Wednesday, December 30, 2009
--the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in the land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.
Those of us who live in the country know what it means to walk in darkness. It is not uncommon to drive down some of our back roads feeling like we are in a cave with only our measly headlights to guide us. There is always the fear that a deer, or worse, a skunk, will jump out in front of us. If it is snowing we can’t even use our high beams we just have to pick our way carefully. If it is clear, we can see the stars. But even out here in the country there is still some light pollution and it is difficult to see the whole array of the heavens.
In Texas, Christmas time is a light show. The electrical consumption doubles in the state of Texas between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Every building, out building, fence, tree and outhouse is decorated with lights. When you fly into the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport the two cities look like they are ablaze. There is no distinction between night and day. Every house has electric icicles hanging from it. There is no groping to find the driveway there. It wasn’t until I moved to Bainbridge 30 years ago that I found out that icicles were not a GOOD thing. In my mind, they were just pretty decorations, not the telltale signs that your house didn’t have any insulation. Up here in the North we know the difference of dark and light. And so did the people in Isaiah’s day.
They found their way by following the stars in the desert the same way that mariners found their way on the sea. They longed for the light of home the same way we look for a porch light on a snowy night. And Isaiah used this metaphor to remind the people that God would provide them with the kind leadership to leave the political and spiritual darkness that had come upon them. Isaiah warned of the coming captivity of the people of Judah, but he also gave them hope that God would relent and give them a future.
Isaiah tells of a leader who would come to show the way from darkness to light. “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” and for 500 years the people of Judah looked for that child.
Finally in the time of Caesar Augustus, when Quirinius was governor of Syria and the Galilee, that child was born into the tribe of Judah to lead the people out of the political and spiritual malaise into which the people of God had once again fallen. He was to lead the people of God back to living in the light. This child was to know what it meant to be human. But he also was born to know what it meant to be Divine and teach that to us all. He was the Prince of Peace, because when humanity knows the love of God and lives it, peace reigns. He was to familiarize us with the Father—bring us into a common family, all peoples, all tribes, and all faiths for the sake of the whole world.
All ages walk in darkness. All of us personally enter into darkness. It is part of what it means to be human. Even in our light-polluted world where we do not fear the deer or the skunk jumping out in front of us, we still walk in the darkness of doubt, or short-sightedness, or self-absorption, or fear and self-protection. We, too, fumble through life searching for meaning, searching for purpose, searching for connection with others—in short we are looking for that Light of God in our own captivity. We look for the warmth of acceptance, or home, or peace. We often hide from the Light because it is there we see our frailties and shortcomings. But in the Light of God we do not have to hide. We are called not to dwell on our imperfections but to learn from them and sin no more. It is in Christ, that child who was born for us in Bethlehem so long ago, that we can find the wherewithal to trust and let go of fear. This child who was brought to us in a stall in Bethlehem is the Light of the world. It is he who has shown all humanity what it means to totally alive, totally fulfilled, totally satisfied, totally filled with God’s grace.
Tonight, over two thousand years later we still celebrate that moment when God and humanity met and became one. No longer can those of us who claim Jesus as our Lord and Savior find in ourselves only our humanity. In Christ Jesus have had a taste of what it means to be whole and holy. In the Incarnation of Christ we find that the Christian life is not just waiting for the bliss of Heaven. The Christian life is the adventure of drinking deeply of what it means to live fully in the Light of God with the full knowledge of our failings and the full experience of God’s mercy.
Like the shepherds of tonight’s Gospel reading, we too are drawn by the light and music. We too must journey to Bethlehem to see this thing that has been related to us by prophets and sung to us by angel choirs all our lives. We are drawn to the light of home—for it is in Christ we know what we were born for. It is in his name we proclaim our family heritage. It is in his life that we find the pattern for our own.
It is in Christ we know the holiness of our birth. In Him we know not only the particular uniqueness of our personal existence, but we find our commonality with all creation. As we gaze at the manger, we know the lowliness of our birth, even if we were born in a castle. As we look at the tiny fingers of the new born, we see our own hands. As we watch Mary and Joseph we see the love of family and know our mission to pass that love on.
We are a people who have walked in darkness but we know where our Light is. We know that if we do not keep that Christ Light before us, we can opt for fear and dissolution. And all though we celebrate this journey to Bethlehem only once a year, the journey to Bethlehem is something we do daily. Christ is born anew in us each time we live in Christ’s light. Each time we forget ourselves and contribute to the well-being of others we understand why this Child came to us. Each time we stretch ourselves to expand our vision of peace, each time we feed those who are hungry, each time we refrain from vengeance, each time we contribute to the welfare of others we get a glimpse of the light that radiates from that manger—the Light that saves the world.
Tonight we come to Bethlehem, to hear again the story of Christ’s birth and our own. At this altar you are invited to become all that you were hoped to be. In the light of these candles you are drawn to the love of the Father. In the ancient songs and carols you can find your home, that centered place where God and you are made one.
So when you go back to your everyday world next week, someone may ask you, “What did you do for Christmas?” Just answer them, “I went to Bethlehem.” They will probably think you went to Pennsylvania, but you will know better. If they ask, “what did you do there?” You can tell them you saw the hope for the world. You saw in Christ the hope that walking from the darkness into the Light brings. You saw the hope that says that God and humanity have met and are made one. You saw that in Christ that we can do all things in the name of the One who sent him. In Bethlehem you saw the Christ Child but you also saw yourself and all the hope that God has in you. AMEN
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Once the last Sunday of Advent is over, I start getting Christmasy. I break out my red and green sweater and fuzzy bear-snowflake vest. By then all the gifts I ordered online are arriving and I start thinking about Christmas dinner.
Most of the time J and I have a quiet Christmas Day following all the Christmas Eve services we celebrate. This year J has a Christmas Day service so I will get to have the kitchen all to myself to fix the roast of beef and Yorkshire pudding—the singular nod to our English heritage. There are generally telephone calls to family members and perhaps a movie in the afternoon.
But the real Christmas is in the Christmas Eve service wherever it is. It is in the ancient ritual and music that the world is made right for me. Candle lit faces sing a truth that can only be understood in song and poetry.
Christmas is not an event, some historical moment in time encapsulated in ritual. Christmas is a life lived reminded of how intimate God is. It is a reality of Divine presence and who dwells among all that I know and think of. With Christmas, God is never “up there”. God is constantly within my world whether it is as a child or friend or parent, or creator or spirit beyond the universes. And no matter how far God may seem to be in my restlessness, or how close in my consolation; Christmas Eve breathes God’s intimate breath into my soul and gives me the oxygen of faith to face whatever life holds for me for the next year.
Join us at 7:30 Thursday evening at St. Luke’s for this wonder moment of faith and Christian nourishment. Celebrate, worship and praise the God who comes to be with us within a community who cherish his presence.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Friday night J. and I went out for dinner. As is our habit, we discuss the readings for the coming Sunday. There is a real plus to living with another preacher. “What are the readings?” she asked. “Two readings on Joy and ‘you brood of vipers’, I said and we both laughed. Sometimes our readings seem to be at real odds with one another. The theme for today is JOY and yet our Gospel reading seems decidedly NOT joyful. So what are we to find in today’s readings, or as Luther would have asked “Was ist das?” or “What does this mean?”
In the Zephaniah reading for today we hear words of pardon and return. The prophecy of Zephaniah was written before the Babylonian Exile and tells of the wrath of God that will come because the people of Judah have strayed from worshipping God. They have not followed the Torah—the teachings of God. Zephaniah prophesies that as the punishment of the people of Judah will be great, so will the joy be great when they return from exile. It is this joy that the people of God celebrate. It is the joy that comes after repentance. It should be noted that joy comes after taking responsibility for their sin against God.
In the reading from Philippians, Paul is writing to a community that has been under persecution. Instead of commiserating or cosseting the people of Philippi, he counsels them to “rejoice in the Lord always.” He calls them to be grateful for the misadventures that have befallen them. Because Paul knows that it is through their joy, the truth of Christ’s sacrifice will be witnessed. The good news of Christ’s resurrection will be proclaimed in their sufferings.
Even in the canticle from Isaiah that we read responsively instead of a psalm this morning, we find joy coming in the face of what should be fear. Confidence in God’s salvation brings forth joy, not fear. So our readings really do have some commonality.
John Baptist comes to the people from the desert in the Gospel to preach to the “riff-raff”, the tax collectors, the Maddoffs and Sillings of his day and the Roman soldiers, the gangbangers and mobsters of society. John Baptist does not say ‘believe in the Messiah who is coming’. He says ‘turn your life around.’ ‘Make changes in what you are doing if you want to know the joy of God.’ John was teaching about the coming new age when God’s teachings, God’s Torah would rule the land. He preached that Israel would return to its former glory and God’s law would be the law of the land once again. No longer would the injustice of Roman law prevail. God’s teaching would call from all those living in Palestine a kind of just living that would demand that the tax collectors be honorable and the police serve all the people, not just the Roman landholders or merchants.
Joy, in the minds of the prophets, was the consequence of living out God’s hope and righteousness in community. Joy was the result of living worthy of one’s calling. This is not just some “happy, happy, joy, joy” passing pleasure. It is what comes to those who live out their faith with intention and commitment. Joy was the gift that comes when Christians act on their faith rather than just believe. Joy is how Christians live when they have little concern about themselves and more concern about others.
Often when the days darken, the cold sets in and the idiocy of a consumerism holiday season takes hold, I tend toward grumpiness. This is not an incipient Scroogism, nor is it some deep-seated dislike of Christmas. From the number of people who talk to me during November and December, it is the complaint of many of us. We often wonder why this depression at a time when everyone is singing about joy. And I think it is because we have lost this biblical understanding of joy. We have opted for “fun” or “pleasure” or some passing FEELING rather than that deeply experienced understanding of God’s gift of joy—of that sense of life is “right”, that there is balance and wholeness to our lives in Christ.
Joy is a type of contentment—not the ‘I have finally arrived and I don’t have to change anymore’ kind of contentment. But the kind of contentment that comes with having lost my own self in the service of others. It is a kind of wholeness that does not rest on our labors, but rests in the understanding that God is in charge of our future. The gift of joy comes to us when we find in our faith not ways of manipulating others to believe the way we do, but by evangelizing by exemplifying the courage to become better persons.
Advent is that time when the Church allows us to embrace that sense of Joy. It is a time when we can provide a community of faith that recognizes that we never can be all we want to be. It is a community of faith that recognizes that we are all trying to be more Christ-like than we were last year. In Advent we as a Church understand that we are all works-in-progress, and our goal is still before us. And in Advent we hear of those attributes that God offers us of Hope, Love and Joy that come when we turn our lives over to Christ.
We need not fear John Baptist facing us with our sinfulness as a “a brood of vipers” because we know that it is in repentance that God’s joy comes upon us. We need not fear persecution because in the sacrifice we find God’s joy in us. We need not fear our mistakes because in God’s mercy we know a joy that passes all words. We need not fear a new age because God’s Torah—God’s way is shown to us in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. We need not fear our grumpiness or depression because it is that abiding gift of wholeness and oneness that God provides us in the midst of our tribulations, our sacrifices and service to others.
In Hebrew there are ten different words that are translated ‘joy.’ In Greek there are at least six. English has several that could be substituted for ‘joy,’ but we are all know what joy means even if we cannot find the word for it.Joy is the result of our dependence upon God alone. And Joy is the result when we have worked hard with the grace of God to transform ourselves into that selfless, Christ-like, whole, person working to bring balance to our world.
In Judaism, our Lord’s faith, the faithful person was one who did “mitzvot”. The word actually means "blessing. But it often conotes an act or deed of goodness or righteousness. We Protestants often get a bit uncomfortable with good acts or works. But a ‘mitzvah’ is the blessing of God putting the world back in balance in the face of human sin through our acts of kindness and fidelity. In John Baptist’s call to baptism, the tax collector and the Centurion ask John Baptist “What can we DO?” John Baptist tells them very succinctly what they are to do: ‘Do not extort’, ‘Do not bully’. ‘Change your life.’ ‘Bring balance back into the community by acting justly.’
Joy, that sense of rightness and balance is there for us when we surrender our lives. For those who know they are saved, hope, love and joy are all part of our daily experience of God. When we do “mitzvot”, those blessings of kindness, those acts of balance, we participate in the God’s reparation of Creation. So I invite you to find things that you can DO to bring about joy in the lives of others. I invite you to do acts of bringing balance into the world, acts of restorative care for others for in it you will find the joy of Christ in them. AMEN
Friday, December 11, 2009
Often times congregations are unaware of something called ‘Good Church Order.’ It is a manner of operating a congregation or a synod or diocese in a manner that is workable for all. Bishops, priests and pastors and deacons are all responsible for good church order. Some of Church Order is published as rules of order, by-laws or canons but others are merely understood as custom or recognized as ‘polite’ behavior. Some of these customs bridge denominational lines. One of these is: “a pastor does not return to his/her former congregation without the express invitation of the current pastor.”
The social dynamics of churches are often volatile things. Given the political climate of our times, it is not surprising that the emotional climate of most congregations in the US is precarious at best. There are many things that upset folks in our churches these days and the management of good church order is often more like riding a bucking bronco than anything else. The surprise entrance of a former pastor into a current congregation is difficult and often becomes an unsettling element in the parish’s life. When a former pastor attended a church event and asked the present chair of council if he could preach that Sunday, I was stunned. Not only had he ignored the good order of the church, he had crossed the boundaries of the development of affection that were trying to be built by me in my current parish. He wasn’t being mean or malevolent. He was just trying to touch that missing sense of love he had known while pastor.
One of the sacrifices that clergy must make in their lives as priests and pastors is the friendship with those they have served. It is the MOST difficult sacrifice I have had to make in order to be a priest. I work hard at the friendships in the pastor/parishioner relationships in my congregations. I try to give my all to these people in Christ’s name. I spend myself for them. That is not only my job; it is my calling. Most of the time, that service, love, affection and respect in loving them is reciprocated. I get loved back and that feels wonderful. It is in that reciprocal love Christ is most often identified and glorified. It is fulfilling, healing to others and myself. It is the most Christ-like way to lead the community of the faithful.
However, when I leave that position as pastor or rector, that particular dynamic of love and reciprocity is ended for good church order. I cannot expect to give or get the kind of love that I did when I was leading the congregation. It is one of the down sides of my vocation. Even if I have spent my whole life in one congregation, I cannot expect to depend upon those friendships when I leave because those friendships must be reoriented to the new pastor or rector. It is my duty to those I have loved and served not to return. It is my duty to cause no undue tension in the congregation or focus the attention on my needs for love and friendship. It sometimes means that I am lonely after I have left a church. I want to say “My friends can change their relationship from pastor to friend.” But quite frankly most can’t.
When I leave a church there are voids in my life that hurt unmercifully. But that is a sacrifice I must make for good church order. It is the final act of loving for a parish I can do. And even if my successor is a numbskull, a pitiful preacher, or a unloving SOB or not even there yet, I cannot step in to that parish, or even have friends in that parish, until that present pastor has his/her feet on the ground and has developed the reciprocal love that is necessary for his/her leadership in that congregation.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Most of you remember that in October I went out to participate in a drug intervention of my friend in St. Paul, MN. I have known Cece since she was 16 and watched her grow into a well-functioning neo-natal nurse, be a contributing part of society, mature into a 40-something woman that was capable and alert, yet after an injury and extensive surgery became a recluse, drugged, hoarding, cat lady unable to pay her bills or take care of herself. My friend Beth and I confronted Cece with her addiction. It was not a happy event. Cece’s denial was strong and angry. She was afraid to see herself as an addict. It was hard to set a mirror before her and ask her to look at what she had become because of the disease of addiction. But the love we had for her was strong and I believe it got through the drugged fog she lived in. This week I got a long email from her. She has completed the initial phase of rehab and has chosen to go into another phase of rehab that will give her the skills to address the world without drugs. She actually thanked us for intervening.
Love is the theme for this Sunday of Advent. Now, I have spoken lots about love—it is the foundation of our relationship with God. Often it is that soft, gentle love that we want to hear about. We want to hear how God goes after the lost sheep, or welcomes us home like the Prodigal Son’s Father. We love to hear the stories of how we are fed and cosseted by God’s saving grace. But sometimes God’s love is a much more terrifying kind of love—like the love that my friend Cece had to face when she had to look at herself in rehab and see that she had become a drug addict no different from the homeless guy on the street.
Adventual love is the kind of love that hears John Baptist’s cry to “prepare the way of the Lord.” Adventual love is a call to look at ourselves and see where we have fallen from the image that God has for us. Adventual love is ‘tough love’, in which God says to us: “I know you are better than you are behaving right now, and I am giving you a chance to do something about it.” And God holds up a mirror for us and shows us who we really are. That is tough love.
Adventual love does not have to show itself in our lives during Advent. Often times that Adventual love catches us when we have made a real fool of ourselves or when we have run away from our failings rather than face them. But that voice from the wilderness is always there—“prepare a place for God in your life.” Until we are willing to move the barriers to the love God has for us, we can never really know that healing love of God.
Adventual love is the kind of love that says we can risk God’s presence in our lives. It says that when we are loved we can face the shame that we carry, we can admit the sinfulness of our hearts, and we can begin the process of forgiving ourselves because God already has. The kind of tough love that God holds out for us is the kind of love that allows us to love others through their faults—a love that can love through the hurt. It is the kind of love we want to be loved by.
When I began my career in ministry—this was long before I was ordained, I began to study Scripture. It was not long after Vatican II and I was listening to and being taught by teachers who had been liberated from the limitations of Catholic dogma to teach the truths of Scripture. To me it was thrilling. It opened up the Scripture to teach me how God’s love was alive and pertinent to me today. It taught me the history, but it also taught me how the truth of the stories could speak to me in my own time. As I went on in my journey in faith I understood that I was called to the Episcopal priesthood, but more importantly I was to teach others how Scripture impacted their lives.
During the past 10 to 15 years I have seen a reaction going on in the greater Church to Scripture that dismays me. I have seen both clergy and lay opting for a kind of scriptural literalism that is quite alien to our Episcopal or Lutheran traditions. I see people read the story of Adam and Even as if it were stuck in some historical time instead of reading it as if Adam and Eve were US—-letting us seen that our inability to take the responsibility for our actions expels us from the Eden of truth. The story of the Fall is not about what happened back then! It is about what is happening in our lives NOW when we do not listen to God’s voice, when we disobey God’s hopes for us.
When we do not attend to the social contract of how we govern ourselves and ignore the gradual take-over by moneyed interests, or fail in our goodness to care for one another in society, are we not like those in the time of Noah that were drowned in the Flood? Have we not allowed our society to become corrupt because of our lack of attention? And will we not bring our world to destruction if we do not attend to our sense of loving community or the needs of our frail Creation?
Does not the story of Lazarus and Dives, the parable that Jesus told remind us that we have beggars on our streets here in Sidney, and we have been cheap and parsimonious towards them? The Bible is our mirror, Brothers and Sisters. The Bible reminds us of God’s love and how we fail in that love. The Bible is Adventual love—that tough love that God gives us to help us become what God intends for us --when we surrender to that incredible lightness of God’s yoke of faithfulness.
In the reading from Malachi this morning we hear of the messenger that God will send. He is not a warm, sweet Baby Jesus:
"But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap;
he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness."
The Messiah that Malachi predicts is a God who will love us with tough love—who will scrub us with LAVA soap, who will refine us through difficult times, who will make our offerings of service and worship perfect through the tough love that demands from us our best. God’s love is both the all-embracing love of the lost sheep as well as the well-tested love of those who have failed and have been redeemed. We cannot help but pass this kind of love on when we have known what it means to be saved.
In this Advent season, allow yourselves to read the Bible. Allow the stories in it mirror you to yourself and allow yourselves to see the habits or deeds that are not what God intends for you. Choose one of them and offer it to God as your gift. Let God take that habit, that attitude, that way of doing things from you as you allow Christ’s refining fire to work in you. Read your Bible. (If you don’t have one, I will give you one.) Allow it to mirror you in the light of Christ’s love. Surrender to God’s washing so that you may be an offering of righteousness, of wholeness and balance, of kindness and generosity as a response to God’s love for you. AMEN
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Grocery shopping during the Thanksgiving season, especially the day before Thanksgiving is a major chore. Thanks be to God I got most of mine done on Monday. The required turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, etc are set out so that everyone can see them. But for some reason they are not on the shelf where I can find them the rest of the year. I am so used to ignoring the “special displays” that I can’t find what I need. All I have to pick up now is ice cream and flowers.
We are having over 4 women friends. This is going to be a “hen Thanksgiving” and I am looking forward to it. Nothing is too different when the group is all women except that half the group is not in front of the TV watching the traditional football rivalries. Such a group is usually missing family but we enjoy the chance to tell funny stories, argue politics without being shouted down and try out our favorite recipes with each other.
I think I want to ask everyone at the table to name what they are thankful for during the prayer before dinner. I am always thankful for my congregation and the Church. I am thankful for a warm home and good health. I am thankful that I have friends who come and help J and I celebrate the feast. But I have prayers for friends who have died this past week and other friends who have gotten bad health reports. I have prayers for people who have no possibility of having a feast or those who are lost in dementia and don’t know it is a feast. I have prayers for my nation and thanksgivings for those who have made it strong--- from those Pilgrims who feasted with the Indians so long ago to those who now stand watch all over the globe.
I am thankful for 65 years of Thanksgivings and how they have molded me to have an attitude of gratitude. But most of all I am thankful for a faith that has been flexible enough to embrace and love those who have come into my life. I am thankful for the chance to be a servant of God in the Church and the grace of perseverance to remain faithful to that God who loves me despite all the temptations to walk along other paths. And I give thanks that there will be more opportunities to give thanks.
Rest in peace, Gingie and Jim. Your thanksgivings are complete. I give thanks for your friendships.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Friday Five: Thanksgiving Thoughts
Jan has given us an interesting Friday Five by posting this poem:
Lying around all day
with some strange new deep blue
weekend funk, I'm not really asleep
when my sister calls
to say she's just hung up
from talking with Aunt Bertha
who is 89 and ill but managing
to take care of Uncle Frank
who is completely bed ridden.
Aunt Bert says
it's snowing there in Arkansas,
on Catfish Lane, and she hasn't been
able to walk out to their mailbox.
She's been suffering
from a bad case of the mulleygrubs.
The cure for the mulleygrubs,
she tells my sister,
is to get up and bake a cake.
If that doesn't do it, put on a red dress.
--Ginger Andrews (from Hurricane Sisters)
So this Friday before Thanksgiving, think about Aunt Bert and how she'll celebrate Thanksgiving! And how about YOU?
1. What is your cure for the "mulleygrubs"?
Generally when I am really down in the mouth, I try to be with people. As an extrovert, other folks who aren’t blue are the folks I need to be with. Sometimes I just go out to a restaurant and eavesdrop on conversations at other tables—not in a malicious way, but just to hear others enjoying themselves, or I will read a book with other people around me where I can look up and know that I am not alone.
2. Where will you be for Thanksgiving?
I am cooking for J and four other women I know. I love to cook and love to have friends over. It will be a good time.
3. What foods will be served? Which are traditional for your family?
Typical turkey, dressing with almonds and apple, a fresh cranberry, walnut and celery gelatin relish that goes with the turkey well, a green veggy. No wine this year as I have folks in recovery coming but that is fine with me. Friends are bringing the desert and other friends are bringing something that they like.
4. How do you feel about Thanksgiving as a holiday?
Thanksgiving is always a family day. But I haven’t spent a family T’giving since the year I went to MS to help after Katrina. My family is pretty scattered emotionally at present so I doubt if we will ever get it together like when Mom was alive. I think we gathered as much for her than anything else.
5. In this season of Thanksgiving, what are you grateful for?
I am not sure at the moment. I am always thankful for my faith and the congregation I serve. I am thankful that I am well and have people who love me and who I love. But I am about to go to the Diocesan Convention at which the Presiding Bishop is going to be speaking. I am disturbed that the PB has not spoken out about the movement in Uganda to criminalize homosexuality and the voices of African bishop calling for the execution of people because they are gay. I went to a funeral last night of a colleague that was younger than I. I saw more clergy there than I have seen at any diocesan function since I have been back in the diocese. It reminded me of my ordination though it was not as joyful. But it was a strained group. We seem to have nothing in common—the Church does not sustain us as a family any more. Perhaps the Diocesan Convention this afternoon will help us find some commonality. I pray that it is so.
BONUS: Describe Aunt Bert's Thanksgiving.
Ginger and her sister fly into Little Rock and rent a 4x4. They stop at the local fancy grocery in Little Rock and then head to Aunt Berts and Uncle Franks’. They surprise them with turkey and dressing and all the trimmings. They spend the afternoon and evening watching football with Uncle Frank and washing the dishes with Aunt Bert. They find that the funky mood that they have been in all over the country has dissipated. It will be something that they will remember the rest of their lives.
Monday, November 16, 2009
I attended the ordination of the first woman priest in the Diocese of Ft. Worth, TX. For as long as I have been a part of the Episcopal Church, that diocese has said that women were unworthy to serve the people of God. I remember hearing one of the bishops saying that “For me to lay my hands on a woman would be no different than my laying hands on a cow, she still wouldn’t be a priest.” Thanks be to God, those bishops have left the Episcopal Church. They have set their ideas totally in the past, not on what is new that the Holy Spirit is doing in the Church and throughout the world.
When I was ordained in 1983, I knew I was doing something that most could not yet understand. I remember a layman on the interviewing committee of my first call fussing about having to interview a woman because “no woman was going to be HIS priest.” In the interview he did a 180 degree change and became one of my greatest supporters. It wasn’t so hard to have a woman at the altar they began to agree, it was more important to have the “right” person at the altar.
All too often we don’t get who we want when we call a new pastor or rector to the congregation we attend. We want someone who will be OUR pastor, OUR priest, OUR minister. No one cleric can fulfill that role and no one cleric SHOULD try to fulfill that role. The only thing that a cleric can do is be faithful to the God as he/she knows and share that fidelity with others. There can be no ownership of clergy by either the laity or the bishop. There can only be the invitation to share the life of Christ with one another.
Each day it is incumbent upon me to remain faithful—to serve as Christ would have me. Sometimes I don’t do it very well but that is my prayer each morning and my confession each night. Sometimes I can fulfill some folks expectations and sometimes I don’t even come close. And then there are the days that I don’t even fulfill MY expectations, but that is always the plan for the journey.
As I share this ministry with others I listen to so many who are discouraged by the loss of membership and the shifting understanding of the meaning of Church. Some who are close to retirement or who are in retirement mourn the loss of status they once had. They grumble about expectations of the faithful or the passivity of the laity. And yet it is often the clergy who have initiated that passivity by taking over or micromanaging things. It is tempting to catch this malaise of clerical attitude. But for some reason I can’t. Yes, the Church universal is taking a beating at the moment. Mostly because we (clergy and lay) have become passive rather that taking responsibility for the faith we have been invited to share. But God is still present in the world and in our Church. Watching a fellow sister become ordained in a place where it has been verboten for years was thrilling. It says that God is working; God is still raising up those who will share the message and God will raise us up to do the work God has given us to do. Halleluia!
Friday, November 6, 2009
Songbird has provided a new Friday Five.
There's a new baby on my street, a double PK whose Mom and Dad are Methodist pastors and church planters. I'm hoping to go over and meet her today. I love new babies, the way they smell and their sweet little fingers and toes. Little K has me thinking about all the new things that please us with their shiny freshness.
Please share with us five things you like *especially* when they are new.
1. New Clothes- I love how they fit and how they look. They generally don’t look the same after a wash—atleast in our washing machine.
2. Fresh Veggies—I like to go to the market or the grocery the day I am going to cook them rather than put them in the frige.
3. A new book—the crack and the smell of opening a new book. But then again I love to open old books too.
4. New Resturants—I love to try out new places. I am glad I live in a small city. If I lived in NYC I would be broke. But new resturants are fairly uncommon here so I don’t break the bank.
5. New car. I am not crazy about the new car smell, but I do love the way it handles and the quiet way it moves on the highway.
Monday, November 2, 2009
A colleague went to Israel some years ago. While he was there, he had to have his car tuned. It was in those days when it took only a screw driver to and a gap gage to tune the sparkplugs. The mechanic adjusted the car by the sound until all the coughing and sputtering of the idle moved into a place when all the cylinders began to work together and began to purr. The mechanic stepped back with satisfaction. “Tsedek” he said in Hebrew. “It is righteous!”
It was a use of the word “Tsedek” I had not ever heard before, because the word in Hebrew is usually translated “Justice or Righteous”. But I believe that it is the mechanic’s understanding of the word that helps us understand what the Wisdom reading means this morning.
When I read that “…the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them…” I want to know what it means to be righteous. In western Christianity we often translate “tzedek” as “saint”, often giving the ‘righteous’ all kinds of miracle working powers or extraordinary abilities or talents that perhaps the majority did not have. But St. Paul writes to the various churches in the epistles and usually calls the people who follow Jesus “saints” and then he chastises them for all the things that they are doing wrong. So we need to find another way to understand what the word means.
The best way of describing a Tzedek is one who tries to make the world a better place by trying to bring the world into harmony. They may be called the Righteous or Saints or just plain “good folks”. But they are the ones who understand the joy of knowing and being known by God in Christ Jesus.
Personally I have been in the presence of those who I know will be considered a saint sometime in the future. One was Mother Theresa of Calcutta and the other, Desmond Tutu of South Africa. Both of these people were just plain ordinary people whose mission in life was to “make things right”. There is an aura about them that exude peace and a deep sense of hope. They are people who have suffered, and seen suffering yet knew that suffering is not the end.
All Saints’ Day celebrates that sense of hope—that sense that life can be “tzedek”, “in tune”, righteous or holy when we allow God’s love and peace to guide us. This does not mean that we become doormats, or opt for ‘peace at any price’. ‘Tzedek’ is quite the opposite. It calls for an honesty that brings us into harmony with those around us.
In the reading from Revelation we find John the Divine explaining his vision to a people who suffered being conquered once again, whose homeland has been savaged , who have lost their sense of themselves through the Jewish Wars. He sees in his vision, new hope, a “New Jerusalem”, without a Temple. It will not be a city where there are those who fight about who has the right to live there or visit there. GOD will be there. As Pastor Marilyn Sanders taught us last Lent, this is not a reading about heaven, but of the kind of life that God can help us create in this world. God makes all things new—God is the beginning and the end. The New Jerusalem is not place where people rule—it is any place where God’s “shalom” and “tzedek” are lived out.
But it is in the Gospel reading from John that we hear of what it means to be raised from the dead. The story of Lazarus coming forth from the tomb is a foretaste of what is to come in Jesus. This story tells of Jesus raising one who is truly deceased, his friend Lazarus. It is this miracle which is at the center of Christianity. It is reminds us that resurrection is not just for the Son of God—it is for those who are his friends. It is a reuniting of a man with his family and friends. But most of all, this story tells the followers of Jesus that Jesus is the Son of God. The miracles that are worked by Jesus focus on his loving-kindness but most of all on his ability to “make things right”. Like God, it is Jesus’ righteousness that is to be seen, he is ‘tzedek.’
Today we remember those who have become “Tzedek” who have entered into the realm of God who know the harmony of God’s presence as they have never known. Today we remember those who have died and who have entered into that presence and we name them. During the Intercessions we will repeat those whom we have lost their physical presence but who are among the righteous, among the saints. I invite you to name and give thanks for those who taught you righteousness, who taught you to be ‘in tune’ with your life and your God.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Katherynzj has said:
In honor of BE Three I thought I'd offer up a Friday Five of lifesavers. I'm going on our cruise (are you?) because I am excited about meeting up with my blogging buddies again, I am interested in the speaker and because when I went on the first one my life was saved (okay, that may be a little over-dramatized but if you saw me getting on the boat and then the difference when getting off the boat you would know of what I speak).
I don't expect - or need - another life saving moment but I want to support the conference.
Of course lifesavers can come in all sizes and with far less drama. I would readily admit that I have considered a person (children's sermon substitute), the location of a bathroom, and a beverage (the last diet coke in the back of the fridge - score!) all to be lifesavers at one point or another.
And so today I ask you - dramatic or fairly common - what have been/are your lifesavers:
Muthah+: Well, J and I are going too, so that is my next lifesaving event.
1) Your lifesaving food/beverage. Iced tea, no sugar, no fruit. All the time.
2) Your lifesaving article of clothing. For 3 seasons of the year: Fleece made into vests, jackets, hoodies, pants and sox and warm fleece lined boots.
3) Your lifesaving movie/book/tv show/music. At the moment it is a cross between Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony, Mahler’s 1st Symphony and Mama Mia. (Go figure!)
4) Your lifesaving friend. I have several. J. is the everyday turn to. E. is my professional lifegiving person. H. is the maintenance lifesaver and T. is my family go-to girl, B. and L. make me laugh so hard that I wet my pants and J and D are my couple friends that remind me of married life in a way that is whole.
5) Your lifesaving moment. When I came to know that God was real and loved me just the way I was.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Songbird has come up with an interesting Friday Five.
She is younger than I and remembers cartoons that had "A Mighty Fortress" as their themesong. I don't remember that, but there are some tunes that mean life, love and faith.
It was the same Martin Luther who said:
"I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God. Music drives away the Devil and makes people gay; they forget thereby all wrath, unchastity, arrogance, and the like. Next after theology, I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor."
On this Friday before Reformation Sunday, let's talk about music. Share with us five pieces of music that draw you closer to the Divine, that elevate your mood or take you to your happy place. They might be sung or instrumental, ancient or modern, sacred or popular...whatever touches you.
Some of us even love hymns. (Well, I do.)
Please visit one another to read answers, because you never know when you might discover a kindred spirit!
1. Nada Te Turbe from Taize Not only are the words taken from one of my favorite spiritual writers, Teresa of Avila, the repetative music is a wonderful mantra.
2. Ubi Caritas Et Amore
3. Pia Jesu A. L. Webber
4. Anything from the Brahm's requiem, Mozart Requiem or Faure Requiem
5. Rutter Gloria
Friday, October 16, 2009
Too often the Friday Fives I offer up seem extremely introspective, so here's something that could be fun. I notice as I finish my sixth decade that my taste in footwear is much different than when I was younger, as comfort wins out over fashion. So look at your feet and think about what you put on them!
1. What is your favorite footwear at this time in your life?
I prefer whatever is comfortable. I have found a style of Munro’s call unstructured that are wonderful. They are black and hold a decent shine and look decent under vestments. This morning I am wearing new shoes—Birkenstock oxfords. They look horribly manish, but they feel like my Birks with sox. We are having our first snow today—seemed like a good choice.
2. What was the craziest shoe, boot, or sandal you ever wore?
I had to wear bright red pumps for a wedding when I was in college. YUCK!
3. What kind of shoes did you wear in your childhood?
When I was small we all wore oxfords. Little children needed support for their little feet. As a teen, black suede penny loafers were the rage with white bobbysoxs.
4. How do you feel most comfortable? Barefoot, flip-flops, boots, or what?
If I could get away with it, I would be barefoot, then Birkenstocks, then sneakers, then boots. I do not wear heels of any kind and haven’t for at least 30 years.
5. What kind of socks do you like, if any?
I love nutty socks, the wilder the better, but I can’t get away with too much. I love Thorlo’s. They are warm and comfy.
Bonus: Anything you want to share about feet or footwear.
In the winter I wear boots a lot. Our parking lot ends up being a quagmire and so I need something that I can kick off when I get inside. Since I wear a size 11, and I live in a town with not a single good shoe store, I have to buy on line. ^(&^%% Boots are so hard to buy on line. Got any suggestions?
Friday, October 9, 2009
Sophia at Revgals has provided a very provocative Friday Five:
I am pre-posting this because Friday I will be at my new Independent Catholic church's yearly Synod, being welcomed and conditionally re-consecrated to episcopal ministry for this jurisdiction. I leave in a few hours and am spending the morning packing and making last preparations for my preaching, presiding, and teaching during the week. Exciting stuff but also nervous making with less time to prepare than I would prefer and lots of new people to meet--especially because, in accord with the pioneering status of ordained Catholic women, 95% or more will be men and I am not sure how receptive some may be to the Christian feminist theological/liturgical perspective!
This has me thinking of the special rites of passage in our lives which we participate for ourselves or in which we support and bless others: baptism, confirmation, marriage, ordination, graduation, funerals, etc. Such important days, so exciting and joyous, but also sometimes anxiety provoking or deeply painful....So, this week, please share five memories of such sacred moments with God and her holy people from your life and the lives of those you love.
1. There are so many ‘thin places’ in my life where God has touched me through my life. I was 25 when I was baptized. I was one of the first ones in the RC church in the 60’s who was baptized and confirmed at the same service at the Easter Vigil in a poor little parish where I was working. I had spent the three days before at a convent in retreat praying the hours with the community and then went to be baptized. It was a powerful experience.
2. Ordinations were blow away experiences—both of them. The priestly orders were crushingly evocative of birthing: the weight of the pressure of all the hands on my shoulders and head to the point that I thought I was going to be forced to my hands and knees, then the prayer of consecration and the lifting of the hands, fresh air, the hands that helped me to my feet. I knew I was a new person, one consecrated to do what it was that God wanted me to do.
3. In 1977 when J. was ordained—one of the first regularly ordained women in the Episcopal Church, I attended her history-making ordination. I was Jan. 6th in a driving snowstorm in the Cathedral in St. Louis. I was still a RC and went with a number of Sisters to the event. I saw the rite make her a priest. I listened to the preacher (who would later be the dean of my seminary) open the scripture and knock down every argument against the ordination of women. I felt as though someone had opened my brain, my heart and my whole meaning to entertain the priesthood for myself. It wouldn’t be until 1983 before I was ordained, but that night God came in the doors of that cathedral and touched me and said, “I want you.”
4. After the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson, the gay bishop in the Episcopal Church the fall out was fierce. The neo-conservative dean in my district accused me of being gay (I had been a vowed celibate for 3o years at that point) and I could no longer say no with integrity. I was in a new parish and the homophobia was rife. It was not handled well by either me or my bishop and I lost my parish. Then the bishop refused to allow me to work in the diocese because I defended a colleague whom I had known for years. I couldn’t even substitute in the diocese. So I began to substitute for the Lutherans. One little congregation, after several weeks of me serving there asked me if I would stand for election as their pastor. I asked them to talk to their bishop and their bishop talked to MY bishop and I was elected. That was three years ago. The installation was a wondrous affair. It still reminds me that God will have what God wants. At Lutheran clergy conference a few weeks ago, we renewed our ordination vows and then the bishops present prayed with each of us individually. With tears running down my face I asked the bishop to give thanks to God with me for making me a better Episcopalian. She was a bit puzzled by that but I know more why I am an Episcopalian and what that entails. I am so grateful to my Lutheran congregation and my Lutheran colleagues for helping me become a better priest, a better pastor, a better person. The walls between my Episcopal bishop have begun to come down too. God is good—all the time.
5. This week I have travelled with a friend half-way across the country to do an intervention for a mutual friend who has become addicted to prescription drugs. For the past 3 days she has tried to squirm out of going to rehab. She, like many addicts, had a laundry list of excuses. We finally said that none of them were acceptable. With that, she went to the refrigerator and the pantry and brought back crackers and grape juice. I didn’t really know what she was doing—the feelings were so tense. Then she went to her bedroom and brought back her prayer book and set in front of me. Without another word, I opened the Book of Common Prayer and began the Eucharistic service. We all cried: C. because she was beaten down and knew that she needed God to go through rehab, B. because she has struggled with conflicting images of who God is in her life and me. It was the first time I had celebrated according to the Book of Common Prayer in 3 years. God has been wonderfully present in those liturgical celebrations in my life.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Tonight I helped a friend to get into drug rehab. She was not too happy with me when I left her in her room at the rehab center. I had to draw on all the resources, pastoral, psychological, spiritual and some just plain ole Texas orneriness to make it happen. I feel like I have been in a wrestling match. Physically I am pooped, corporally I feel battered and spiritually I feel spent. But in the heart of my heart, I know I have done a good thing.
I feel like Jesus in the wilderness. I have driven halfway across the country to make this intervention happen. I could not have done it without the deepest sense of prayer and support and help from a treasured colleague. But I feel that I have met evil in this disease—not in the person who has it. I deeply love this person and long for her return from the disease that has taken her personality, her faith, her wit and her self-respect and made her fearful, unable to grapple with th day to day living that most of us take for granted.
I don’t talk about evil much. I don’t believe in a devil. I cannot personalize or even anthropomorphize evil. But I certainly know that evil exists. Evil is that which takes away our ability to be free in God—free to know how much we are loved, free to be about being all that we can be. Tonight I know I have grappled with that evil. I will not know if I have won that battle—it will be my friend who will have to grapple with it now. But I have won Round 1 and that is good enough for this moment. Now I have to hand my friend over to God so that she has the strength to embrace the strength that God has for her. One day at a time…
Friday, September 4, 2009
Sally at Revgals has come in with a charged up Friday Five: “A few weeks ago my lap-top battery died, suddenly I found myself looking at a blank screen and was rather relieved to find that it was only the battery and not the whole computer that had failed. This morning a new battery arrived in the post, and suddenly I am mobile again!
After a week with what feels like wall to wall meetings, and Synod looming on the horizon for tomorrow I find myself pondering my own need to recharge my batteries. This afternoon Tim and I are setting off to explore the countryside around our new home, I always find that walking in the fresh air away from phones and e-mails recharges me. But that is not the only thing that restores my soul, so do some people, books, pieces of music etc....
So I wonder what/ who gives you energy?”
1. Is there a person who encourages and uplifts you, whose company you seek when you are feeling low?
Being an extrovert other people are often the catalyst to my feelings. There are several people I look forward to revving me up. Several colleagues are special ones. I have lunch after services on Sunday with another single woman colleague and we get through the post service fatigue together. J is the person I seek out when I am really bumbed out. My friend, Elizabeth Kaeton, who has that lesbian humor so deeply imbedded in her that she can make me laugh when I feel the most depleated.
2. How about a piece of music that either invigorates or relaxes you?
Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony #7, Mozart’s Requiem, most of the stuff from Taize, ( I could write a book!) Almost any medieval religious piece and all Gregorian Chant.
3. Which book of the Bible do you most readily turn to for refreshment and encouragement? Is there a particular story that brings you hope?
Ben Sirach, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Mark. The story of Balaam’s donkey!
4. A bracing walk or a cosy fireside?
Neither work for me. I found that I really enjoyed the beach this summer. I also find that time for reading and quiet are beneficial to my sanity.
5. Are you feeling refreshed and restored at the moment or in need of recharging, write a prayer or a prayer request to finish this weeks Friday Five....
After vacation this month, I am pretty good. I got some good news from my bishop yesterday and I am good.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Friday afternoon, I sat with my laptop in my lap and watched, with better fidelity than the participants had, the Church Wide Assembly of the ELCA not only affirm the Human Sexuality Statement with a few amendments and then go ahead and provide a way for Lesbian and Gay pastors in partnered relationships to serve as rostered leaders in the ELCA. I watched the discussion, some of it very painful. I heard some leaders of congregations say that if this passed, their congregations would leave the ELCA. I also heard others speak for Lesbian and Gay clergy that have served their congregations faithfully and plead that they be allowed to have the partnered relationships of their heterosexual brothers and sisters.
As one who is unfamiliar with the way that the ELCA does business on the national level, I was moved by the primacy of prayer throughout the whole discussion. I was awed by the candor and the honesty of the discussions. Quite frankly, after my experience in the Episcopal Church, I was surprised that the resolution to allow partnered lesbian and gay clergy to serve the Church passed the way it did. And the audible gasp that came from the Church-wide body was a sign that I believe that most did not believe it would pass either. Those who attended the meeting afterward said that they felt a movement of something on the floor of the meeting. They identified it with the Holy Spirit. Those who were opposed, I am sure did not think it was from that source!
I immediately sent off an email to Bishop Jerge to offer my assistance if there were congregations who needed to talk with a gay pastor to calm their fears about this legislation. I really offered her the efforts of YOU, the congregation that went out on a limb and called a lesbian pastor even though some of you are still uncomfortable with it.
I have not spoken on the “gay issue” from the pulpit except in passing. And if I am making you squirm by talking about it now, please bear with me. I figured that like being one of the early women priests when I was first ordained, I didn’t have speak about it. I just needed to live into the calling God had given me in being your pastor.
I am not comfortable being out. I grew up knowing that I was different, but at a time when being out in Texas could have been a death sentence. It was a fearful way to live. I ignored my own sexuality by entering the convent and making vows of celibacy. I have lived by those vows knowing that I could not serve Christ in his Church in any other way, but I would not recommend it. Celibacy cuts off intimacy—not just sex, but that whole realm of tenderness that comes when two people come to respect and honor one another with their whole beings. I am thankful that the ELCA and the Episcopal Church have chosen to open the ordained ministry to those whose lives are directed by Christ to live in monogamous, life-long relationship as gay people and to live within the confines of what we have always declared as marriage.
The Church-wide Assembly did go so far as to allow the blessing of same-sex unions. We may have to deal with this in the civil realm as there is legislation already passed in some states to allow for same-sex marriage. It will not be long before that is upon us in the state of NY. What we do here at St. Luke’s will be the decision of the congregation, not the bishop and not the pastor or even the council. Bishop Jerge’s wisdom is that it is the congregation’s mission to support people in their lives together. So if it becomes an issue in this congregation, it will be the topic of a congregational meeting. And we will make that decision together.
So what does this new law in the church have to do with the gospel? If we look at the reading from Joshua we hear the successor of Moses saying to the Israelites who have come into the Promised Land to make a decision. He outlines all the things that God has done for them and then asks them to make a decision to either follow the gods of the Moabites or to follow the Lord. And Joshua declares that as for him and his household, they will follow the Lord.
It takes a decision to follow God. It takes an act of the will to follow God. Yes, the grace to follow Christ is given by God, but somewhere each and every one of us has had to say “I will follow the Lord”. It is the way that we respond to the grace that is given in faith. It is what underpins a covenant. A covenant is basically an agreement between God and the faithful. Worship and allegiance is what God asks of us, and God will provide protecction and love.
There are those in the ELCA and those in the Episcopal Church who will leave our traditions simply because gay folk are being held to the same standard in their relationships as heterosexual relationship are held to. They may leave because they cannot abide the thought of being led by a lesbian or a gay man or as is the case with many of the opposing clergy, having to be collegial with us.
It has nothing to do with morality, it has to do with having to get used to the idea that what was thought to be foreign is really very much a part of them. They blame the “ELCA” or TEC as being too worldly, unwilling to hear the hard sayings of Jesus, but what I saw in that video of the Church Wide Assembly, was folks just like us grappling with what it means to be Church in the world today. The ELCA is US. Those who would leave, are just going to have to deal with the "US" of themselves where ever they go.
In the Gospel today we hear the last of this great discourse on the Eucharist. We find that with the thought of eating Christ’s body and blood, some are unable to hear the call to community in that act. Some of Jesus’ followers leave because the thought of eating the body of Christ and the Blood of the covenant is contrary to what Kosher laws had taught for centuries. They cannot hear the newness that Christ is calling them to in Holy Communion.
Some denominations so discriminate against gay folk that they do not allow them to receive Holy Communion. Some continue to find truth in biblical passages that that are so arcane that they cannot be intelligently rendered even in Hebrew. They cannot find in Christ’ love for the Gentile or those outside of traditional Judaism, the image to accept the newness embodied in those who are different from them.
Faced with the same kind of rejection, Jesus asks his apostles if they too will leave because of his opening faith to that which is new and different. And Peter answers for all of them. “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”
There it is! There is the conundrum! It is Christ who has the word of life. It is this tribe of followers who listen to his voice about accepting others who are different, about finding the gifts of ministry in a group that was once far off who are now are brought near. It is in this gospel of hope that God welcomes all strangers, all those who are willing to make that decision to follow the Lord. We as Church have no other place to go—-no other way to live. We have a Way to follow—Christ’s Way-—a way that says that we can love one another and support one another in our relationships, that we can entertain the new because of what God has wrought in the past. We have a way to live out our baptismal vows in ways that not only support what has been in the past but which takes us into the future.
I am humbled and freed by the actions of both the Episcopal Church and the ELCA this summer. I am astounded at their votes to reach out in loving ways to those who have been vilified which drag our churches into a new millennium. I have been humbled and freed by this congregation in your willingness to accept me. Last Sunday I signed a new one-year contract to continue my pastoral duties here at St. Luke’s. Because like you, I have no place else to go. The word of Christ’s eternal love is lived out here for you and me. AND AS FOR ME AND MY HOUSEHOLD, WE WILL FOLLOW THE LORD. AMEN
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
The prolonged discussion of the sixth chapter of John over the past 5 weeks in the readings merits a hard look. In the liturgy, John gets fairly short shrift. Only short passages of John get used in the readings for Sundays. It is a shame because John is a book that is not only very readable, it is also one lush with theological concerns. The only problem with reading John is that it comes from a world-view that is different than ours. And one must read John with a commentary at hand to really glean what the writer meant about Jesus and the community of the Way that followed him.
Feeding of the 5 thousand: First we find Jesus’ miracle of feeding the thousands. It is one of the Signs used by John to give structure to his theology. The signs are not just miracles to entertain the crowds. They are signs of Jesus’ messiahship and his divinity. But it is also to show how Jesus is the new Moses. Jesus gives bread like God gives bread in the desert, the manna. But there is always something more in John. John writes his life of Jesus as if it were an onion—always just one more layer down in order to taste the sweetness.
I have often avoided the Gospel of John because of those layers. They are so hard to preach on. They can only really be “eaten”. The Gospel of John is like the ancient wisdom poets spoke—like honey from the comb. Reading John one must suspend one reality for the next in order to treasure the taste of the gospel.
Reading John is more of a submersion into a multilayered reality rather than the straight historical reading that one can get in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Just the way that John uses the Greek language allows one to savor the levels of meaning. In the passage for Sunday he makes the distinction in the Eucharist from the manna in the desert. The Jews (by this I mean those who were not willing to entertain Jesus as the messiah) ate manna in the desert and John uses a rather normal, polite word efagon to mean eat. But when he refers to eating the Body of the Eucharist, John uses a rather crude word—like an animal eating, trogo. It is as if the Eucharistic meal is primal. The Bread is the source of life. This ultimately is found to be contra-gnostic. But it gives a really gutsy understanding of what the Eucharist is about.
No wonder I have found such a primal understanding of my faith in that little ritual of breaking bread and drinking wine!
Monday, August 17, 2009
Returning from vacation is much like starting a new school year, January 1st, or an anniversary. It is a time of renewed energy and purpose. To that end, I am going to try to post something daily on this site again. I have gotten quite lazy about addressing the issues of church, faith and daily living. The laziness often comes from fatigue but it also comes from a certain ennui that comes from being in the Church.
Both of our traditions have had national Church meetings this summer. The Episcopal Church had theirs in June. The Lutheran Church-Wide Assembly begins today. Church politics is something that many want to ignore or deny. But any organization has a political character to it. Whenever people are united in a specific cause, there are politics. But Church politics often seems to be somehow un-holy, or demeaning. Often I hear people cite “church politics” as the reason they don’t go to church. But what they are really saying is that they don’t want to deal with controversy.
Controversy is at the center of Church. It cannot be helped. Whenever someone who has faith discusses their faith with another there is likely to be controversy. Whenever we have those deep and abiding relationships with the Divine, we are likely to find that even our best friends have different ways of describing their own relationship with the Holy. When we talk about our experience, we want others to share our experience rather than entertain that their experience might be informative or enlighten us. And often we want to “win others to think the way we do” in order to reinforce our own relationship with God rather than listen to the unique experience of the other.
I must admit that one of the things that drew me to the Episcopal Church when I left Rome was their polity. I love the democratic process as it relates to the development of faith. I believe that groups of people can, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, come to faithful renderings of the path for the Church. I have been gratified by finding much of the same attitude in the ELCA. Of course, it takes lots of discussion, lots of listening and some political savvy to accomplish things in either Church on the governmental level. And yes, there are always those who lose. But the democratic system works, both in state and in church as a way to address the needs of folks and help us plot our way. It is part of the checks and balances of the church.
I have also heard others, usually those who are not winning, complain that God is not about majority decision. Of course that is true. God is about speaking not only to our individual hearts, but God is also about leading us in ways that we can share, not by edict but by mutual consent. In the Episcopal world, the delegates to convention talk online about the issues as they face the Church. Sometimes there is some tedium to the discussion; sometimes the rhetoric can be galling. Those who are not delegates can follow the conversations and may join in if another delegate will post it for them. I follow these conversations because it is a way for me to remain current in my own tradition. But also it makes me take seriously the opinions not my own. In no other church publication can I find this level of dialogue going on. I have not found this discussion in the ELCA. It may be that it is going on, but I just don’t know how to access it.
But all of this kind of discussion can tire one. It sometimes leaves me stale and unimaginative in the face of the liturgy, parish life, and the mundane life of a Christian. Sometimes the awesome responsibility of Church takes its toll in the way I live my life in Christ. In other word, I get grumpy!
This is why vacations are a necessity! Just sitting on the beach watching the waves roll in, no book, no discussion, no thoughts in my head, was remarkably refreshing. I am not generally a beach babe. My Celtic skin is too prone to sunburn to be comfortable, but this past week was temperate and kind. The sunburn isn’t bad and is actually turning sort of brown. The wind blew away the fatigue; the sun baked out the parish-based tension and I was cradled in God’s generous bounty. The rhetoric and the issues were drowned in the roar of waves.
Now I throw myself back into the fray that is called Church refreshed and renewed.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Sermon August 16, 2009
It is hard for us to think of how the primitive cultures of the world have understood what it meant to eat the ‘food of the gods.’ But there was always a sense of closeness with the god when there was food offered to the gods of a Middle Eastern culture. Sacrificing to the God Yahweh was something different, however. The early Jews understood that they were offering thanks to God for freeing them from Pharaoh’s slavery. Offering the first fruits, or gifts for thanksgiving were provided in which part of the animal or grain was given to the priest and part was used by the family usually for a feast. Not only was the act of sacrifice something for God, it required that the one offering the sacrifice be generous to his or her friends. It was a time to feast. Only for the holocaust or olah in Hebrew, the sin offering, was the whole animal burned completely.
There was a tradition in the eucharist—the thanksgiving offering, that such sacrifices were to be shared with friends and family. And so it is not surprising that the earliest liturgical developments in the Jewish-Christian communities revolve around the celebration of Passover—the time of the sacrifice in the Temple that reminded the people of their freedom given by God.
In John’s Gospel, we do not have the story of the Last Supper and the breaking of bread. It is found in Mt. Mk, and Lk but NOT in John. In Jn. we hear the story of the washing of the feet of the disciples. But what we do have in the Gospel of John is this long discourse on the Eucharist in which we find Jesus inviting his followers to eat his flesh and drink his blood that we have been hearing over the past 4 weeks. For John, the liturgical act of taking, blessing, breaking and eating the bread and wine was not a memorial. It was the receiving of the flesh and blood of the Son of God. It was a feast but it was also the act of being intimate, of receiving Christ into one’s own body which was the mark of the Christian. It was a sacrament. It was an action that did what it purposed—it sanctified; it made holy. The grace that God conferred in the sacrament was what helped the Christian to be molded and transformed into the Body of Christ, the Church.
This liturgical act was misunderstood by many in the first centuries of Christianity. Accusations of cannibalism were levied at the early followers of Jesus. And Christians were persecuted for it. It was strange to the pagan believers of the day.
A colleague of mine was reading the words of institution in church one Sunday. He came to the words, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; "for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” And a rather precocious four-year old piped up, “EWWW, YUK!” And that 4yr. old heard the words but only understood the outward and visible acts. She had not yet come to that place where the inward and spiritual act allowed her to know that the bread and wine were real, but so were the flesh and blood.
When we think about it, it is a strange way of signing that God is within us. It is a strange way of describing what happens when Christ is at the center of our lives. There is no more primal action than eating and drinking, except for those who know God at that experiential level. There is no way to really explain what it means to be Christ’s own better than knowing that we consume his body and blood.
Theologians have waxed quite eloquent, giving us all kinds of explanations of how this happens. The Roman Catholics call it transubstantiation, Presbyterians call it memoriam, Orthodox Christians call it mysterium. Lutherans are often said to believe in consubstantiation. But all in all, we know that it is the Real Presence of God that dwells among us and in us.
It is this indwelling of God that is both scary and wonderful. Most of the time, I would guess that I don’t get one of those remarkable, God-walks-in-the-room experiences when I receive the Holy Eucharist. The bread and wine just remind me of those moments when God DID walk in the room, DID take my breath away. It reminds me of how completely forgiven I am of all my sinfulness even though I am not deserving of it. It puts me in touch with God’s wanting me to know how much I am loved, how much I am cared for and how much God wants me to share that love with others. That is why we celebrate this Holy Meal. It is why we are here each Sunday.
Last Sunday I attended an Episcopal Church in Lewes, DE. The church was full of all ages. One of J’s classmates was preaching at the baptism of two little children. He wanted to tell these children, he said, that God loved them. “It’s as simple as that.” God loves them just the way they are.
And that is what I want to say to you. God loves you just the way you are. You can’t earn his love, but you can be transformed by that love. It is that transformation that is what the book of Proverbs is about. It is what the letter of Ephesians is trying to get across.
Because we have been loved with a love that is eternal, because we have been loved with a love that goes beyond death, we have the ability to be changed by that love. I call it loved-into-being. Many of us know how we have been changed by the love of another—How we came to be a better person because someone loved us. Some of us know what it means to be able to share that love with others and watch them become better, more whole or healthy people simply because someone cared enough about them.
I have friends who through the love of others in AA or NA have been able to be freed from alcoholism or addiction. I have watched kids who had poor home lives grow into solid and selfless citizens because a teacher or a coach or a scout leader cared about them. So how much more is it when we know that it is God who is the one who is calling us to be more than we once were? Who is loving us into being more than we were? It is that kind of transformation that I am talking about.
The incarnation of God, that in-fleshed love of Jesus Christ, works a kind of love that allows us to step out of old selves and into a new world each day. In the Proverbs reading Wisdom, the feminine manifestation of God, invites the disciple of God into new learning, invites even the simple, even the untrained to come and learn of God’s love. “Come eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed” she says. This eating and drinking strengthens us to center our lives more in Christ’s love. It nourishes us in faith and hope. It is this willingness to learn more of our faith that allows us new ways of expressing that overwhelming gift that Jesus gave in his death on the Cross.
It is through the food—the nourishment of our faith through the sign of Jesus’ body and blood that gives us the strength to demand more of ourselves in his Name. It is with the taste of bread and grape that we know our own fleshiness and at the same time we know God’s presence within us. We know it individually and we know it in our community of faith. That in-fleshed presence we know in the bread and the wine is also known by every other person in this church. It was known by the people in Lewes¸DE. It is known in all the congregations up and down in this synod. It is known by the Roman Catholics, and the Methodists, the Mennonites and the Congregationalists. It is what makes us one.
And so I invite you, when you stand or kneel to receive the nourishment of Christ himself at the altar this morning, to think first of how God has loved you in the past. Then I would invite you to think how you can learn more of God and how you can love others in the future. It IS that simple. AMEN
Friday, July 24, 2009
Singing Owl has posted an interesting Friday Five.
Please pardon me for talking about church in the summer when many of you may be on vacation. However, the church we are talking about today is the one you dream of. I've been thinking about this because I miss pastoring and preaching, because I am sending in resumes, and because...well...jut because. So have some fun with this. Tell us five things that the perfect church would have, be, do...whatever.
We can dream, right?----Singing Owl
Singing Owl has been without a church and is wondering what the perfect church is. This is hard for me especially when I am just coming off my “honeymoon” with my new congregation. This is not to say that my present congregation isn’t a “perfect” parish. And the comments I make should in no way be a critique of my present church. I love my bunch of Germans and Scandinavians. But I would answer this Friday Five after having served 7 or 8 different congregations in 3 different denominations. Some of them have been huge (over 7,000 FAMILIES) some have been quite small (36 Average Sunday Attendance). In church work, Size matters, in my estimation. It tells what kind of leadership strategies I must use. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION, matters—whether it is rural, small town, city, urban, suburban and Culture makes a difference too. And the following matter:
1. Humor: First a congregation must have a sense of humor or a sense of joy. I remember one church I served couldn’t laugh in church. They had never read the story of Baalam’s donkey, I guess. They couldn’t embrace a God who calls us to foolishness. It was a difficult call for me.
2. Honesty/ Integrity: A congregation must be willing to look at itself and speak its truth as a community. There are certain questions that one can ask in the interview stage that will help you figure out if the congregation is willing to be self-reflective enough to be able to own its own sinfulness, its own failings and even its own reservations about the Gospel message.
3. Welcoming/ Inclusive. A congregation or parish needs to be open to new people, ideas and different cultures. Of course they would have to be open to LGBT folks and different ethnic groups. I would love a church in which different faith traditions (not just denominations) could find a home.
4. Community: I need a parish that is sincere about the respect that they have for one another and act on that sincerity.
5. Sense of Liturgy—I don’t care what kind of music it offers; I do expect it to be able sing in harmony and with a sense of joy.
6. Bonus: My perfect parish needs to be willing to learn. I guess this could be a part of Welcoming and Inclusive but often parishes only want to be tended. I believe that parishes are to be willing to challenge their corporate faith as well as their personal faith. I agree with the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church who has said that personal salvation is the heresy of the modern Western Church.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
I have for some time now wanted to start a blog for the congregation. I would like to post my sermons for those who like to read on line as well as discuss issues that are central to the congregation. A blog like this can bring sermons, Scripture and events to the mind of the congregation.
I am aware that some of the congregation are not computer literate. There are other programs that can meet their needs. I am generally available to those who are more senior to discuss the issues in the congregation. But many of us do not have time to “drop by” the office or even set up a meeting with me to chat about things that under gird our faith. What I am hoping to do is provide a place where everyone who has internet access can follow such a blog and comment on the articles. Blogs often are places where community develops.
Facebook for the Congregation might be a good place, but I find that Facebook does not provide the place where we can go deeper than just facile comments. It does not provide a place where we can follow a topic that permits people to give feed back.
For A Season is my personal blog. On it I have discussed my feelings or my ideas. The title of the blog comes from Scripture—Ecclesiastes 2 ff. But it was with these words that the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church at our 2006 General Convention used to put a moratorium on the ordination of LGBT members as bishop and developing blessings for same-sex couples. For those of us who are part of that lgbt minority it was a devastating blow. Just last week, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church reversed that decision and the season of waiting is over.
For A Season also became a place three years ago to grapple with the issues of being a pastor of a Lutheran Church. Over the past few months, I have found that what I thought would be interesting about working in a tradition not my own, would be interesting to the congregation. I am finding that it is not—in fact it seems to tear at the thread of community for some members of the community. So I probably need to develop a place where issues that are completely centered on life at St. Luke’s can be addressed.
A congregational blog would be one which I would be presenting topics that are pertinent to the life of the congregation, issues that are discussed at ministerium, discussions developed at various Lutheran or Episcopal clergy gatherings or theological issues that I have read about.
I know that several members of the congregation both real and virtual read this blog. I would invite you to comment as you would like. I do not mind pseudonyms or nicknames. I merely ask that you do not post anonymously so that if there is a thread that develops I can keep track of who is posting. I will not tolerate inappropriate language as there are too many with varying sensibilities who read this blog. But if you want to comment, go to the bottom of the article, click on comments. It will ask you to sign in. Just give them the information that they need—Blogger does not publish this info. But I will be able to see, if I need to, who is commenting on the church’s blog. I will moderate and eliminate any comments that are inappropriate or abusive. Blogs do not cost anything to the blogger so it will not be an expense to the congregation at all. But it will be a place where folks can ask questions, make statements at their leisure and I can respond at a time that is not frazzled such as before church services, or when there are many people vying for my attention.
I would appreciate any comments.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
I have always found it difficult to understand those who would opt for and easy faith, an understanding of Christianity that is “nice” rather than a continuous call to renewal and hard work of living the life of change and justice that I perceive Christ’ s life incarnates. This difficulty has often put me at odds with those who would opt for a ‘simple faith’ or a ‘Jesus-and-me’ religion that serves no one, certainly not God, but themselves. It is the kind of popular religion that is bandied about by independent churches that have no rootedness in the apostolic faith that is characterized by the mainline denominations.
The history of Christianity bears out that Christianity has changed quite significantly over the past 2000+ years. From the days of the apostles in which some Christian communities lived communal lives through the imperialization of the Church during its Byzantine era, through the medieval era with its embracing of the magical, the reformation’s rejection of that magical era to the present day, the message of Jesus was to repent and to trust in the one and only God of the people of Israel. It was a faith that was based in hope and rooted in a man who incarnated God so that we humans could imagine how we humans can live together with integrity and peace.
However, I often find churches filled with those who learned something about Jesus in their school years and have not bothered to read Scripture, study the faith, or even understand the history of their church who would prefer to hold the church hostage to a facile faith, a cheap imitation of the life that Christ offers. And it is usually those who find the most fault with their preachers, create unrest in the church and live lives that belie the faith that they think they profess.
Over the past 75 to 100 years, Christianity has undergone some incredible new learning. With the development of the sciences of archeology, philology, linguistics and historical scholarship, the incredible finds of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammani library, the knowledge that informs our faith has grown exponentially. There has been more study of the Bible in the past 100 years than at any other time in history. And yet there are those who would prefer to exclude any such information from faith matters. Like those who prefer to embrace that the earth was created in seven 24hour days rather than engage God in that wondrous wrestling with knowledge that is at the center of educated faith.
Granted, faith is a gift from God. It is not something that I can even initiate. It is God’s grace that allows me to grapple with what it means to believe. But it is incumbent upon me to stay current. Salvation does not require our assent, but it I often wonder about those adults who never allow themselves to be engaged by Scripture, never open themselves to the ever-growing understanding of faith through scholarship, and never question their faith to make it stronger.
It is not for nothing that Jacob wrestled with God. Our relationship with God is not passive. It is not just a matter of being ‘nice’ and saying the right things. Faith is learning day in and day out how to trust in God for all our needs. Faith is a wrestling with ethical issues to form consciences that tell me how to live in a world in which addiction assails our children, war warps our young men and women, financial irresponsibility and speculation allows CEO’s millions of dollars at the same time as they are laying off thousands of workers. It is our relationship with God that calls forth from me a conscience in how I pastor, how I preach, and how I live in the world.
I attended a good seminary, studied beyond that Master’s degree and went on for a doctorate not because I wanted letters behind my name, but because I felt I could best serve others if I understood the complexities of what it meant to believe. But when I try to teach what I have learned, I find that the majority of the church would rather be ignorant. They got all they needed in their confirmation class when they were 14. They even become upset when some new archeological find disturbs their well-constructed ignorance and blame the preacher when they have to struggle with a new find.
Salvation is not the sum total of my faith life. Salvation is perhaps the ground floor of faith. But it is the use of my faith that makes for a deepening of my relationship with God. It is the daily struggle with what it means to live with others, cheek by jowl, in the light of Christ’s love for me and for all Creation that requires something more than passively listening to a ten minute sermon.
Luther said that a sermon should not be longer than 45 minutes. I think I am safe there. But when I was in seminary we were trained to preach 20 minute sermons. It allowed for three points to be developed and addressed in the span of one sermon. The attention span of congregants has gotten much shorter. Partly this is due to television and sound bite news reporting. However grappling with faith is not a twitter or a tweet. It is a profound engagement with difficult issues. It is not merely Law and Gospel or repentance and hope. It is nourishment for those who dare encounter God incarnated in the lives of those around them.