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: