Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

PRAYING FOR MERCY

Dear Friends from around the world,

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Week after week we are given gems of worship and prayer in the opening collects assigned for each Sunday in the Church year. I would like to begin this Gospel Reflection by focusing on this week’s collect.

Before we look at the collect, I would like to offer the following questions to consider:

How does God cleanse and defend the church?

If you look at the history of the church you may arrive at the conclusion that Christians, in the name of God, attempt to cleanse and defend the church using tactics that seem very far from Jesus’ ways. As our Gospel readings the past few weeks attest, congregated Christians called the church, tend to believe that cleansing and defending is about weeding out the “weeds” among us. The secular version is not much different. Instead of basing the weeding on the Scripture or the Traditions of the church, we seek to weed out others based upon all of the many ways that we are different from one another.

Collect for Sunday

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ Our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Let’s confine our conversation to the church. Historically the church has known many times of conflict over purity of doctrine, practices, and morals. We have found ourselves using authority and even violence to defend and cleanse the church. All parties in such disputes believed they were following God’s will and ways in doing so.

But our collect for Sunday suggests that it is God’s mercy that cleanses and defends the church. What? How can any organization survive long that depends upon mercy? Consider the all too true fact that no human person or institution gets “IT” right. If we have any doubt on how accurate judgment is, we have the cross as our corrective to such notions. If Rome and Israel could not see God in Jesus, but instead saw the source of evil, how can we ever imagine that human beings have evolved in some way and developed a better eye?

God’s mercy is about the loving kindness of God that issues in forgiveness of our attempts to weed out others when we have been told that such weeding is not our vocation, but God’s work. Of course, most of us are very slow to get this concept and our place in the eternal cosmos. It is our slowness, our blindness that God forgives.

How might a meeting of bishops who were ready to weed out the faithless and failed from around the world function if they depended upon the mercy of God to cleanse and defend the church? The moment one recognizes this loving kindness, this tender mercy, can we continue to weed?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN LIKE A MUSTARD SEED...



Once upon a time, a certain person had a field in which she planted a mustard seed. The planter loved the mustard seed and the tree that grew from it because it allowed birds to come and build nests in its branches. Now this mustard tree became a sign of what was important to the planter and all of the people who lived in a village that surrounded the tree tried to become like the mustard tree, a place for all different kinds of people. So, they welcomed people from surrounding villages, offering them hospitality and a place to stay.

Now this village was called the Mustard Seed village and was right next to a garden that was planted by a neighboring village. The name of their village was Eden and their garden was beautiful to them. Only plants that were prescribed by the community were allowed to grow in this garden. The village hired gardeners to tend it and to continually pull out weeds that might damage the peace and serenity of their garden. Members of the village were on the look out constantly for weeds and even set up scare crows of straw to keep unwanted birds or humans away from the garden.

For the Village of Eden, life was like their garden. There were no weeds allowed, no pesky birds to disturb their peace and harmony. So, when a weed popped up and grew to the size of a tree in their village, they were distressed indeed. The whole community came together and people who had previously seen some of their neighbors as weeds in an otherwise perfect garden, suddenly found their resentments, rivalries, and hatreds within the community vanish.

Yes, it was a great day. People with shovels, hoes, saws, and axes all heading for their garden to cut down that evil weed that had grown so large that birds boldly landed in its branches as if to take up permanent residence. The community was brought together in a common assault on the weed tree and the birds that were nesting. Feathers and bits and pieces of birds and the weed flew into the air.



In three short hours, it was over. The evil tree and birds were all gone. It was reported by one of the villagers of Eden that the tree had put up a battle, but that the power of Eden had prevailed. The Garden of the Village of Eden was saved! Generation after generation would tell the story of the day the Weed Tree was defeated and the birds scattered. In fact, every year on the same date, a ceremonial reenactment of that day of victory was staged. And, of course, on that day, everyone in the Village of Eden felt that sense of oneness, peace, and harmony that had been felt on the Day the Weed Tree was defeated.

The ceremony also brought to mind the need to be on the look out for other weed trees within the community. Prayers of thanksgiving were offered for the salvation brought about by the cutting down of the tree and the death of some of the birds that had made a home in the tree. And this ceremony actually seemed to give everyone a renewed sense of community and togetherness. Even people with resentments towards others gave it a rest on this special day.

Oddly, over time the evil Mustard Seed Tree took on almost god-like qualities for the villagers of Eden. A respect and fear of the Tree developed. It seems that the power of the Tree was most apparent in its power to bring people angry, resentful, and war like people together in a common effort. For many, the Tree became like a god or some say a demon. What power it had to bring peace and unity to Eden was a complete mystery to the Eden villagers. And so, life continued in Eden, a village without unwanted weeds or birds, or people.



Post Script: In Mustard Seed Village the community continued to love the Mustard Seed Tree and to see in its life, their own lives. They saw themselves as a village of peace, unity, and hospitality for all of creation—plants, animals, and especially the Mustard Seed Tree and the birds that lived in its branches.

“Jesus put before the crowds another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field.; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’”

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

SAYING GOOD-BYE


Saying Good-bye to two people who have meant so much to me and to the Christ Church community is difficult. Wally and Lizz Beitzel (See Lectionary Lizz for my thoughts on Lizz) are moving north to live near their son and daughter-in-law which as a father and grandfather, I can completely understand. I believe they are making the right decision, but I still find myself struggling with the notion that they will not be part of our weekly community worship, formation, and leadership.

I have known Wally and Lizz for a very long time and I am thankful for this long friendship which I know will continue beyond their leaving. Wally and I went to Bloy House together and our paths have gracefully come together and crisscrossed over those years of friendship. I always looked forward to coming to Christ Church as a supply priest because it gave me a chance to work with Wally. I still have a lime green Christ Church T-shirt that Wally gave me on one of those visits.

It was my delight to help Wally get licensed as a priest in this diocese and to share with him in the ministry of the Table. Wally is a humble man and it has been a real joy to stand next to him at the altar when he celebrates and to invite people to come to the chapel for prayers with him. Wally has continued to study and to be formed by his worship and reading. His ministry as a mentor in EfM and as a sought out friend in the congregation will continue to grow through the many lives he has touched.

Wally, may God continue to bless others through your life and ministry. I hope that you will come to be with us whenever you come this way again.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

THE SEEDS JUST KEEP ON FALLING





























I have always loved stories. As a young child, my Mother, Grandmother McBean, Aunt Pauline, and Uncle Cal used to read stories to my brother and me. Grandmother McBean was even good at making up stories as we walked with her around their small farm home in Kansas. The stories were mostly about people, places, and events we did not know except through the reading or telling of the story. We loved to listen.

Sunday’s Gospel reading from Matthew 13 recounts one of the stories Jesus once told to a large group of people who gathered around him on the beach. There were so many people crowding in to here the stories he told that he had to get into a boat and push away from the shoreline. His strong voice must have bounced off the water and allowed the growing crowd to hear clearly what he was saying.

The story we will hear this Sunday is about a farmer who goes out to plant seeds. Now the farmer scattered the seed all over the place. As a child I had planted seeds on my Grandmother McBean’s farm. My Uncle Cal would plow the field and then my brother and I would carefully place seeds in the furrows and then cover them up.

So, the farmer in Jesus’ story did not do it like my Uncle Cal taught us. This farmer just throws the seeds on the worst possible places: on a dirt path, a gravel pit, in a patch of weeds. Of course, Jesus also says that the farmer manages to also scatter the seed on “good earth.”

Jesus ended the story noting that the seeds that fell on the path, the gavel pit, and the weed patch did not produce a plant that could be harvested, but that the seed on good earth produced a huge, almost unimaginable harvest.

We could certainly end our Sunday reading right here. I could then simply quote Jesus’ next words to his listeners as my Gospel Reflection for this week and my sermon for Sunday.

What did Jesus say next?

He said:

“Are you listening to this? Really listening?"


What do you think the disciples asked in response to Jesus’ question?

10 The disciples came up and asked, "Why do you tell stories?"

They asked Jesus why he told stories. This seems like an odd question for a group of disciples to ask their teacher. Many great teachers tell stories to help their students learn a difficult concept. What Jesus is seeking to teach is not difficult because it is intellectually challenging, but because it challenges the very foundation on which we behave as human beings. Jesus’ story telling offers those with ears to hear and eyes to see, a view of how hard it is for the Kingdom of God to “come on earth as it is in heaven.”

11-15 He replied, "You've been given insight into God's kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn't been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That's why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they're blue in the face and not get it. I don't want Isaiah's forecast repeated all over again:

Your ears are open but you don't hear a thing.
Your eyes are awake but you don't see a thing.
The people are blockheads!
They stick their fingers in their ears
so they won't have to listen;
They screw their eyes shut
so they won't have to look,
so they won't have to deal with me face-to-face
and let me heal them.
16-17 "But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance.


Jesus seems to have a high opinion of his disciples’ mastery of what he was teaching them. He says they have “God blessed” eyes and ears. He goes on to say that even the great religious figures of the past, even the most humble among those old believers were not given the chance to see and hear what the disciples were seeing and hearing.

If truly listening and seeing with God blessed ears and eyes is available to us, why would we stick our fingers in our ears or screw our eyes shut to avoid seeing what Jesus calls a blessing and healing? I would suggest at least one good reason for our resistance to hearing and seeing: God’s ways are not our ways (see the prophet Isaiah for the rest of this quote).

In a world of competing powers, each claiming to have God or right on their side, we make a presumption that God is like us, particularly those of us who think, desire, and act the same. Is that really God’s desire for us? I have seen a t-shirt with the message: “ If God wanted everyone to be like you, she could have done that.”

Jesus’ knows the human heart. He knows that his message of God’s forgiveness especially in the face of our lack of forgiveness, our resentments and revenge against others is hard for us to understand. So he tells stories to reach into our hearts and find a good place for the seed of God’s love and life-giving forgiveness to grow. Those who receive this seed and take in what it means to be forgiven and loved without conditions become the sowers of forgiveness. The story simply says that the farmer just keeps throwing the seed out there. God just keeps on loving us and forgiving us.

Consider below the ways in which the seeds of God’s love and forgiveness sometimes fall on ground in our hearts that do not result in us forgiving others. Some seed will be road kill.

Some seed will momentarily spring up and be thankful for the chance of a new life. But we will know that the seed fell on gravel when while accepting forgiveness for ourselves, we do not share it with those who inflict hurt and pain on us.

Finally, the weeds of copying the material desires of others and wanting what they have turns us into envious, resentful, and ungrateful people.

If forgiveness were our response to the perceived or actual hurts inflicted on us by others, perhaps those whom we forgive might be changed into forgiving people too. Jesus’ story reminds us that just because someone does not become forgiving when we forgive them is not a reason to return to being unforgiving ourselves.

We live in a world of hard roads, gravel pits, and weedy gardens, but there is also good soil in all of us waiting for the seed of the Kingdom to be offered by the sowers of God’s love and forgiveness. I pray that we may all see with God blessed eyes and hear with God blessed ears so that we may turn and be healed.


18-19 "Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn't take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person's heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road.
20-21 "The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it.
22 "The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.
23 "The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams."