Tuesday, October 23, 2012

This Sunday's sermon

Sermon for Proper 24B Mark 10:35-45 Today we get the story of an interaction between Jesus and his disciples. On the surface it looks like yet another scene where the disciples get it all so wrong. Here we have James and John approaching Jesus and essentially asking for top billing once the Kingdom of God is established. Jesus questions them about whether they know what they're getting into, and they answer that yes indeed they do. They know that to follow Jesus means to be willing to suffer like he did. Jesus takes the opportunity of the grumbling of the disciples to talk to them about the economy of power in the kingdom, namely that it is the servant who is considered first in the Kingdom of God. This whole chapter in Mark, chapter 10, is punctuated by this one teaching: that to be considered first in the Kingdom of God is to be a servant, just as Jesus was, and is. The problem comes when we notice that the lectionary has done some editing between last week and this week. Last week we had a reading from the same chapter. It ends with the words, "the many who are first will be last, and the last will be first." And then today our gospel begins with James and John, but three verses are cut. Here is what we missed: "they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘see, we're going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand them over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’" It is after this retelling of the plan that Jesus must follow: of his arrest, torture, death, and then his rising; that we get James and John. But here we have Jesus giving out all the information about how things will go for him. Earlier in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus had done the same thing after the Transfiguration and of course you remember that Peter rebuked him because Jesus was not playing by the Messiah rules. But here in today's reading we have James and John. James and John who respond to Jesus speaking of his death and resurrection, they respond to his inauguration of the kingdom of God and they ask to be closest to him. It is my reading of this passage along with the verses that precede it that leads me to the understanding that James and John get. They understand what Jesus’ life and teaching is all about: that Jesus is inaugurating the Kingdom of God, and they want to be part of it. Usually when we read this passage we tend to think of James and John as doing some kind of power grab but I think that when they say, "we are able." they do so solemnly, with clear eyes: “We are able.” In response to Jesus' question, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the same baptism that I am baptized with?" They get it; they understand that to participate in the Kingdom of God will mean to serve, and to suffer. A very important Christian thinker, Soren Kierkegaard, said, “There is no lack of information in a Christian land; something else is lacking, and this is a something which no one can directly communicate to the other." “There is no lack of information in a Christian land.” As usual Kierkegaard was talking about several things at once but for today this speaks to us, and speaks of James and John. There is no lack of information for James and John Jesus is just, once again, described that he would suffer and die and then be raised. This is all the information that is needed. Jesus died and was raised. Period. Now, the church and the world has of course tried to come to terms with what all that might mean; and what we have are the various traditions of Scripture, theology, sacramental practice, and prayer. But all of these are ancillary to the core of the Christian information: that Jesus died and was raised. Kierkegaard went on to say that something else was lacking, besides information, and this is a something which no one can directly communicate to the other. But it is what James and John do which is that something that Kierkegaard wondered about. It is their ascent to what Jesus was and was about, and their desire to enter deeper into relationship with him that makes the difference. It is a saying yes to Jesus. What Kierkegaard puzzled over in communication is resolved in our relationship with Jesus Christ. We must enter into a relationship, it cannot be merely a study, cannot be any theoretical supposition. We must enter into relationship with Jesus. And that means to question, to be angry with, and yes even to fall in love. James and John have the information and they are able to enter into deeper and deeper relationship with Jesus. Now, in the fevered nonlinear wasteland that is sometimes referred to as my mind: we naturally go from Holy Scripture to Kierkegaard; the next stop is of course Yoko Ono. Apart from her well known project of breaking up the Beatles, Yoko Ono is a modern artist of some renown. In one of her most famous works she set up a white ladder in the middle of the gallery floor and those who attend the exhibit are encouraged to climb the ladder up to the ceiling, and hanging there is a magnifying glass which one can take and read a very very small work written on the ceiling. The word is "Yes.” Back in 1966 when John Lennon participated in this piece of art, he said that he would have been disappointed if the word had been “No.” There is a participation, a relationship, in saying yes. When we say yes to someone or something we are allowing it to become part of our life. Through Jesus we have all the information we need. Jesus Christ, became God incarnate, to live and die as one of us to reconcile all creation to God. Jesus Christ: who brought the day of the Lord that the prophets have always spoken of. And this same Jesus, through his Holy Spirit continues to call us into relationship with him. He gives us all the information, but there is one thing lacking which no one can communicate directly to another. It is relationship, and the quality of that relationship and how we might be in relationship with Jesus. Jesus has always been climbing the ladder of your life. When he gets to where you are now, right now in your seat, in your life, in your mess, in your success. When he gets to you and reads your word, what word will he read? “No? Maybe? Not yet?” It is my prayer for all of us that our word to him will always and ever be “Yes.” Yes lord we know what you have done and are doing and we bring all of our lives to you: our whole lives: the days, the thoughts, the feelings, our bodies, our work, our money, all of it. Yes Lord. Yes.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Here is a sermon that I recently submitted to a nationally known sermon source that I write for, it was rejected, can you find out why?

Mark 9:38-50 "For no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me." At football games it is still fairly common to see people holding signs that read John 3:16. Of course this is a famous reference to Scripture, "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, to the end that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have life everlasting." It is no wonder people like that passage; it's good news indeed. The problem comes up when we think that John 3:16 tells the whole story of what God is up to in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It turns out that life is actually complex and nuanced; and so is how Jesus thinks about how we ought to relate to him. Today's gospel reading shows a little bit of Jesus’ nuanced view of how people act in his name. In this passage the disciples have just returned from doing some deeds of power: healing and casting out demons. It seems that while they were out in the mission field they came across another person doing similar deeds of power in the name of Jesus. The disciples try to stop him because he is not a part of the same club as they are. This outsider apparently had at one point encountered Jesus in his ministry. This encounter with Jesus clearly had an effect on the man because he at least knew enough to use the name of Jesus for his deeds of power, which was a marker of a follower of Jesus. The disciples don't like this at all, they tell Jesus thinking, I imagine, that Jesus would support their condemnation of this non-disciple. But here Jesus, as usual, does the unexpected. Jesus not only tells the disciples not to stop the outsider, but informed them that, "no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me." This is a curious thing to say, because it reveals an interesting bit of information about this non-disciple who can do deeds of power in Jesus' name. It seems that the outsider may have actually been badmouthing Jesus; he says that even those who do deeds of power and speak evil of him won't be able to do so for a long. There seems to be a relationship in this kind of behavior of doing good acts and claiming Jesus. There is something irresistible about Jesus. One may be able to do good works and badmouth Jesus, but not for long. The irresistible power of Jesus, his power to transform lives, will win over any hard heartedness. This all speaks to the age old argument in the church between faith and works. On one hand there are the voices in the church that say all you must do to be accepted by God is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died for your sins. Faith alone will save you. The opposite viewpoint is what has traditionally been called works righteousness. This view says that it is not so much what you believe but how you behave that matters. This viewpoint says that a Christian acts a certain way and that their actions represent what they believe and without proper actions than faith is dead. This is been the argument in the church since the days of James and Paul and was the main argument that fueled the Reformation of which our church is an heir. The problem with this kind of polarized thinking between faith and works, belief and actions is that it sets up a dualistic thinking of which Jesus is speaking out against today. Many of the arguments in the church today are over what it means to be a Christian. This has led to some very ugly and very public disagreements within the church where people take sides and take up the Bible and the creed and hit each other over the head with it. Today's gospel reading undoes all those arguments. The work of a great many churches is to take people who believe in Jesus but do no acts of mercy, no great deeds of power such as feeding the homeless, caring for the poor or the sick, or visiting prisoners. The work of those churches is to support their belief in Jesus and then to slowly try to kindle in their hearts a concern for the other. What the church makes very little room for is for those people who do deeds of power: they feed the poor, they feed the sick, and they have true concern for the stranger. The church has very little room for them because of these people do not proclaim Jesus as Lord. In a very real sense these people are like the man in today's reading who do great deeds of power but do not follow Jesus as a disciple. And what is Jesus' answer to this kind of person today? Basically Jesus says, "They will come around.” Jesus is saying, "If they do deeds of power, if they do good works, they will grow into me." The church needs to begin to welcome these beautiful souls who do deeds of power; we need to make a place for them, to support their ministries even if they do not know in whose name they minister. The church would do well to remember Jesus’ injunction about the least of these and how when we served them we serve him, and to also remember that his teaching was not to us only the to the whole world. So that, even when we go to seek Jesus in the faces of the poor we must also have faith that Jesus is being revealed to those who are not even seeking him, yet serve the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the prisoner. This is a difficult teaching: that there are those out there who serve Jesus, and their hearts grow closer and closer to him, maybe even without their knowledge. This muddies the waters of discipleship. Today's gospel reading is not quite the same as John 3:16. Now this is a Scripture that would look very good on a sign at a football game: Mark 9:39; “For no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me." Can you imagine? Holding up that sign that says Mark 9:39 and people seeing that on the screen they may actually run to their Bibles and look it up and instead of dividing the world up into those who are in and those who are out, they might look out at the world and see Jesus at work transforming each soul and knowing that God is drawing all of us closer and closer to each other. And for this muddied, beautifully nuanced life with Christ we say thanks be to God. Amen.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Acts study for Friday, August 31

1.) Read through Acts 13. 2.) What is the difference between magic and the actions that Saul does? 3.) Compare Acts 13:9-12 with 8:20-24. 4.) Keeping in mind Peter's speeches in chapters 2,3,and 10, how is Paul's speech different? 5.) Acts 13:39, in the NRSV reads by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins..." How does your version read that passage? Furthermore, what is interesting theologically about this verse and who it comes from? Finally, check out this verse in this inter-linear version found here: http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/NTpdf/act13.pdf 6.) Acts 13:48b = barf.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Acts study for 8/24/12

Read chapters 11 and 12. How should Acts 12:6-11 be read? Is 12:24-25 related to 12:18-23?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Acts study guide for 8/17/12

Lets read through Acts 10. I
Recommend this brief article on the God-fearers http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/God-fearer , pay special attention to the section on their theological significance. The further sections on Noahidism are fascinating.

Let spend some time looking at what it would have meant to include people into The Way who were not circumcised or observed kosher dietary practices. What would you give up in the Church in order to welcome people, what can't be lost?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Text of Sunday's sermon

11th Sunday after Pentecost B John 6 August 12, 2012 Rev. Joshua D. Bowron We are in week two of a four week stretch in our schedule of Church readings in the Gospel According to John. This section, which is most of chapter six is called the Bread of Life Discourse. The Bread of Life Discourse is excellent fodder, if you will, for preachers to extol the benefits of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. I’m not going to do that today. Instead I will stop at the first sentence from today’s reading; “I am the Bread of Life.” Of course Jesus goes on to tease out what that might mean. Jesus of course, does not mean for his words to be taken literally. No one supposes Jesus to be made up of bread, nor do we think that he expects us to cannibalize him. Jesus is speaking in metaphor, symbol, and figure. He wants us to parabolically begin to apprehend what he means. This isn’t the only place that he does this either. Jesus calls himself all kinds of things: I am the gate, I am the Vine, I am the Good Shepherd, I am the Light, I am the Way, (which in the Greek is better translated, I am the Road). So here we have Jesus giving us lots of ways of understanding what he is and what he does. He gives us so many options to better understand him, he’s saying, “I’m like light in a dark room.” or “I’m something like a road.” or “I am like a shepherd.” or “I am like bread.” All these images are given to us so that we can begin to form a picture of what Jesus is. Jesus gives us all these options because he knows that some will stick with us and others won’t. What resonates in you does not mean that it will necessarily resonate in me, and vice versa. Jesus wants us to know that his words about himself only point to what he actually is. This is the genius of Jesus and how we are to begin to approach him. We can sing lots of praises and write beautiful words about him, but those words are not to be clung to, those words merely point vaguely to Jesus, they are not Jesus in his essence. For the essence of Jesus to be gotten we must go beyond words and into a relationship. Through all these options: Way, Vine, Light, Shepherd, Bread, and many more; Jesus sits before each of us and asks a provocative question. That question is “What do you need me to be for you today?” “What do you need me to be for you today?” I think it’s kind of a shocking question because we are used to asking Jesus what kind of a person we need to be for him. We are used to thinking about our relationship with God as one where we are the ones that transform, we are the ones that need to rise to a level acceptable to Jesus. There is some right and some wrong in that way of thinking, but today Jesus is ready to meet our needs. “What do you need me to be for you today?” I didn’t just make up Jesus’ offer to us today. This question is drawn out of his way of teaching. This is what he was doing with his disciples. Right after the feeding of the five thousand in the Gospel of John, Jesus uses that event to tell the disciples that he is the Bread of Life. Jesus is a situational teacher, he takes whatever situation he is in and draws images from it to talk about the Kingdom of God and himself; who is the first in-breaking of that Kingdom. So it’s not too provocative after all for Jesus to ask, “What do you need me to be for you today?” because that’s what he was doing in his ministry in public and to his disciples. So, what does he need to be for you today? Is it a Doctor? A Surgeon? Maybe he needs to be a Mother, or brother? Lover? Drill Sergeant? How about CEO? Actually since the pledge campaign is gearing up how about CFO? What do you need Jesus to be for you today? Now this all comes with two cautions and a reminder to kind of hedge in the frontiers of what I am talking about this morning. The first caution is to keep in mind that Jesus is so much bigger and nuanced than we can imagine and we ought to hold loosely to what Jesus can be for us, this will allow us to let him be what he is and needs to be for us. The second caution about answering Jesus’ question is that we have to remember that one person’s medicine can be another person’s poison; … one person’s medicine can be another person’s poison. What Jesus is to be for you today, is not the same for the person in the next pew, the next house, or maybe even for you the very next day. Some people have never seen a shepherd, some people are blind, actually physically blind, so a light metaphor just doesn’t work for them, and some people are allergic to bread. Jesus didn’t say, “I am the Bread of Life.” and stop there. No, he went on with other images because he knew that other situations would arise that his witness to the Kingdom of God would speak. How boring it would have been if Jesus had only given us one image of himself and the Kingdom of God, we’d have no Prodigal Son, no Vineyards, no 11th hour, no light, no shepherd, no mustard seed, not much of anything. It is the existence of all these images, together, that give us such a full picture of God in Christ and no one of them captures the full essence of Christ, so we should be cautious that we don’t force what Jesus is to us onto others. Those are cautions to heed: hold loosely to what Jesus needs to be for you and that what he is for you may be different for another and that is good. The first reminder is that Jesus can meet any need as long as it is a real need. Jesus can’t always, or even usually be what you want however. And there is the rub, Jesus can’t be what you want, but he will be what you need. Jesus can’t be hateful for instance. You may want revenge, but what you need is reconciliation. You may want lust, but what you’ll get in Jesus is love. You may want Jesus to fit your political model, but what you need is a better vision of the world. What do you need him to be for you? So we have Jesus standing before us today, fully himself in all his integrity, dynamically engaged with the world, but not beholden to any one image that he set for himself, what the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, has established, or what Jesus needs to be for us, here today. He is untamed yet reaching out to you. What image might I conjure, what figure should I use to better understand and communicate what Jesus is doing today? Sometimes pop culture comes to our aid. Harry Potter. In the later Harry Potter books a strange setting is introduced, a setting that really acts as a character; it’s called the Room of Requirement. The Room of Requirement is described this way by the House-Elf, Dobby: “It is a room that a person can only enter when they have real need of it. Sometimes it is there, sometimes it is not, but when it appears, it is always equipped for the seeker’s needs.” The room becomes what the seeker needs most, by the seeker pacing in front of it three times, concentrating on what is required. Albus Dumbledore, the greatest wizard of all time first found the Room of Requirement on a late-night bathroom hunt and there it appeared, filled with chamber pots. The thing about the Room of Requirement is that one cannot stand in front of the room and vaguely wish it to grant, you don’t even know what. There has to be real need and when there is real need, the room will appear. Jesus stands before you and is asking, “What do you need me to be for you today?” He is calling to us ready to meet our needs and go beyond them into real relationship. Amen.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Acts study for Friday August 10, 2012

Let's pick up with Act 9:32 and finish chapter 9. A+ students may want to get into chapter 10 a little bit.

The truly adventurous, and I mean it, this stuff ain't easy, might find this article interesting. I can't vouch for all of what he says though it is an interesting way to read miracle stories. The article is very short but may need several readings. The comments and discussion after the article also offer some clarity.

Skirting Satan, Walking on Water and Feeding Five Thousand: preaching the text#comments

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Humor is the secret ingredient

Quick stop

Only a church nerd like me would say, "Hey! Let's stop at that National Shrine to Our Lady of Consolation!"The Good Wife had to stay and nurse #3, so I took #1 and #2 to check out the shrine. As it happened, a celebration of the Holy Eucharist was going on and we found a seat. Now, this is Ohio, north of Columbus, it was very hot and no AC, the kids were champs though. Once the Good Wife and #3 joined us, it was time for prayers and then the Communion. Out of respect for the Roman Traditions, I did not receive, and neither did the children (they were not happy about that at all). It was very touching for me to see the Good Wife receive communion, as a confirmed Roman Catholic. But I also felt the division in Christ's Body over this fundamental Christian practice. The big thing in the Episcopal Church right now is over what is called Open Communion, it means to give the Holy Eucharist to anyone regardless of their baptismal status. I could go on about this, but suffice it to say that the issue is wrapped up in scripture, theology, history, sociology, welcome, distinctiveness and other sundry big ideas; in other words it is a perfect Episcopal kind of issue. But sweating and worshiping with all those other Christians and knowing that I would not be sharing in the Holy Sacrament with them, brought to bear how far the Episcopal Church has come toward a true ecumenical respect in the Eucharist. We may never have true, visible Christian unity, but it wouldn't be all that hard to unify, a great majority of the world's Christians simply by allowing Christians baptized into the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to be able to share the meal that Jesus left us.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Acts Study for Friday July 20

We will focus on chapter 8. What are we to learn from the episode of Simon the Magician in 8:9-24. Hear the weird history of Simon from Father Josh! Then let's look at Philip and his encounter with the eunuch. How is active in this scene, who is passive? Does looking at the activity and passivity of the characters give you a different reading?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Acts study for July 13, 2012

Let's spend all our time on Stephen and his speech. We'll spend lots of time cross-referencing Stephen's use of scripture as well look at how he deploys the OT for the interpretation of the life and work of Christ.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Acts study for July 6,2012

1.) chapters 5, 6, and 7
2.) of human and Godly origin
3.) of waiting on tables and priests
4.) Stephen

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Acts Study for June 29, 2012

1.) Read through chapter 5 of Acts. 2.) Let Father Josh give you his five minute lecture on the four main sects of Judaism in the first century. 3.)What's with, "The Name." in Acts 4:18?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Oops flaked...

Friends, I forgot to put any questions up re: Acts. Go ahead and discuss the first two chapters and we'll review next week.
Until then please enjoy this picture from my vacation

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Luke-Acts Study for 6/8/12

1.) Finish the Gospel According to Luke. 2.) Let's focus on the Resurrection appearances, we will especially look at them in parallel, so cue those parallel passages in the other Gospels. 3.) Don't think we'll have time for a #3 so you just wasted your time reading this.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Luke study for 6/1/12

1.) Read through Luke 22 2.) Chapter 21, huh? How are we supposed to live in light of what Jesus is describing here? 3.) What does 22:38 mean? 4.) Chapter 22 is jam packed, let's unpack it a bit.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Luke study for Friday May 25,2012

1.) read through Luke 20.
2.) let's spend alot of our time breaking down chapter 19

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Luke discussion for 5/18/12

1.) Father Josh will unfortunately be away again this week, Father Michael will come in to guide the discussion. 2.) Read through Luke 18. 3.) Ask Father Michael about apocalyptic language. 4.) Unpack the parable on prayer with Father Michael. 5.) What does Luke 18:18-30 mean?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Luke Study for 5/11

1.) Fr. Josh out of town, see you Sunday.
2.) Read through Luke 17:19.
3.) Are there any connections between the parable of the dishonest steward and the story of the rich man and Lazarus?
4.) What is the story of the rich man and Lazarus about?
5.) In chapter 17, can the healing of the ten lepers be read as a parallel of the parable of the good Samaritan?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Luke study for May 4, Star Wars Day: May the Fourth be with you!

1.) Read through Chapter 15 2.) Let's discuss the parables in 15:3-7; 15:8-10, 15:11-32 3.) How should we read these parables? 4.) What is the setting in which Jesus tells these stories? 5.) Do the parables have a progression or rhythm to them?

Friday, April 27, 2012


If you go to the Friday morning Bible study, I'll miss today: woke up with a stomach bug. Carry on and pray for me.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Luke study for 4/27/12

1.) review the previous chapters
2.)Read through chapter 12 (I know I know, we did that last week!)
3.) how would you characterize Jesus' teachings on prayer?
4.) what does the parable of the rich fool mean?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Luke study guide for 4/20/12

1.) Read through Luke 12
2.) What does Luke 10:16 mean for disciples? Compare with 8:19-21 and 6:46ff.
3.) Compare and contrast the two "sendings," in chapters 9 and 10.
4.)Who is your neighbor?
5.) Let's spend the entire time looking at Luke 10:30-37
a.) first look at the context in which this parable falls in the book, what book-ends it?
b.) looking back which parables has Jesus already told in the gospel of Luke?
c.) what are the actions of the parable, retell it in your own words with plenty of detail, but only the detail that is given in the text.
d.)When we give parables a title we are interpreting them, is there another title you can think of for this parable?

Friday, April 13, 2012

this week's theology notes

Theology: Faith Seeking Understanding

Reverend Joshua D. Bowron

“We Believe in the Holy Spirit…” Sacramentality Part Deux

1 Cor. 11:23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

THE sacraments: Baptism and Eucharist, but mostly Eucharist.

1.) The three main entrances into Eucharistic reception and their meaning.
a. Baptism
b. Confirmation, or First Communion
c. “Open Communion”

2.) My bias = Baptism, though I am softening to the others, especially first communion, and besides, just because I understand the other positions, does not mean that I agree, in fact I really disagree.

3.) How we got here
a. A theological history of each practice.
i. What follows will be a messy representation of 2000+ years of Christian practice.

Next week: meet in the nave with the Confirmation class to discuss sacramentality and worship with things seen, felt, tasted, smelled, and heard.


http://www.anglicantheologicalreview.org/read/conversations/1/ : a lively set of arguments over the “open table.”

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Luke study guide for 4/13/12

1.) Review where we have been, skimming the chapters
2.) Read through Luke 10.
3.) Interpret Luke 8:18
4.) Compare Luke 8:19-21 with Luke 6:46ff ("ff" means, "and the verses following until the end of the chapter.")

Friday, March 30, 2012

Video of Last Week's Sermon

Sermon starts around the 28:00 mark, there was thunder rolling while the deacon read the gospel, FYI

Watch live streaming video from sjecharlotteservices at livestream.com

Text of Last Week's Sermon

Sermon for Fifth Sunday in Lent B
Jeremiah 31:31-34
When did you meet your parents? This is not some kind of existential question.
When did you meet your parents? I don’t mean when did you begin to know your parents, or when did you see your parents as real people with all the faults and virtues of normal people. No, when did you actually meet your parents? Having just welcomed another child into my family I can say that we introduce her a lot to other people. I introduced my daughter to the church, to her grandparents, even her big brother and big sister. But introducing her to my wife and me simply wasn’t necessary: she came from us, literally, so to be introduced is just silly really: we know who she is, and she knows who we are.
I suppose for those who are adopted, it’s a little different. In those cases introductions are in order, and there is considerable work to be done in making that relationship real and concrete. A lot of families celebrate the “Gotcha Day,” the day that the adopting family got the adopted child, the day they were introduced for the first time as family.
Throughout the early history of God’s people, God always has to adopt the People of Israel. Time and again he has to bring the people into his family, into his Covenant that he initially made with Abraham. This is why God is always introducing himself to folks as, “the Lord God the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph, the God of your ancestors.” God is establishing his resume; he has to introduce himself because as time has gone on, and successive generations have passed, they have lost touch with Him. So for the early people of Israel, God is constantly adopting them into his promises, into his covenant.
But today, here in the Jeremiah passage, God, in the mouth of the prophet, has taken a different tack. God begins by saying, “I’m going to do something new. I’m not going to do business as I did in the past. Back in the day, I used to take my people by the hand. But now, I’m not going to be an external force acting on them, instead I will be within their hearts and in their minds. No longer will my ways be written down in books, but within them.” It’s rather startling stuff really. The next part is most surprising of all. God says, “No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least to the greatest.” God is setting up a different model of relationship here. God is saying that people won’t have to teach about God anymore, they won’t have to say, “Know God,” why? Because God’s law, God’s way of behaving and doing business will be written on the hearts of all people. God is saying that he won’t need to adopt people anymore because no introduction will be necessary; people will know that they are in real relationship with God, to such a degree that introducing God would look something like being introduced to your own mother.
But that hasn’t happened has it? We still are evangelical, we still need to introduce God to our kids, to the world, heck even to ourselves. This business of having God’s ways written on our hearts isn’t quite a reality.
People who study the decline of faith and the erosion of church attendance point out all kinds of reasons for such a decline. They cite events from the French Revolution and the publication of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, to the advent of video games and the internet as the culprits for the erosion of the life of faith. There might be something to all that, but I think they miss the point; it’s not science and technology that cause the erosion of faith in our children and in ourselves: it’s a lack of authenticity. What causes any of us to leave the church, or worse yet, stay and go dry: just going to church because that’s what we were taught to do; has to do with authenticity. This is what God is saying to you today, quit following the rules that you think I have laid upon you. Be with me. Be with me, don’t simply talk piously about me; talk with me. Don’t teach your children about me; be with me and the teaching will come through in your life. As Saint Francis said, “Go out into the world and preach the Gospel, use words if necessary.” God is telling us to be authentic today, authentic about our relationship with him. If we can be authentic, then the erosion of faith, whether in ourselves or in those we love, will stop, it will simply stop. That is why adolescents and young adults leave the church, it’s not because we aren’t cool enough, I am cool, I am so so cool, just look at me, no they leave the church because they can smell a fake a mile away. This is the natural ministry of the young: the have finely tuned bologna meters. We must be authentic and stop trying to communicate about our relationship with God in a way that isn’t true to our experience.
This isn’t all to say that anyone here has not been authentic in their relationship with God. What God is saying today in Jeremiah is that we must be who we are in the Lord. It serves no one to simply ape another’s spirituality. We are not brought closer to God by being spiritual copy-cats. We must be the people, the individuals that God has created us to be. This is how the Christian life works: God takes us as we are and sets us on fire, he purifies those things in us that need purifying and he brightens those things that serve Him best. All of it is within us, we are the material which God breathes his Holy Spirit into: in short we become a sacrament. Yet we remain who we are, except for one thing, we now belong to a body, the Body of Christ. I had a talk this week with a parishioner who was unapologetic about his, shall we say personality shortcomings, he said, “Well in the body of Christ somebody has to be the butt!”
There is a trick to being authentic and it’s not all that complicated but it can be hard. It’s called honesty. Life with God can not be a fake-it-till-you-make-it enterprise. God wants us desperately to be honest with him. Of course he knows when we are being honest and when we are not, but God wants us to be honest with ourselves when we encounter Him. If we are feeling doubtful, go to God and say that you are feeling doubtful. If you are overjoyed, then go to God and tell him you are overjoyed. If you are angry, then go to God and tell him that. God works best in the clear light of total honesty and truthfulness.
The funny thing about being honest with God is that it enables us to more and more courageous acts of love towards ourselves and others. Having God within us, written on our hearts introduces us to the One who was always there, just waiting for us to peel away the veils and see Him there, all along.
Have you met your Father? His ways are written on your heart and mind. He’s the one who came again and again looking for you. Have you met Him? He is rather extreme and extravagant in His approach. He has done strange things: becoming a person, suffering and dying. He defeated death, and then He came again in the strangest way of all, He came in Spirit and power to form a people, and he said we would meet Him in each other, and in baptismal waters, and in bread and wine.
Have you met your Father?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Luke study guide for 3/30/12

1.) read through Luke 8
2.) read Luke 6:20 until the end of the chapter. Pay close attention especially to 6:46ff, compare with 8:19-21. How does Jesus characterize those who listen to him and do what he says, in each chapter?
3.) looking at the first 8 chapters, list the geographical places Luke mentions. Is there any rhyme or reason to it? What is Luke telling his readers with the geographical references?
4.) be sure to go over the preceding chapters to remind yourself of where we've been.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Outline for 3/23/12

Brief overview of Luke's sources: Mark, Lucan, and Q.
Analyze the genealogies in Luke and Matthew. (and Mark and John)
Discuss the Spirit in Luke.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Luke-Acts study for 3/23/12

1.) read through Luke 6
2.) how is the Spirit at work in Jesus according to Luke?
3.) using your notes, how does Luke use Isaiah in Luke 4:16-21? Why does he do this in the manner he does?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Luke questions week one

1.) Speeches and non-speeches play a prominent role in the first two chapters of Luke, see esp. 1:46-55, 1:67-79, 2:29-32. Who is making speeches and why? Who is decidedly not and why?
2.) Speaking of speeches, reread 1:46-55. Does this speech parallel any others in Scripture?
3.) There is a genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3:23-38, comapre it with the genealogy in Matthew 1:1-17. Where is each genealogy placed in each text? Why would each author choose to place the genealogies in different places? In other words, what is the narrative use of putting the genealogies where they are?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

This Week's Bible study on Luke-Acts

Friday Morning Bible Study

Luke-Acts for 3/16/12

In an effort to understand the underlying structure, message, and meaning of Luke-Acts, please consider these questions as you read. Below are three levels of involvement in the text.

Level One: Shouldn’t be too hard…

1.) How many chapters are in Luke? How many pages does that represent in your Bible?
2.) How many chapters is Acts? How many pages does that represent in your Bible?
3.) What is the first name mentioned in each book? What does that name mean? Who was this person?
4.) How does the Lucan infancy narrative differ from the Mattean?

Level Two: If you have some extra time…

1.) Read Acts 7:17-44
2.) Read the first four chapters of Luke.
a. Describe in one sentence each, what happens in each chapter.

Level Three: Oh, you really want to get into this….

1.) Read Luke in its entirety. Read for the structure and story, noting big ideas, not details. Try reading it in a contemporary version, such as the Message, to make this easier.


No Bible study in Holy Week 4/6/12

Sunday's sermon

Sermon for Third Sunday in Lent B
John 2:13-22

About 7 years ago I attended my first church convention. I was an alternate delegate for my little Church, Nativity, at the 99th Annual Convention of the Diocese of Atlanta. It was everything a burgeoning Church nerd could love: legislative minutia, heated arguments, song, worship, and my favorite: rows upon rows of vendors, ministries, ecclesial dry goods, and merchandise, lots of merchandise. That year the diocese was feverishly hawking the coffee-table book which chronicled the history of every parish in the diocese. They were selling this book everywhere. I remember the youth delegation pushing t-shirts on everyone too. There was a lot to learn, see, and buy at the church convention. The t-shirts and books were even being sold in the narthex of the church were we had our closing convention Eucharist. When former Bishop Frank Allen took the pulpit for his sermon he opened with an announcement, he said, that we may have heard a ruckus in the church. He announced that a long-haired homeless man had come into the narthex where the things were being sold, he had scattered the merchandise, turned over the tables, and was shouting some blather about keeping his Father’s house holy. Well, don’t worry, Bishop Allen said, we’ve gotten rid of him.
What would Jesus Do? Remember that fad? For those of you younger than, I guess 20, there was a fad several years ago when a lot of folks would wear a rubber bracelet that had the initials WWJD on them: What Would Jesus Do? You don’t see many of those bracelets around these days. The idea I suppose was to have a constant reminder for oneself to think as Jesus did, and always do the right thing. I thought of it at the time as the Jiminy Cricket version of discipleship. I suppose wearing the bracelet was also something of an evangelistic tool, “hey I think like Jesus, so should you.” I remember my father making a comment about the What Would Jesus Do bracelets once, now you have to know my father, he is a good mid-Western sort of man, who I really can’t recall criticizing anyone or anything ever, so I listened when he said simply, “Well, I guess I just wear one of those bracelets on my heart.” That was enough for me.
I think when most people ask what would Jesus do they don’t have today’s Gospel reading in mind. Today what Jesus would do is tear the place apart. Today Jesus would turn over the tables and scatter the money, disrupt the entire sacrificial enterprise. Scholars have written on this subject in recent years and it seems that Jesus may have been upset over moving the business end of the legitimate sacrificial system from the Mount of Olives to the interior of the Temple. Jesus knows that the sacrificial system is good and fine, but the business of it, the changing of money and selling of animals is simply not proper for the interior of the Temple. And his disciples interpret his actions with the ancient words: “Zeal for your House, Lord, will consume me.”
Jesus is clearing out the Temple, he is railing against a sort of spiritual materialism. Hear that: spiritual materialism. It sounds like a paradox because we tend to think of spiritual as ethereal and non-practical. Of course, spirituality is simply the most real. Spirituality is the really real. And materialism, well materialism isn’t all bad, after all, God is the ultimate materialist, he made all material! The problem arises when we try to hold on to too many things for our spirituality.
You see, our hearts and minds are like a room. As we grow and even before we can speak a word, some furniture is put into our rooms. Some of the furniture is good, furniture that is beautiful because of the virtues they represent: hard work, care for others, justice, family. But over time, as we put more and more furniture into our rooms, the rooms of our hearts become crowded and even cluttered. What happens is that it becomes so crowded, even with good things, that we can’t move.
Like he did in the Temple, we need to invite Jesus to drive out everything to clean house. When Jesus cleared the Temple, he cleared it of things that were good, in and of themselves: the sacrificial system was good then, money is good and not evil. But they were encroaching on the thing that mattered, the one thing: worship, direct contact with God. So we must let Jesus clear out the room of our hearts so that we might be able to have room to actually worship God.
But Jesus will not leave the room empty. There will be one piece of furniture left in the room. It is Jesus. Now there have been lots and lots of ways of using figurative language to talk about Jesus: the Way, the Gate, the Son, the Good Shepherd, the Alpha and the Omega. I don’t think I have ever heard Jesus compared to a piece of furniture, so I guess we are breaking new ground here. But this one piece of furniture in our rooms is unique. I imagine Jesus might be a lot like that special piece of furniture in C.S. Lewis’ novel, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The Wardrobe there is special because it is not simply an object of beauty but is the door into another world.
Jesus then is our door, which we go through to a transformed world. Unlike Narnia however, this transformed world is still our world, but through Jesus, it is different. And all those things that Jesus cleared out we find again, but our relationship to them: our money, friends, family, work; they are utterly changed when we interact with them in light of our passing through Jesus. So our relationship with money is changed in the light of Jesus. Our relationship with our family and spouses changes in light of our relationship with Jesus. This is the point: that the fundamental, the foundational relationship is with Jesus, period. Let your life be guided by that relationship first, and the others will fall into place. And by fall into place, sometimes the fall might be into a trash pile; some of the clutter in the rooms of our hearts is just trash and needs to go. Jesus changes things. It’s what he does. That’s What Jesus Would Do, that’s what Jesus does, he transforms things. When Jesus comes around, nothing is left as it was.
So let Jesus into the room of your heart, let him drive things out, turn things over, and leave the once piece that matters, through which all our lives become changed.
It is nearly Spring after all, what better time for a good cleaning?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

An Uncommon Ash Wednesday Sermon

This sermon was given last night, it reflects a profound hurt in the parish and what I hope is a pastoral response.

Ash Wednesday

I don’t think I can do this.
I don’t think we can do this.

It’s all too much. This week started with a funeral for a dear friend to all in this parish. This week will end with another funeral for one of our youth who was killed just yesterday morning in a car accident.

Last week I buried another of our youths, Matthew.

It’s too much Lord. This parish has had enough.

Here we all are, your broken people who come to this church for healing, but today, well today is not a time of healing. Today is a day of contrition, and ashes, and sorrow.

Well, Lord, we’re already there. We’ve already got the ashes, smeared all over our souls.

Sometimes the needs of the congregation are so great that they trump just about everything else. So, with Father Paul’s blessing, I have something to say to you. I have something to say to you that I’ve never heard on an Ash Wednesday:

You are excused.

You are excused from punishing yourself.

You are excused from denying yourself. You are excused from whatever you gave up, if that helps. To quote Father Paul, “Have another cookie.”

What this church needs now is to come together. What we need to give up is our walls. We will especially give up our walls that separate us from our young people.

But you will still observe Lent, you will still get your ashes, and you will still have self-examination as our Prayer Book dictates, but this needs to be self-examination focused on your relationship to the young people in this church. You will still repent, but especially of the sin of looking through the young people of this church, of being afraid or indifferent in your approach to them. And you will fast; you will fast from not eating with them. And you will deny yourself, so that you can reach out to one of them. And above all you will pray, you will pray daily for the youth of this parish. For too long we have simply let Matt and Jillian, and the youth advisors do all the heavy lifting of raising these kids in the faith. We all promised at their baptisms to do all in our power to support these persons in their life in Christ. You promised! Now make good on that promise. For Lent, give up not making good on that promise.

And guess what? They won’t like it. If I know youth, and if I remember my own youth (which wasn’t all that long ago), the truth is they will squirm a bit, and they WILL roll their eyes. But they won’t be able to help knowing, KNOWING, that we, all of us, love them, and want nothing but the best for them. And yes, we know their names, and we know who their parents are.

So you may have your own Lenten discipline. And all the priests here want to support you in that. But for this parish, well for Lent this parish is going to get to know our young people. We will reach out to them and learn who they are and what it means to be a youngster these days. Learn them, befriend them. And although they may squirm and protest they will know that we love them.

Good Lord they will know that we love them.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sermon on Star Wars as hermeneutic

Sermon for 6 Epiphany B

This week the 3D version of the fourth Star Wars movie, which is actually the first episode, called The Phantom Menace, came out. As a child of the 80s, I can’t help but think that George Lucas is systematically, one movie at a time, attempting to dismantle my childhood. The original Star Wars movies were amazing, and the new ones, well the new ones just stink. I imagine that anyone under the age of twenty might disagree, and they are free to, but of course, they are wrong. They say the sequel is never the equal, but in the case of the Star Wars the prequel ain’t even close.
Not so with our readings today though. What we have in the gospel is something of a movie: Jesus heals someone and tells him to be quiet about it. But the healed man can’t help himself, he goes out, blabbing to anyone who will listen; so that while Jesus wanted to keep things quiet, he can no longer show his face in the towns for the fame that he now has. Jesus is a smash hit for his healings.
Now in the Old Testament, we get the story of Naaman. Naaman is a general who is not a friend of God, in fact he has captured at least one Hebrew woman. Well it turns out that Naaman has leprosy just like the man in the story with Jesus. We could see this reading as a prequel to the Jesus healing story. The woman that Naaman has captured seems like an uncommonly good person, because she has compassion on Naaman for his disease and tells him to go to Elisha the prophet. Naaman does and finally is healed, and commits himself to worshipping God. Here the prequel is the equal, someone is healed and begins to worship God.
So like Star Wars, we have an original blockbuster: Jesus the Healer. And like Star Wars we have a prequel: Naaman being healed and beginning to worship God. But what about the sequel? Is there a Empire Strikes Back to our New Hope? Is there something that comes after Jesus healing that is part of the same story?
Well as a matter of fact there is. It turns out that Jesus made plans for the sequel. In fact he even gave some coming attractions of it. You see, elsewhere in Jesus’ story he talks to some of his friends about feeding him when he was hungry, giving him a drink when he was thirsty, and visiting him when he was sick, or in prison. You remember this. His friends ask him back, “When did we see you hungry or thirsty or sick or in prison?” Jesus answered them: “When you give water or food to someone who is thirsty or hungry, when you visit the sick and those in prison, then you did it to me.” This is the sequel: where we see Jesus in the hungry, the sick, the dying, and the prisoner. The thoughtful film buff might inquire, “If that is the sequel, shouldn’t it be in the same theme? After all we have Jesus healing, then in the prequel we have Naaman being healed, the sequel then should be the same thing: someone should be healed when in the presence of Jesus.
Yes! There is, but this sequel has a twist, often when we think of helping others, we think we do it because it is something that Jesus would do. And of course Jesus did visit and heal the sick, he did feed the hungry. But the twist comes with how Jesus’ described what we see when we help others. When us Christians are helping others, we don’t necessarily act like Jesus, so much as we look for Jesus. That’s what Jesus says, when we help others we are helping him, when we serve others we serve Him. This is the twist and it gets even better. What happens to people when they are in the presence of Jesus? They get healed, and why should we be any different? So the story of healing goes on, we are the sequel; a sequel with a twist. The twist is that we think we are visiting the sick, we think we are being Jesus, but Jesus keeps making guest appearances and cameos, Jesus keeps showing up!
Jesus talks in the Gospels about where we might find him in two distinct places. When we have Holy Eucharist, “this is my Body, this is my Blood.” And we trust that Jesus shows up, that’s why we take the Holy Eucharist so seriously, Jesus is here! The other place that Jesus says he will show up is in the faces and hurt of the sick, dying, hungry and imprisoned. And we take this seriously too, but it’s a little riskier to see Jesus in this way. Sometimes Jesus has a dirty face, or a criminal record, or looks just like someone we bitterly do not want to lose. But Jesus has always been risky, that’s what makes this particular character so compelling. We should be as serious about seeing Jesus in others as we are about seeing him in the bread and wine.
So here we are; we are a sequel people. We live out that theme that God has established in the life of Jesus, the life of Israel, and now the life of the Church. In terms of Star Wars, I guess that makes us The Empire Strikes Back, which is the darkest, and most interesting of all the Star Wars movies. But that also means that God has one more sequel in store, one more chapter in the saga; a Return of the Jedi if you will, where everything is revealed, where God is fully known to us and we truly accept who our Father is.
Until then, until that finale is released; let’s live the story, let’s go out and be healed by Jesus, here in the breaking of the bread and as we care for each other meeting Jesus face to face.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Vessel for holding anointing oil

pic done on iPhone with Camera+ app, on the altar at Saint John's = 4 prepositions in that sentence, now 5.

Funeral Sermon links for my theology class

Here are the links to some of my funeral sermons. These are good examples of occasional theology, the occasion gives rise to the theology. Note what I say and don't say re: the afterlife.



Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sermon for fifth Sunday After the Epiphany

I hate to admit, but this topic is so thorny, that I didn't write this until an hour before it was presented. Please excuse any formal or theological stumbling blocks.

Sermon for fifth Sunday After the Epiphany year B

I have been simply struck dumb as I’ve dipped my toes into these priestly waters at how the lectionary lines up with the life of the parish. It almost looks like a divine hand that is working through the selection of our readings and the life of this parish. I think this is the best definition of how our scriptures are holy, they work on us to such an extent that we can actually see our lives reflected in them, they make a claim about our lives, and our life together. And today we get a doozy.

Here in our Gospel we have Jesus going and casting out demons and healing the sick. And what did we have this week at Saint John’s? No less than two funerals, several hospital admissions, and one devastating prognosis for our sister Jo Brock. In the Gospel reading the people bring the possessed and the sick to Jesus and he casts out the demons and heals the sick. In first century Palestine, being possessed by a demon and being sick were oft-times synonymous. So if we bring our friends to Jesus in prayer he will heal them, right?

But what happens when that doesn’t happen? What happens when hundreds of Christians pray for the healing of someone and the healing never comes? How can we talk of the unsurpassing power of God, the ultimate goodness of God, and still know that evil and degradation exists?

This past week I had one precocious 9 year old parishioner ask, “If God created everything, then why did God create cancer cells?” Why indeed? Did God create cancer cells, or did God create cells in a world where things can go wrong, where cells can rebel against their natural state and begin to fight with other cells. You see, God created a world that has the freedom to go wrong.

But doesn’t that mean then that God’s power is limited? If God is so powerful, then why would he create a universe that is capable of evil and loss? The answer is freedom of course, but it is so hard to talk about freedom in the culture without having a political discussion. The kind of freedom that God builds into the universe, even into our very souls, is the ultimate act of divine power.

What kind of God would control everything? What kind of powerful God would find it necessary to arrange every little heart and mind toward him? What kind of a powerful God would force us to love him? A monster-God that’s what; only an insecure and ultimately weak God lords his power over his creation.

Our God, THE God, creates a world where the creation can choose Him or not. Our powerful-God creates us to choose. In this freedom, which we are truly free to use to love or hate God, and each other, is the square-one of creation. From there we can move toward God in love, or away from Him in coldness and anger.

But, there is a real downside to this freedom that God builds into his creation. It allows for the existence of evil. I must quickly add that, even though God allows for the existence of evil, he does not will it. Evil is a by product of a finite universe, sin is the by product of freedom. God does not will evil to happen but suffers its existence for the sake of our freedom. Time and time again God does indeed overcome evil, the Bible is case study after case study in the triumph of God over evil: The exodus of the Hebrews from Slavery, the constant call of the prophets to return to God, and finally in the triumph over death by the raising of Jesus. God works through evil to show his ways, to create an Epiphany of himself within his creation.

So here we are: right in the middle of this creation, this free creation which houses bad cells, bad choices, cosmic and everyday evils. So what do we do? What do we do with Jo, and countless others who suffer and die right before our eyes? We do what we always do, we return to God, we don’t have to be cheery about it, we can ask questions, Why Lord? We go to God and we thank him for our creation. We thank him for those he has given us, if even for far too short a time. We thank God for our freedom: that we can choose him. We look to our creator and we thank him, even with pain and loss in our hearts, even with tear streaked faces we can freely go to our creator and sing his praises.

And there, in that moment, we might get a sense of the distinction between healing and curing. When we run to God in our distress, when we cry in his presence then maybe a healing can occur, even if a cure doesn’t.

There is no happy way to end this sermon. We will never be free of the ambiguity of our creation and existence with a powerful loving God in the midst of evil and sin. But we will sing his praises, we will confess our sins to him and each other, we will celebrate his death and rising until he comes again. And we will tell his story, the story of the powerful loving God, who allows for freedom, though we might suffer its consequences.

Join me now as we tell his story in the words of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in One God, the Father Almighty…

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Funeral Sermon, again, sheesh!

Here is yet another funeral sermon. This one for a local young man who had died all to young. I've taken out his name.

What a curious God we have!

How strange that He would create to begin with. How utterly strange are grass, and finches, chambered nautiluses, and seasons.

How strange that He would then create us.

Us: with our emotions, our various chemistries and impulses. How strange that God created us and imbued each of us with reason, skill, memory, and a beautiful bag of skin to hold all of that in.

What a curious God we have, that would work through history to reveal himself. What a strange thing it is for one outside of time to enter time. We see him most at work in the lives of those who are sensitive to his movements, in the life of Israel, in the life of the church. Of course history and our own lives are filled with the stories of those “God-moments,” those thin-places where God sometimes creeps, other times invades.

What a curious God that arranges things, arranges people, arranges meetings and leavings, arranges our coming and going. What a funny God we have that shines-through even in impossible darkness. What a curious God who would begin to prepare M’s family for his death. What a strange and loving God who would make M and his family, at least more prepared, no one is ever truly prepared for this, nor do they ever fully heal;but to begin to greet his death from far off, and then now, all too close. How interesting that God would bring M home from California, would gather in his family like He did; how strange that M and his mother would talk about God and the life of the spirit the night he died.

What a curious God we have that would come to us, to all of creation, as a creation, as a man. What a strange God who gets so weak, who takes on flesh; and comes to us as Jesus. Other gods are not like this, other gods lord their power over their subjects, but this God of ours becomes a subject. How strange that this God would come and take on flesh, only to grow and feel pain, to suffer and finally die. What a strange God that we have, who assumes all human suffering, and says, “I’ve participated in all of this with you, I am with you.”

A funny God he must be too to give us someone like M, at once so lovely and yet so difficult. One so charming and charismatic but also so hard to live with.

Strangest of all of course is that this curious God of ours made the claim and made good on the claim that death is not the last word. This God raised Jesus from the dead.

This is founding of our religion and it is that which allows us to sing alleluia, even here at the grave. It is this God that helps us to hope and know that we haven’t seen the last of M.

Indeed, it is this same curious God who enables us to participate in his own death and resurrection through the even-stranger Holy Spirit. God has made a meeting place for us and Him in the baptismal waters. Amazing things happen there in the baptismal waters: there we are grafted into the life of God, never to be removed.

C.S. Lewis in his novel, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, gives a beautiful account of baptism and I wonder if there might not be some parallels in it with Matthew.

It seems that Eustace, a young boy who was difficult and, at times, heard to bear, has become separated from his family. In his wanderings Eustace happens upon a dead dragon and in touching it, he becomes transformed into a dragon himself: beautiful and sharp. After several attempts of trying to transform himself back he finally falls frustrated and hopeless. Then Aslan the lion, the allegorical Christ in the Narnia books, arrives and leads Eustace to a pool and tells him to undress. After three attempts of trying to remove his sharp scaly skin he gives up. Aslan then tells Eustace that he must undress him, Eustace tells it this way: p109
“I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do.

The very first tear he made some deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it is worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. . . he peeled the beastly stuff right off -- just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt-- and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking then the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft is a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he called me-- I didn't like that much I was very tender underneath now that I know skin on-- and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. ” Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis, page 109.

What a curious God that would take us in so. What a loving and strange God that would meet us in the baptismal waters to peel off all the scales and sharp edges, and then unite us to his death and new life so much so that when Christ was raised, so were we. And to that we all say, “Thanks be to God,” thanks be to God for creating us, thanks be to God for giving us M and thanks be to God for redeeming us and including us in his death and resurrected life. AMEN!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

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Here's my sermon for today, text below, video above (I start at minute 24)

Sermon for 4th Sunday after the Epiphany, year B.
Mark 1:21-28

This past week, on Wednesday night I told this story of Jesus in the synagogue to the little ones. The story of Jesus walking into the synagogue and teaching; and the people being astounded by his authority. Then the arrival of the man who had an unclean spirit and how Jesus cast out the unclean spirit. It was then that, none other than my own daughter, asked what an unclean spirit was.

How do you teach children about demons, about unclean spirits, about a level of the created order that is misty, dark, and malevolent? It reminds me of when I was a teacher, and we were studying World War II. When we got to the Holocaust, it fell on me to teach what that was. Here I was: having to pass on the story of utter hate and destruction, to a new generation, they were hearing this information for the first time. This passing on of the story must happen of course, as the saying goes, those who do not know the past are condemned to repeat it. Though I prefer the updated version of that phrase, those who do not know the past are condemned to live in the present.

So, my darling 7 year old, asks what is an unclean spirit? I immediately get a flash of Dante and Milton, the Exorcist, , Satan, red tail, and cloven feet. My answer was truthful, but guarded: unclean spirits are bad thoughts about God that people sometimes have.

Unclean Spirits.

I find it interesting that in all the Old Testament there is not a single mention of demons. We have Satan mentioned a few times, but no demons. Then in the New Testament, seen here in Mark the first written Gospel that we have, demons and unclean spirits seem to be a part of life; and such a part of life that are not altogether unsurprising. In another place in the Gospels the people of a region have chained up a man tormented by demons, they feed him and care for him, albeit poorly, but the truth is, he is tolerated. It would seem that contact with a person possessed of unclean spirits would not make one dirty, ritually, indeed that even being possessed is not a violation of any purity code, because in today’s reading the man is in the synagogue. So whatever happened between the writing of the two testaments, one thing is clear, demons abound, and they are part of life and not altogether surprising.

So our scene is dropped into this context of familiar demons and these homely unclean spirits. The scene takes place on the Sabbath. The setting is a synagogue. Enter Jesus. Jesus takes the stage, the Torah scroll is behind him, he begins to teach. We are not told of the content of his teaching but we are told of the style, Jesus does not teach like the hired pros, no he doesn’t obfuscate, or hem and haw, this Jesus has authority! But then a man with an unclean spirit comes in and challenges Jesus loudly. Jesus hushes him and commands the spirit to come out of him. The spirit obeys and the people are amazed and recap the scene for us, in case we missed it: This Jesus is amazing both for the authority of his teaching and for the fact the demons obey him.

But there is one fine point. Did you miss it? I did, I missed it for years. The heart of this reading is hidden in plain sight.

What does the unclean spirit say? “What have you to do with us Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” It’s right there. This demon, or demons since they say, “Have you come to destroy us?” Here we are at the front of the first written gospel, still in the first chapter, and Mark gives away the whole story. These two, Jesus and demon, seem know each other. Well, if they don’t know each other, the demon certainly knows who Jesus is. The demon recognizes who Jesus is, he can (sniff) smell it on him, the demon can smell eternity on Jesus, the demon knows his creator when he sees him. I imagine for Jesus this might have been something like flying half way across the world, going through customs, and at the baggage claim, hearing, from among the clatter of all the foreign languages, someone from his home town calling his name The demon and Jesus come from the same place, and here we get a glimpse of the creation as so much more than meets the eye, and Jesus coolly hushes the demon and casts him out.

This scene is about more than an exorcism: it is a clue. This story is a clue about how to be Christ in the world.

And this is tough news. I hope you all have learned that the Good News is sometimes, if not usually, tough news. It’s hard being a follower of Jesus. You see, this life with Jesus just might sometimes look like this scene of Jesus and the Demon in the Synagogue. Folks need to be able to recognize Jesus in us, on sight. People need to be scandalized by our behavior, by our unrelenting love for others and the reason for that love as Jesus in us.

Folks: Jesus should be as obvious in us as he was to that unclean spirit. Because we all need to get away from that old frozen chosen way of doing church, of being the church. We need to get our hearts and minds and actions around the idea that our faith, our discipleship to Jesus, is personal but it is no longer private. We’ve all done it! Our faith is personal; God has come to each of us and indeed wants to know each of us, individually and collectively, as a body, in the church. But all of us have kept it private for too long. How do your teachers know you are a Christian? How do your employees, or your boss know you are a Christian? How does your neighbor know you are a Christian?

And let’s not get too high on ourselves when we think about the world and us here in the church. There is no special border between the world and the church. The world and the church are not separated by some Divine fiat, God didn’t create two separate communities, and He certainly didn’t create one community to be at war with another. No, as one wag put it: the world is simply that which has taken the liberty to not yet believe. The world is that which has taken the liberty to not yet believe. Your classmates, your coworkers, heck even your boss is not an unclean spirit. They are not unclean spirits, but they need to see Jesus in us.

So go out and be Jesus, use words if you have to, be Jesus in the board room, be Jesus in the chemistry lab, be Jesus in the file room, the court room, the gym, and even in traffic.

If you don’t know how to be Jesus, well that’s on us. That’s on the leaders and teachers of this and every church. If the church through the years has shown you a Jesus that is non-threatening to unclean spirits, if we have sold you a Precious Moments, domesticated Jesus that doesn’t demand your transformation, well then, I apologize for that. I apologize if you have been sold the therapeutic Jesus and not the Transformative Jesus.

Let’s welcome our scandalous Jesus, let’s welcome our obviously present Jesus. Let’s go into the world and let all the spirits: clean, unclean, and indifferent, look at us and our lives and say, “What have you to do with us Jesus?”

Tuesday, January 24, 2012