Friday, November 23, 2007
Dear Christ Church Friends:
Christ Church is a community of blessing for many people. God has found in this community an open channel through which to share his gift of grace which allow us to be transformed as individuals and in turn, to transform the world in which we live.
Many of you may recall the story that Saint Luke tells about a little tax collector who climbed a tree so that he could see who Jesus was in the midst of a crowd. His name was Zaccheus. When he climbed the tree to see Jesus, I doubt that he had any idea that his life would soon be changed, transformed, but it was.
Jesus called him down from the tree and invited himself to Zaccheus’ home for a meal. His home was filled with people that would never have been considered worthy of God’s attention. They came to eat with Jesus. This was a sacred act of friendship and love. With the breaking of the bread and the simple act of seeing Zaccheus and the others at the meal as God’s beloved children, Jesus shows us the power of God that is transforming our world. Zaccheus’ responds to Jesus by offering to give a huge portion of his financial assets to the poor and to make generous financial amends to the people he had cheated.
The church, for me, has always been like a tree which I have climbed to see Jesus in the midst of the crowds in my life. But the church is more than just a place to see Jesus in a whole new way. It is also the place into which Jesus invites himself to be our guest week after week. He comes among us and looks deeply and lovingly into our souls and into the heart of this community. He breaks the bread which we offer each week and in that broken bread we see the love and forgiveness which God has made known to us in Jesus.
How can we respond to what we have experienced of God’s love and grace?
Be the tree that allows others to see God at work in the world. Be the home that is open to all of those who are being drawn to the table of God for his feast of forgiveness and love. Our presence and willingness to serve and financially support the many ministries of Christ Church makes us tree and home to all whom God is bringing to our community where Jesus is our honored guest.
God's Peace in Giving,
Monday, November 19, 2007
Last week Jesus told his disciples that one day not one stone would be left standing upon another in the magnificient Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple and the city were the heart and soul of Israel and remain so even up until today. But there was a dark day when "the Empire" struck back at God's people. They hit the Temple and the city as a way of showing that Rome had the power to destroy Jewish identity and culture and faith.
For many Jews, the destruction of the Temple and city did cause a loss of identity and faith. Their history was filled with stories of invasion, enslavement, and rescue. But the Temple did not rise from its ashes.
We can learn much about ourselves by what our enemies consider our heart and soul as a nation. Consider the fact that there was no religious building attacked on 9-11. The National Cathedral was certainly within range of the other targets and yet the terrorists did not even bother with this national place of prayer.
No, their targets, what they considered our heart and soul, were our financial, military, and governmental centers. The Twin Towers, the Pentegon, and the White House were the icons of the American Empire. In this famous photograph from 9/11/01, the cross on Trinity Episcopal Church on Wall Street stands just in front of the cascading debris of the Twin Towers.
The photograph captures two worlds at once. The destruction of what can never be the heart and soul of the human family is really no defeat of those who call themselves Christians. The lives lost in those buildings are of the greatest concern to Christians who seek to comfort the victims of Empires and Terrorists. The cross stands for Christ our King's words from that cross: "Father forgive them for they don't know what they are doing."
In the clash between Empires and Terrorists, the cross stands for the reconciling love of God to all of his children and for the deep sorrow and grief expressed by God in Christ and by the church for our continuing ignorance of the things that make for true peace.
As we consider our lives in relationship to these two worlds, these two ways of living, we are reminded of our vocation as Christians contained in our baptismal vows and promises. We are to respect the dignity of every human being. We are to seek and serve Christ in all persons. But most profoundly and with the greatest need for surrendering to God, we are called to love our enemies and to pray for them.
This is not just one more thing on our list of things to do. It will not get us any awards from our local communities or make us heros to most people. But it will definitely change us into the new creation that we see in Jesus and for that we can only offer all that we are and all that we can be by the grace and love of God.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Have you ever wondered if there was life before death? What did he say? I know this seems like a dumb question, but maybe it isn’t as dumb as it may appear. How do we really know we are alive? Do we define life as the opposite of death? Is that the way God defines life for himself or for us? These are some of the questions that our Gospel reading from Luke raise for me.
The setting for our reading finds Jesus in Jerusalem shortly before his arrest, trial, and execution. He is being quizzed by members of a religious group known as the Sadducees. They were of the priestly class who offered sacrifice to God on behalf of themselves and the people. For them, only the Books of Moses or the Law were from God and the ancient and deeply held belief that was upheld by the Sadducees was that there was no life after death for human beings. Once you were dead, you were dead.
Death was what gave definition to life. If you were breathing and your heart was beating, you were alive. If you had material wealth and health and children who honored you, you were blessed. Religion was designed to keep you in the blessing and alive. Those who were not blessed, while still alive, were under a curse for some sin or other.
In death, however, everyone including those who were blessed in this life, were goners. Being alive meant you were not dead and being blessed was the final hedge against death. Fear of death is the father of the living. That is why the Sadducees tested Jesus with one of their old traps for proving their point and here it is:
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him a question, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be?
Do you see the trap? The authority of scripture and of Moses are immediately put into play. How dare anyone challenge Moses, the giver of the Law or the laws he gave. Before we get too critical of the Sadducees, we might do well to consider how many of us today quote Scripture or cite other sources of authority as a way of making our points. We are a people who like to have authority on our side when it comes to most of life’s most difficult issues.
And most of life’s most difficult issues are about life as it is defined by death or more particularly, how we can avoid death and gain blessings for ourselves. The Jews had a long tradition of believing that death was the end of life. Children were a way of extending oneself into the future, to carry on the family name and position in the world.
So the Sadducees’ question referenced a law from Deuteronomy that required a brother to marry and have children with his dead brother’s widow in order to allow his dead brother a continuing presence in life. The Sadducees final question makes sense within their belief system which was based upon a fear and anxiety about death. It was pretty simple and effective, but wrong, according to Jesus.
What is your view of life? Of death? Of God? Listen to Jesus’ answer to those who were trapped in their traditional and scriptural understandings of God.
Jesus said to them, "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.
Jesus describes the culture of death that informed the Sadducees' beliefs and traditional understandings of the Law. He says that they “belong to this age.” This age stretches back to the beginning of human culture, a time when God was seen as the one who used death to control and define human culture at its best. The values of family, work, prosperity, and empire are rooted in fear and anxiety about death.
Jesus then speaks about a different age, an age that Jesus was bringing into the world. In this age, God would no longer be defined as the God of the dead and those who worshipped and served him would no longer use marriage, family, work, prosperity or empire to live beyond death.
Consider the ways we live out of our fear of death. Are we like the Sadducees, unable to see beyond the age to which we belong and whose very religion is shot full of the fear and threat of death and the ways we seek to transcend death without God?
Jesus says that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are alive to God, not dead. Life is not the opposite of death. In God, we die to this death as a way of defining our life and offer our lives to God as “living sacrifices.”
Who is God? God is the God of the living, not the dead. This is the power of God that this age, to which the Sadducees and we belong are blind. It is this power that raises Jesus from death and which allows us to live in the freedom of life that is only found in God. This is the age that has come, the Kingdom of God on earth.