Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday Five: A Fork in the Road

Singing Owl has posted an amazing Friday Five. I am blown away with this one. It is a good one for Lent when I am looking at the times when I have changed, when I have taken the path less traveled or when I have chosen Christ’s way rather than my own.

I am at a life-changing juncture. I do not know which way I will go, but I have been thinking about the times, people and events that changed my life (for good or ill) in significant ways. For today's Friday Five, share with us five "fork-in-the-road" events, or persons, or choices. And how did life change after these forks in the road?”

1. One was going to college. It was considered a waste of money to send a girl to college when all she was going to do was get married when I was 17. But I did get a scholarship and was pig-headed enough to go. I went from being a poor student to the dean’s list. My brother and I were the first in our family to get higher education. It moved both B. and me from being working-class to being middle-classed. That I went on to work on my doctorate even blew me away.

2. Choosing to follow Christ’s way was one that was not well supported by family either. It was truly the path not well traveled. I must admit that it has been a trail that has forked many times: convent, ordination, several parishes, coming out but they have all been attempts to be faithful. I cannot think of what my life would have been if I had remained a professional musician—it would have been POOR, that’s for sure. Financially I would have been better if I had stayed a teacher, but I doubt my psyche would have.

3. The choice not to be intimidated by my bishop’s bullying tactics and to stand for what was true and right before God was a difficult choice. I had to choose to follow Christ rather than “obey my bishop.” Too bad many Episcopal clergy do not understand the injunction to obey their bishop means to “obey Christ in the person of one’s bishop.” This has been a painful journey because I miss my Church so much, but God has blessed this passage with honorable and holy companions along the way.

4. The path through Lutheranism has brought some important growth to my faith. It has made me more pliant in my understanding of liturgy and theology. It has called me to appreciate the German and Scandinavian cultures and laugh at my Anglican heritage a bit more.

5. Like Singing Owl, I too stand at a crossroads. I am nearing retirement. I will need to choose to retire sometime in the next 5 years. Since I am healthy, I am more inclined to continue working because I love my congregation. There is the possibility of moving south where my joints are a bit better oiled and I could work within my own denomination. But that remains to be seen. It would be nice to be closer to family. That decision I do not have to make now. I can continue on my present path. The economy may inform this decision more than anything else.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Same Song--Umteenth verse...

Note: Over the past few months I have been commenting on the daily Bible readings coming from the ELCA. It has been a good exercise for me, especially at a time when I found it difficult to provide a daily comment on my blog. It has kept Polyhymnia, the muse of the sacred, flowing. Now is the time for me to continue commenting on things sacred and profane.

Yesterday in our congregation we attempted to discuss the Report on Human Sexuality recently from the ELCA. I have to really give the ELCA credit for addressing a very difficult issue. For the most part, the document is a measured instrument that recognizes the polarization in the church and the potential for schism in our midst. But at least they now have a document that has been discussed in most of their congregations before actions have been made that have the potential to tear at the fabric of communion as what happened to the Episcopal Church. It is a document worth wading through the verbage.

Lutherans put much stock in verbage, if the Augsburg Confession is any example. And this new statement follows in kind. Reading it is somewhat like reading the Gospel of John--it goes around in spirals finally coming to the place where it allows that our sexuality is a gift from God for the purpose to be in relationship. It has wonderful statements based upon Scripture and human sciences. It is a document to be recieved with open hands and handled with reverance. It is not something that you can beat someone else over the head with.

This document will be discussed by bishops and then brought to the Church Wide Assembly this summer to be voted upon. But the issue will never be over. No vote will determine this document doctrine because it is not meant to be such. It is a statement of where the ELCA is at present.

It is a healthy look at human sexuality and as ambivilant about how to legislate it as most of us are. The Church sees human sexuality as a gift from God and has chosen to hold that gift gently for the sake of all. On several things it is clear, however. It is says emphatically that a Christian may not exclude or vilify others over sexual orientation. It is a good news after so many centuries of excoriating the lgbt community. It also is emphatic that sexual acts are to be between equals, anything else is abuse.

But like my friend Elizabeth Kaeton who commented on the movement in the seminary community to have human sexuality as a required course on the seminary level, I am beginning to get rather bored with the subject that so many believe to be the litmus test of one's fidelity:

Quite frankly, I've grown really weary of The Great Debate on Human Sexuality - because, well, it's not about Human Sexuality. It's always about Homosexuality and Reproductive Rights - especially abortion.

It has also long ago ceased being a 'debate' or even a discussion. It's more just a religious 'shouting match' which, at this point, the opposing view could write the response for the other perspective.

It seems to come down to two things:

1. What the Bible says - including the infamous Seven Clobber Verses and an interesting if not controversial definition of "life" and "murder".

2. The "ick factor": Those who can't get beyond their own personal revulsion of the graphic pictures of aborted fetuses so popularly promoted by Anti-Abortion folks (an admittedly difficult task, which is precisely why they do it), or of "sex acts" in general, but homosexual (especially male) sex acts in particular.

I am also convinced that we allow ourselves to be stuck here because it's a nifty way to avoid discussing other, more controversial subjects.

Like, say, MONEY - and all of the issues that flow from that one topic. Like, say: what is an effective response Christians can make to reversing the devastating effects of poverty, hunger, lack of education, limited access to quality health care.

You know. Like that. Nah, it's much more fun to have a shouting match over abortion and/or homosexuality. It's much more, you should excuse the expression, 'sexy.'

I do think that the issue of Sex becomes a way to throw a monkey wrench into the real issues that face us as Christians--how do we love one another and how can we serve one another in the name of Christ? It is time to look at much more pressing issues such as how we use money to make us unequal, how we have stratified our society so that we do not have to see one another as equals or how we can be peaceful in our transactions with one another.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


A sermon for the Feast of the Transfiguration

Yesterday I spent the morning attending the deacons’ training on the Old Testament event for our Southern Tier Conference. I went because I am teaching the portion on the Gospels next month and wanted to know the level of learning that I should teach. Pastor Michele did a wonderful presentation of how to approach Hebrew Scriptures. But the difficulty is in trying to fit the important points of 3, 000 years of history, culture, theology and literature into a matter of hours. And those of us who teach these courses have years of studying to shave down material to a matter of hours. I came away somewhat frustrated. It is the same thing that happens in trying to preach—how to shave down the myriad of meanings of three Scripture passages as they apply to us today.

I love studying Scripture. Sometimes it is easy to get lost in the various passages we have in our worship services. And it is easy to take a story out of context and apply our own present point of view and therefore distort what that passage originally meant. But it takes a willingness to stop and look at what the author of the passage is trying to say. This is when the true study of Scripture takes place.

Today’s gospel reading is a point in hand. This is the story of the Transfiguration. I have heard explanations of this story that include everything from a very mundane experience of mass hysteria to this story as a case for extra-terrestrial intervention in the Bible. But in order to study Scripture honestly and in keeping with the traditions of Scripture study in the Lutheran and Episcopal churches we need to ask questions of the text. And the first question we need to ask of the passage is “What is the writer of the passage trying to tell his readers about God?”

In today’s gospel reading Jesus takes Peter, James and John up to a high mountain ostensibly for prayer. To the Israelite mind, ‘to go up upon the mountain’ is to commune with God. It means that Jesus was going out to have an experience of the Holy One. And while there, Elijah, and Moses, both long-dead and iconic heroes of the people of Israel appear with Jesus to Peter, James and John. We don’t know which mountain this is. It doesn’t matter because this is a story that is told to show that Jesus is greater than Elijah and Moses. This story is told to say that Jesus is the son of God. This passage is not meant to tell you exactly what happened—it is told to define who God was for Mark and the people he wrote the gospel for. He wrote the gospel to tell the story of Jesus and Jesus was more than a Messiah.

We also find that Mark wanted to remind his readers that this Jesus stood in the line of the prophets of Israel. He was the pinnacle of the history of Judah. But all these suggest that Mark was writing history and not myth or metaphor, even if the story, like so many stories in the Gospels (and much of science, by the way), is easier to describe than to explain.
“Whether Peter, James and John had an ecstatic vision, or whether Jesus was literally if briefly "metamorphosized" before their very eyes, the natural, physical phenomenon of brilliant light is secondary to the supernatural, metaphysical affirmation of the voice from the cloud — this Jesus whom the disciples followed was not just a rebel rabbi, clever sage, socio-political provocateur, subversive wisdom teacher, ascetic, or failed apocalyptic troublemaker. The transfiguration portrays him as the Cosmic Lord of all human history, and God's beloved and specifically appointed Son. Having thus experienced a fleeting glimpse and foretaste of the full and final consummation of all things, the conclusion is inevitable: "Listen to him."” Dan Clendenin
Mark was trying to explain an experience of the Divine. We do not know all that Peter, James and John saw. What we have is most likely the explanation of Peter, or James, or John, years later as they understood their own conversion to Jesus as more than a charismatic rabbi.
The more I live into this life of Jesus, I am aware of how important it is that we be clear about who Jesus is in our lives. There are those who claim Jesus as Divine—the only begotten Son of God. There are those who find him to be a remarkable human being whom God has chosen to proclaim him as Creator. It doesn’t matter to me. What IS important is that we are clear that Jesus has impacted our lives in a way that we are changed by it. That is the important thing about the event we call the Transfiguration.
To be changed by God, to be moved to transform the way we once were because we have come to embrace God and God’s creation is conversion. Conversion is not a single event. Conversion is a daily action that re-enforces that initial moment in which we came to know God as God. And even if we do not have some mountain-top experience, we know those who have and have found those experiences enough to make our selves available to God’s grace.
The Transfiguration of Jesus is our story too. Each of us has that moment when Christ becomes that Holy One. Each of us, through prayer, through worship, through the sacraments, through study, through miraculous events that have happened to us come to the same moment. It is when we realize without a doubt that God loves us, that God saves us, that God is present to us and will be for all time. Jesus may not appear with Elijah and Moses, but we come to an affirmation of our faith that is inexplicable, not easily shared but deeply confirmed in our hearts.
I watch the events of the Church with some apprehension. I know deep within me that there is a kind of conversion going on in mainline Protestantism. I do not know where it is going. We are seeing churches changing allegiances. We hear of churches closing or combining. We feel discomfiture in changes in age-old traditions that are as much of our faith as the Bible. But one thing for certain, God has promised not to leave us, or creation, orphans. Lutheranism and Episcopalianism is going to change. We will be transformed by God’s love if we but remain faithful to that vision that Peter, James and John had 2000 years ago. They came to know that God was active in their lives and they changed their world.
Today, we are provided with that same vision. God has changed our lives and we are called by God to not only be changed by that vision, but to share that vision of God’s love with the world. I do not know what our churches are going to look like in another hundred years. Even the children being raised here in St. Luke’s will know what the church will become. But we are living out what it means to be faithful to that vision—that idea that the world can be converted by a love if we are but willing to be moved by it. I cannot change myself alone, but only by the grace of God. I cannot proclaim the love of God, except by the grace of God. I cannot do otherwise because that vision of Jesus has become my vision. And it is that vision—that experience of conversion has permeated how I see the world as it has for Christians for 2 thousand years.
The church may not be the same kind of organization in the future. We may not attend great buildings, or sing the same hymns as our forbearers. But I do believe that the vision of Jesus to confirm in his disciples’ lives the message of God’s active presence will continue in the stories we tell and our children tell and our children’s children tell of the Holy One who stood in the traditions of his people and told of the intimacy of God’s converting, transforming, transfiguring love. AMEN

Friday, February 20, 2009

FRIDAY FIVE: Taking a Break

Songbird has come up with another amazing Friday Five:

Where we live, it's February School Vacation Week!

Yes, that's an odd thing, a vacation extending President's Day. But it's part of our lives here. Some people go South or go skiing, but we always stay home and find more humble amusements.

In that spirit, I offer this Taking a Break Friday Five. Tell us how you would spend:

1. a 15 minute break:

I stretch, get a cuppa coffee or tea depending upon who is in the office that has been brewing, shuffle to the loo, chat with anyone who is in the office and then try to get back to work.

2. an afternoon off

A luxury! I might get my nails done, or go shopping or take a nap. I do take afternoons off these days when there is nothing pressing. I might go to the book store where there is also a coffee shop and look at what is new.

3. an unexpected free day

Usually if I get an unexpected day it is due to snow so I read or play with the computer and enjoy researching things about church history or the Bible online while fixing a long cooking meal. If it is not snowing, a drive through the wine region of NY or a trip to visit friends will fill the bill.

4. a week's vacation

I try to get outta Dodge when I have that much time. If J. can go with me, we will plan a vacation. At this time of the year the Bahamas sure sound good. But there is so little money at the moment, we might go to TX and stay with my family. At least it is warmer. I have just returned from a 2 week visit with my mom. The weather there was warm enough for me to unwind and be able to face the last 2 months of winter in NY.

5. a sabbatical

I have had one sabbatical in my career back in the mid-90’s. I tried to stuff too much into it and didn’t get the chance to do anyone thing deeply. I did get to see a much broader part of the Anglican Communion, but I was more tired when I returned than when I went. Now I think I would like to go to the Diocese of Ft. Worth and just serve in parishes that do not have clergy. A large portion of that diocese left the Episcopal Church with the bishop and a major portion of the clergy. The lay folk are pretty mystified by it all and could use some clergy who will come and love them and show them that the rest of the Episcopal Church cares.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Psalm 6

Prayer for healing

O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger,
or discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
My soul also is struck with terror,
while you, O Lord--how long?

Turn, O Lord, save my life;
deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who can give you praise?

I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eyes waste away because of grief;
they grow weak because of all my foes.

Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my supplication;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror;
they shall turn back, and in a moment be put to shame.

Comments: Hmmmm, the folks who put out the passage for the day have my number, today. The day is going to be one of those “How-long, O Lord” days. But I stand in the confidence that “The Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord accepts my prayer.” With that I can face all things that assail me today. Thank you, Holy One.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Five: Pets

Sophia gave us something to ponder:

My son's tiny beloved lizard, Elf, is looking and acting strange this week. His skin/scales are quite dark, and he is lethargic. We are adding vitamin drops to his lettuce and spinach and hoping and praying that he is just getting ready to shed his skin--but it's too soon to tell. Others in the ring have also been worried about beloved pets this week. And, in the saddest news of all, Songbird has had to bid farewell to her precious Molly, the amazing dog who is well known to readers of her blog as a constant sacrament of God's unconditional love.

So in memory of Molly, and in honor of all the beloved animal companions who bless our lives: tell us about the five most memorable pets you have known.

1. I am a cat person so my beasties have all been cats. My most intimate cat was Gizmo. She came to us because a colleague of J.’s couldn’t have the cat in his new apartment. She was with us 18 of her 19 years. She was a silver-grey somewhat long-haired runt. She was a tiny little thing with multi-toes on the front so she always looked like a retriever pup. She liked sleeping under the covers and would cuddle on my arm under the covers when it was cold. She didn’t want to sit in our laps, but along side of us. She was an excellent mouser.

2. There was Cat-Cat. He was a big yellow neutered Tom. We got him from the pound. He was with me when I went to my first call. He was not allowed on the furniture but my secretary loved him so much that he got to sit on her desk while I was out of the house. He was a great mouser. One Sunday morning I came home from one of my parishes to find he had lined up 6 river rats in the garage as gifts for me. They were all arranged in a semi-circle and he was parading around them as if to say, “See, Mom, I have been working while you were gone!” On a warm Sunday morning he would hear me preaching and he would come into the church and wander down the aisle much to the disgust of my head usher.

3. We now have 2 cats. Mitzie is our elder statescat. She came to J’s rectory in ’93 pregnant. We had 2 of her kittens for a long while. She was spaded after that. She is a big tortoise-shell domestic long-hair. She too is a poly-dactyl and has the biggest front feet of any cat I have seen. Her claws don’t retract well and she has a difficult time with her claws and hates to have her feet touched. She does NOT like to be picked up. She does not like to sit in one’s lap. But she does like to sit next to you. The only mousing that Mitzie does is when I am sitting on the couch with my laptop and using my mouse. She doesn’t like my hand moving around so she will put her paw on my mouse hand with just enough claw to let me know that the mouse is HERS!

4. Tyke we got from the cat rescue. He is a light-grey tabby short hair with the cutest face that has much expression. He is only about 5. We thought he was going to be a small cat like Gizmo, but he has grown into a standard cat-size. He is ALL BOY. He loves to try to lord it over Mitzie, but she holds her own pretty well even in her dotage. When he was a kitten, he would splash in the ponds in the yard. It was like looking at a 2 year old boy. He thinks the computer mouse is his toy. He attacks the cord when it is in use. His favorite place is on the back of the couch so he can look out the window. Because he was a feral cat, he let us know fairly early that he was an outdoor cat. After he made his own ‘cat door’ on the screen porch, we had a real cat door installed. But through the winter, he is a bit of a wuss. He too is a good mouser. He took a bat out of the air once. That was at some ungodly hour in my bedroom! He has brought in birds and chipmunks to ‘play’ with which I have to praise him for and then nurse back to health. At the moment he is lying in a patch of sunlight that is coming in. He gives me the impression that he would rather be in Florida.

5. The past couple of weeks I have been visiting my niece in TX. Her grown daughter was out of town and so T. was keeping her dogs. With T’s own 2, a boxer and a terrier mutt we had a Great Dane, a border collie, and two tea-cup Chihuahuas. The sound of nails upon hard wood floors was omni-present. It was just too much Dog for me, but they were all well-behaved and gentle. Add T’s horse and we were quite a menagerie.

Leviticus 14:1-20

The purification of persons with leprosy

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: This shall be the ritual for the leprous person at the time of his cleansing:

He shall be brought to the priest; the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall make an examination. If the disease is healed in the leprous person, the priest shall command that two living clean birds and cedarwood and crimson yarn and hyssop be brought for the one who is to be cleansed. The priest shall command that one of the birds be slaughtered over fresh water in an earthen vessel. He shall take the living bird with the cedarwood and the crimson yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was slaughtered over the fresh water. He shall sprinkle it seven times upon the one who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease; then he shall pronounce him clean, and he shall let the living bird go into the open field. The one who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, and shave off all his hair, and bathe himself in water, and he shall be clean. After that he shall come into the camp, but shall live outside his tent seven days. On the seventh day he shall shave all his hair: of head, beard, eyebrows; he shall shave all his hair. Then he shall wash his clothes, and bathe his body in water, and he shall be clean.

On the eighth day he shall take two male lambs without blemish, and one ewe lamb in its first year without blemish, and a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of choice flour mixed with oil, and one log of oil. The priest who cleanses shall set the person to be cleansed, along with these things, before the Lord, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. The priest shall take one of the lambs, and offer it as a guilt offering, along with the log of oil, and raise them as an elevation offering before the Lord. He shall slaughter the lamb in the place where the sin offering and the burnt offering are slaughtered in the holy place; for the guilt offering, like the sin offering, belongs to the priest: it is most holy. The priest shall take some of the blood of the guilt offering and put it on the lobe of the right ear of the one to be cleansed, and on the thumb of the right hand, and on the big toe of the right foot. The priest shall take some of the log of oil and pour it into the palm of his own left hand, and dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand and sprinkle some oil with his finger seven times before the Lord. Some of the oil that remains in his hand the priest shall put on the lobe of the right ear of the one to be cleansed, and on the thumb of the right hand, and on the big toe of the right foot, on top of the blood of the guilt offering. The rest of the oil that is in the priest's hand he shall put on the head of the one to be cleansed. Then the priest shall make atonement on his behalf before the Lord: the priest shall offer the sin offering, to make atonement for the one to be cleansed from his uncleanness. Afterward he shall slaughter the burnt offering; and the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar. Thus the priest shall make atonement on his behalf and he shall be clean.

Comments: This is the foundation for the sacramental act of the rite of healing. But the understanding of illness in Moses’ day was that illness was the result of sin, either personal or some other member of the family. It also separated one from the community. Lepers and those with any kind of visible disease were not allowed access to their families, the fundamental community of the society. They could only follow behind the migration of the nomadic people and had no access to the family tents or hearths. To be restored to health was to also be restored to the human community.

Jesus’ atonement restores us to the community of faith. And while we do not have to physically journey outside of the community, sin does create a gulf between the sinner and God. God does not cast us out. It is we, ourselves that distance ourselves from the source of our living. Atonement, the act of Jesus on the Cross, gives us the grace to return us to the company of the faithful. And since we are all sinners, all redeemed by the grace of God, this reuniting with the community of God sets us free to be the heirs of God. I am thankful I don’t have to shave my head just because I have dandruff or have to have my right ear anointed in order to have lunch with my friends. God is good, all the time.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Galatians 6:1-18

NOTE: I accidentally deleted the daily Bible reading from the ELCA. But this is the daily reading from the American Bible Society. This is from the Contemporary English Version.

1My friends, if someone is caught in any kind of wrongdoing, those of you who are spiritual should set him right; but you must do it in a gentle way. And keep an eye on yourselves, so that you will not be tempted, too. 2Help carry one another's burdens, and in this way you will obey the law of Christ. 3If you think you are something when you really are nothing, you are only deceiving yourself. 4 You should each judge your own conduct. If it is good, then you can be proud of what you yourself have done, without having to compare it with what someone else has done. 5For each of you have to carry your own load.
6If you are being taught the Christian message, you should share all the good things you have with your teacher.
7Do not deceive yourselves; no one makes a fool of God. You will reap exactly what you plant. 8 If you plant in the field of your natural desires, from it you will gather the harvest of death; if you plant in the field of the Spirit, from the Spirit you will gather the harvest of eternal life. 9So let us not become tired of doing good; for if we do not give up, the time will come when we will reap the harvest. 10So then, as often as we have the chance, we should do good to everyone, and especially to those who belong to our family in the faith.
11See what big letters I make as I write to you now with my own hand! 12 The people who are trying to force you to be circumcised are the ones who want to show off and boast about external matters. They do it, however, only so that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13Even those who practice circumcision do not obey the Law; they want you to be circumcised so that they can boast that you submitted to this physical ceremony. 14As for me, however, I will boast only about the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; for by means of his cross the world is dead to me, and I am dead to the world. 15It does not matter at all whether or not one is circumcised; what does matter is being a new creature. 16As for those who follow this rule in their lives, may peace and mercy be with them-with them and with all of God's people!
17To conclude: let no one give me any more trouble, because the scars I have on my body show that I am the slave of Jesus.
18May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, my friends. Amen.

Comments: Paul is dealing with a problem in the Galatian church. Other evangelists have come to teach the followers of Jesus most likely from Jerusalem who understood the Way of Jesus to be a form of Orthodox Judaism. They understood the way to God as through the Mosaic Law. Paul, on the other hand, felt that if some one was not born under Mosaic Law, one should not be circumcised and take on Mosaic Law as a discipline. Paul understood that it was not the Law which made one righteous. It was the grace of God.
What kind of disciplines do I take on to tell me that I am loved by God? As I prepare for Lent, I need find ways to boast in the Cross rather than how well I can follow the rules. What Lenten practice can I undertake that will help me grow in my love and respect for others in the name of Christ Jesus?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Psalm 102:12-28

Prayer for healing

But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever;
your name endures to all generations.
You will rise up and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to favor it;
the appointed time has come.
For your servants hold its stones dear,
and have pity on its dust.
The nations will fear the name of the Lord,
and all the kings of the earth your glory.
For the Lord will build up Zion;
he will appear in his glory.
He will regard the prayer of the destitute,
and will not despise their prayer.

Let this be recorded for a generation to come,
so that a people yet unborn may praise the Lord:
that he looked down from his holy height,
from heaven the Lord looked at the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners,
to set free those who were doomed to die;
so that the name of the Lord may be declared in Zion,
and his praise in Jerusalem,
when peoples gather together,
and kingdoms, to worship the Lord.

He has broken my strength in midcourse;
he has shortened my days.
"O my God," I say, "do not take me away
at the mid-point of my life,
you whose years endure
throughout all generations."

Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you endure;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You change them like clothing, and they pass away;
but you are the same, and your years have no end.
The children of your servants shall live secure;
their offspring shall be established in your presence.

Comments: I looked this psalm up in the Jewish Study Bible and I like its translation better than the NRSV. This is the last half of a lament of someone who is waiting for the Temple to be restored after the Exile. What is important from this lament is that the psalmist is secure in the knowledge of the permanence of God. Ill, and perhaps fearing that his life will be cut short, the psalmist is petitioning God that his health may be restored. But at the center of his prayer is contentment and surrender to the will of God. His praise is consistent even if his prayer is not answered the way that he wants. It is God’s sustaining presence that is important.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Acts 14:1-7

Resistance to the message of the apostles

The same thing occurred in Iconium, where Paul and Barnabas went into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who testified to the word of his grace by granting signs and wonders to be done through them. But the residents of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. And when an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, the apostles learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country; and there they continued proclaiming the good news.

Comments: Sound like what has happened in such places at the Dioceses of Ft. Worth, Pittsburgh and San Joachin in the Episcopal Church. I wish we would read our Bibles more and do less mud slinging. Thanks be to God, Ft. Worth is getting its act together and the Spirit is moving.

Friday, February 6, 2009


Friday Five: My Favorite Things

Songbird has said:

In a week of wondering how various things in our family life will unfold, I found myself thinking of the way Maria comforted the Von Trapp children in one of my favorite movies. Frightened by a thunder storm, the children descend upon her, and she sings to them about her favorite things, taking their minds off the storm.

So, let's encourage ourselves. Share with us five of your favorite things. Use words or pictures, whatever expresses it best.
My favorite things:

1. I love fly-fishing although the past couple of years I have not been able to go. My knees have been bothersome and walking in streams with rocky bottoms gives me fits anymore. But I still love the study of the various bugs that trout will eat and the tying of flies so that they will be realistic. Even more I love people who fly-fish. They are usually calm on the water and downright nutz when they get off the stream.
2. I am presently with my mother in TX. Mom cannot hear well, cannot see and now she cannot speak but a few words. She knows me though and when she can hear me, she understands what I am telling her. Today I bought her a new chair for her assisted living room. Her smile made my day. She hangs on to my hand and holds it up to her face. This kind of physical closeness is not what I grew up with. But it is all she has of me now. Such small things….
3. I love the liturgy of my Episcopal Church. I celebrated according to the BCP on Sunday and was surprised at how much I miss it. This does not mean that I don’t love celebrating in my ELCA parish. I do. The life-giving liturgy of the signs and symbols of the Church—no matter what denomination communicates the love of Jesus and I love that. And I see some places where the Lutheran liturgy tells the story a bit better than the BCP. But the BCP is in my blood and I miss it.
4. I have been gone from my family for over 35 years. This being with my niece and her family and with my Mom for longer than my usual week a couple times of year has been quite special. There is a lot of bittersweetness to family relations. But I am getting to like being around them again. I would not say that TX is my favorite place. There are still many things that detract from the culture here than add to it. But this trip home has been better than any time I have been here over the past 30 years. Is it me? Is it them? Has FTW changed? I guess we both have.
5. My other most favorite thing? Texas BBQ!

Job 36:1-23

God's goodness is exalted

Elihu continued and said:
"Bear with me a little, and I will show you,
for I have yet something to say on God's behalf.
I will bring my knowledge from far away,
and ascribe righteousness to my Maker.
For truly my words are not false;
one who is perfect in knowledge is with you.

"Surely God is mighty and does not despise any;
he is mighty in strength of understanding.
He does not keep the wicked alive,
but gives the afflicted their right.
He does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous,
but with kings on the throne
he sets them forever, and they are exalted.
And if they are bound in fetters
and caught in the cords of affliction,
then he declares to them their work
and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly.
He opens their ears to instruction,
and commands that they return from iniquity.
If they listen, and serve him,
they complete their days in prosperity,
and their years in pleasantness.
But if they do not listen, they shall perish by the sword,
and die without knowledge.

"The godless in heart cherish anger;
they do not cry for help when he binds them.
They die in their youth,
and their life ends in shame.
He delivers the afflicted by their affliction,
and opens their ear by adversity.
He also allured you out of distress
into a broad place where there was no constraint,
and what was set on your table was full of fatness.

"But you are obsessed with the case of the wicked;
judgment and justice seize you.
Beware that wrath does not entice you into scoffing,
and do not let the greatness of the ransom turn you aside.
Will your cry avail to keep you from distress,
or will all the force of your strength?
Do not long for the night,
when peoples are cut off in their place.
Beware! Do not turn to iniquity;
because of that you have been tried by affliction.
See, God is exalted in his power;
who is a teacher like him?
Who has prescribed for him his way,
or who can say, 'You have done wrong'?

Comments: Reading Job is like dealing with what I call ‘popular religion’. Elihu, Job’s good friend is trying to warn Job from becoming angry because of all the things that have happened to him. But Elihu is not aware of the contest going on between God and Satan in this morality tale. He is telling Job that he needs to stay on God’s right side and accept what has happened to him. But Job IS angry. He does confront God and ask for justice. Justice is finally granted simply because Job is faithful. Job does not throw off his relationship with God.

The whole point of this tale of Job is to try to explain ‘why bad things happen to good people.’ All too often we believe like Elihu that when bad things happen to us, it is the result of sin, or some misdeed. We somehow expect God to be manipulated by our good works. But that is not what happens in the relationship between God and human. Bad things happen! Period. Full Stop. They do not happen because we are good, or because we are sinful. Good things do not happen because we are righteous either. Good and bad happens to all human beings. It is our relationship with God that helps us live through both good and bad times. Often what happens is NOT just, as with this story of Job. It is, however, our relationship with God that makes good and evil make sense, allows us to choose the good, and live in a way that is not only pleasing to God but pleasing to ourselves.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Psalm 35:1-10

God is our salvation

Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me;
fight against those who fight against me!
Take hold of shield and buckler,
and rise up to help me!
Draw the spear and javelin
against my pursuers;
say to my soul,
"I am your salvation."

Let them be put to shame and dishonor
who seek after my life.
Let them be turned back and confounded
who devise evil against me.
Let them be like chaff before the wind,
with the angel of the Lord driving them on.
Let their way be dark and slippery,
with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.

For without cause they hid their net for me;
without cause they dug a pit for my life.
Let ruin come on them unawares.
And let the net that they hid ensnare them;
let them fall in it--to their ruin.

Then my soul shall rejoice in the Lord,
exulting in his deliverance.
All my bones shall say,
"O Lord, who is like you?
You deliver the weak
from those too strong for them,
the weak and needy from those who despoil them."

Comments: This psalm is just too convenient for me. It is just too easy to think that my adversaries will be taken care of by God. I got a nasty comment on stoneofwitness about by evaluation of the bishop in FTW. I could ask God to come down and wreck vengeance, but that is not where I want to be. In fact, I don’t really want their dishonor; I don’t want to draw my sword or javelin. I want to be able to articulate my vision for church just as anyone else. I need to deal with my desire for vengence. That is my sin. I know that I am forgiven and can stand in that forgiveness without a need to bring grief on those who are my enemies.

The God of the Universe neither comes down and wrecks vengeance upon my enemies, nor do I need to pray against others. For the message of the love of Jesus Christ to be heard, I must call upon myself to stand in the security of God’s love and articulate what I know to be truth. Only in that do the words of Psalm 35 have any meaning for today. But like the psalmist I can say, “O Lord, who is like you?” My strength is in God, not in the despoliation of the proud.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

1 Corinthians 7:32-40 Marriage? Not really.

Paul on marriage

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord.

If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his fiancee, if his passions are strong, and so it has to be, let him marry as he wishes; it is no sin. Let them marry. But if someone stands firm in his resolve, being under no necessity but having his own desire under control, and has determined in his own mind to keep her as his fiancee, he will do well. So then, he who marries his fiancee does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.

A wife is bound as long as her husband lives. But if the husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my judgment she is more blessed if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

Comments: First of all, despite the heading some editor has given this passage it is NOT about marriage, certainly not marriage as it is lived out in our society. It is about anxiety. Paul believed that the end time was coming soon, within his lifetime. He basically wanted the followers of the Way of Jesus to be content with what they were and what they had because he believed all was passing away. Marriage in Mediterranean society was based upon easing the male sex drive. Young men and women were seen as incapable of sexual discipline and were married soon after puberty to provide a proper outlet.

Paul’s advice for us today is still important, however. Because we have embraced a God who loves us and cares for us, the anxiety that permeates the get-ahead motivations of our present society should not direct our lives. I am not a pie-in-the-sky Christian. I believe that Christ has already come and that we are called to live out the security of Christ’s saving love in ours. This means that we neither have to worry about getting ahead, nor do we have to worry about the world coming to end. We can live in relationships that are based in love and not necessarily in sex. Over the past 100 years we in the Western culture have come to a new understanding of sex. However, we have not yet dealt with a new ethic of sexual behavior. The emerging Church is going to have to come to some important decisions about how humanity is to order our sexual feelings so that we can respect others.

Should we marry? Of course, if the relationship is one that is based in the love of God. Should we live alone? Of course, if that is how one can live out the love of God. Sexual promiscuity, inappropriate relations between adults and children and unequal power relationships do not proclaim God’s generosity and delight in the sexual relationship. Marriage is not about living out roles. It is the God-given ability to surrender to the partner at all levels of the relationship, while both surrender to God.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Presentation of Our Lord Luke 2:22-40

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord"), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
"Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel."

And the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed -- and a sword will pierce your own soul too."

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Comments: Today is the Feast of the Presentation. It is celebrated in most liturgical churches including the Episcopal and the ELCA. It is the story of the pilgrimage of the parents of Jesus to offer sacrifice in the Temple in Jerusalem. In Jewish custom this event is less of a presentation of Jesus in the Temple than a purification of Mary. This feast, Candlemas, is one of the oldest festivals of the Church known to have been celebrated during the 3rd century CE. It is celebrated in the Western churches on Feb. 2, forty days after Christmas and in Orthodox churches 40 days after Epiphany. In some churches the beeswax candles are blessed on this day. The Canticle Nunc Dimittus, the Now Lord You May Dismiss your Servant, is the portion of the service that is used in the ELCA as a response to the reception of Holy Communion. In the Episcopal Church, this canticle is used during Night Prayer and for Funerals.

Today I am touched by the efforts of Jesus’ family to fulfill the customs and the Mosaic Law. That there were those in the Temple who understood the gravity of this event shows the work of the Holy Spirit. Simeon understood the greatness to which the child was destined. He was to be a Light to the Gentiles—to the nations who were not Jewish. He could die in peace.

I too have seen the efforts of Christ converting the ‘nations’ here in Ft. Worth this week. There is hope for the Episcopal Church yet.