Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

''MORE WONDERFULLY RESTORED''



O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


On this second Sunday of Christmas, I would like to focus on how the resurrection is very much a part of the Christmas celebration. Consider the innocence of children that Christmas normally conjures up and then try to visualize what we might call those who have lost their innocence. Innocence is a state of not knowing about or not having done that which betrays ourselves or others; hurts ourselves or others; gradually, but radically turning us old, not so much in years, but in our ability to hope and trust ourselves or others.

In one of the most powerful icons of the resurrection, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, calls attention to the faces of Adam and Eve as Jesus is pulling them up from the bondage of their past. They are not the young and fresh faced innocents that artists have rendered them in the Garden, but the haggard faces of those who have witnessed thousands of generations of their progeny who were “wonderfully made,” slip into the morass of innocence lost.

Our collect for this Sunday is about the restoration of the dignity of human nature. One definition of dignity is “Inherent nobility and worth.” When we act as if of our brothers and sisters are not worth as much as other or lack the nobility of being a child of God, we actually participate in the very process that makes the world a place where all human worth and nobility is lost. It is this lost inherent nobility and worth that God seeks to return to us.

Christmas is about more than our creation as children or a celebration of this brief time of innocence in the Garden of Eden. It is about how we are being “more wonderfully restored.” In the third chapter of John’s Gospel, the old rabbi, Nicodemus, comes to Jesus and asks about this restoration and Jesus tells him that he must be born “from above.” Nicodemus strains to understand these words of Jesus and I think his struggle is our struggle: How can we who have grown old and hopeless or at least a bit cynical, be filled with God’s life and hope for a new creation?

Nicodemus is sometimes made to be seen as a bit dense. He asked Jesus how someone as old as himself can be born again by reentering his mother’s womb. For many people both then and now, childhood was the only time in life where there may have been some moments of feeling valued, protected and secure while for others even childhood was filled with apocalyptic terror.

Jesus birth is not a promise that we will all return to the pristine state of innocence portrayed in the Garden of Eden, but a sign that a restoration of human dignity is beginning. Since we were first “wonderfully made,” God intends to “more wonderfully restore” us. The collect describes how this restoration is taking place: “Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ.” The dignity of our human nature is restored by sharing the divine life of Jesus.

Our restoration is not about seeing others as either more worthy or less worthy than ourselves, but by seeing the mark of God’s love in all of creation. There are those who wonder why the church has insisted on the singular divine status of Jesus as God’s only Son. I think this is a good question. Why do we elevate one person to such a lofty and exclusive position of divinity?

All good questions reveal something about ourselves and the world that forms us in its image. If we assume that such a view of Jesus means that the rest of us are somehow less than Jesus, do we not reveal the very thing from which we need restoration? Is it not our fear of being treated less than that seeks to make everyone the same? Is it not that same fear that demands that we are more worthy than someone else when it comes to access to health care, food, clean water, medical attention, or a good education?

Our fears create a false sense of worthiness in exchange for the true dignity of humanity in which difference is not a reason to treat others with less charity or respect. Jesus’ status as “the only Son of God” can only be understood in terms of how he treated others. The Gospel tells us that Jesus treated everyone with respect. Jesus saw in each person that inherent dignity of difference that was part of the original creation and he loved, welcomed, healed, fed, taught, and transformed those who came to him seeking to be free from the fear that leads to a sense of worthiness that is believed to be earned and needs to be defended rather than as God’s gift that is to be shared.

Mary, Joseph, the angels, shepherds, and even the stars that celebrated and witnessed the birth of Jesus saw more than just the birth of a beautiful and blessed child of Israel. They saw the beginning of the restoration of human dignity in the face of the Christ child. The One by whom and through whom all things are created had joined us in our flesh and blood existence in creation. The dignity of the difference between God and humanity is seen in God’s service and giving of himself that we might be able to share ourselves with one another.

Adam and Eve, our tattered and torn humanity, are being resurrected to the new life of grace. Nicodemus was right we are not returning to a state of innocence, but to a state of grace. Grace is a great way of describing the life of restored dignity. We are no longer innocent of things done and left undone to ourselves and others, but we are forgiven and invited to live with even greater dignity together. We are called to share in Jesus’ divinity in the way he shared with us—in our flesh and blood lives. Amen.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Eve: God With Us Is A Baby?



How in the world can an individual or a community prepare the way for God to come to us? Perhaps in the same way we prepare for the birth of any child that we welcome to the world as bearing our image and the image of God. Just as there is no way to prepare ahead of time to bear the costs of loving a child who is born into our world, so there may be only one way to prepare for the coming of God as a child.

What parent has not prepared for the arrival of their soon-to-be born child with great expectation and sometimes foreboding? Are we really prepared to parent this child who will emerge an unknown to us? Do we have the financial, emotional, spiritual, and physical capacity to bear this child from the safety of the womb into a world we cannot control?

Most of us put such questions aside and focus on the joys of parenting before we have really had to deal with how costly it is to truly love. Marriage is the first opportunity to begin this adventure in welcoming God into the world because our partners bring with them a whole set of challenges to our sense of the way things ought to be. Marriage is like signing an infinite set of blank checks and handing them over to our partners and bringing a child into the world requires an even more costly commitment.

Loving without counting the cost means that every child born into our world bears the image of God and makes that child our little brother or little sister. Shall we deny that child a loving community because this child or that child will be too costly for us. How does love prepare, but to surrender and bow down before God with us and in each of us. The cost of love is beyond price, but not beyond human capacity.

God's coming into the world that we prepare for each Advent is almost comical. The Great I AM, Yahweh elohim which means the Lord God, does not storm the ranks of human control and power, but enters as we all enter the world, as a vulnerable child in need of a place to call home and a family to love, protect, and care for us. God the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Creator of all that is seen and unseen is a baby?

Yes, a baby who, as Luke tells us, found no place to call home. Yes, a baby, who was laid in a straw-filled manger where animals eat. Yes, a baby whose city of birth, Bethlehem, means "city of bread." This same baby who was rejected by the world, was handed over to parents who loved him and who were willing to give their lives to save him from harm.

How did God sneak into our world? He came as a baby and God placed him in our care. Will God come again to judge us? Yes, but this time there will be no secret about how God is coming among us or if God is truly among us. Every child born of Eve and fathered by Adam bears the imago Dei, the image of God and our opportunity to welcome God without fear or shame depends upon if we are prepared to write that blank check of love that ushers in the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, a mansion for God where only a stable was provided at his first coming.


Blessed Christmas to all.

Monday, December 14, 2009

OF RAINBOWS AND THE CROSS



This past Sunday morning as I was rushing to get ready for the eight o'clock service, Dar Hoover pointed out a beautiful full rainbow arching across the sky right over the church. I stood there taking in this sight and then pulled my cell phone out to try to capture the moment in some sort of digital form.

What really caught my attention was the positioning of two symbols of faith that continue to be part of our consciousness. As you can see from the photograph, the white cross that marks the spot of our community and has since 1893 is seen in juxtaposition with the rainbow.

According to the story told in Genesis 6-9, as human beings grew in number, they also grew in violence towards one another.

The question the story deals with is this: If God were to destroy everything on the earth, but those whom he found to be faithful to him, would things work out differently.

What would your answer be to this question? What if God simply wiped out every person that was violent and wicked, would the human race become non-violent and benevolent in relationship to one another?

What if you, rather than God, got to decide who should be eliminated? Who would be on your list and how well do you think the world would work without such folks?

Our Jewish ancestors took this question very seriously because at the root of the question was an understanding of who God is. Simply put: "Does God make junk?"

So the storyteller shows us that after God flooded the planet from above and below, he discovered that violence against humanity would not really make us less violent.

God said: "I'll never again curse the ground because of people. I know they have this bent toward evil from an early age, but I'll never again kill off everything living as I've just done. For as long as Earth lasts, planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never stop." (Genesis 8:21-22)

Later in Genesis, chapter 9, God's promise to never use violence against humanity again is repeated with a sign of that promise being the rainbow. Rainbows and rain come together. The sign of the instrument of human destruction is made to be a sign of God's loving promise to never again use violence against humanity.

In Genesis 9:12-16 God continued, "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and everything living around you and everyone living after you. I'm putting my rainbow in the clouds, a sign of the covenant between me and the Earth. From now on, when I form a cloud over the Earth and the rainbow appears in the cloud, I'll remember my covenant between me and you and everything living, that never again will floodwaters destroy all life. When the rainbow appears in the cloud, I'll see it and remember the eternal covenant between God and everything living, every last living creature on Earth." 17 And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I've set up between me and everything living on the Earth."

Is this story really about God's righteous anger lashing out against us in order to eliminate us as a "problem," or is it a story about human violence not being the solution to the problem of evil and violence in the world?

The storytellers of the Bible are brilliant in the way they pose what is an enduring question for us as we seek to live in a violent world.

President Obama, when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize this past week, wrestled with this same question of how evil can be eliminated in the world. The deeper question that may not have been addressed by our President was whether seeking and destroying terrorists in the world will bring about true peace in the world.

Such questions are either answered quickly and with a real sense of knowing the absolute truth of the matter or nuanced so as to not really make any sort of statement at all, allowing our actions to speak for themselves.
We are living in the age of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are living in the time of Advent—the time of preparation. God is preparing us for the coming of a way of being human that will finally answer the question of evil. The storytellers of Genesis simply concluded that God’s reason for no longer using violence to wipe us all out was because we are evil from our births.

The story of the coming of the Christ child offers a different view and it begins with this line: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…” God has never given up on us. God did not create us for destruction. God did not make a mistake when he created us. Without exception God says, “Yes” to us.

Just as the rainbow stands as a sign of God’s promise to never use violence to achieve his promises of peace, prosperity, and unity, the cross reveals God’s everlasting hope that we will become like him in creating a world without violence and the evil that spawns it or that seeks to control it.

The cross is a very different symbol than is the rainbow in one very important respect. While the rainbow represents a natural disaster as if it were God’s violent judgment against humanity, the cross is humanity’s violent judgment against God and ourselves. In the cross we see God’s great love for us and our historical response to it. As God draws closer to us and we see how we treat him in the ways that we judge and treat one another, we are preparing for God to be in our world as friend and not as a violent and hateful despot.

The cross and the rainbow appeared together last Sunday as a reminder of God’s advent and of our advent too. God came to us on Christmas day and continues to be with us and to work through the Holy Spirit to prepare us to come to God. We are called to “Come and adore…” the Christ child of Bethlehem in our Christmas celebration, but more profoundly we are called to become Christ in the world and to find Christ in our neighbors. The cross and the rainbow are appearing over the crib in Bethlehem and over us as well.

Monday, December 07, 2009

WHEN THE Y SAID, "REPENT" I WONDERED WHAT THEY MEANT



Leonard Cohen wrote and sang the song, "The Future." While the language of the song is disturbing, it has many of the same qualities of the prophets of Israel, including John the Baptist. Prophets do not predict the future without being completely in touch with the times in which they live. Prophets know themselves and completely identify with the people to whom they are sent.

Do we know what John the Baptist means when he says, "Repent?" What do we hear and see around us that would indicate a need to change our ways?

THE COLLECT FOR ADVENT III

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

We are a prophetic community. No prophet ever stands outside of the community to which he or she is sent. Like John the Baptist, we stand in solidarity with all of the prophets in the past such as Isaiah and Zephaniah whom we will hear speak to us this coming Sunday.

A prophetic community is created whenever a group of people are called together by the Holy Spirit to discover their own deep sense of dependence upon God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness over against religions that divide humanity into pure and impure, good and evil, saved and unsaved, strong and weak, rich and poor, healthy and sick.Such religions preach a form of self-sufficiency that allows for very little concern for how we are all related as brothers and sisters of a loving God.

Our collect for this Sunday reminds us that we are not the finger pointers of the world; that we are not self-sufficient, but prophetic in that we acknowledge our complicity and participation in the very structures of sin and death that corrupt and destroy the creatures and creation of God. We acknowledge that, save for the Gospel’s message of love, forgiveness, and hope, we might have continued to be willing or ignorant followers of this the mythology of self-sufficiency.

How much of God’s power and might are required to move a group of individuals to come together in the confession of our common human predicament and a common faith in a God who can save us from our situation?

The collect refers to our condition as being “hindered by our sins.” We are wise to note that the collect uses the collective “our” to describe our condition. Sin is a corporate or community condition. Were I to exist without God or anyone else, sin would not exist. Sin is about how we think and behave in relationship to other people and God. It is out this thinking and doing that we form our common life together.

So it is, when we come together in a prophetic community we are in the greatest jeopardy and need, but also the best position to receive the bountiful grace and mercy that constitute the power and might of God to help and deliver us.

In community, the power of sin to accuse us, divide us, and cast this person or another out in the name of some idol of peace and unity is dispersed by our willingness to admit our captivity to another power we call sin.

Like glue, sin connects us together in a different sort of relationship to one another than does love. This glue is elastic enough to create the illusion that we are stuck with one another unless in some significant way we can distance ourselves through a sense of being better than this person or that person.

Sin takes differences among us and turns those differences into reasons for praise or rejection. Those who are thus rejected seek have historically become the “untouchables” of society. Those who benefit from the hierarchy of sin create systems to maintain their praiseworthy differences and to ensure separation of those who would claim their positions.

When John the Baptist called those who came out to the river Jordan seeking his baptism a brood of vipers, he was speaking a message that included him. He, too, was a child of the accuser, the serpent. You have no doubt heard the expression, “It takes one to know one.” John was the son of the priestly class of Jerusalem. His birth, however, came to a couple who had to bear the stigma of having no children.

So, in John, both privilege and curse join together.

John was a great prophet and those who joined his community helped prepare the way for God’s saving action in history. It is into a community that acknowledges that our ways are not God’s ways that God finds a place.

We acknowledge that God does not create community by excluding anyone, we do. We acknowledge that God does not accuse, we do. We acknowledge that God does not store up wrath against us, we do.

We acknowledge that we are “hindered by our sins” in the very ways that we relate to one another, the creation, and God we come to the waters of baptism to begin our communal and personal journey towards God. We are anxious to travel this path and so we ask God to “speedily help and deliver us.”

John is anxious for God to usher in his kingdom too and he uses language that seems to describe drastic and violent measures to speed up the process. John might have favored a “put the fear of God in them” approach to those who came from Jerusalem to gain the benefits of the prophet’s baptism.

But when Jesus came to be baptized in the Jordan by John, there was no army of the righteous surrounding him. He too was born of God and of humble Mary and he came in that great humility spoken of in last week’s collect. Images of axes, fire, wrath were not lived out in Jesus’ life as the work of God in his life.

Instead, Jesus healed, taught, fed, and raised from the dead. His crime for which he was cut down by human wrath was to be God in the world, but God as he knew God to be—creative, loving, non-violent, deathless, life-giving, and abundant.

This God did not play favorites or see some worthy of more love, mercy, and the gifts of creation than others. This God did not sanction the institutionalization of sin that glues us together and generates violent ways to separate ourselves from one another.

As we prepare for Christmas, the birth of God’s only begotten son, let us rejoice that God’s powerful ways of freeing us from the relationships of domination, violence, and self-sufficiency are expressed in God’s bountiful grace and mercy. We are a prophetic community that knows itself to be in need of God’s power and might to deliver and help us.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

OUR SHARED LIFE ON COMMON GROUND: Reflections on Stewardship in 2010



Dear Friends:

Christ Church is common. Some might see such a statement as contrary to their experience and the usual understanding of the word, common. Common literally means “shared by all.”

We are common because our life together is shared by all people who are seeking God. This includes those whom we invite to share our common ground.
And so it is that Christ Church is shared by all of her members and by those who happen by this place looking for God (see Jesus’ story about the buried treasure in Matthew 13:44).

The fire that has rendered our parish hall unavailable since May of 2008 has been a great loss not only for this parish family, but for those who have shared this facility with us over the years. We have housed meetings of many 12 step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous. For those folks seeking God and recovery, this Christ Church campus was their spiritual home and a place of refuge.

We have also opened our doors to be a place where the basic responsibility of citizenship can be exercised in the voting booth.

Just before I started to serve here as your rector in 2001, I was standing on the steps of the church talking with Bob Dennison, who was the very gracious senior warden when I arrived. One of the men from A.A. approached us and thanked us for sharing our parish hall with them and without a moment of hesitation, Bob Dennison replied, “We share the same land lord.” In that moment, I knew that I was in the right community of faith. We are a common church, shared by all who make this place and this community their spiritual home.

As your vestry continues to labor towards returning the parish hall to full service, I invite you to consider how this loss of space has impacted our common life at Christ Church. The buildings that house us are really like our family home. How would a family deal with the loss of a kitchen, a dining area, a living room?



We need such common spaces to express and share our common life together. Like our bodies, our physical existence is the clear expression of our spiritual life and so it has been more difficult for us to share our common life together since the fire.

This letter is about supporting the common life and work of Christ Church. Your financial support allows us to live on common ground in a community of faith with a common love for God and our neighbors and to extend this beautiful way of life to those in the community with whom we share our common space.

Each year we are all asked to make a personal pledge to support this parish and each year I have invited, encouraged and hoped for a pledge of your presence in worship, your service in community, and your growth in the knowledge and love of God and neighbor.

We will continue to celebrate our faith-based pledging which is explained in our annual pledge material and I want to encourage you to also consider how you can become more involved in the common life of Christ Church. My vocation as a priest, my joy, passion, and commitment, is to help you in this endeavor in whatever way I can.

May God bless this common ground and faith community as we move towards restoring our parish hall and kitchen and once again open our parish hall to those who come here looking for a faith and a community that is real.

God’s Peace on Common Ground,

Bob+

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Random Acts of Loving Kindness and Perfection



This past Tuesday, November 17th, Barbara Ramsey-Duke called a meeting of your senior warden, Gail Connolly, your vestry Outreach chairperson, Susan Mulledy-DeFrank, and me to set up a bone marrow donation drive in honor of Maya Chamberlin. Maya has been our prayer list for several months (September 9th) because she contracted “a rare form of a blood disease, called hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, or HLH for short. This disease involves the histiocyte cells eating up normal blood cells which are then stored in the liver and spleen. This results in an enlarged liver & spleen which then compromises breathing by pushing on the lungs. The disease is so rare that there is not even a body of data on which a prognosis (survival odds) can be based.”

The rest of Maya's background story can be found at the conclusion of this reflection on my Gospel Reflection blog. Barbara Ramsey-Duke had contacted a woman named Anna Marie Cruz from Be The Match. This organization helps set up bone marrow drives in the Los Angeles area. Anna Marie told us about the work of her organization and she helped separate fact from fiction about the process of donation. All of us felt that offering this opportunity to our parish and the community beyond our parish was of utmost importance.

Anna Marie also shared stories of matches between those in need of a donor and the donors whose gift saved lives. She had one such story chronicled on a Dvd. Christine Pechera was dying of cancer, but a bone marrow donation saved her life. All of us were moved by Chistine’s story.

And so we will offer the parish, their friends, family, and our surrounding community an opportunity to register to be donors. The word donors literally means “one who gives.” And the gift that is given is hope and life for those who sit “in the valley of the shadow of death.” (Psalm 23) As Christians we profess faith in God who is THE donor of all life of which we are stewards. We give thanks for :”our creation, preservation, and for all the blessings of this life” by sharing the life that God gives to us. In John’s Gospel, we read that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” (John 3:16)

To be clear, those who sign up to be donors are promising to donate to whomever they match, making their gift a “random act of loving kindness.” This is important for us to know because it makes our decision to be a donor an act of godly generosity.

Gifts that are given only to those whom we know, love, and care about are good gifts, but when we offer to give to those whom we don’t know, might not find lovable or even likable, we offer a godly gift. It is a godly gift because God gives to us without regard to how we feel about God. As it is written in Matthew 5:43-48:

43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

I urge you and encourage you to enter into the joy and love of God’s perfect giving.

WHAT and WHEN: Bone Marrow Testing will be offered on Sunday December 13, 2009 immediately following the Holy Eucharist at 10am until 3pm

WHERE: In the sanctuary of Christ Episcopal Church
408 South Broadway

WHY: For the love of God and God’s Children who are in need

Maya’s Background Story

Maya became sick with flu-like symptoms on Sep 9. As has been the case so many times in the past 3 years, her symptoms worsened. We brought her to the doctor Sep 10 and after a blood test Maya was admitted Sep 11 since all the blood cells, including white blood cells, platelets, and the hemoglobin level were quite low (pancytopenia) and her liver and spleen were enlarged.

The levels kept dropping so she was transferred Sep 12 from Torrance Memorial to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Millers Children Hospital in Long Beach. In the ICU Maya's breathing became labored and her belly became distended. We had no idea what was happening and the doctors worked furiously to find an answer. Several specialists were consulted and many tests were performed.

On Sep 13, chest x-ray's showed large amounts of fluid in her chest cavity and the doctor decided to perform a lung tap: insert a tube into the chest cavity to release fluid. Nearly 400 ml was removed and Maya's breathing and heart rate improved dramatically. We were relieved and Maya got some good rest...for 4 hours. She then became uncomfortable and her breathing became more labored. The doctor decided it was time to take over the breathing for her via a tube and ventilator. Right before she was sedated and the tube was inserted, Maya asked for Jaden. We were quite happy to hear her alert response and Sam asked her who Jaden was. When she didn't respond Sam asked if Jaden was her sister. Maya spoke right up and said, "No. He is my brother. He is naughty some times and you and mommy put him in time out." We were relieved to know our Maya was still alert and mentally active.

Maya's heart rate was averaging 180 beats per minute since being admitted. After the lung tap the heart rate went down to 140 but went back up. After the ventilator her heart rate went down to 150. Meanwhile specialist after specialist visited and assessed Maya and ran off to check their literature and consult with other experts. We were quite impressed with the responsiveness, extremely high level of competence, professionalism, sacrifice and ability to explain in detail their thoughts. The team narrowed on several suspects, every single doctor contributed to connecting the dots and astonishingly made the diagnosis in a matter of hours. The Oncologist confirmed the diagnosis through analysis of a bone marrow biopsy. We are very lucky the diagnosis was made so quickly.

Unfortunately the diagnosis is a rare form of a blood disease, called hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, or HLH for short. This disease involves the histiocyte cells eating up normal blood cells which are then stored in the liver and spleen. This results in an enlarged liver & spleen which then compromises breathing by pushing on the lungs. The disease is so rare that there is not even a body of data on which a prognosis (survival odds) can be based. The treatment is a form of chemotherapy and was started the same day of the diagnosis (Sep 14). Maya's heart rate went lower to 140 as she became more comfortable and on the 2nd day got all the way down to 105. It is currently in the low 90's.

We have a long, bumpy, uncertain road ahead of us. Maya has already responded well to the treatment but it is very early. Maya is still on the ventilator and has about a thousand tubes stuck in her. We are now preparing to move her off the ventilator but need her to "wake up" from the sedation and paralytics that she has been under in order to proceed.

We are DEEPLY grateful to all of our friends and family who have made incredible sacrifices and steady support through this initial phase. We very much look forward to updating you on Maya's progress through this web site. Our thumbs are about to fall off from all the texting! Thank you again and God bless.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

THE END IS NEAR AND THE BEGINNING HAS COME: LIVING IN THE AGE OF FORGIVENESS
















It seems that every year there are movies released about the end of the world. It is interesting to look at the sorts of cataclysmic endings which are portrayed in these films. 2012 is among the latest renditions of the apocalypse.

But is the apocalyptic ending of the world a required belief of the Christian faith? Judging from the many churches who preach end times religion to “encourage” people to convert to the Christian faith in order to save themselves, it would seem that such beliefs are mandatory.

But how did Jesus understand the end? In our passage from Mark this coming Sunday, Jesus tells his disciples that the lofty and beautiful Temple in Jerusalem would not survive and that no stone would be left a top another. The Temple was the center of Jewish faith and worship. It was the place of sacrifice where sins could be transferred from the sinner to a sacrificial animal, thereby freeing the sinner from the debt of sin.

Notice that sin is not forgiven, but rather redirected towards a sacrificial animal whose spilled blood pays the price for the sin. Of course, there were some sins which could not be expiated through such sacrifices. Forgiveness was God’s prerogative and no human system could do away with sin or the death that it demanded.

When Jesus told his disciples about what we would call apocalyptic nightmares, wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, rising up of kingdoms against kingdoms, and famines, he did so to help them avoid focusing on these things and looking for a messiah who would deliver them from these disasters. To be led astray by one of these messiahs claiming to be the real deal, the authentic Christ, meant that one was in a position of being manipulated by such Christ figures.

Consider the dooms day messages in the media today. To be sure we have many problems on planet earth, but when we hear others claiming to have answers to these problems and loudly denouncing any opposition to their positions, we would be wise to heed Jesus’ warnings to avoid being led astray. This is not to suggest that we should not work towards solutions, in fact, people who live forgiven and forgiving lives do just that.

So, in the midst of the gloom and doom of ecological melt downs, warfare, rumors of warfare, famines, disease, and natural disasters, what would Jesus have us do? Jesus taught his disciples to understand these signs as birth pangs. At the end of pregnancy comes a birth, new life and just before that new life enters the world, the mother suffers the pains of child birth.

Something seemingly larger than the birth canal through which the child will emerge is coming. Birth seems to be a profound metaphor for the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven into the world. Something larger than our world that functions without forgiveness is coming, the birth of which will mark the end of the pain and suffering and the beginning of a new way of being human.

I think we sometimes underestimate the power of forgiveness. The prophets including John, preached it as coming into the world. A paralytic was lowered into the home where Jesus was teaching and healing. The paralytic’s friends did this for the man. When Jesus saw the faith of the man’s friends, he said to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Is this a case of cheap grace? Is Jesus speaking out of turn? There were some there who thought so. They said that only God can forgive sins—only God can forgive sins. Our world is held captive to the belief that only God can forgive sins and therefore we are condemned to live in a God forsaken world of sin where only death is seen as a temporary remedy.

What did Jesus say to those who challenged him? He said: “Which is easier to do, say to this man ‘your sins are forgiven’ or ‘rise up, pick up your pallet and walk?’ He then said a most remarkable thing: “but so that you might know that the Son of Man has power to forgive sins on earth, he said to the paralytic, ‘rise up and pick up your pallet and walk.’”

We are living in a world of unforgiveness. We are living in a world that will not accept that God’s forgiveness is the only operating system for planet earth. Apocalyptic visions are part of our world of sin and death, they are the birth pangs of a world in need of healing, but most of all in need of forgiveness.

Jesus is the Son of Man and the Son of God who brings the message and reality of forgiveness to us even as our world of sin and death rages on and seeks to terrify us into living on sin and death’s terms. The prophet said “repent.” Did you ever wonder what he meant? Jesus answers the question. Allow God’s love and forgiveness to change you and to change the way you love and live in the world. This is the end which will be the beginning of the Kingdom of Heaven.

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 birth pangs."

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

GOD'S TWO CENTS WORTH


The expression, “Here is my two cents worth,” is often used to suggest that whatever I might say on this or that subject is not worth much or it is sometimes to suggest that whatever is going to be said is a strongly held opinion by the speaker.

There once was a widow whose property was taken away from her when her husband died. She lost her home because what she had to say to defend herself was not given much value. Indeed, there were attorneys who knew the law well and were able to claim the widow’s land and home by their use of the law. The widow was left with next to nothing.

Now not all attorneys acted this way. Some remembered that God expects those with power and authority to use their office to defend and protect the rights of widows, orphans, the poor, the powerless, and the foreigners who lived in their country. They believed that this is what God expected because this was how God acts, this is who God is.

So why would one set of attorneys behave one way while others acted another? Who is right? In our Gospel for Sunday we find Jesus teaching. Just prior to this time, Mark tells about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He goes to the temple and chases out all of the people who made money off of the sacrificial religion of Israel.Sacrificial religion is how human beings seek to control our otherwise violent natures. We stop chaotic violence by authorizing limited violence to restore order.

In some cases this violence is directed toward animals whose blood is shed. Israel tried to make the law an instrument of the sacrificial system so that those who were sacrificed were not arbitrarily selected, but guilty of offenses that triggered violence or were violent.

The gods of violence are truly man made, but we have elevated them to the level of ultimate meaning and power. These are the gods that sanction the limited violence of sacrifice. What happens when these gods are revealed to be our human attempt to protect ourselves from ourselves?

Jesus’ cleansing of the temple left him standing alone in this place of sacrifice. He becomes the only sacrifice available and out of the mouth of this divine and human victim, he begins to teach. He puts a human face on the other human victims of the world whose voices and faces are never heard. Sunday’s Gospel is part of this teaching from Jesus. Jesus offers God’s two cents worth.

“Teaching in the temple, Jesus said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’"

Note that Jesus does not tell us to beware of all scribes, but only of those who have traded their relationship with God for the prestige, power, and control which they use in the name of God and the law to increase their wealth at the expense of the powerless. Do these men have any idea of their culpability? Has their status and religiosity blinded them to what they are doing?

Do we do things that we know hurt the powerless of our world as if what we are doing is the “right” thing to do? Since civil religion is waning, new gods and political, economic, and legal systems now provide sanction for acting against God’s rule of justice and mercy for the least among us. Read the newspaper, watch the news, how are the least among us being treated? What part do we play in this rejection of God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven?

We have a choice about whether we will listen to God’s two cents worth. We have a choice about how we make this revelation from Jesus the beginning of a new way of seeing the world around us. We have a choice about seeing our part in the way we treat others with no power and no voice. The Prayers of the People during the Eucharistic service express the revelation of Jesus and the confession allows us to see our part and confess our part to God.

What is God’s two cents worth to us?


Mark 12:38-44


Teaching in the temple, Jesus said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

LAZARUS IS A SAINT, BUT YOU KNOW SAINTS TOO


This Sunday is All Saints Day. During the course of my priesthood I have been asked by people both young and old what happens to our loved ones when they die. This question is not a scientific inquiry, but a question of the heart. Death separates us from those we love—husbands, wives, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends.

So it is only natural for us to ask about those who have died.

All Saints day is not just about the famous saints we have heard about or after whom the Gospels are named. Saints , as one of the hymns we will sing this Sunday says “are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.”

When we think of our loved ones who have died we discover a deep sense of longing for that person to be present to us again because we experienced in them a bit of God’s tender loving kindness towards us.

Paul Tillich wrote: “The saint is a saint, not because he is ‘good,’ but because he is transparent for something more than he himself is.” I have now lost my parents and their whole generation whom I called family. I lost my Dad when I was very young and his death was a deep loss for me.

The depth of this loss, I have come to believe, is made so by the reality of my Dad’s life as a saint, as someone through whom God was visible. I believe that my Dad was more than good, he was God’s presence to me and that is what caused me to feel the pain of his death so deeply.

Where is my Dad now. The simple answer is that he is with God not because he earned his way into heaven, but because in his life God’s loving kindness and presence was seen through the eyes of those who knew and loved him. I believe in the communion of saints and my Dad was a saint, a common, ordinary saint through whom God’s light was shed in the world.

In our Gospel for this All Saints Sunday, we will hear the story of Jesus coming to the village of Bethany because his friend Lazarus had been ill and died. Jesus loved Lazarus and Lazarus was loved by his sisters, Mary and Martha.

They saw God in Lazarus and so did Jesus. How could Jesus, who could heal the sick allow their brother to die? If only he had come sooner, maybe Lazarus would have been saved.

Perhaps the real purpose of life for each of us is in allowing God to be seen in our world by others. I am not talking about a show of self-righteousness or holier than thee or thou behavior, but in the many ways God’s love seeks to be present to those in need, those who are hungering and thirsting for a world of merciful love.

When Jesus comes to the grave of his old friend, he raises him from death as a witness to the God whose absence Mary and Martha grieved at the death of their brother. They saw this light in Jesus and more.

They were saints too, but you can’t be a saint by yourself. Saints can not see how the light and love of God flows through them to others in the most ordinary kinds of relationships.

Jesus raised Lazarus, not as a personal favor to an old friend, but as a demonstration that God intends to shine through us and through his whole creation no matter how hard we sometimes try to shut him out or to ignore him.

Our grief at the death of a loved one is a sure sign of our hunger for God because in these loved ones, we experienced in someway or another, the loving kindness and grace of God.

As Blaise Pascal reflected, “Grace is required to turn a human being into a saint; and he who doubts this does not know what either a human being is or a saint is.” If we grieve the loss of a loved one , we grieve and ache for the presence of God. If we ache for the presence of God in our lives, we are on our way to becoming saints to others.

Here are the lyrics to the hymn, "I SING A SONG OF THE SAINTS OF GOD." Read them over and offer thanks to God for being present in those whom you love, but see no longer. It is in our losses that we discover our deep love for God and God's saints.

I sing a song of the saints of God
Patient and brave and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died
For the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
And one was a shepherdess on the green:
They were all of them saints of God --- and I mean
God helping, to be one too.

They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
And his love made them strong;
And they followed the right for Jesus' sake,
The whole of their good lives long.
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
And one was slain by a fierce wild beast;
And there's not any reason --- no not the least
Why I shouldn't be one too.

They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands still,
The world is bright with the joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus' will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
For the saints of God are just folk like me,
And I mean to be one too.



John 11:32-44


When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him,she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord,if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, "Where have you laid him?"
They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was
lying against it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man,said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days."

Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone.

And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me."

When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"

The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face
wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them,"Unbind him, and let him go."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO FOR YOU?


The Blind Boys of Alabama sing soulfully about their faith. Sunday's Gospel may just record for us what it means to be blind and yet to see as a person of faith. Healing blindness of the heart is more of a miracle than healing eyes that cannot physically see.

As Jesus is leaving the city of Jericho, a man cries out to him for mercy. Asking for mercy lacks definition. What is it that this man wanted. If you asked Jesus for mercy what would you be asking for?

The city of Jericho may just be the oldest continuously occupied city in the world dating back to 9,000 BC. Out of this ancient city with a rich secular as well as a religious history, Jesus continues on his way up to Jerusalem. His disciples have shown themselves to be spiritually blind to what is going on in the life of their teacher, Jesus.

They have argued about who is the greatest in the midst of Jesus clearly telling them that he would be turned over to the Romans; falsely accused; humiliated; shamed; tortured; and finally killed in a most public and vilifying way. He would be labeled as anti-God and anti-empire. His kingdom would be shown to be non-existent and built upon the wrong ideas (forgiveness, love, charity, mercy, peace without exclusion). He was deemed a traitor to his own people and to the Roman Emperor and Empire.

And yet, as he leaves Jericho, a man cried out to him for mercy. Jesus asked him to be more specific: "What do you want me to do for you?" How would you answer Jesus' question if he asked you what you wanted him to do for you?

The man called Jesus "My teacher." Teachers are people who show us how to see things in a new way. Teachers offer us new information, new insights, and inspire us to embrace a new vision of how things could be. So, this man calls Jesus his personal teacher and asks him to let him see again. Of course, this man was blind, but in his blindness he knew a deeper darkness in his spirit that was in need of the mercy of God. He lived in a world of darkness and he was hoping for light, for vision.

Jesus tells this man that his faith has made him whole. Faith gives us the eyes of God to see the world as God sees it. Such a vision of the world through God's eyes stands in stark contrast to the vision of the world which we currently see. The world that saw Jesus as the enemy of peace and unity remained blind. This blind man became the witness to the crucifixion. His name is Bartimaeus (his name means son of honor)and he has the eyes to see more than just another senseless death at the hands of power. He sees and witnesses to a deeper and more profound act of God pouring himself out for life of the world.

Amazing grace and mercy--increase in us your gifts of faith, hope, and charity that we might see you in this world which you created and for which you give your life and love. Amen.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

WHO'S ON THE RIGHT AND LEFT OF JESUS?


Have you ever wanted to be the person who sits next to a very important person? Many of us are shy about such things. Even though we would really like to be seen with a VIP, our modesty or sense of place warns us against asking for such a special favor from the one we admire.

The Gospel for this Sunday is the story about two of Jesus' disciples asking Jesus for the honor of sitting on his right and left side when Jesus comes into his glory. Does their request cause problems for them with the other disciples? How does Jesus respond to their request? Here is the Gospel reading for this Sunday.

Mark 10:35-45

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?"

Imagine asking such a thing of Jesus or of anyone? Now children often use this tactic with their parents, but adults usually understand that asking for a blank signed check from someone is just not good form. So, Jesus’ response is remarkable for his openness to being asked and his willingness to meet their request.


And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory."


Their request reveals their child-like desire to bask in the glory of Jesus. They have imagined glory in a way that we might all understand. Glory is about being number one; about being the winner; about having all the power, control, and marbles in the game of life. To sit on either side of such a person of glory would most certainly reflect rather nicely on those who were granted these seats of honor.

But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"

What does Jesus mean by this response? “Drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with,” perhaps was a reminder of Jesus’ baptism in the wilderness. Drinking the cup sometimes refers to the sort of life one ends up living by choice or otherwise. What was the cup that Jesus was drinking?


They replied, "We are able."


I have volunteered to do things in my life that later turned out to be real challenges to me intellectually, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Sometimes I knew what I was getting myself into, but most of the time I did not.

For the love of God that I discovered in the church, I said yes to being baptized.

For the love of God that I experienced in the church, I learned to accept God's love from others and to share God's love with others, I said yes to being confirmed.

For the love of God that I discovered in the One whose mighty and all embracing love stretched around the world to embrace those outside of the church, I said yes to being ordained to serve as a priest.

Each of these decisions I made had no guarantee of the sort of consequences that would follow. In fact, I really said yes to the love of God without realizing that my response would result in the life I have lived thus far. And so it was with the disciples. Jesus’ love for them and the world made them ask for something that would result in consequences they could not predict.

Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."

Jesus was not able to guarantee seats next to him. In fact, he did not even know who would be next to him. But, he did know that these two disciples would drink the same cup he was drinking and be baptized with the baptism he was baptized. I believe that Jesus saw in these two people a love for him and for his Father that would result in their following him so closely in the way he lived his life, that their lives would look like his.

Do you remember that Jesus referred to a cup during his last agonizing and prayerful moments in the Garden before his arrest, trial, suffering, and death?

“Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’" Matthew 26:39

For the love of God, these two disciples sought to live in that kingdom of heaven so graciously and joyfully described and offered by Jesus. They wanted to be near Jesus, they wanted to be in his Father’s Kingdom.

I have asked my friends on Face Book who they thought the two people would be who were seated on the left and right hand of Jesus in his glory. Many have offered various saintly souls, but I believe these two seats next to Jesus refer to the two crosses that flanked Jesus on his cross. On one cross, there hangs a repentant thief and on the other cross an unrepentant thief. This is Jesus’ moment of glory hanging between those for whom he lived and died.


When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."


Of course rivalry is part of our world. Jesus did not lecture James or John. Rather, he reminded the other ten of the cup which we share with him and the baptism with which we are all baptized. It is Christ’s cup and Christ’s baptism that is our cup and baptism. We, like our Lord, are not here on this earth for this brief time to be served or to lord our power or wealth over others. We are called to be servants of God and of others.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


The First Adam Meets The Second Adam on the Road to Jerusalem

I am doing some praying over this coming week's Gospel reading from Mark. It is set in the context of the disciples' failure to really understand who Jesus is and his moving towards Jerusalem where his identity and the very nature of God will be put on trial and found guilty by the judges of his day.

Jesus says that this human way of judging him shows how little we really know about the nature of things: sin (what divides us by uniting the majority against a perceived threat from others, usually a minority with less power than the majority), judgment (the sense of being absolutely right in how we determine the evil in others and the good in ourselves), and righteousness (how we are related and brought together with one another and God by God’s initiative, not our own). And somewhere along the way to Jerusalem, a man comes to him and falls at his feet and implores Jesus to tell him how he can inherit eternal life.

Perhaps the man sees eternal life as a consumer product rather than a gift of relationship with God and other people. Is eternal life something you can get in return for good behavior or appropriate giving? Eternal life is often seen today as a personal improvement in status or reward which begins when we die.

But there is no life, eternal or temporary, that is divorced from our primary relationship with God as our Creator and Father and all of God’s children without exception because eternal life is about how God deals with sin, our human way of judging, and reconstituting the way we create community.

This man is apparently very wealthy and very religious. His relationship with God has been reduced to following laws and following them without a misstep. Jesus looks deeply into the eyes of the man and loves him. Does Jesus see himself in this man? Does Jesus see us in this man. Is the rich young man who is unnamed in Mark's Gospel this Sunday really the first Adam who continues to walk away sadly with his wealth?

Is Jesus the second Adam who continues on his journey to Jerusalem to offer the wealth of the universe for the salvation of the world? Hmm...sounds a bit Twilight Zonish, but it appeals to my heart and soul this morning as I pray with this text.
We shall see where further prayer and reflection takes me before this message is preached on Sunday.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

“BUT FROM THE BEGINNING OF CREATION…”




Humanity has wrestled with the issues of marriage and divorce for a very long time. But I wonder if the question about divorce that was directed to Jesus by the students of the law was simply a foil to trap Jesus and not really a serious attempt at exploring the meaning of marriage and divorce. Most people have their minds pretty well made up about these core issues of human life and so they really become sources of division rather than invitations to a deeper understanding.

It is certainly true today. Issues of human sexuality and relationships seem to be hot button topics within the church and the world culture. Politicians can mobilize whole groups of people based upon their stands on such topics.

Laws that govern human relationships and especially divorce and marriage reflect the collective understanding and moral values of the society in which such laws are established. Consider laws that have changed in the course of our national history.

Prohibition sought to stop the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. This amendment to the United States Constitution reflected the values of a vocal group of Americans at the time who used the Bible to support their cause. Prohibition was repealed and alcohol was legally reintroduced to American life.

Just so, the Episcopal Church amended her canons (laws of the church) regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage in the church after much study, debate, and conflict. Does prohibiting divorce strengthen the institution of marriage? If prohibiting divorce and marginalizing divorced people in the church by banning them from communion did not stem the tide of divorce within and outside of the church, what could the church do to support marriage?

In 1979 the Episcopal Church approved a revised version of The Book of Common Prayer and made changes in the canons regarding marriage and divorce. The intention was not to deny the importance of marriage as a life-long union, but to provide more support for couples as part of their pre-marital preparation.

Jesus understood the laws surrounding marriage and divorce. There were two main rabbinical schools of thought about the grounds on which a man could divorce his wife. One school was more “liberal” in allowing a man to divorce a woman for almost any reason (School of Hillel). The other school (School of Shammai) was stricter on the male prerogatives and only allowed divorce of a wife in the case of adultery on her part.

The Pharisees’ question must be understood for what it was, a test of Jesus. They wanted him to take a position on the legality of divorce: "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus pushed the question passed the current intent of his questioners to a time he called “the beginning.” He said that the whole question of divorce was a product of humanity’s “hard heartedness.”

Read the Gospel for this Sunday and then look at the cultural practices of Jesus’ day that might suggest what he meant by “hard heartedness.”

Mark 10:2-16

Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"

He answered them, "What did Moses command you?"

They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her."

But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.


The Following information comes from Harpers Encyclopedia of Bible Life (Madelein S. and J. Lane Miller).

ABOUT MARRIAGE

Marriages were arranged and not a matter of couples falling in love. A father with a son would approach the father of a potential bride to see if he would be willing to enter into a marriage agreement. If the father of the potential bride agreed then negotiations would begin. The daughter had absolutely no say in whether she would agree to such a marriage. A father with daughters had the authority to sell his daughters into concubinage if he wished.

A Mohar (Dowary in reverse)was the price the father and son of the groom paid to the father of the bride and usually averaged 50 shekel which was the amount of money paid to the father of a daughter by the man who raped his virgin daughter and who was then required to marry her.

Marriage was a transfer of property from one man to another. The term Husband is more accurately translated from the Hebrew as “owner.” The average age of a groom was 20 and a bride was usually 15. Being a bachelor was not an option in this culture.

QUESTIONS

1.Is marriage and divorce the same in Jesus’ day as it is today?
By saying that divorce was unacceptable was Jesus somehow defending marriage even if the marriage was abusive to either party?

2.Consider the first relationship recorded in Genesis between Adam and Eve. What was the basis for their relationship and how was it different from the understanding about marriage in Jesus’ time and our time?

3. In the story of Adam and Eve there is an event which changes the relationship between them. When Jesus speaks of “hard heartedness” is he referring to the pre or post moment of refusing to acknowledge God’s transcendence in their lives (the “from the beginning” moment)

4. Do you believe law can reduce divorce by making it harder or easier to obtain?
Is “no fault” divorce causing more divorces; improving the quality of married life; or making divorce less destructive to those families who go through such a divorce?

5. Do you agree with the Episcopal Church’s decision to allow remarriage in the church and to allow divorced people to receive Holy Communion?
What would be the practical impact on family life today if divorces were strictly denied by our laws and courts?

6. What is the relationship between marriage and being a Christian? Is the Christian norm for individuals to be married? How do we view people who are unmarried? How do we view people who stay single by choice and prefer not to have children?

These are some of the many sorts of questions that marriage, divorce, and remarriage raise for us and for our culture. The Episcopal Church seeks to address these questions and other questions of relationships within a calm and open forum.
Here are some interesting sites for your further study of this important issue.


History of resolutions regarding marriage and human sexuality


House of Bishops on marriage and human sexuality

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

WHAT IS AN HONORARY CANON?



This past Sunday Bishop Jon Bruno came to Christ Church for our bi-annual Episcopal visitation. It was a grand day for our parish. Kate Kious, Sierra Brown, Cayla Hailwood, and Sue Steward were confirmed and Jianulla Zimmerman was received into the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

This is a very powerful drama in which those who are confirmed and received promise to live into what it means to be a Christian within the Episcopal Church. Kate, Sierra, Cayla, Sue, and Jianulla have already been active participants in the life of our parish. They have been faithful in worship, service, and learning and have promised to continue this life dedicated to seeing the holy in themselves and other people. As the rector at Christ Church, I am delighted by their growing faith and deepening love of God.

Liturgy is a form of play and work and after our formal liturgy in the church, we went outside and the liturgy of the croquet mallet and ball began. My thanks to Barbara Ramsey-Duke for being our leader in creating this liturgy. She had a vision of what the day would look like and with the help of Susan Mulledy-DeFrank, Gail Connolly, and the generosity of Elizabeth and Sandy Pringle, the day was a great and wondrous.

Thank you to Barbara, Susan, Gail, Sandy, Elizabeth and the many Christ Church faithful who brought tea cups, food, and other necessary items for the day. Thank to those who served tea, sandwiches, or who helped clean up as we went along and afterwards. Each and every person who participated allowed us to play in the presence of God and one another and for that I am thankful and joyful.

Something else happened on Sunday which came as a big and happy surprise to me. During the announcements Bishop Bruno said that he was announcing that I would be welcomed as a canon of the Cathedral at the Diocesan Convention in Riverside this December. Some of you asked, “What is a canon?” Others asked, “Does this mean you have a new job and are leaving Christ Church?”

To answer the second question first, “no.” As they say, I am “not quitting my day job.” To answer the first question here is what the Diocesan website says about honorary canons.

Honorary Canons

From time to time, the Bishop names clergy and laypersons honorary canons of the Cathedral Center of St. Paul or the Pro-Cathedral of St. John in recognition of significant service to the larger Church.

The title "canon" dates from medieval times to denote a key advisor to a bishop or a cathedral community.

In the Diocese of Los Angeles, an heirloom walking stick is traditionally passed successively to the clergyperson who ranks as Senior Canon. (http://www.ladiocese.org/bishop/honorary_canon.html)

I want to be clear that just like our Sunday liturgies, I represent Christ Church in whatever I have done in the diocese and would never have been possible without the full cooperation, encouragement, and support of the Christ Church parish family. At Christ Church we do things together. We are, like the whole church, the body of Christ. When one of us is honored it is the whole parish family that is honored. I am delighted to serve Christ in our parish family, in the diocese, and in the universal church. Thank you for your love, care, and support.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Jesus Is Not A Mind Reader


Jesus wasn’t a mind reader, but he knew the human heart. After sharing with his disciples for the second time that his future included rejection by the world resulting in his suffering and death, his disciples argued over who was the greatest among them. Arguing for supremacy is not just a secular preoccupation, it is a human preoccupation.

Winning, being dominant, overcoming others is a major value in human society and so the disciples expressed this value even after having heard Jesus say clearly that those who were the current winners of who is in charge would put him to death. We always hope that such dominance of “our” candidates will result in a better use of power, but it is clear that the very process for determining dominance reflects how power will eventually be used.

The disciples were fighting over who was the greatest among themselves. There are no details offered, but how do you really claim to be the greatest in a community whose leader becomes the victim of such power? How do you define greatness if Jesus is the definition of greatness and he refuses to use any sort of humanly valued power to overcome anyone?

Jesus came to save the world from the exercise of human power which usually ends in the violence that put him on the cross. Jesus came to be the way to a new way of living, a new path for the human heart to travel. He is the way, the path and he demonstrates this new way of being human in the simple call of discipleship: “If any wish to be great, they must become the slave of all.”

To demonstrate his point more clearly, Jesus took a young child who was near him and held him like a loving mother would hold their first child. Then he told his disciples that they must embrace all such “little children” as if they were receiving him. The world seems to have a very mixed view of children. When they are young their value is in their becoming just like their parents and their parents value is in their ability to produce children who will be accepted by their family, tribe, community, and nation. On the other hand, we want our children to be exceptional and gifted, but gifted seems to always be judged by how children stack up against other children.

In Jesus’ day, children were given less status because they had not yet been formed by their parents. They were works in progress and not yet ready for prime time. As the old saying goes “Children are to be seen, not heard.” But it is this very quality of children that Jesus sets before the disciples that they are to receive and embrace. He sees children not as future adults who have been formed by a culture of violence and exclusion, but as intrinsically of value because they were created by God’s love and bear his image of love and forgiveness.

Jesus bore this same image as an adult. His parents loved him from the beginning not because of what he might become in the world, but for who he was, a child of God. Jesus, like the child he embraced, brought into the world the love of God that is changing the world, even in the midst of a church that continues to live in two worlds, the Kingdom of God and the world of domination and violence.

Mark’s Gospel notes in the next chapter from this story that people were bringing little children to Jesus to be blessed and that his disciples were forbidding them. To forbid children is to forbid Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven he is bringing into the world. Children learn how to dominate others and value being better than others from the way they are brought up. Once we have been indoctrinated into these values, it requires real “born again and again” experiences to go back to that wonderful state of being able to learn anew. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born again.”

This Sunday we will confirm those who wish to renew their baptismal vows and promise for themselves to join Jesus and his disciples on the way to Jerusalem and the cross, but also the resurrection. We pray that this recommitment will allow them to begin again to walk with greater child-like teach-ability the way of Jesus. Who is the greatest? The one who serves others as Christ serves us. AMEN.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

TO WHOM IS JESUS SPEAKING?

Mark 8:27-38
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.


The horizontal beam of the cross has come to represent for me my relationship with others. The vertical beam represents God's relationship with me. I carry the horizontal beam in so far as I love as God loves me. This is not a burden, but an abundant life.



In two weeks, several of our parish members will be confirmed or received into the Episcopal Church. With them, we will all be invited to renew our baptismal vows in the presence of the Bishop of Los Angeles, Jon Bruno. If you decide to renew your vows and I hope you will, you will be offering yourself to be the hands, feet, eyes, ears, and mouth of Jesus in the world.

This week’s Gospel raises the questions that need to be addressed before we commit to any set of promises. The first question is not about who Jesus is or about what other people say he is, but about who we think we are. I mean who am I as a person and who are we as a community.

First, let us look at our personal sense of “I.” So much of life is spent trying to be someone from our earliest moments of life until our last breath is drawn. If you were to write your own obituary today, what would you want people to know about you? Who would you ask to write your obituary? Who knows you well enough to capture the truth of who you are?

The I that is me is a work of many people and the cultural structures of family, region, schools, sports teams, bosses and fellow workers, and maybe the church. Most of us have a social security number that serves to identify us within the structures of government and many other numbers from ATM to credit cards that define our economic viability. But all of these understandings about who we are as individuals end in death.

Jesus addresses each one of us personally which is very different from our sense of being separate and different from everyone else. It is the person each one of us was created by God to be that Jesus speaks to in us. It is the “I” that is much more than we or anyone else can really know us to be. It is the “I” that God in Christ created, redeems, and sanctifies. The “I” that others say we are is important, but Jesus came to redeem us for the people we were created to be.

In The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, there is a prayer found on page 63 that reads:

“God, I offer myself to Thee to build with me as thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy power, Thy love, and Thy way of life. May I do Thy will always. Amen.

The self that this prayer speaks of is mentioned by Jesus in Sunday’s Gospel too.
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them,

"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

To deny the self is to affirm the personal “I” that is spoken to by Jesus. To take up one’s cross is to own the personal “I” whom God created and loves and seeks to redeem. To follow Jesus is to be released from the bondage and restrictions imposed by what other people believe about you and to accept the grace and love that creates, redeems, and sanctifies each one of us.

So, what do we call those who have responded to the voice and call of God? We call ourselves the Church or the gathered together ones. The Church is the community that in hope supports our hearing God speak to us as persons. The world in which we live might define us much more like a commodity rather than a person, but the Church simply accepts us as persons who are in need of God’s gentle and loving voice, touch, and nurture.

On Confirmation Sunday, September 20th, we will reaffirm Jesus calling us persons into this community of faith called the Episcopal Church, the Body of Christ. And as our brothers and sisters of A.A pray, we will pray to do God’s will, to be the ones God created us to be. As we do, we bear witness to the powerful love of God at work in us and among us and through us.

This Sunday while you are waiting for the service to start, read carefully the promises and vows to which we will say “yes.” Be prepared to affirm the person God created you to be. Be ready to pick up your cross and follow Jesus in loving, serving, and bearing witness to the God who in Jesus Christ is not our shame, but our friend and savior.

Sunday’s Gospel is not pedaling cheap grace. God’s love is poured out freely and abundantly, but this love has been rejected and thrown out of the world before the crucifixion and resurrection and since. To call Jesus our friend and our savior is costly in a world that is blind to the pain, suffering, and death it inflicts in order to “defend itself.”

To be a Christian is not to inflict pain, suffering, and death, but to sometimes suffer such pain, suffering, and even death. To be sure, most of us will probably never be required to lay down our lives in the name of God’s love and service, but the bishop will remind us of this possibility by gently hitting those who are confirmed as a sign that being a Christian person follows a different path than the world would have them travel.

Being confirmed is like getting married. We fall in love, make promises, and then live out that love in the real world. I pray for all of us as we respond to Jesus’ personal call to us.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

DID GOD PROVIDE ENOUGH FOR EVERYONE?



Jesus was led into the wilderness immediately after his baptism to be tested. The Holy Spirit guided him there. The testing came in response to Jesus’ baptism during which he was declared to be the most beloved Son of God.

Jesus’ time in the wilderness tested the very meaning and identity of not only Jesus, but also God. The first temptation touches on our Gospel reading for this coming Sunday.

The tempter comes to Jesus and suggests that Jesus’ physical hunger is an opportunity to show that he is truly the Son of God: The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’" (Matthew 4:3)

Implied in this challenge is the belief that there is not enough bread or food in the world to feed hungry people and that if God were truly all powerful, he would simply turn stones into bread.

Is it really true that there is not enough food on the planet to feed all of the people of the world?

Is it God who is to blame for not producing more food so that the starving will be fed?

Is that what you believe? Is that what the church believes?

Is that what the world believes?

Watch how Jesus responds to the tempter’s challenge: Jesus answered, “It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

In this Sunday’s Gospel reading Jesus says: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever."

Jesus is the "Word made flesh," as stated in the beginning of the Gospel. Jesus’ response to the tempter is a response to the belief in scarcity. Behind the accusation that God has not provided enough to feed everyone who is hungry or who is sick and in need of health care or homeless and in need of shelter or any of the other things in life that we all value is a refusal to acknowledge that God is a good and loving creator whose creation was made sufficient for the needs of all of his children.

To eat the flesh of Jesus is to eat the truth of God’s sufficiency; God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s presence among us. This is not about literally eating Jesus’ flesh, but rather feasting upon the Word of God, the life of God which Jesus brought into the world.

The Eucharist is not just a meal for individuals. Jesus is the Word of God and is the very food and drink for the life of the world. If we become what we eat then we will live abundantly, responsibly, lovingly, mercifully, and as God’s presence in the world. We will live in hope rather than fear.

Each week the bread of God’s blessing and presence is held up for us to see the wholeness and goodness of creation and it is blessed and then broken so that it can be handed out to all who come to the Table.

We do this as faithful stewards of God’s abundance. The Eucharist reminds us that God has given us enough of his gifts of food, shelter, healing, and life so that no one should be deprived of any of God’s abundance. To the tempter who comes to us with the lie of God’s insufficiency and cruelty, we must reply: “We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

"The body of Christ. The bread of heaven."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

IT IS WHAT YOU'RE EATING

"When bread was placed on Table bare with wine poured red in chalice rare, the promised presence of God was whispered again." RWC+

























There used to be an ad for an eating disorder clinic that said: “It’s not what you’re eating that is the problem, it’s what’s eating you.” I understand what is trying to be said in this advertisement. Often times we eat as a way of relieving the pain and suffering in life. The food is a temporary and finally a deadly source of comfort in the face of all of the suffering and pain of life.

I would like to offer an additional take on this idea. Read the words below from the canticle Pascha Nostrum (Christ Our Passover.

Alleluia.
Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast, Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.

We often refer to situations in life that are based upon the consumption of food or other less edible or appealing things.

“I really ate it.”
“Eat my dirt.”
“Life is sweet or bitter.”
“Life is like a good or bad meal.”
“You are what you eat.”

This last one is terribly important to our understanding of the place of bread and wine in the worship of the church. Ancient Israel was commanded to eat unleavened bread to remember their captivity. Leavened bread can taste fantastic compared to unleavened bread. Perhaps the point of eating unleavened bread was to remind Israel that their life in Egypt may have appeared to taste good to them compared to the “freedom” of the wilderness.

Slavery in Egypt was not perfect or without suffering, but it was dependable. Three square meals a day and hard work are not a bad diet for most of us. The point is that Israel’s slavery was causing them to forget the God whom they had been coming to learn about and whom they had claimed prior to their enslavement in Egypt.
Every week we hear these words spoken as the bread is broken: “Christ as our Passover is sacrificed for us.”

And we reply:”Therefore let us keep the feast.”

But there is more to this two sentence vesicle. In I Corinthians 5:8, Paul is trying to communicate with the church about behavior within the church which is poisoning the life of the community. He calls this behavior the “old leaven of evil and malice.” Leaven or yeast comes from previously created bread dough. Paul is saying that a little bit of this old stuff can change the bread of the community.

We have all experienced how a little bit of negative gossip, fault-finding, and the blame game can pollute an entire community. If you recall, Israel ended up in Egypt to avoid famine and were saved by the very brother (Joseph) whose own brothers had sold him into slavery. After a generation or so had passed, Israel had to deal with a pharaoh “who did not know Joseph.”

So, the originating actions of jealousy and betrayal of Joseph is the old leaven of “malice and evil.” God redeems Israel in the midst of this continuing leaven in response to their cries for rescue from Egypt. Pharaoh was, to be sure, a slave to the same leaven that had infected Israel prior to their entry into Egypt. But unlike Pharaoh, Israel was chosen to set the world free from this way of malice and evil.

Paul draws on Israel’s use of unleavened bread as a sign of a new start that did not begin with malice and evil, but rather was created with sincerity and truth that does not depend upon malice and evil to survive and thrive. Just so, Jesus uses bread as a symbol of his body and it is unleavened. It is what Jesus offers to us to live on—the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

What this means for us is deep and takes a life time to begin to comprehend. What we have been eating is the leavened bread of malice and evil served up by a world whose survival is believed to depend upon deceit, violence, and exclusion; a world where poverty is accepted as “just the way it is,” and where values other than love and compassion and mercy seem to be what we eat each day.

Such a diet turns us into what we eat; what we consume finally and completely consumes us. Jesus calls us to God’s Table for the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth where all of God’s children are loved and none are left behind to starve for lack of charity and the will to act upon that charity. If we want to be like Jesus who desires to be like his Father in Heaven, we will find our nurture in Jesus’ body and his blood. His love, God’s love, is not some abstract feeling or belief, but is as real and substantial as the bread placed into our hands every time we come to God’s Feast. We are what we eat.

Alleluia.
Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us;
therefore let us keep the feast, Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.

Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So also consider yourselves dead to sin, and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.

Christ has been raised from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

(BCP, Page 82)Canticle: Christ our Passover - the Pashca nostrum