Saturday, December 27, 2008
Canticle of the Turning
Lyrics: Rory Cooney
Music: Irish Traditional, Star of the County Down
My soul cries out with a joyful shout that the God of my heart is great, And my spirit sings of the wondrous things that you bring to the one who waits. You fixed your sight on the servant's plight, and my weakness you did not spurn, So from east to west shall my name be blest. Could the world be about to turn?
My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears,
For the dawn draws near,
And the world is about to turn.
Though I am small, my God, my all, you work great things in me. And your mercy will last from the depths of the past to the end of the age to be. Your very name puts the proud to shame, and those who would for you yearn, You will show your might, put the strong to flight, for the world is about to turn.
From the halls of power to the fortress tower, not a stone will be left on stone. Let the king beware for your justice tears every tyrant from his throne. The hungry poor shall weep no more, for the food they can never earn; These are tables spread, ev'ry mouth be fed, for the world is about to turn.
Though the nations rage from age to age, we remember who holds us fast: God's mercy must deliver us from the conqueror's crushing grasp. This saving word that our forbears heard is the promise that holds us bound,'Til the spear and rod be crushed by God, who is turning the world around.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Monday afternoon I had my first follow up appointment with my oral surgeon after I'd had my wisdom teeth out. He walked in asking me if I was a seminarian and I told him that I would be next year. Neither of us recalls my telling him those were my plans, and he didn't talk to Mom about it while I was out. No idea how he knew. Anyway, he goes to change the stuffing in my mouth and asks where I'm applying and such.
His wife comes in and asks if I have German heritage. She's also his nurse/first assistant. I tell her no. Then she tells me about how when they lived in Bavaria - which was a Catholic area - there was a sharp contrast between Advent Season and Christmass Season. She was commenting on my button. I told her about how my priest is a big stickler about keeping the two separate. And I said that I agreed and that to skip to Christmas was to miss what the Church has given us as a time of preparation. The surgeon got almost passionate saying that he thought I was right, that liturgy was important, that the Church year is important, and something to the effect of the problem with the American church has been the lack of reference when seeking to encounter the Almighty. Then he said that I wasn't there for his theology but to get my mouth healing.
It's only Advent, still. Christmas might be three days away, but it's only Advent. And I'm not giving that up, even if my mom wants me to. While Advent to the Western Church may NOT be a "Little Lent," it is a time of willful suspension of disbelief. It's a time of mystery, wonder, hope, and (in my mind) mystical events. We pray, "O come, o come Emmanuel" as though we know not that Emmanuel has come, is coming, and will come. The week of Thanksgiving someone had as their Facebook status that they were singing Christmas music. I commented they it wasn't even Advent yet. They reply was that it's never a wrong time to sing about the Birth of our Savior (or something to that effect).
I didn't reply. On the one hand, I think "Yes, there is," for multiple reasons. While it's certainly not bad to give thanks for the miracle of the incarnation, it is not what we remember every Sunday (Sundays being the weekly commemoration of the Resurrection). In the same way that Fr. Jeff suggests that going to church on Passion/Pam Sunday and Easter (but not Good Friday) only tells part of the story (the Triumphal Entry one week followed by the Resurrection the next), I think that jumping so quickly to the Feast of the Nativity only tells part of the story.
The Church has given us major feast days. Just before Advent, at the end of the Church year, we have Reign of Christ Sunday, on which we think about Christ's eternal reign and that miracle of salvation that happened in Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. We think about the day when, in the fullness of time, all things will be put under Christ's subjection.
For most of the church year we, not quite celebrate, but live the mundaneness, if you will, of every day life. Ordinary time. The season after Pentecost. Green time that I get sick of. But life isn't just a series of highs. There are lows and LOTS of in between time during which we grow. To think about Christmas - without preparing ourselves for what it entails - is to jump in life. It's to forget the preparation we need for major events in our lives, like graduating for college. It's also in my mind an encouragement of hastiness and impatience. America...America. Patience is something it would be good for us to relearn.
It's only Advent. It's a mystical time when the weather (ideally) is colder (while it may've been getting colder for months other places, here, it really starts to cool of early in December) which is mystical to me in itself. It's a time of hearing NOT about the birth of Christ, but of a crazy herald who late locusts and honey and railed against vipers broods; who gained a following; who urged us to prepare the way of the Lord. It's a time of hearing NOT about the birth of Christ, but rather those who had to get ready for it themselves - Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth - and what preparations they had to make themselves, from Joseph's not divorcing Mary to her, "Here I am[!]"
It's only Advent. And I'm not giving that up.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
like the wideness of the sea;
there's a kindness in his justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner,
and more graces for the good;
there is mercy with the Savior;
there is healing in his blood.
There is no place where earth's sorrows
are more felt than in heaven;
there is no place where earth's failings
have such kind judgment given.
There is plentiful redemption
in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members
in the sorrows of the Head.
For the love of God is broader
than the measure of man's mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful,
we should take him at his word;
and our life would be thanksgiving
for the goodness of the Lord.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Sunday, November 30, 2008
30 November 2008
1 Advent, B
Let us pray. We all long, O God, for greater clarity. We need our hopes strengthened. When you do not rend the heavens and come down to vindicate us, open our eyes to your all-sustaining intimacy with us. When unfolding events delight and disappoint us, teach us to embrace them as tokens of your own dream for a time when cares give space for celebration. Amen.(Human Rights Campaign, Prayerfully Out in Scripture, http://www.hrc.org/scripture/week.asp?action=print&page=11-30-08_)
Good morning, church family and visitors. I would like to start this morning by letting you know how envious I am of any Roman Catholic friends who are addressing congregations for their first time today: our Roman friends’ lectionary starts at verse 33, with “Beware, keep alert.” I think I feel about how Tate felt when I wrote the wrong verses for him to read at the Wesley. Rather than reading about love Tate was left reading about sin, licentiousness, and vile covetous creatures. Erin and I promptly rectified that as best we could.
And so I stand here today in the pulpit at St. Mark’s preaching to you for the first time about the destruction of the world, salvation at the end of days, and an exhortation to stay watchful. While I may envy Roman men who are not having to preach on the destruction of the world, at the same time I feel a little sad for them; today, as our altar guild has helpfully and dutifully reminded us, is the First Sunday in Advent. This season we’re entering into today has two or three major themes, depending on how you slice a theme.
The first one (or two) are about waiting. While some friends of mine have had their Christmas trees up since before Thanksgiving and retail locations forgot Thanksgiving and went straight into Christmas mode after All Hallows, it’s only Advent. We are waiting and looking for the coming of the Christ child. Furthermore, we are watching and waiting for the fulfillment of the Reign of Christ, which we celebrated last week, at the end of days. And finally, Advent is a season of repentance, though it is a more joyful penitential period of expectation than the Lenten season.
Our Gospel reading today begins, as I have already noted, with Mark’s discussing the destruction of the world at the last days. We’re in Advent. It’s what you should expect. Natural phenomena stop behaving as they ought and the angels are sent from heaven all around the world to gather the elect – the baptized. Mark’s original readers know that judgment for the wicked is also a part of the end of days, but Mark doesn’t include this in his narrative, though his readers throughout time have.
By doing this Mark is telling those reading him – both his original audience and his present one – that rather than think about the pending judgment of those who aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do or their enemies, they are to be watching and waiting for the reign of Christ. Mark’s saying that the Christ’s people will be gathered “from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” is indicative that all saints, dead or alive in this physical body, will be gathered up to join in Christ’s eternal reign.
Over the course of time, critics of Christianity have pointed to the supplying of judgment by believers and accused us of caring too much about resentment and focusing on how the downtrodden of society will be raised up while those who are first here, as it were, are made to be the very worst sense of last. While the Gospels speak of the last being first and the first being last, Mark’s prophesy here does not. Mark’s presentation of the end of days is something that all people, regardless of the station in society, need to hear: hope. Christ is coming, and all his chosen will be gathered up. They are to cling to hope when they endure hardships for the sake of the Gospel, but Mark doesn’t intend for them to plan and look forward to the destruction of those doing the persecuting.
From talk of the destruction of the world, our text moves into a section regarding the eternity of Christ’s words. Mark tells the people – and us – that as the events he’s just talked about are beginning to happen, know that the end of days is approaching. In the same way a fig’s blossoming is a sign of the changing of the seasons, so is the destruction of heavenly bodies a sign of the end times, but cling to hope: heaven and earth will both be destroyed, but Christ and Christ’s words are timeless. He has assured of us of our salvation at the end of days, and his word is enough. He himself is the Word of God, greater than the prophets who spoke on behalf of God.
From a message about the eternality of Christ’s word our story moves to what I see as the crux of the text, although it is actually two parts that have been joined together in Mark’s overarching narrative. First is a stand alone statement: “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Mark was talking, clearly, to those who in their context were preaching the impending coming of Christ based on the way they read scriptures, saw signs, or looked for fulfillment of various prophecies. I think that Mark is also clearly talking to those who read the Bible today looking for ways to make modern events fit into various prophecies so that they can publish books about predicting when Jesus’s return. No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Although that verse is a stand-alone statement, the rest of the story hinges on it: “Be aware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
The point of this discourse from Christ is that we’re supposed to be living watchful lives. Jesus is here talking about himself going on a journey, the same as he did a few weeks ago in the parable of the talents. And in the same vein, we the baptized, are the slaves who have been left with our tasks to work on and complete as best we can before the Master’s return.
When I was in high school my parents would leave my brothers and me at home in Phenix City while they went to work on the tree farm on weekends. Before Mom left on Saturday morning she would make a list of things that were to be done before her return: cutting the grass, cleaning my room, washing the dishes, vacuuming the living room. She got back at about the same time every weekend, so I would plan accordingly to get the tasks done, or at least tell myself that’s what I was doing. On more than one occasion, I decided to go to my friend Annie’s house to get online instead of getting the jobs done first. Most of the time that worked out. Sometimes I would call her cell phone – or better yet, she’d call me to let me know where she was between Phenix City and Abbeville. There were times, however that Mom came back early. The worst was if she came back early and I was…still at Annie’s house, with only half the list completed.
Don’t hear me saying that my mother was a slave driver. Hear me saying that I knew I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing, and you all know that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing. And rather than seeking to find out what our absolute last deadline for getting our task completed, we should stay intentional about doing what we’re supposed to be doing as God build’s God’s Kin-dom here and now while we contribute all the ways that we can.
All this talk about doing what we’re supposed to be doing begs the question…What are we supposed to be doing? Fr. Jeff talked about that last week in the Reign of Christ Sunday Gospel text: caring for the least of these. Furthermore, children of God, we’ve taken vows as to what we’re supposed to be doing, as well: proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; striving for justice and peace among all people of the earth; seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. When we do these things, we do what we’ve been told to do. Being faithful servants doesn’t require knowing when the master will return. Being faithful Christians doesn’t require knowing when Christ will return.
When we do what we’ve been told do we live a life of watchful, waiting expectation for the Reign of Salvation that didn’t end on the cross, but continues on to the fullness of time. Living a watchful life is looking with hope to what God is doing in the present as God ushers in God’s Reign. In this season of Advent, I invite you to regularly examine your conscience and assess how your behavior reflects or neglects conduct expected of those who have chosen to follow the Rabbi from Galilee. And I invite you to be intentional about examining only your conscience. This is especially important for me: living a life as a faithful servant is done without regard for the faithfulness of others or a concern for what judgment our enemies may get. It is only about how we fulfill the tasks that have been given to us.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
I'm glad I found this. Tonight I had a good bit to drink, and I broke my vegetarian/pescatarianism tonight. It was my postulancy celebration, if you will. :) I made this my Facebook status because while texting with a bishop about my plans for the night (this was relatively early) he said to sin boldly. I remembered the quotation partially and made it my Facebook status. Someone commented on it, so I Googled a fuller quotation.
This is what I found, and I'm glad I found it. It is something I've been thinking about a lot lately. A few Wednesdays ago I referenced Derek Webb in talking about sin. There's a big difference between, "Oh, yeah, I'm a sinner!" and "Tonight I didn't give a damn about life, human or otherwise, and I did things that have resulted in my not having full control of my body. Kyire eleison.[Lord, have mercy]" I have, alone and in community, discerned that I am called to be a preacher of Grace. As such, I have to preach a true, not a fictitious grace. My sin has to be true and not fake. I don't need to seek out sin or use grace as a license for sin, but it has to be real, and I have to be claim it as what it is, when it is. Tonight I got that. Thank you, Bishop.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
16 November 2008
In the name of the God who loves us, trusts us, and takes a risk in us.
This text is a relatively straight-forward, mostly allegorical text. And in the way that the Gospel tends to do, it certainly re-contextualizes itself today. A man – Jesus – summons his slaves, or most trusted servants – followers – while he goes on a journey – post-Ascension. Each of these servants was given a sum of money according to his ability. According to my Bible’s footnotes, a talent was about fifteen years' worth of wages. Some Bibles give a unit of weight, but they don’t say what material was being measured in that weight.
While the Greek word δοῦλος when directly translated means slave, our proximity to the American slave trade does not allow us to hear the fullness of that word; many slaves were quite wealthy and educated, and some were voluntarily in service. For that reason, I will deviate from the NRSV’s “slaves” and use “servants.” It is a different word, but that the slaves in Matthew’s context were extremely trusted helps us to better hear Jesus’s parable.
These servants have different abilities. One is given ten talents, another five, and finally one one. After giving away these talents, the man – Jesus – leaves. The two servants who had been given more than one talent immediately went and doubled what they’d been given. The servant who had only gotten one talent went and buried it. After a long while, the master returns, and he wants to settle accounts with these men, to whom he has entrusted some of his own money.
The two who had taken a risk and made a gain were rewarded. They had been able to take care of a few things, so he is going to put them in charge of more things. When he gets to the servant who had buried the talent, however, things are different. The servant tells of his fear for the master, who reaps where he has not sown, and is a harsh man. The master will have none of it. He tells the servant that if he were so afraid, he should have not buried the funds, but deposited it into some kind of account that would earn some kind of interest. If that had happened, the master would’ve at least gotten something more that was still his.
Rather than rewarding this servant, he takes the one talent from him and gives it to the servant with ten talents, thus putting that servant in charge of even more things. The concluding verses of this passage are a contextual barb that Matthew included in his narrative. The Matthian church was largely Jewish. However, Matthew’s church had been expelled from the synagogues for following the rogue rabbi from Galilee who claimed to be God and human.
Upon first reading, verse twenty-nine appears rather cryptic. What Matthew is saying with “Those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away,” is that being born Jewish doesn’t get you in. In verse thirty, Matthew is giving a stark warning to the Jews who have expelled the Christians from the synagogues. These two verses are neither the crux of the next, nor are they to be used as a basis for anti-Semitism. Matthew was a very angry writer who was mad about how early Christians were treated by their forbearers in the monotheistic faith.
On November 15, 2008 the Troy Trojans took on the Louisiana State Bayou Bengals. I don’t know that anyone expected Troy to win. It was LSU’s homecoming game, so LSU clearly didn’t expect the Trojans to win. The Trojans, yes, were handsomely rewarded for coming to Baton Rouge with the knowledge that LSU was looking for whipping boys. Both teams played their all. Both teams took a risk: Troy was playing a nationally ranked SEC team that could blow them out of the water. LSU was playing a team that had one before given them a run for their money and consistently performed well against major conference schools.
Early in the first quarter the Trojans scored. LSU worked in a field goal while the Trojans amassed another sevent points by the half. Going into the fourth quarter the score was still 31-10 in Troy’s favor. And in the fourth quarter LSU went on to score another thirty points, with the final being 40-31, LSU. Troy lost. Maybe Troy choked. But Troy took the risk of playing the game, knowing that in order to get better they have to play better people, knowing that playing it safe by just playing schools with smaller programs doesn’t help them at all.
I was at the game. And when the clock read 0:00, I was furious. I had been talked into coming to the game that morning, despite my plans all week to stay in Troy and work on massive term papers. I had just spent three and a half hours of my life freezing; I hadn’t brought enough blankets, and at times my entire upper body would shiver while my teeth chattered as though I were a cartoon character. I felt like I had wasted my time and that I should’ve stayed in the comfort and safety of my dorm room working on my papers. But I decided that being in community with people I knew and didn’t know was more important. But being in community is taking a risk: it can be messy, particularly if there are people you don’t know very well being a part of the community…particularly if there are people who just make you uncomfortable or want to shout at them. I also took a risk about my papers’ getting finished on time.
The crux of this very simple passage from Matthew is the three servants, what is given to them, and what they do with it. The disciples, the members of the Early Church, and those who today submit to the cruciform life of following Jesus represent the servants. God has given us talents for use to glorify God and grow the Kin-dom. More importantly, we have been given the Good News – which far exceeds any measure of weight or monetary value. I think that the message of this text is that rather than keeping what God has given us safe in our naves and pulpits, we are supposed to take risks to live our baptismal vow to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.
And living that vow is a risk. Christ’s teaching were and are countercultural and counterintuitive, but the servants who took the risk are the ones who are rewarded. If we read this passage carefully we notice that the master doesn’t care so much about the amount that the other servants have gained, but that they tried. Had the markets been not so good and they lost money, I think that the master still would’ve been pleased at their efforts to increase his property and possessions. What displeases the Master though, is the slave who doesn’t try and is paralyzed by fear of the master…or is just lazy and doesn’t want to put any effort into making something happen.
I think our master is the same way: God doesn’t care about how much “return” we get on God’s “investment” in us, to use harsh, dehumanized terms. God cares that we take to the world the Good News we’ve heard. And when we take to the world, there will be times that nothing happens, but that’s not why Matthew included this parable about the Kin-dom. Although there will be times we get no response to our proclamation of the Gospel outside the walls of our churches, there will be times that we do. And for us to focus more on the potential bad thus preventing our doing anything is poor stewardship of the life – both now and later – that God has given us. To not take a risk in sharing the Gospel, in all the variety of ways that can happen, is to ignore the risk God is taking in us.
On the ride to LSU that cold Saturday, I wasn’t writing on papers, but I did get to do some research for them. One of my sources was John Eldredge’s book Wild at Heart, which I’d read in high school and summarily dismissed once I started taking courses in history that dealt with the societal evolution and changes of gender. While some paragraphs made my eyes pop out of my head, there are some very good things to be taken from the book. I leave you with this paragraph to consider the risk God has taken in us, and the risks we’ve been invited to take as part of following I AM.
It’s not the nature of God to limit his risks and cover his bases. Far from it. Most of the time, he actually lets the odds stack up against him. Against Golaith, a seasoned solder and a trained killer, he sends…a freckle-faced little shepherd kid with a slingshot. Most commanders going into battle want as many infantry as they can get. God cuts Gideon’s army from thirty-two thousand to three hundred. The he equips the ragtag little band that’s left with torches and watering pots. It’s not just a battle or two that God takes changes with, either. Have you thought about his handling of the gospel? God needs to get a message out to the human race, without which they will perish…forever. What’s the plan? First, he starts with the most unlikely group ever: a couple of prostitues, a few fishermen with no better than a second-grade education, a tax collector. Then he passes the ball to us. Unbelievable.
God has passed the ball to us, and it is unbelievable. God has taken a risk in us, the followers of the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life…and God asks us to take risks in sharing God’s love. Amen.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Monday, November 3, 2008
As I was driving home, I thought about something that someone said at Cursillo. The Lay Rector didn't like that the last part of services in the Book of Common Prayer is called the dismissal. He said he'd rather have it called a charge or some such. My immediate thought was that there is a charge in the post-communion prayer. Anywho, I heard the following song and thought it was quite appropriate.
Go in peace to love and to serve
Let your ears ring long with what you’ve heard
And may the bread on your tongue
Leave a trail of crumbs
To lead the hungry back to the place that you are from
And take to the world this love, hope and faith
Take to the world this rare, relentless grace
And like the three in one
Know you must become what you want to save
‘cause that’s still the way
He takes to the world
Go, and go far
Take light deep in the dark
Believe what’s true
He uses all, even you
Friday, October 31, 2008
From "Saint Patrick's Breastplate"
So after I made my entry Tuesday night I IMed a lot of people who I didn't tag in it because I wanted them to read it. One of them replied, "Just remember, you don't have to be ordained to still do God's work." And he was right. I don't have to be ordained to do God's work. I do, however, have to be ordained to do what I think I'm called to do. When I replied with that he said, "Yeah, but it's not about you, remember it's about God." Fr. Jeff's conversation with me on Tuesday has been a good exercise all around. Wednesday I had a great conversation with Taylor Burton-Edwards about it that conversation and about ordination. He asked me a couple of questions that I had to answer "no" to. "Is you connection to The Episcopal Church based on the presumption that they will ordain you to the priesthood?" and "Is your connection to the Christian faith predicated on being recognized as a priest by someone?" There was another question, but I want to more fully explore my answers to those two before I move on to the third, because the third really made me think about my call into ordained ministry, and what it means, and what it entails. (Preview: It was affirming of my perception of call)
My connection to The Episcopal Church is based on the common worship of the church and the sacramental centrality of the denomination as a whole. Weekly Eucharist is a big part of that, but as I've spent more time examining the Church (both as a member and prior to my confirmation), the importance of baptism- throughout the Church (as opposed to just at the national level) - and the emphasis on living the Baptismal Covenant have been further attractions to me. That the Episcopal Church nationally is more socially liberal than the church of which I was a part also drew me. There were some things about ordination that drew me to TEC: transitional diaconate, not a three year probationary period, people being able to answer questions about the steps, a willingness to work with my being a student, remember that I am a student, and that "social justice" isn't a phrase of bad words to ecclesiastical bodies in my region of the country.
My connection to the Christian faith is not predicated on my being recognized as a presbyter in some expression of Christianity. While I believe that I am called to that kind of ministry and have gotten affirmation from a variety of other types of discernment groups, that is not why I am a Christian. I am a Christian in large part because I was raised in the South in a Christian family. I have never really had a "Why do I believe this?" moment in large part because I know it's mostly predicated on my having been born into it. However, as I have grown up and come to claim it for my own, I know that it is what works for me. I am not a Christian because I want to not go to Hell after I die (I don't really believe in a hell of fire and darkness with wailing and gnashing of teeth; I think hell just as much as heaven can be here and now). I am a Christian because I believe Jesus was the Son of God who came to take away the sin of the world, and in doing so liberated us from sin and death. The Church was right to label Pelagius as a heretic; we cannot save ourselves. I am a Christian because I believe that accepting the grace God has given us frees us from having to live with Law - new or old - and that Law makes us aware of our need for God's grace and redemption. Furthermore, living in grace enables us to submit to Christ and to be honest about who we are with ourselves and others; behavior modification to please ourselves and others is not necessary if we're able to be truthful about our need. A truthfulness about our need for grace enables us to accept the grace and live lives of freedom.
And there was a third question the led to a whole lot of discussion. "How will you continue to fulfill the fullness of the baptismal calling in the more limited strictures of the priesthood [assuming the commission says yes the whole way through the process]?" He continued, "Priesthood can be understood either as a place of honor (being the center of congregational attention) or as a place of marginalization (being put off to the side, really, and inviting the community to join you in marginalization)...of the kingdom of God." I did a little thinking and I answered. As a priest I would continue to my best to live the Baptismal Covenant but by the grace of God and the authority given by Her Church invite and encourage the people to do the same while reminding them of their commitment to do just that as I preach the Gospel. Also, by the grace of God and the authority of Her Church make means of grace available to them that encourage and strengthen them into living into the marginalized place of the Kin-dom of God that is here and now and countercultural and revolutionary to the systems that be. If ordained a priest I will do my part to live the Baptismal Covenant and lead by example, but also baptize people into Christ's Body (that is past, present, and future), which gives the gift of the Holy Spirit and seals someone as Christ's own forever; reconcile penitents to one another, the Church, and God, which restores the soul to peace and the mind so that it might continue to function at ease; feeding them the most precious Body and Blood of Christ to nourish their souls and bodies; anointing the sick so that they might be healed, physically, mentally, or spiritually.
Earlier this week I wrote an entry titled, "What If..." Well, here is my answer to "What If..."
If the Commission on Ministry says, "No," I will, with God's help:
- still believe in God the Father
- still believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God
- still believe in God the Holy Spirit
- still continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers
- still persevere in resisting evil, and whenever I fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord
- still proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ
- still seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving my neighbor as myself
- still strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
O young and fearless Prophet of ancient Galilee,
Thy life is still a summons to serve humanity;
To make our thoughts and actions less prone to please the crowd,
To stand with humble courage for truth with hearts uncowed.
We marvel at the purpose that held Thee to Thy course
While ever on the hilltop before Thee loomed the cross;
Thy steadfast face set forward where love and duty shone,
While we betray so quickly and leave Thee there alone.
O help us stand unswerving against war’s bloody way,
Where hate and lust and falsehood hold back Christ’s holy sway;
Forbid false love of country that blinds us to His call,
Who lifts above the nations the unity of all.
Stir up in us a protest against our greed for wealth,
While others starve and hunger and plead for work and health;
Where homes with little children cry out for lack of bread,
Who live their years sore burdened beneath a gloomy dread.
Create in us the splendor that dawns when hearts are kind,
That knows not race nor station as boundaries of the mind;
That learns to value beauty, in heart, or brain, or soul,
And longs to bind God’s children into one perfect whole.
O young and fearless Prophet, we need Thy presence here,
Amid our pride and glory to see Thy face appear;
Once more to hear Thy challenge above our noisy day,
Again to lead us forward along God’s holy way.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Now, for an update. At some point this evening I recalled a line from a phrase that stuck out to me this weekend. This is from page 369 of the Book of Common Prayer:
We pray you, Gracious God, to send your Holy Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Sacrament of the Body of Christ and his Blood of the new Covenant. Unite us to your Son in his sacrifice, that we may be acceptable through him, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In the fullness of time, put all things in subjection under your Christ, and bring us to that heavenly country where, with all your saints, we may enter the everlasting heritage of your sons and daughters; through Jesus Christ our Lord, the firstborn of all creation, the head of the Church, and the author of our salvation...[emphasis added, and yes I dink'ed it for Tate and Erin]
"All things in subjection under your Christ." As much as I talk about the Lordship of Christ triumphing over all, I should have faith that Christ will certainly be in control of the discernment process - if it takes until the fullness of time for it to be so. I know that there are times that that doesn't happen, but I (we, beloved reading this who have dealt, are dealing with, or will deal with stubbornness from the Church (not necessarily saying that what I'll be dealing with)) will have to have faith that the Holy Spirit will be there. And we have to have hope, even after Good Friday moments.
Lord of all, to Thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise.
Then we talked about something that I've had in the back of my head for a while but haven't really fleshed out as an idea: The commission can say no. I've known that possibility for a while, and I haven't thought, "Oh, I have this in the bag!" But at the same time I haven't thought about what that would mean for the rest of my life, and it hit me in the face. It made me mad and hurt me. They haven't said no, but I was feeling things that I might feel. And I've worked through those emotions and am feeling a lot better now. Fr. Jeff asked if I'd be able to still love the Church if they said no. My answer was that I don't know. As I was driving away from the church I said to myself it'd be easier for me to love the Church if they said no now rather than two weeks before graduation. I think I'd be okay, now, though. I've dealt with emotions. If they say no I'll be mad. I'll think they're making a huge mistake (more about hello, I'm young, and most of the The Episcopal Church is not than I'm Joseph Effin' Mathews). I'll be hurt and wonder how I can have gotten so much affirmation from so many different people about my call for the last three years and then a few people after forty-five minutes can say, "They were all wrong. Your sense of call is wrong."
But I've worked through some emotions now. And I'm exhausted from it, but I'll be okay if they say no. It was much better for me to face this stuff today than if it happens next week. We're still hoping and praying that they say yes, and there are people praying for me all over the country about it. I'm sitting in my stupid IDS class and Dr. Volrath has been rambling for an hour and 20 minutes. For some reason the following came into my head, "For the beauty of the earth..." So I Googled it and got all the lyrics.
Here are some selected verses and the chorus:
For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies
Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
This, our hymn of grateful praise
For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild.
For Thy Church, that evermore
Lifteth holy hands above,
Offering up on every shore
Her pure sacrifice of love.
For each perfect gift of Thine,
To our race so freely given,
Graces human and divine,
Flowers of earth and buds of Heaven.
Lord of all, to Thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise. It will be well with my soul, although that's not the hymn where I've found consolation. I've found it in thanksgiving for the gifts we have. I was at Cursillo this weekend and said, "Thanks be God" innumerable times. When I first started going to St. Luke I said that after the scripture readings, but it was because I'm supposed to. Now, after four or five years, I mean it. Every time I say it now I mean it. I don't often express enough gratitude to others (or God), but I do mean thanksgiving for scripture having been given to guide us. And I do completely understand that for much of today I've gotten worked up over something that might not actually happened. However if I do get told "no," I'll have had something of a practice run.
"For the love which from our birth, over and around us lies." I'll still be loved by God. And the people who tell me no will still be loved by God. And, if I practice the faith that I profess to believe, should still be loved by me.
"Friends on earth and friends above." If I get told no I'll still have friends. Friends around me in Troy, AL. Friends in Montgomery. Friends in CoMo, friends in B'ham, friends in San Francisco, friends in Nashville, friends in DC, friends in NYC, friends in White Sulpher Springs, WV, friends at Western Kentucky, friends at Candler, friends at Wesley, friends at Garrett, friends at Shennandoah University...and friends (and family!) throughout the communion of the saints (who we'll remember this week at church).
"Graces human and divine." If I'm told no, I do suppose that I'll still be able to love the Church. I'll be hurt, and sad, and angry, and maybe feel like I've not given a fair shot. But we're supposed to forgive as we've been forgiven, no?
Friday, October 17, 2008
I believe that Almighty God created all that is, seen and unseen.
I believe that the creation stories we have are myths to help us understand God’s acts in the history of the world.
I believe that something’s being myth can be True without being factual.
I believe in Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
I believe that Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh.
I believe in the Dominion of Christ, and that Christ makes the rules, and we do not.
I believe that we are to love everyone and let Christ sort us out.
I believe that Christ came to take way the Sin of the whole world, not just the two-leggeds, or the any-leggeds for that matter, and not just those who in this temporal life “decided to follow Christ.”
I believe that the Christ event altered all of history and that in the fullness of time all creation will be restored to right relationship with God and with itself as a result.
I believe that Christ was fully God and fully man, but that Christ’s being a man on earth doesn’t confine Christ to masculine-gendered language.
I believe that Christ was born of a virgin.
I believe that Christ died.
I believe in resurrection, but not always in the resurrection of Christ’s body.
I believe, that as an Easter person, resurrection is what is important to me, and that the resurrection of Christ’s body is not on what my faith hinges; there are forms of resurrection other than that of bodies.
I believe the Christ is now with the Almighty God as part of the One God, Holy and Triune.
I believe that the Holy Spirit is with us now, guiding us into the path of peace and the way Christ gave us as an example to live.
I believe that the Holy Spirit has always spoken to God’s people through humans, despite the frequent unwillingness of God’s people to hear God’s words, particularly when they are challenging the status quo.
I believe that God is still speaking through the Holy Spirit.
I believe that when Jesus told the disciplines he still had many things to tell them that they could not bear, he meant that the Spirit would always be with us revealing things that people of the past could not have been able to bear.
I believe that the Church, despite her many parts, is still one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.
I believe that as long as the Church professes Christ as Lord she is still one and catholic, regardless of local behaviors or practices.
I believe that apostolic faith has been passed through Scripture and Tradition and that apostolic succession is not necessary for the professing the faith of the apostles.
I believe that the apostles left ways for us to know their faith, such as scripture and documents pertaining to worship, without having to trace a lineage of laying on of hands.
I believe that the Church is holy, not by establishing a new law of do’s and don’ts for its member to follow, but by plunging into ministry on behalf of the world’s hurting ones and making the world a better place.
I believe that in baptism we are grafted onto the body of Christ, our sins – past, present, and future – are forgiven, and we are marked by and given the gift of the Holy Spirit.
I believe that in the fullness of time all that once was, is now, and is yet to come will be united with Christ in Christ’s return, when we will feast at the heavenly banquet together forever.
I believe that worship should be common. Common worship can hold bodies together when there are many divergent views of the Christian faith.
I believe that the work and worship of the Church cannot be separated, no matter how hard one tries to separate them.
I believe that the liturgy of the Church shapes the people and should enable them to fully live into the vows of their baptisms in the world.
I believe that the Creeds are of God and shape and fold Christ’s followers.
I believe that the music of the Church affects the way the people of the Church perceive God; if Unitarian songs are sung, the people’s concept of God will be Unitarian. If songs are bloody and about Christ's death, the people of God will focus on blood and death rather than resurrection. If songs are about our dying and going to heaven and not fixing this world, God's people will not work to fix this world.
I believe that the Church, through it’s proclamation of the word, its praying to the Triune God, its singing of the faith, and additional resources such as classes, Bible studies, retreats, and community building, should strengthen God’s people in making the world a better place.
I believe that the Church is to be welcoming and inclusive to all, but not tolerant of all things.
I believe that inclusion does not mean that there are no expectations from members of the Church and that accountability is not the same as exclusion.
I believe that the Church should speak when things are morally wrong, particularly on behalf of the marginalized and society’s voiceless, especially when civil government is perpetuating oppression
I believe that nationalism has no place in spaces set aside for Christian worship or in Christian worship.
I believe that Christians are resident aliens whose primary citizenship is in heaven.
I believe silence is tacit approval and that not objecting to the objectionable puts corporate and individual guilt on those who participate directly or indirectly in oppressive acts.
I believe that claiming a belief in Christ requires not just an intellectual assent, but also action that reflects that assent.
I believe that when the Gospel is separated from a community of faith, it ceases to be the Gospel of Christ.
I believe that being in community is messy and sometimes people get hurt, though injury should not be intentional. In addition to injuries forgiveness is part of part of being in community.
I believe that in the way God has forgiven us in our baptisms and we find forgiveness at the Eucharistic table, we are to forgive all wrongs done to us and to seek the forgiveness of others when we’ve done wrong.
I believe that the table is central to the Christian faith.
I believe that all tables where people gather together and make themselves vulnerable – from discussion groups to daily meals to the Eucharistic feast – are places of God’s presence and places where people grow closer to one another and to God.
I believe that there is a place at all tables for all kinds of people: young, old, rich, poor, gay, straight (and in-between), men, women (and in-between), just, unjust, bitchy, sweet, a multiplicity of racial identities.
I believe that they should not only be welcomed, but sought out – not as tokens but to enrich the perspectives of everyone present at the table and because we are all made in the image of the Most High God.
I believe that people should be safe to be themselves at the table, and that they should not feel like they have to pretend to be something else in discussion.
I believe, as an historian, that language is an excellent primary source and reflects traditions of the day in which it was spoken and written, and that original uses of terms about God are not the only ways by which God can be referred.
I believe in language that enables the people of God to understand God in the innumerable ways in which God can manifest Godself, gendered to reflect masculine and feminine images, gender-neutral to reflect God’s transcending gender, and any variety of images of metaphor so that God’s people can try to understand that which cannot be understood.
I believe that language is power, and that including different kinds of images enable more people to relate to God, and it is not merely being politically correct but seeking to make God more available to more people.
I believe that the Bible is the word of God and contains all things necessary for salvation, but that human beings - who are not God and as such are fallible - recorded God’s message.
I believe that the overarching them of the Bible is that God loves God’s people and has tried to show throughout history that God does.
I believe in following what Christ taught as literally as seems humanly possible, or even more than seems humanly possible.
I believe that watering down the Gospel to domesticate it and make it easier to live is exactly what Christ did not want to happen.
I believe in placing a higher emphasis on the Gospels and Christ’s life than on one-sided conversations between an apostle and a variety of churches whose circumstances and behaviors we cannot and do not fully know.
I believe that cultural context is necessary for understanding Truths that God wanted revealed to God’s people.
I believe that God loves us all as we are without condition, and that love and grace win over everything else.
I believe in loving God and loving others and that doing one requires the other.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Your Political Profile:
Overall: 20% Conservative, 80% Liberal
Social Issues: 0% Conservative, 100% Liberal
Personal Responsibility: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal
Fiscal Issues: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal
Ethics: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal
Defense and Crime: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal
Monday, October 13, 2008
Right now it's just some quotations taken from Mr. Will Green's Facebook page
"The Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social, no holiness but social holiness. You cannot be holy except as you are engaged in making the world a better place. You do not become holy by keeping yourself pure and clean from the world but by plunging into ministry on behalf of the world’s hurting ones." -John Wesley
Actually, just one. That one was my favorite, although all of them are good.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
A few weeks ago when I looked out the Wesley office door, someone was SITTING on the Altar. Consistently lately there are things (other than candles) being randomly left on it: music, binders, keys, etc. The next day I told Melissa that I wanted to make a sign to hang over it.
(In order for this sign to make sense, one has to understand the context of the Wesley's worship space. On Sundays at 4:00 we have CHURCH, which is Eucharistic and uses the hymnal. The altar lives in the middle of the room for that and we sit in a semi-circle in front of it. The ambo is to the right of the altar, standing behind it, and the font is right as you come in the main door. During the week, however, we have Praise and Worship at 7:00 on Wednesdays. To make room for the praise band and the projector and general nicknacks, we move the altar from the center of the room to a corner. It doesn't have as central a focus in that service.)
So, anyway I wanted to make a sign that said, "Keep your f------ s--- and a-- off the altar, please." Melissa said that if I changed my language some I was allowed to do it. I think changing the language defeats the emotion behind it; it has a specific purpose for which it has been set aside, and at the Troy Wesley I think we try to live into that. One of the things I noticed last night as I was locking up after ATO finished in the building is that I can see the altar as more of a holy thing in the space than when it had a lot of junk on it. Now I'm not talking about "music, keys, binders, etc." but rather a large bronze cross and a big KJV. As Br. John D. has said, the altar isn't a Bible rack. I really like the cross on the bookshelf and would be content if the large, open Bible was moved elsewhere, but I'm not ready to do it just yet. I like the colored fabric, a white piece of cloth, and two candles. The almost austere (more plain than cold, though) I think portrays it as being set apart - different and not a part of the busy-ness of every day American living. Just some thoughts
Finally if you're reading this and have left stuff on the altar, know that I am not angry with you. I'm actually in a really good mood right now. The charge from Dave Walker prompted me to write this and that provided fodder. Again, I'm not angry. This isn't even a rant. :) Just musings about the way that items and space affect how I connect with the Divine.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Amber called her uncle, said "We're up here for the holiday
Jane and I were having Solstice, now we need a place to stay"
And her Christ-loving uncle watched his wife hang Mary on a tree
He watched his son hang candy canes all made with red dye number three
He told his niece, "It's Christmas eve, I know our life is not your style"
She said, "Christmas is like Solstice, and we miss you and it's been awhile"
So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able
And just before the meal was served, hands were held and prayers were said
Sending hope for peace on earth to all their gods and goddesses
The food was great, the tree plugged in, the meal had gone without a hitch
Till Timmy turned to Amber and said, "Is it true that you're a witch?"
His mom jumped up and said, "The pies are burning," and she hit the kitchen
And it was Jane who spoke, she said, "It's true, your cousin's not a Christian"
"But we love trees, we love the snow, the friends we have, the world we share
And you find magic from your God, and we find magic everywhere"
So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able
And where does magic come from, I think magic's in the learning
Cause now when Christians sit with Pagans only pumpkin pies are burning
When Amber tried to do the dishes, her aunt said, "Really, no, don't bother"
Amber's uncle saw how Amber looked like Tim and like her father
He thought about his brother, how they hadn't spoken in a year
He thought he'd call him up and say, "It's Christmas and your daughter's here"
He thought of fathers, sons and brothers, saw his own son tug his sleeve saying
"Can I be a Pagan?" Dad said, "We'll discuss it when they leave"
So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able
Lighting trees in darkness, learning new ways from the old, and
Making sense of history and drawing warmth out of the cold
Monday, September 22, 2008
Almighty God, we look with grieved distress on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; we watch human beings murdered, decapitated, burned alive. All we can do is think of Jesus and behold your shameful Cross.
Give us the courage to look at your Son’s gentleness on Calvary, Lord. Give us the courage to look.
We beg you to bless our soldiers, granting them every humanitarian victory, saving them from all harm and bringing them home with your fastest godly speed; that they may be swiftly reunited with their loved ones and received with grateful thanks.
We pray humbly, guiltily, earnestly for all the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq; for an end to violence and murder and the restoration of order, prosperity and peace. We pray you to enlighten your servant George, the President of the United States, and all the members of Congress with their advisers, generals and critics, that we may obey your divine demand for justice; and enact, with your beloved peoples of all lands, your lasting peace.
We pray for Israel, O LORD, your Promised Land; for your dear Palestine and all its neighbors; for Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. And yes, dear God, we pray most heartily for these United States.
We raise our hands and hearts to you, O YHWH, and to your Son Jesus Christ, knowing and respecting that other peoples may call you by a different name and discern you in a different light; even as we proclaim your majesty, your sovereignty and your permanent, magisterial blessing, from your holy city Jerusalem to your entire far-flung universe of earthlings, saints and stars:
One true GOD, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.
Monday, September 15, 2008
This entry was inspired by a blog entry I read elsewhere this morning while cleaning out my Gmail inbox, although I'm sure it's made countless other places throughout time. One of the issues the author addressed had to do with for/against things - if you're not against something you're for it. I'm not entirely certain how I feel about that statement, although my initial reaction is that there isn't a whole lot of room for grey, I like shades of grey, and my worldview doesn't force me to see things in black-and-white. But then grey: the author tempers the statement to say that if you aren't working against something you are, if nothing else, passively working toward it. Tacitly approving, as it were. I greatly agree with that. To allow something bad to happen when you bear at least a small part of responsibility (like being the citizen of the US ergo the vote and keeping those elected responsible) is to not be working against it. I don't know that I'd say that it's "for," but it's not using voice to keep things from happening.
With that in mind I have some examples for people to think about, particularly those who say "I never did _____." By being in the US (and these will mostly be US examples since that's my primary context) we bear responsibility for things that we ourselves have never directly done. We also bear responsibility for not using our voice to change things that can be changed (while other things really can't be changed: what's done is done in some instances). Allowing the continued dehumanization of the US's indigenous peoples by sports teams and allowing the US to continue to not uphold a single treaty it's signed over the course of it's history with those same people is our fault. Were we signers? Did we elect the people who signed them? No, probably neither. Are we citizens now? Is the US still bound to its word? Do we have a way to ask the US to keep its word? Yes, we do. We elect. We can lobby. We can vote a different way.
We are guilty of whenever the US bombs innocent people just to make a point or to make things move more quickly. Certainly there are times when our rules of engagement allow or require fire to be returned to places that should be left alone (such as mosques), but if the people currently being opposed are using that as a base and are firing for it, I certainly see a rationale for returning fire. Air strikes against hospitals full of civilians, though, leads to guilt of a corporate nature for a corporate sin. Are we giving the orders? Maybe not. Did we play a part in a)electing the Commander in Chief b)letting our elected officials (some of whom have oversight of the armed forces via committees, funding, and war resolutions) know how we feel about things? Maybe, maybe not. Either way we have a part to play and responsibility to bear.
Is there no middle ground? I don't think so. In case that's unclear (which I think it might be to me), I think there is a middle ground, however I think it's hard to maintain staying in the middle ground and still being an active part in society. If there isn't, whoa nelly. We, particularly those who were told to feed the hungry and care for the poor all around, have a whole lot of corporate guilt behind for not fighting it. If there's not a middle ground, the people who aren't fighting for poverty - are actually supporting it and saying that those on the margins of society should stay there (often so that they don't have to share). However, I do think there's a middle ground. I don't dare suggest that the majority of people not working to alleviate poverty support it. By the same token, though, by not working for its eradication I think they - we - are (if only nominally) guilty of allowing it to persist
As an aside, I was published today in Faith in Action, the weekly e-newsletter of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society. The piece can be found here.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Revive your Church, Lord God of hosts, whenever it falls into complacency and sloth, by raising up devoted leaders, like your servant John Henry Hobart whom we remember this day; and grant that their faith and vigor of mind may awaken your people to your message and their mission; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
For the Human Family
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
For Peace Among the Nations
Almighty God our heavenly Father, guide the nations of the world into the way of justice and truth, and establish among them that peace which is the fruit of righteousness, that they may become the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
For Our Enemies
O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Pentecost 17+, A
7 September 2008
Mt. 18.15-20 (Rom. 13.8-14)
In the name of the God in whom we live, and move, and have our being. Amen.
Many of you are familiar with the button that I usually wear on my shirts and jackets on the right side. It says, “Peace is the church’s business” with a peace cross under it. While I’m not wearing it today – it seems to have been misplaced in the shuffle of wedding clothing and location changes with my wallet – I did have it on Friday afternoon at my brother’s wedding rehearsal. My cousin Seth, after I explained my reasons for wearing it said jokingly that he was offended. My simple response was that the Gospel is offensive.
And, beloved, within our context of this gathered community I think that there are some things in this Gospel text that are offensive to some hears, or might be if applied directly as Jesus speaks to those around him then and now. I considered talking about this passage as a series of three points the way my mother expects all good sermons to be constructed, but upon furthered and continued reflection I know that those are not words that are to be spoken today, although I really wrestled with exactly what those words were.
In our Gospel text today, Jesus gives us a three-point plan for handling disagreements in the community known as church. Hear my phrasing there again while think about the horrid song “We Are the Church”: Jesus gives us a three-point plan for handling disagreements in the community known as church. This emphasis on community – and not individuality – is hammered home by the conclusion of the Gospel text today, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
The post-resurrection writer of this Gospel ascribed to St. Matthew would have known about the various and sundry issues causing strife in the Matthian church – the church over which Matthew would’ve been leader. This manual for maintaining community standards was a way to keep the people of the community in harmony, and in addition to the levels of trying to reprove a sibling, these three steps dealt with the seriousness of issues – major schism making offenses would’ve almost certainly wound up before the whole of the community.
This is instructions for, in plainest terms, church discipline – the maintenance of community standards for the good of the Church, and it doesn’t end very nicely, “If the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew – the most Jewish of the Gospels – uses this language to say that when someone is in clear violation of the will, standards, and principles of the community the church community is to wash their hands and kick the dust of their feet. It’s harsh words that are meant to be harsh: the Church hearing this originally was young and schism was breaking various churches apart from the moment of the resurrection. The only way to preserve this new group of Jews and Gentiles following Jesus as Messiah was to keep the community together without personal petty conflicts – or heretical, schismatic ideas – was to have a form of discipline and way to expel people from the body.
It is important to note, however, that it’s not a single member that calls for the expulsion of a member or two members or three members from the body. Before that step was taken, an individual, two additional individuals, and finally the whole church community must have first spoken to them. Before moving to the end of this text, I implore you not to hear that God is a vending machine whose buttons can be pressed if two people (or more) are pushing them. This requirement of more people is part and parcel of what is really the crux of this text: community. Jesus again underscores that in the conclusion of this selection from the Gospel, “For where two or tree are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Christ – and the early church mothers and fathers – didn’t intend for Christianity to be practiced in solitude. Full stop. Whether someone “believes in organized religion” or not, being together with others for the work and worship of Christ is part of this religion, and in the first century, it took the will of the community – bound together in tension of being human beings trying to do their best in the world – to expel members.
The New Revised Standard Version is what talks about treating those who will not bend to the will of the Church as “gentiles and tax collectors,” two groups that the thoroughly Jewish Matthian church would’ve despised in the first century. Despite it’s taking great liberties with the original text – by great I mean ignoring in favor of something more Easter friendly – I really prefer how The Message puts that verse: “If [that person] won’t listen, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront [him or her] with the need for repentance, and offer God’s forgiving love.” Those two versions offer drastically different statements, but I think that while doing violence to the Greek The Message does not do violence to the meta-narrative of God’s relating God’s love to God’s creation.
Perhaps the gurus of the lectionary knew the abuses or failures of this three-tiered program of church disciplined applied out of its original historical context when they chose our Romans text for this selection from the Gospel. Hear again the words from Romans, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments…are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
We aren’t to be in community looking for reasons to expel people. Although this three-tiered system of church discipline was intended for use in the 1st C, it might well have some relevance as a system of governance now. If there is an issue with someone, maybe the person offended should take it up with that person. If there is no gain, maybe it should be taken to two others – here is the catch though: If two other stout brothers or sisters in the communal faith of Christianity won’t approach the person who has done “wrong,” the person who feels offended should let it go. Same for if two neutral people go with and the community as a whole doesn’t address it. Rather than continuing on with complaining or being passive aggressive or threatening to not boycott, the person who feels offended should take a deep breath and think…
Following the rabbi from Nazareth requires a tension in loving community. The nature of the religion requires community, despite whatever individualism Protestantism and Americanism have instilled into our beings. At the ultimate head of that community, though is that rabbi we’re all following. Crediumus in unum Dominum Jesum Christum – we believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, who is present with us when we – a group – gather in community. When we learn to acknowledge this belief in the Lordship of Christ for what it is we may more easily “start over from scratch, confront [him or her] with the need for repentance, and offer God’s forgiving love.”
Being in community requires putting ourselves aside – and our passions and factions aside. Hear the words we’ll be singing in just a few minutes but think about them in their relationship to being in community the Gospel requires and living in love as Saint Paul directs, “I come with Chistians far and near to find, as all are fed, the new community of love in Christ’s communion bread. As Christ breaks bread and bids us share, each proud division ends. The love that made us makes us one, and strangers now are friends…Together met, together bound, we’ll go our different ways, and as his people in the world, we’ll live and speak his praise.”
As we gather around this table – we practice an act of community in sharing a meal together. As we gather around this Altar we affirm our belief in Christ as Lord, who breaks bread with us and causes proud divisions to end. As we gather around this table we meet with one another to share in this feast. When we leave from this table, though, we remain bound, tied inexplicably with the entire body of the baptized. Whether we like them or not, we have to live in a community of love with them…or at least try. And as we go our separate ways – with those we like and don’t – we must do the work and the worship of the Holy and Triune God.
One who has ears – especially this preacher – let him or her hear. Amen.
Check out the lesson from Romans appointed (in the RCL) for this coming Sunday ... here from The Message.
Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don't see things the way you do. And don't jump all over them every time they do or say something you don't agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.
For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ's table, wouldn't it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn't eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God's welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.
Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.
What's important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God's sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you're a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It's God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That's why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.
So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I'd say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we're all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren't going to improve your position there one bit. Read it for yourself in Scripture:
"As I live and breathe," God says,
"every knee will bow before me;
Every tongue will tell the honest truth
that I and only I am God."
So tend to your knitting. You've got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.
This is the Word of God for the People of God.Thanks be to God
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
"A New Law"
don’t teach me about politics and government
just tell me who to vote for
don’t teach me about truth and beauty
just label my music
don’t teach me how to live like a free man
just give me a new law
i don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy
so just bring it down from the mountain to me
i want a new law
i want a new law
gimme that new law
don’t teach me about moderation and liberty
i prefer a shot of grape juice
don’t teach me about loving my enemies
don’t teach me how to listen to the Spirit
just give me a new law
what’s the use in trading a law you can never keep
for one you can that cannot get you anything
do not be afraid
do not be afraid
do not be afraid
Saturday, August 30, 2008
I don't really know what prompted that. A little while later I got a text that simply said, "I lurve you." I think that was meant to reassure me that she wasn't judging me. I appreciate it. I know that she wasn't. I wasn't at my phone when she sent the first one. I replied to her text with, ""I lurve you, too. I don't remember what I said exactly, but i don't support a standing army or handguns, except for killing rattlesnakes. I support recognizing the sanctity of all human life from natural birth to natural death. I oppose abortion but support a woman's right to choose. That's a simplistic summary. I oppose government sponsored killing of any human life. Why?"
It really is a simple summary, but it's accurate. There's a lot that could be unpacked there (like thinking that the solution to end abortion is to work to eradicate poverty and better education, rather than making it illegal for doctors to perform). However, I figured now was as good a time as any to share some lyrics on here. I bought Derek Webb's Mockingbird on Tuesday on iTunes. Maybe it was last Thursday. I really don't know when it was, but I have it now and as I listened to it, I felt myself drawn to one song in particular. (On The Ringing Bell it's "This Too Shall Be Made Right.") The title of the song is "My Enemies Are Men Just Like Me" The lyrics follow. I'm really not a big fan of the sex/gender specificity as that when looking at it it could become easily narrowing and is exclusive, but I grant that Webb is a man albeit "enemies" could be women. Note that this is copied and pasted, hence the lack of capitalization.
i have come to give you life
and to show you how to live it
i have come to make things right
to heal their ears and show you how to forgive them
because i would rather die
i would rather die
i would rather die
than to take your life
how can i kill the ones i’m supposed to love
my enemies are men like me
i will protest the sword if it’s not wielded well
my enemies are men like me
Audio excerpt of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech: "nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time -- the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression."
peace by way of war is like purity by way of fornication
it’s like telling someone murder is wrong
and then showing them by way of execution
when justice is bought and sold just like weapons of war
the ones who always pay are the poorest of the poor
Monday, August 25, 2008
Thursday, August 21, 2008
That's out of around 14K priests.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
I love to vote I love the US of A It's the land of the free, sweet liberty And I've gotta sing the same
I'm an American Christian Born in the US of A American Christian Born again by God's grace
And I thank God for my country Where I can worship and pray I'm an American Christian Loving my Jesus in the US of A
Now this country was founded By a few godly men And I as a Christian I have rights I'll defend
Now, I love america And I love Jesus too Every night on my knees I ask God please Bless the red white and blue
And God through the night With the light from above American Christian I'm loving my Jesus In the US of A.
That was the background music for a while for the US Christian Flag page....what think ye?
Monday, August 18, 2008
That being said, I have a question for you. Are any of you familiar with the webpage “I Can Has Cheezburger?” For those of you who aren’t, it is a collection of images of cats in funny positions with captions that are misspelled and often without proper grammar. They are some of the funniest things I’ve seen, and I give a lot of credit to the people who caption the pictures that make me laugh.
This summer I found out that there is a webpage of people who are spending their time translating the Bible into lolcat, the language that the cats speak. Lol at the beginning stands for “laugh out loud.” While some might see this translation as sacrilege or merely silly, having looked through it online I’ve really liked the way that some of the things are phrased. Here is an example, using the Matthew text that Tate just read for us. Before hearing it, you should know that “cheezburgers” are blessings and “Ceiling Cat” is God.
Wen teh Jebus comez in hiz awesumness, n al teh angels wit 'im, he wil sit on 'is couch of teh ceilings awesumness. All teh nashuns will be gatherd before him, an he will separate teh peeps wan frum anothr as sheferd separatez teh sheep frum teh goats. he will put teh sheep on his rite an teh goats on his left. "den teh king will say to dose on his rite, coem, yu hoo haz cheezburgrz from ceiling cat; taek ur kitteh toyz, teh kingdom prepard for yu since teh creashun ov teh urfs. 4 i wuz hungry an u openz canz and not drai fuds, i wuz thirsty an u gaev me some bowlz, i wuz strangr an yu were liek, "o hai," i had dirty furz an yu gaev me licks, i wuz sick an u rap pillz in ham, i scratch bathrum door an yu openz. "den teh riteshus will say, Jebus, when did we c u hungry an gaev yu gushy fud, or thirsty an gaev yu milks? when did we see yu strangr an says "o hai," or durty furz and lick yu?" when did we know yu sick or stuck in bathroom and help yu? "teh king will says, srsly, whatevr yu did teh other kittehs, evn lame kittehs, yu liek did to me.
What I like about the lolcat bible is that it takes phrases that may be quite familiar to us and gives them a different spin that has caught my attention. The verse that has shaped what my college life as a Christian is Micah 6.8, which in lolcat is, “An wut doez teh lord want from yuz? 2 be nais, 2 luv givin 2nd chansez An 2 walk humbly wif ur ceilin cat, srsly.” In the New Revised Standard Version that’s “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
I first encountered this verse at my first trip to the General Board of Church and Society’s seminar program my freshman year. It has become a cornerstone of what being a Christian in college means to me. Charity and justice have to go together. This exposure to another side of Christianity led to a paradigm shift from my old version of faith. It means that in addition to doing acts of charity in Juarez, Mexico or building wheelchair ramps in Greenville I have to work to change systems that are oppressive, and that, I believe links my Micah text, the Psalm Melissa read, and our Gospel tonight. Time and again I have taken a vow, in United Methodist settings to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” In Episcopal settings I have promised to “strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.” All means all.
It’s not enough for me to build a house for the impoverished in Mexico. To build the Kin-dom here and now I have to look at the ways our economy affects others’ and seek to change negative aspects. It’s not enough for me to give food or money to the homeless, I have to be willing to see how national and state governments allocate funds and lobby my congressperson and senators to be more equitable and compassionate. It’s not enough for me to tell lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered friends “all are welcome in this place.” In April I went to General Conference and stood in witness with the Reconciling Ministries Network and it’s young adult division, Methodist Students for an All-Inclusive Church to work for the full inclusion of all of societies marginalized into the full life of Christ’s one, holy church.
The way I have come to live out my faith in college is drastically different from the way I lived it in high school. I feel as though I’ve become more knowledgeable about Jesus, what Jesus said, and open to applying that to my life – even when I don’t think it makes sense. Being a Christian in college, I don’t think, is really all that hard, particularly in a culture saturated with “Christianity.” I think, however, that following Christ and Christ’s radical messages of love, forgiveness, and inclusion is hard, not just in college but throughout all of life.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Two things that I'll talk about tonight. Note that I am trying to do a better job updating my blog. Summer is over, so I've stopped writing Jacob's weekly letters, so I need to write stuff. Both of my issues have to do with self-confidence and self-perception.
Lately I've been freaking out about my weight. Not too much freaking out really except for one night earlier this week. I tried to run on Tuesday but I had absolutely no motivation. The way I've been putting it is "pretending to run." I ran a quarter of a mile and turned around and walked back, beating myself up the entire way. I continued that most of the day and into the night. Right before I went to bed I was really hard on myself and it just wasn't good. I planned on skipping yesterday and I did.
This morning I got up and did a mile. Two tomorrow is the plan. Then off on Saturday. So, if you pray, pray that I'll be more motivated about running and that I won't have issues about how I perceive myself. The other night I was really angry and down. It was good that I had someone to walk me through it
The other thing is that I'm really questioning entering the postulancy process. I feel so young. Then I remembered, "Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young..." This hit me again yesterday as I was filling out my stuff for before my psychological evaluation. I don't know how I feel about that. I'm looking forward to it, but the questions seemed just directed at older people. I don't know. Just a weird feeling knowing that I'm going to be terribly young compared to other clergy people in the diocese. Maybe I'm not conveying it well, but I feel like I'm not going to have any life experience. I know that I have school, but meh. Hard to explain. Questioning myself. Not questioning my call, but questioning my going right into it. It's what I'm supposed to do, though.