Sunday, December 27, 2009

1 Christmas

How do you begin to imagine the Word made flesh? How does the Word in the flesh come to life in your life? For me that may be a good book that ignites my imagination, takes my brain into places it hasn’t been before, it is in the people I know and the stories they tell. It is also in music.

When I read these words from the beginning of the gospel of John, it is a symphony that I hear. I hear a perfect note as the music begins. The choirmaster at my seminary said that the note most common in nature is a G. As this symphony begins, I imagine it is a G that sings into existence the rest of the story. Music is organic; as is the Love of God. It is in every fiber of creation, the stones shout it out, the wind hums the word, the rain keeps the beat, the grace and truth of Christ is made real in the dance of the spheres.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Every time I hear these words from John I hear the language of music. Sometimes for me the language of music speaks more clearly than words. When I hear this passage from John I am encircled, enveloped, swaddled, if you will, in the awesome and abundant love of our creator. When I hear these words I hear a symphony. I hear the bass, the tuba and the tympani and the baritone, beating as the heart of creation. I hear the bass clarinets, and the bassoons, and the saxophones joining in the building of the harmonies. I hear the flutes and the clarinets and the violins with the melody of love and hope. And I hear the trumpets and the French horns with the blast of the proclamation that God who has created the world comes into it as one of us. And I hear the sadness of the oboe and the English horn, with the news that some do not choose to listen to the music. And then the voices join the fray. Ahh, the dance begins.

Music exists in relationship. The relationship of the composer to the music, the relationship of the music to the hearer, and the relationship of the musicians to the music. Can music really be music without those who hear it?

Music tells us a story. Music has a beginning, a middle, and an end. We, the hearers might like the music, and we might not like the music. When our boys were younger, in elementary school, I would volunteer in their classes to teach a music listening class called Bravo. The idea was to teach children to love and appreciate classical music before others were able to teach them not to like it. In that class we would listen to a piece of music and talk about the story it told. We would imagine the creatures and the people who populated the story of the music.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

These are words, which try to describe and contain the most awesome reality that cannot be described and contained. God, the composer, if you will, sings the perfect note, and in doing so, enters into relationship with the music. The music is Jesus, and we are the hearers. Of course there are tons of flaws with this metaphor, our language is totally inadequate to describe the reality of God. But, once the music begins, you and I, the hearers, will go out and tell others about how the music changed us, we loved it, we hated it, and everything in between. But for the hearing, we are forever changed.

That’s the awesome power here, in the beginning of John. You and I and the world we live in cannot be the same, we are forever changed; God is turning the world around. The music, the light, the word, seeps in and through us so that we can never be who we were before we heard it. And that is the rest of the story. The purpose of the gospel of John is to evangelize; the purpose of the gospel of John is to point to God. The purpose of the gospel of John is to convince the hearer that once we encounter God in the flesh, Jesus, nothing for us, and nothing for our world, can be the same, the world is about to turn.

Because the music, who is God in the flesh, Jesus, lived and died as one of us, a human being. The amazing movement in this symphony is when we thought the music went silent; we thought the darkness put out the light. But it didn’t. The composer began again with a new song, the song that returned the light to the world.

It is this encounter with the word, with the music; it is this relationship between the composer, the music, and you, where eternal life lies. The gospel of John is full of references to eternal life. And in John, eternal life is not something that happens after this life, it is this life. It is the way we live when we hear the music, when we are the musicians, when we encounter Jesus.

Alleluia. To us a child is born: Come let us adore him. Alleluia.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve 2009

Alleluia. To us a child is born: Come let us adore him. Alleluia. This is an amazingly meager set of words to proclaim the event that has changed us forever, the inbreaking of God into our world. "It happened while they were there that her term was up and the days were completed for her to deliver. She delivered her son, the firstborn. And she wrapped him up and placed him in a feed trough because there was no place of lodging for them anywhere else." Certainly an inauspicious set of circumstances in comparison to the cultural celebration of Christmas we witness today. No snowy winter, no animals overlooking the baby's crib, not even a stable, no innkeeper crying out "no room". But then, the inbreaking of God’s kingdom is announced by a rather spectacular appearance to the shepherds by an angel doing what an angel does—delivering a message. At the appearance of the angel, the shepherds respond with fear.

How do we get from the simplicity and grittiness of the feed trough into which this miraculous baby was placed and the splendor of the proclamation by the heavenly choirs singing Glory to God in the highest heaven to the conspicuous consumption that is Christmas today? How do we get from the angel announcing do not be afraid, to the fear of offending someone with the Good News? How do we look forward instead to a world that is marked by the inbreaking of God. God, who is love, and can do nothing but give of Godself. How are we changed by this inconceivable conception? What difference does the incarnation make? Why do we gather on a night like tonight?

I think there are as many answers to these questions as there are people. But I also think there is one answer. God desires not to be a distant God, not to be separate from humanity, but to be with humanity, to be with you, and me, to walk with us, all of us, as individuals and as community, to love us. Incarnation is absolutely amazing. Incarnation is God’s desire for relationship. At any time in our lives, we can choose to be in that relationship or to choose out of that relationship. In the relationship, we have a chance at wholeness, at hope. Not perfection though, you see, the flaws and the scars become part of the beauty, the victory is not the removal of suffering, sadness and death, but the victory is in the relationship that brings our brokenness to wholeness.

We respond to God’s self-giving love for humanity, God’s love for each of us, by opening ourselves to God’s presence right here in our presence, we do that by being present to God’s interruption in our lives. In a world where there is little room at the inn for a poor child, maybe we must make room for God to surprise us with unexpected revelations given by unusual messengers.

We gather on a night like tonight because God’s love for us matters. The creator of the universe, the baby born in a barn, God’s willingness to be with us matters. Without God’s relationship with us, we founder, we lose direction, we are tossed about. Without God’s relationship with us, we look to ourselves as the center of the universe, we whine in the darkness and we implode. Without God’s relationship with us, we are hopeless.

This inconceivable incarnation shows us that the world doesn’t have to be made perfect before it is made new. You and I do not have to be perfect before we are made new. That’s what’s so amazing about God with us. God comes to us in the midst of the chaos, in the midst of the darkness. God comes to be with us in the midst of our isolation and alienation, in the midst of the muck of the stable, and the pain of a Roman cross.

This is an extravagant love, an abundant love, poured out for each one of us as if each one of us was the only one in existence; poured out for all of us in unlimited supply. This abundant love is offered without reservation or regard for what you have and haven’t done, or how many Christmas cookies you make, or how many Christmas presents you give.

The prophets of the Old Testament testified to this love, but the love that God has for creation is beyond comprehension. That is why God came into our midst, to shed light on this love. You see, Jesus is more than a teacher who can help us understand the words in scripture. Jesus is the Word made flesh. We don’t have to figure it all out; we can experience it in relationship.

God with us, God in our midst, the light that has come into the world is the power and the hope of Christmas. And this isn’t just something that has happened, or that happens to us, we are not a passive observer. This is a relationship in which we participate. The Word made flesh meets us in the Flesh. One way we express this participation is when we gather together and the Word is present in our midst, and we are re-membered in the Body and Blood of Christ, just as we are doing right now.

And then we respond to the relationship that God offers us, the love that God offers us, by carrying the light into the world. You see, God’s work is not contained inside a church. We participate in God’s work, and are nourished and fortified to do God’s work, but most of that work takes place out there, it takes place in your work and in your play, in your school. We are to be the light that illuminates God, we are to be the light that shines on people and shows them the way to God.

It’s a new life. It’s a new world. Right here, right now, we are invited to experience the Incarnation we celebrate in Christmas by living and loving as Christ’s body in the world. That’s the light we walk in, that shines all the more brightly in the darkness that cannot overcome it. That’s the hope that sustains us, the peace that keeps us centered amidst life’s turmoil, the joy that makes eternal and abundant life present in the here and now.

Alleluia. To us a child is born: Come let us adore him. Alleluia.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

4 Advent Yr C

Our King and Savior now draws near: Come let us adore him. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. I was wondering with my group of pastor friends the other day about what it would be like if we greeted one another in this way. Each of us are God-bearers, just like Mary and Elizabeth, should we not greet one in expectation and hope? Our advent waiting draws us ever closer to fulfillment.

Elizabeth, barren and too old to conceive, Mary, too young to conceive, both of these child-bearings are inconceivable. Our response to this inconceivable conception calls forth Holy Imagination. I turn to one of my favorite writers, Madeleine L’Engle, when I ponder these things. She writes in a book called Bright Evening Star, “It is not that in believing the story of Jesus we skip reason, but that sometimes we have to go beyond it, take leaps with our imagination, push our brains further than the normally used parts of them are used to going.” She goes on to write “I had to let go all my prejudices and demands for proof and open myself to the wonder of love. Faith is not reasonable because it wasn’t for reason, but for love that Jesus came.”

It is for love that Jesus came, and we need to respond like Mary, like Elizabeth. We need to respond with shouts of joy, with dances of gladness. This Good News changes us forever; it changes our world forever. It is as inconceivable and unreasonable that each of us is a God-bearer as it is that Mary is a Christ-bearer. It is inconceivable that God has burst into our world. And yet, all of Advent we wait in active anticipation of the moment that God bursts into our world as a baby, and that God bursts into our world to bring our history; our lives, to fulfillment. We cannot continue to respond to this Good News with business as usual. We cannot respond to the sacredness of each other the same as usual. Words like, Hello, how ya doing, I’m fine how are you just don’t cut it. The Good News is Our King and Savior now draws near: Come let us adore him!

This inconceivable conception that God bursts into our lives must change us. It changed Mary, it changed Elizabeth, it changed Zechariah, it left him speechless, it changed Joseph, he had to defy the law in order to love and support Mary, it changed a community, it changed an entire people. Mary responds to this inconceivable conception first when the angel Gabriel comes to tell her, and Mary says “let it be to me according to your word.” My hunch is that maybe it took her a little while to come to this kind of brave acceptance, initially she probably said something a little more like “no way, I can’t have a baby, I’m too young, I’m not married.” By the time we catch up with her in the story we read today, Mary is singing “my soul magnifies the Lord.” Mary’s response to this inconceivable conception progresses from brave acceptance to joyful praise. I wonder if Mary needed some time to get used to the idea that she is the Christ-bearer so that she could move from brave acceptance to joyful praise. I wonder if Mary didn’t have a little advent waiting of her own.

When Mary and Elizabeth meet, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps and Mary is filled with such joy and hope that she sings and dances. Mary and Elizabeth lived in a dark time under Herod the Great, whose casual brutality was backed up with the threat of Rome. And yet Mary’s song is a song of freedom, a song of liberation for her people, it is subversive and it is revolutionary. It is joyful and it is hopeful. Advent waiting calls us into this paradox, the paradox that Mary embodies, that finding involves losing; that hiding involves revealing; that birth involves death.

While our culture has been celebrating Christmas since before Thanksgiving, we continue to wait. This fourth Sunday of Advent is oh so difficult, we just want to be there, we just want to have it now, and it is so hard to resist the pressure to just say Merry Christmas. But Advent waiting as Mary shows us, forms us, shapes us, so that the inconceivable conception can take hold of us, and can give birth to the Holy Imagination that bears God into this world.

Mary spent most of her life waiting; from the moment the angel Gabriel comes to her and announces do not be afraid, through the final moments as she waited for her son’s death on the cross, and the hours up to the inconceivable resurrection. Mary waits. I think Mary’s waiting can teach us that Advent is a time that summons us to embrace waiting as a way of life. Advent summons us to practice waiting, and by doing so to lay down the foundations of a life shaped by waiting, so that when those times come when we have no idea what to do, times of sadness, times of joy, times of difficulty, times of division, we fall back on that deep, still waiting in the present moment that opens up a space for God’s interruption in our midst.

We wait in this present moment with Mary, with Elizabeth. We wait with quiet and confident expectation for this inconceivable conception to come to fruition and fulfillment. In the waiting we may be changed. We may be filled with hope, hope that God indeed is turning the world around. We may act with justice and mercy, knowing that indeed with Mary we are bearing God to this world. In this present moment God turns each of us around.

It is no coincidence that the way that God interrupts our world is to be born into our world, it is no coincidence that God interrupts our world to live and love, and suffer and die just like each and every one of us. Being human means being born to die, and only a God who is willing to share that can actually help us face our own mortality and that of those we love, and to help us live every present moment fully alive. It is in the waiting for the births and the deaths, and in the moments in between, that God breaks in and surrounds us and lifts us with love.

I am reminded of my own pregnancies during Advent waiting. I am reminded of the joy and hope and dreams of bringing a baby into the world. I am reminded of the fear and trepidation of bringing a baby into the world. I am reminded of the blissful ignorance of what the future would hold. As I look backward to that time I am filled with nostalgia at its wonder, I am forever changed and cannot respond to the world with anything less than compassion and hope. And I look with hope to the possibility of what the lives of our sons will bear. But it is the present moment that is pregnant with possibility, the present moment that bears God in their lives, in my life, in our lives.

Do not be afraid; listen for God to be born in this present moment. The world is about to turn. Our King and Savior now draws near: Come let us adore him.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

3 Advent Yr C

Advent is a time of active waiting in expectation for the birth of a baby, and for the fulfillment of the hope that began with Jesus’ death on the cross and in the resurrection. Advent gives us the opportunity to listen carefully for the voice of the one who is calling us to repentance and to transformation, to a new way of faithfulness to the God who is already extending grace and suspending judgment before we ask. Advent is about living into the fullness of God’s grace. We are invited to make our decision to follow Jesus, and that invitation comes not just once for a lifetime, but in every moment we live. That is what faithfulness is; it is not necessarily about being on the right path or divining the right plan. It is not the reward at the end, and it is not the romantic and nostalgic worship of a baby, but it is the active anticipation and expectation that Jesus is here with us now, and is transforming our lives in the present, while gathering humanity to redemption and fulfillment.

Advent is a time of active waiting, it is preparing for the future while living in the present. It is living in the midst of what has been, what is now, and what will be, I think of Advent as a sort of time warp. We live in Advent for these four weeks prior to Christmas in the midst of the rush to get to Christmas, but our call as Christians is to be present to the revelation of God as it unfolds, all the while having a glimpse of what is to come as we prepare for God’s fulfillment.

In this third week of Advent, we hear in the gospel John’s ethic of repentance. John calls those who have willingly gathered at the river to be baptized a brood of vipers, but then he tells the people to bear fruit worthy of repentance. What John is saying to them is, don’t sit around doing nothing just because you know you are Abraham’s descendents. This promise isn’t yours just because you belong to the right family. And they ask John, what should we do? John’s answer is to be who you are, and do what you do, and to be faithful in that, no matter what you have or don’t have. John doesn’t judge the tax collectors, he doesn’t tell them to go get a different job, he doesn’t judge the soldiers, he doesn’t tell them they shouldn’t be soldiers. He says do that work God has brought you to do. Be fully present to whatever it is God calls you to, be faithful in your work and in your play. John’s ethic is fairly simple, to the crowds who really have very little, John says, share; to the tax collectors, John says, be fair; and to the soldiers John says, don’t be bully’s.

And then John’s ethic of repentance points these newly baptized people to the one who is God incarnate, God in our midst. John calls them and us to turn to God and let that determine your life, your relationships, your present and your future.

This Christian life is not a heroic life. In fact, it is quite ordinary. According to John the Baptizer in this passage, the markers of faithfulness, the markers that we have made this choice to follow Jesus, the markers of transformation, are the fruit that we bear; sharing what we have and being fair in all of our relationships. What an amazing passage to read as we actively wait, treat each other well right now, experience the sacred incarnation in your midst, as you look forward to the fulfillment of all humanity. Participating in God's new kingdom is available to all of us where we are, requiring only the modicum of faith necessary to perceive the sacred in the ordinary. It is, in short, entirely within our reach: Share. Be fair. Don't bully. Turn your face to God. So with many other exhortations, John proclaimed the good news to the people. Good news, indeed.

As we observe this third week of Advent, as we listen to incarnation in active anticipation of all that is to come, we hear the simplicity of this message. Share, be fair, don’t bully. In a culture where the cacophony of Christmas calls us to consume, the simplicity of sharing and fairness seem almost trite. But it is incarnation and ultimately resurrection that give meaning to this simplicity. Jesus is born anew among us whenever we acknowledge the sacredness of the other. Jesus is born anew among us whenever two or three gather in his name. Jesus is at work among us wherever the poor, the sick, and the marginalized are received and find healing and power for new life. Jesus is among us whenever we share what we have, whenever we treat people with dignity and respect.

And when we keep alert, when we pay attention, when we keep our eyes, ears, minds and hearts open to receive God’s good news, we see God’s good news finding flesh in our world in places and in ways as surprising and challenging as they are joyous. Waiting in active anticipation and expectation summons us to the present moment, to a still yet active, a tranquil yet steadfast commitment to the life we live now.

Our King and Savior now draws near: Come let us adore him.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

1 Advent Yr C

My soul cries out with a joyful shout
That the God of my heart is great
And my spirit sings of the wond'rous things
That you bring to the ones who wait.
You fixed your sight on the servant's plight
And my weakness you did not spurn
So from east to west shall my name be blest.
Could the world be about to turn?

My heart shall sing of the day you bring;
let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
and the world is about to turn.


Though I am small, my God, my all,
You work great things in me
And your mercy will last from the depths of the past
To the end of the age to be.
Your very name puts the proud to shame
And to those who would for you yearn,
You will show your might, put the strong to flight
For the world is about to turn.

From the halls of power to the fortress tower
Not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears
Every tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more
For the food they can never earn;
There are tables spread, every mouth be fed
For the world is about to turn.

Though the nations rage from age to age
We remember who holds us fast:
God's mercy must deliver us
From the conqueror's crushing grasp.
This saving word that our forebears heard
Is the promise which holds us bound
Till the spear and rod can be crushed by God,
Who is turning the world around.

My heart shall sing of the day you bring;
let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
and the world is about to turn.


The world is about to turn.

These are the words to the hymn we will sing at the offertory time. On this, the first day of the new year, the first day of advent, the first day of the last days, the world is about to turn. There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars. Advent is the most counter-cultural of our sacred seasons, even more so than Lent I suspect. The marketplace has been abuzz with Christmas long before Thanksgiving this year, really as soon as the Halloween candy wrappers were thrown away. We were advised that we didn’t have to wait to Black Friday to spend our money, we could get it all spent early. Don’t wait, don’t wait, it’s so very clear, the world out there is already at Christmas, and it is a Christmas that is unrecognizable.

But our sacred season sings to us, wait, be patient, stay alert, the world is about to turn. Wait, be patient, stay alert, let your spirit sing of the wondrous things that God brings to the ones who wait. The call of advent is to be actively engaged in the anticipation of God’s reign on earth, wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn. It is a call to discipleship, a call to be in the moments and experience the glimpses of incarnation. We can’t just jump over advent to Christmas. In this time of the quick fix, and even the rush to stimulate the economy, what if waiting is in fact what we really need?

God’s reign on earth is what we anticipate, the birth of God into the world 2000 years ago and the raising of Jesus from the dead, inaugurated God’s reign. We live in the time between the beginning and the end, and advent is the time we are given to wonder about and to anticipate God’s reign. The hungry poor shall weep no more, for the food they can never earn; there are tables spread, every mouth be fed, for the world is about to turn.

Our hymn points to God’s reign on earth; the world is about to turn. So what is it to be actively engaged in the anticipation of God’s reign on earth? What is it to be actively engaged in advent? What is it to be actively engaged in waiting? We do have some experience with waiting, we wait in line at the grocery store, we wait for paint to dry, we wait for the weekend. We wait for a child to be born, we can’t wait for a child to grow out of being two, or six, or thirteen. We can’t wait to finish college and get a real job, we can’t wait for our children to finally make it on their own. We wait for a parent or loved one to die. Part of the waiting is in anticipation of what life will be like when the waiting is over. As we wait, we may have the opportunity to reflect on life as it is and possibly to come to appreciate the glimpses of the wonder and beauty of life as it is. Maybe, we begin to see life differently, more clearly. Maybe, all the things we thought were important aren’t so important anymore. Maybe, the falseness is being stripped away, and what is left is a truer person, a person one who wants to plunge into every moment of life, no matter what, instead of sleepwalk through it. Maybe there is some transformation in the waiting.

At its best, Advent waiting transforms us. We are shown a glimpse of “what if.” What if the hungry poor weep no more, what if there are tables spread, and every mouth is fed. What if we approach our Advent waiting as a radical time of transformation?

The Good News is that Advent transformation isn’t born out of fear of the end of the world. Advent transformation comes from joy because the promise has already been given. For those with the eyes of faith, “what if” has already happened. God is already with us. The reign is at hand. Heaven is already here. And nothing will break God’s promise.

Our Advent active anticipation then is to make the world look more like the heaven that we already see by faith. We do this by focusing on the essentials—the basic things every human needs in order to reflect the divine. The poor have to be cared for, the hungry have to be fed, the homeless have to be sheltered, and the sick need to be healed. Forgiveness has to be offered, those at war must stop, and peace must be our legacy.

And so during Advent, we abstain from the flurry of Christmas not as a penitential punishment, but as a way to train our eyes to see God even without the angels and trees, crèches and stars. We focus instead on the basics of light in the darkness, silence in the chaos, and stillness in the turmoil. It’s almost as if Advent calls us to faith in the Real Absence of Christ—to believe in Emmanuel even in our darkness, in God-With-Us even when we hear no answer, and in the Incarnation even when we feel nothing at all.

Could the world be about to turn? It has, it is and it shall, that is God’s promise and that is our call.

Our King and Savior now draws near: Come let us adore him.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Christ the King Yr B

Christ the King, 2009, St. Andrew’s, Rapid City,
Virginia Bird, Deacon
There are a number of words in Scripture that all mean ‘king’: the Hebrew word ‘Messiah’, the Greek word ‘Christ’, and the phrase ‘the anointed one’. And there is another important one – ‘shepherd’; shepherd is often used as a metaphor for king. So, one of my favorite hymns “The king of love my shepherd is” could be read as ‘the king of love my king is’. This is perhaps the heart of today’s feast of Christ the King. It is important for us to recognize the uniqueness of Christ’s kingship.

Through a covenant relationship, God chose the Hebrew people to be God’s special people. They were chosen, not because they were better than others, but in order to bring others to know God. People worshipped many different gods and at first the Israelites did not deny the existence of other gods, but rather through the covenant with God agreed to be faithful to the one God who sought them out. It was not until later that they came to the understanding that there was only the one God, and that all the other so called gods that peoples worshipped, were really “no-gods”.

Last week we heard about Hannah’s struggle with her barrenness and how God answered her prayer and gave her a son, who she dedicated to God. That child Samuel grew to serve as priest, prophet, and judge for the people of Israel. As time went on, God’s covenant people began to look around, at the neighboring nations. They said to Samuel, by now an old man, “we want a king like the rest of the nations have”. Samuel complained to God about the people’s request and God responded by saying, give them what they want; it is not you they are turning from Samuel, it is me, God, they are rejecting.
So Samuel went to the people with God’s words of wisdom and warning. He told them, “’These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your menservants and maidservants, and the best of your cattle and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.
And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”’ But the people, hearing this from Samuel, still wanted a human king over them like the other nations had, one to lead them out and fight their battles. And so Saul was anointed to be their king; and he was followed by David and David by Solomon. After Solomon’s reign, the kingdom of Israel divided into a Northern kingdom and a Southern kingdom. And Holy Scripture gives us the names of king after king. And we read also of battle after battle and of court intrigues and betrayals and the misuse of power, time and again. The way of kingship has been a way of holding power over others for self gain. In Matthew’s gospel is written: “in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jew’s?’ For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him. When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”’ You can bet that anytime King Herod was troubled all Jerusalem was trembling in their boots. In this instance his murderous brutality was directed at young children…the massacre of the innocents.

But Christ the King is not like any other king. Jesus’ way is not the way of Herod. The king of love our shepherd is. When Pilate is seeking the charge against Jesus, he asks Jesus if he is the king of the Jews, for Rome would allow no king to be recognized aside from Caesar. Jesus doesn’t answer directly. ‘King’ would not be a helpful description, for Pilate understood kingship in a very specific way, the way of lording power over others; the way of military force and of might makes right. You say that I am a king” replies Jesus. And then he tells Pilate who he really is: “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.”

Jesus came to bear witness to the truth, and he did so by what he said and by all that he did; every aspect of his life and death and his being raised by God was testimony to the truth. Michael Casey, a Benedictine monk, says that ‘truth’ is the conformity of the created world to the will of the creator. Jesus’ way is the way of truth. Pilate would never in a million years understand Jesus to be a king, even though he ordered the title “the King of the Jews” be nailed above Jesus’ head on the cross.

Jesus just never did act like kings act. The king of love this king is. His power is the power of love. He went to the cross without a fight, refusing to participate in the way of violence. “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.” It is important that we note here, Jesus does not say his kingship or reign is outside the world; he says it is not “of”, not from, the world…the world is not its origin.

There was a re-birth of creation that began with the resurrection of Jesus. It is both a present reality and a future hope not yet completely fulfilled. Having a place under Christ’s universal and endless reign, we might ask ourselves, what is the proper way to live our life day to day, in such a kingdom? I think the teachings of Christ gathered in the Sermon on the Mount, and within that most particularly the Beatitudes, may be our guide and wisdom. If Christ is king, if the king of love is reigning, all of life must be re-oriented; old ways of life and power can no longer be applied.

To recognize that Christ is king, first of all, calls for us to repent…that is, to turn from our ways, to His ways. To put our trust in Him (not in armies or money or technology or self-help)…and to be able to put our trust in Christ means to be in a growing relationship with Him. We are called to a very different standard of living in Christ’s kingdom. Life in Christ’s kingdom is not about getting; it is about receiving. And it is about sharing and serving, and yes, suffering for and with others. And Jesus shows us more than once the error of trying to accomplish even good and worthy things, through inappropriate ways and means.

Christ the King reigns now and for evermore. Let us proclaim that blessing in word, and more importantly in deed, each and every day of our life.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Saturday, November 14, 2009

24 Pentecost Yr B

Over the years we’ve seen quite a disaster movie genre develop. I remember Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, Twister, Independence Day, Armageddon, and so many others. There’s a new slew of end of the world movies out, as some look toward 2012 and the end of the Mayan calendar. Additionally, our culture has a bit of a fascination with destruction, and some have even interpreted that biblically resulting with books like the Left Behind series. Today’s gospel from Mark may be all of that, and more. These movies are just movies, they are fantasy, these books are fiction. Our reality however, is the tragedy at Ft. Hood, the devastation of Katrina, the destruction of the two towers in New York, reality does brush against fantasy.

When destruction or tragedy happens in our communities, we will eventually look back at those events and tell each other about it. We know where we were when the images first began coming over our television sets, some of us know people who were there and have some first hand stories. But we always understand events, tragic or glorious, in hindsight. We look back at an event and there is much discussion about how it could have been prevented, if at all, there is much sadness and heroism reported and recorded. These sorts of events become defining moments in our communities and in our nation’s collective psyche, watershed events.

The report of destruction in the gospel of Mark that we read this morning is similar in many ways. The story contains a prediction by Jesus of the destruction of the temple, but stories are always told after the fact. So this is a story about destruction that really occurred, and the destruction was shared by and affected all Jews. So we have a story in which Jesus makes a prediction of what will happen, written down after it has happened. The placement of this story is in the final days of Jesus life, it is Jesus’ farewell to his disciples. It had an urgency to the disciples, as it has an urgency to us.

The original hearers of the story probably lived through those events; they have lived through the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, they have lived through wars and insurrections, they have lived through famines and plagues, they have lived through persecution and betrayal; it is like someone today writing a story about the events leading up to our recent tragedies. We all know it has already happened, but we include in our stories the ways it could have been prevented, or could have been worse, or could have happened to me, or my neighbor.

What can we hear in this story from Mark? I think what Mark is trying to tell those who originally heard this story is that just because he won’t be there with them anymore doesn’t mean that he isn’t with them anyway. He is saying, yes, it looks and feels like the end must be coming, but don’t panic, don’t be afraid, don’t lose hope. Don’t panic in the face of human destruction. Don’t panic about wars and rumors of wars. Don’t panic when the sky itself shows troublesome portents.

It is so tempting to panic. It is tempting to be ruled by our fears. I believe we live in a culture of fear today. There is fear in so many of the arenas of our lives. There is fear in parenting. Doing the right thing by our children is no longer self-evident. From pregnancy to parenting, there is no sure fire right thing. New parents have so many choices. Should they reclaim a simpler time and have the baby at home. Should they hire a doula to assist with delivery? Should they take advantage of the full medical and technological capacities of the modern hospital, trusting to well-trained doctors and nurses? If so, should the mother take medications that might facilitate a quicker, less painful birth? But the drugs might be dangerous for the baby. How do you know? Uncertainty quickly turns to fear that they may make the wrong decision for the baby. Once that wisdom was handed down from mother to mother, now it is the experts that must be trusted.

Parenting itself is increasingly an arena of fear and anxiety in part because family life in general now lacks any cultural consensus about norms and standards. It’s not just that we don’t know if we’re getting it right, but that we don’t even know what right would look like.

In the absence of agreement about good parenting, we increasingly find solace in safe parenting. We don’t let the nurses take our baby to the hospital nursery, because we’ve heard stories of babies getting mixed up or even stolen. Sure, it’s unlikely, but it happens—we saw it on Dateline!

And there’s the rub. In the midst of our fears, whether they are around parenting, or the Newsweek lead article That Little Freckle Could Be a Time Bomb, or Why drinking too much water could send you to the emergency room, or the Mayans calendar ends in 2012 so that’s the end of the world, we are surrounded by fear to the extent that we are surrounded by people who profit from fear.

Although we may be experiencing a heightened level of fear and insecurity, the truth is that our world is no more dangerous now than 50 years ago, 100 years ago, or 1000 years ago. The types of dangers have changed, no one had to worry about plane crashes a hundred years ago, but in general we in the west at least, are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. And yet in our darkest and most fearful moments, our greatest fear is our fear of death.

How do we follow Jesus in a culture of fear? What is the fitting response, the ethical response to fear, the kind of fear that is with us today, and the kind of fear some garner from a biblical passage like this one in Mark? Now, fearlessness is not a good thing. But that is why God chooses to be known to us, so that we may stop being afraid of the wrong things. Putting fear in its place is being freed from fear to being empowered to love. The quieting of fear is required in order to hear and do what God asks of us, and yet in our culture, fear seems to have the loudest voice.

Quieting our fear is not easy, but these overwhelming fears need to be overwhelmed by bigger and better things, by a sense of adventure and fullness of life that comes from locating our fears and vulnerabilities within the larger story that is ultimately hopeful and not tragic. The story of God’s abundant and amazing love that resides with us in the life and love, the pain and suffering, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And only by facing death, our most primal fear, can we move ahead to embrace life with the great nevertheless that is God’s gracious word to a broken world.

At our baptism, we were united with Christ and marked as Christ’s own forever. Through baptism we have already faced death, and seen it overcome. Every time we gather together here to celebrate Christ with us we acknowledge the work that God does in Jesus on the cross. Jesus collects all our fears, all our pain and suffering, and Jesus takes it out with him, not by responding in kind, not by seeking revenge, but responding in love.

Following Jesus in this culture of fear is to offer hospitality and then we are no longer strangers. Following Jesus in this culture of fear is to be compassionate instead of safe. Following Jesus is to transform this culture of fear into a culture of hope.

The earth is the Lord’s for he made it: Come let us adore him.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

23 Pentecost Yr B

What would it be like if any of us here were eating our last bite of food, or putting our last pennies into the collection plate? Those are the stories that we hear today, stories about widows, on their very last bit of hope, two widows who embrace the question of where will my next meal come from, where will my next penny be, and do not act out of fear, but instead act out of God’s abundance.

The Hebrew word for widow connotes one who is silent, one unable to speak. In a society in which males played the public role and in which women did not speak on their own behalf, the position of a widow, particularly if her eldest son was not yet married, was one of extreme vulnerability. If there were no sons, a widow might return to her father’s family if she could. Left out of the prospect of inheritance by Hebrew law, widows became the stereotypical symbol of the exploited and oppressed. Old Testament criticism of the harsh treatment of these women is prevalent, as well as texts that describe God’s special protection of widows.

These widows, though their voices were silenced in their own time, speak loudly to us today. These stories speak to us of our relationship with wealth, our treatment of money. I think they speak over and against the worship of money that we see and experience in our culture. We see many, many people treating money as it were a God; worshiping wealth and sacrificing themselves to wealth, and believing it can give them joy, make them whole, and ensure their security. But money cannot do any of those things.

Money begins as a morally and spiritually neutral medium of exchange. However, it becomes something morally positive or negative, and something spiritually liberating or destructive because of the ways we feel about it and use it.

What can the widows in these stories teach us? First they teach us the movement from fear to love and generosity. Over and over again we are taught fear; we are taught that if we don’t have enough money we will not be able to have what we belief we must have. We must invest or we will end up old and broke. If we don’t spend and buy the right stuff we will be inadequate or just unimportant. The widows teach us that when we share we will have plenty. God provides for all creation. When we live in joy and gratitude for what we have, and we share with others, that is the path of transformation, that is the path to wholeness. And we live this way because we are convinced that God’s grace and care for us moves us from fear to love.

The widows teach us that our money will be with what we care about most. We could ask ourselves the question, where do we spend our money? What Jesus tells us is that the ways we spend and invest our money can create obligations that may come to dominate our attention and energy, and in so doing draw our commitments and loyalties away from where we want them to be. Our hearts will follow our money. We become devoted to the things we spend our money on, rather than spending our money on that which we are devoted to. The question is, “Do we possess our things, or do our things possess us?”

And the widows teach us that wealth is about much more than money. Wealth is everything we are, everything God has given us, all of our gifts and talents, everything we have learned and will learn. How do we put all of that wealth into the mission of reconciling all people to God? How do we put all of that wealth into this counter cultural mission of love?

We live in a culture in which marketers spend more that $1000 per person per year for every man, woman, and child, that’s more that $250 billion to convince us that we should put all we possess, or at least a lot of it, into comfort, status, excitement, self-aggrandizement and a desperate search for security. Somehow we just do not see the same kind of advertising effort to convince us that the purpose for our lives is not possessing, but loving.

Where are we putting our treasure? Individually and as a people of faith. Where is wealth leading our hearts? If we look into our bank account registers, we can read the story. Here at St. Andrew’s I’d love to see a big chunk of our budget spent on Life-long faith formation and outreach. I’d like to see us budget for advertising in new and different ways, a revamp of our web page, a way to connect with people who don’t use the traditional means of reading the newspaper, so that we can let people know about this wonderful place where God is loved and where people can know that we are Christians by our love.

One way if testing whether our possessions have begun go possesses us would be to reflect on the fear we have of losing them. When we have a high level of fear at the thought of losing our stuff, it is likely that we are holding on to our stuff a little too tightly, refusing the open hand of generosity, thinking of ourselves as owners of our property rather than as stewards of God’s property. Today’s marketing preys upon our fear of losing what we have, on loving what we should not, on our caring more than we should about money, pleasure, and status.

I’d like us to move from fear, to continue to move from a stewardship of scarcity, to love, a stewardship of abundance. We have so much here, we have people with amazing gifts and talents, each one of us is wealthy in such a variety of ways. I’d like us to be like these widows, who gave out of love and abundance, not out of fear of not enough. There is so much more that we can do. God is busy in our world, and our job is to get on board with God. We need to move from fear to love; we need to be transformed as individuals and as a community of faith. We need to be about our mission of reconciling all people to Christ.

Go out and share God’s love with everyone you meet. Do not slave for things that are not live giving, but trust in God’s provision, and give generously of all you have.

The earth is the Lord’s for he made it: Come let us adore him.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Mother Kathy and much of our congregation were in Sioux Falls this weekend celebrating the consecration of our new Bishop Co-Adjutant, who will be assuming most of the duties of our Bishop +Creighton Robertson has he prepares for retirement.

I was part of the choir at the consecration on Saturday afternoon; we premiered a new choral setting (by South Dakota composer Steven Yarbrough) of a text attributed to St. Dimitri of Rostov.

I post this text here in celebration of our new Bishop, The Right Reverend +John Tarrant, and our future in Christian ministry in the Diocese of South Dakota:

St Dmitri of RostovCome, my Light, and illumine my darkness.
Come, my Life, and revive me from death.
Come, my Physician, and heal my wounds.
Come, Flame of divine love, and consume my sins,
Kindling my heart with the flame of Thy love.
Come, my King, enter my heart and reign there,
For Thou art my salvation.
More about our new Bishop:

Saturday, October 24, 2009

21 Pentecost Yr B

We take up with the gospel of Mark again in the shadow of Jerusalem, on the way to the cross. This story of the blind Bartimaeus is the last story of Jesus’ ministry, before the cross and the passion. It is a story of call, healing, and discipleship. I recently suggested that I think Jesus must be an Episcopalian, he keeps telling those he healed not to tell anyone, not much good for evangelism. Well this time, I think the characters in this story must be Episcopalian. There Bartimaeus sits on the side of the road, probably with many other beggars near the gate of the city, where beggars were wont to sit. When Bartimaeus hears that Jesus was in the house, he shouts and says, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” This is where I’m sure there were Episcopalians on that road, many sternly ordered him to be quiet. Bartimaeus’ declaration and claim that Jesus is Son of David may have something to teach us all.

Call him here. A short sentence and a clear command to call the man. And so they do. They tell him that Jesus is calling him. Bartimaeus leaps up and throws off his cloak with which he begged, and came to Jesus. Jesus’ question of Bartimaeus is the same question that Jesus asked James and John only a moment ago. "What do you want me to do for you?" But the contrast between the request of James and John and Bartimaeus is telling. James and John ask for power, Bartimaeus asks for sight. Call, healing, and discipleship. Very unlike the power and status that James and John were all about, and Bartimaeus wasn’t even a so called disciple.

Jesus called the disciples, Jesus said to them, come, follow me, and they did, they left everything to follow Jesus. We do need to give them credit for that. The difference I believe is in what follows. It seems the healing; the transformation of James and John was a bit long in coming, not unlike most, if not many of us. It takes time to be changed by God’s amazing and abundant love. For most of us that doesn’t happen immediately, it happens gradually. I’ve spoken in recent weeks about the importance of examining what it is that makes us fat, what barriers we set up in our relationship with God, with ourselves and with others, what burdens we need to set down so that we may follow God’s love in Jesus Christ. We are much more like James and John than we are like Bartimaeus. For many of us, our blindness is not immediately noticeable to others, unlike Bartimaeus whose blindness was obvious. Our hurts and pains are buried deep and wide, and instead of being healed, like Bartimaeus, we look to taking power and control, like James and John. The call to Jesus is to also open ourselves up, to reduce our baggage, to lay our burdens down, it’s hard to hear the call when we can’t listen, it’s hard to follow when what we carry is so heavy, it’s hard to move when we’ve built our sturdy wall.

Being healed changed Bartimaeus’ life completely. There’s some good and some not so good about being healed. The good part for Bartimaeus was being restored to the community. As a blind man in that culture he was outcast, on the margins, unseen by any who walked by him on that road, his work was begging. As a man restored to society, he had to get a job. There is risk involved in being healed. There is risk involved in transformation. Life will never, can never be the same. Out of what seems like death comes resurrection. We cling so desperately to that which we believe is our identity, that which we have defined ourselves by. Letting go of what we believe defines us to take on our true identity may hurt and is hard. But unless and until we let die what is killing us, we can never be healed, we will never be transformed into the new person in Christ that gives new life. The Good News is that when we do let die what is killing us, there will be new life in ways we can hardly begin to imagine.

Bartimaeus regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way. The way at this point is to the cross, which is where the rest of the story takes place. Call, healing, discipleship. Not easy, no more business as usual, always death before resurrection. Discipleship, following Jesus on the way, to the cross, all the way to resurrection, is not about gaining or wielding power and status, and it is not about pain and suffering for suffering sake, or for the sake of martyrdom, but is about embracing this life with all it entails. It is as much about joy, thanksgiving and gratitude, as it is about pain, suffering and tragedy. It is about our God’s willingness to be with us in the middle of it all, which is very different than the gods the 1st century Mediterranean people told each other about, those were gods who were trying to get out of this life, who were trying to be immortal and powerful, not to be in the mess and the joy with humanity.

Bartimaeus is called, healed, and in faith follows Jesus. Had Bartimaeus known what lie ahead for Jesus and for the rest of the followers, they might have bailed, who knows. The journey to and through the cross is as difficult as it is exhilarating, discipleship is not for the feint of heart. It was only a very short period of time between Bartimaeus being healed, being restored to the community, and Jesus’ passion, suffering, death and resurrection. Bartimaeus could easily have it wasn’t worth it, why bother, what happened to the reward, where’s the power and status in all this.

So discipleship as Bartimaeus shows us is not about the reward, it is about the journey. It is about being accompanied by Jesus on the road, it is about accompanying others on the journey, it is about seeing, seeing, the grace, the joy, the wonder, in all that life throws at us, because we know. We know that resurrection happens. We know that life always wins over death. We know that we are part of resurrection. There is hope. There is hope.

Discipleship, following Jesus, is not about having the right answers; it’s not about being perfect. Discipleship is seeing healing right in front of us; discipleship is seeing the divine in one another and joining with one another in the journey. Discipleship is being transformed, being changed; becoming the creation that God calls us to be. Discipleship is answering yes to God’s call to come, even when the road ahead seems treacherous. Discipleship is faith like Bartimaeus’.

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, Come let us adore him.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

20 Pentecost Yr B

When you go to see a play, usually you watch the whole play at once. It’s not usual to see a bit of it, then come back once each week to see a little bit more. But that’s the odd thing that’s happening as we read the gospel of Mark. It’s really much like a play, and intended to be read or performed all at once, and yet we hear just a very small portion of it each week. If you remember last spring, a group of people gathered on a Saturday to read the whole thing, as it was intended. And Marty tells me the Education for Ministry group will watch a telling of the Gospel of Mark at their Tuesday night meeting.

The challenge as we hear Mark, is to get ourselves back in the action. It’s like setting your novel down and when you come back to it you need to remind yourself of what you’ve already read. The writer of Mark is telling us a story about an event that radically changes the way we look at and experience the world; there is actually excitement in every word. The Good News that Mark is telling is that God is here right now, actively seeking to help us in the way we most need help.

This is Good News indeed, and it is not the experience of those who were the original hearers of the story. Those original hearers were well versed in the gods who fought one another for dominance, gods who were precocious and pernicious, gods who were at various stages of mortal trying to be immortal. This God of the Jews, who now is interested in being the God of everyone, was compassionate, and passionate to be in relationship with each and every one of us and all of creation. This story that Mark tells is told in a milieu of competing stories. A question brought to this gospel; is this story is sufficient to bear the weight of meaning?

We have heard the story of Jesus’ baptism, his sojourn in the wilderness as he was tested by Satan. We have listened to the testimony of Jesus’ public ministry, and the growth of the relationship between him and the disciples. Last week we heard about the rich young man who could not rise to the challenge of reorienting his life to the new kingdom, which brings us to where we find ourselves today, sandwiched between Jesus’ ministry and the passion to come. We are on our way to Jerusalem and the cross with Jesus. As you continue to listen to this story always remember that it is being told, as every story is told, after it has happened, and with the clear purpose of engendering change in the hearer.

James and John, Zebedee’s sons, came up to Jesus. “Teacher, we have something we want you to do for us.” Jesus answers, “What is it? I’ll see what I can do.” And they respond, “Arrange it so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in your glory—one of us at your right, the other at your left.” What arrogance, Jesus, just give us what we want, we’re better than all the rest anyway. James and John are not only full of themselves; they haven’t a clue what they’re asking. You and I know what’s next because we’ve heard the story before; we know that next Jesus will go to the cross. Jesus is asking James and John to accompany him on that journey, Jesus is asking us to accompany him on that journey. Jesus will suffer and die, again, it’s not about honor and status, it’s about something else entirely.

The question is is that something else sufficient to bear the meaning of our lives? Is that something else that Jesus is all about worth the change, the transformation that is effected in our lives when we give ourselves over to God’s abundant and amazing love, God’s grace. It is right here, “for the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to live his life as a ransom for many.” This isn’t about morality, it isn’t about being right or being wrong, it isn’t about being favored or not favored. It is about God, it is about God’s grace, it is about God’s abundant and amazing love, it is about God’s compassion and passion that frees us to be lovers and to be loved. Is God’s love, grace, and therefore forgiveness sufficient to bear the meaning of our lives? I say it is.

You see, you and I have a choice. There are many stories that compete to order our lives. And we live ordered by many stories. As Americans, one story that orders us is capitalism, goods and services are traded and some make a profit, some don’t. There is the story that says, this is MY planet, and I can use it up in any way I like. And another one, I work hard for what I've got; I deserve it. There is the story of rugged individualism. There are stories that order us depending on gender, race, socio-economic status, family make up, and all these stories cooperate and compete for meaning in our lives, they are not necessarily good or bad stories, that’s not the question, the question is are any of these stories capable of bearing the weight of love, sin, sadness, tragedy, compassion and forgiveness.

This story that we have before us today, the Good News of Jesus Christ, can bear that weight. Jesus says, it’s not about you, it’s not about what you have, it’s not about your honor or status, it’s not about rulers or power; it’s not about any of that. It is about the reality of pain and suffering and tragedy. All of those other stories crumble under the weight of the reality of our lives. It is about a God who loves us, and is willing to be with us in the midst of the pain and suffering and tragedy. It is about reorienting our lives so that we no longer live as slaves to our hurts, our anger and resentment and pain, but instead we live in freedom to love as we have been loved. It is about a God by whom our pain and suffering can be transformed into compassion and love. It is about a God of healing and grace. It is about a God of joy and compassion.

This is a story that is about all of us. It is a story in which any one of us can and does participate.

When we live our lives according to this story, two things happen. We are transformed, and we become agents of transformation, one is not before the other, these things live in us at the same time. The reality of love, grace, and forgiveness transforms us and we become people of love, grace and forgiveness. As we are this people of love, grace, and forgiveness, others hear the story of our lives and the story of the Good News, as we become agents of God’s love in the world.

So what does it look like to live a transformed life and a transforming life, one that is empowered by this story of Jesus’ life, suffering and death, and resurrection, one that is empowered by this story of freedom to serve? It means that you are the one to look for healing and reconciliation in a family dissolved by each members need to be right instead of loving. It means that you are the one to look for respect and dignity in a work place that undervalues and disempowers the workers. It means that in a community that judges because of race or status, you are the one to look beyond hatefulness to healing and reconciliation. It means that in a church that professes love for God and for others, you are the one who actively seeks out your neighbor to say I’m sorry and make amends. It means that in a church that professes love for God and for others, you are the one who puts aside your need to be right, so that everyone can have a place at the table. The life of transformation looks like you.

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: Come let us adore him.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

19 Pentecost Yr B

Being that the Twins are in the playoffs, I thought I’d begin with a baseball joke. Hank and Frank were baseball buddies. They were the biggest fans in the whole U.S. Both were stars on the St. Swithins Episcopal Church team, the Faith Lutheran team, just in case, and coached the little boys T-ball for the elementary school team. The guys made an agreement between them that whoever died first would try to come back and report on whether or not there was baseball in heaven. Hank died first, and as he promised, came to Frank as in a dream. “Frank, Frank,” Hank whispered into his buddy’s ear, “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The good news is that there is baseball in heaven.” “And the bad news?” Frank asked. “You’re pitching tomorrow night!”

We make a mistake when we think this gospel story in Mark is about the reward at the end of life. What must I do to inherit eternal life seems like a question about what happens next. But life is not about the reward at the end; life is about now. The Kingdom is now, Jesus inaugurated the kingdom, Jesus is the first-born of the kingdom, we are citizens of the kingdom, now. That’s what the whole life, death and resurrection story is about. The question is not about what happens after life; the question is about participating in God’s kingdom now. The question is about who we are and how we behave as those who God loves abundantly and absolutely. The answer is difficult, as the young man discovers, so difficult that he turns away from it. The answer is about being lean and thin. You gotta to be pretty darn thin to get through the eye of a needle.

The kingdom is about being exactly who you were created to be, no more, no less. You were created to be a lover, and you were created to be loved. Not a lot of extra weight on that, and I know a thing or two about extra weight. This is about being lean. Sometimes we’ve looked at this passage and decided it was all about divesting ourselves of our wealth, a rich man cannot get in but a poor man can. There is an issue of wealth here, but I don’t think it’s just about wealth. I don’t think it’s about sacrifice or how much you give. I think it’s about being found by God, and about living right now as a grace filled child of God. I think it is about the power God gives us to live fully alive. And some in our tradition call that salvation.

Jesus was talking about being lean when he said to this young man it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. God loves you, abundantly and absolutely. But you need to be thin; you need to be lean. You need to put yourself in God’s presence, you need to divest yourself of all that which makes you fat. And you need to give up trying to buy the kingdom, or eternal life, or whatever people want to call it, and you need to place yourself squarely in God’s presence.

The kingdom can’t be bought, it can’t be bought with your time, it can’t be bought with your money, it can’t be bought with your life. That’s already happened, that’s already been done for you, Jesus already did that on your behalf. In response, your job is twofold. Your job is to divest yourself of all that makes you fat, all that puts extra barriers around you to keep you from being fully in God’s presence and abundant and absolute love. After that, you need to turn to the question of the relationship of worship and ethics.

What barriers do you set up that keep you from being fully receptive to God, to God’s grace and abundant and absolute love? What keeps you from being lean? For the young man in the story today, it was power and status. The young man followed the commandments, but Jesus asked more of him. Jesus loved him, and asked him to divest himself of power and status, the wealth that defined him. The young man could not do it. In 1st century Mediterranean culture, power and status were a hot commodity. His very being was defined by his power and status, not unlike our present culture. To divest himself of that was to reorient himself to the kingdom, and he was not willing. This young man was missing out on living the new life that Jesus offered him.

What are your barriers? What gives you false security? What role do your possessions play in your life? What provides false confidence in your life? What hurts do you live out of and hang on to that are barriers to you being fully receptive to God? What resentments do you hang on to, what revenge do you seek? All of these are barriers to being fully receptive to God’s love and grace, to salvation.

Secondly, how are worship and ethics connected in your life? I love all this we do together on Sunday mornings, and I get to do it all again on Wednesday mornings and sometimes even on Wednesday nights. I love the music that takes me to places just the words cannot. I love the words that connect me to saints past and saints yet to come. I love the actions of breaking bread, gathering shoulder to shoulder to love and support each other as we eat the bread, the mystery that contains the unexplainable, all pointing to the God who loves us, and comes into our lives, the God who feeds us, cares for us, the God who is known and unknowable. But none of that matters without the leanness, without the divestment, without the removal of the barriers and reorientation to the Kingdom. That’s what the first will be last and the last will be first is about; it is about being reoriented to the Kingdom. What we do matters, what we do in community matters, what we do at work matters. Worship needs to reorient us to the kingdom, worship needs to point us out into the world, what we do in the world matters, what we do here together in church matters. Loving one another matters.

I think for many in our culture today the fat is layers of pride and ego. Many are so concerned with being right and marginalizing those who disagree with them, or who are different from them, that they put on layers and layers of fat. I believe it’s better to be loving than right. Compassion and empathy prepare us for that journey through the needle, pride and ego and the need to be right make us fat and prevent us from making it through that small space.

Anne Lamott, author of Traveling Mercies, and Plan “B” said in a recent interview, "I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We're here to know God, to love and serve God, and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature. You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don't have time to carry grudges; you don't have time to cling to the need to be right.”

Being light enough to dance, to sing, to play, slipping through that needle’s eye, you don’t have to be right, just thin. Live your life as if every moment matters, as if each person is loved by God just as you are. You are a part of the kingdom.

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: Come let us adore him.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

16 Pentecost Yr B

Joan Conroy stepped in for Mother Kathy this morning. (Kathy is at the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest this week.)

Pastor Joan shared some thoughts based on today's lessons:
  • How can you bless the ordinary?
  • What kind of things can we do to be like salt?
  • Look around.... Who around you are "salty people?"
    When you see someone who is, say a quick "Thank you, God!"

She also gave us this verse from Edwin Markham:

He drew a circle that shut me out --
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout
But love and I had the wit to win
We drew a circle that took him in

Saturday, September 19, 2009

16 Pentecost Yr B


I’ve seen this wonderful card in a few different places, it’s a picture of a 50’s wife opening her oven door, you can almost smell the amazing baked goods that you can see in the oven, it’s an idyllic sight. However, the caption on the picture reads, I don’t know what she’s doing either. Must be some kind of ancient housewife ritual. This is the image the reading from Proverbs stirs up in me today. I actually am not going to take much time talking about Proverbs, but after hearing it read, I want to talk a little about Wisdom in general, rather than this passage in particular.

Remember, we’ve been hearing from wisdom literature for some weeks now, and I did talk about it a few weeks back. I commented then that Wisdom in scripture is not just about being wise as opposed to being foolish. But that God has built wisdom into the fabric of the cosmos. And we learn from wisdom that there are certain ways of living in which people thrive, and other ways of living which lead people to death. Ordering your life to Wisdom is what we read about in these scripture passages, in Proverbs as well as in James. In James, Wisdom is that which connects us to the divine, and that connection presents humanity with a different kind of community, the kind of community that is ordered to Wisdom, but it is Wisdom that cannot be possessed, Wisdom that is not pursued. This is the kind of wisdom our culture does not value, the wisdom born out of the possibility of being wrong. This is the kind of wisdom that requires fear and trembling before God, the kind of wisdom that allows us to fall on our knees and ask forgiveness when we are wrong.

This is Wisdom that is peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. According to James, this is the community God imagines, and this community is very different from what the first hearers of James imagined as possible. The Greeks had been worshipping Gods that were pretty full of themselves. Recall your Greek mythology, the pantheon of gods who intervened in human history were fickle and always immortal, or trying to be so. And the social world of the 1st century was clearly based on honor, status, and class. The community imagined in James was based on gentleness, mercy and forgiveness that bears fruit.

And it is now we turn to Mark, and the second time Jesus tells the disciples that he would be killed. It seems to me that the disciples in Mark are as far from wise as anyone can get. Jesus tells them that he will be killed, they don’t quite understand, and yet they too afraid to ask him, and, then, instead of offering any sort sympathy, they argue about which one of them is best.

Jesus then describes what this whole servant thing may look like. Jesus says whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me. We often assign sentimentality to this passage, recall the paintings of Jesus and the children, but this passage really isn’t as much sentimental as it is subversive. Remember that children as well as women in 1st century culture and political structure have no status, they are of no account. Jesus is showing us the image of invisible people in society, people who did not have rights, the one’s who are overlooked, the ones used as a commodity, and Jesus is showing us that these are the people that look like him. To be a servant, is to welcome those who look like Jesus, the marginalized, the outsiders, the ones with no power. In the face of Jesus’ death, the disciples are concerned about who is first, and Jesus is concerned about showing the disciples what being a servant looks like.

What does all of this have to do with us? Our society suffers from a debilitating addiction to greatness, not unlike the disciples. Which one is the best is a question that is asked and answered with the unending number of competition reality shows and award shows on television. Seldom is one's popularity based on servanthood. Seldom is honor and status awarded when we order our lives to wisdom, to gentleness. Seldom do we win any awards when we yield to others, when we approach one another with humility.

The Wisdom that is embodied in these stories is that in the midst of all that the world deals us, we are to order our lives to gentleness, to humility, to mercy. We are to welcome those who are like children, the invisible and the overlooked, as if they are the very embodiment of Jesus. We are to be participants in this new community that God imagines.

We debate and we argue while the invisible and the overlooked are starving to death, while the invisible and overlooked are dieing from diseases that could have cures, while the invisible and overlooked are cast away like so much trash. We debate and we argue about who is first and who is last. We debate and we argue about who is right and who is wrong. It doesn’t’ matter. It just doesn’t matter.

The gospel according to one of the great folks in our universe, Garrison Keillor, goes like this. Garrison was recently hospitalized for a stroke, and he writes, two weeks ago, you were waltzing around feeling young and attractive, and now you are the object of Get Well cards and recipient of bouquets of carnations. Rich or poor, young or old, we all face the injustice of life -- it ends too soon, and statistical probability is no comfort. We are all in the same boat, you and me and ex-Gov. Sarah Palin and Congressman Joe Wilson, and wealth and social status do not prevail against disease and injury. And now we must reform our health insurance system so that it reflects our common humanity. It is not decent that people avoid seeking help for want of insurance. It is not decent that people go broke trying to get well. You know it and I know it. Time to fix it.

We all live together on this rock, we are all in the same boat; we are all beloved of God. It’s time to treat people as if they were like Jesus. That’s what Wisdom says.

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: Come let us adore him.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

15 Pentecost Yr B

This particular passage from Mark is the one that convinces me that Jesus was an Episcopalian. Why else would he tell Peter not to tell anyone about him? It really doesn’t do much for evangelism. Especially since Peter gets it right, he does in fact know who Jesus is. You are the messiah, Peter answers. But despite Jesus’ best efforts to keep it quiet, the community begins to know who Jesus is, and the rest of the story in Mark tells us the ramifications of that. Knowing who Jesus is is risky business, living your life as a follower of Jesus, is risky business.

The question that is asked of Peter however is not asked just of Peter. The translation, as it is the case so often, doesn’t let us really know the original intent. The language used here is the second person plural, maybe better translated, who do y’all say that I am. You see, the question is not directed just at Peter, it is directed at the others that were with Peter, it is directed at the hearers of the gospel of Mark, it is directed at you and me. Who do you say that I am?

Who do you say that I am? This question suggests, no demands, an active response. Where and how do you see God active and incarnate, in the flesh, in our lives and in the live of our church? We must ask this question, and then articulate the response. We must not keep the answer to ourselves, but tell the story of God’s activity in our lives, realizing that doing so is risky business. It is risky business because Jesus teaches that following him is about separating ourselves from that which defines us, in fact giving up what is comfortable and known, for this new society that forms around Jesus.

Who do you say that I am? Where and how do you see Jesus active, incarnate, at work in our world? In your relationships? Through friends sustaining you through difficulty, through illness, through job loss. Through the good that you are able to do and to receive. But then comes the risky part, deny yourself and take up your cross and follow, for those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for Jesus sake will save it.

We make a mistake when we reduce these words to suffering in silence, or taking what comes our way, or even taking abuse at the hands of the one who professes to love. The gospel has been used as a weapon to keep people in their place with this kind of interpretation, but this is not what Jesus was talking about. Jesus was talking about the new creation, Jesus was talking about reorienting the culture as they knew it, Jesus is talking about being the change that makes the world just, Jesus is talking about the kingdom that is God’s love for all of each creation, no exceptions, no exclusions.

The reality in which we live is that there is suffering, tragedy and sadness. Each one of us has experienced that. As a community we experience the sadness and tragedy of job loss, of the loss of a home, and of the loss of health with the possible accompanying financial devastation. We just observed for the eighth year the horrible tragedy of the attack on our country and culture. We look for incarnation, Jesus in our midst, as we try to understand these tragedies. I was watching the news on Friday, and I learned that the first responders of September 11, 2001, have been working on a project each year since then that they call New York Says Thank-you. They were in Des Moines Iowa rebuilding the Boy Scout camp that was devastated by a tornado last year. Many work on making September 11th a National day of service. These are good things, really good things, I do believe that these are times and places that we find incarnation.

But there is more. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is about even more than that. It is about breaking bread with outcasts and sinners, healing the sick, and proclaiming good news to the poor. It is about changing the structure of this world to be justified with the rule of God’s kingdom. It is about putting the other first, and ourselves second. It is about speaking truth to power. It is indeed risky business.

Today we will take time to reaffirm our baptismal vows. Our baptismal vows form and shape our answer to the question, who do you say I am? Our baptismal vows form and shape our lives as disciples. Our baptismal vows form and shape your ministry. Our baptismal vows call us to be who we are created to be. When we take our baptismal vows seriously, indeed it is risky business. Most of us were infants when we were baptized, so like Peter and the disciples we come to the realization of who Jesus is and what is asked of us as disciples gradually. When we begin to realize what the life of following Jesus, of discipleship is, many decide to bail, it is indeed risky. You see, we do what we do as followers of Jesus not because of the reward, not because there’s something in it for us, not because somehow we will be relieved of suffering, of pain, or even death. We do what we do because Jesus calls us to be agents of resurrection along with him.

It is risky to step out of this church and be part of the change that reshapes our community. It is risky to be at dinner with your family or friends and to ask, so how have you proclaimed the good news today, or how have you persevered in resisting evil today, or how have you seen Christ today, or how have you respected the dignity of each person you’ve met, today?

Who do you say that I am? We cannot sit by and watch, we must respond. You are Jesus, the one who comes to make the world new, the one who comes to be a voice for the voiceless, the one who comes to turn the tables on the powerful and rich. You are Jesus, the one who comes as God in our midst, mysteriously and unreasonably. You are Jesus, we are your disciples, it is risky business indeed.

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: Come let us adore him.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

14 Pentecost Yr B Proper 18

Deacon Marty Garwood preaching

Do you ever feel that about the time you get something figured out, things change? That seems to happen to me often and it happened to me again with the homily for this morning. When the Rev. Kathy asked me if I would preach today, I looked over the readings for this morning and immediately got a glimmer of something. Over the next week or so I began to flesh out that idea. The homily was starting to take shape and it was going to be a very good homily. But then I sat down to spend some more time reflecting on the readings and much to my surprise and dismay, the readings appointed for this morning were completely different than I thought they were. I just was getting it all figured out and everything changed.

This particular gospel passage about the Syro-phoenician woman challenging Jesus has a special place in my memory. St. Andrew’s was in the interim time between Father Hibbert’s retirement and calling the Rev. Kathy to be our pastor. One August morning, we were scheduled to have a supply priest and we were also to have a baptism at the 8:00 service. By 7:45 that morning, the supply priest still had not made an appearance. I was newly ordained and not too confident. I made an emergency phone call to Virginia and she probably broke a few speed limits in getting here in a matter of minutes. Her advice to me was that when it came time for the Gospel I should read very slowly and pray very hard that the priest would walk in. If that didn’t work, Virginia said I had three options. I could skip the homily and have silent reflection, we could open it up for discussion, or I could preach off the top of my head with no preparation. Well believe me, I read very slowly and I prayed very hard. No priest! Well I did preach that morning. I don’t remember exactly what I said but I do know that some power other than my own gave me the courage and the words to talk about what the story of this determined mother may mean to us in today’s world. Another case of thinking I was prepared – that I had it figured out. At the last minute everything changed.

One thing that I have learned is that there is a real need for flexibility in our lives. Just as bridges and tall buildings are built intentionally with some sway factor which adds intrinsically to their strength – we too are stronger when we are able to sway with the unexpected. Life will throw us curves and just when we think we have it figured out, something may change. If we do not have that built in strength of flexibility – if we remain rigid and unbending – we run the risk of breaking. Our spiritual, physical or mental health may be adversely affected. And even our relationships with others may suffer.

Now that I’ve told you that we have to be flexible – to be able to give with the changes that life will inevitably bring us – I want to be clear that I don’t mean we are simply to give in and be swayed by every thing that comes along. There is certainly pressure from our culture to do just that. We as Christians are called to stand firm in our belief and faith in a God that loves us and transforms us.

We are called to act out that faith every day of our lives. Many times it happens in ways that are as natural to us as breathing. Or there may be times we feel that our faith has completely left us and we wonder how we will survive. But there are also times that we make a conscious decision to live into the faith that we profess.

A mother whose daughter is ill takes a determined stand. A woman who is a Gentile has such faith in the person of Jesus that she ignores cultural mores that would normally prevent a Jewish man from speaking to a woman in public. This believer was ready with a rebuttal when her request was refused. Her faith – her courage – her love for her child – allowed her to stand firm in the face of uncertainty. We don’t know if she really expected a response to her plea. Perhaps she was so desperate that she felt she just had to try no matter what the outcome. Perhaps she thought there was no hope and yet suddenly everything changed.

A deaf man with an impediment in his speech would most likely have endured a number of obstacles in his daily life. Yet this man had family members or friends who cared enough about him to bring him to where Jesus was. Then they made their way through the crowds to beg Jesus to lay his hand on the man. Their determination allowed for a life-altering encounter with Jesus. Deafness and a speech impediment in that day and age would be a far different matter than it is today. Perhaps the man had learned to live his life within that scope of limitations – he thought he had it all figured out and then everything changed.

We are called to have that same sense of determination and faith as we live our lives in the Kingdom of God. There will be times for each of us to be the mother who begs on behalf of the child. There will be times that we are called to be the ones pushing through the crowds on behalf of someone else. Jesus has sent us out into the world to do the work of God.

Sometimes that means we have to step out of our comfort zone – we have to speak out – we have to stand up. We can not – we should not – stand idly by when we are surrounded by the poor, the disenfranchised, the ones discriminated against, the ones who are ignored, the ones with no voice. We must serve as the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in this world to spread the Good News.

Within the letter attributed to James we are reminded that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Our faith in – and our love for – Jesus Christ will bear fruit. It isn’t that we have to do works of faith to believe. It is because we believe in a God that loves us that works of faith become a part of who we are. Within that scope we are to honor the poor. We are called to remembering that the poor shall be blessed by God. However, we must always be aware that poverty is not simply a condition of ones’ financial status. Poverty comes in many disguises. It does not necessarily express itself in outward and visible ways. Each and every one of us has the ability – the gift – of being able to relieve or help ease the burden of poverty from some one. The gift of listening, a simple smile, fresh vegetables left on the table in the hallway, school clothes for an unknown child, a telephone call, as well as a monetary gift are just a few of the many ways we each lift or ease the burden of others. We may never know how deeply we touch someone with a simple gift – a gift that we give because we have already been given the greatest gift of all. Perhaps just when someone thinks they have it all figured out – a simple gift changes everything.

There is yet another aspect to today’s Gospel story that I think we should consider. What if you and I are the ones who need to have our ears opened – opened to hear the Word of God in a new and fresh way? The voice of God comes to us in many ways. The healing grace of Jesus Christ changes our lives – change that comes with faith but that also comes unexpectedly.

We may hear something in an old familiar Scripture passage or favorite hymn – something that suddenly sounds so new that our ears and heart are opened to new understandings. Perhaps we are a participant in the adult discussion group on Sunday mornings, the Bible study or EFM class on Tuesdays, or just visiting at coffee hour and suddenly something we hear gives us pause – and we take the time to consider what we have heard in a new way.

This may come as a surprise to you but just because we all attend St. Andrew’s does not mean that we always agree on everything or even that we always like one another. There are times that it feels comfortable to assume that we all think alike – but that is a dangerous assumption to make. When we start to think in that manner – it means that we are not hearing some of the voices – that we are not listening to the message some one else can share.

We have the opportunity for that very thing here at St. Andrew’s. The Rev. Kathy has asked us to reflect upon the question of how homosexuality has affected us personally. There will be opportunities for sharing with one other our thoughts and responses to that question. The question is not judgmental – it does not ask for an answer of right or wrong. It simply asks how we each have been affected. That is only one of the many issues that affect each of us differently. It is only one of the many facets of life itself that we have the opportunity to hear about.

We can listen to one another with the gift of love. Admittedly, it isn’t always easy or comfortable to listen – to really hear – what others have to say. The temptation often is to immediately refute or agree – and yes to even walk away. When we can resist that temptation and sit in silence as others speak, we will be giving one another an enormous gift. We will be honoring the speaker in ways that do not happen often in this noisy world we live in.

We each have our own story – no two exactly alike. Each story is as valuable as the other. To take the time to listen to another’s story will open not only our ears but also our hearts. We will be living into the commandment to love one another as God loves us. We will love as we each want to be loved. We will be living into our Baptismal vow to treat each person with respect and dignity.

Who knows? Perhaps as we listen we may hear the voice of God speaking to us and everything will change.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

12 Pentecost Yr B

My nephew and I are often exchanging books to read, we share the same interest in fantasy and science fiction, he’s and English major like me. The most recent recommendation he made was a book tilted The Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin. I went to the used book site I buy books from on the Internet, and learned that this was the first in a series of four books, so I bought them all. As they came I realized that each book was 900 pages long, plenty of summer reading I figured. I just began the third book. This is an epic story of Kings and Queens, Knights and courts and battles. Well of course the knights and the warriors don their battle armor, so I’ve actually been thinking about this image of armor and battle for quite a while now. In the fantasy stories there seems to be much romance in knights doing battle. The armor these particular knights put on shows their status, the armor is inlaid with gems, it shows who they are, the house they belong too has a symbol that is represented in the armor, and it shows their allegiance, the king they serve. Putting on this amazing armor however also means they go to do battle on their King’s behalf, and more than likely die in the process.

The people in Ephesus, the audience for this letter, were mostly Roman Gentiles, not Jews. They were warriors and familiar with putting on armor and going to war. These days we aren’t so comfortable with going to war for Christ, there’s been so much abuse in our history. Nevertheless, here it is, and there is a wonderful juxtaposition as well. Paul instructs them to put on their feet whatever will make them ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. What can we claim from this for ourselves?

The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes that will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit. For Paul this is not as much about protection against the powers of darkness as it is dressing in the strength of Jesus. It is not so much about insulation from the evils of the world as it is about taking on the church’s holy calling of reconciliation. I think we must dress ourselves so that we may be ready, protection is not the point, being ready in truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and spirit is the point. How do we get ready? How do we dress ourselves with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and spirit?

We engage in ways that help us learn about where we’ve been, so that we may know where we are going, so that we may know what the work is that we are called to do. In dressing ourselves we engage in theological reflection, which is a fancy way of saying that we must reflect on our life and make faith connections. Theological reflection is simply wondering about God's activity in our lives. Asking ourselves where is God present? What is God calling us to do? By taking time to ask questions about what happens to us—seeing our experiences through the lens of faith—we become clearer about our connection to God. We all ask questions about relationships, our work, our children, our government, and our situation in life. We all reflect, wonder, analyze, think, assess, and discuss with friends as ways of trying to understand our life. Theological reflection simply refocuses all that thinking to encourage a stronger sense of relationship with God, asking, "Where does God fit into the picture?"

Part of this wondering process is to find ourselves in the biblical story. You’ve heard me over and over ask the question, I wonder where you are in this story? This is a way to get you to see the biblical story as your story, but in order to find ourselves in the story, we must know the story. So dressing ourselves is to read and study scripture, so that we have a framework for wondering about how God fits into the picture. I encourage you to take the opportunity to study scripture here at St. Andrew’s. There is already a bible study at 5:30 on Tuesday nights, there is an intensive course called Education for Ministry that also meets on Tuesday nights, if these don’t fit for you, I’d be happy to find a time for another group to meet together for study.

Another part of dressing ourselves is prayer. In one sense, the whole reflection process is prayer, because it is intentional quiet time when we are conscious of God's presence in our lives. Yet concluding with an explicit prayer draws our whole reflection into an expression of our deepest hope. It takes all our hurts and joys, all insights and lingering questions into an intimate conversation with God. I have found that people using this process as a personal spiritual journey have deepened their prayer life or sometimes even discovered a prayer life if they had not experienced one before. It also takes the process of reflection from the posture of thinking about God to one of being with God, whether we do that alone or in a group.

And what is it we are getting ready for? We are standing ready as agents of resurrection, we are standing ready as people who are marked as Christ’s own forever for the purpose of being bearers of the kingdom in all places and at all times. Our job then, or the work that we are called to do, dressed in word and prayer, is to proclaim with our lives God’s presence with us.

If we were actually wearing armor, people would know right away we were warriors. We aren’t wearing armor, we are dressed in word and prayer, do people know right away who we are? Do people know right away that we live our lives as agents of resurrection? Do people know right away that we carry God’s presence with us? How would they know that to see and hear us? Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is about healing and reconciliation. As agents of the resurrection, as co-workers with Jesus in enacting the kingdom, it is our job to participate in activities that bring healing and wholeness to this broken and fragmented world. It is our job to give ourselves away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return.

This way is not an easy way which is why it takes preparation. That’s what’s in John’s gospel today. Many of Jesus’ disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. Dressing ourselves in our armor and going out to do what we are called to do is not easy work. And it involves risk, a warrior risked death, we risk life. The life that John is all about, the life that is abundant and amazing. The life that brings healing. The life that is the good news, good news that spreads in our families, our communities, our country.

Clothe yourselves in word and prayer, and go forth into the world to be the good news that the world yearns to hear.

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: Come let us adore him.