Monday, November 22, 2010

#OurExamen: Do No Harm

When I was senior in college my Wesley Foundation worked through Reuben Job's book Three Simple Rules.  It's based on John Wesley's General Rules for Methodists.  Now, Job modifies the name of the last one, but I'll stick with the originals: Do no harm, do good works, and attend to all the ordinances of God.  Job's book is broken into chapters on the rules.

The first chapter is on doing no harm.  Now, the General Rules are simply worded rules and are simple concepts.  I've known them since I was a senior in high school when I went to annual conference and Bishop Watson quizzed the Conference.  However, thinking about what they mean is hard.  Moment by moment saying "Is this doing harm?"  In his book, Job talks about doing harm and gives not exactly concrete examples but rather ways that doing harm is about our relationships and all of our personhood.

I read the first chapter and have been working with it some in the back of my head.  I haven't moved on to the next chapter.  I'd just written a paper on the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, so the idea of spending time sitting with things was fresh in my head.  And as I've gone day to day with that in my head I've realized that I'm a snarky gossip.  I don't say things to people's faces, but I'm not the nicest person sometimes.  And the thoughts in my head or shared out loud affect the way I encounter the people I'm talking about.

When I dwell on the negative about people that's what I notice the most when I'm with them.  I'm going to reread "Do No Harm" tonight and I think I'll start moving into "Do Good" next week and sit with it for a few weeks.  Doing harm goes beyond gossiping to stewardship of time, talent, and treasure, and to all kinds of things.  I strongly recommend the book for people looking for ways to think about how their ongoing discipleship could grow.

Hey Church: Holy Crimes

Hey Church, go see what we haven't done so great at this week by reading this article.

Pray for the accused.  Pray for the victims.

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Hey Church: Straight(ish?) Talk about Trans Sex Work

Hey Church.  You should go read this article.

As clean and tidy as our Sunday mornings might be, that's now how all the world is....and we are called to know about that, pray about it, and engage it.  I don't have much experience with transpeople or sex workers.  I can't begin to fathom the struggles they have day-by-day...but this is a good starting point based on someone's real experiences.

Go read the article.  The whole thing.  It's long-ish, but it's really good.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sermon: Luke 21.5-19/Is. 65.17-25

The following sermon was preached in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd as part of Preaching 1 on November 10, 2010.  

Joseph P. Mathews
10 November 2010
Luke 21.5-19/ Is. 65.17-25

In the name of the God who was and is and is to come.  Amen.

Can you feel it?  Do you feel the tension mounting?  Do you feel the beginning of the end?  If you’re feeling anything like me you’re definitely feeling the tension of the end of the semester creeping up on you.  That systematics paper is due, the liturgics paper is due, and unless you turned it in today you’ll have a church history paper due.  And two extemporaneous sermons yet to do in this class.  And then another liturgics paper and a church history final.

But that’s not the ending that I’m asking if you’re starting to feel.  No, I’m talking about the end of the world -- and the end of the church year.  We’re in a liminal space right now and the designers of the lectionary know that.  We’re moving.  On Sunday we remembered those saints who have gone before us, those whose temporal lives have ended.  Parishes all over the Church baptized people, and part of their lives ended as they were born anew in water and the Spirit, and now they are between the Font and the grave.

All Saints’ is a sign to me that we’re winding down a church year, that Advent is just around the corner.  We’re in between extremes right now: the days are getting shorter, and the temperatures are getting cooler.  All Saints’ has passed.  Summer has ended but winter is not yet here.  In my mind, with Advent comes the cold.  With Advent comes the dark.  With Advent comes the end of the world.  And with Advent comes a new reign and ordering of the world.  But we’re not yet to Advent.  We’re in an in between space that gives us foreshadowing of that season yet to come.

In our Gospel passage today Jesus tells his followers that the temple would be destroyed and that the end was coming.  With what had to be startled alarm, they ask Jesus when it will be and how they’ll know it’s coming.  Rather than saying “Y2K will be the end of the world,” Jesus tells them not to be led astray.  Led astray?  The want a date.  And he says that people will claim to be him and will tell people the the end is just around the corner, maybe even with a specific date!

Whenever I read apocalyptic material, I think about these people who know the date of the end of the world.  I don’t mean the people who have calculated it based on the Myan calendar, but those people who have cracked the Bible code and know just the year, the month, the day, the hour, the minute, the second that Jesus will return.  And I think “Have you not read the Bible that you claim to take so seriously?!  We aren’t supposed to focus all our energy (if any!) on the end of the world.  Don’t you remember what Jesus told his followers?”

I also think about a Southern Gospel song based on the apocalypse in Matthew It was sometimes sung my traveling quartets in my childhood church, and the refrain says, “We are living surely living in the days he speaks about/all these things we now are having every day/Let’s be ready for his coming let us meet him with a shout/for he tells us in his word to watch and pray.”  The third verse talks about “all these things he speaks about” “Many wars shall come upon us when the end of time is near/ Many earthquakes will be numerous in those days/All of these today we're having and in Matthew it appears/We should live our life for Him and sing his praise.”

Yes, Jesus does talk about wars and earthquakes.  But in Luke’s version he’s pretty clear that, well, they don’t mean much...neither do the famine and plague all over the world or Comet Halebop.  All the stuff that Jesus lists wasn’t all that new.  One of the things that differentiated Jesus from the other messiahs running around first century Palestine was that he didn’t lead an insurrection against the empire.  But in all of those things, we won’t yet be to the end of the world...and we won’t yet be to Christ’s reign.  Before those things come to be lie challenges that many of us in the United States will never face: persecution by civil authorities for taking the name of Christ and following him on the Way.  We are blessed in this country to have the freedom to gather and worship whatever we choose.  This hasn’t always been the case, as St. Lawrence -- roasted alive on a grid iron -- St. Perpetua -- mauled by a wild cow in the arena and then beaten -- and all those saints in Fox’s Book of Martyrs will tell you.  But the point of Jesus’ talk about the end times isn’t about being martyred.  No, the point of his talking about the end times is that he wants people to follow him and trust him.

In the midst of adversity and persecution Christ’s followers are given the opportunity to testify.  When non-believers say, “Okay Christian” or “Okay chaplain,” or “Okay priest, what do you have to say for your God now?” Jesus’ followers are given the opportunity to tell their truth of the Good News.  And how does he want them to testify?  Not by rehearsing elaborate speeches to share or trying to think of every possible situation and how to answer it.  Not by giving them easy answers.  No, Christ wants his followers to trust him for the words to say.  

I don’t know how many times in the hospital this summer that’s all I could do.  Pray before going into a room when I knew it was going to be rough, listen, and keep praying.  We’ve all done a unit or two of CPE.  Take a minute to think about those experiences where there was nothing that you could say, where no amount of role play during orientation would have helped you know exactly what to do when a social worker invites you to be a part of a care conference before the decision to withdraw life sustaining care from the ninety year old -- or the four year old is made.  What defense could you prepare to give to those survivors whose world as they knew it was ending?

When I think about those times, if I said anything at all, I often don’t remember what I said.  What I remember is faces being in pain and looking for peace.  What I remember is Christ being present in the space between us.  What I remember are holy moments that I didn’t make, moments where Christ guided me.  And I remember feeling like I’d made something of a mess when I tried to go it on my own.  At the end of the world -- as we know it and live it or temporally as governments grow more and more oppressive -- this is what will be expected of Christ’s followers.  But we’re not there yet.

And how different that is from what comes after the end, that new heaven and new earth that Isaiah writes about where no more shall the sound of weeping be heard or the cry of distress.  Where no more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime, where one who dies at a hundred shall be considered a youth.  In Christ’s reign, which we’ll celebrate next week, violence is no more.  The wolf and lamb eat together, and the lion no longer attacks another creature as prey, but eats grass with the ox.  Society is just: those who build their houses don’t have them taken away by people with more money.  Those who tend the fields are not the slaves of oppressive systems.  But we’re not there yet.

We’re in an in between space.  We’re between the saints who’ve gone before us, and we’re moving toward the Reign of Christ and the end of the world.  And in this in between space we have to remember that we’re not the ones in charge of anything.  We look to that day when in the fullness of time all things will be put in subjection under Christ and made well.  But we’re not there yet.  Right now we’re in a place of looking to the Christ who loves us and died for us, who conquered death and the grave, showing our feet the way.  

Jesus tells us to not prepare our defenses in advance, though he doesn’t say anything about not preparing sermons or classwork in advance.  In telling us this, he’s inviting us to trust, listen, and follow him.  We follow him when we answer the call to different types of ministry.  And we follow him when we do acts of service for the poor in field ed.  We follow him when we take up our crosses and give of ourselves to others.  And we hope that we’ll follow him in the resurrection to his New Reign.  But we’re not there yet.

Quotation for Christ the King

"Just a friendly reminder to my American brethren and sistren: your altar this morning should be arrayed as to suit a king not a farmer. Save the cornucopia and faux vegetables for Thursday." - Fr. Oscar Late

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What Catholics Don't Believe

The Vatican Rag

Perhaps those being called to Rome can get some tips from this video.

Genuflect, genuflect, genuflect.  But not to one another.

Sermon: Luke 17.11-19

This sermon was preached in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd on October 6, 2010 as part of Preaching 1.  It was modified and delivered twice at St. Paul's Chapel the following Sunday, October 10.

Joseph P. Mathews
PR1  - Lab C
Mo. Mitties
Luke 17.11-19
Proper 23
In the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, who creates, redeems, and sustains us.  Amen

When I first looked at this passage I was excited!  A plain reading of our text today about the ten lepers being healed but only one of them coming to Jesus to thank him is where I wanted to go.  I wanted to talk about how it is right and a good and joyful thing always and everywhere to give thanks to Almighty God, creator of heaven and earth.  I wanted to preach about the joy of gratitude.

And then I did a little homework to get some background information on the text.  
An online commentary I regularly consult starts off this way, “The temptation to moralism with this story of ‘ungrateful lepers’ is very strong...we all should do better expressing thanks to God.  But this text isn’t about moralism.”
 Moralism?  I didn’t want to preach about moralism, I wanted to be joyful.  Good news in gratitude.  The author of the commentary said, “It’s almost always okay to preach about gratitude...but this text isn’t the best support for it!”

So I sat and read and listened to the Spirit.  And this text isn’t about moralism, but rather ritual cleanliness and priestly work.  The ten lepers in our story today were ritually unclean in addition to being sick.  This ritual uncleanliness had bonded together an interesting group of people: nine Judeans and a Samaritan, who otherwise would not have been hanging out together.  Ethnicity didn’t matter at this point.  They were all on the margins, and they were in community with one another.

But they longed to be in their greater communities, the way one feels when moving to seminary from her sponsoring congregation...or New York in general when moving away from all family and friends.  This group of ten was on the outside, and they cried out to Jesus for healing.  The way these people could come back into their communities, however, was not for Jesus to simply heal them and send them on their way.

No, a priest had to examine them and declare them clean, and here’s the crux of our story.  The nine Judeans do what Jesus says to do not because they’re ungrateful, but because they have to.  He sends them to a priest, and as they go they realize they’ve been healed and can thus show themselves to the priest.  They aren’t being ungrateful, they’re following directions.  In their cultural context they would not have thanked Jesus anyway; they weren’t longing to just be healed, but to be welcomed back into the communities.  That required a Judean priest declaring them clean, not an itinerant rabbi healing their physical illness.  Gratitude would be shown to the person who made the declaration of cleanliness.  

The nine Judeans do what they’re told to do.  The Samaritan man, though doesn’t.  When he realizes he’s been healed he turns around and thanks Jesus.  And here’s the turning point.  Rather than going to a samaritan priest, this man comes to Jesus and thanks him.  Jesus tells him that his faith has made him well and doesn’t send him back to a priest but sends him on his way.   In this Samaritan’s act of thanksgiving the Samaritan man says, “You’re the priest I need.”  Jesus’s declaration of cleanliness Jesus is his assent to being the priest for the outsider, the marginalized, the one who slips through the cracks.  

Jesus is not just the healer, but the one who reconciles outcasts to broader communities and integrates them into societal life.  Jesus taught his ragtag band of followers that because of their faith in him, they could also be reconcilers, welcoming the people around them who were physically or ritually “unclean” back into community.  And guess what?  We’re Jesus’s ragtag band of followers now.  This event with the Samaritan leper might as well have been Jesus writing the mission of the church as The Episcopal Church understands it.

Our catechism says, “The mission of the Church is to restore all people unity with God and each other in Christ.  The church pursues its mission as its prays and worships, proclaims the gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.”  Our mission is to reconcile each other to one another and to God.  Our mission is to love and do acts of service to all people, especially for those on the margins.  

Think about times that you’ve done this kind of work.  Do you do it for the thanks you get?  When you open the shelter is that because you want the women to thank you?  Or what about when you work at St. Martin’s?  Mission trips around the country and around the world?...the work that you plan on doing as priests ordained in this church?  Do you do any of that because you want thanks?

Or do you do it not just because you have to, but because of the value you place on that role.  I shouldn’t project.  When I’ve done these types of things it’s not because I want someone to thank me.  When I worked in Alabama one summer leading youth groups in repairing roofs and doing other home repair projects, it wasn’t because I wanted people to thank me.  It was because I had been given good news of Jesus’s works of reconciliation that I wanted to share.  I wanted to help these people who felt outcast and downtrodden know that they were loved by their sibling travelers on the way and by the God who created them.

And I made promises at my confirmation, when I reaffirmed my baptism, to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ and to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.  In water and the spirit we are baptized into Christ and all of God’s acts of redemption.  In our Gospel passage today Jesus says non-verbally, “Here I am, the one who serves as the priest to the outsider, bringing them back into community with the human family.”  We have been joined to that example and witness and given a task of reconciliation, outreach, and love.

At the table we’re strengthened for our journey and continually reconciled to God and one another.  Because there is one loaf we who are many are one body.  Let’s be about God’s business of reconciliation and welcoming the stranger into the body.  Amen.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Harry Potter Day 2010

The Harry Potter release is tonight, and I'm not really aware of that yet.  I have my tickets but the reality of it hasn't it and likely won't until I go to class tonight.  As I've been counting up to this night through the week, though, I've been thinking about the last releases that I've been to, where they've been, and what they've been like.

The last release was a movie release, and it was during General Convention.  I wore my robe for most of the day, including into the house of bishops.  I think I'll dress up tonight in my usual costume: grey slacks, black pants, one of my favorite bow ties, and my Wizengamot robe.  Last release was in LA with ECGC.  Before that I think was the book release when I was in South Carolina.  There was also a movie release that summer, and I made the costume for both, I think.  I was with Beth Ann for the book release.  I have been to book releases in Panama City, FL and Columbus, GA.  I've gotten a book the day after the release because I couldn't drive or stay out that late alone and we didn't live near enough.  I cannot for the life of me remember the Goblet of Fire movie release.  Can someone I was with help me out there?

So I haven't blogged a lot lately.  I'm trying to blog without obligation.  I have some entries rolling around in my head about liturgy and common prayer and community.  I might have something to say about singing, too.  I'm not sure yet.  I've got two sermons that I will try to put up tomorrow afternoon.  Maybe one tomorrow and one Saturday since that might generate more traffic.  I think I may break down and buy MarsEdit as well unless I find a comparable program; I post so much on Facebook because it's so easy and it doesn't make its way over here.  As I've said before, I'll try to make a conscious effort of posting stuff.

Also maybe coming: stuff on Three Simple Rules particularly about doing harm.  I'm having some thoughts I realize that I'm doing harm.  I might blog a paper in five parts.  I might post some paragraphs from The Virginia Report that I think that Anglicanism needs to reread.  I'll do those one at a time, I think.  Work is good.  School is good.  Field ed is good.  Life is good.  All busy, but all good.  I'll write about that some, too.