Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sharing the Gospel is Dangerous

"If we say we want to translate the gospel with young people, this is what we are saying: we are willing to put the very power of the gospel itself -- the very power of the Word of God -- into the hands of teenagers, people who do not view culture the way we view culture, who do not hear God the way we hear God, who will not worship the way we worship, who will not 'do church' the way we want them to simply because they will be listening to Jesus and not to us.  Catechesis behind the wall is a mixed bag.  Yes, young people fortified by these conversations quickly puncture the flimsy spiritualities of Therapeutic Moralistic Deism as the on-the-wall conversation with culture begins to include them.  But what if they trust us?  What if they love the God we say we love?  What if they imitate Christ, share his wasteful grace, and embody his self-giving love in the world?  In short, what if they get their hands on the gospel?  Then where will we be?" - Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian

This kind of thing I love.  But it also scares me.  Dean is writing about youth ministry, but I read it as I am twenty-four and preparing for ordination...and I read it as just a young adult.  She's targeting youth ministers I'm thinking that a lot of what she is saying is applicable to me and people my age.  I don't want to say that I'll be listening to Jesus and not "adults" but I do get nervous sometimes about an Establishment shutting down ideas from me or my peers because its different.  Maybe they'll have other reasons, and maybe some of them will be valid.

But I've already encountered (not about me) push back from higher ups when people want to do something different.  And it's just that it's different.  They may've tried to say something else, but it was just words and they were scared of something different.  I hope that system doesn't chew me up and spit me out.

Friday, March 25, 2011

2 Lent, Friday

Lord Jesus Christ, you sought not your own will, but the will of the One who sent you: Strengthen us to do those things which you have tasked us to do, knowing that we can do nothing under our own authority, that at the last day you will not accuse us before the Father but know us completely.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

O Lent.  I'm so tired of Jeremiah, and I'm only in chapter 5.  It's good for Lent and being told to repent.  Its pericopes are hard to base collects on.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Blessed Little Thought for the Eve of the Annunciation

Joseph P. Mathews
Eve of the Annunciation
24 March 2011
Gen. 3.1-15; Gal 4.1-7
Evensong, Trinity Church, Wall Street

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” Amen.

On first reading, I thought these texts we somewhere between bizarre and awful for talking about, especially in light of what we’re celebrating. Then I read them again and got it. From the beginning of time God has loved us. God created us in God’s image but we failed as people. God didn’t stop loving us. While our forebears Adam and Eve – however you understand them – weren't perfect, that wasn’t the end of the story. Through all of the Hebrew scriptures God pursues and continues to save God’s people. But starting in our Genesis reading God gives a heads up that one born of human flesh will strike the head of the serpent.

And then God pursued us by coming to be with us and loving us and learning what being us was like. Tomorrow is the feast of the Annunciation, when the angel tells Mary that she’s going to be the mother of God. Nine months before Christmas. Makes sense, huh? But after he’s born Jesus teaches us how to be better – and it’s not by focusing on ourselves. The message he preaches is about loving others and he loved us to be like us. Dwelling among us is a missionary act, where God leaves the comfort zone and comes to be with us. In the same way that God’s love made God leave a place of familiarity, so too are we to leave our places. We have been adopted as Children of God. God loves us and calls us to give of ourselves for others in our love.

2 Lent, Thursday

God, you raise the dead and give them life: Raise us up from all our deaths that we may honor Jesus, believe in him, and have eternal life through him and the Holy Spirit who with you live and reign one God now and forever.  AMen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


"The gospel's central message -- that God loves us enough to die for us -- severs self-serving spiritualities like Moralistic Therapeutic Deism at the root. Christian identity comes from worshipping a God who loves us enough to suffer on our behalf, and who calls us to enact this kind of love for others: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." - Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian.

I'm reading this and getting lots of good data...and having to ask myself lots of hard questions about how to articulate what I believe.  I have been trained with a vocabulary that I don't find useful anymore (it's heavily focused on penal substitutionary atonement), but I haven't been in another school long enough to be able to talk about it much.  Yesterday I was wrestling with this some and now maybe I'll stat getting some new vocabulary, too.

2 Lent, Wednesday

Merciful God, who is not angry forever: Give us courage and strength to return to you time and again as you call us and have mercy on us so that we may see that you are still working with your Son Jesus Christ who with you lives and reigns forever and ever.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

2 Lent, Tuesday

O God, the fountain of living waters: Give us ears to hear your prophets remind us of the devotion of our youth so that we may rely on you rather than ourselves as the provider of our needs for we cannot hold water; we ask this through Jesus who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit from age to age.  Amen.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Children in Church

"Adult members sometimes complain that they cannot pay attention to the sermon, they cannot listen to the beautiful music, when fidgety children are beside them in the pews.  'Send them away.' many adults say.  Create 'Children's Church' so that these distracting children can be removed in order that we adults can pay attention.

"Interestingly, Jesus put a child in the center of his disciples, 'in the midst of them,' in order to help them pay attention.  The child, in Jesus' mind, was not an annoying distraction.  The child was a last-ditch effort by God to help the disciples pay attention to the odd nature of God's kingdom.  FEw acts of Jesus are more radical, countercultural than his blessing of children."

 - Hauerwas and Willimon, Resident Aliens

What the Church Needs

"What we need at present for our Church's well-being, is not invention, nor originality, nor sagacity, nor even learning in our divines, at least in the first place, though all gifts of God are in a measure needed, and never can be unseasonable when used religiously, but we need peculiarly a sound judgment, patient thought, discrimination, a comprehensive mind, an abstinence from all private fantasies and caprices into personal tastes - in a word, Divine Wisdom." (emphasis added) - John Henry Newman, Priest and Theologian

Lent 2, Monday

So, I dropped the ball with my collects.  But we repent and return to the Lord. so here it goes again.

Holy Three, you are model for us being in relationship with others as you are in relationship with yourself: Give us strength and guidance that we may be mutually encouraged by those around whom we find ourselves; make us thankful for those who care for us and for whom we care so that we may see you in one another and love one another as you have loved us in Jesus Christ, Son of the Father, giver of the Spirit.  Amen.

Friday, March 18, 2011

For the Ministry

Especially for those from the Central Gulf Coast meeting with the Commission on Ministry today (mostly via Skype!  Yeah CGC!):

O God, you led your holy apostles to ordain ministers in every place: Grant that your Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may choose suitable persons for the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and may uphold them in their work for the extension of your kingdom; through him who is the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Giddy, Part 3

Super delayed, I am aware, but things are final.

I bought a ticket to Paris yesterday and I'll be there three months.  I'm interning at the American Cathedral in Paris working to develop some campus ministry/college-student outreach.  I've written a grant to help with funding, but I've also been saving all year to go.  It's still sinking in that I am going.  I need to figure out my end-of-the year things soon, but yeah.  That was the last bit of the Giddy series that I worked on in January.  It's just taken getting green lights from all parties involved.  And I'll likely be blogging the whole thing, before I leave (because of the work I'll be doing).  :)

Lent 1, Monday

Generous God who provided for your people and delivered them from captivity: make us grateful for all the blessings you have given us, especially freedom from bondage given to us through Jesus, that as we live our lives we may not boast in anyone but Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lent 1, Tuesday

Merciful God, you forgave the Israelites time and again for provoking you to wrath: Forgive us for hardening our hearts to your Holy Spirit and look not on our sin but on the work of your Son Jesus Christ so that we may be faithful servants in your household.  Amen.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Collect for 1 Lent, Sunday

O God who leads us through these Forty Days: Humble us during this time of penitence that the word of the Cross not be folly to us, but the power of God to us who are being saved and that if we boast we boast only in Jesus who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit pouring out yourself on and for us from age to age.  Amen.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Collect for Last Epiphany, Saturday

O God who has shown your people signs and wonders: Strengthen us through the renewal of the Holy Spirit to follow you so that we might see even greater things through Jesus Christ our Savior who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.  Amen.

Loving God, who has saved us through your own mercy: Help us to avoid stupid controversies, that having come and seen Jesus we may be heirs in hope of eternal life through the same Christ, who regenerates and renews us by the Holy Spirit, who with you are one God.  Amen.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Reflection on Titus

I actually really like today's Titus reading, gender norms and expectations aside.
But as for you, teach what is consistent with sound doctrine. Tell the older men to be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance. Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, and sound speech that cannot be censured; then any opponent will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us. Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Declare these things; exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one look down on you.
There's some stuff in it that I don't like.  I'll own that.  And there are some things in it that have undoubtedly been used to dominate and oppress women and people of color.  But there's more to the text than that, and if we look at its wholeness I think there's some good things to glean.  This came up in Chapel a few weeks ago and it made people giggle because the gendering is so far from where we are.  I'm glad it came up today, though.

I'm reading Hauerwas and Willimon's Resident Aliens right now for my ethics class, and today's readings make me think about what they say about the Church being a community that is different and set apart and has its own stories and customs.  The text has older people teaching the younger people good habits and virtues.  Temperance, self-control, honesty, love of partner, etc.  It's all practical, too.  When you do what you're supposed to do and your behavior can't be called into question it's hard to have opponents.

And then there's the God part.  We can't do it alone or on our own.  This should be a given, it's kind of a part of our faith story, but I know that I'm having a hard time with it.  Having a hard time, have a hard time.  I need to get some help with something but don't want to.  I know I need it, but I want to be able to tough it alone.  And I think when I'm honest the help will say that I actually need a lot more and am not nearly as self-sufficient as I think I am.

I'm in a weird spot right now of trying to figure out support networks and who I can count on and who I can't and what is reasonable expectation for friends and what isn't.  And whether I'm being excluded intentionally or unintentionally and if I've done something I don't realize or if we're all just busy.  And why people I often want to invest in seem to not really want to invest in me.  And why I feel less close to people I felt close and if I'm not being not invited inasmuch as people know my schedule.

That's a lot of I in that paragraph, and I'm not going to try to be too hard on myself about that.  This Lent I'm going to work on cultivating some friendships and building some support so that I don't wind up going to bed at 7:00.  It's going to take more work than I'd like apparently.  There's a lot of ongoing processing happening and a lot of feeling rejected.  But I'm going to work on focusing on others in service and in listening...and remembering that I can't do any of it alone.

A Collect for Last Epiphany, Friday

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus bid Andrew and Simon to follow, come, and see: Grant that those who we follow may teach what befits sound doctrine and set a good example for your flock so that all who follow Jesus to where is staying may know the blessings that you have promised in that land where with Jesus you and the Holy Spirit live and reign in peace everlasting.  Amen.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Collect for Last Epiphany, Thursday

Faithful God, you have chosen us to be a people of your own possession and kept your covenant when we have not: baptize us with the Holy Spirit that we may do what you require of us, that at the last day we might be with Jesus the Lamb of God, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God everlasting.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ashes in the Streets

Sara Miles has a great piece on Daily Episcopalian about ashes in the streets. Among other things she says, "Why would you say thank you when a stranger tells you that your child is going to die? Because it's the truth. People say thank you to that hard blessing because finally, despite all the lies of our culture, it means nothing is hidden, or pretend, or made-up anymore."

Be sure to read it all at Daily Episcopalian.

What I'm Doing

At my friend Erin's prompting, I'm going to write a collect every day.  Last year I gave up social media and it was great.  I'm still working out what I'm doing this year, but I am going to write a collect...with some boundaries as future training.  The Book of Common Prayer set out that the Prayers of the People have to pray for certain areas in the Church and world, but not that the forms have to be used (BCP, 383).  Likewise, there are four options for the Collect after the Prayers: collect appropriate to the season or occasion being celebrated; a collect expressive of some special need in the life of the local congregation; a collect for the mission of the church; and a general collect (BCP, 394).  Hatchett is quick to point out ("What's in a Rubric?") that the first listed option is the preferential option.

The preference is not to use a general collect, but one about the day.  At St. Paul's Chapel we interpret that by having our script say that the presider improvises a prayer based on the readings.  Throughout these forty days I'm going to try to improvise a prayer based on the Daily Office readings for each day.  I'm writing this entry to explain and so that people know they aren't from the Prayer Book.  God deliver me from being the man who prays in public in today's Luke reading!  By writing these during this time I hope to get better at improvising prayers.  The Prayer Book is great, but by praying using it I hope that I have learned to pray some as things come up without turning to a page.

Make a good Lent.

A Collect for Ash Wednesday

Merciful God, who had pity on the Ninevites: keep our heads lifted, knees strong, and feet straight in the paths you have set for us as we lay aside every weight and sin that clings to us during this time of penitence, preparation and discipline; remind us of the fruit of righteousness that it yields, that at the end of this forty days we may be prepared to celebrate the Resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ from the dead; through that same Christ, who lives with you and the Holy Spirit in unity throughout all time.  Amen.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sermon: Luke 10.1-9

Joseph P. Mathews
For the Mission of the Church I
1 March 2011

In the name of the God who sends laborers to the harvest. Amen.

Some of you already know this: I spent three and a half weeks of January in Mexico. I had planned to be volunteering at an after school program in Veracruz. A few weeks before Stefanie Wilson and I planned to leave, the Bishop of Southeast Mexico e-mailed us and asked if we could go to somewhere else. The priest we’d planned to work with would be visiting her family but there was another mission that worked with orphans in the diocese, and he’d already cleared it with that priest if we were willing to be there.

Stefanie and I were just excited for news about a final green light, so we jumped at the opportunity and said of course we would. Our first day there we asked what we could do to help and Pedro said to watch and rest. Our second day we asked what we could do to help. Pedro said to enjoy the morning and read. The children’s home we were volunteering and living at is on a ranch complete with, sheep, pigs, chickens, and seven acres of cornfield. All the while we were reading and resting and taking walks and trying to herd the sheep with the younger boys, the older boys were in the fields working.

At first they pulled the ears of corn, dried on the stalk, off the stalks and piled them together. Then they would bag them up and bring them to a storage area. Bags and bags of corn, it seemed like there was always more. After a few days of watching and resting and feeling like we weren’t doing mission, the director of the home said that there was work that we could do in the harvesting of the corn. You see, this wasn’t corn that anyone would be eating, and there was much more to harvesting than getting it in from the field.

First it had to be shucked. We shucked corn for six hours the first day we did that. And there was always more corn to be shucked. Early in our time, there was a machine that the shucked corn was run through. This was corn that would be used to feed the chickens and pigs, so the kernels had to be pulled from the ears. The machine was borrowed, though, and when it was returned we pulled the kernels off by hand with a twisting motion or using a corncob to help. The harvest wasn’t just one step of pulling ears of corn off the stalks in the fields.

In our gospel text today, Jesus sends out seventy to the fields to harvest. The harvest is plentiful, he says, but the workers are few. They are to go out working together, to preach peace to those they encountered and to rely on other people to care for them. Rather than moving around, they are to stay with those who are offering hospitality. But what is this harvesting that the seventy are supposed to be doing? Most of the gospel text is Jesus telling them how to live off of other people and that if people reject their peace it will come back to them.

In the chapter prior to this Jesus gives the twelve the assignment to proclaim the Kingdom of God and heal. And that’s what he tells the seventy to do, as well saying, “Cure the sick who are there and say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you.’ ” That’s the work in the field that Jesus sends the seventy out to do: cure the sick and say that the Kingdom of God has come near.

To me, one of those things sounds a lot easier than the other. “The Kingdom of God has come near, y’all!” There, I said it. That’s half of the work, right? Curing the sick? Well. I don’t know that my spiritual gift is that of laying on of hands and performing miraculous healings. It’d be awesome if that’s how Jesus decided to use me to bring the Kingdom of God from at hand to in hand. But thus far in my life, that’s not in the gift set that I’ve been given. But Jesus doesn’t qualify this charge with “If you’ve been given this gift.” When the seventy return they rejoice because they have been given this gift, and he gave it to the twelve, as well. So what to do?

Well, for starters, I don’t think merely saying “The Kingdom of God is at hand!” is really all that helpful. What does that even mean? What does smiling and saying that to the man on the train shaking a cup do for him? Or how good is that news, really, to the woman who can’t find a job and has children and whose unemployment benefits are about to expire? Or to the workers who are trapped in a system that prohibits them from working together to have a better quality of living? I don’t think simply telling them that the Kingdom of God is at hand does much.

I do, however think that all of us are sick and in need of a healer. Our sicknesses come in various forms of plague that makes us cough and unable to carry groceries or enjoy our sabbaticals and they come in feeling lonely even though you live in a tight-knit community in a city of over eight million. Sickness comes in however we feel separated from God and other people, whether we’ve wronged someone, been wronged, feel shunned, or are isolating ourselves to keep from spreading germs or recover our strength. Christ has come to heal us and to restore us.

And we understand that that is the mission of the church, as well: restoring all people to unity with God and one another in Christ. Reconciliation is healing, preaching peace brings reconciliation, and in reconciliation the Kingdom of God is at hand. The passage from Isaiah today offers more about what that looks like, where all nations stream to the mountain of the Lord’s house and God who alone is Good is the fair judge and arbiter with no special interests, only best interests and justice in mind. The instruction that comes from the Lord’s house leads the people to beat their swords into plowshares and study war no more.

Our catechism teaches that the church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace and love. But justice, peace, and love only come to us for promotion because Jesus has come to us, reconciled us, and sent us out into the fields to be laborers of the harvest, and it is through all of us that the church carries out its mission. While we are all sick and in need of Good News, some of us hear tidbits of it more regularly than others. As we go out into the fields, we are called to labor with those in church and those out of Church. We have been given authority to heal the sick and proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Harvesting is a process and is not something done quickly or at once. In the same way that harvesting the corn was more than pulling it from the stalks for me and Stefanie, proclaiming the Kingdom of God is usually more than simply talking to someone once. Proclaiming the Gospel has to be done continually, and relationships must be built, and people cared for. In our prayers and worship we are given a model of what this looks like practically that we may live it in our day-to-day lives.

When we pass the peace and come to the Table in love and charity with our neighbor we show that we take being reconciled seriously. At the Table in Christ’s Body and Blood we are strengthened to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. During this time together we step out of what we face day by day and are reminded of what the Kingdom of God at hand is like as we experience a foretaste of that heavenly banquet where all are welcome, there is always enough, and there are no worries because God has made all things well.

But from this place we go in peace to love and serve the Lord as laborers. Renewed afresh to do God’s work and to meet new people and take the Good News to the nations preaching peace to those who are far off and to those who are near. All the while as we work on God’s behalf we realize that it is God who is at work and God who helps us as we don’t stop at telling someone that they are cared for but instead help them from whatever places of privilege we may occupy. That may mean finding food and also serving as support in navigating bureaucracy for to get long-term aid and finally celebrating a change when things get better.

Curing the sick and preaching peace through Christ’s strength are what we’re called to do. As we help others and receive help from others and Jesus, I hope that as Derek Webb says, the bread on our tongues leaves a trail of crumbs to lead the hungry back to the place where we are from. Working as a harvester for Christ isn’t about reaping numbers or rewards inasmuch as showing those in need – which is all of us – what God has to offer us and how Christ has made things better for us. From the stalk to kernels was a multi-step process. Bringing Christ’s healing to the world is too, but we’ve been given authority to do it, and do it we must. Amen.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Run, Joseph, Run!

I've been sick the last two weeks.  It's almost completely totally gone.  There are still a few coughs here and there, but I'm way better.  The first week of that I didn't run; my lungs couldn't handle it, I didn't think.  And the extra rest was good for the healing process.  Last week I ran Monday and Tuesday and then was done for the week.  I'm trying to change my schedule from taking Wednesday off to Friday off since I am usually out on Thursday nights and getting up on Friday is difficult after being out later.  I'm an old man and go to bed between 9:30 and 10:30 on most nights.  11:00 at the latest.

I didn't run yesterday.  This morning when my alarm went off, and maybe even last night when I went to bed my legs were screaming at me.  "HEY YOU!  WHY HAVEN'T WE RUN!?  It's @$#(* time!" When I started really exercising last February one of my goals was to condition my body to want to exercise.  I still don't like it or get any high from it or anything, but it had been too long since I'd run and my body knew it.  And this morning I had a great run.

A month ago or so I had to buy new jeans because all the ones I had were too big.  I got two new pairs and have been loving wearing them.  I got some money from Mom for Valentine's Day and used it to get new adult pants (since I have to wear slacks to work).  Slacks that fit well make one feel great, especially when they're a size smaller than one has worn in five years.  For almost three years my weight goal has been 180, and I hit it last week or the week before.  It's stayed down.

This morning I burned 664 cal while running 4.56 mi in 50 min.  At the end of the run/beginning of the cool down my heart rate was 192.  When I got out of the shower and got on the scale?  177.4!  180 has been my goal and now my goal is to stay between 175 and 180.  And if I keep getting smaller, well, so be it.  I'm really thankful for encouragement and support that people near and far, whom I've met and whom I haven't have given me.  This has been friends, family, new friends, and people to whom I'm extremely close.  Having a running buddy in Mexico helped me, too.

I think that our dieting in Mexico helped a lot, too.  Controlled portion sizes.  And I've noticed that I'm a lot more conscious of how much I eat now.  I'm having a dance party in my room right now.  I did a happy dance (literally this time, not just in my head) when I got off the scale.  This is my weight low.  I don't know the last time I weighed this little but it has to have been sometime in high school.  I don't think I've worn 32s since middle school.  It's a good day.

And any bishops reading this as a result of my bio that went out yesterday, I don't always just blog about myself. ;)