August 11, 2019
We’ve had quite a week in our country. The aftermath of two mass shootings took place just last weekend. CBS news presented this definition of a mass shooting: a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms. In 2019 in America so far, we have had 219 mass shootings according to this definition. As of last Monday, this averages out to one a day – an average of one time each day this year four or more people have been murdered with a gun in one-time incidents.
Notice I used the word “we” when I described this – “we” have had this. It can feel a bit frayed in this time, but our nation is a “we.” There is a corporate identity. We mostly see this in tragedy, but also, in celebration. Last week there were tragedies - we saw two mass shootings within 13 hours. Two young men. Two cities. One: Hate. Hatred of Hispanics. Another: speculation of bitterness toward women. Does that mean the worst thing to be today is a Hispanic woman?
Ethnicity. Gender. People grocery shopping, people relaxing and having fun with friends. Places that are supposed to be safe: a Walmart and an entertainment district in the mid-west.
This “we” identity is what we have been hearing about in our Sunday readings – it’s more attention-getting through the Old Testament lately. We have been hearing of hard times in Israel. In today’s reading, we’re at a time where Israel is split into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Judah. This was a time of decay in character, behavior, and religious commitment. It was a time of hardship and fear where self-preservation informed decisions. Isaiah’s audience we hear in verse one is Judah and Jerusalem – both kingdoms, but it’s not too far to stretch to see some comparisons of culture in our own nation today.
In the time of Isaiah, through the words of the prophet, God is giving some bad news. We hear of the emotional life of God in this passage and God sounds angry and hurt. God says: “I have had enough of your burnt-offerings,” “bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me.” “Your appointed festivals my soul hates, they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them.”
June 09, 2019
Pentecost is here. The great 50 days of Easter are completed today. Our narrative from Acts gives us plenty to chew on as we ponder the significance of this day.
There is wide revelation of God’s heart going on in the midst of much action.
The outpouring of the Spirit in this passage involves most senses for those present: sound – like a rushing wind. Touch – they seemed to be aware of this wind filling the entire place they were in. Sight – they saw divided tongues as of fire that rested on each of them.
Sound, sight, touch…did they think they were losing their minds? Or were their expectations of God’s abilities for things to happen with a power that was experiential normal?
This was a crazy and chaotic day for the church. And today we celebrate it.
But why? Why should it matter to us that the Holy Spirit was poured out this way?
Jesus had told them, before the Ascension, to “wait here for the promise of the Father…John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
As the disciples interact with Jesus in that passage over this order to stay, they clearly show that they don’t understand what Jesus is talking about. But they stay. But it may have had to do not only with Jesus’ order to them but that they were afraid. After Jesus death and resurrection, they were often gathering together to support each other while the Jews and Romans were running around trying to tame this resurrection story.
Additionally, what has become our Christian Pentecost was also the name of an Old Testament Feast that was going on at that time: Shavuot in Hebrew, Pentecost in ancient Greek or the Feast of Weeks in English – a celebration of the Harvest. In the Jewish calendar, this Feast is still celebrated and began last night at sundown.
So, they’re there. Waiting. Likely also participating in this celebration of the harvest. As are so many others – people already living in Jerusalem and immigrants. We hear today: “there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.” This feast was an opportunity to express gratitude to God for the harvest. How beautiful is that?
Here is where we see more of God’s extravagant power.
Everyone in this stew of people groups at the chaos of sound gathered and began to hear their native languages being spoken.
In our contemporary American culture – and really in many cultures in the world – what’s so amazing and perhaps challenging about this, is the graphic example of God’s embracing of diversity. Of otherness. Of people who are different than us.
May 26, 2019
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When you think of heaven what’s the very first thing you think of?
My guess is that we don’t often think about heaven directly – in terms of what it will be like. Or maybe when we think of it it’s a big pool of vague ideas maybe not connected to scripture at all. Or perhaps pondering heaven raises a plethora of questions that stop us in our tracks.
Our reading from the book of Revelation today helps us to understand some characteristics of heaven. This is a book Russ described last Sunday as themed on the restoration of all things.
It was written toward the end of the 1st century. Maybe 50 to 60 years after Jesus’ resurrection. The Christian church in that time was slowly finding its identity – it was not in the synagogue and not part of the Roman empire – in fact, horrifying persecution had already begun.
The gospel of John – which we also heard from today, thought of as the last of the four gospels written, was written before Revelation – maybe 10-20 years – and in our reading today we hear a bit of the development of the church – it’s literally looking for a home and existing in gatherings in homes. It was not fitting in a tidy way between the synagogue and the empire. No wonder John focused on these comments by Jesus: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” Home. Words of security in the fits and starts of place while the Christian faith is developing in its self-expression.
As John writes Revelation he is addressing the Christian church then – and speaking of the way’s life will get harder before it gets easier as the Roman empire amps up on persecution. But he’s also addressing us – it’s a multifaceted book. It was written to encourage and inform its present audience, but also written to encourage and inform future generations.
In today’s reading we are hearing a description of the new Jerusalem – and within that, aspects of what heaven will be like.
We can be tempted to read it all quite literally. But it’s steeped in the limitations of words. John is likely ‘seeing’ something God has shown him – he self describes being caught up into something - and is reaching for words to describe it. In the opening chapter of the book he writes: “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard a voice behind me like a loud trumpet” [even in that phrase we see him searching for ways to describe – ‘like a loud trumpet’] the voice was “saying, ‘Write in a book what you see.’” (Rev. 1:10). We may speculate that he is seeing things that are not of this world, so there is difficulty finding words to describe something no one has seen before.
April 18, 2019
Maundy Thursday. Here we are…we’ve been journeying through Holy Week these past few days, and tonight, we come to the institution of the Lord’s supper – what we practice as communion each week. We have a narrative that is packed with stuff…and informed by content from the other gospels.
As we’ve been at other times during Lent, we are again around a table. A meal is being shared…
We glean from the other gospels there’s been a bit of tension among the 12. It seems they’ve been arguing about who is the greatest among themselves. We even hear of James and John’s mother kneeling before Jesus and asking for a ‘favor’: could her sons sit at Jesus’ left and right hands in the kingdom…Jesus is about to save the world, and, as we would be in their shoes, they are completely self-absorbed…
On top of this dynamic, there’s Judas at the table…the betrayer who’s about to set the plan in motion.
And most importantly, Jesus is about to suffer and die. It’s his last time with the 12 before this happens. He knows this, we heard him say: “I am with you only a little longer…” – and it fuels his choice of words and actions. Can you imagine? Having dinner with folks and knowing it’s your last time to say what is important before you die?
I am sure the vibe around this table was very heavy.
The punch line comes at the end of our passage:
“I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you,” Jesus says. And -
“I give you a new commandment, that you should love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
An example. Love.
At this meal Jesus, through action, proclaims “This is who I am, and this is how I live.”
Hear again from our gospel reading: “And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God, and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.”
This answers central identity questions - which are:
Who am I?
April 07, 2019
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As in the Last Supper narrative on Maundy Thursday here, today, in our gospel reading, we have a gathering around a table for a meal. At the gathering are those who have a great devotion to Jesus as well as a soon to be betrayer of Jesus. We also have feet being attended to…not your typical dinners for 8.
Here Jesus is at the home of Lazarus…this is a familiar family to us from the previous couple of chapters in John’s gospel – siblings on quite a ride in their faith and relationship with Jesus.
Lazarus is the one for whom Jesus wept and who was raised from the dead after being dead for four days.
Martha is the one who gave a confession of faith before her brother’s resurrection: “Yes Lord,” she says, “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
And Mary – whom we have seen at another gathering for dinner being affirmed for sitting at Jesus’ feet.
In our narrative, the next day – for us next Sunday – Jesus will enter Jerusalem; what’s become for us Palm Sunday.
Jesus has been talking about his death and folks are not really grasping it…in fact, the disciples do not think it is a good way to do things – remember Peter’s rebuke of Jesus – “God forbid it, Lord, this must never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22).
Here we have Mary and she gets it. She’s is comprehending what others could not and is acting out of her understanding – out of love, gratitude, and sacrifice.
In this narrative, Judas criticizes her action. With a tone that almost seems casual, John asserts Judas is a thief who regularly stole from their common purse. Character is obvious and John does not minimize or apologize for his assessment of Judas.
This narrative may be read as a juxtaposition of Mary and Judas – one of following Jesus at great cost, and one of following Jesus for personal gain. It is there but let me also assert a metaphorical reading of the narrative: Theological professor George Stroup, in reflection on this passage, asserts: “Judas plays just as important a role in John’s story of Jesus’ death as does Mary…The Christian disciple [you and I] is neither Mary nor Judas but a paradoxical combination of both.”*
February 17, 2019
Our readings today swing on concepts of contrast that feel heavy and pretty black and white.
Our Jeremiah reading opens with strong language: “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength...”
January 13, 2019
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we will witness infant baptism. Today, we also hear of baptism in our gospel reading – the narrative of the baptism of Christ.
Jesus, an image of the invisible God, come to us – Incarnation – taking off some of God’s self and putting on some of humanities self – fully human, fully God; has become one of us.
Jesus saves us and shows us the way – how to live.
Here. Now. In our narrative this morning Jesus is showing us the need for baptism.
Scripturally Jesus models two things for us that are what we call “sacraments” – though there may be a wider lens of considering sacrament. In the New Testament, it is Holy Communion and Baptism.
In Greek, the word for baptism has a more descriptive meaning than English conveys that helps us understand the significance of what is taking place. The verb “bapto” means to “dip in or under, to dye” – like dying a garment…when you dip in the cloth the garment changes completely into something different: it’s evident; it shows. The word “baptizmo” appears in different constructions throughout the New Testament: it may vary a bit but includes meaning “immerse, sink, drown, go under, sink into…” (Bromiley, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 410).
We hear both the power and force of baptism. And perhaps the danger.
In the back of our Book of Common Prayer – which you have in your pews – there is a wonderful section called “An Outline of the Faith: commonly called the Catechism.” The word Catechism tells us the format of this outline – it is a summary in question and answer structure. How great is that?
On page 857 we have the questions: what are the sacraments? And what is baptism?
A sacrament is defined as an “outward visible sign of inward and spiritual grace.” We spoke recently of grace – grace is unmerited favor. Something we neither deserve nor earn…it just is…God’s extravagant posture toward us: full of grace.
A sacrament is something outward that is a means of grace. A vehicle of grace…of God’s extravagance…a special way God provides connection to God…revelation of God.
Bread. Wine. Water.
Normal and familiar things with cultural associations that God uses to show us God, to connect us to God.
December 02, 2018
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!
Truly. Happy New Year. In our Episcopal liturgical calendar, it’s the first day of a whole new year. And in that calendar, we begin the year with Advent. Advent means “coming” and we are starting a season of preparing for the coming of Christ. That’s why we lit the candle.
What’s so fun about our liturgical calendar, is that it’s different from regular time – our contemporary Gregorian calendar. This kind of thing serves us. Helps us remember whose we are. where we are. where we are going. We can be tethered to our spirituality as we attach ourselves to our liturgical calendar…on a different trajectory than the culture around us. It may serve as a powerful reminder.
And what do calendars do? Inform us of coming events or signal us to remember past events.
Though our calendars will not hit Christmas Day for 23 more days, in our stores and neighborhoods, Christmas has come…so much for effective calendar keeping.
However, we can effectually practice the season of Advent over these next four weeks – it can both inform us and signal us to remember.
We have additional help outside of the calendar as we practice Advent. We function in the midst of much sign and symbol in our Episcopal tradition – calendars, colors, candles, hymns, and music of seasons. We tend to involve many senses as we approach God. Sight. Smell. Touch. Sound. The more senses involved, the more we are involved. One sense is sight and has to do with color.
We’ve just come off what the liturgical calendar calls “ordinary time,” though there is nothing ordinary about it. It’s a season of growth after Pentecost. The color that expresses it is green – which kinda makes sense as it expresses growth. To remind us, this color was on the altar and lectern and podium, and we, as clergy, wore it. But now, new year, new season, new color – blue, or purple. Again, using our senses to remind us of reality. In our liturgical practice blue signals expectation and preparation.
And speaking of senses – the Advent wreath also helps us – light and color.
The flavors of waiting are illustrated in the Advent wreath: preparation, joy, and celebration. These are shown in the candle colors: dark blue/purple, rose, and white.
In simplicity, as an additional candle is lit each week it symbolizes growing anticipation for Christ’s coming. Increasing light. Advent is a time of journey from darkness to light.
The season of Advent is, on the whole, a season of waiting with some different flavors to it – Advent is both simple and complex.
Apart from colors and calendar and symbols we see from our readings today, that this waiting is not linear – we hear about the promise to be fulfilled in Jeremiah and in Luke, Christ’s return. It’s about looking back – Christ coming to us as a baby; looking forward – Christ returning, and looking around – Christ confronting us…confront is kind of a strong word – perhaps bringing us up short is more what I mean, getting our attention in our now…our daily lives.
Advent. Looking back, looking forward, and looking around while journeying from darkness to light. In the midst of this, it is also both personal and corporate.
October 14, 2018
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Our readings today may confuse us if we’re not careful.
We hear three distinct voices in our readings. They communicate sadness, desire, need, and perhaps helplessness.
All of these may fall under the broad umbrella of suffering.
We hear Job’s and his angst about God: “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him…”
In our gospel reading, we hear the question posed: “what must I do to be saved?” – Jesus walks thru some commandments in answer…the person – who’s not identified in this gospel is referred to as the ‘rich young ruler’ in the other gospel narratives – he says, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth” --- this response by him in our narrative seems to show assurance is not being experienced. No sense that this is enough or “working.”
We’re seeing individual perceptions of reality.
Perception is a funny thing. It has to do with awareness and understanding – especially through the senses. We all have perceptions of things – situations, people, ourselves, God. Our perceptions are how we interpret and orient ourselves in our daily lives. Our perceptions are our reality…what we tend to forget is that our perceptions can be on point or they can be really wrong…but they tend to feel right because they’re ours.
Perception is the reality to each of us. Though it is not always the same reality.
In Job, his perception is that God is not there.
In contrast, the gospel reading shows an angst that we all, in ways, can dial into. This person is perceiving his obedience as not paying off or doing the trick…this person is not satisfied.
We also catch a glimpse of perception in our psalm appointed for the day. This is a familiar Psalm of lament by one who feels utterly abandoned by God. The psalmist cries out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
September 02, 2018
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Christian life is a supernatural life. When someone is a Christian, we see an observable difference in their life. It shows up. Scripture tells us that we are miraculously, though we may not feel it, new creatures in Christ. The old has passed away and behold the new has come. Our Epistle today gives us a tangible example and exhortation of how our Christian life is different and observable…or not…
In this reading today, we hear about our actions, handling our emotions, and the importance of the state of our hearts.
“Be doers of the word, not merely hearers who delude themselves.”
And a great word picture: “For if any are hearers of the word and not doers they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away immediately forget what they were like.”
The Christian life is one of response and action to all that God has done for us. As we relate to God and one another, simply put – Love is something you do.
But this is not an expectation to live up to from God…we are not saved by any works we do and cannot make God think any more of us than God already does. Salvation, like all things from God, is a gift.
James asserts: God gave us birth by the word of truth and we are to welcome this word implanted in us with meekness.
We live in the midst of profound miracle through God’s power and provision for us, but we still – still - are plagued by limitation. We sin, we fall short…and we do this, at times with great creativity.
James also asserts: if we are mere hearers of the word we “deceive ourselves” and become like one who walks away from a mirror and forgets what they looked like. James strongly says, religion lived from a deceived heart is worthless…worthless.
The word for heart in the Greek James uses will sound familiar: Kardia. Cardia. Cardio. We think of our hearts physically. However, in the Greek this is a big word conceptually and, in our context, refers to the center of our physical and spiritual life. From the New Testament Greek, Lexicon sees that this involves the mind, the will and character, and emotions or appetites and desires. Great inclusivity in its meaning.