Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Song

I heard clips from this whilst I was jogging today listening to a Speaking of Faith podcast. The show I was listening to is called "The New Pagans." Please don't read my posting this as my taking a theological position. I thought the song was amusing and there are some parts of the chorus (which I've emphasized) that are good to make note of. Parts in the verses, too. I might do some more analysis tonight, but for now I'm just posting lyrics. When I found out who sang it I had to be amused, though. I felt like a Swaim.

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

Prayer concerning War in Iraq and Afghanistan

by Josh Thomas
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

No Middle Ground?

I'm trying to get back into blogging again. I enjoy it, I just don't make a priority of it. Maybe if I did more narrative of my day I would, but I don't know that that's the direction of my blog life anymore. Sometimes things inspire me to make blog entries. Someone might say that my blogging about things rather than talking about them/confronting them head on is hiding online, but I don't necessarily think so. I think that some people need the screen for their own confidence; there are those not confident enough to stir pots online, or disagree online. There are others who are not confident enough to do either of those things in person. I think that being able to speak - in any capacity, even if it doesn't involve a face-to-face confrontation - should be applauded more than criticized. I do, however, think that there's a difference between speaking online (such as commenting on something posted in a public area or writing a response to something in your own area) and being passive aggressive by doing things like writing things directed at someone unnamed but using "you" repeatedly and then not sharing with them. This talk about speaking, however, isn't the point of this entry. It's just something on my mind.
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

Some Collects

Collect of the Day: John Henry Hobart, Bishop of New York

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.

For Peace

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

Matthew 18.15-20

Joseph P. Mathews, OSL
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.

Hear what the Spirit is saying to God's people.

Borrowed from Susan Russell

Check out the lesson from Romans appointed (in the RCL) for this coming Sunday ... here from The Message.

Romans 14:1-12

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

Yeah, Another Song

Every time I listen to this song another lyric pops out at me. I'll bold the ones that I have thus far. This Derek Webb CD is really speaking to my life right now Not like ministering to me, but I connect with it in that it expresses much of my emotion. This is the first time I've felt this way about music the way so many teens (and young people) seem to. This song capturs how I feel like much of my early life was.

"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

(vs. 2)
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