Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Guess Who's Coming to Town?

Is the all seeing and all knowing Santa Claus watching you and making a list of your every action? Are your Naughty marks going to cost you this year?

How many of us grew up with Santa Claus Theology 101?

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He's making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out Who's naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

O! You better watch out!
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
Santa Claus is coming to town

This American Christmas classic was written by two composers named Haven Gillespie and J. Fred Coots and was first popularize by Al Jolson in 1932 ( At some time during my growing up years, I stopped staying awake to catch this Santa Claus character in action. Interesting that Jesus asked his disciples to stay awake with him while he spent the night in prayer, but our parents wanted us kids to go to sleep right away so they could put our gifts under the family Christmas tree.

This popular Santa song made the receiving of gifts contingent upon children being good. Good meant no crying, no pouting, and not being naughty. Sort of an open book of bad behavior designed to give parents a bit of an edge on their kids as Christmas approached.

For many adults, the belief that being good will bring you gifts from a omniscient and omnipotent Santa God continues to hold their imaginations. Is this also the message of Jesus? I doubt that you could make an argument for Jesus wanting us to do wicked things to one another, but does Jesus tell us that God's gift giving is dependent upon our being particularly good? At one point Jesus says that the rain falls on the just and the unjust, suggesting that maybe being good does not magically and predicatably bring us material goods that will delight and fascinate us.

During Advent we do hear about a time of death, judgment, heaven, and hell. These are the traditional themes of Advent called "the last things."

Are these the gifts and punishments of God for being nice or naughty?

What is your hope in the face of death and the fears that we face each day?

What is your understanding of heaven and hell? Are these just outdated ideas of the past or do they still capture your imagination?

What does God judge us on, collectively and indivdually?

What is the relationship between our behavior and God's willingness to give us good things?

As you read this week's Gospel from St. Luke, does this suggest a Santa Clause theology or something more profound and transformative?

I invite you to read the Gospel for yourself. Spend some time with it and let the words and phrases find a place in you.

Luke 21:25-36

Jesus said, "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The King Who Washes Feet:In Whose Service is Perfect Freedom

On this Christ the King feast day, it is important to remember that Jesus was a different sort of king than is usually imagined when we think of Herod, Caesar, or Louis XIV.

In fact, his reign as king is best understood in his insistence upon washing the feet of his disciples on the last evening they spent together. Jesus, by this act of servitude taught his disciples the truth about God’s Kingdom. The Kingdom of God was an invitation to join God in voluntary and freely given service to others.

It is little wonder that Pilate could not grasp the meaning of this truth. For Pilate, truth was about the raw power of military might. To maintain power and control, the threat of violence and the willingness to use military might to achieve political objectives were the only options. This was Pilate's truth. This was Caesar's truth. Behind every king, there was an army that would support and sanctify his rule.

And so, when Pilate judges Jesus we hear both speaking out of two very different contexts. What is Jesus' definition of his kingship?

If Jesus' kingdom were like the kingdom that Caesar claimed, he would have been raising an army, rather than the dead.

He would have had others serving him, rather than serving others like their common slave.

He would have been excluding the weak and powerless from his followers rather than intentionally calling them to be with him.

He would have used all the tricks of the trade to increase his personal power rather than emptying himself of such power.

The Gospel for this Sunday, Christ the King, contains a powerful exchange between two men with very different understandings of the truth. Jack Nicholson made famous the line, "You can't handle the truth," in the film, A Few Good Men (to view this clip from the movie go to Nicholson's character is very much like Pilate. For Pilate, the truth is really a lie turned to truth by raw power and violence. Pilate’s truth is myth.

Truth for Jesus is about doing what he sees God doing. Like a child imitating a parent, Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus, in kneeling before his disciples to wash their feet, was expressing in human terms the image of God. He is showing us how God uses the power of the universe in loving service to his creation and his beloved children.

On the day of Jesus’ judgment, he is tried for the crime of being a king and he is convicted by the mob through the instruments of the Roman state. The crowd is reported to have roared: “We have no King, but Caesar!”

As we celebrate Christ the King, I would invite you to make your judgment of Christ by making a choice about what sort of king you will serve. Will you let Jesus wash your feet? Will you serve this servant king?

A Collect for Peace and Protection

O GOD, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom; Defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defence, may not fear the power of any adversaries, through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

John 18:33-37

Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him,

"Are you the King of the Jews?"

Jesus answered,

"Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?"

Pilate replied,

"I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?"

Jesus answered,

"My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.

"Pilate asked him,

"So you are a king?"

Jesus answered,

"You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Kingdom Beyond Violence and Distress

John came to the church and the door was closed. He opened the door and discovered that the building was empty. On this particular Sunday, everyone had stayed home. Why? John really did not have an answer to that question. All he knew was that he was alone when he needed to be in the company of others.

Has this scene played out here at Christ Church? Over a 213 year history there have only been a few short years when this sanctuary has not been the place of meeting for countless Christians. We need one another and the physical church is for many Christians, the symbol of our unity and place of meeting.

In today's Gospel reading, Jesus looks at the symbol of Jewish faith, piety, and unity, the Temple in Jerusalem and predicts its destruction. The Temple was the place of gathering and identity for most of the people of Jesus' day. It must have been hard to imagine the Temple left in ruins. Here is the Gospel for this week.

Mark 13:1-8

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?"

Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, `I am he!' and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

Today, such negative words might be the equivalent to someone predicting that our National Cathedral or The White House or some other symbol of our national life would end up being leveled by a foreign invader. Such talk might be considered treasonous or inflamatory.

Jesus tells his disciples to be watchful. Most people are attracted to the negative headlines. Jesus is telling his disciples not to be captivated by such negative events and the spin that is put on them. He predicts that false leaders and messiahs will arise and promise that they are the "final solution" to world conflict and earthly woes. People will believe and do just about anything if they think it will save them from chaos and violence.

Jesus tells his disciples that the signs of violence and catestrophic events are "the beginning of the birthpangs." Why and how does the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven create such chaos and violence? Jesus predicts the end of the sacrificial system of Israel. This is the system that has allowed Israel to survive the horrors of disunity and mutally assured violent destruction. By maintaining such a sacrificial system a level of control and order was maintained in the most difficult of situations.

The destruction of the Temple and the destruction of all of the other signs and institutions used to control human violence and disunity leads to more and more wholesale violence ("wars and rumors of wars"). The failure of human systems to achieve true peace and unity is in direct response to the transformative power of God that flows from the cross. Jesus gives his life instead of others being sacrificed in the name of God. His sacrifice creates doubt about the way we control violence and then certainty that our human institutions have failed to bring us the "peace of God that passes all understanding."

Jesus seems to be looking past the final acts of human violence masquerading as God's will. Jesus has a vision of a world in which God's love is the source of human unity and peace, but the path to this day of resurrection is through the dark night of the soul, the cross, and history. As we approach our patronal feast of Christ the King, consider the sort of world Jesus saw and for which he was willing to give his life to bring it about.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Running the Race:Dealing with Loss

I put on a pair of running shoes and stood just outside our home adjusting my hat, heart rate monitor, and pedometer, and checking my watch for the right time to do what I had not done in 2 years. I was about to jog on knees whose painful protests had shut down one of my most important physical and spiritual practices.

I started my journey the only way possible—one tentative step at a time. With each step I felt a return of the faith in my body, my legs, heart, and lungs to carry me down this street and that.

But I also honored and respected my body's needs and limits. After two years of absolutely no aerobic activity other than walking the dog, the heart monitor I wore made a loud beeping sound to alert me that I had exceeded the healthy limit of my cardiovascular system. And so, I stopped jogging and started walking.

The monitor beeped again to let me know that my heart rate had slipped below the level needed for an aerobic workout and I returned to my jogging pace. This will be my pattern for months ahead, but with each passing week, I find I am able to go further before the monitor sounds and faster.

On that first day back on the streets, I made my way towards the beaches of Playa Del Rey (Beach of the King). I found that my knees did not hurt. I had been given the gift of running again. I do not know how long I will enjoy this gift, but I can tell you that each step reminds me of my limits and the joy I find within those limits. It allows me to experience both my poverty and wealth.

For two years I have watched others as they ran slowly or quickly with their own unique gate and pace. At such times I grieved the loss of this experience in my life.

Why grieve over something I could not seem to control? Over 25 years ago, running saved my health and life and became an important part of my spirituality. It was a way of experiencing God through my breath and stride. So, when my knees seemed unable to carry me on my daily runs, I experienced a great loss. Have you experienced such a loss in your life? Have you lost through age or injury or illness some special gift that made life better for you?

It seems that loss is a very common human experience. From the day of our birth until the day we die, we know loss. Even when our losses are necessary and part of growing up, we experience them with varying degrees of pain.

Perhaps we accept some of these losses with grace. Often our losses take place over a long stretch of time. This gradualness gives us time and space to come to a graceful acceptance or a grudging accommodation.

Other losses come quickly and dramatically. Some losses are large while others are small. Some things may not seem like a big loss to others. Our personal valuation of the people, places, activities, and things in our life make loss a somewhat lonely and personal experience.

Consider the widow in our Gospel lesson for Sunday. Her loss seems to be self-chosen. She gives up her last two cents as a gift, while the giving of others was not so much a gift, but a way of demonstrating their power, wealth, and influence.

Jesus praises this woman as he watches her give away what represented her life. Jesus perhaps sees in her, his own giving of his life. Those who take his life seek to diminish him, make him the loser, but Jesus gives them his life as a gift.

So, as I count my blessings over the gift of running again, I am reminded that this gift, like everything and everyone else in my life is not permanent and that the time will come when I will experience the loss of it. As with all losses in life, I pray that I can offer what has been a pure, simple, and gracious gift back to the One who has so kindly given it to me.

I may experience it as loss and a cause for grief, the way one grieves the loss of a loved one, but I hope that at some deep place within me, I can offer the gift back to God with thanksgiving and praise. I believe this is what is meant by Jesus when he described the woman as, “Giving out of her poverty.”

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

What Are Your Top Two Rules to Live By?

In this week's Gospel lesson, someone asks Jesus to identify the first commandment.

What are your top two rules of life? What experiences, people, or events taught you to believe in these rules?

Perhaps a reading of Jesus' response to this question might be worth looking at.

Mark 12:28-34

One of the scribes came near and heard the Saducees disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?"

Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that 'he is one, and besides him there is no other'; and 'to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,' and 'to love one's neighbor as oneself,'--this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices."

When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." After that no one dared to ask him any question.

Perhaps Jesus and this anonymous scribe found common ground. The scribe says that sacrifices are less important than loving God and neighbor. Jesus says in response to this declaration: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Do our personal codes of conduct that rule our daily interactions with God and our neighbors bring us closer to the kingdom of God? Do our rules allow us to sacrifice others for our own self interests?

The photo on the cover our weekly service booklet shows the builders of the last Corazon home in Mexico. Did their actions offer them the opportunity to practice the great commandments that Jesus embraced in his life?

Do we learn to love God and our neighbors simply by saying we love them or does love only grow through patient practice of the gifts of hospitality and grace?

Does practicing love of God and neighbor change us?

Here are some quotes about love to help us prepare for this week’s Gospel. Do you have a favorite quote that you would like to share?

To love at all is to be vulnerable. --C.S. Lewis

You really shouldn't say 'I love you' unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget. --Jessica - age 8

Love cures people, both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it. --Dr. Karl Menninger

If we discovered that we had only five minutes left to say all that we wanted to say, every telephone booth would be occupied by people calling other people to stammer that they loved them. --Christopher Morley

He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God. God is love. Therefore love. Without distinction, without calculation, without procrastination, love. Lavish it upon the poor, where it is very easy; especially upon the rich, who often need it most; most of all upon out equals, where it is very difficult, and for whom perhaps we do the least of all. –Henry Drummond

Do not waste time bothering whether you "love" your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone you will presently come to love him. -- C. S. Lewis

We can only learn to love by loving. --Iris Murdoch

Love means to love that which is unlovable; or it is no virtue at all. --G. K. Chesterton

People need loving the most when they deserve it the least. --John Harrigan
The first duty of love - is to listen. --Paul Tillich

A Christian should always remember that the value of his good works is not based on their number and excellence, but on the love of God which prompts him to do these things. --John of the Cross

Love has no errors, for all errors are the want for love. --William Law

If love is the soul of Christian existence, it must be at the heart of every other Christian virtue. Thus, for example, justice without love is legalism; faith without love is ideology; hope without love is self-centeredness; forgiveness without love is self-abasement; fortitude without love is recklessness; generosity without love is extravagance; care without love is mere duty; fidelity without love is servitude. Every virtue is an expression of love. No virtue is really a virtue unless it is permeated, or informed, by love. -- Fr. Richard P. McBrien

If the Church ever succeeds in doing that big thing, that great thing, that unspeakable thing that God purposes that we should do, it can only be when we enter into that Divine compassion of the Son of God. --John G. Lake

Where there is great love there are always miracles.-- Willa Cather