Sunday, May 25, 2008

Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, May 25, 2008

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Year A

May 25, 2008

Isaiah 49:8-16a Psalm 131

I Corinthians 4:1-5 St. Matthew 6:24-36

The passage for today from the Gospel According to Matthew reminded of a story I read in a publication from the Human Kindness Foundation.[1] The story was entitled “Living In Peace.”

In the ancient Hindu epic The Ramayana, there’s a passage where Rama, … is supposed to be made King the next day, and his people are the happiest people in the world because they love him so much. There’s a classic line in this part of the story that I have remembered so many times in my life – “Many things can go wrong in the dark night before a King is made.” How true!

And sure enough, that very night an evil influence overtakes Rama’s stepmother, and instead of being crowned King, Rama is unjustly exiled by his father and ordered to spend fourteen years in the forest as a wondering beggar, enduring hardships and dangers. The kingdom is plunged into incredible grief. Now the people are the unhappiest people in the world. They cannot believe it, they don’t know how they will survive this loss. They don’t know how they will ever be happy again, how they will be able to laugh or have any pleasure while they know that Prince Rama is sleeping on the ground somewhere in the pathless forest, eating roots and leaves, enduring insect bites and having to keep watch for snakes, lions, wolves, jackals.

This is the worst thing that has ever happened in their country, the worst times they have ever known. Everyone is the kingdom is totally freaked out except for two people: Prince Rama himself, and his family’s old wise man, Vashishta.

When the king’s charioteer says to Vashistha, “Priest, the world has gone to (pot) hell!,” Vashistha calmly replies, “I see the world much the same as ever.” When someone says to Rama, “Disobey your father! Don’t go! We’ll imprison him and make you our king!,” Rama calmly says “Give up your anger. This palace or the forest are the same to me.”

That final line is the key to the Biblical passage today. Jesus calls us to contentment right where we are today. The worries of tomorrow will come quick enough after a nights sleep.

“Today’s trouble is enough for today.” That is probably an understatement for most of us. At the same time, I suspect most of us ignore it and continue to worry about the troubles of tomorrow and the day after, and the day after that.

Imagine how much less stressful our lives would be if we could live by these words. But lets face it, that is a hard thing to do. Every time we drive by the gas station we look to see if prices have gone up again. Every time we go to the grocery store we wonder how much the food for our table will cost this week. More and more people are being driven to the food bank.

And most of this focus is around the issue of our pocket book. Now it seems to me and to others that the Bible talks about money and wealth and how to handle it appropriately more than any other topic in the Bible. And yet we seem totally caught up in church with others issues, particularly the issue of sex. I wonder if it is because we are always more comfortable in dealing with issues that don’t hold us accountable – only others.

But Jesus pulled no punches in his message in Matthew today.

In this passage the Greek word for worry can mean: be anxious about, scan minutely. In my own words I might describe it as being obsessively focused. And I know that in my own life I can often have a tendency to become obsessively focused on money. Mostly likely it is because I’m such a tight-wad, but that is another story for another time.

In one respect I think God wants us to live in the moment. God calls us to be satisfied in our present circumstances. Quite often my present circumstances are quite comfortable and so for me it should be easy to do. Yet even with my comfortable circumstances I still manage to continue to worry about things anyway.

Last week I was pretty sick with a case of food poisoning. In fact, for 4 or 5 days I think I was sicker than I have ever been for an extended period of time. And while quite frankly I think I was too sick to worry about much of anything, it did get me thinking when I was in my recovery. Many people in the world have it much more difficult that I do and yet God calls them to not worry in an obsessive way about tomorrow as well.

That thought challenged me. If I have difficulty following the call of Jesus in my pretty comfortable circumstances, what about those less fortunate than me? Then I started thinking about the Apostle Paul.

Paul went through a lot in his life and was still able to write in his Epistle to the Philippians “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need.”[2]

I have mastered what I have discovered is an ultimately self destructive way of not worrying about the future. I simply box things off and completely ignore them. Certainly this is not what Jesus calls us to do in the passage for today. But it is a solution that has worked, in a fashion for me, for many years. I have been struggling with this particularly with respect to Emmanuel’s foster daughter Emma. A wonderful blessing who Emmanuel has recently learned he may have to give up. And I have been struggling with the painful choice of allowing myself to feel the emotional pain her absence will inevitably cause or blocking it off and refusing to think about it at all. The easy way out is to block it and convince myself I’m only doing what this verse calls me to do. But I know that is not true or healthy. And so I’m trying to work slowly through the pain.

I’m confident that the secret to not worrying about tomorrow is depending on the help of Jesus in our lives, like Paul in any and all circumstances. The secret of not worrying about tomorrow is the confidence that God loves us and that God protects us and that God will care for us. The secret of not worrying is a willingness to lay our burdens down before God.

We have a hymn in our church with the following words:

I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Come unto me and rest;

Lay down, thou weary one, lay down your head upon my breast.”

I came to Jesus as I was, so weary, worn, and sad;

I found in him a resting place, and he has made me glad.”[3]

Jesus calls us to that place of rest. Paul was able to find it no matter his circumstances. We need to find it for ourselves as well.

[1] “Living In Peace”, a little good news, Spring 2008, Human Kindness Foundation.

[2] Phil. 4:11-13.

[3] The Hymnal #692, words by Horatius Bonar.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, April 27, 2008

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Year A

April 27, 2008

Acts 17:22-31 Psalm 66:7-18

I Peter 3:13-22 St. John 14:15-21

Paul was a pretty amazing preacher. He always seemed to know just the right thing to say, and was never afraid to shape his message to really catch the attention and understanding of his listeners. Paul was also a keen observer of society around him and that enabled him to preach in particularly powerful ways. As I was reading Paul’s sermon from the reading in Acts for this morning, I was wondering how Paul’s message would be different if he were preaching it today somewhere in the United States.

I think he would start off the same. How can anyone assume anything other than that our nation also seems to be extremely religious. Since we are in the middle of a presidential election, it is hard to miss the fact that most of the candidates wear their faith on their sleeve. Many religious leaders attempt to demonstrate how we are a “Christian nation” from our founding. Polls indicate that many people in the United States identify themselves as Christians. And if Paul were to wander through our cities and towns he would find many places of worship around every corner.

But Paul found fault in the religious practices of the Athenians. They practiced idolatry. He found temples with idols everywhere he looked. So Paul’s look around the United States must fall short at this point in his sermon. Surely you don’t see idols put up in places of worship around the United States. So we can safely give ourselves a pat on the back. After all, idolatry has been out of fashion in western civilization for centuries.

Alas, we are not to get off quite so easy. I have started looking at idolatry in a different light thanks to my former Bishop. For the past few years before he left Bishop Mark McDonald had been calling our attention to the sin of idolatry in our own lives. To be honest, I would had never thought of it in those terms, so I’m grateful for the clarity of thought Bp. Mark provided. Bishop Mark thoughtfully reframed idolatry for me, but taking my focus off the idea of graven images (a convenient concept since I can let myself off on that account) and placing the focus on what an idol does, namely take the place of God in our lives. Most of us understand and agree with Paul that God “does not live in shrines made by human hands”. But Bishop Mark reframed the issue in a new and challenging way for me.

And so thanks to those insights and challenges I see that there seems to be quite a parallel to our nation and the Athenians with respect to the tricky sin of idolatry. In fact, I think that we are a people in love with an idol more powerful than the Athenians could have ever imagined. Perhaps unfortunately for us, our idols are not idols of gold, silver or stone in images that make it clear that someone is worshipping them.

This makes our idols much harder to identify. They are not as something as simple as seeing a carved image on our table. But I think Paul would have seen our idols for what they are. It seems to me that the idols most worshipped in the United States consists of money, cars, over consumption, self centeredness, racism, sexism, selfishness and I’m sure the list could run pages if I really put my mind to it, but since I have a reputation for brevity in my homilies, I will end the list here.

The danger with our idols is that it is easy to dismiss them or imagine that they are not really idols. Sure we can tell ourselves that they are dangerous things to our spiritual health that must be considered, but certainly it is not idolatry. But we are faced in our nation with the most insidious form of idolatry there is. In a nutshell, all those idols add up to one theme of idolatry, and that is the idolatry of self.

We seem to live in a society that encourages, almost demands, that we place self in the center of the universe. That is idolatry plain and simple. The shrine we have made is a shrine of self.

Against this worship of self, Christians we are called to follow Jesus as the ultimate example of self-sacrifice.

It can sometimes be a tricky balance. God calls us to love God and to love our neighbor as our self. So the solution to self-centeredness and the idolatry of self is not self loathing and self contempt. We must love ourselves if we are too truly to know how to love our neighbors.

The answer to finding this balance of moderation in our lives will be different for each one of us. No answer will work for all of us. We are at different places in our lives. But the solution lies in balancing our needs and desires with what we feel God is calling us to do in the world around us.

What self centeredness does is cause us to look away from the concerns of the Gospel. We are faced with the challenge of self centeredness every time we watch the television. And while it might be the answer for some of us I’m not saying we all have to give up on television. But we do need to be much more critical to the lessons we are learning both in the programming and the commercials. We should be talking to our children about those lessons as well.

God truly does want us to live happy, fulfilling and enjoyable lives as Christians. But there is much in the world around us that would call us from following in the fullness of Christ. Paul gives a wonderful thought to what we are called to do in response to the Gospel. Paul reminded the Athenians that as a result of creation God “allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him – though indeed he is not far from each one of us”.

As a person who has struggled and sometimes failed to follow God as closely as I might have hoped, I take comfort in the picture of myself searching for God and perhaps groping for him at times, while always knowing that God indeed is not far from me. This thought gives me great hope and comfort and I continue my journey in faith.

My prayer is that it will also give you hope and comfort as well.

I am The Way, The Truth and the Life

A beautiful post and sermon by a wonderful priest and pastor, Elisabeth Kaeton. You can read her blog here. I hope you enjoy this.

I am The Way, The Truth and the Life

via Telling Secrets by Elizabeth Kaeton on 4/20/08

“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” John 14:1-14
V Easter – April 20, 2008
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

There is a deep pastoral irony in this passage of scripture. Whenever I sit with a bereaved family who has just lost a loved one, nine times out of ten, this is the passage they will select to be read at the funeral mass. There is something deeply comforting about the image of “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”

However, nine times out of ten, that same family will ask, “Um . . .but . . . could we end it at “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life? Could we not use that one line: “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

We live in a pluralistic culture which knows pluraform truth. Many of us have either intermarried or have very dear friends whose ethnicity as well as religious belief and spiritual expression are vastly different than our own. And, we believe, deeply and with all our hearts, that we will all be together in Paradise.

The old joke is told that a man dies and goes to heaven and is given the grand tour by St. Peter. At one point, they approach one room of the many roomed mansion of heaven, and St. Peter cautions the man to be very quiet and, in fact, walk on tip toes. After they pass the room, the man turns to St. Peter and asks, “Why did we have to do that?”

“Oh,” says St. Peter, “that’s the room for the Roman Catholics. They think they’re the only ones here.” Well, the same can be said for some Evangelicals. Indeed, some of them are Anglican.

But, there’s another part of that story. At one point, St. Peter beckons the man to look down to a particular place in hell. “My goodness!” exclaims the man, “What did those poor souls do to deserve such punishment?”

“Oh, them?” says St. Peter. “Those are the Episcopalians and Anglicans who couldn’t tell the dessert fork from the salad fork.” The man gasps, “Oh, but look! There’s a special place in hell for those who can not tell their bread plate from their neighbors.”

Just so you don’t all end up in hell, I’ll give you a little hint that I was taught in seminary: put your fingers together to form a lower case “b”. The hand that looks like a “b” is the side your bread plate belongs. The hand that looks like a “d” is the side your drink belongs. There, now you are all assured of getting to heaven!

It’s all a bit silly, isn’t it? Except, some folk take this stuff very, very seriously. Dead seriously. So do I. So let me say this clearly: I believe Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. I don’t believe He is “a” way. I don’t believe he is “a truth”. I don’t believe he is “a life.” Indeed, he has become the centerpiece of my life and vocation.

I can scarcely sing the words of George Herbert’s poem put to that magnificent hymn “Come my Way, My Truth, My Life,” without becoming all girly-blurby, as the English say. In a few moments, we’ll be singing that great hymn, which I will sing from the deepest place of truth in my heart and my soul.

And . . .and, . . and . . . I believe what Ellie Weisel is quoted as having said: I believe there are many paths, but one way to God. My path is, I believe, also my way. It may not be the way of others but that does not mean that they are not on their way to God.

I believe that Mahatma Gandhi is in heaven. So is Anne Frank. Oscar Schindler is there with her. So is every living person who has ever made the ultimate sacrifice and laid down his/her life for a friend, as well as those who have done other amazing, albeit anonymous deeds of courage and faith.

Indeed, I believe that there are special places in heaven that even Calvinist Evangelicals won’t get to see which will be inhabited by Muslims and Jews, Sikhs and Hindus, Shintos and Buddhists.

Someone is crying “Blasphemy!” Well, okay. You are absolutely entitled to your belief. And, my friend, so am I. Why do I believe this? Well, let me tell you this story before I answer your question.

While traveling separately through the countryside late one afternoon, a Hindu a Rabbi and a Critic were caught in the same area by a terrific thunderstorm. They sought shelter at a nearby farmhouse. “That storm will be raging for hours,” the farmer told them. “You’d better stay here for the night. The problem is, there’s only room enough for two of you. One of you’ll have to sleep in the barn.”

“I’ll be the one,” said the Hindu. “A little hardship is nothing for me. He went out to the barn. A few minutes later there was a knock on the door. It was the Hindu. “I’m sorry,” he told the others, “but there is a cow in the barn. According to my religion, cows are sacred, and one must never intrude into their space.”

“Don’t worry,” said the Rabbi. “Make yourself comfortable here. I’ll go sleep in the barn.” He went out to the barn. A few minutes later there was a knock at the door. It was the Rabbi. “I hate to be a bother, “ he said, “but there is a pig in the barn. In my religion, pigs are considered unclean. I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing my sleeping quarters with a pig.”

“Oh, all right,” said the Critic. “I’ll go sleep in the barn.” He went out to the barn.

A few moments later there was a knock on the door. It was the cow and the pig.

The point is, of course, that while we may be tolerant of religious diversity, what most of us can not tolerate is arrogance and the pretense of superiority and illusion of perfection. Let me fill you in on a little secret, if you haven’t already figured it out: no one, no thing, is perfect on this side of Eden. The only way you get to perfection is to enter the Gates of Death.

Which is how I want to answer your question: Why do you believe that heaven is also for those who are not Christian? My answer comes from the very lips of Jesus who said, “In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places. “ It’s just that some of us will think we’re the only ones there. That’s not true, of course. It’s just that we’ll each have our own room in which to ‘dwell.’

What does this have to do with the church? Well, one last story. It may be apocryphal, but I understand that it is true. It happened in France, during WWII, in the last days of the war. Four US soldiers had been through the war together. They had shared their dreams and laughter, their fears and longings. Each felt the other was a brother.

One of the men was shot and mortally wounded. His three friends deeply grieved his loss and wanted him buried before they left the country. So, they went to see the local priest at the church in the center of town which had a very large graveyard, and asked if their friend could be buried there. The priest asked, “Well, was he baptized?”

The three men looked at each other and were completely dumbfounded. “You know, Father,” said one, “I know that he was a man of prayer. I know he loved God. But, I don’t think he ever mentioned being baptized.”

The men were sorely disappointed when the priest told them that only the baptized could be buried in that cemetery. Finally, the priest took pity on them and agreed to bury the man’s body in a plot of land just outside the fence which enclosed the graveyard.

Five years later the three men got together for a reunion and returned to that little town in France to visit the grave of their buddy. But, when they got there, they were startled not to find his grave. They searched high and low but could not find it. Finally, they found the priest and, deeply upset, asked him what had happened.

“Oh,” said the priest, “I remember you. Well, I thought and prayed about it, and, well, I decided to move the fence.”

Given the realities of our world, understanding the great diversity and plurality of our culture, I think the church is going to need to consider moving a few well-constructed church fences around some of the graveyards where our most cherished ideas are buried.

I believe there is room enough in heaven for everyone who loves God and does the will of God, because no matter what particular path they follow, there is one way to God. That won’t make everyone happy with me. Thank goodness that’s not in my job description.

Oh well, at least I can tell my bread plate and my water glass! Now, you so do, too! See you all in heaven! And I believe we’re ALL going to heaven. Amen.

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter, March 30, 2008

Second Sunday of Easter

Year A

March 30, 2008

Acts 2:14a, 22-32 Psalm 16

I Peter 1:3-9 St. John 20:19-31

Have you ever faced any doubts in your spiritual life or Christian walk? Well you are not alone in that by any stretch of the imagination. Today I would like to talk about two doubters in particular, so see what lessons we might learn from them for our own lives.

First of course is our doubter from the Gospel passage today. By his quickly spoken words, the disciple Thomas has had to live with the title of Thomas the Doubter or Doubting Thomas for centuries. I generally try to defend Thomas in this respect, because he was actually only asking for what the Gospel account today tells us the other apostles already received. The account tells us that Jesus showed the other disciples his hands and his side when Jesus first appeared to them and that is what Thomas was asking for as well, so I think sometimes that the judgment of history is rather harsh. But Thomas is the one who actually had to ask and express his doubts for all the world to see.

The other doubter is a bit more contemporary. Many of you might remember last year when much of the private correspondence of Mother Teresa was released. In it we discovered that she faced a lot of doubts for many years. Some people seemed to be scandalized. That such a towering person of faith could have struggled so long with doubts so serious is unthinkable. But Mother Teresa was not alone in her doubts.

Mother Teresa was experiencing, as St. John of the Cross described it in his life, her “dark night of the soul.” In one of her letters she expressed it like this: “I am told that God lives in me – and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”

Many people, some famous in history and others just common and unknown, like you and I, experience moments of doubt or our own personal dark night of the soul. These moments of doubt do not make us any less a Christian, they only reveal that we are human.

Unlike Mother Teresa and Thomas most of us have the luxury of living out our doubts in a much less public way. And even so, I fear that some make a choice to struggle with their doubts privately for fear of what others or the church might say or think. These fears can be well founded. Some churches fear doubters.

But doubt is not the end of the world. God can and does respond to our doubts in many ways. God responded to the doubts of Thomas and he was able to see Jesus and that resulted in the cry of Thomas “My Lord and my God!”

God responded to the doubts of Mother Teresa through the face of lepers, children, and others in need. And in spite of her doubts and difficulties Mother Teresa remained faithful to the call of God in her life. She did not allow her doubts to destroy her or the work God had called her to do.

Just as God responded to the two doubters today, God will also respond to our doubts and fears as well. God may respond differently to each of us just as we have seen God respond differently to Thomas and Teresa. The Scriptures promise us that God will never leave us and that includes our times of doubt.

The exciting thing about studying doubters is the realization that God does not give up on them and will not give up on us. While God will respond differently, God does respond. Perhaps like Thomas we will face a fairly quick response to our questions and concerns or perhaps like Teresa God will call us to struggle and live with our doubts. But the truth is God never gives up on us. We should never feel no matter how grave or weighty our doubts that God has abandoned or given up on us.

Our doubts are the opportunities for growth and greater spiritual maturity in our life in Christ. Let us not fear them in ourselves or in others.

Homily for Easter Day, March 23, 2008

Easter Day

Year A

March 23, 2008

Acts 10:34-43 Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Colossians 3:1-4 St. John 20:1-18

Today we celebrate a time of triumph. Those who had thought they could silence Jesus have failed. Those how thought everything had been ruined and their dreams crushed learned that their leader was alive again. As unbelievable as it seemed to them, Jesus was back.

Those who thought they could silence this Jesus and the movement around him have failed. On Friday and Saturday they were probably celebrating their ability to rid themselves of another one of the rabble-rousing troublemakers in their midst. Perhaps they would even have a few more days to self satisfaction until the word really got around. But the truth of the matter is that all their secret plans and machinations have failed.

As Clarence W. Hall said: If Easter says anything to us today, it says this:

You can put the truth in a grave,

But it won’t stay there.

You can nail it to a cross,

Wrap it in winding sheets

And shut it up in a tomb,

But it will rise!

There will always be people in the world wanting to do away with the truth of God. They will want to hide it. They will want to destroy it. And yet, if nothing else, the lesson we learn from Easter Sunday is that God’s truth will not be bound. In spite of what might seem like setbacks, the plan of God and God’s work in the world around us moves ahead. It cannot be stopped.

Sometimes when I look around at all that is going on in the world today, people killing each other, starvation, disease, people without clean water to drink, I can sometimes feel that God has lost the battle again. But then I think about the miracles I have seen and I know the truth of the power of God and the power of the resurrection.

In the midst of God’s triumph over the powers of darkness, we meet the first evangelist, Mary Magdalene. In the Eastern Orthodox Church Mary Magdalene is known as an isapostolos, one who is equal to the apostles. But Mary Magdalene is first and foremost an evangelist. And evangelist is simply someone who spreads the Good News. Mary Magdalene, as the first to see the risen Lord on that Easter morning received her commission directly from Jesus. She is told to go. And she goes.

The idea of being an evangelist or the practice of evangelism can be rather scary in the Episcopal Church. Like Moses, Jonah and other now famous prophets we don’t want to answer the call. We come up with convenient excuses why we can’t do the work God has called us to do. Mary Magdalene made no excuses although I can think of a few, perhaps I’m just a woman, or no one will believe me. But instead she answers the call of Jesus and immediately goes out to do the work God has called her to do.

As Jesus said to Mary and his other disciples that they were to go, so Jesus says to each one of us today, go. There are many ways that God can call each of us to be evangelists. Often we need to discover them for ourselves. One way to discover how God is calling you to spread the truth in the world around you is to be willing to take risks. Mary Magdalene was willing to risk ridicule and embarrassment in her willingness to serve Jesus.

Others, like Moses and Jonah have taken more convincing by God before they were willing to share the truth of God with others.

Many of you, like me, probably fall more into the Moses or Jonah mold. It is safer to just keep doing what we are doing. There are no risks then. But God calls us to take risks. It is I think in our weaknesses that God is most able to work.

God is calling each and everyone one of us here today to join in spreading the truth of God in the world today just as Jesus called on Mary Magdalene on that Easter Sunday so long ago. And like Mary, we have a choice. We can say yes Jesus and take the risk, or we can say no.

Our yes to Jesus can lead to many things. It can lead to inviting a friend to church. It can lead to sharing what God has been doing in your life. It can lead to serving on the Vestry or Altar Guild. It can lead to working in the food bank. It can lead to learning about world hunger and then doing something about it. It can lead to many different things. But in the end it leads to being a follower of Jesus. It leads to a willingness to take risks.

It may even lead to discovering that what you were willing to try was not really for you. And that is alright too. One thing about serving God and working for the spread of God’s kingdom is that there is always more to be done. When we discover something that does not work for us, it leave us open to try the next thing.

But like Mary Magdalene, and like Moses and Jonah as well, we have to eventually say yes to God first. Then we are open not only to the miracle that we see in the resurrection which we remember today, but we then also become open to the miracles God will work through us in the world around us each and every day.

Alleluia, the Lord is risen!

Homily for Good Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

Year A

March 21, 2008

Isaiah 52:13—53:12 Psalm 22:1-21

Hebrews 10:1-25 St. John 18:1—19:37

Our story ends with Jesus being put in the tomb and sealed up so no one can steal his body and claim he has been raised from the dead. This is a most unsatisfactory ending for the Christian community. It is unsatisfactory because as Christians we are “resurrection people”. And the ending today feels completely wrong. As Paul Harvey says, we want to know “the rest of the story.” But for that we will have to wait for this Sunday.

Today we remember that the only way to resurrection, to Easter Sunday is through the pain and betrayal of the cross. And so we leave the story unfinished.

Instead of the resurrection, today we remember a culmination of betrayals. The movie “The Passion of the Christ” would call us to focus on the physical abuse and violence which Jesus suffered. But as we read the story today there is much more for us to consider. Jesus experienced a long litany of betrayals leading up to his death on the cross.

Jesus first experiences the betrayal of Judas.

Then Jesus experiences the betrayal of the rest of the disciples, all of whom abandon him. Jesus’ closest followers, his friends and constant companions for the past three years fail him and flee when the chips are down. The shared experiences of their life with him were not strong enough to cover come their feelings of fear and terror as they saw Jesus being arrested.

Next Jesus experiences the betrayal of Peter who denies him not once, but three times. In spite of a warning ahead of time and Peter’s most ardent claim of loyalty, Jesus is again betrayed.

Jesus then experienced the betrayal of Pilate, who knowing he is innocent, nevertheless washes his hands of the matter and sends him to his death.

And as we vividly experienced in the Gospel reading today, Jesus experienced the betrayal of each one of us. As we joined as part of the crowd calling for Jesus to be crucified, we live out in a very real way the reality that Jesus also died because of our betrayal to sin.

We have a wonderful song in our hymnal called “Ah, Holy Jesus”. It is a powerful song and the second verse goes like this:

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
'Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.

We need to realize in our own lives that it was not the Jews who crucified Jesus. It was not the Romans who crucified Jesus. Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee, I crucified thee.

On this Good Friday, let us meditate on that. I it was denied thee, I crucified thee.

Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

Year A

March 16, 2008

Isaiah 50:4-9a Psalm 31:9-16

Philippians 2:5-11 St. Matthew 26:14—27:66

This is a very well known story. We hear it year after year. The story of the Passion of our Lord. The term Passion refers to the suffering and agony of Jesus. And this story is filled with much suffering and agony. The movie of the Passion of the Christ has sort of fixed in the minds of any who have watched it, a kind of suffering and agony that focuses, in my mind, far too much on the physical. Not that I’m trying to dismiss the physical pain and agony that Jesus surely felt. But Jesus also felt more than that.

There is more to suffering and agony that just the physical component. While our passion narrative for today does speak of the physical torment which Jesus is eventually called upon to endure, it is only a very small part of the story, a point that is certainly missed in “The Passion of the Christ”. There is another passion found right from the very beginning. It is the suffering and agony of betrayal. This is a stuffing I’m sure some of us have experienced at some point in our lives. Jesus experienced it over and over again in the story we have just heard told today.

Jesus first experiences the betrayal of Judas. This betrayal was up close and personal. It was sealed with a kiss. A sign of compassion and tenderness is twisted into the evil of betrayal. But Judas is only the first of the disciples to betray his master, his teacher.

Then Jesus experiences the betrayal of the rest of the disciples, all of whom abandon him. Jesus’ closest followers, his friends and constant companions for the past three years fail him and flee when the chips are down. The shared experiences of their life with him were not strong enough to cover come the feelings of fear and terror as they saw their leader being arrested.

Next Jesus experiences the betrayal of Peter who denies him not once, but three times. In spite of a warning ahead of time and Peter’s most ardent claim of loyalty: “even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” Peter was one of the impetuous types who seemed to always fail the count the cost before he opened his mouth. When he was faced with the fear of being treated like he saw Jesus being treated, his bravado failed him.

Jesus then experiences the betrayal of Pilate, who knowing he is innocent, nevertheless washes his hands of the matter and sends him to his death. This is the betrayal by power and government.

Finally Jesus suffers the ultimate betrayal of feeling forsaken by God. The human Jesus feels the abandonment of God.

According to the Gospel of Matthew the only people who do not betray and abandon Jesus are the “many women”, even though they are described as “looking on from a distance.” Those who represented power and prestige, the men, in that time, all abandoned Jesus at his greatest moment of need for company and support. And instead those considered the weakest by society, those who had no value, the women, they are the ones who remained faithful to Jesus.

Peter, who swore faithfulness – gone. James and John who wanted to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in his kingdom – gone. All the disciples – gone. Justice and fairness – gone. Even it seemed that God was gone. All that remained were these faithful women, including one who the Church will give the title “apostle to the apostles”, Mary Magdala.

Most, if not all, of us have experienced feelings of betrayal or abandonment at some point in our life. It can be gut wrenching and destructive to our selves and our self esteem. We can feel totally abandoned and forgotten. But that is never true for the Christian. For we have a God who has experienced every kind of betrayal known to humanity. God stands with us in our times of abandonment. We do not have to be alone.

Often we struggle with why things happen in the world to ourselves or others. There are rarely easy or satisfactory answers to these struggles. Often they are the results of actions or inactions of others in the world. That was the basis for all the betrayal Jesus felt. It was from the actions or inactions of those around him. Jesus was betrayed by those who were actually closest to him. The deepest wounds are sometimes be inflicted by those most close to us.

On the other hand, after all the talk of people betraying us, sometimes, so of us may feel that, like Peter and the others that we are the ones who have betrayed God. This can be a terrible burden to try and carry. But just think for a minute about how God used each of those people. There were no recriminations from God or Jesus about betrayal. Instead, God used each and everyone one of them to do powerful things. Probably they, as Paul discovered it is through our weaknesses that God’s power can be made most manifest in our own lives.

I pray that out of all this, we can find both hope and comfort in the knowledge of a God who understands exactly how we feel because Jesus has felt that way at one point as well.

The Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 2, 2008

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

Year A

March 2, 2008

I Samuel 16:1-13 Psalm 23

Ephesians 5:8-14 St. John 9:1-41

Wow, another long lesson today! Except for Good Friday, I think this is one of the longest lessons in the lectionary. True last weeks lesson gave us a close run for our money, but this one is 4 verses longer. There must be something very important going on to convince those who love to shorten or edit our lectionary reading to allow this entire pericope to remain unscathed by the editors pen.

Darkness and light are recurring themes in the Gospel of John and we see that again in the lesson for today. The man born blind from birth is well acquainted with darkness. He has actually never seen the light. Darkness has been his constant companion for as long as he can remember. He can feel the warmth of the sun on his skin at sunrise, but in his darkness he cannot enjoy the force of its light. He can feel the touch of cold water, but cannot enjoy its sparkle in a stream. He has had what can only be described as a tough life.

The blind man is not the only blind person in the lesson for today. There are others much more blinded than he. There is more than one kind of blindness in the lesson from John today. We have the physical blindness of the man born blind from birth, and we also have the spiritual blindness of most of the rest of the people in this story. And while it is very easy and tempting to focus on the blindness of the Pharisees in the lesson for today, they are also not the only ones blind.

First we have the blindness of Jesus disciples. Jesus disciples were convinced that there could only be one cause for the man’s blindness. That cause is sin. Either he or his parents must have sinned. And the disciples were probably not alone in this assumption. This man had not only lived with his own physical blindness, he had also lived with the spiritual blindness of those around him who would so willingly place the blame for his predicament on himself or his parents.

So in addition to the heavy burden of being blind in that society, his man also carried the burden of the accusations of society, so clearly summed up by Jesus disciples.

The disciples and the Pharisees lived in a world of cause and effect that was controlled by God. If this man was blind the cause had to be for punishment for sin, either his own, or his parents. They were blind to other possibilities.

And in fact, some people in the world today suffer from this very same blindness. Natural disasters are attributed to God’s divine judgment against people for their sins. So while we might prefer to consign this particular type of blindness to the dustbin of history and ignorance it remains with us to this very day, but supposedly educated Christians who have a twisted and blind view of God in the world.

Some of you, like me, may find it downright embarrassing to be associated with this blindness, but if we do not speak up against it, as Christians we are tarred by the very same brush of blindness. I truly believe that this kind of blindness is not created by cruelty but rather by ignorance, ignorance of an understanding of the person Jesus.

In this story, the man does not even ask for his sight. He seems to be an object lesson picked out by the disciples to make a point. He is almost accosted by Jesus to be healed. In fact, I can imagine that I might very well be tempted to say, keep your spitty mud to yourself thank you!

And true, the Pharisees themselves also evidenced a particular blindness to the power of God so clearly at work before them. They were so worried about the observance of the Law that they failed to see God in their midst. Now that is blindness. It is also the blindness of failing to see who Jesus was in their midst.

Most of you have probably heard that expression: “there are none so blind as those who will not see.” It speaks of a particularly difficult kind of blindness to cure. It speaks actually of a blindness that plain does not want to be cured.

We believe in a God who specializes in giving sight to the blind. And God does not restrict herself only to curing physical blindness. I am hopeful that some spiritual blindness was healed that day as well. God also works on curing the spiritual blindness found in the world today.

We could all let ourselves off the hook pretty easy today simply by focusing on the spiritual blindness of the characters in the story today. Particularly if we choose to focus on the blindness of the Pharisees, always good targets to move the bulls-eye off of ourselves and center it elsewhere.

But that would be missing the most important lesson which the read has for us today. The hard work that God is calling for us to do is to see the spiritual blindness in our own lives. That is what this Lent is all about. God calls us to careful self examination in our lives. We need to ask ourselves if we are seeing the world around us through the eyes of Jesus.

Last week Jesus eyes saw a woman who needed living water and new life, when the disciples and her neighbors saw someone worthless and unredeemable. This week Jesus saw a life ready to be transformed by the light, while the disciples saw someone beaten down by the burden of unforgivable sin.

Too often we choose to see the worst in someone rather than the best. We see their failures rather than their potential. This is not seeing with the eyes of Jesus.

The Second Sunday in Lent, February 17, 2008

The Second Sunday in Lent

Year A

February 17, 2008

Genesis 12:1-4a Psalm 121

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 St. John 3:1-17

You must be born again. How do you feel when you hear that phrase? What runs through your heart and your mind? Do you quickly and easily embrace it? Does it make you wonder what in the world the questioner means? Does it turn you off? I cannot even begin to count how many times I have heard that phrase, although our translation for today chooses a different term. We hear tele-evangelists calling for people to be born again. We hear it from many pulpits.

And yet, it is not exactly what Jesus was saying.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born νωθεν. This word in Greek had two possible meanings. It can either mean “from above” or it can mean “again”. If you take the time to examine many translations, both old and new, you will see that there is no agreement on which way is the preferred translation choice in this passage. And no matter which choice is decided, an important point that I think Jesus was trying to make is being missed in the translation.

As the NET Bible explains: “this is a favorite technique of the author of the Fourth Gospel, and it is lost in almost all translations at this point. The word νωθεν is used five times, in this Gospel. In the latter three cases the context makes clear that it means “from above.” In today’s passage it could mean either, but the primary meaning intended by Jesus is “from above.”

Nicodemus chooses to understand it the other way, which explains his reply, “How can a man be born when he is old? He can’t enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born, can he?” The author of John uses the technique of the “misunderstood question” often to bring out a particularly important point: Jesus says something which is misunderstood by the disciples or (as here) someone else, which then gives Jesus the opportunity to explain more fully and in more detail what he really meant.”

Many of us are very familiar with that phrase “born again”. In fact, so familiar is this choice with its common use, I suspect that many have never even thought of a possible different meaning in this passage. For some, the idea of a different understanding of this passage in a different way could be difficult. Some people love these words, they for the very foundation for and explanation of their faith. It is a very popular way in evangelical circles to describe their relationship with Jesus. Others have heard them so much and so abused that we have grown the cringe when we hear them. As Herb Caen has said: “The trouble with born-again Christians is that they are an even bigger pain the second time around.”[1]

People are told, “you must be born again” generally implying that your faith is insufficient if you have not experienced it in a particular way. But that is simply not true for two reasons. First because we all come to faith in the way God calls us. It is not one size fits all. Our faith does not have to fit someone else’s preconceived notions of how it must be experienced in their opinion.

Second it is misquoting Scripture. All we know from the scripture is that we must be born νωθεν. It much more likely means born from above. God is not calling us to a particular evangelical experience in order to have faith. What God is calling us to do it to live as we have been born from above, born from God. We are being called to live as if God were our parents. We are God’s offspring. That is the new birth which Jesus was calling Nicodemus too experience.

The idea of being born again can be used to separate us as Christians. Being born from above, called to new life in Christ, is something all of us, no matter what our denominational background is can agree with.

I think clinging to the idea of being born again rather than embracing the concept of being born from above lets us off the hook. Clinging to being born again allows us to hold to the evangelical view of a one time, seemingly crucial event that is more important than living our life as if we have been born from above, with heavenly parents. Heavenly parents not unlike our own: eagerly watching, guiding, encouraging and loving.