal? “In Jesus' culture, people thought of light as a STUFF, a substance that radiated out from itself, a kind of fire that, when present in the human body, could flow out of a person's eyes and allow them to see Someone who couldn't see just didn't have the stuff in them; their body had darkness in it instead of light” so says Dylan Bruer of Sarah Laughed.

Like the scientists of our own day, HOW Jesus had healed was more important to the religious leaders than the more spiritual question: WHY had Jesus healed the blind man? How the man was healed had no meaning except for those who needed to control what was going on in the community. Throughout the Gospels we find that Jesus has come to teach us of the love of the Father. The whole of John’s Gospel is a book of Signs—manifestations of God’s love for the world.

The religious authorities in the Gospel of John are always ones who want to exclude, make boundaries, ask the HOW’s of life, when the questions of WHY are left unasked. Invariably, the religious authorities are seen as those who would try to make theological proofs for the miracles of faith.
The encounter of faith—the encounter with God is a deeply individualized and profoundly personal meeting. It is not a matter of following certain steps, magical formula or various methods. God touches us in remarkably private ways. Often they are fairly mundane ways—so ordinary that we are likely not to even note them.

But all too often we church folk become rather spiritually arrogant. We want everyone else to look like us. We cannot sit still to hear the spiritual experience of others because it isn’t like ours. Whenever I have had to listen to church fights, I have found people unwilling to listen to others. I have also heard those saying more or less “you have to experience God the same way I do to be a member of MY church.” I have heard this in my own denomination. I have heard it among Lutherans. I have heard it from one congregation to another. Underneath such statements, is not strong faith. Underlying this need for sameness is not a living faith. It is a need to be right. And I would suggest to you—from my experience there is no right—in faith. There is only relationship.

Moralism is not faith. It may be religion—but I do not necessarily equate faith and religion either. It may be the HOW’s of the relationship with God rather than the WHY’s . The WHY’s are always about God’s loving. Even in the most confusing aspects of our lives are in the why God is working out his salvation for us. It is always about God’s love for us.

Whenever we get to the place when we know we are being spiritually arrogant, it is time for us to ask why God is doing whatever in our lives. We need to ask ourselves if we can see God’s love like the blind man could see. It is through the seeing of our own blindness that we come to know God in that awesomely mundane way. We begin to see God’s work in the smallest detail of creation and it takes our breath away.
In the mud and saliva of healing we find intimacy in the pragmatic. God makes God’s self apparent not in the how’s of life but simply because God is love because God wants us to know wholeness.