Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daily Bible Reading: Matthew 24:15-31 Apocalypse Now

"So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; the one on the housetop must not go down to take what is in the house; the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, 'Look! Here is the Messiah!' or 'There he is!' -- do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Take note, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, 'Look! He is in the wilderness,' do not go out. If they say, 'Look! He is in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
"Immediately after the suffering of those days
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from heaven,
and the powers of heaven will be shaken.
Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see 'the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven' with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Comments: I did a paper on this when I was in seminary and I must admit I STILL don’t know what it is about! Matthew has taken this from Mark who is speaking in apocalyptic language which was fairly common in his day. Mark is writing this during the Judean Revolt when there were all kinds of partisan battles going on. And he is warning the followers of Jesus not to fall into the idea that this was when Christ was going to reappear. The tradition of Israel’s prophecy had developed into this kind of apocalyptic description. Every one wanted to know when the Messiah was going to come and save them. But Mark is saying to his people—look for the signs of Christ—look for the love, look for the freedom, look for the peace, look for the joy. There you will find the Christ.

All of the millennial hokum that has been preached over the past 20 years is just that! Christ comes to our hearts—sometimes from the clouds of our darkness and gives through Divine love the possibility to live each day in his light. It need not be cataclysmic—it sometimes is to our soul-—but it can be the quiet still voice of love.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Today's Bible Reading: Zechariah 14:1-9 Second Coming

See, a day is coming for the Lord, when the plunder taken from you will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses looted and the women raped; half the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley; so that one half of the Mount shall withdraw northward, and the other half southward. And you shall flee by the valley of the Lord's mountain, for the valley between the mountains shall reach to Azal; and you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.

On that day there shall not be either cold or frost. And there shall be continuous day (it is known to the Lord), not day and not night, for at evening time there shall be light.

On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea; it shall continue in summer as in winter.

And the Lord will become king over all the earth; on that day the Lord will be one and his name one.

Comments: I am told that even Martin Luther was flummoxed by this prophecy. Zechariah is telling of a time that he envisions that God will come and rule Israel and rule of kings will be over. It was the kings and their dealings with one another that had gotten Israel into the mess they were in. No longer was the nation paying attention to God Almighty. This vision that Jerusalem would be overrun would come to pass. One third of the nation was taken off into slavery to Babylon and the words of Zechariah would ring in the peoples’ ears.

Today we hear these words and look for the second coming of Christ. Personally, I believe that the second coming of Christ will be more like fog, coming on cat’s feet. The coming of Christ into our hearts is less a battle as it is assent, less triumphant, as it is true friendship. The reign of God is when we say yes to allowing God to be first in our lives all the time.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving--A day to remember

When I was in my twenties, I went to Mexico as a missionary. I knew that the area I was going to was poor by American standards, but I was not prepared for what I saw. In those days we did not see beggars on the streets in the US. We sometimes saw disabled vets of WWII selling pencils or giving out poppies but nothing like the beggars around the doors of churches in the Mexican town I lived in. Everyday on my way to Mass I was confronted by Dona Paulina, a woman who saw my blond-haired, blue-eyed, tall, Nordic self walking down the street and she would accost me with her hand out, and a keening whine to help a poor soul.

I had been warned not to give to such beggars by the sisters in my community and by the members of the parish. For weeks I tried to avoid her, but I couldn’t hide in a populace of small, dark eyed, dark-skinned people. I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was the NordeAmericana who was rich—because all NordeAmericanos were rich in her mind. Finally when I could fight her off no longer, I began to talk to her in my broken Spanish. Slowly I began to know more about her. She was in her 80’s, lived in a small ranchito outside of town. She lived in a shack made of sticks with a corregated tin roof that had once been a grain bin. And she was the sole support of her 9 year old great-grand son. I began to bring her things from our kitchen rather than give her money. She would teach me the proper words in Spanish and we would share the things that we liked to eat—she was intent on me knowing the totality of Mexican cuisine. And slowly but surely I began to enjoy my visits with Dona Paulina.

While I was there I fell and broke my hip. It ended my missionary career. I had to return to the US to have it operated on. It took me several days before I could get all my things together to catch the bus back to Mexico City so I could fly to my home in Texas. But when the time came for me to catch the bus, there were many people from the parish there to wish me well. On the fringe of the group was Dona Paulina. Quietly she came up to me to say good-bye. Tears were in her eyes as she pressed 2 cintos—worth at that time a 10th of a cent US. She said—“buy some gum on the trip.”

Those two coins burned in my hand as I got on the bus. I could not keep back the tears. And there I sat, chewing my gum with tears running down my face.

I have preached about this story before. I preach about it as an illustration of the widow’s mite. I preach about it on stewardship Sunday. But most of all I remember this story because it was such a touchstone in my life about generosity. It is an incident in my life that spoke to me of what it meant to be gifted with so much when I had done so little. Even in my mid-twenties I did not know what it really meant to be thankful down to my toes. I don’t think that comes easily to us Nordeamericanos. We don’t accept the gifts of others easily. We are rugged individualists. We like to do for ourselves. We are do not have the humility to accept the gifts of others. And consequently we have difficulty giving thanks.

It takes humility be people of gratitude. We have to allow ourselves to receive the gifts of others—to be in that step-down position, to be appreciative of what we have been given.

Now I do not mean to be a guilt-producer in this sermon. I just want us to reflect on what it means to be in the position of receiving. What do you have and who are you now because of the Dona Paulina’s in your life? What was in your life it that taught you of gratitude? When did you understand that being grateful was a way of living that made a difference in your life? I found that I was changed by those 2 quintos pressed in my hand—they were worth nothing in real life but they were the gift of finest gold. They taught me so much about the basic goodness of people that I cannot ignore because they don’t fit my image of people I want to hang with. They taught me about the need all people have to give. They taught me that the act of giving is more important than what is given. They taught me because it had never occurred to me that Dona Paulina might think me valuable enough to gift me in her poverty. So many lessons learned with such a small thing.

We all have touchstone moments in our lives. We have those moments when thanksgiving becomes real. Tonight we remember those moments in the humdrum of our lives that we will celebrate tomorrow with family and friends. It is a time when we stop and give thanks for those incidents that brings us to that place of humility that we do not deserve the blessings that are bestowed upon us.

In the midst of writing this sermon, I had to go to the grocery store. Now, Wegmans in Binghamton is where many go for special items for the holidays, and it was a mad house when I went. There were too many carts trying to get down filled aisles and too many people pushing them. I was pushing my cart and a young man in a wheelchair came my way. He most likely had cerebral palsy and was having difficulty pushing a regular cart and managing his wheelchair. Because I had once worked at Wegmans, I knew the store had some motorized carts that would have made it easier for him. I suggested the motorized cart to him. “They are all being used,” he said. “I am just glad I can get out,” he said, “I’ll be fine.”

I walked out of the store touched by his thankfulness—a kind of gratitude that most likely if I had not come to know who God was in my life, I would not have understood. All too often I find myself grumpy because things don’t go my way. I let myself forget the Dona Paulinas in my life who remind me of living a life of gratitude. I know when I am reminded of her generosity, I can let go of my busyness, my need to control my world. I also can give up the idea that I have to be in charge.

Within the Judeo-Christian world thanksgiving is most often marked at meals. Whether it is the blessing at the Shabbat meal, or the grace before dinner, the act of eating is a time of remembering all that we have received. This is true in other religions too. Thanksgiving as a feast is one which all humanity can share. Every religion teaches its believers to be thankful.

As we come together to share the bounty of God’s goodness there are many things that we are thankful for: family, friends, food, a home, community, and even for our existence. But we also need to be thankful for those who taught us how to know what it means to be grateful. It might be a family member—a loved neighbor, a teacher, a friend. These saints are those who allowed us to understand what it means to be vulnerable enough to return thanks.

Like the Samaritan leper—who was the only one who had the humility to return to Jesus, we often need to be reminded to be grateful. And even though Thanksgiving Day ends up being more about football and turkey, it is a time when we can remember of all that we have been given. We can also give thanks for all those who have given us hearts know the power of God who provides for all of us. AMEN

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Esther 8:3-17

Queen Esther saves her people

Then Esther spoke again to the king; she fell at his feet, weeping and pleading with him to avert the evil design of Haman the Agagite and the plot that he had devised against the Jews. The king held out the golden scepter to Esther, and Esther rose and stood before the king. She said, "If it pleases the king, and if I have won his favor, and if the thing seems right before the king, and I have his approval, let an order be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, which he wrote giving orders to destroy the Jews who are in all the provinces of the king. For how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming on my people? Or how can I bear to see the destruction of my kindred?" Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther and to the Jew Mordecai, "See, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows, because he plotted to lay hands on the Jews. You may write as you please with regard to the Jews, in the name of the king, and seal it with the king's ring; for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king's ring cannot be revoked."

The king's secretaries were summoned at that time, in the third month, which is the month of Sivan, on the twenty-third day; and an edict was written, according to all that Mordecai commanded, to the Jews and to the satraps and the governors and the officials of the provinces from India to Ethiopia, one hundred twenty-seven provinces, to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language, and also to the Jews in their script and their language. He wrote letters in the name of King Ahasuerus, sealed them with the king's ring, and sent them by mounted couriers riding on fast steeds bred from the royal herd. By these letters the king allowed the Jews who were in every city to assemble and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, with their children and women, and to plunder their goods on a single day throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar. A copy of the writ was to be issued as a decree in every province and published to all peoples, and the Jews were to be ready on that day to take revenge on their enemies. So the couriers, mounted on their swift royal steeds, hurried out, urged by the king's command. The decree was issued in the citadel of Susa.

Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king, wearing royal robes of blue and white, with a great golden crown and a mantle of fine linen and purple, while the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced. For the Jews there was light and gladness, joy and honor. In every province and in every city, wherever the king's command and his edict came, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a festival and a holiday. Furthermore, many of the peoples of the country professed to be Jews, because the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them.
Comments: The book of Esther is designed to tell a story of a brave and holy woman. She becomes favored of the King of Persia/Babylon. Her wisdom allows her to intervene on behalf of her people. Whether this is historical or not is not the issue. It is one of the several places in Hebrew Scripture that a woman’s ingenuity has a saving effect for the people of God.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Esther 2:1-18

Lowly Esther becomes queen

After these things, when the anger of King Ahasuerus had abated, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her. Then the king's servants who attended him said, "Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the king. And let the king appoint commissioners in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins to the harem in the citadel of Susa under custody of Hegai, the king's eunuch, who is in charge of the women; let their cosmetic treatments be given them. And let the girl who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti." This pleased the king, and he did so.

Now there was a Jew in the citadel of Susa whose name was Mordecai son of Jair son of Shimei son of Kish, a Benjaminite. Kish had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with King Jeconiah of Judah, whom King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had carried away. Mordecai had brought up Hadassah, that is Esther, his cousin, for she had neither father nor mother; the girl was fair and beautiful, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai adopted her as his own daughter. So when the king's order and his edict were proclaimed, and when many young women were gathered in the citadel of Susa in custody of Hegai, Esther also was taken into the king's palace and put in custody of Hegai, who had charge of the women. The girl pleased him and won his favor, and he quickly provided her with her cosmetic treatments and her portion of food, and with seven chosen maids from the king's palace, and advanced her and her maids to the best place in the harem. Esther did not reveal her people or kindred, for Mordecai had charged her not to tell. Every day Mordecai would walk around in front of the court of the harem, to learn how Esther was and how she fared.

The turn came for each girl to go in to King Ahasuerus, after being twelve months under the regulations for the women, since this was the regular period of their cosmetic treatment, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and cosmetics for women. When the girl went in to the king she was given whatever she asked for to take with her from the harem to the king's palace. In the evening she went in; then in the morning she came back to the second harem in custody of Shaashgaz, the king's eunuch, who was in charge of the concubines; she did not go in to the king again, unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name.

When the turn came for Esther daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had adopted her as his own daughter, to go in to the king, she asked for nothing except what Hegai the king's eunuch, who had charge of the women, advised. Now Esther was admired by all who saw her. When Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus in his royal palace in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign, the king loved Esther more than all the other women; of all the virgins she won his favor and devotion, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. Then the king gave a great banquet to all his officials and ministers - "Esther's banquet." He also granted a holiday to the provinces, and gave gifts with royal liberality.

Comments: “Esther appears in the Bible as a woman of deep faith, courage and patriotism, ultimately willing to risk her life for her adoptive father, Mordecai, and the Jewish people. Scripture portrays her as a woman raised up as an instrument in the hand of God to avert the destruction of the Jewish people, and to afford them protection and forward their wealth and peace in their captivity.
There is also a hidden plot in the story: Esther was a descendent of Kish from the tribe of Benjamin and a relative of King Saul; and Haman the Agagite was the descendant of King Agag of the Amalekites, who were nearly wiped out by Saul (Saul's reluctance to do so cost him the throne of Israel in the eyes of God). The plot involves Haman's quest for revenge and Esther's redemption of Saul's mistake, saving the Jews from the last of the Amalekites and certain extinction.” Wikipedia

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Christ the King

'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'

Today is the Feast of Christ the King. It is the final Sunday of the Church year. The Church year is designed to replicate the ministry of Christ beginning with the anticipation for the Messiah in Advent and ends with the final Judgment. It is why we hear such readings—the dividing the flock into sheep and goats in both the reading from Hebrew Scripture and in the Gospel.

In the minds of a people whose history included centuries of being nomadic shepherds and lives centered on their livestock, the people of Israel did not think of their flocks as smelly critters as many of us do these days. The sheep and goats of their flocks were their livelihood. They were not only their symbol of wealth; they were part of the family. Wool provided clothing and housing, milk provided the protein and fat to sustain them and rarely their meat provided a feast to celebrate the joy necessary for living. The best of their flock were offerings to God as a sign of their fealty and love. Sheep and goats were their most valuable commodity. The could not have sustained life without them. They looked after their flocks with care. As the Israelites became more agricultural and lodged in cities and villages, they expected their kind to look over them as they had their flock.

In Matthew’s gospel, there is a constant conflict between the Hellenists, the Greek-speaking Jews who followed Jesus and the Aramaic-speaking Jews that followed Jesus. These two cultures coming together are a constant tension in the Gospel. This separating the sheep and the goats is not about separating the Hellenists and the Judeans. It is about separating those who have absorbed the mind of Christ and has acted upon it.

It would be easy to see this gospel as a celebration of one’s works than the celebration of salvation through grace. But I think a harder look at the passage is important to us. God separates the flock into the kinds of animals that they are. Goats are goats and sheep are sheep. In the story of those who are welcomed into the kingdom are those who are who they are. They are those who have lived out in truth their love for Christ not because it was going to save them for all eternity.

It is generally a serious mistake to translate the phrase basileia tou theo ‘The kingdom of God’ as referring to a particular area in which God rules. The Kingdom of God is accepting God’s reign in one’s life, not heaven or a specific place. It is an attitude in which we live out what it means to love Christ with all our hearts and souls. Consequently we don’t do good deeds to curry God’s favor. We live in ways that glorify God by honoring the other, the least of our “brothers and sisters", not because we want to go to heaven, but because we have learned that kingdom-living is a way to live out our faith in integrity and truth.

In his autobiography Fredrick Douglas, former slave and one of the leaders of the abolitionist movement of the 19th century tells of the wife of his owner beginning to teach him the alphabet when he is about 12. She was responding to her own innate Christian self when she treated him as a person. She was living out her baptismal vows. When her husband chastened her and reminded her that it was against the law to teach a slave to read and write she began to treat Fredrick as sub-human. Douglas said he watched the woman over the years change from a selfless, open and welcoming Christian woman to a withered and spiteful soul. She had chosen to deny her Christian grounding and did not live into her baptism as she once had. She had become obedient to the culture around her.

All too often we choose not to a member of the flock of God. We choose for ourselves or to go along with those who would separate us from the goodness that is held out to us in baptism. We often ignore the kindness that God provides for us by placing ourselves ahead of others, or tring to take what is not ours. We ignore the needs of those of our flock or family simply because we are focused on our own desires.

Today at St. Luke’s we observe World Hunger Sunday. 854 million people worldwide are undernourished. This is 12.6 percent of the estimated world population of 6.6 billion. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says that an additional 50 million people became undernourished in 2007 alone due to higher food prices. The world produces enough food to feed everyone. The world's agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase. This is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories per person per day (FAO 2002, p.9). The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase, enough food.

The primary causes of hunger today are political. Hunger can be abolished if we as a nation along with others have the will to make it happen. We have seen in places in Africa where hunger has gone past malnourishment and become starvation. Often the efforts we try to make to rectify such inequality are denied because of war or political scandal. Even in our own companion synod of Zimbabwe, the political situation has interrupted the basic care we have for Bishop Shava and the people of the Zimbabwe Synod. The situation is grave indeed. They need more than our prayers. Thanks be to God recent letters from him remind us that he is safe but are in need basic food and medicines.

The political situations do not mean that we should deny countries basic care. It means that we must be more creative in our approach to regimes that will not serve their people. We must be bolder in our concern for our brothers and sisters throughout the world. We must be willing to deny armaments to regimes that would spend the country’s inheritance for guns rather than food. We may not allow ourselves to blame others for not doing unto others as we would for Christ.

When I served in Mexico over 30 years ago, it was easy to dismiss the beggars as gold brickers or panhandlers. People were constantly telling me not to “encourage them.” But once I began to know the lives of the people who asked me for money, I had to change my attitude. One woman lived in quite literally a house of sticks. It barely kept out the rain. She was in her 80’s and was the sole support of her great-grand child who was 9. From that time on, I have not been able to write-off a beggar. I don’t know their circumstances. If I did write them off, I would become like the wife of the slave owner—allowing the law of the day articulate who Christ was and wasn’t. To this day, I generally carry a bit of change in my pocket for those who beg. It isn’t much—and it isn’t all I could be doing—but it keeps me from ignoring those who are Christ to me unaware. It keeps me from becoming hardened to the needs of others. I can keep myself from allowing the immensity of world hunger from ignoring my flock—my fellow sheep. It allows me to be nourished by God’s love.

I worry when we as Christians are fearful of “getting taken” so that it keeps us from serving our fellow human beings. I worry that we as Christians are becoming afraid to be generous, because generosity is not a matter of doing good works. It is at the center of our faith—it has to do with who we are. Have we become a nation that cannot care about the needs of those among us who have fallen upon hard times, or have never had the opportunity or training to take care of themselves?

As we celebrate the great feast of Thanksgiving can we be thankful enough to reach out to help others? Can we shop for others for the Food Bank? Can we give to provide for enough for others?

Can we accept living in God’s kingdom right now? It is important to our spiritual health. Caring for the least of our brothers and sisters is the kind of oil that keeps our faith supple---it keeps us knowing the joy of Christ’ love in our lives. Our salvation is not dependant upon it—that is the gift of Christ on the Cross. But it is our returning of thanks to him for all that he has done for us. AMEN

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Psalm 95 Bible Reading Nov. 22

Psalm 95:1-7a

We are the people of God's pasture

O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.

For probably 3.000 year this song has been sung by believers in God. For the ancient Israelites this has been a hymn of praise from the time before the Babylonian exile. For Christians this Psalm was the invitatory for Morning Prayer everyday in the monastic life. It reminds us of who we are and whose we are. We are reminded that God is the rock of our salvation.

Monotheism came slowly to the Israelites but God’s primacy was always understood. He is the creator of all and deserves our worship. The relationship of the nomadic people of Israel knew the care that the shepherd had for their sheep. Sheep were their source of wealth, meaning and way of life. Rather than dumb wooly animals, sheep were precious in the life of the shepherd. It is good for this Texan to know that—we are so precious to the God who loves us. The only thing that I can offer is worship to that God.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mix and Stir Friday Five

Song bird from Revgals has written the following
In a minor domestic crisis, my food processor, or more precisely the part you use for almost everything for which I use a food processor, picked the eve of the festive season of the year to give up the ghost. A crack in the lid expanded such that a batch of squash soup had to be liberated via that column shaped thing that sticks up on top.

Can you tell this is not my area of strength?

Next week, I'm hosting Thanksgiving. I need your help. Please answer the following kitchen-related questions:

1) Do you have a food processor? Can you recommend it? Which is to say, do you actually use it?

Yes, I own a food processor. I don’t use it often because I don’t prepare big meals all that often. I do use it when I want to make something special.

2) And if so, do you use the fancy things on it? (Mine came with a mini-blender (used a lot and long ago broken) and these scary disks you used to julienne things (used once).)

I don’t use the extra things. I am more likely to bring out my cheap mandolin-thingy that I bought some years ago and do it by hand. The julienne attachment tends to pulverize rather than julienne.

3) Do you use a standing mixer? Or one of the hand-held varieties?

I have both—both acquired at Church jumble sales. The standing mixer is older than I but works for heavy mixing for dough and such. The hand-held is a 1970’s avocado green thing that works for eggs and whipped cream. (Talking about retro!)

4) How about a blender? Do you have one? Use it much?

I have a blender that I use for drinks, milk shakes, shaving ice, etc. I also have an immersion blender that I use for soups and sauces.

5) Finally, what old-fashioned, non-electric kitchen tool do you enjoy using the most?

J inherited her mother’s Creuset 7 qt. dutch oven some years ago. I use it constantly. The enameled iron makes it luxurious as a stewing pot. Pot roast, soup, whatever, is so easy to make and easy to clean up. Come to think of it, I think I will make some Irish stew today using that orange pot.

Bonus: Is there a kitchen appliance or utensil you ONLY use at Thanksgiving or some other holiday? If so, what is it?

Probably the roasting pan, but I use it at Christmas too or for any large gathering of kith and kin. Since neither J nor I have much kin we don’t host family get-togethers. I guess I will have to gather the “kith”—does anybody know what “kith” means?

God's Radiance: Today's Bible verse

Revelation 22:1-9

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

And he said to me, "These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place."

"See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book."

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me; but he said to me, "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God!

Comments: Again John is speaking what he envisions the reign of Christ to be. The loss of the 10 tribes in 722 BC to the Assyrian Empire had been catastrophic to the Jewish people. In all the hopes of the Messiah, the hoped-for king would restore the glory of the Davidic kingdom of all of Israel. This longing of for a re-energized nation was as much of the hope for Christ’s return as the reign of God on earth. The symbol of the tree of life with its 12 fruits is a reminder that the twelve tribes will be gathered back into the Jewish people.

Often the doom and gloom of Judgment is all many Christian think about when they think about the return of Christ. But certainly John did not think that way. He understood that a reunited Israel was a sign of God’s promise and fidelity to the Hebrew people. It was to be a joyous time even though it might be tumultuous.

Hope is at the center of the Christian’s relationship with God in Christ. It is holy to hope for a time in which God is claims our total attention. We may not worship anything but God. But so often we allow family, activities, careers to get between God and our primary attention in life. If daily we can place our hopes and dreams at the feet of God and worship him alone God’s radiance will be seen in us just as surely as God’s name was written upon our foreheads.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Nov 20th Revelation 14:1-11

Revelation 14:1-11 (NRSV)

Fear God and give God glory

Then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion! And with him were one hundred forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the one hundred forty-four thousand who have been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins; these follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been redeemed from humankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found; they are blameless.

Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth - to every nation and tribe and language and people. He said in a loud voice, "Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water."

Then another angel, a second, followed, saying, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication."

Then another angel, a third, followed them, crying with a loud voice, "Those who worship the beast and its image, and receive a mark on their foreheads or on their hands, they will also drink the wine of God's wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and they will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image and for anyone who receives the mark of its name."

I have been challenged to blog about scripture. This is the scripture passage of the day as prepared by the ELCA. I am going to see if I can comment on the passage of the day every day. I am doing this as my own way of familiarizing myself with Scripture and as a way for readers to join in on this journey. If there is anything that Christians need to know is more of the Book of our faith.

As many know, Revelation is not my favorite book of the Bible. But a colleague Suggested that the Book of Revelation for early 2nd century Christians is about like our watching Star Trek—it was a way of working out present-day issues in the future. For the 2nd Century Christians the future would be when Christ came again and would over-turn history. The Second Coming was the time when Christ would be king. This was not a heavenly kingdom—it was an ending of human history.

For the past couple of weeks in church we have been hearing much of the coming wrath of Christ. We are coming to the end of the Church year—the symbolic Parousia, the Second Coming. This Sunday we celebrate the final Sunday of the Church year—Christ the King. It is not surprising that we have words of terror.

But Revelation is not a book of terror as some would have us believe. It is a time of hope—a time when Christ will again be present to us in a palpable way. It is a time when all our history will come to fulfillment—all the work of those who have gone before us. The 144 K is not the number of who will be saved. Any multiple of 12 would mean that the lost tribes of Israel will back together with all their offspring. That is the time when the Messiah was to return.

We need to hear the words of Revelation as those 2nd Century Christians heard John’s vision—that Christ is coming and is already among us. It is not a time for gloom, sadness, guilt or fear. It is a time for us to know more clearly of what Christ’s presence in our lives means.

As we prepare for Advent let us not wallow in guilt—but know the saving love of Jesus Christ who has equipped us for his coming. We need but welcome him into our hearts.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Friday Five Philosophy

After an exhausting election here in the states it's time for some spirit lifting! Join me with a nice cup of tea or coffee or cocoa and let's sit back and read the Funny Papers!

1. What was your favorite comic strip as a child?

I think my favorites were Dick Tracy, Prince Valiant and later Peanuts.

2. Which comic strip today most consistently tickles your funny bone?

I still follow BC. Johnny Hart lived just down the road so BC is still an important part of the local scenery. Hart was quite religious and many of his cartoons had themes that supported faith.

I get my news on line anymore and I miss the comics. I still look to the acid sarcasm of Doonsbury for a commentary on the news. Such satire is necessary to keep us from becoming too full of ourselves.

3. Which Peanuts character is closest to being you?

I am a combination of Peppermint Patty and Lucy. But there are times—like when Charlie is bundled up in all his winter clothes and falls down and cannot get up—I am Charlie. And there are times too when I feel like Snoopy sitting on top of his doghouse.

4. Some say that comic strips have replaced philosophy as a paying job, so to speak. Does this ring true with you?

There is some truth in this. We don’t have too many philosophers running around loose these days. We clergy end up having to fill in and most of us don’t have the training. But I also think that cartoon and bumper sticker philosophers are killing the art of preaching. Sound bites are all we are able to sustain. Folks can’t listen to a sermon anymore. It is as if all theology has to be visual. The fine art of preaching is being eroded. It worries me.

5. What do you think the appeal is for the really long running comic strips like Blondie, Family Circus, Dennis the Menace as some examples?

I believe that it is the only place where people can articulate their values within the context of their lives. Certainly we cannot find such values with in the political realm. Comics allow us to see ourselves in the news of life and allow us to know that we are not alone in our foibles, our insecurities or our dreams.

Bonus question: Which discontinued comic strip would you like to see back in print?

I miss Li’l Abner and the Katzenamer Kids. I think Li’l Abner poked the most fun at the edge between country and city life better than any cartoon out there.

Two Firsts: Robinson and Obama

Two firsts: Robinson and Obama
From Times Online
November 6, 2008
Barack Obama asked gay bishop Gene Robinson what it was like to be 'first'
Bishop Gene Robinson

Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

Barack Obama sought out controversial gay bishop Gene Robinson not just once but three times during his campaign to become President of the United States, The Times can reveal.

Bishop Robinson, the 80-million strong Anglican Communion’s only openly gay bishop whose consecration in 2003 has left the Anglican Communion on the brink of schism, was sought out by Mr Obama to discuss what it feels like to be “first”.

Bishop Robinson, who received death threats after his election as Bishop of New Hampshire and was advised by police to wear a bullet-proof vest at his consecration, also discussed with Mr Obama the risks incumbent upon being a high-profile leader in a country such as the US.

Bishop Robinson said: “At the end of the day you have to decide whether or not you are going to be paralysed by threats and by violent possibilities or whether you just move on and do what you feel called to do despite the risks.

Bishop Robinson, in London as a guest of the gay rights group Stonewall for its annual “Hero of the Year” awards dinner at the Victoria and Albert Museum tonight, said that Mr Obama’s campaign team had sought him last year and he had the “honour” of three private conversations with the future president of the United States last May and June.

“The first words out of his mouth were: ‘Well you’re certainly causing a lot of trouble’, My response to him was: ‘Well that makes two of us'.”

He said that Mr Obama had indicated his support for equal civil rights for gay and lesbian people and described the election as a “religious experience”.

Bishop Robinson described his conversations with him as part of Mr Obama’s “extraordinary” outreach to all religious communities, not just Christian groups. Mr Obama, although not a member of The Episcopal Church to which Bishop Robinson belongs, is a committed Christian with the United Church of Christ.

He said that the Mr Obama was taller than he had expected and described him as “Lincolnesque”, both literally and metaphorically. They discussed the dangers both of being demonised by opponents and idealised by supporters.

Bishop Robinson said: “And I must say I don’t know if it is an expression here in England or not but he is the genuine article. I think he is exactly who he says he is.”

The bishop, who services on The Episcopal Church pension fund board at national level, said that another member of the board, who had been friends with Mr Obama since college days, shared this view.

The bishop said: “He is impressive, he’s smart, he is an amazing listener. For someone who’s called on to speak all the time when he asks you a question it is not for show, he is actually wanting to know what you think and listens.”

He said that this made a refreshing change from the Bush regime. "We’ve had eight years of someone who has listened to almost no one.”

He added: “To see the tears in the eyes of African-Americans, it’s just been a profoundly, I would say religious, experience, very exciting.”

They spent more time discussing international issues than lesbians and gays. “He certainly indicated his broad and deep support for the full civil rights for gay and lesbian ... I pressed him on the Millennium Development Goals. I wanted to know whether he thought more about them than just they were a good idea but whether he had any intention of pushing for their full funding and so on.”

Bishop Robinson said he feared that the economic crisis might affect this agenda. “I hope the United States will not shirk its responsibilities in aid to the developing world. That’s going to be a hard-fought fight, not just with President Obama but all the powers in Washington.”

The Anglican church’s first gay bishop and the United States’ first black President-elect discussed in depth the place of religion in the state.

Bishop Robinson said: “He and I would agree about the rightful place of religion vis-a-vis the secular state. That is to say, we don’t impose our religious values on the secular state because God said so. Our faith informs our own values and then we take those values into the civil market place, the civil discourse, and then you argue for them based on the Constitution. You don’t say to someone, you must believe this because this is what God believes.

“I think God gives us our values and then we argue for those on the basis of the Constitution and care of our neighbour. And I think the Bush administration got very very close to the line if not going over the line in terms of offering support to religious-based groups who were using their social service arms to proselytise and evangelise which I would say is inappropriate.”

Bishop Robinson said that Mr Obama had not hesitated to talk about his faith.

“I find that remarkable, not only in a politician but also in a Democrat. For years it’s only been Republicans who wanted to talk about religion. All the Democratic candidates felt disposed to do so this year.”

COMMENT: +Gene Robinson is one of my heros. He is an incredibly generous person, one who has truely put his life on the line so that people like me can do what they are called by God to do. I post this because I find it incredible that President-elect Obama has sought counsel from my friend, +Gene. For me it is a sign of good things to come for LGBT people--but more than that. It says something about the networking that our new president will bring to his office. We always hope at the beginning of a new regime. I do hope that the President-elect will be able to bring the warring parts of our nation to the table of compromise for the betterment of the whole of the world.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Enough Already!

I have had a hard time writing of late. I was trying to write something on the beauty of God and how artists are called to imitate the beauty of God in what ever medium that they have. But I have been brought up short by the nastiness of this election.

I am tired of hearing that Barak is a Muslim—not because being a Muslim is a bad thing. We are a country that should be able to accept a Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, or a non-believer in the White House. But I am tired of people telling bald-faced lies in order to discredit a candidate. It does remind me of the lies they told about John F. Kennedy when a Roman Catholic aspired to the highest elective office in the nation. There were tales that he would have a direct line to the Vatican installed in the White House. JFK was far from the virulent Opus Dei type Catholic that unchurched Protestants feared.

Barak Obama is a member of the United Church of Christ—the old Congregational Church—that quintessential American manifestation of the Reformed Christian movement that founded this land. Because his father named him with more Afro-centric names rather than saddle his kid with a slave name, right-wing religionists have smeared him. It is the grossest form of slander. I have even heard people quote Revelation to perpetuate their lies that he is the Anti-Christ. This is disgraceful, sinful, and unworthy of the American public.

I will fight to the death for people to have the right to vote for whomever they think is right. But I will not continue to support those who would smear a candidate simply for the color of his skin or the ethnic background from which he comes. This is like calling someone who has a German last name a Nazi, or some one of Russian decent, a communist simply because of his name.

It is as if the ethics of Christianity are overlooked when it comes to electioneering. We tout ourselves as a ‘Christian nation’ and yet we ignore the basic morality of Jesus Christ by passing around such cheap shots in this smear campaign.

I am not fond of Sarah Palin. I neither like her platform nor her lack of experience. But I like less the kinds of misogynistic drivel that has come out about her. I really disliked the same kind of stuff being leveled at Hilary Clinton too. Have we not come far enough as a nation to discuss the merits of a platform? Have we not become clear enough in our understanding of how we can move forward as a nation without lying? Without taking potshots about someone’s religion or one’s gender?

I used to be able to listen to this kind of low-level mudslinging and “consider the source”. But the sources are now becoming the substance rather than the by-product of small minds. Our election process is becoming a laughing stock to the nations when it was once the hope of the nations. Tomorrow is the final day of this. I pray that the American public can go to the polls and vote for the candidate because of the quality of the person and the importance of their platform, not untruths told by fearful men.