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Friday, April 29, 2011

Rumor of angels

Yesterday in bible study one of the lady's shared a story. During WWII, the brother of Mary M was in a fox hole with another soldier. As they sat there, the men looked out and saw an angel under a nearby tree. Her befuddled brother said to the other soldier, "Do you see that?" He did. The angel sat there, waved his arm, and beckoned them to come over toward him. The two soldiers decided to go toward the angel. As they left the foxhole a shell of some sort exploded in the place where they had been. He can never tell the story without weeping.

Such stories are not common, nor are they unprecedented. We have all heard of strange events or read about them. When I was younger I reveled in such stories. I got excited hearing about amazing things. It made beleiving more exciting. I find I am les prone to such reactions in my latter years. Part of the reason is I have been duped so many times. Exciting stories sometimes turn out to be frauds, whether intentional or not. There is also a theological reason, I have been instructed often (sometimes sternly) that we are to have faith and not look for proof. Another reason is less attractive. The current age is more cynical, more dominated by skepticism and unbelief, than my youth. We live in a post-church, dying faith period. Sometimes I just turn from these stories, tired of the battles with unbelievers.

There are also the 'why' questions. When one thinks of the millions who died during the war, soldier and civilian, it does raise the question, "Why would God send an angel to save two men in a brutal war while so many suffered and died?" "Why not more such interventions?" "Why this one and not that one?"

One answer is "God is inscrutable, shut up and worship." This is the answer of the Book of Job. Part of me thinks it is the best answer. Another answer is "God intervenes to save. Those isolated acts are reminders of His power, but the kingdom has not come yet." This seems closer to the ministry of Jesus. The Lord taught and healed some, but so many others never met or heard Him. His works were part of the hidden salvation of our God. A wonderful sign of better days ahead. Another answer is, "Stuff like angels does not happen, it is a figment of overactive imaginations." I am not buying that one.

The last answer, however rational it sounds, ignores one fact. Two men saw an angel. The angel beckoned and they responded. Their lives were saved. They lived to tell the story. It was an experience of saving grace. It happened.

I think there are angels among us. I also think they are not usually manifest in such remarkable ways as for Mary M's brother. Even so, God is among us, saving and rescuing the lost. Some folks believe it, others don't. I do.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Sins of the Fathers

Yesterday I was shocked at the loss of life to the east of us, as storms tore through Alabama and other states. I saw video of crumpled cars along an interstate. A weeping lady stammered, "One minute you are there and the next minute you are gone." Her pain was palpable. We were also hammered by endless storms, but our threats were proven wrong. We were spared.

Much of yesterday was spent dealing with the exccessive rain. It flooded our streets and courtyard. It also filled the basement with a couple inches of muddy water. Electricians were called to fix the problem with the sump pumps. As of 7:00 this morning there is still standing water and I am not sure when the problem will  be completely taken care of.

The decision, some thirty years ago, to build a parish hall in the basement, was a bad idea. I have been here ten years and the consensus throughout that time remains the same: back a concrete truck up to the windows and start pouring! We have had numerous less radical "solutions" over the years and have spent endless hours debating the issue. Many hours have been spent constructing first one, then another, mode of correction. As I waded through the water yesterday I was clear that if it rains long enough and hard enough we are going to have trouble. Mopping up the basement is frustrating. It is probably never going to be completely fixed.

The people who designed this building thought they were being good stewards. They did the best they could with limited resources. It is a problem of a small parish. Few people with little financial backing have to make decisions on what to do within the limits of the situation. The decision to make a basement was a bad one. Ever since then other people have also paid the price for this mistake. Innocent people, who had no voice or vote, will gather and mop and clean. More time and more money will be spent.

The word "sin" in Hebrew means "to miss the mark." It is a broader word than simply moral evil or breaking a commandment. It includes errors. We make decisions every day which will impact others for years to come. We may not intend harm, yet other people may pay dearly for our choices. Too often in our individualistic culture we ignore that fact. We act like sin is a personal, private affair. It isn't. This is why in the ancient church confession, repentance and reconciliation were publicly celebrated. We owe it to the community which suffers from our sins. Yes, we owe it to each other, as well, of course, to God.

I read the reflections of the Underground Pewster the other day. He shared the statistical decline of our church. From 2002 to 2010 the average Sunday attendance has dropped from almost 870,000 to under 725,000. His analysis can be found at

Our Easter attendance this year was fifty less than it had been the last two years. The good news is we have seen about one hundred more folks this year. So we are better than last year. The not so good news is we still have not made up the loss from the year prior (we have seen about fifty less than 2009). So what? Well, churches need people to do ministry. Churches need people to make a difference in the world. There was a time when we had to add chairs and make people stand. We were growing and it was pretty excited. Then the Episcopal church chose to ordain Gene Robinson. Within two years we saw a fall off which has continued pretty much to this day. Young families no longer come to our church as they once did. We still have a healthy parish (well over 225 in attendance), but the days of 270 are long gone. Choices made by church leaders, national and local, effect the future. Things I say and do have impact, some positive, some negative.

My prayer is I am not building any "basements" for future church leaders who will serve here. My hope is that there will  be future church leaders here. Current trends are not positive. If we lose another 150,000 folks in the next eight years, the Episcopal church will be very small (under 500,000 worshippers). Based on our church's stated goals, I see no reason to think we won't continue to lose (and probably increase the rate). The fathers and mothers are making lots of unhelpful decisions. There are lots of sins (in every sense of the word) being perpetrated.

In this parish, we will proclaim Jesus is (universal) Lord, embrace the orthodox faith, focus on generous outreach, in depth bible study, regular prayer and community. We will try to build up faith, hope and love. We will listen to His word and respond. If the sins of the fathers rest on the children, it is also true that the fidelity of the fathers (and mothers) can provide a basis for blessings! I believe that God has given us responsibility in our world. I believe our choices matter. I also believe God has not abandoned us. Here is to hope!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hanging by a Thread

Last night we were bombarded with a series of storms. We were warned that a tornado was very likely. Again and again. As I sit writing this morning the last of the storms is arriving. West of us, in Arkansas, there have beend deadly storms and tornadoes. Further south, in Texas, they suffer a severe drought. My yard is like a soaking wet sponge and we have multiple flash flood warnings. In Texas they worry about wild fires and dry grass.

Fr. Rene has lost power again. He has been on and off like a third world country the last couple of weeks. He lives in an older part of town where the trees are very big and the power lines are in the air. He has a generator which has saved his freezer full of food, but it has been tough on him.

As we sat eating dinner yesterday evening with my in-laws, celebrating a pending birthday, it was surreal. Great food and fun conversation, all the while the TV at the end of the room showed the approaching storm. Sort of like life, you know something is coming, but in the meantime enjoy what you have. When we arrived home we emptied out the closet and filled it will pillows and blankets and in went momma and the two kids. I recalled the news stories about flattened homes and wondered if we would end the night in tragedy. I said my prayers and waited. In the end, it was like all the other storms. Wind. Rain. Threats. Nothing more.

Power outages, sudden death from the skies, floods and drought: they are all a reminder of how fragile life is. A friend of mine frequently says, "We live in stick houses with a brick veneer." It is a reminder that things often look more solid then they are. Eventually, one of these storms is going to be the real thing. Even so, odds are good that I will not ever be harmed by one. Yet every storm, ever power outage, every flood is a reminder that our pleasant lives hang by a thread. It would not take much to turn our lives into a struggle for existence. We are so dependent on so many things 'going right.' We are dependent on others. We are dependent on God. It is a good reason to pray and a better reason to thank God.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Today I will be brief. This morning during prayer I found myself thinking about the 'day after' for the disciples. I am pretty tired and exhausted right now. I think the apostles felt the same. Life in the flesh is that way (Jesus said the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak). I would assume that the sense of amazement continued. The new idea, resurrection, would not have been processed in one day. The relief of Christ's mercy and the joy of His love was probably the most powerful experience. I find it helpful to think about real life people and their real life experience when I meditate on Scripture. It is a good way to plug into the truth. Jesus is risen. Normal folks like you and me were part of the event. What they told others, we can tell others. It is that simple. That proclamation (in word and deed) is the work of the church, as is wondering, together. We wonder about these mysteries which leads to worship. We wonder togther which leads to conversion. We wonder together which leads to community of faith.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Keeping Easter in Perspective

On Memorial Day weekend, 1999, my dad died. It was a Saturday afternoon. The next morning I entered the pulpit at St. Mary's Cathedral to start my new job as the canon (assistant priest). I began my homily with the words, "I am Jeff Marx and I am your priest." At some point I mentioned that my dad had died the evening before. I remember saying that the Dean (the pastor) did not know, so he was as shocked as anyone. I know dad's wife was there. I do not remember what text I preached on nor do I recall anything else I said. I do not remember the actual date either.

Dad died at home. The whole family was gathered around his bed and we waited and watched. I have little 'video clips' in my head of that day. My brother had asked my dad for a sign when  he died. (He was not sure about life after death.) He got his sign. My sister had a most unusual experience as well. I saw it happen. She literally lurched and her face registered shock and amazement. Those two events would be mystical. I cannot prove anything by them; can't prove a thing. Still, I know they happened.

The third momet was when my (then) two year old son climbed up in the bed with dad and talked to him. It was a deep moment for me. It appears death was no barrier for a toddler. In those last days, as weak as he was, my dad had been able to lift Luke into his bed almost to the end. It appears dying is no barrier for a grandpa either.

SO why this reflection? In part because I know my siblings all have different memories of that time. I also know how faulty the memories I have are. I know there are some details which really stand out and so many important details which have faded into the land of "unremembery."

I have to think it was similar for the disciples. It was an emotionally charged time. Confusion, shock, fear, despair, self loathing, self preservation... The myriad of thoughts and feelings must have been like a violent storm in their minds and spirits. Then, suddenly, more craziness, crazier than the crucifixion. He is alive? He is alive! What do you mean He is ALIVE??!!!

What indeed. The stories in our Gospel do not easily blend together into a singular account. For some that is cause of alarm leading either to twisting logic in order to save the story, or rejecting it out of hand and embracing the darkness of doubt. I know both inclinations well. Yet my own experience tells me that in real life a group of people with a shared experience tend to portray events with their own peculiar emphasis. It really is not normal for everyone to agree on every detail. Some would say God should intervene to make the story perfectly accurate. I wonder, how often does God intervenes to make anything perfect in the church? Seems if we are the Body of Christ He should feel as compelled to work that miracle as He would writing the story. What I do know is, for all the discrepencies, one thing is clear: the tomb is empty and Jesus is gone. Also, equally clear, Jesus appeared to a variety of folks to remove all doubts that He was alive, raised from the dead.

So, that means this would be the most incredible day in history. Today we remember, today we recall bits and pieces of what is truly the greatest day in history. EVER.

So we need to keep Easter in perspective. As we celebrate today we need not worry that we can make a bigger deal of the resurrection than we should. Our challenge is not to make a smaller deal of it. We ought to respond to the resurrection of the Annointed King in proportion to what happened here. Nothing is too grand. See, Jesus indicates that the Final Consummation of God in creation is coming and already is. Jesus rising from the dead is the first fruit of that Final Event. So the resurrection is the beginning of the Last Age. God in Christ reconciled the world to Himself. God has raised Jesus. That is the most important thing that has ever happened. Anywhere. Ever.

So how can we not act like this is the biggest deal ever? That my friends is what happens when one fails to keep Easter in perspective.
Dear ones, the Lord is risen, He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Powerful Good Friday

Good Friday has come and gone again. Because we read the Passion on Palm Sunday (this year two chapters of Matthew) the entire week seems blanketed by the story. Our priestly work that day is different from most days of the year. After Morning Prayer we set time aside to hear confessions. The sacrament of Reconciliation is, of course, both one of the greatest and the most controversial gifts God has given to the church. As I shared about this some time ago, I do not argue with people about it. I have seen the power of release and the miracle of the sacrament so many times that arguments would be inappropriate.

Because of the flow of people yesterday morning, it was almost noon when I finished. The Good Friday liturgy begins at noon. Fr. Rene and I gathered before hand, said our prayers, and walked around to the front entrance of the church. As the big red doors swung open I was stunned by what I saw. The entire place was crammed full. Others were in the parish hall watching on television. Wow! I was blown away. Attendance was about 30% higher than I expected based on the last few years.

Those who attend an Episcopal service know that Good Friday is a sparse service. The music is sung without the organ. There is no celebration of eucharist. There are readings, a homily and some prayers. Fr. Rene preached powerfully. We took up a collection for the church in Jerusalem (and I thought about St. Paul doing the same thing and I felt a sense of salvation history). Then I walked down to get the cross.

It is made of two weathered pieces of wood. They were side boards on a house from the countryside in Mississippi. One of my friends at the church constructed it years ago. I carried it in, laid it on the floor, and pounded in the nails. No preaching captures the sense of the crucifixion any better than the hammer and nails. You can hear it. You can 'feel' it. I then stood and invited all the people present to come forward. To touch the wood, and as they did so, to offer themselves to Jesus. To the non-Christian I gave an offer of salvation, tell Jesus you trust His death. To the Christian I made an exhortation to recommmit and renew your faith. So they came, often alone, sometimes in pairs. Married couples holding hands. Mother with son. Parents with child. Individuals as well.

Some knelt before the cross. Some grasped its arms like a child holding daddy. Some kissed the wood. It was so solemn, so full of beauty and power. I prayed, over and over, as I looked at these precious people whom God has given me responsibility to pastor. Then Fr. Rene tapped my shoulder and said, "Let me take it." Maybe he thought I was tired. Maybe he wanted to share the moment. In any case, I was able to kneel in prayer and continue to thank God and intercede for those whom I love.

Peter told Jesus, "I will never desert you." I know he meant it. I know Peter intended to be faithful. I guess his words echoed in my ears as I watched each person, man and woman, young and old, come before that cross. I am sure each of us, at that moment, was sincere. I am also sure that in the days ahead our resolve will weaken, the power of the moment will fade. Yet Jesus knows. He forgives. He has compassion and mercy. He embraces us, in our multitude of failures and sees our desire to be His.

I saw that yesterday. I saw the people of God (the sheep of His pasture) and I saw the Lord (the Good Shepherd). I saw the holy transaction. It was powerful. I cannot wait for Easter!

Friday, April 22, 2011

A lonely Good Friday

Everett Fox has a translation called "The Five Books of Moses" in the Schocken Bible: Volume I. It is wonderful in that the translation seeks to keep the English translation as Hebrew-like as possible. His notes are faithfilled and informative. [Neither fearful literalism, nor 'scholarly' disdain.] Since Derek Leman  has inspired me to more frequent and deeper reading of the Torah, I have read this Bible for many months. Yesterday I stumbled across something that was so connected to the feelings I have had about this weekend. In his introduction to Exodus 25-31 (p. 394) Fox writes, "But the sacred center, for biblical religion, finds equal expression in time. While the Dwelling account seems obsessed with matters of space, its setting among the sabbath passages stesses more the concept of time... the sabbath--an institution with no known equivalent in the ancient world.

In the Evangelical world of Memphis the Word is sacred, hence the high regard for the bible. However, the Catholic view of the world, which is biblical to its core, includes sacred space and sacred time. I am aware of the possible abuses of such concepts. I understand the impulse to reign in efforts to overstate the sacredness of space and time. [Though the Word is certainly misused just as frequently] Even so, I think it a gift to understand sacred place and time.

Our church building is built on this model of sacred space. There is a definite focus which reveals our understanding of God and worship. Sacred time also matters to us. There is a liturgical year. We have days and seasons, special times wherein our lives are lived differently. In Advent we hunger for the consumation of all things. We look to The End and The Great Deliverance when God will be all in all. At the same time, we prepare for the birth of the Messiah, that first taste of the Last Things. At Christmas we celebrate His birth and the manifestation of God among us. The twelve day celebration of Christmas, pre-empted by "Christmas shopping" and the American obsession with getting things done early (Christmas season ends on December 25) leaves liturgical Christians feeling out of it. Our excitement in the season is dampened by the confused looks of those who do not understand the appropriateness of a wish of "Merry Christmas" on December 28th.

Lent seems to be of greater interest to non-liturgical folks lately. The idea of discipline and renewal rings true, even if ashes, fasts and laments are not part of the norm. But we seem to have pretty mild Lents these days. Ironically, as we have so much, it seems we give up so little.

Last night we remembered the Last Supper. There is enough there to blog on for weeks, but the high points: eucharist and service (foot washing). After the closing prayer we leave in silence. There is no end to the service, it is gong to be picked back up at noon on Godo Friday. The time is different now. There was a prayer vigil from 8:00 to Midnight. It is our (sacred time) participation in "the Garden with Jesus." For four hours you sit in church. You pray. You listen. You read. Your reflect. You pray some more. You check your watch. You wonder if Jesus really cares that you are sitting here. (at least I did)

It is lonely, because it is obvious that very, very few think it is a good idea. A total of a dozen folks spent the night time hours in prayer. Jesus' question, "Can you stay with Me one hour?" received a resounding "nope." Today we recall the cross. Is today a different time? Is it somehow holy and unlike other times? In my youth it was. I remember an almost frantic need to participate with Jesus' cross. I remember wondering how to make Good Friday true worship. I am not sure I have progressed much since then. I still find myself wondering how to make the connection (or be open to His connecting with me).

Then I see everyone else, going about their normal lives, gearing up for easter eggs, baskets and the yearly trek to church. It is lonely. Very lonely. And it does eat away at the faith. It raises the question, "Does God care about all this?" Should today be better spent at an old folks home or soup kitchen than in a church? Is earth day celebration more appropriate than our celebration? (okay, I gotta admit that one does not really bother me or trouble me, but it seems to affect others....) How much time is too much, or too little? Is today special or just another day?

It is lonely to be part of a small handful of Christians doing what we are doing today. It is lonely. And last night as I pondered that loneliness, it struck me as appropriate. The cross is a lonely thing, Jesus hung there by Himself. At some point, it appears, Jesus felt totally alone, abandoned even by God the Father. Jesus certainly had been abandoned by His friends. Maybe loneliness is actually the fruit of sin. Isolating us from the beginning (as Adam and Eve sought to blame another) and keeping us from walking with God or each other. The pain of loneliness is a shared human experience. The pain of the cross (and there are many) includes that isolation. It is, in part, not belonging and not connecting.

I believe it is a different day, Good Friday. It is not meant to  be like any other day. TGIF parties are not appropriate and easter celebrations are premature. Today we turn to Him, we remember and we cry and we repent. It is good to do such things, even if most people have no idea what we are doing or why we do it. Being alone is not so bad, especially when a group of 125 or so gather to be alone, with Him, together.

Liturgy is God's gift to us. Liturgical Christianity is a blessing. Today is not any day. It is Good Friday. It is sacred time.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maundy Thursday

Today we recall the Last Supper. John's Gospel has a different focus than the three Synoptics. They call it a Passover meal. Matthew tells us that Jesus reveals He will be betrayed, with harsh words for the betrayer. Then He offers them the bread/body and wine/blood. Mark has the same. Luke has expanded it a bit. For example he mentions the guest room, a Greek word which also occurs at the beginning of his Gospel (there was no room for Jesus). One can ponder the symbolism there. Luke also reverses the order found in Matthew and Mark and adds additional material about a servant mentality. Then there is a section where Jesus warns Peter that Peter will be tested and fail. Lastly, Jesus tells the disciples that things have changed, it is time to carry money and a sword in their ministry. One notices that some of these elements are expanded in John.

One is left with the impression that the meal must have been amazing. You can imagine the hushed silence and wonder as Jesus handed them the bread and cup, each filled with a new meaning in light of His pending sacrifice. A new covenant, promised by the prophets, and here they were tasting the banquet. The connection Jesus makes between the meal and the cross has been lost on most of us. We fail to see the connection. Yet Jesus is clear. My body, given for you. My blood, shed for your sins. Do this. Remember Me.

John, however, has the meal on a different day. Many scholars have wrestled with the dating of these events. It can be pretty confusing. The more I study scripture and the more I understand the ancient mindset, the more I come to peace with the role of theology in the writings. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus dies on the Day of Preparation (i.e. when the lambs were slaughtered for Passover), they offer a sponge filled with wine on a branch of hyssop (Exodus 12:22, hyssop applies blood on the door), there is a mention that no bones were broken (a requirement of the Passover lamb). The Fourth Gospel has no mention of bread and wine at the meal. Instead Jesus washes the feet of His disciples and teaches. (Yet chapter six has an extensive reflection on eucharist in the Bread of Life discourse: My flesh is real food, My blood is real drink, unless you feed on My flesh and drink My blood you will not live) John clearly wants to make the connections between Passover and the death of Jesus clear. He is interested in helping us see the meaning of these events.

We do well, today, to think how we would have tried to convey that last meal. Would art (music, dance, sculpture) be our venue? Perhaps a dry, though detailed, chronology of the events? Maybe interviews with the disciples afterward? Some might choose a panel of experts to assess and analyze, there are, after all, various angles: psychology, biology, economics, sociology. Some would desire to hear a cynic, while others might prefer to hear a mystic. The Biblical-Theological approach to the story of Jesus is certainly a legitimate option and the ancient exercise of that discipline is as True as any of the others listed above.

I hope the realization that there are different approaches helps you, dear reader, to see this story with new eyes. Understand the Gospel writers seek to bring you to insight and understanding. For them, there was no question that the Crucified and Risen Lord was Who He said He was. For them there was no doubt or fear. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Messiah. Jesus is Savior. They believed and they were committed. It is our turn to join them, or recommit, in the journey of faith, the path of discipleship.

Jesus died for you. He makes that clear. Understanding the mechanism is not as important as trusting and obeying is. Today, right now, we are given, again, a glimpse into reality. We are invited to follow. We are welcome to eat and drink. We are enlightened to understand Who the food is and what we are called to be.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Troubled Heart

Today at Morning Prayer we read John 12:27-36. It begins with a confession by Jesus, "My heart is troubled..." The Greek word tarasso means aggitated, troubled, emotionally distressed, upset. It is a pwerful, raw word and not one we usually associate with Jesus.

Last night at 11:00 pm we got a phone call. It was the emergency weather alert call. Once awake I heard the tornado siren. I ran upstairs and roused the kids. I had images of news reports on tornadoes to fuel my anxiety. For the next hour, huddled in our safe place, we watched the tv as it showed us the location of the threatening storm. Many parts of the city had already lost power. Darkness hid teh damage. Our neighborhood is fine, but others aren't. The experience is unnerving.

I imagine Jesus faced His own inner tornado. He says that the time has come "for judgment" and "the ruler of this world will be driven out." There is so much more going on, in Jesus' mind, than a political execution of a Messianic claimant. So much more.

It is a frightening and troubling situation. The raw human emotions which Jesus felt are appropriate. "No fear" is a wonderful tee shirt motto. It is the type of thing people who have never been to war say as they claim they are warriors. It is the silliness expressed by athletes who compare playing a game to "going to war." In real wars fear is a reality. Wars are horrific. Eighty year old men weep when they talk about their experiences in WWII, that is if they talk about them at all.

Jesus is at war with the ruler of this world. His words. It is literally the 'war to end all wars.' Clearly, Jesus' understanding of the world is more nuanced than "God is in control." Jesus refers three times to "the ruler (archon = leader, prince, commander, chief) of this world" and He is not talking about His Father! Jesus seems to believe there is a demonic power in command, in some sense, as well. It's reign is sin and death (Jesus is healing/salvation and life). I know that Jesus was very upset in His last days. His showdown with the Prince of this world was very distressing. The word 'troubled, aggitated, upset" appears five times in John's Gospel, all in the same section:

11:33 Jesus is aggitated when He sees the mourners at Lazarus' tomb.
12:27 today's verse, His heart is aggitated
13:21 in a bit Jesus will say He is upset again as He shares that one of His intitmate friends will betray Him

Then a shift in chapter 14, Jesus exhorts His disciples not to fear or be troubled (14:1 & 27). It is amazing. I imagine seeing Him this way has unnerved them as well. Like any good leader He reminds His friends that this is on Him, not them. It is the sort of thing which makes you love Jesus more. In facing His own problems, He turns to heal the troubled hearts of His friends.

As we stand poised before the high holy days coming upon us, we do well to remember the terror of Jesus. We need to recognize His humanity and His courage. True courage, to act rightly in spite of fear, not denial. Jesus will meekly (yet with power) submit to the world's ruler and suffer all the torment that that decision entails: physical torture, abandonment and betrayal, mental, emotional and spiritual agaony. He will drink fully of what we have all tasted in the worst times of our lives. Perhaps His courage in facing His passion will inspire us to love Him more and imitate Him better? Perhaps we will be inspired to set these days apart as truly holy and worthy of contemplation? Perhaps we will open our inner being to God and embrace His salvation offered in the person of Jesus?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Nature of Things

Today's Gospel reading is John 12:20-26.  We are told some "Greeks" came to Philip and said, "we wish to see Jesus." The hunger of a pagan heart to see Jesus makes perfect sense. At the level of intellectual curiousity it is appropriate. After all, haven't there been many strange and wondrous stories about the Man? Also, He is known for His wisdom, story telling and teaching. Any Greek worth his weight would want to ponder and wrestle with the words of this Man. Yet, as is always the case with John's Gospel, there is probably another level. At the core of every human being (Greek here can also mean all the Gentiles) there is a hunger. Each and everyone of us, we all have that hunger. Many spend their lives ignoring the feeling while pursuing distractions, preoccupied with short term concerns.

For Jesus, these words signal a turn. They are an important sign to Him. His response to the request for an audience elicits this response, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified..." There should be no surprise that the Greeks are not mentioned again. Nor is the sudden shift unexpected. In John's Gospel, sudden shifts and turns are the norm, the unexpected twist is always expected!

Jesus goes on to say that "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."

I interpret John with trepidation. [The characters populating this Gospel story never seem to understand the words of Jesus, so why would I dare to presume I have correctly understood?] But I do believe that Jesus is saying that it is the nature of things. The world in which we live has rules. God could have created any number of universes with any number of rules. He made this one. He is contained by the limits He has set for it and for Himself. The death of Jesus is, therefore, necessary. In other Gospels the Greek word 'dei'  (it must be, it is binding) appears on the lips of Jesus. Clearly Jesus believed that there was an inflexible demand at work in His life and ministry.

Why did the Lord die on the cross? It is all tied up in the nature of things. It is the way this world in which we live works. There is a "cost of doing business" on our planet, if you will. Life and death are interlocked. We can moan and groan. We can fantasize about alternatives. We can grouse about God's failure to make the world the way we would have. Yet, in the end, we must understand, God (in and through Jesus) has embraced the creation as it is, God has submitted to the rules and been confined by the nature of things. So Jesus, to bring life and much fruit, dies. The "Greeks" are here, so Jesus knows the time has come. Come let us worship!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Jesus' Heroic Courage

Saturday evening, a dear parishioner mentioned after the service that she would never forget the time I preached on the crucifixion. [Some years back, I chose to actually describe in detail what it would be like to see a crucifxion.] She shared, "I had never thought about it before that, but now I cannot forget."

In the first Lord of the Rings movie, Sean Bean plays Boromir. He is a warrior and Sean was perfect for the part. Beefy and brooding, His appearance and demeanor resonated with a sense of courage and power. Toward the end of the movie, the little band of 'good guys' is attacked by a larger force of orcs (think ugly, cruel and vicious). Boromir stands to protect two small Hobbits during the raid. Outnumbered and alone, he manfully fells one Orc after another in a theatrical display of heroism. None can successfully defeat him in sword battle until an archer lets fly his arrow. Suddenly, with a look of shock, Boromir sees the twisted shaft of the arrow protruding from his chest. It is a poignant moment where one realizes that mortality is real. While he battles on, there is a sense of exhaustion and weakness. Even so, no Orc can slay him, as he swings his sword and slays one after another. Then a second arrow finds its mark. His courage and strength are magnificent. It stirs the hearrt. Then a third. The horror! It is too much. He slowly slides to the ground. A magnificent display of a mortally wounded hero.

We are used to such movie images. The hero who takes many blows yet goes on, refusing to quit, unyielding in battle and unwilling to give up in his heroic quest. But it was not until Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ that I was introduced to the concept that Jesus shared in that role.

I had always imagined Jesus as victim. We even use the word to describe the cross. I reflected long and often on the horrors of His suffering. I knew of the love and the obedience. Yet always, I unconsciously assumed, it was something the mean people (Jew and Roman) had done to Him (and always for us, because of us). Gibson, in his portrayal of the scourging changed that for me forever. In the brutal scene, where the Lord is whipped, the two soldiers alternate dealing blows. The Roman scourge was created to deal horrific damage. There is little doubt that the beating itself could be sufficient to kill. As one blow falls after another, Jesus is driven to His knees. A close up of His twitching hands is used to convey the unbearable agony and pain. Finally, He hangs there, apparently unconscious. It is all too much to see or ponder. The soldiers, exhausted from the physical exertion, bend over panting. Then it happens, an image which changed my understanding of Who Jesus is. Jesus struggles back up. He stands. The brutal soldiers' dumb looks of amazement convey the power of Jesus. He is somehow in charge even though He is bound and beaten. Who is this man?

Throughout the Gospels Jesus is portrayed as a warrior king in the spiritual realm. He bravely resists temptations and does battle with evil. He defeats many demons and conquers illness and death. He battles ignorance through parable and teaching. He marches bravely to Jerusalem, His face set like flint, disdaining Herod (that fox) and never backing away from confrontation with the powers of the secular and religious world of His day. I always knew that Jesus understood the danger He was in, He had seen the cost of resistance in the death of John the Baptist and the many unknwn victims of crucifixion and death which were part of His environs. He repeatedly prophesied about His passion and death (and resurrection). I knew how much He suffered, too, at least to the extent that I could imagine it. Yet as Jesus stood back up in the movie I had a deeper insight into His active role.

Jesus not only suffered, He suffered bravely. Jesus not only was taken, He also gave Himself. Jesus drank the cup to the dregs, tossed it aside, and said, "Give Me another." Whatever personal demons have ravaged Mr. Gibson, I am forever thankful for his film. It provided another angle on Jesus for me, one which made sense in light of scripture.

This week as we read and ponder The Story, I intend to keep in mind that Jesus chose. He chose bravely and with magnificent courage. They did not drag Him off kicking and screaming for mercy, begging to be set free. He chose to embrace His Father's will. He chose to embrace, with unimaginable courage, the torture, the shame, the darkness of wretched death... He chose when He had other choices available. He chose it out of love. He chose it as a warrior hero. Strong and powerful, enduring bravely the enemy's blows. Jesus is a powerful man who loves with gentleness. He is a mighty man, who meekly receives blows while never delivering blows. He is The One, Who relinquishes His army of angels and Heavenly crown and throne, and instead hangs enthroned on a cross, His regal diadem  twisted thorns pressed into His head, His battered face and shredded skin hiding the hero's heart which beats within the beaten body.

Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior, Brother and Friend, Master and Teacher. Jesus the Hero. Jesus our model. O Come, let us adore, Him.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Passion and the Passion Story

In college, my Junior year, a senior's thesis paper was on the JFK assassination. While most of us never dreamed of sharing our work with the rest of the school, he did. A decent size crowd of us gathered to hear his presentation, which included the Zapruder film. Today, by the magic of the internet, I was able to access that film in seconds at no cost. In 1979, however, that film was not so easy to come by. It was nothing short of amazing that we could see it and as the student shared his thoughts on the assassination he replayed the film about a dozen times.

When President Kennedy died, I was a young boy in a Catholic school. He had a special status in our world.  His death was also a shock so awful that they sent us home from school early. I was innocent then. Death had not personally visited my life, at that point. It was another year before the Spectre of Darkness visited us for the first time. [Trivia note, my mom was transported in the same ambulance as president Kennedy's body had been one year later. The driver told her about that as he drove her to Bethesda Naval Hospital.]

Because of the speculation comparing various theories of what took place in Dallas it was very interesting to see the assassination film and discuss. However, at some point, I remember something changed. I suddenly realized that I was watching a man die. A human being. Someone's daddy. I remember the sense of awe and the weight of the meaning of these moving pictures. It was not a movie produced by Hollywood. It was a real life murder captured on the grainy film of a 1960's home movie camera.

A year ago last Monday, one of my dearest friends at our parish died suddenly. I still feel deep emotion when I think about the loss. As a priest, my job is to do funerals. It is hard. Over the last decade I have presided over the final rites of numerous people with whom I have a close relationship. In the case of Paul, it is sometimes people who are very, very close.  My own losses are on public display as I struggle to lead worship and  preach. It can get difficult to hold back the emotions.

Last evening at eucharist, I read the Passion of Jesus from Matthew's Gospel. It is long, taking about fifteen minutes or so. Last night, I was very aware, that this was not just a story someone made up. It is the heartwrenching account of a healer and preacher from Galilee. It is what happened to a man who went around doing good to those in need and proclaiming hope to those who had none. He had an edge, at times He was "in the faces" of the political and church leaders. He made amazing claims about His status with God. Even so, there is nothing He said or did that warranted what happened to Him.

That is why I choked up, again and again, reading the story. Jesus is someone whom I love. He has been an incredible source of hope, healing and salvation for me and those I love most: my many friends, like Paul, my parents and grandparents, even people I do not know so well. All of them have been entrusted by me to Jesus. So when I read that they spit in Jesus' face, I feel it. When I read about them putting thorns on His head, beating Him and mocking Him, I feel it. Like the family of a murder victim hearing the transcript of the event read in court, so we, the friends and followers of Jesus, hear the graphic account of His last day. It is hard to sit through.

Most churches which read the account today will not burst into tears. Maybe the story is too familiar. Maybe we just aren't that into Jesus. Maybe we are too tied up with our own pain and struggle. I don't know. What I do know is this story is a story of torture and death and abandonment. It is a horror story.

It is also a love story. A story about God in human existence embracing all the worst this world has to offer. Brutality and beastly cruelty, doled out by uncaring institutions and individuals, literally abusing a good and helpless man until His last breath. Except, the story reminds us, not helpless. "Don't you think I could summon an army of angels if I wanted?," He asked. Because, that Man is God. If we take a breath, listen and focus, today each of us has an opportunity to hear, to know, to feel, to experience. It is not easy. It can cause us emotional distress and genuine feelings of loss and sadness.  It can also prepare us for greater joy next week, because the resurrection is as real as the crucifixion, and that nasty crucifixion is so very real.

Listen to Matthew today. Hear it. With your mind and heart. Hear it and feel it. Weep. And understand the cost of your salvation, our salvation. Understand and fall on your knees to worship. Understand, rise up, and serve Him. Holy Week has begun, be Holy!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Battle for Middle Earth

I am not a Tolkein geek. I read the Trilogy a couple of times and really liked the movies, which I have watched many times. (If I like a movie I can watch it over and over, a feature of my personality which baffles my wife.) Over time, the movies have blotted out the books as my primary source for the Lord of the Rings story.

In one poignant scene, the mighty Wizard gazes out of the castle at an approaching army. He speaks to himself the horrible words, "And so begins the battle for Middle Earth." I do not know where the term middle earth came from. I know Mediterranean means something to that effect (I did not strudy Latin). I know it is a fantasy world which found its source in European myths and Tolkein's creative imagination. I also know the reality of the story, the fact underlying the myth, is that we are all on a quest and we are all in a world torn between two warring factions, light and dark.

As I will celebrate eucharist tonight at 5:00, I am beginning my Holy Week before most people. I want to reflect on aspects of this week in the coming days. Somehow, those words, "And so begins the battle for Middle Earth," seem appropriate to Jesus. I can imagine His heart racing as He dispatched the disciples to prepare the meal with the words, "My time is near" (Mt. 26:18). The moment in time, frozen in anticipation, was a brief respite from what can only be termed traumatic and awesome. What thoughts raced through Jesus' mind as he watched the backs of those men, headed on their errand?

The Jesus of my youth, fully God and all knowing, had no human fears. He was above it all. Over time I have learned that heresy includes both the denial of divinty and the denial of humanity. What does it mean that God is a man? How did it work, inside Jesus? Was He able to experience sheer terror? Was He ever disheartened or discouraged? Could He quake with fear or anger? Did He rely on trust and hope or was He in perfect peace at all times because He knew all? My thinking, based on Scripture study, is Jesus knew most of our worst human emotions. I may be wrong, but I think He knew worry, doubt and fear. I also think He faced the worst with the best of human faith, hope and love. He faced it from a place of intimate unity with the Father, a God Whom He knew, to His core, through prayer, study and service.

Tonight we will read of Jesus' ride on the donkey amidst "Hosannas" as He declares in deed, I am KING! Later, after the procession, we will read of the preparation and meal, the torment in the garden, the arrest and abuse, the denial and crucifixion, the heart wrenching cry, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?"

So it begins, the battle for Middle Earth. The battle for above and below earth, left and right earth, holy and profane earth, believing and doubting earth, merciful and cruel earth, man and woman earth, adult and child earth.... The battle for earth in all its various manifestations. And it is a battle. It is a battle that was won so many years ago on that cross and in the empty tomb three days later. It is won.
Yet the battle continues to rage. In our hearts and minds. Today. So we gather as pilgrims to retrace His steps, remembering the battle He won, the battle we continue to fight today.

Friday, April 15, 2011


We are so close...Tomorrow evening at 5:00 we will gather in our parish hall to read the Gospel story. Jesus will tell the disciples to prepare the room for dinner and get a donkey for Him to ride on. We will begin Holy Week, eight days culminating in a remembrance and celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.

We read the passion account this weekend, but there will be a special liturgy on Good Friday, as well. Then we also read the passion account. We will meditate on the sufferings and death of Jesus. We will pray for the church and the world. We will reverence the cross. We will leave in silence.

Well, not all of us. You see, Good Friday is the annual downtown Easter egg hunt. That is right, what better way to spend your Friday than an eggstravaganza? Children will gather with their parents for the festivities. There will be games and music and, oh so much fun! Last year it was such a popular event that parishioners had difficulty finding parking spaces for church. The air was filled with happy sounds. No need to be somber about that nasty old cross, let's look for some eggs and eat some candy!

How does this happen? It is a combination of Evangelicals who do not celebrate liturgical seasons and secularists who agree with them. Most people in these parts just have no idea about Good Friday. It is not a special day for them. Combined with that is practicality of scheduling. We Americans are big fans of getting things started, we are not real patient, nor do we delay gratification. Why hunt Easter eggs on Easter when you can do it two days early? I think there is also some hope that the local economy will benefit. The ads for the event include an exhortation to stick around and eat at one of the nearby restuarants.

Meanwhile, other Epsicopal churches will be deep in meditation. They will ponder CO2 and the beauty of recycling. They will reflect on Mother Earth and her wounds. They will preach about salvation through green energy. It is earth day, after all, and that is too important to pass by.

So at St. Andrews Church in Collierville, we will be out of step. We will not celebrate the Eggstravaganza. We will fast and pray instead. We will not worship Gaia nor practice any other ecological liturgical celebrations. We will focus on Jesus and the cost of salvation. What we will do will not make much sense to a world full of different kinds of Christians, secularists and pagans. It will be a clear demonstraton that we do not belong. Yet, there is something appropriate about it. My guess is the crucifixion of Jesus was no big thing to most people of His day. Only a few mourned His passing. Only a few pondered Him, beaten and bloody, stumbling along under the heavy cross. Most were business as usual, many had no idea it was even taking place.

Perhaps the real question is will those of us who do celebrate the Feast of the Self Offering on the Cross open our minds, hearts and souls to the depth of the mystery? Will we listen to the story and hear it? Will we meditate on His death and increase our own imitation of His life? Will we read words and prayers or worship in spirit and truth? As awful as Eggstravaganza is, as horrible as earth worship replacing Jesus worship is, the most awful thing possible next Friday is that we who know better may not do better.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


It happened again. I checked the scores and saw the White Sox were ahead in the last inning 4 to 1. When next I checked it was tied in extra innings. They lost. For the fifth time in this young season they blew a lead at the end of the game.

I hate to lose.
Yet losing seems to be the norm.

Sunday my boy's ball team was in the championship round. They saved him to pitch the first game on Sunday morning as he is a good pitcher. He did his job well giving up two hits and two walks in his four innings. The two runs given up were because of errors. He left with a five to two lead. All was well, victory was in sight. My wife told me later, I spent most of the game wishing you were there, and then the rest of the time so thankful you weren't. His team lost 6 to 5.

There is something about a come from ahead loss, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, blowing it, throwing it away.... well you get the point.

Now all this begs the question, does it matter? In a sense, I guess it doesn't. In a sense I could say none of it matters, but then, it is fair to counter, what does matter? If my favorite team does not matter, should I have a favorite team? If my son's game doesn't matter, should he play? Is the purpose of life living in a monastery and working in soup kitchen (prayer and service do matter after all)? Lord knows I have sometimes thought that is what I should do. It appeals, but so does the glove and bat. Living life not caring about hardly anything doesn't seem right either. I have read some of the church Fathers. John Chrysostom had a sermon on not going to the games of his day (4th Century) so I know there have been some Christian voices articulating that more strict view of things. Still, I have spent too much time as a youth minister to discount the power of play and games in the life of the young (and young at heart). There is something, dare I say it, God-given about it all. Of course, all things need to be in right order.

Having said that, sitting at the ball park on a breezy sunny day, watching young boys run, hit and catch does have a special feel to it. When my son is running round the bases after connecting on a fastball, there is a sense of joy. It is balanced out, of course, by the strike out and pop up, the failure to deliver, the bad taste of another blown lead and late inning loss. "The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" was a memorable line each Saturday on the Wide World of Sports (pre-cable, hard to imagine that world today!). Yes, winnning and losing are part of life and they produce strong emotions.

As I deal with the post-Christian world I also encounter defeat. When I pray for the sick and counsel the troubled, as often as not, I endure defeat. When I try to get my parishioners to show up for church and commit to the Lord, often times I taste defeat.

Being a loser, whether vicariously or not, is painful. It does not feel good. Sometimes we lose at things that do not matter so much, while other times it seems to be very important. In any case, losing, is a big part of life. As I prepare for Palm Sunday and the reading of the Passion of Jesus Christ, I recall that Jesus was a loser. He failed in so many ways. The earliest and most frequent response to His message was rejection. He was betrayed by one of His intimate friends, denied by another and abandoned by all but a few women. Some people whom He had healed apparently turned on Him. His message was twisted by witnesses into capitol offense. He was tortured and crucified. What better image of a Loser is there than the cross?

Yet, there is more to the story.
There is more to every story.
"Unless you lose your life, you can not gain it."
Losers and winners, Jesus says, will be reshuffled in the end.
It is all a mystery too large to grasp, yet too important to ignore.
Lord Jesus, make me Your Loser, amen!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Children, Pets and Earth Day

We are due to have another baby this June. We currently have one son and one daughter. Over the years, I have heard from many people that they view their dog, or cat, the same way I view my kids. While I understand the sentiment, I think it is a way to communicate that their pets are truly important to them, I have always been troubled by the idea.

With that in mind, I admit that I have thought about telling people, "I am very excited about the new baby. Why it will be like a puppy to me. I love my kids so much, they are like pets. My son is like a good dog and my daughter is like a lovely cat. They mean so much to me!" I think that maybe this would be shocking if I actually said it, I hope so, but I think it is basically saying the same thing. My dog is like your kid = my kid is like your dog. I also wonder about loving hamsters and canaries. What if I said, "My Iguana means to me what your Aunt Milie means to you." What if I said, "When my ant farm fell off the table it was like when that school bus crashed. I love those little ants." It isn't that I think pets do not matter. I do, however, wonder why people want to claim they matter as much as humans.

I see Bolivia wants to give the Earth a human status. Apparently the UN is going to act on this at some point. I see that the Episcopal church is pretty excited about Earth Day falling on Good Friday. One gets the impression that there is some joy that we finally have something that matters to celebrate that day. [I have posted links below, mainly so you do not think I am making this up.] Let me emphasize, I believe we have an obligation to care for animals and to care for the world. I believe that our God-given roles as stewards entails such activity. I believe we need to be good caretakers. I believe animals should not be mistreated. But there is something going on with our talk about pets and earth day which goes too far.

This is not a new concern. When I was a teenager I went to see the movie Earthquake (in Sensaround!). When the earthquake hits, about a third of the way through the movie, the destruction is pretty intense. Many people are killed and injured. In one scene, a woman finds a puppy. As she picked it up, the entire movie theater erupted with an emotional "aaawwwww!" Clearly, everyone felt good about the puppy. I remember turning to my friend and saying, "People die, no one cares, a puppy gets found and every one is touched?" Seriously, I know puppies are cute, but do we not value human lives?

The cross of Jesus is more than a useful metaphor for ecological awareness. To call the earth the body of God borders on pantheism (or perhaps has crossed the border into pantheism). To equate German shepherds with seven year old boys is to devalue humanity. It is all based on the inability to think clearly. We have lost a sense of order and proper proportion.

I have my own theories on why this is so. Individualism allows us to make our own decisions and declarations about who and what matter. So whatever moves me (my cat, my love for the mountains) can be given ultimate value to me. Once I have decided it is so, it is so. However, there are repurcussions to that sort of thinking. Sadly, the results of distorted thinking take a while to become manifest. The Episcopal church's love affair with the UN's Millenial Development Goals lasted a couple of years. Now we are "all ecology all the time." This is reflective of the wider culture, an increasingly anti-Christian culture.

You become what you worship. Nature is not pleasant (cf volcanoes). Nature is cold and brutal (cf. animals eating one another). Nature is beauty, but distruction (cf. storms and fires). Those who worship earth and animals become more earth-like and more animal-like. We project humanity onto other life forms and make them more human. [That is why pets dogs are 'part of the family'. That is why we use the term Mother Earth.] God, in Jesus, is affording us the same opportunity. To kneel before His cross and worship Him makes us less earth and animal, and more new creation, more godly. We need to be more aware of God's message in the cross, that His love knows no limits. God will reach to us to save, regardless the cost.We need to elevate our human nature to HIM and HIS call. We need to be careful of what we say and how we say it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Level Seven

I just read that the nuclear crisis in Japan is now at level seven, the highest level possible. While I have no doubt about the danger or seriousness of the crisis, I do find myself wondering about the decision making process. Who got to decide it is seven. Why not six?We live in a world where we try to clarify through numerical values. We also live in a world where there are 'experts' who are supposed to be able to accurately assess the situation.

The world I live in is much less graspable. I spend lots of time with people suffering various medical maladies. It seems, more often than not, that causes of illness are not really understood. As one man told me last week, "that's why doctors practice medicine." Nothing malicious in his tone. It was a simple statement of fact. The smartest folks around, studying and working long hours, still make mistakes or encounter problems which they cannot solve.

I have played the role of 'expert' on many occassions. I always say that when an idiot travels a long way to speak he becomes brilliant. What I mean by that is when I addressed a room full of CEO's they hung on my every word, whereas back home at the office I was regularly ignored. The people who know me best are much less likely to overstate my brilliance or overvalue my insights. They know the truth, that I am just not that smart!

According to standardized tests I am smarter than most. By virtue of multiple graduate degrees I am better educated than most. Through the advantages of many years of life and an interest in personal study I have learned more and more. Am I bragging? No, because the sad reality is that I seem to have little more than a passing knowledge of the things I have spent most of my life studying. Most of the time I feel like I am working a million piece puzzle and all I have constructed is thirty pieces. I have a long list of things to study some day and most of them are things which are important.

As I age I understand that it is vital to trust God more than I do. Everything hangs by a thread. I also see the need to love and care for others better. Somehow, our relationship with God is tied up with how we treat one another. I see that worship and praise is a better life stance than self centeredness. Thanksgiving beats greedily hungering for more and more. I also understand the power and horror of sin, especially the secret sin of one's inner heart. So I have learned and grown, but the thing I have learned most is how little I know. Very little. Very little about things which I am supposed to be an expert about and a resource.

So we live together in societies and communities cobbled together and under the guidance and leadership of falible human beings. Science and technology are as full of confusion as theology. We are all trying to figure it out and much of the time we are hoping that someone, somewhere has a grasp on things. We find comfort that someone can declare the level of threat, even if they might be just guessing.

The hunger for security is an interesting thing. It points, I think, to our alienation from God. It is a concrete reminder that things are not the way they should be. It is a motivation to face the Source, the God named Abba (Father) by Jesus. When we admit our limits and sense the Unlimited we begin the journey into life and truth. If the threat level is seven or one, it still all hangs by a thread. Yet there is reason for hope. Our God reigns.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Good Church?

I was in a spiritual direction meeting Friday with a man who is very committed to the Lord and serious about his discipleship. We got on the issue of church and his journey of faith in multiple settings. What he said resonated with me in light of my last post on "a church guide for agnostics and atheists." He spoke about authentic faith and genuinely seeking to be holy, but the center point had to do with God's goodness and mercy. This led me to some pondering and reflecting in the tdays that followed.

If someone is unsure God exists, or doesn't believe at all, what would motivate them to be active in a church? One possibility is that the church could deny its identity and become so secular that it blends into the culture. We can do things like make Good Friday about Earth Day. The problem is, the contemporary church which does that chases after "contemporary" but is no longer a church. No, being less about faith and draining away the offense of Jesus Christ is not a real option.

I would suggest, that a church which is in touch with Mystery can make inroads with those who have little or no faith. If the worship radiates a sense of awe and wonder that can touch people's hearts. If the people truly gather to focus on God, to glorify Him and thank Him, to listen to Him and be open to Him, then there will be hope for the 'outsider' to be drawn in. Too often, we make worship an "experience" and it takes on the form of entertainment. (I am GUILTY!) Our 'me-focused' style of approaching God is not shallow, it is just not deep enough to draw others in. It points in the wrong direction, toward us.

When we truly look to God, and others turn their eyes in the same direction, even though we have few explanations about the mystery, the fact of pointing toward the mystery has the power to silence our minds. Which leads to another element. Apologetics is a wonderful exercise and needed to address the arguments and misreadings of our faith. But, at times there is an arrogance to some Christian witness. Whereas Jesus spoke in mystical stories about God, we are tempted to construct theologies which require a special vocabulary. Even those Christians who shun theolgy as "man's word" and use only Scripture to present the faith lose touch of the mystery. The act of choosing certain verses is an act of editing God's word. It also tends toward a Rationalist approach and squeezes Sripture into the solution to our needs, instead of a life transforming encounter with the HOLY, HOLY, HOLY.

I think 'non-believers' are not moved by our arguments because they have different assumptions and a different vocabulary. [The progressives in our church seem, at least, to be aware of that fact. The problem with their approach is to drain the faith of any meaningful Christian truth.] However, a church which encounters the stories of Jesus and the stories of Israel, a church which encounters the Mystery of God by humbly listening for His voice in narrative (in the context of a developed and articulated faith) can be a place where those who question can also encounter the Lord. I believe the faith struggles of the church leader are a connecting bridge to the heart, mind and spirit of those people. In the end, faith is a gift of self: God has given Himself to us and requires that we give ourselves to Him. Our failure to do this has many causes, sin being the first and most important, but also our wounds and brokeness, also our fears and ignorance, and certainly the bad example of Christ followers who seem nothing of the sort.

This is why the church must not only have true worship and humility before the Mystery of God, but also a firm sense of service to the world's needs. Outreach in love, flowing from a community of people who care about one another, is demanded. It is demanded by God in both testaments. It is the constant behavior of faithful Christians in every age and in every manner of church. As Jesus heals, feeds and cares for the needs of the broken, so must the local church. Each gathering must point (in worship) to the (in a sense) Unknowable God. Each gathering must focus to the (in a sense) Knowable Mission. To proclaim Jesus in word, but even better, in action. A church which makes an impact on the broken and wounded will have appeal to those uncertain about God's existence. It is a back door through which they can enter relationship with the invisible and often silent God. It is in seeing the Love of Christ manifest, that cold hearts can be warmed.

It is a challenge to do this. Yet, the power of God in us makes it possible to hope. As we become less defensive defenders of the faith, more faithful articulators of the faith, more gentle, kind and holy in our boldness, we will see the impact. It is God's work so we rely on Him, but we are His tools: our words, our deeds, our lives, especially our lives together.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Church Guide for Agnostics/Atheists

Yesterday I wrote about our pending clergy gathering for renewal of vows. I was struck by several things at the renewal and what followed. I had written yesterday about the cross, our bishop preached on the cross in his sermon. He made a clear connection between ordained ministry and the cross. (And I made a clear connection between my written words and his spoken words.) A smaller thing, yet big in its own way, was a simple act of kindness. I came in three minutes late and came to my seat (we gathered in the cathedral choir). The priest sitting behind me went and got a copy of the service for me so that I would  know the readings and music. It felt like that cup of water Jesus mentioned in the Gospel. Lastly, I went to say hello to a priest whom I have known for many years. During our conversation she shared things I had told her years ago when I was the associate at her parish (long before she went to seminary). I was amazed when she told me that I had had a big impact on her.

So what does this have to do with atheists and agnostics? How is this a church guide? I have been involved actively in a church for almost my entire life. It has sometimes been an uneasy association.  My biggest conflict with the church mirrors my greatest struggles with myself: I have a hard time accepting imperfection. I have a long list of moments that I thought would/should be the turning point. Being confirmed, going on Cursillo and coming to a deeper faith, going to seminary, going on retreats, leading retreats, getting ordained, becoming a pastor, etc. Each time I thought, now I will finally be holy, each time I have failed. The church is full of people just like me, people who end up saying and doing things that they should not say and do. This tendency, for sinful and broken people to populate churches, causes endless problems in local (and national) churches. It is a leading cause of "unbelief." So many people have been hurt, so many people are angry, so many people have quit believing because people like me are acting like me in the church.

I am a traditional believer in a very untraditional church. For years I have been sad because of this. It is a gnawing pain of disillusionment and confusion. Yet as different as I am, I still can experience genuine moments of connection with others. I can hear genuine declarations of faith in and love of Jesus. In fellowship with 'the other', I encounter the challenge of living in community and loving the other. One of the great temptations is to avoid it all. It is appealing to collapse into myself and do my thing. There is a push and a pull to disengage. I feel it deep within. There is also a strong impulse to justify myself in doing it. To say to myself, that I am better because I am not involved in the hypocricy and endless wrangling of the church. There is a real temptation to just walk away and consider myself superior in my self-contained world. Or to quit battling and give up on God and church.

Yesterday was a reminder that God is bigger than me and my ideas. God is communitarian. The idea of Trinity says that the foundation and source of creation is Love. Love and trust, the relationship of a Father and a Son, the mystery of God's own Spirit. I think unbelievers need to confront their own brokenness. I think unbelievers need to stop disengaging from real life. We are all messed up and the church is messed up. The Good News is God not only knows we are messed up, but He has promised to save us from that. He is doing something about it right now. The church is a big part of that "something" God is doing.  Jesus created the church for a reason!

Communities of imperfect people trying to worship and serve the Lord exist. The people are flawed, they can do hurtful things, but there is also a possibility for so much good. There is a chance to experience kindnesses and support, a place to grow in knowledge and understanding. There are people to share the journey with, people who can ask questions and share answers. There are many churches like that. Jesus is at work in all of them. People who are not sure about God are welcome, too. Truth be told, most people in the church are not sure about many things. That is why faith is so important. We trust God, even as we struggle together, in the journey to the final answers!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Trying to be faithful in a "contemporary" church

Today the priests and deacons of our diocese will gather to renew our promises and vows. In earlier times, this was a joyful day for me filled with a sense of renewed commitment of sacred vows. As I shared some days ago, in light of a major failure, I am keenly aware of how important it is to keep my vows. I have promised God and His people, after all. The promise is both gift and burden.

In recent years, this diocese has been a less hostile environment for a traditional priest. Even as the national church barrels on with its agenda, closer to home there has been a lull in conflict. My most common experience lately is that others are kind and respectful. I am less attuned to the innovations of the national church, so the conflict is not 'felt' as intensely. I am focused on my tasks at hand. Still, trying to be faithful in this broader environment is challenging. I think the biggest problem is that with each redefinition of "the new normal" the meaning of everythng is also redefined.

A couple of years ago, I watched a clever video on line. Basically, the creator had taken a popular movie, Sleepless in Seattle (a romantic comedy), and made a movie advertisement as if the movie were a horror film. The "tense music" and accompanying voice over coupled with snippets of the actual film were done in such a way that it looked like a horror movie. Having seen the film, it was very funny to see how easily placing scenes in a "new context" gave them a different feel. New contexts can make everything different.

Serving in a church where there is an ever changing context is equally amazing, but much less entertaining. The word schizophrenic seems like an excellent descriptor. An example, six years ago in our local convention we were heatedly debating the issue of marriage. At a legislative hearing I read the following: "Christian marriage is a solemn and public covenant between a man and a woman in the presence of God."  One of the women who was serving on the committee said to me, "anyone can twist scripture to say what they want." When I tried to respond I was told I had already had my say. I guess I was rude, but I continued to speak. I said, "that was from the prayer book, page 422." I agree people can twist scripture and I assume I have done just that many times. However, in this case, I think the only twisting going on is by those who are innovating. The prayer book describes marriage in the same way as I advocate. Discussion ended, right? Not really, see, eventually they will change the prayer book. Change the definition, change the meaning, suddenly the people who have an "outdated and hateful" understanding can be accused of not upholding the prayer book. At that moment, when they have changed it all, the enforcement of compliance to the Prayer Book will begin. (Once it is changed to agree with them, it becomes binding!)

Today we (and I) will promise many things: to be diligent in reading and study of Holy Scripture, to minister word and sacrament, to be a faithful pastor, to serve as a wholesome example and to persevere in prayer. None of these is difficult for me to commmit to and for the most part I am able to say I have done a decent job of living out my commitments. I do pray and study, I do preach and teach, I do pastor. My typical day is spent being a faithful priest, even if there is vast room for improvement and even if, regularly, I fail in one aspect or another. But "the doctrine, discipline and worship as this Church has received them" is another question. Likethat fake movie ad above, the context is ever changing. A romantic comedy is becoming a nightmare. Words are being redefined. It is all very, very confusing.

Young children like to play "Opposite Day." On opposite day when a child says, "I hate you" it really means "I love you." It probably serves some psychological release. It allows kids to say mean things under cover of "what I say doesn't mean what I say." I am sure it also has elements of divine-like power. After all, what is the opposite of "I hate you"? Is it "I love you" or "you love me"? Each child gets to decide. However living in a world where the meaning of words is in constant, serious flux, (a real life "opposite day") makes every promise and commitment a fragile thing.

What after all, is a "wholesome example" now? What is "faithful" in pastoring? In rejecting the historic faith and redefining what it means to be a Christian, our church, ever trying to be contemporary, is in a position similar to Alice in Wonderland where "words mean whatever I say they mean" and what I say they mean is an ever changing thing.

So we will gather and we will commit. I will look to the invisible God and cry out to Him. I will speak the words and confirm my commitment. I will do it in a church where a large number of people would say that I am not even Christian (according to the newest Epsicopal definition). I will do it in a wider context of others who criticize "how can you stay in that church? Leave. Join us!" I will do it because I am a priest here, in this challenging, sometimes crazy (and crazy making) ecclesial world. I do it because I am clear on what the commmitment is and what it means. I do it here, because the wider world is the Episcopal situation writ large, and there is no excaping that. I will do it today because Holy week is coming and that is when we ordained folks recall the 'birth' of our ministry at the Last Supper.

Even so there is a temporary feel to this permanent commitment. I know things are changing. I know the "Queen" is ever providing new definitions to words. I know the struggle is going to become increasingly difficult. I also know that it looks like 'the cross' and that means I am probably on the right track. After all, being faithful means to share in a death like His. Jesus has given the example. Today I will again try to follow Him. Even if it sometimes feels very crazy trying to be faithful in a contemporary church!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Koran Burning and Rage

Am I just a knuckle head or is there a double standard here?

An artist smeared feces on an image of Jesus. Another time a crucifix was placed in a glass container of urine. A movie came out portraying Jesus as a homosexual. Another came out claiming Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene; accusing the Catholic Church of a "cover up" (Rome's marketing department created the mythic Jesus for male dominance).
Christmas and Easter signal the popular media that it is time to produce materials which produce doubts about the identity of Jesus. A negative spin or scandal is always prefered.
In some places biblical verses are called "hate speech" because they are offensive to certain communities. Any number of times popular writers and speakers are heard ridiculing the Sacred Scriptures and those who believe in them.
The popular media generally portrays ministers as dishonest shams, crazed extremists, ridiculous simpletons, and, of course, child molesters and predators.
The typical Christian response is to ignore these 'assaults' on our Lord and on our faith. We continue to pray, to build communities, and try to live right and help others. We do not trash the local bookstore which has a table piled high with every author critical of the faith or of Jesus. We do not burn down museums and movie theatres which promote blasphemy. We do not kill or maim those who mock us and insult us.

So, how is it that when someone who 'does not matter' burns a Koran in the US that is justification for riots half way across the world? How is it that someone who converts to Christianity in their country can be killed, and that is not offensive? How is it that young women who share the story of Jesus can be imprisoned for months and some American columnists argue that the women were at fault for failing to be respectful? How is it that the same writers berate an American for showing disrespect to the Koran? Why is an American who burns Korans responsible for the murders, violence and destruction done by those who are angered at his acts?

There is a bizarre belief system in place in our country right now and it is deeply troubling. I am not going to demonize Islam and I am not attacking Muslims. I am saying that people who riot and kill because they are offended by an offensive act are looking for an excuse to riot and kill. I am also saying that the response to their actions should not be to justify or excuse them. Koran burners may be idiots, but they cannot be held responsible for the outrageous behaviors of others. [news flash, do we blame teams that win championships because fans riot?]

I am not advocating burning Korans. But I think that it is outrageous that people who execute a convert to Christianity would complain about respect. I think it is ridiculous for people who outlaw talking about the Christian faith to whine about the responsibilities of other people in foreign countries to respect the book they think is holy. I think it is hypocritical for Americans of a certain political persuasion to advocate tolerance and respect for Islam while advocating Christians constatnly endure any number of offenses to their beliefs.

There is another issue. Is the Koran from God? Why would any Muslim think a Christian would view the Koran as revealed truth? Do they reverance our Bible as holy scripture? Do they allow Christians to build houses of worship in those lands which were the birthplace of our faith? Do they tolerate and respect the Jews and the Jewish faith? Do they respect Jewish claims to the land? or Christian holy places?
I wonder what St. Paul would do if handed a Koran. Would he burn it? Maybe not, but I think his response to it would be offensive. The ancient prophets of Israel are certainly on record as to their beliefs about other religious traditions, the most popular images are "adultery" and "fornication." Jesus certainly is not on record making any statements in support of other religions. Once again, I think burning a Koran is disrespectful to the beliefs of others and it should not be done. It serves no helpful purpose. I do not burn or otherwise disrespect Korans, but it is because I choose not to, not because I am compelled by faith not to. I think it contains much that is not true. I think it is not from God. If I believed otherwise I would no longer be a Christian.

I prefer for us all to get along. I prefer respect, kindness and peace. I also know that there are some beliefs which do not allow for a middle ground. I believe in the Trinity. Muslims call me a polytheist. That is the starting place. I do not expect them to think otherwise, nor do I expect them to. I do expect them to allow me to believe what I believe where ever I am. I also expect them to allow me the freedom to share my faith with others. Until they do, I do not want to hear about how the disrespect of some small man over here called deaths and riots over there.

Monday, April 4, 2011

On patience in a strange world.

This weekend I seemed to either be at church (3 services) or at the baseball diamond (4 games). The weather was warmer and we did not suffer through the the misery of the previous weekend (cold, wet and lots of losses). There was something that happened which did set my mind to pondering.

My son, by virtue of his momma's genes, is a pretty good player. The last two years he was the cleanup hitter and regularly blasted the ball. This year he is on a new team and he has struggled some. He finally began ripping the ball again, but each time it seems to be right at some one. He finally had a couple of good games and the joy was apparent. He is feeling more like himself. In one of the games Saturday he hit a hard line drive which the center fielder made a fine running catch on. His next at bat he hit a flair into center field which dropped in safely, scoring what would prove to be the winning run. After the game, he came strolling up to me with his trademark grin. "I smash the ball and it is out, I get a crummy hit and it falls in!"
Yes, my son, baseball is that way, and so is life!

In hitting there are three key elements. The first is how you swing the bat. There is endless practice and each boy has received many hours of coaching. There are numerous components including balance, swing mechanics and watching the ball. Timing the swing is also vital as well as actually swinging at the ball. This leads to the second element. The pitcher is throwing the ball with the intention of keeping you from hitting it. He throws it hard sometimes and soft at others. He may toss a curve. He tries to throw the ball to places where it is hard to make good contact. A good pitch can neutralize the best swing. This leads to the third element, the umpire. His job is determine if the pitches you don't swing at are balls or strikes. Sometimes the calls he makes helps the batter, other times the pitcher. The umpire is the subjective element which neither player can control.

In life, we can work hard. We can study and practice and hone our skills. We can make every effort to be the best we can be. It is possible that we can reach a level of expertise where we really do things right. Even so, there are times where others are doing their level best to keep us from achieving our goals. There is objective reality making its presence known. Perhaps a natural disaster wipes us out, or maybe a minor mishap. Sometimes the power goes out, or a plane is late, or there's a change in the market place... We cannot prepare for everything and even if we do try real hard, sometimes circumstances prevail. Lastly, there are other people making decisions. Perhaps their perspective is different from ours, but they are in a position of authority. Sometimes the "umpire" blows the call. Whatever the case, all of us live in a world where other people can and do make decisions which negatively impact us.

If you live long enough, you will have had many experiences where you did everything right but it didn't work out. You have also seen times where you got lucky and walked away from a situation knowing full well that you got better than you deserved. Baseball teaches us that you have to play lots of games for things to balance out. We do not always get what we deserve in baseball or life. Sometimes we are lucky, whether the luck is good or bad. I think that in life, like baseball, it is important to remember the importance of the team. If we work together with a good group of folks then we have more hope that we will succeed. It is also important to maintain a good attitude. You cannot get too excited about success and assume it will always come easy. You cannot get too depressed in the face of failure and spend time blaming everyone and everything else. You simply need to recognize that in the end, things do balance out.

I am not particularly good at this. I get frustrated and upset, excited and jubilant. I am an emotional person, so I try to keep my emotions in line. In baseball you win some and you lose some. In life it is the same. But the one thing I never forget is this is my son. I need to be there to watch, to celebrate his victories, to give comfort in his defeats, and to sometimes drive quietly after a long night and just thank God for the gift of a son. We need to be patient as we face our challenges and frustrations. We also need to be greatful. We need to learn to enjoy the game, be it baseball or life!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Biggest Problem with Contemporary Church

On Fridays in Lent we have an hour and a half "mini-retreat." Following Morning Prayer a group of us gather in the parish hall to pray over and reflect upon the daily readings. This past Friday I left afterward to grab some lunch and pick up my briefcase (and CALENDAR!) which I had left at home that morning. I came out to find Mike and Lisa working on the Dogwood tree. It is in bloom so the dead branches are most noticable. Mike was trimming and cutting and sawing.

Two hours later as I was going through my e-mails (what did priests do before e-mail!?!) I noticed one from Juli, our resident photographer. She had taken a photo of the church with the headline: A new picture of the church with the Dogwood in bloom. As is typical, her photo was lovely. It was also out of date. You see she took a picture around 10:00 that morning. By the time her photo arrived in the e-mail Mike had already done his work. The picture she took was of a tree which now looks different.

That, in a nut shell, is the problem with the contemporary church. It is always going out of date. Just as it announces to the world that it is cutting edge and up to date, someone comes along with the next new thing and the church finds itself having to reconfigure everything. The shelf life of "popular" is pretty short. Today's hot new style is tomorrow's "oh, so out of it" fashion faux pas. We live in a time where we are so much speedier and still we cannot keep up.

When I was a boy in the 70's when you took a picture, you had to wait for the whole roll to be shot before you could take it in to be developed. Then to distribute it to all your friends would take days, or weeks. And it would be costly, as each photo, each envelope, each stamp added up. Today, Juli can in a few minutes and at no extra cost shoot and send and in seconds deliver to dozens (or hundreds of friends) with her computer.

But with all that speed, she still could not send out a photo that was truly up to date and contemporary.

What church Fathers called the apostolic faith was not intended to be cutting edge or 'new-and-improved.' The early preachers certainly thought that in Jesus God was doing a new thing, but the new thing was grounded in the old thing that God had been doing, over and again, since Adam and Eve. We encounter the truth of the Triune God in the words recorded in Scripture, and the tradition and teaching of the church provides commentary on that Word. Our security is in ancient Revelation. Our reflections today allow us to understand and apply that message of hope in our own times. But it is our times which must be conformed to the message and not the message to the times.

I was at our national convention where the Epsicopal Church made a public declaration that it was breaking with traditional morality and the teaching of Scripture. Numerous speakers proclaimed that the spirit was doing a new thing. Countless delegates told me privately (and all of us publicly) that the Episcopal Church was now up to date. Young people, we were told, want a church which shares their value system. They hunger for a church which expresses the message that God is relevant. I heard, again and again, that in the days ahead a huge throng of these young people would flow into the Episcopal church because it was contemporary! I will not bore you with details, I will simply say that these (false) prophets of the coming golden age of contemporary bliss have proven to be wrong. Total attendance is down well over 10% since then and shows no sign of improvement.

But we continue on that road! The last few years we have rallied around the UN Millenial goals. We were given alternative stations of the cross. Why reflect on Jesus' passion when we have so many contemporary issues to meditate upon. The current new thing is "Green" and we have begun to proclaim the Judgment of Global Warning (oooppppss! I mean Climate change, gotta keep up). The good news is recycling is the way and renewable solar energy will be our salvation. The earth is our mother (not the church) and ecology is our theology. I am a proponent of aiding the poor of our world (our church budget allocates half our income toward aiding others) and our parish tries to practice good stewardship of resources and we do recycle. The problem is, in trying to be "with it" we are forgetting about Jesus and focusing on other things instead of Him.

And the problem is, by the time the "marketing department" figures out the next new thing, and then gets the word out to the bishops, and the bishops gather to meet, and then the bishops bring it home, and then the local leaders are trained and brought up to date and sent out to bring the parishes and missions on board, well, by the time all that has taken place it is no longer the "new thing" at all.

The problem with the contemporary church is it is trying to be up to date with "this" world (and not anything ancient). The problem is "this world" is passing away. The world is always old, even when contemporary. Jesus and His word is forever. As a citizen and life-long occupant of this world, I am drawn into the 'contemporary' and seduced by the 'relevant". The struggle is to find the TRUTH, not the new. The battle is to submit to the authority of the Lord and His Spirit, not to follow the present age and its spirit. The newest and most contemporary falsehoods are still a lie. The contemporary church, full of its own sense of "being cool," has never seen that the new thing is a very old thing. A very old, sick and destructive thing, which dressing in a diaper and being declared contemporary does not change or improve.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Word

What is the strongest thing in the world, yet the weakest? A promise.

When we speak a word, making a commitment, it can be eternally binding, or it can be simply breath. On Wednesday, May 30, I had my 12th anniversary as a priest in the Episcopal church. I told my Bible study that "if I knew then what I know now..." Everyone laughed as did I, but it really isn't funny. I am a priest in a church which seems to be dismatling the Christian faith as fast as it can. It has been one of the most painful things I have ever endured (and I have buried family and friends). I am able to go on because of my parish (and the Holy Spirit). I have no doubt that we could do better and be better, but I do think we are faithful. Would I do it all over again? Yes. In large part because I love my people and I love what I do. Also, I made a commitment. There are days when it has been sad, sickening and a struggle (with the Big church, not the parish) but I have always thought I needed to keep my word, to God and to the folks.

Yesterday was my daughter's birthday. She is sixteen. As we drove to get her license we had a nice conversation. I told her she was the first person I ever loved unconditionally. She told me, "I did what no one else had ever been able to do. I made you a daddy." True. She was the one who did that. I know when I first learned that she was conceived, I promised to be the best dad I could. There are times when I get mad at her, times when I feel pushed out of her life or ignored, times when I feel used and taken for granted, but I have always kept that commitment. I do love her. And that love is not always an action and choice. Sometimes it comes out of me, it is pulled out of me. I have to say it is a gift. I am not sure where I stack up on the daddy scale. I do know that I am commited to being a daddy.

Next Tuesday is the 28th anniversary of my deacon ordination. I remember laying on the floor, spread out before the Lord and His church. I remember the promises I made and the feel of the bishop's hands on my head. I did not keep that word. I broke it. I pledged celibacy to God. Today I am married. Broken promises are very hard to face. For over half my life I have lived under a vow which I broke. I have to admit there are still times when I wonder what the Lord will say at my judgment. Some seem to think He will blow it off. They claim it is no big deal and God is merciful. I do not doubt mercy, but I question whether it is no big deal. If our promises mean nothing what will become of us and our world? I have tried to be a faithful minister, with mixed results. I am not near the priest I want to be. I am not near the person I want to be. There is a bright side to that, imagaine if I was satisfied with me! I am also aware that on my face, in prayer, I can cry out for mercy. Sinners make good pastors, if they are self aware and sorry, because they are compassionate with the struggles of others. I can only kneel before the cross and remember that my sin put Jesus there. I can only sit before the empty tomb, clinging to Jesus' feet and cry for joy at knowing He has forgiven me.

Words. More powerful than anything else known to man. They have the power to bind us in eternal commitment. On the other hand, it can also be tossed aside with the least effort. What after all makes our word binding? Fortunately, Jesus is faithful, even when we are not. That is hope! He is the Word made flesh. He is God's promise. He is unchanging and faithful.