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Sunday, April 28, 2013

God's Time

Today Youth Sunday at our parish. Two senior girls shared preaching duty. As expected, there was not a dry eye and constant sniffing at each service. It was particularly emotional for me because one of the girls is my daughter Madison. Her class was in kindergarten when I arrived at St. Andrews in 2001. I share her words below and hope to get permission from the other girl to do the same later. The reading is Revelation 21:1-6. I am proud that her faith shines through these words. And greatful
I staff an Episcopal retreat for high schoolers called Happening. All weekend there are no phones, no clocks, no watches, etc. We like to say we’re on “God’s Time.” Now, “God’s Time is relative, but basically if we need the Happeners in the Large Group Room in a minute I would say that we have “this much time” and if it’s morning time we would have “this much time” until dinner. Well, it’s almost May which means I have “this much time” till exams, “this much time” till graduation, “this much time” till orientation, and “this much time” until I have to move into Room XXX of Ridgecrest South at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. To give you a reference, Christmas was “this much time” ago. I’m getting closer and closer to the point where I will be trading my current life for something new.

This past summer the theme verse for our annual mission trip came from Revelation chapter 21, “Look, I am making everything new.” It’s one of my favorite theme verses that we’ve had, just because of how well it fit in with the work we do at work camp. Basically, you’re assigned to a group of 5 to 6 people from all over the country and world and y’all spend the next 5 days together working on a house doing repairs, painting, or building porches and wheelchair ramps. The most exciting day is always when we first arrive at our worksite and get to meet the resident of the home we’re about to fix. Most of the times, they are even more excited than we are, but there are some residents who are hesitant at first. This always confused me. I didn’t understand why anyone would be nervous, I just want to say to them “what’s wrong with you? LOOK, We’re making everything new! And not just new, BETTER.” Sure enough, by the last day they are always delighted with their home, and can’t believe they were nervous before. I partially understand. New is scary, it’s different. When you’re comfortable with something you naturally tend to resist change. The same goes for me as I’m getting ready for college. I’m excited, but also terrified. It’s not like my life now is broken, though. My friends, my family, my church are FAR from being a rotting porch or some chipped house siding. How can I be ready for new if I don’t even know that it will be better.

Revelation tells of a new heaven and a new earth where “God will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them” and the best part, “death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” I think a lot of times we get so preoccupied with our everyday lives. With the concerns of this “first earth.” We want to make sure our lives are perfect and we are so fearful of letting that go. But Jesus has so much bigger plans for us. He is ALREADY making all things new, and not just new. Jesus has already begun the kingdom. That is what church is, His body, His bride, His children who already live in joy. But it is NOT FULLY here.  There is more to come. It will be BETTER than we can imagine! Brooke already talked some about the plan God had for Jesus to be crucified and save us from our sins and the plan he has for our lives. But God’s ultimate plan is beyond heaven and earth

Being able to give the sermon today has also given me an opportunity to say some things that I cannot pass up I want to thank my parents for raising me to love Christ and doing an incredible job of preparing me for the future. I love y’all.

Growing up in St. Andrew’s has been one of the biggest blessings of my life. I am more thankful for the wonderful people at this church than I could ever put into words. There are some downsides to being a priest’s kid, but I’ll tell you what, I think there are so many more positives. This church has been a huge part of me and I can’t thank y’all enough for how sweet you have been to me and my family and how much I love this congregation. On behalf of the whole youth group, I need to give a special thanks to Julie, Jill and Chris. Y’all have put so much time and effort into EYC and I know we don’t say it enough, but we appreciate all your work. The youth group here at St. Andrew’s is the best group of young people I have ever been around and truly are my family.

I don’t know how this next year is going to go and I don’t know what my future holds. But what I do know, is it is all going to be okay, for the Lord said “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end” and God himself will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ageless Wisdom

Like Biblical books, the deuterocanonical book of Wisdom is of uncertain authorship or time. Some see enough similarities to the Jewish philosopher Philo (a contemporary of Jesus) to think him the author. Many think it sprang forth from the Jews living in the diaspora (dispersed Jewish communities throughout the world) in Egypt. Clement of Alexandria (175-230) considered it Scripture. Ireneaus, a generation prior to Clement, is the first written work to quote from it. Origen and Jerome questioned its canonicity. St. Augustine did not. And in an early list of Biblical books, called the Muratorian Canon (c 180) it is listed as part of the New Testament. In all likelihood it was written between 30BC and 40AD in Alexandria. [Michael Kolarcik, SJ, has a fine commentary in the New Interpreter's Bible series. I borrow extensively from him!]

It begins with a simple exhortation: Love Justice and seek the Lord. It continues with the sage advice: those who test God and seek evil do not find Him. It provides classical Christian teaching in that sense. Let us look at a few statements which seem remarkably contemporary.

God did not make death nor does He rejoice in the destruction of the living. (1:13) This reflects Ezekiel 33:11 ("I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked") but seems to contrast with Deuteronomy 32:39 which says God is the author of Life and Death. Herein lies the first issue. All talk about God is, by definition, inadequate. God is beyond our thoughts and words. What we say can do little more than point in  the general direction. With that in mind, the apparent contradiction may be a mystery. While God is the ultimate source of everything (good and evil) because He is the Creator, He does not desire nor intentionally will evil things. It was the Fall (Adam and Eve) which generates death. God is life, separation from God/Life is death. Death is a negation, an emptiness, a nothingness. It is not-life.

Similarly, James 1:13 says God tempts no one; temptations come from our sinful desires. Along those lines Wisdom says the wicked...invited death, consider it a friend, and pined for it, and made a convenant with it. These words may seem over-harsh, yet if we ponder current events we see, in fact, all manner of unhealthy and violent choices which we make; choices which literally summon death.

What I found most striking was what followed. Those who do not think right believe "we were born by mere chance and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been...the body will turn to ashes and the spirit will dissolve like empty air...there is no return from death" The "wrong thinkers" accepting their fate then come up with a rule of life with which our culture is very familiar: Let us enjoy the good things that exist and make use of the creation to the full...let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes...let us leave signs of our enjoyment...And let our might be our law of right, for what is weak proves itself to be useless." Life styles of the rich and famous, anyone?

This bleak outlook finds parallels in other wisdom writings of the Jews (especially Ecclesiastes, also Lamentations, Job and Psalms) but much of it seems generated by the Epicureans. [They believed the world was made up of atoms, that the gods are not involved in the world and the pursuit of 'pleasure' was the highest good. He did not define pleasure as dissolution, however others are more hedonistic]

We are often tempted to think we are so different from other people and other times. There are differnces, but often times not as many as we think. The author of this work, whether Biblical or not, shares with us important insights which are as relevant today as they were in the time of Jesus Christ. There is nothing new being uttered by our critics nor are our sins somehow unique. Doubt and fear, hopelessness and despair have always had their following. If we choose that path it is NOT because we now know something which the ancients didn't. To trust or not, to believe or not, to embrace God or not is an ageless and eternal (from a human timeline) choice. There are substantial reasons to question. There are more substantial reasons to embrace God as the answer. Reading the work of this unknown author (perhaps under divine inspiration?) opens my eyes and mind again to that truth. My believing is the wise choice. My trusting God is the life-choice.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Boston Bombers: Love Your Enemy?

A funny thing happened on my way to beginning a reflection on the readings from Wisdom; I saw today's Gospel from Luke 6. see  Doing the lectio divina (at least my efforts at it) on the Morning Prayer reading I had my breath taken away by the timing of these verses. Wisdom will have to wait, although it is clearly something ancient and timely which demands our attention.

Luke 6 includes a section of teaching when "Jesus came down and stood on a level place" (Matthew prefers mountains). Having just chosen "the 12" Jesus was involved in a preaching and healing mission. We read that everyone is trying to touch Him, including people troubled by demons. Power (dynamis in Greek) goes forth from Him. Salvation is a holistic process for Jesus.

The words I prayed over today are entirely familiar. "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you." I have heard them ten thousand times. Yet, as familiar as the words are, the concept remains strange. I do not think that I find it any easier to "love my enemy" today than I did when I first heard that I should.

To love is to desire the welfare of another. It is to want good things to happen to them. This is why Jesus adds "bless those who hate you, pray for those who abuse you." Slowly read over those words and let them sink in. How different from our normal reaction (even inside the church). When that bomb blew a hole into the lives of almost 200 folks in Boston was my first thought to pray blessing on the perpetrator? When we learned the two men were Muslim (in a long line of terrorists motivated by their religious beliefs) was my heart stirred to love them even more? Can Jesus be serious about such a demand?

Return kindness for a slap in the face? Give to whoever asks? Love, do good, lend without expecting repayment from anyone; this is the Jesus way? How often do I talk about "no salvation without Jesus" with a sense of "insider" joy? [The wisdom readings resonate there.] Of course, I am aware that there are other places where Jesus is not so upbeat and positive. He has very harsh words of judgment and speaks of hellfire on more than one occassion. But Christianity is like a salad which contains many ingredients. Mercy and Judgment, Love and Grace, Expectations and Demands.... You cannot pick and choose only the sweet!

In the end, love is a  heart thing. Heart in the Biblical sense. Heart means the "inner man" or the "core person." Love is not an emotion. Love is not a feeling. Although emotions and feelings are part of the process of loving, the reality of love is to seek the welfare of the other. It is to desire the welfare of the other. So what then to do? Well clearly, even if I am loving the young murderer from Boston, I am also still called to love the little boy, the "hard-working woman" and the Chinese student who died. I am also called to love the young cops (dead and wounded). I am also still called to love the 150+ who were maimed and crippled, including a large number of amputees who struggle, even as I write this, to learn to walk again (and one plans to dance again). All of them need love and prayers of blessing as well. And loving everyone gets tricky, especially when two of those you love brought such evil and suffering upon the 200 others you love.

In the end, if we love the evil people, the mean people, the terrorists, won't we end up dying? Is Jesus not simply laying down a way of life that will end up costing us everything? I think so. This is not on the face of it 'helpful hints to get ahead." These are dangerous words. These are, seemingly, crazy words. These sound like the words of someone who probably would end up getting crucified or something in ancient Rome. And, of course, that is the point, right?

Loving and believing in Jesus is easy. Following Jesus is hard. Getting saved by faith, easy. Getting saved by trust and discipleship, hard. Letting Jesus into my heart, easy. Letting Jesus take my heart into a place of love and mercy for enemies, hard.

So do we let the bomber off? No!! Jesus is not advocating that at all. I think Jesus would be very comfortable locking him away for the rest of his natural life. I think Jesus would say we have an obligation to keep such people from roaming freely in society. The big difference is, Jesus would also call us to make sure we are loving, praying for and taking care of him while he is in prison.

He would also recommend that we understand that we too are guilty. If not murder and mayhem like this, the murder and mayhem within our hearts. In the end, that is where all sins are born and then mutate into evil actions. None of us, not one, is free of such evil desires. Jesus knows this and He wants to save us from ourselves. He knows our "righteous" anger and our demands for "justice" (justice for others, we want mercy for ourselves!) is a breeding ground for all manner of evil. In fact, the bombers' hearts were filled with just that. They thought their people were mistreated. Sad to say, they were right in some cases. Everyone is guilty of something, even us. Everyone is a victim of something, even vicious murderers like the Boston Muslim Men. In the end, this is why Jesus lays down what seems so crazy. It is our only way out. To embrace the cross and love EVERYONE like He does. That is freedom and peace. That is salvation. So I prayed today for my enemies and Jesus ruled my heart a little bit more.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Stranger in a Strange Land

It was a long week. It started with an early morning emergency Last Rites followed by a funeral. Then I was off to work and a funeral. Immediately after I drove out of the cemetary to a retreat center in Mississippi three hours away. On the heels of a wedding weekend it was nerve wracking. I was kept awake and alive by God's grace. It afforded me lots of prayer time.

Our clergy retreat always produces some apprehension for me. The truth is I am not a typical Episcopal priest. My vision and values are often very different, even opposed to the mainstream Episcopal agenda. However, I am not alone. There are easily a half dozen who share my beliefs. In addition, many with whom I disagree are still wonderful people for whom I have a genuine affection. I have learned you can be friends with people who think differently. You can also love people who are different. It is  harder, but in learning to truly love well, harder is sometimes better.

Our program was a speaker on an evaluation for parishes which came out of Willow Creek in Chicgo.
The materials were generated by this Chicago Evangelical megachurch and has been used by hundreds of congregations of all types and sizes. They are learning to adapt it (language issues, some denomination particular focus--like sacraments for us)  I left the meeting with the belief that it was worth the trip. I intend to pursue the program with our leadership group.

Being a "conservative" in a progressive church means that I do not fit in. However, I believe God has not called me to leave. In fact, I so not think about leaving at all and haven't for a few years. This is something which leads those who  have left to other Anglican or non-Episcopal entities questioning my orthodoxy, faithfulness or sanity. It means I am in an uncomfortable "betweener" place. I like clarity and I like it a lot. I think that God has me here on purpose. He enjoys perfecting us and I believe there is major work on my soul taking place.

Being a stranger in a strange land is not all bad. None of us should feel completely at home on planet earth in its current mode of being. Even if you are totally comfrotable in your church you still live in a society of mixed belief and practice. And we should not be cruel or unkind, especially in the name of truth. (The terror-murders at the Boston Marathon is a reminder of what the combative attitude can end up in.) I struggle with love and truth, how to balance being faithful and being kind to people who are in error. I also struggle with where to draw the line (I did a series on that long ago, there are many important issues which divide us). It is a balancing act and a source of real tension for anyone serious about their faith.

At the conference, I encountered a person who had  had a sex change operation. He, now she, was reluctant to see me, in part out of concern about my reaction. I am glad that the love of Jesus Christ was in me enough that the encounter went well. S/he told me that I had been kinder than expected. Now, let me be clear, it is really hard for me to get my head around. Seeing a man who is now a woman sort of boggles my mind and stretches my imagination. However, 'his' journey to 'her', whatever I may think of it, is his journey to her. If God is displeased, God will make it known in God's own time. For me, it is a reminder of our brokenness and the struggle to have integrity. My guess is the decision to have a sex change is the fruit of many years of feeling "strange" or "out of place." That is enough to generate compassion in me, even for someone with whom I have had major and very public debates about many theological topics over the years.

YHWH-God told Israel something to the effect, "You were once aliens in Egypt and I freed you, now remember that when you come into the Land I have promised. Treat the aliens among you with kindness." Basically, God tells them to remember their experience and let that shape their hearts for compassion. Jesus makes a big deal about treating others how we want to be treated. Jesus says, "you are forgiven, so forgive others." In the end, the sadness and hurt I have regularly experience for over a decade as a "conservative" in the Episcopal church has taught me greater compassion for any people who feel "out of place." Sometimes the work of love and reconciliation takes its place alongside the work of steadfastly proclaiming the truth. I am no less certain of the truth of the one holy catholic and apostolic faith. I just know that when I see 'hurting people' they remind me of myself. I know how it feels to worry about what people are going to say about me or do to me. So I can have compassion.

What this does not mean is I have to agree with falsehood. Kindness does not mean that I am an advocate. I also know that I have made my views crystal clear, loud and clear, uncompromisingly clear. I do not back down. I know that they know what I think (and do not care or do not agree). The point is not to convince them it is to be a presence among them and serve as a constant reminder that the episcopal church is not all of one mind on the so called "hot topics." And in an Episcopal church last night a priest (me) in good standing proclaimed what Jesus teaches about marriage to a disparate group (mostly Episcopalians who agree with me and Baptists who agree with me). Some of those people heard the Gospel and received instruction in the Christianity 101 faith. And that would not have happened if I was not here. So it is worth the price of feeling like a stranger in a strange land. It is also sufficient cause to offer love and kindness to those with whom I am not in agreement.

I am glad that people who know what I stand for can still love and be loved by me.
I am glad that someone who has done something unfathomable to me can still feel kindness and acceptance in spite of our differences.
I am glad that I have encountered new tools for spiritual growth and vitality, tools which emphasize the Bible, outreach and spiritual growth; things I focus on.
I am glad to  be able to share this with readers who will have their own insights into the mysterious workings of the Lord.
I am so glad that I want to pray in thanksgiving!

Monday, April 15, 2013


This week I am tied up with our clergy conference and some outside responsibilities which preclude me bing in the office. I am an old guy whose computer (a desk top model) is my sole means of writing my blog. I am sure the young (and old) technos would know better. At any rate, it will be the middle of next week, April 24 when I can next post.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Over and Done

I have shared about my insights on prayer from the Russian Pilgrim (Jesus Prayer) and the Celtic Tradition (Trinitarian and more incarnational). The power of centering the heart in God through repetitive prayer has become my main focus in prayer. As I also shared I have gained greater insight into the Benedictine roots of the Anglican church and it has strengthened my commitment to the "office" (the official prayer liturgy with assigned psalms, scriptures and prayers). These dovetailed this morning in an interesting way.

I began early today. Levi needed something to drink at 4:45. After his bottle, during which time I was able to bathe him in prayers of healing and holiness, I went to Repetitive prayer, sitting in my chair, offering 100 thanks to begin my day coupled with the Celtic Morning Prayer book. I prefer this so that I may focus on thanks (using creation and redemption/incarnation as my source) and it allows me to review the Biblical accounts of salvation history and connect those things (Jesus' incarnation redeeming every aspect of human life) with my personal/our common life. Thanking God reminds me of His saving activity and hopefully opens me more totally to His work in me (and those for whom I pray).

On my drive to work I used a rosary for a new variation of prayer. Jesus was kingdom focused in His proclamation and the New Testament message is more in line with the Ancient Covenant texts (of our OT) in terms of Kingdom than most Christians know or care. The rule of Jesus as King is our hope and God's promise. In the early church it was a center piece of Christian longing. So on the big bead, I pray to the Trinity Your Kingdom Come Your will be done, in my mind, heart and soul today and in all the world "tomorrow" which I then varied to include others as I did each decade. The prayer that God already be at work within us until the Final Day is the message of the Gospel. Already and Not Yet sums up Jesus' victory. Then on the ten small beads I pray, over and over, Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus! This is the Aramaic word used by the first Christians, people like the apostles, who longed for Jesus to return and reign. It is supposed to be our heart's hunger and longing as well.

I arrived a bit after 7:00 and after taking care of some things (including working over the numerous typos in yesterday's hurried blog post) I took up the prayer book. After singing the psalms (I am alone except for the company of unseen angels and the Invisible Triune God) I turned to the assigned readings from the Bible. The second, written by Peter, began with these words: The end of all things is at hand.

The end of all things is at hand. It makes one think about what Peter expected. What had Jesus said that led to this expectation? In our own day, how difficult is it for believers to deal with the two thousand years that have passed since the declaration that the end is near? What does "near" mean, after all?

In a sense, we live in a time where things are "over and done." The great victory has been won. A parallel would be the standings in professional sports. While the season is still going on it is common for a designation, often the letter x to appear next to a team's name with a footnote that the team had clinched the division. The season is not over, there are games left to play. The season is over, there are not enough games left to make a difference in the final standings. That is an analogy for Christ's victory. The "game" is still going on, but the victory is not in doubt. Jesus has already won and is already champion (victor). What is interesting is Peter's advice in light of the victory. He tells us to stay sober (twice bby using two Greek words which are synonymous) in our prayer and to intensely (literally the Greek means stretch out) love. Be hospitable and work as a team, each one using his/her gifts. In other words, act like the victory has been won and live a Kingdom life already. Sound advice in deed, coming from a man who knew Jesus well. May the joy of the victory won be Jesus be a constant source of consolation to us all.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

War, Marriage, Life

Yesterday I wrote on war and the threats out of N. Korea. Today I have a wedding. Tomorrow I have a baptism. Monday I have a funeral. It is fair to say we hit the trifecta this weekend. My mind is awash with death (war, baptism into Christ's death, mortality) and life (new beginnings as a couple, new life in baptism, the fullness of life in post-earthly existence).

War is evil, or so said I yesterday, butI will disagree with myself today. Not all war is evil. In fact, there is a war which is good and holy. The war against the human flesh, against demons and satan, and against "the world" (understood theologically/biblically) is a blessed, holy and good thing. Physical death is experienced as a loss by those left behind. Sometimes that death takes place in particularly gruesome ways. When death occurs on large scale, as in war, it seems even more awful, but, in fact, all death is the same: it is an individual's personal end. It is the second death (damnation, eternal separation from God, loss of one's soul, eternal misery and darkness) which is the real tragedy.

When I do the funeral Monday it will  be for a woman who had lived a full life; eight decades, including several years as a professional dancer in New York. I knew her after her physical decline was firmly established. Yet, in many ways, it was her ascendency. She was growing in faith and love when I knew her. Her relationship with Jesus was deeper. She is now, I assume, getting "finished up" on "the other side" and easing into a new level of existence. Jesus will  be much more accessible and her dancing legs will be back. In war, and this is the hopeful side of nuclear annihilation, a large group of folks will simultaneously enter the other side. For each one in the right relationship with God it will be a new beginning. Then the horror of war will be redeemed and the sting of death will prove powerless. This is the Christian hope. This is the trust in Jesus which saves. This is what God has done in and through Him. This is why we can live each day with a different mentality than those whose horizon is in this existence only.

It also means that today's wedding will be different then a civil ceremony. We will celebrate a sacrament. For many years I tried to argue for the legitimacy of sacraments with my Christian friends (and Christian not-so-friends). In the last couple of years I have been too exhausted to do much 'fighting' for anything. I am coming slowly to accept that everyone disagrees about everything. So I believe and I have sound reasons for believing and if they are right then I am celebrating an illusion. If they are wrong, well, then I understand something that they don't. In either case I might as well enjoy it.

Marriage as a sacrament means marriage is sacred. It also means that in and through marriage God is providing saving grace. It means that marriage is where real life people experience God in Christ, here and now. I will mention a book to the couple which asks the question, "What if God did not intend marriage to make us happy but to make us holy?" And I will tell them that is what a sacrament is for: Holiness.

Every marriage is a war. The couple fight each other for power and control. Some do this more viciously than others, but all do it. Most marriages are not happy. There is a reason for the divorce rate. Part of it is the failed experiment with "romantic love." [The myth of romantic love is "and they lived happily ever after." The purpose of romantic love is why we are hearing marriage be redefined. The gay "marriage" issue, in the end, is the enthronement of romantic love.] Married love is other-centered (romantic love is feelings and self-centered). It is a sign of Christ and the Church (love, self gift) so marriage is crucifixion (die to self, self offering to God) and it is holy for that reason. In marriage our partner reminds us, by simply being there and being different, that we must move beyond our sinful ego and its desires. Marriage is intended for childbearing. Faithful parenting is self-denial on steroids! It is a deeper and more challenging self giving and crucifixion.

Faithful marriage is happy much of the time and miserable some of the time. The problem of marriage is 'me and you.' We need to be purified and being purified (purged of sin=purgatory) is painful. Pain is not always fun, but holiness is worth it. So I pray that every married couple's misery is making them holy.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Shalom Peace and North Korea

I have recently taught on shalom in both of my Bible studies. Last week I preached on it as the Gospel of John had Jesus say to His disciples, "Peace be with you." (three times) The typical definition of the word peace is an absence of war. As I tried to illustrate, absence of war is peace in its sickliest form. War is evil. At times wars are unavoidable but, even so, war is always evil. In war non-combatants are regularly victimized, intentionally and accidently. Called collateral damage, it is women and children, the aged and infirm, whose bodies litter the wreckage of a bombed out building. Collateral damage is an antiseptic way of saying we blew up the wrong people.

I am not saying soldiers are evil, nor am I saying the military is evil. My dad was retired navy. His dad and brothers were in the navy. My great uncle served under Patton. My family is pretty traditional and military service is highly respected. Having said that, I still know war is evil. Soldiers experience that evil first hand and are often scarred for life. There is a reason why we celebrate the end of a war so enthusiastically. War is evil. Peace is good. War does bad things to human beings. Unfortunately, we are in a sinful world.

Shalom/peace, the Biblical concept, is a time of fullness and abundance. It means that we are safe and sound, secure to live into rich relationships and produce great societies. In true peace people are in positive, life giving relationships (as opposed to biding their time to extract vengeance or create future conflict). Shalom peace is living in God's Kingdom (or at least a foretaste of the real thing) and in times of true peace people are creative, joyful and live in abundance. Shalom is healthy communities.

The church is called to reconcile people. As I wrote in my last blog, the disunity of the church is a huge barrier to proclaiming the Good News. Declaring that Jesus makes all things new and reconciles us to God and one another is a tough sell when believers act like competing distributers. It is worse when we engage in actual hostilities. But church wars, however unseemly are nothing compared to their secular counterparts. Which brings us to a terrible possibility brewing in the east.

The media frequently drum up worries about pending disasters. It sells. It is also based on some truth so it probably feels justified. I do not know how close Iran and Israel are to war. I know the stories indicated it was very close not to long ago. The latest headline, "North Korea threatens to obliterate Japan with nukes" may in fact be another case of hysteria. It may be that it is really nothing to worry about. But I know enough history to know that crazy people have sent the world into a mess before. Certainly, the Japanese have tasted nuclear problems in the recent tsunami and its aftermath. Japanese memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are also strong. To hear such a threat would seem to be sufficient cause to generate a response, or perhaps a reaction. It is the latter, more visceral and emotional, that could create an unravelling of monumental proportions.

There is next to nothing that I can do. Prayer, however, is something. It feels, at times, like praying is the last refuge of helpless people. "Those who can, do, those who cannot, pray." Prayers for peace seem to be futile. There is a reason for that. Prayers for peace which keep the peace cannot be seen. The absence of war or the beginning of peace and reconciliation are much more common on the planet than not. Most people do experience God's abundance and some sense of rich relationships and creativity and joy. So prayer is not silly nor a waste of time. And prayer for the absence of war is minimalist; true and lasting peace is what we need. So I have prayed, off and on all day, "Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!" It was a popular prayer among the first believers. It sums up what we need most: Jesus to reign. Reading stories about threats of nuclear annihilation inspire me to pray more intensely. Perhaps enough of us praying can tip the scales in the direction of peace and sanity. It is worth the effort.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

"Speak Good"

In my latter years I have come to appreciate etymology more. I find it fascinating to see the parts of words combined into a hidden meaning. The root bene means good. We see it in benefit. Spanish bueno and French bon are also related. The root dict found in dictation or dictionary has to do with speaking words. So benedict means to say good words, to speak good, to bless. It is Latin based and parallels another English word which is Greek based, eu-logize (once again good+words). To speak good is to bless. In a world with so many words it is easy to forget the power of words and the mystical power of cursing and blessing.

Benedict is a name. The recently retired pope took that name. The most famous Benedict is Benedict of Nursia. He is called the father of (western) monasticism and the patron of Europe. Living in the time just prior to the fall of Rome, Benedict was part of a larger group of disgruntled Christians who had difficulty living in the post-Constantine world of the church. Prior to the official acceptance of Christianity, for three centuries the followers of Jesus had not had an easy time of it. Their belief that God had become man, and in and through this man, Jesus, had reconciled the world to Himself, put them at odds with their pagan neighbors. Such a story was thought to be pretty far fetched. Christians engaged in practices which ran counter to the prevailing culture. Their treatment of the poor and needy was suspect. Their secretive gatherings (and the canibalistic talk of eating Jesus' flesh and drinking His blood) were a source of grave concern. The steadfast refusal to worship the Caesar and the Roman gods and pay sufficient honor to the state branded them as atheists and traitors. As is always the case, suspect people are usually marginalized and often brutalized. Throughout her early history the church knew difficulties and periodic persecutions. Martyrs (literally witnesses) were an infrequent for stunning reminder that following (the crucified) Jesus was a serious business.

With the social acceptance of Christianity, faith of a watered down variety became the norm. We still see it in our midst today. Baptism may be called "death into Christ" but for most of us it is a rite of passage which is no more dangerous than an evening shower. And, too often, not much more meaningful.

Benedict was part of an attempt to be free of the corrupted church in a corrupted society. In fleeing the "world" these men and women sought to construct more faithful Christian lives, modeled after the earliest church which followed Jesus. Benedict, borrowing liberally from the insights of John Cassian as well as other documents, wrote a rule to govern the communal life of these committed Christians. Creating small cadres of serious Jesus followers sharing a common life of prayer, the rule intended to provide a context for discipleship. It is the monastic movement which provided for the preservation of ancient texts and most of the successful missionary efforts into the middle ages. Monastics, committed to glorify God through their prayer and work, were the first scientists, the most frequent teachers and the disciplined cultivators which fed Europe spiritually, intellectually and physically. Were there problems and abuses? No doubt, what human enterprise is free of such things? Yet the stunning truth is that the men and women who adopted Benedict's rule and tried to live the Christian life in simplicity, faithfulness and loving community, are in fact the primary reason we know much of anything of the ancient world.

In my reading I have also come to a deeper insight into the centrality of Benedictine Spirituality at the heart and core of Anglicanism. Whatever her flaws, the Anglican church embodies much of the wisdom of Benedict and is, therefore, capable of doing great good. As we stand before a new age of religious decline and hostility to Christianity, I am convinced that the Jesus-followers of today would do well to be schooled in Benedict's insights into discipleship. I have long tried to fashion my own parish under the insights of Benedict (I was seminary trained at St. Meinrad monastary, so it comes naturally). A community which focuse on worship as it prays, studies and works is certainly a parish on the right track. I thank God for the "blessing" of Benedict. I hope speaking good of him will be a blessing for others seeking a trustworthy guide on the journey of faith!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

What Jesus Prayed for Us (You and Me)

Most of the time the Bible is about other people in other places at other times. While not history as you and I understand the word it is still historical in a real sense. It focuses on the mysteries of God and the every day life experiences of people in these far off lands. We read the words and apply them to our own situations, but it is most commonly an exercise of interpretation and application, exegesis and theology in the purest sense of the word. By using analogy we can make sense of our own lives and the ways of God. By using an open, prayerful heart we can hear God speak to us through His living Word here and now.

However, today, Jesus is talking about us. Not in a generic, "you too can apply this to your life," but in an actual focus on us. You and Me. People who did not exist then. People whom He had in mind and on His heart at the Last Supper. I think if He is that focused on us we should focus on what He said.

In Morning Prayer today our Gospel was from John 17:20ff. During Easter Season it is customary to go to John's Last Supper account and read and meditate on the words of Jesus there. Today's words are toward the very end of the discourse, just before they go out to the garden. Jesus says, "I ask not only on behalf of these [disciples] but also on behalf of those who will believe in Me through their word." That is where we showed up in His prayer. We are the ones who believe through the word (testimony) of the disciples. We are those who have not seen yet believe. This lets us know that Jesus intended a movement. He intended that people tell other people and form a fellowship. In fact, that is the main focus. Hear His words:
As You, Father, are in Me and I am in You, may they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. Church unity has an evangelistic utility. The disunity of the church is the primary anti-Gospel. People pointing at our feuding and fighting and failure to get along is sufficient cause for them to doubt that Jesus is from God. And Jesus seems to have known that and prayed it would not happen. And based on church history it appears that the prayer of Jesus was not answered. We are not one. And the world does not believe. And our choices and decisions and behaviors factor into the failure of faith.

Jesus prays that we wil be completely one. Not in some "spiritual" sense which excludes actual unity. The world is flesh and blood, concrete and tangible. The church is part of the world so unity can not be a word without substance. Church unity is vital. The greatest obstacles to church unity are church people. Our satisfaction with the current disunity is at odds with Jesus' prayer.

Anyone familiar with "ecumenism" knows how difficult it is to do with integrity. It is also hard to get most Christians active in their local parish/church/community. A more global vision is almost unthinkable. We cannot be truly "one, holy, catholic and apostolic" without a bigger world view. And we cannot be faithful as church if we disregard Jesus' prayer; or water it down into a meaningless word where we comfortably live in our silos ignoring the mandate to love and unity.

 The Trinity is the blue print. The love of Father-Son-Spirit is the source and model of church. The goal of evangelism includes church unity (literally people unity). Saving souls without that dimension seems to run counter to Jesus' intent. Jesus wants others to hear the story, to learn of Him. Yet, He makes (prays) clearly, that union with Him is also union with one another. So today I pray that we can all be one. I pray like Jesus. And I wonder, what I can do to make it another step closer? And I take comfort in knowing that if Jesus prayed for it, the Father will hear His prayer. The Father will make it happen. The Father will say YES to Jesus' petition:  I in them and You in Me...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Am I crazy or Are They Crazy?

On occassion I try to do something in preaching which startles folks and gives them a different angle on things. Once, while preaching on a parable of Jesus (about those who find the door locked) I walked down the aisle. I beat on the church's doors crying out "Let me in!" It demonstrated, illustrated and allowed people to "feel" what I would have otherwise spoken in prose. The "feeling" part sticks with folks longer (and deeper) than the mere insight. It made an impact and what the Holy Spirit did with it is God's doing.

This weekend I left my normal straightforward model of preaching and did another demonstration. Preaching the text from John 20 about the Risen Lord's appearance to the apostles (and the subsequent issue of Thomas who would not believe it until he saw it) I began to preach by looking around with a bewildered look on my face. After a brief pause, I asked the congregation, "Do you hear those voices? People talking?" Everyone nodded no and a few even said "no."

I then quickly proceeded to analyze Jesus' three statements (peace to you, I send you, you have power to forgive) to the apostles. I ended with Thomas' doubt. My key focus was on doubt. Not doubt that the resurrection happened. As I wrote about recently, even when we say "I believe He rose" it is hard to know exactly what that means concretely sometimes. The doubt I focused on was the doubt that the risen Lord is present among us working now in our midst. The doubt that Jesus can and does unleash His saving (rescuing, healing, recreating, renewing, life giving, joy giving) work. Here and now He is present (in Spirit, not in body) impacting and influencing events in and through people whom He has sent in His name.

My punch line was this: Rather than follow the example of Thomas and say, "I will believe it when I see it" let us instead understand, "I will see it when I believe it." Our faith and trust are the vehicle which gives us insight and access to the reality of God among us. It is in believing (and thanking and praising) that the signs and wonders are manifest. And then, at that point, acting a little exasperated and confused I asked again, "Do you all hear those voices? And music? Do you not hear it?" At his point at each service I got several responses including a couple people who were trying to explain it was street noise. Then I asked, "Do you think I am losing it," and there was lots of nervous laughter and lots of agreement." Then I explained. The room is full of voices. Dozens of voices. And it is filled with music. Rap. Classical. Cowboy. Rock and Roll. The room is full of lots of noise that none of us can hear, because we do not have our radios.... Radios are the tool to make the noises in the room hearable. Radios do not create the sounds, they pick it up and make it available to us. The voices are there, we just cannot hear them without the right tool.

Suddenly, it turns out that the crazy guy who says there are voices is sane. And the reasonable people, people who trust in their senses and rationality ("I do not  hear it so there is nothing here") are shown to be in error. There was relieved laughter and, for some, the light bulb went off.

Jesus is here. He is at work, right now. If we do not listen in the right way (if we are not plugged in through faith) we may only pick up silence. But the silence is a sham. His voice is real. The silence is a mirage which fools us because we do not  have the "radio" to pick it up. We are called to witness the reality of Jesus. That is our task and identity.

[I also showed them a 3D stain glass window which most people do not look at right to create the effect. So only a couple had ever noticed it. Remember, I am in there daily so I have spent lots of time looking at the window... I reminded them of the 3D posters so popular twenty years ago which looked like squiggly lines until you crossed your eyes a bit and then exploded into 3D images that were hidden in the flat text. ]

Eyes to see and Ears to hear. I thought it was an effective way to demonstrate that the Doubting Thomas approach to Jesus keeps us blind and deaf to God. So imagine my surprise this morning as I prayed the Morning Prayer alone at 7:15 preparing for the day. Having read some prayers and the psalms I turned to the first reading in Isaiah 43:8. The first line said, "Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears!" Then verse 10 "You are my witnesses, says the Lord and my servant whom I have chosen..." I am preaching about eyes and ears, something that the Sunday eucharist text does not allude to, and here the Morning Prayer text does. And I now have eyes to see those connections and ears to hear those connections. And I have a mind which understands that these "coincidences" which happen again and again are another indication of the Risen Lord at work. He is still preaching, teaching, healing and exorcising. And if He is , then I want to be open to my vocation as "one who is sent" and be what He wants me to be and do what He wants me to do. And anyone with functioning "eyes and ears" should want the same.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Believing without Caring

I have often wondered about what I really believe. It is not easy to know. What is belief? Sometimes it seems to be another word for knowing. The famous bumper sticker: "God said it. I believe it. That settles it," certainly falls under the category of knowledge. Other times belief and hope so overlap as to seem one and the same. "I believe you will come through for me, Lord!" In this case it is belief as trust. Most of us spend little time parsing our faith and trying to figure out exactly what we mean by saying faith, or belief, or trust.

However, what I am talking about right now is belief in the resurrection. Do I believe Jesus rose from the dead? I say, "Yes!" My actions seem to confirm my words, I  have committed my life to being a priest. I sit alone in rooms talking to the risen Jesus. I teach about the risen Jesus. I argue with Modernists about the resurrection. So by all accounts I believe. But there are times when I wonder. How do you really know if you really believe?

When my dad told me he was going to die (not in theory but an actual time line) I remember telling him, "Well I have always told you I love you so we don't need to take care of any unfinished business. I believe in the resurrection so death is not the last word." I remember going home thinking that I guess I really do believe. My faith had a test and I felt I had passed.

Over time I have come to see that the real question is not faith or believing. It is caring. There are lots of things I believe that I do not care about. I believe Chester Arthur was a President of the USA, but I do not care. I believe soccer is played around the world, but I do not care. I believe lots of things which do not matter to me. And I think that is the "problem" of believing Jesus rose from the dead.

Reading the ancient Christians it is so clear how much they cared. We are studying Ignatius of Antioch's letters (circa 100AD). He was sold out for Jesus and embraced wholeheartedly a martyr's death for Jesus. All he cared about was Jesus and dying for Jesus. Started St. Patrick's auotobiography (circa 400). It is dripping with Scripture, every other sentence has a Biblical allusion. His love for Jesus is palpable. He, too, braved potential martyrdom and great challenges for love of Jesus. He believed and he cared.

In my world people take the Sunday after Easter off. It is called Low Sunday. Last weekend some 450 folks were here. This weekend we expect half that many. Why? Is it the people do not believe Jesus rose? I think not. I think the issue is they believe it as a fact, but do not care, at least not deeply. At least not enough to go to public worship. I think most believers in our culture care as much, or more about other things than they do Jesus.

This is why I write so much about prayer. I think if we spent a significant amount of time each day in prayer, our faith and care would increase. Reading the Scripture prayerfully and slowly, we would be immersed in the words and images. Take, for example, Sunday's second reading (Revised Common Lectionary), Revelation 1:4-8. Included there is a list of titles for Jesus. What if we stopped to savor each one? What if it led us to real prayer?

the faithful witness (Lord Jesus. speak the truth to me. thank you for your word of witness. thank you for being faithful. thank you for standing firm in the face of trial and tribulation. thank you for all you do) the first born of the dead (first born. older brother. thank you for giving me hope in the face of loss. thank you for the promise when I bury my loved ones. You are but the beginning, help me trust that, help me believe it, helop me be shaped by this trust in you) ruler of the kings of the earth (Lord. King. Master. Ruler. Lord. No one above you. You rule all. You will rule all. Come rule me. Rule me now as we wait for your coming rule. Thank you that so great a ruler hears the voice of a small little subject in the kingdom)

To sit with each phrase, perhaps a couple minutes, deepens their impact. We can actually care as we connect Jesus to our lives and the lives of those for whom we care. And caring about them we find we care more about Him and His work and His identity.

Loving an invisible Lord is not easy. It never has been. But it is worth it. SO today, move from faith and belief to the next level. Care. Care passionately about what you believe. Care and commit to Him you trust.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

New Prayer, New Creation

I am openly sharing my Lenten experience hoping it may help others in similar circumstance. Most of us do not have "a circle of faith companions." We have friends who are believer, perhaps many. We have a church with whom we pray. We have people we pray for or who pray for us. But what we do not have is heart friends with whom we can sit and discuss our faith journey in depth.

This blog is meant for such sharing. It is meant to give people a place to hear their own journey echoed. It is a place to make us feel "not so alone" and "not so strange, after all." I  have spoken before about how comforting it is to hear other parents speak of their children and home life. It is good to know that much of what I worry about is just normal behavior. I hope what I share will give you similar comfort in your spirtual life.

My goal this Lent was to simplify. I intended to focus on the Jesus Prayer and read the Pilgrim. I read it through almost twice. I practiced the Jesus Prayer regularly. I came to an appreciation of repetitive prayer. I also read some Celtic works. And I am reading Healing Light by Agnes Sanford.

Now one "problem" which surfaced is my concern with "praying right." I find that at times I get so side tracked with the words that it is more about "prayers" (what I am saying) and less about "prayer" (communion with God). I talked with a friend who admitted she also has the same distraction. Ahh, sweet relief, I am not alone in the struggle!

While the Jesus Prayer was powerful, I found myself by Easter weekend going in another direction. Modeled after the pilgrim's Jesus Prayer, it is the prayer of "constant" thanks. And from the Celtic spirituality I have grabbed the "circling prayer." In combining these two I am settling into a way of regular prayer during the day. It is simple so "the right words" are easily adjusted. It is simple so it lends itself to being more attentive as I sit in prayer. It is simple so it can be used while driving a car, exercising at the Y, standing in line at the bank. And it is easy to use with Scripture (more tomorrow).

So what does it look like? Here is a basic model which covers the general approach.
I thank and praise you Triune God, Father, Son and Spirit.
Circle me (us) with your (love, grace, mercy, kindness, strength, healing, truth, light, etc.)
I open my (heart, mind, spirit, soul, memory, will, body, etc.) to Your (love, grace, etc.)
I receive it in faith.
I thank You.
Pour Your (love, grace, etc.) through me into others.

Slowly repeating this prayer focuses on what is vital:
That GOD is the source and God already gives it.
That we must be open to receive what God gives.
That we must receive with trust and gratitude to best actualize God's gift.
That all we receive is a gift (grace) to be shared (work of mission and ministry).

I use a rosary doing it which seems to help me focus, but it can be done without counting anything.

This simple prayer can take two minutes or two hours. And if you truly seek God and open to God you will meet God. Today.

There are enough "moving parts" that it can be recited over and over with small adjustments for the person who does not want to just repeat a prayer. Or the pryare time can focus on a single theme.
Change it to fit your needs. Some alternatives:

I am sorry. Fill me with your forgiveness Lord. Thank you for your mercy. Reconcile others through me.
(perhaps you have a list of people in need of reconciliation, so repeat the prayer and name them, one by one, in place of the word "others")

Another element which is most helpful is declaration. So just saying, over and over I trust in your love Lord. I open myself to your love. I thank you for your love. Let your love flow through me.

Why repetition? The easiest explanation is this it takes time, we are too busy and frenetic. Do it and you will see. Do it with focus and rest in the Lord as you say the words. Rest in Him and you will hear a greater depth in the words of your prayer and enter deeper into communion with Him.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Easter is a season, not just a day. It lasts 50 days and ends on Pentecost. It is intended to be a long period of time to contemplate the resurrection. The fact that Jesus was dead and then came alive again is a mindblower. Unfortunately, it is also mind numbing. We, most of us, grew up with Jesus stories and rising from the dead was part of the narrative. We have heard it, so the old "been there, done that" kicks in. I have celebrated Easter with a serious mind and heart almost fifty times. It is not new and it is hard to pretend it is. On the other hand, I  have not enterred the mystery as deeply as I need to. More and more I realize that there is a difference between believing that Jesus rose and believing in the resurrection of Jesus. In the latter sense I mean trusting Him and opening up to the life transforming power. Too often it is an intellectual exercise.

As always, the daily Morning Prayer reading is a good place to start. It is taken from John 15, which is part of the long Last Supper discourse. Jesus says, "I am the vine and my Father is the vinegrower... Those who abide in Me will bear much fruit." I want to focus on abiding.

The term meno (from which we get the English word remain) means to abide or stay (or to remain, to wait, to tarry, to be present, to not perish, to continue). The other three Gospels use it sparingly (3+2+6 for 11 total) while John uses it over thirty times, including eight times in chapter fifteen alone! The first use is found in John 1 when the two young men (Andrew and some other guy) are first following Jesus. The first chapter of John reappears with frequency in the last chapters, as certain themes are reiterated and emphasized. The men who followed Jesus were asked by Him, "What are you seeking?" and their response is "Rabbi where do you stay?" Stay is meno. It is a multi-layered word in John's Gospel. The literal question, "where is your house?" hides the deeper theological question. We understand the true meaning later. Jesus abides in God/Father and the Father abides in Him. Now we  have another dimension. The relationship of Jesus to the Father is conveyed to us, He abides in us and we in Him. The same way Jesus relates to the Father He relates to  us. Once you grasp that reality, it means you never ask a question about salvation outside of Jesus. Jesus is God + Man in one convenient location. Encounter with God means encounter with Jesus.

Producing fruit is our reason for being. Jesus says God prunes the branches and throws away that which does not produce fruit. So, no fruit means fire (another multi-valent word). It takes little creativity to put together that we are judged, in part, by our fruits. Such a concept may be terrifying, but let's think a moment. How does a branch produce fruit? What does a branch have to do to make fruit grow?

It has to hold on. If you are connected to the vine and there is correct flow of all the vine has in it, the fruit will just pop up. It works automatically. If we abide in Jesus and He abides in us, there will be fruit. Lots of it. It will just happen. There is no strain in making fruit, the strain is in abiding.

Time in prayer. Time in love. Time clarifying our thinking. Time trusting and hoping. As we clear out all that is anti-Christ in our lives and open to all that is godly and holy, the abiding deepens. My hope is to get better at living it and more effectively communicate what it looks like in the days ahead. For now, I can tell you, a major component is thanks. Spend lots of time in awareness with gratitude. People who are greatful and open to God are going to abide in God. And there will be fruit!