Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Power of Open Hearts, Known Desires, and Revealed Secrets

Posted by Robert Cornner on Thursday, December 30, 2010 at 7:38am

Almighty Internet, to you all hearts are opened, all desires known and from you no secrets are hid; purge, cleanse, and delete the thoughts of our hearts that we might avoid all embarrassment, shame, or any other disadvantage that might result from over exposure...

This is a parody of one of my favorite prayers located in The Book of Common Prayer's service of Holy Eucharist. I recently heard a person say that privacy, as we knew it before the Internet, no longer exists. Human technology has now made it possible for more and more of the things we wished not to have made public being made public. Wikileaks is one such example of such revelations.

What is the difference between God's deep knowledge of our hearts, desires, and secrets and the sorts of information about us personally and collectively which is part of the growing body of knowledge that travels on the Internet?

I am not anti-technology. I truly am enjoying the changes that allow communication between people on such social networks as Facebook. I am guessing that if you are reading this piece, you are somewhat of a technophile too.

There is a curious verse that this whole question of a lack of privacy brought to mind for me from Luke’s Gospel:

Luke 12:1 Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be[a] on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 3 What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.

This scene from Luke 12 speaks of a huge crowd piling in on top of one another. It must have been a very challenging audience for Jesus to address, but his first words are to his closest friends and followers, the disciples. In the midst of the chaos of a crowd that was trampling on one another, Jesus tells his disciples to be on their guard for the “yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”

What is the connection between this anxious and chaotic mob surrounding them and Jesus’ words of warning? I would like to suggest that the sort of hypocrisy Jesus was describing was a way of harnessing the anger, anxiety, and potentially deadly power of the mob by uniting them in opposition to an identified “enemy.” Jesus calls it yeast because it gets inside of a mob and turns it and the participating members into a movement that sanctions holy or sacred violence against a given enemy.

Jesus is telling his disciples to beware of doing this sort of thing, using the mob to create a violent movement against their enemies and he is also warning them to be on guard because they may very soon become the enemy that is identified by the secular or religious leadership of their day.

Jesus tells his disciples that all of the spoken expressions of our hearts, our desires, and secrets that are spoken in quiet, less public ways will be shouted from the rooftops. If these thoughts of our hearts, desires, and secrets were made public, how would we respond?

Jesus seems to be saying that if his disciples of any generation resort to the yeast of the Pharisees to manage the political situations of their day, these will be exposed. The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring our hidden thoughts, desires, and secrets to the surface and to make them clear to us so that we can seek forgiveness when these fearful, angry, and manipulative have resulted in violence or violation of others.

Certainly the yeast of the Pharisees is what allowed the mob to be turned against Jesus and against his disciples and it is this same yeast of hypocrisy that most all religious and secular powers continue to pour into the mix of human events to control and direct our wrath and fear.

Jesus continued his teaching amidst the mob trampling scene:

12: 4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Jesus tells his disciples that death is not the worst thing that can happen to a person, but rather the one who has the authority to throw someone into hell. We watched a movie called The Road the other night. The two main characters are a young son and his father who are living in a post-apocalyptic world. In the midst of the destruction of all source of authority and control, the surviving humans make decisions about how they will live and die.

The father sees the world and those who are in it as enemies and tries to teach his son to see the world that way too, but the son finally rejects his father’s teaching when he see his father mistreat an old man who had stolen from them out of the need for shoes, food, and clothing.

The father uses his gun with one bullet left in the chamber to force this old man to strip down to nothing and then leaves him to die of starvation or exposure. The son cries and pleads with his father to return and save this old man. When they return to where the old man had been left, he is no longer there. The boy leaves a pile of the old man’s shoes, clothes and a can of food for him.

The father was not dead, but had already thrown himself into hell. The son who was still living had avoided hell. Hell is not something that happens after you die physically, it is the condition of your soul while you are in the process of dying. Do you have the authority to live otherwise? Jesus says you do. The young son in the movie exercised that authority. Death is not the worst thing that can happen to us. The worst thing that can happen to us is what we do out of the fear of death.

The Internet contains the many thoughts of our hearts, our desires, and our secrets and these things do reveal something about the state of our corporate world. In Alcoholics Anonymous, it is often said that “you are only as sick as your secrets.” The collect from The Book Of Common Prayer goes like this:

Almighty God, to You all hearts are open, all desires known, and from You no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love You, and worthily magnify Your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Internet is not capable of truly changing or cleansing our thoughts. It is merely a repository, a collector of our thoughts. It has no power to help us move from fear driven wrath to love embracing life. It is the God of grace that leavens us to living out of love and not fear; that moves us from the hell to heaven while we share this island home called earth.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ryder, What's in the Box?

Wisdom comes to us as a gift. There are certainly many very wise men and women, but the wisdom that comes from God and not from experiences or study is a different sort altogether. Last Sunday, one of our youngest members of the congregation named Ryder was the recipient of such wisdom and he offered it to me. He came rushing into the parish house before the Advent IV service at 10 AM started. He showed me a box he had decorated and painted and then he quickly revealed what he had placed inside of the box.

I was surprised to see what was hidden within that beautifully decorated and painted box. This young lad had been given a bit of the wisdom of God. In his sense of joy at having created this work of art he seemed not to realize what a powerful icon of faith he had made. That is how the wisdom of God flows through creation and through us. Ryder did not strive for such wisdom he simply was open to it as children can be open to love, caring, and family.

One might suspect that a young man would have a wide assortment of things he could place in such a nifty box. On the outside, Ryder had placed some gold coins and painted with earth tones and blues all over the box. There were some sparkles on there too. The box was large enough to place one’s favorite small match box cars or any number of things that delight, but such things were not in Ryder’s box.

Christmas is about God’s wisdom becoming flesh, bone, and blood and dwelling among us in such a compelling way that human wisdom, experience, and intellectual activity is set aside in favor of the astounding beauty of a vulnerable, dependent, and powerless infant who carries the wisdom and power of God into the world.

Ryder received this wisdom and passed it on without a second thought. Inside of the box he placed a colorfully painted cross with sparkles bouncing light in every direction. The box painted in blue and earth tones suggests the meeting of heaven and earth. At the St. Nicholas Feast, Ryder was given a gold dollar coin with all of the other kids in attendance. The coin was given to each child so they could give it to someone in need. Money is how we take our daily labor and turn it into a way of providing for the things we need. God’s wisdom places these coins on the outside of the box, not on the inside.

Ryder placed a cross in the box, nothing else.

God places himself in our world in such a way as to change, transform, redeem, ransom, forgive, love, and to be present to us. At the heart of creation, God is present as an infant child of Mary and Joseph and on the cross. St. Paul calls this presence of God, God’s power and God’s wisdom. Such wisdom and power slip right past most of us, but God’s wisdom found expression in the exuberant, joyful, and obedient lives of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the angels, the archangels and all of the company of heaven and of course, in Ryder’s work of art.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bidden or Unbidden, God is Present

Bidden or unbidden, God is present as heartbeat, as breath, as sunrise and sunset, as sustaining and suffering love, as dear friend rejected or embraced, God is present.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present as a people created from the dust who wrestle with reality and tell stories of their struggles. God is present.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present as slaves thrown out of Egypt and nearly drowned in the Sea called Red, as wanderers in the wilderness for forty years in search of the promise land, God is present.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present as prophet, lawgiver, and guide, as smoke and fire, God is present.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present as a new born baby in a distant land, as the one around whom angels and peasant shepherds and the beasts of the stable flock and hover in adoration, God is present.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present as a child growing up surrounded by the beauties of nature and the cruelties of empire, God is present.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present as a young rabbi washed by the waters of the Jordan and blessed by a voice in the wilderness, God is present.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present in eyes that are blind or can see, in ears that can hear and do not hear, in hearts opened by love or closed by fear and wrath, God is present.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present in accusing mob and fearful friends, in hardened and broken hearts, in disgraceful abandonment, death and darkness, God is present.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end, at our birth, in our daily lives, in tragedy and celebrations, and at our death, God is present.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present.

Merry Christmas

Thursday, December 09, 2010


What’s in a name?

There are a lot of people named “Bob” in this parish.

So, when you say “Bob” to whom are you referring?

In the generation into which Jesus was born there were many other children who bore that name as there continues to be among certain devout Christians around the world.

The script in this reflection offers Jesus’ name in Hebrew. Just as I can be called Bob, Robert, Rob, and other variations, so Jesus’ name had variations. Yeshua or Jeshua or Joshua are also connected to the name, Jesus which means “he will save.”

One of my favorite cartoon characters was Popeye the Sailor Man. He sang a song about who he was. Here is one of the verses from that song:

“I am what I am and that's all that I am
I'm Popeye the Sailor Man
I'm strong to the finish 'cause I eats me spinach
I'm Popeye the Sailor Man”

What does Popeye have to do with God, Jesus or John the Baptist in Sunday’s Gospel?

All four have an understanding of who they are and reveal their identities through song, actions, and verse.

Popeye sings his description of himself as someone who

“ain't aware of too many things
I knows what I knows if ya know what I mean,”
but what he does know is that he is “the sailor man” and he knows what keeps him strong.

When Moses asked for the name of the voice in the wilderness which seemed to come out of burning bush he was told:

"I am what I will be. I am the God of your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

When John is asked if he is the messiah, he simply says that he is
“the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”

When John is in prison and sends messengers to Jesus to ask if he is the one to come, Jesus says:
"Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

If God is the One who is “I AM WHO I AM,” Jesus is offering us the face and heart of God. The Gospel responds to the questions of God’s identity, Jesus’ identity, and our identity as individuals and as a human race.

Jesus’ response to John contains the identity of God in whose image we were created and his mission is to reveal the heart and mind of God to us. Jesus comes to give us eyes to see God’s love, compassion, forgiveness, and life opening up for us as free gift.

Jesus comes to remove all impediments to our receiving this gift of God whether physical, spiritual, or culturally created. In short, Jesus comes to save us from what stops us from knowing God and ourselves and to give us what we need to live out our true identity.

Popeye is strong to the finish. Is Jesus proving to be strong in bringing good news to the poor today? Popeye eats the miracle-working spinach to make him strong in the face of opposition.

What miracle-working food kept Jesus strong in his time with us on earth in the face of rejection and a world that took offense at him? Popeye ate spinach, Jesus prayed and his bread was the doing of the will of his Father.

In Jesus, the identity of God is revealed. The great “I AM WHO I AM” becomes a vulnerable, non-violent, loving, forgiving, good news-to- the-poor-bringing, sight-and-hearing restoring, raising-from-the dead person in history whose life continues to be our miracle-working food in difficult times.

Is this Jesus someone who offends us?

Shall we ask with John,“Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?”

Is Jesus,“God will save?”

Is this one named Jesus, the true historical incarnation of the God who said to Moses:“I AM WHO I AM?”

Or shall we wait for another?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Having a change of heart takes time. For many of us, a life time is required to get to the point where we can finally accept being loved and forgiven and offering back to God and to others these same gifts.

Advent is a short season in the church year, but it is about time---the beginning, the middle, and the end. The end exists to give meaning and purpose to the middle. The beginning is to remind us of the One in whose image we are made and to whom we are all turning.

The end is not nightmarish violence and wrath poured out upon us by God. We have been given time to change in the midst of such humanly created violence and wrath and to accept the gift of life from God. There are no threats from God if we do not accept, only the consequences of our own wrath.

If we anticipate an end that is like what we read about in the newspapers, we are missing the meaning of our lives. If we anticipate an end that is compared to a grand and elaborate party for all of creation, we will surely want to prepare for such a wonderful end.

The preparation of Advent is about preparing our hearts and minds to receive the Christ child into our hearts; to allow the Christ to be born in us and to grow up in us in such a way as to change who we are into the likeness of Christ. Some would describe this process as "putting on Christ." I like that way of putting it.

Our collect for Advent I says it this way:

"Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

To repent is to turn from our wrathful ways toward God's humble presence among us, in others, and in ourselves.

Time is on God's loving side. The Rolling Stones wrote a popular song about a split up between a man and a woman. The tune is written from the point of view of the man who believes that the woman will return to him. I am sure the Stones were not writing this tune as a theological statement, but it does speak to God's waiting as a way of loving us without coercion.

“Time is on my side, yes it is
Time is on my side, yes it is
‘Cause I got the real love the kind that you need
You’ll come running back
You’ll come running back
You’ll come running back to me”

As we begin this Advent season, be open to being changed. Be open to God’s loving presence in your heart and mind. Be open to time as an opportunity to accept love and forgiveness and to offer it to others. May our running back be in joyful response to God’s love and forgiveness.

“Time exists for repentance, not as a threat of a day of vengeance.” (James Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A General Thanksgiving

ALMIGHTY God, Father of all mercies ,we your unworthy servants give you most humble and hearty thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all people; We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And we beseech you, give us that due sense of all your mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, and that we show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives; by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

This collect is the starting point for my reflection on the Gospel for Christ the King this Sunday and may just be the outline for my sermon on Sunday. Thanksgiving, charitable living, humility, and a growing sense of God's mercy and love are signs that you are under the influence of God.

I am in my office at church late on a Wednesday evening as I begin to write this reflection. The lights in the parish house and around the building are glowing bright in anticipation of the community’s return this Sunday.

I have taken photographs throughout the process of reconstruction and yet today and I have felt a growing sense of being under the influence of God as I snapped photo after photo of the amazing space that has been created in the shell of the burned out parish hall and kitchen.

The General Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite prayers from my early days as a child and a new Episcopalian. Although the language of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer was sometimes challenging for my third grade vocabulary, I fell in love with the cadence and the reality that this prayer sought to express.

We bless God for our creation, preservation, and for all the blessings of this life, but above all… Here is where my heart and mind came together. What did this, “but above all” spoken of in this prayer mean?

Wasn’t it enough that God created me in such a wonderful, complex, and yet simple way?

Wasn’t it enough that he had preserved me to the very day and moment I was saying this prayer?

Wasn’t it enough that life was filled with the blessings that God speaks into existence?

Wasn’t this all just enough for me to be thankful to God?

The phrase that begins, “But above all” suggests that all of these other things only have meaning and the power to draw thanksgiving from our lips because of the “inestimable love” of God as it shows itself in the life and death of Jesus.

My third grade mind and heart, still new to the Christian faith, may not have understood the word inestimable, but I did know something about the word love.
The prayer of Thanksgiving connected God’s love with “the redemption of the world” and then offered how that love redeemed the world through a particular person. This person was Jesus and it was through his life and death that the whole world would be redeemed. The prayer used another phrase that I did not really understand, but which I loved to say because it rolled off of my tongue in a pleasing way.

Here is that phrase: “for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.” I had heard the expression the ends justify the means and wondered if this prayer was saying the same thing. I concluded that “the hope of glory” was the end for which grace was the way to come to that fulfilled hope.

So, Jesus’ death was the way grace entered into the world in such a way as to redeem our human family. Again, as a child, I was not sure how Jesus dying on a cross could change our future, but I was willing to accept to this belief on faith.

As I have gotten older and seen why we need redeeming, Jesus as the means of grace has gained clarity for me. We demand sacrifice of others in order to secure life for ourselves. God slipped into our world as just another victim of our wrathful and sacrificial existence.

In this sense, Jesus understood our language of violence and claimed the right to be the only One who could wear the crown of thorns and preside from the throne of the cross. Jesus claimed to be our sovereign King because he was willing and able to be our suffering servant. Jesus’ mission is redemption for all of God’s children. Under his reign there are no other sacrifices that are acceptable.

He is the one and only One who can take on the sin of the world and expose it. He is the one and only One who is the final full, perfect, and sufficient source of life, unity, and a new sociality that includes every single person on planet earth.

No sacrifice since Jesus has worked as well to give humanity a way of temporarily relieving us of our violence. No sacrifice since Jesus’ death has found the sort of unanimous consent of the crowd that would bring us together against a common enemy.

Our ability to point fingers at this group or that individual and claim they or he or she is the cause of all that is wrong with the world has been diminished and continues to be diminished every time it seeks to do so and fails.

As we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, our parish patronal feast day, let us give thanks to God and bless God for our creation, preservation, and all of the blessings of this life, “but above all..”

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"The Devil Made Me Do It"

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Language expresses the thoughts that we have and the reality that we perceive. Our Collect for this past Sunday includes the following line: “O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life…”

For many in our culture, the mention of the devil conjures up a religious point of view that is medieval and filled with superstitious lore. If you were asked whether you believed in the devil, what would you answer? Is our collect simply outdated and even inappropriate for use in our post-modern culture?

I would like to invite you to consider a view of the devil that might make sense even in our enlightened day and age. The word, “devil” comes from the Greek word “diabolos.” Diabolos literally means to throw across, accuse, or slander. The devil is also called Satan which means accuser or slanderer. So, the works of the devil are slanderous accusations being hurled to and fro which seem to always divide and separate people.

The image of a horned being with pitch fork in hand is easily dismissed, but a community and a world that creates an environment where slanderous accusation is acceptable and rewarded is less easily dismissed as an amusing, but simplistic fossil of ancient religion. There have been many humorous versions of the devil.

Flip Wilson, a comic from the 1960s, popularized the expression, “The devil made me do it.”( Link to YouTube of Flip’s The Devil Made Me Do It) Flip tells a story about Geraldine and her conversation with her minister about why she bought a dress. The memorable and oft repeated punch line became a part of the culture of this period.

But this collect is a serious petition to God. Our prayer assumes that Jesus has already begun his work, not of destroying the devil, but of destroying the works of the devil the slanderous accusing of neighbors What is the difference and why is the collect so worded?

The devil is a word that defines, not a person, but a process that human beings follow to solve our problem of keeping the peace and unity of whatever social unit to which we belong. We do it believing that slanderous accusations hurled at others are absolutely true. It is Jesus’ work of destroying this works of the devil that reveals to us how wrong we are in falsely accusing others in the name of keeping the peace and unity of our group.

Have you ever falsely accused someone and then discovered you were dead wrong? How did you feel? Did you ask for the forgiveness of the person about whom you passed along slanderous accusations? Have you ever been the target of false accusation? Did it make you more or less able to participate in future false accusations being passed along about others?

When Jesus destroys the works of the devil, he does so without destroying those who have participated in those works.

The collect states what the outcome of Jesus work will be: “make us children of God and heirs of eternal life.” Jesus came to save us from the diabolical human system of scapegoating others to achieve a limited bit of warless time. But more than that, Jesus came to bring us back together without slanderous accusation as children of God whose future transcends the current age in which such accusations are seen as essential to our survival.

The age to come is not pie in the sky by and by stuff, but an age in which humanity is set free from the works of the devil. Our collect concludes by offering us hope. “Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him.”

Hope is not based upon any visible evidence that things are changing. As we look around our world today, we can see more reasons to doubt God’s vision of a loving and inclusive future . Hope becomes the soap that helps us clean up our act individually and collectively so that we can be like Jesus in his refusal to cast out any of God’s children by playing the devil’s game of divide and conquer.

No, Jesus hangs onto us all and our purity is not about being better than others, but about seeing others as Jesus sees us all, God’s children. We have hope because we saw him chose to die and be the outcast in our place.

We have hope because with each passing day that we look to Jesus as our model, we find ourselves becoming more and more like him in the way we love others. We have hope because it is harder and harder for us to participate in the devil’s work of joining others in slanderous accusations against someone. We have hope because we are given the daily bread of God’s life and love and forgiveness to sustain us and because we share it with others freely, openly, and without reservation as a church.

Our collect takes away the excuses we might come up with for laying all of our problems on some hapless soul who for no good reason has become the solution to our problems and invites us to enter the purifying, cleansing water of our baptismal life in Christ where we will discover “his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Monday, November 01, 2010

Knit Together By God

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

My Mom was a knitter in her younger years. I used to love watching her as she knit. While she was learning, she would softly remind herself to do a knit stitch and then a purl stitch in some sort of fashion. I found this creating of a piece of clothing out of string (yarn) most fascinating and mysterious.

As she got more practiced, she no longer verbalized her actions, but those early days of hearing her almost prayerfully speaking what she was supposed to do remain a part of my best memories of her.

So, when I read and pray this collect (prayer) for All Saints Day, my mind and heart turn back to those early memories of my Mom learning to knit.

Wonder how God knits us all together? What is the prayerful process God uses? The word “Almighty” might also be translated “All Embracing” (in Greek “Pan= All and Krateo (grasping or embracing). We often think of God’s almightiness as acts of sheer power moving, shaking, directing, and overriding human will.

We also sometimes use this understanding of God’s power to despair over God’s unwillingness or inability to exercise this power to punish the wicked and reward the virtuous. “If God is all powerful, why….?” Fill in the blank. For many, this is evidence of the non-existence of God or the distant and uninvolved nature of deity.

So, with great power available to create all things seen and unseen, why does the church compare the creation of a new community of humanity to knitting? As I said, knitting is a prayerful and meditative activity that does not require strength or force , but flexibility, patience, faithfulness to the creation being made, and gentle, but slow movements that bring together two separate strands of yarn into a finished product that could not exist without all strands of the original creation being brought together by skillful and prayerful hands.

Curiously, the product of God’s knitting is to incorporate these separate strands of humanity into what the collect calls “the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord.” Psalm 139 speaks of the creation of a human life using the metaphor of knitting and weaving:

13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them

The mystical body of Christ our Lord began just this way. God began by knitting together the whole matrix (taken from the word, “mother’) of existence both visible and invisible. From this matrix the whole of humanity emerged, but our vision of one another was blinded to the wholeness that was inherent in God’s creation.

Instead we saw ourselves as separate and different from one another and we used those differences to divide ourselves between those who were “supposed” to be here and were therefore part of the chosen of God from those who somehow are just defective or somehow evil. We developed an “us versus them” mentality and spirituality that allowed us to act rather badly towards one another.

So, I see the mystical body of our Lord as being what God created in the beginning and I see God patiently and lovingly and faithfully knitting the tattered, torn, and divided human race (the elect) back together. This is the power of God at work in our world.

Now there is a request made by the church and for the church in this prayer. The prayer is simply for grace to follow those whom the church calls saints. Father Norm did a wonderful sermon on Sunday in which he gave us several ideas about Saints and saints. “A saint is a sinner who keeps on trying.”

The church is one of the instruments the Holy Spirit uses in knitting us into the mystical body of Christ the Lord and the church is made of such saints. The church is like the knitting needles and the beatitudes is the pattern of life in the Kingdom of God. Creation continues.

So, what will the final creation of God’s knitting look like? What pattern is humanity being knit into? Consider Jesus’ life of giving life not by condemning, but through giving love where love had been withheld; by healing divisions that had painfully separated humanity for generations; by serving up a meal to which all are invited and where he is the servant who prepares the meal and serves us like a servant.

But, before we are all knit together into the mystical body of Christ, we experience ourselves as divided. Jesus used our divisions to describe the tattered and torn condition in which we find ourselves seemingly impossibly rent asunder forever due to our unwillingness to repent from the ways we behave that divide us.

Remembering that Jesus is the end vision of who we really are helps us to hear his hard words about our divisions because we have come to understand by reason of his reconciling action on the cross that no matter which side of the blessings and woes we might be, God is out to reclaim us all as his elect.

Jesus invites anyone who wishes to be his disciples to see the two strands of insiders and outsiders who will be knit into the mystical body of Christ. Those who are blessed are so because they resemble Jesus in his life on earth. Here are the blessings as Jesus offered them to his disciples:

Luke 6:20-31

Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:

"Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
"Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
"Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

"Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

Jesus was poor not only in spirit, but also in terms that define human wealth and success.

Jesus hungered for God’s bread and wine of justice, peace, forgiveness, and mercy.

Jesus wept for the victims of violence and for those who inflict such violence in the name of God, country, or beliefs.

Jesus was hated for no particularly good reason and certainly not to serve any purpose of God. In fact, the sheer beauty and goodness of Jesus did not stop this random selecting of him as a victim of human violence. This is what I believe it means to be hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed on account of the Son of Man.

It is not so much that our goodness is the reason we are targeted, but because we stand by those random victims who are on their way to being victimized. Human sin works by hating, excluding, reviling, and defaming individuals and groups always convincing us that we are right in taking such actions.

So, this is one strand of yarn that is being worked into the new creation of the mystical body of Christ. It includes the prophets of Israel’s past who were also treated as Christ and all other victims of sin expressed as righteousness. To be among those treated as Jesus and the prophets were treated is to be blessed in a most unexpected way.

What does the other strand of tattered and torn yarn look like? Here is how Jesus describes this other strand.

"But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
"Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
"Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
"Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets

Jesus did not come to condemn and punish the rich, the satiated, the laughers, and those with impeccable reputations, but to knit them into his mystical body. Each strand is vital, essential, and irreplaceable. Each strand is part of that wonderful mystical body of Christ that is the creation for which Jesus offered his life. There are no losers or winners in this drama of salvation. The woe to you words of Jesus are designed to allow the rich, the full, the happy, and the well respected to see themselves through a different lens.

If we were to honestly see ourselves as someone loved by God and part of the whole creation that includes the poor, the hungry, the weepers, the hated, the excluded, the reviled, and the defamed we might be more willing and able to play our part in restoring the mystical body of Christ in the world.

Whether you see yourself as one of the blessed or one to whom the woes are directed, Jesus calls you to follow him.

"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you."

The mystical Christ is the recapitulation of creation. How will we know if we have been knit together in Christ? Jesus describes what being knit into Christ looks like as the knitting is taking place. It begins with a change in the way we look at others whom we have seen as our enemies. We are to love those whom we formally hated and mistrusted. Love is the entrance into an ever expanding participation in the mystical body of Christ, but love must take actions that are consistent with that love.

Such actions look very much like those characteristics of the life of the blessed. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who abuse you. Turn your cheek. Give your shirt to someone who takes your coat. Give to those who beg from you. Finally and simply: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

As we celebrate All Saints Day this coming Sunday, some of us will be dressing up like a saint, while others may be remembering people in their lives who have demonstrated some the characteristics of love that Jesus describes in the sermon on the plain from Luke. As Father Norm said last Sunday, we all have the ability to become a saint by simply and easily reaching out to God and he offered this quote from Nelson Mandella’s letter to his wife written in 1975:

“But internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being. Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others – qualities which are within easy reach of every soul – are the foundation of one’s spiritual life…. Never forget that a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying.”

Which strand of yarn are you that God is knitting into the mystical body of Christ.

In Psalm 22 about which I wrote last week, there is a verse that really captures this sense of God knitting his creation back into wholeness:

Psalm 22:29

All the power-mongers are before God
All the poor and powerless, too
Along with those who never got it together

God is knitting us all back together with patience, love, and forgiveness.

Knit one, purl one…. Amen!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Do you ever think that, if there is a God, he or she is nowhere to be found? If God does exist, is God unresponsive to your complaints or to the deepest injustices of the planet? Do you ever reason that it is probably just best to take care of number 1 and stop looking for help from some super sized transcendent being?

Our culture is big on talking about trust. We find it harder and harder to trust one another from politicians, to religious leadership, to business corporate types, to even our friends and spouses. To say that we have “trust issues” is perhaps an understatement.

This is not new to human life. We have had trust issues from the very beginning of our ability to speak the words that match up with the idea of betrayal and trust.

On this past Tuesday morning, I met with a group of folks to look at what are called the Psalms of lament, particularly Psalm 22. We used the Eugene Petersen version found in The Message because it spoke in a less than eloquent way about a less than elegant feeling of being abandoned by God and turned on by what seemed like everyone on the planet in a sort of mob gone wild lynch party. Here is how it starts:

Psalm 22
A David Psalm

1-2 God, God! Why did you dump me
miles from nowhere?
Doubled up with pain, I call to God
all the day long. No answer. Nothing.
I keep at it all night, tossing and turning.
3-5 And you! Are you indifferent, above it all,
leaning back on the cushions of Israel's praise?
We know you were there for our parents:
they cried for your help and you gave it;
they trusted and lived a good life.

6-8 And here I am, a nothing—an earthworm,
something to step on, to squash.
Everyone pokes fun at me;
they make faces at me, they shake their heads:
"Let's see how God handles this one;
since God likes him so much, let him help him!"

Wow, the psalmist is pretty upset and his relationship with God seems a bit strained. Psalms of lament follow a particular pattern that looks something like this:

COMPLAINT: First the writer complains. This isn’t a criticism, the way a husband or wife might begin a conversation by saying: “Well, you did it again. You are so irresponsible. You never feed the dog. The dog would starve to death waiting for you to feed him.”

Such criticisms are not just about a particular misdeed, but attribute all manner of repeated ill will, poor character, and a lack of caring to the attacked partner. Obviously, this is not a great way of maintaining a loving and long lasting relationship.

So, the psalmist simply says that God is missing after having left the poor guy out in the middle of no man’s land. The complaint continues with symptoms of pain (not sure what sort of pain this is, but it is enough to double him over, so I am guessing it is pretty intense). And still no answer from God and no help.

While the psalmist might seem to be lacking trust in God, it is really quite the opposite. If you don’t trust someone, you usually stop asking for what you need from them. Yet this guy shares the reason why he is continuing to complain and to trust that he will eventually be heard. He reminds God of how faithful God had been to his ancestors.

God is trusted because God had a good track record with the family and the tribes of Israel. Doesn’t that make sense? Once trust is gained, it is only lost when the trusted person acts in such a way as to lose your trust. So, the psalmist is rehearsing the reason for his trust in God and this is revealed in the very act of complaining.

Notice that the psalmist says of his parents that they “trusted and lived a good life.”

The complaint widens now and he says less than flattering things about himself. He is an earthworm and not worthy of much consideration by anyone. He then moves to a complaint against others who are seen to be his enemy and who are preparing to destroy him.

REQUEST FOR HELP: The next element of a psalm of lament is the request for help from God. The psalmist seeks relieve from his situation. His confession of being “nothing” seems more like an offering of how he thinks others see him, than a statement of his true value. Yet, in this complaint, he is also asking why, if he is really nothing, are his enemies so intent on getting rid of him.

The psalmist is actually hitting on a pretty huge question about the way we victimize one another.

If his opponents are right in seeing him as nothing, why is he is worth such anger and hatred that seems to have come his way? He does not have an answer to this question of why he has been randomly identified as a target of their anger. He simply is asking for saving from that fate.

AFFIRMATION: The psalm of lament now enters a self-soothing reflection on the psalmist’s experience of being cared for by God. God has not always been absent. Here is what he says:

9-11 And to think you (God) were midwife at my birth,
setting me at my mother's breasts!
When I left the womb you cradled me;
since the moment of birth you've been my God

In the mist of being troubled, this man finds hope in God’s tenderness and love he knew as an infant. How often do we remember the ways in which God’s love and attention have come our way? Does it calm us down and give us some hope? Does it renew our willingness to continue to trust God?

Well, it did in this case. The psalmist ends this continued complaint of God moving away with a request for what may be the key and solution to much of what troubles us all today. What are we really looking for in the absence of God? He says it clearly: “I need a neighbor.”

Then you moved far away
and trouble moved in next door.
I need a neighbor.

In a world that seeks to cast out rather than gather in those in need, a neighbor, as Jesus understood the meaning of that word, was and is what the psalmist needed and what we need today. When Jesus said that we are to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves, he expanded the definition by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. A neighbor may actually be someone who is hated by you and who reciprocates with hate towards you. Your neighbor may be your answer to prayer for God to draw near to you.

Listen to the psalmist describe his neighbors and place yourself in his agonizing and lonely position as they come after him:

12-13 Herds of bulls come at me,
the raging bulls stampede,
Horns lowered, nostrils flaring,
like a herd of buffalo on the move.

14-15 I'm a bucket kicked over and spilled,
every joint in my body has been pulled apart.
My heart is a blob
of melted wax in my gut.
I'm dry as a bone,
my tongue black and swollen.
They have laid me out for burial
in the dirt.

16-18 Now packs of wild dogs come at me;
thugs gang up on me.
They pin me down hand and foot,
and lock me in a cage—a bag
Of bones in a cage, stared at
by every passerby.
They take my wallet and the shirt off my back,
and then throw dice for my clothes.

As you read the last few lines, they may have reminded you of the scenes around the crucifixion of Jesus. The Gospel writers read this psalm through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is the neighbor who intentionally walked into the trap so beautifully described by the psalmist. He walked into it, not to become a victim, but to give us all the neighbor we cry out for when we end up in the middle of such an angry circle, as the outcast, as the victim without a cause and without a defender.

The psalmist repeats his request for God to act to rescue him. He sounds more and more desperate. Throat cutting, being devoured, gored, so much meat for the lions are pretty dramatic ways of urging action from God or from anyone. The psalmist sees his situation as grave beyond words. The mob has turned on him and the mob really believes he is the problem and the solution to the problem is his death, dismemberment, and him being turned into a sacrificial meal for the mob to eat.

19-21 You, God—don't put off my rescue!
Hurry and help me!
Don't let them cut my throat;
don't let those mongrels devour me.
If you don't show up soon,
I'm done for—gored by the bulls,
meat for the lions.

The psalmist is asking for rescue to save his own skin from this horrible curse and death and in answer to his plea for God’s help, Christians have seen Jesus being the one who steps in as God in human flesh and blood and having shown God’s loving face on earth and God’s power to heal and restore what is lost, he becomes the good neighbor whom we despise and vilify.

The one who takes our place as outcast, “your it,” the problem whose death is the solution and who offers the human race what we have received from the beginning. The invitation, the example, and the power to love God with all of our being and our neighbor as ourselves has been sent and is being lived out in the lives of many.

The creation is headed for a time of deep forgiveness and thanksgiving around a Table shared by neighbors who will dine on God’s graciousness and mercy and love and not on one another. The day is coming. This is day for which we pray when we say God's will to be done and his kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.

For Jesus to live in us and we to live in him is the answer to the psalmist prayer. To become the good neighbor who loves friend and enemy alike is the path and the answer to this prayer. God is not present as the source or justification for human wrath and violence directed towards the psalmist. God is experienced as absent by the psalmist and Jesus confirms this truth in his dying. Jesus experiences God's absence not as abandonment of him, but rather God's never being present in human wrath and sacred violence against any scapegoat. God is with the victims and in the victims of human wrath posing as righteousness.

PROMISE OF PRAISE: The last component of a psalm of lament begins with a vision of a future day of praise to the One in whom we all live and move and have our being. It is a party around the Table of God, as I said. Read these final passages from this psalm. It says it better than I ever could.

22-24 Here's the story I'll tell my friends when they come to worship,
and punctuate it with Hallelujahs:
Shout Hallelujah, you God-worshipers;
give glory, you sons of Jacob;
adore him, you daughters of Israel.
He has never let you down,
never looked the other way
when you were being kicked around.
He has never wandered off to do his own thing;
he has been right there, listening.

25-26 Here in this great gathering for worship
I have discovered this praise-life.
And I'll do what I promised right here
in front of the God-worshipers.
Down-and-outers sit at GOD's table
and eat their fill.
Everyone on the hunt for God
is here, praising him.
"Live it up, from head to toe.
Don't ever quit!"

27-28 From the four corners of the earth
people are coming to their senses,
are running back to GOD.
Long-lost families
are falling on their faces before him.
GOD has taken charge;
from now on he has the last word.

29 All the power-mongers are before him
All the poor and powerless, too
Along with those who never got it together

30-31 Our children and their children
will get in on this
As the word is passed along
from parent to child.
Babies not yet conceived
will hear the good news—
that God does what he says.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Luke 18:9-14

Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:

"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.'

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."


Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

We live in a secular world. More and more of our world’s space and resources are not dedicated to the notion of the sacredness of life. We are in an ecological crisis, as well as a spiritual crisis of massive dimensions. The term “god” has become a defense for violence and global destruction. In the midst of this secularized religion of domination and destruction, the church prays for an increase in us of the divine gifts of faith, hope, and charity. We ask for what we know we need.

We are called to make sacred the whole of creation. Nothing and no one can be left out of the sacred embrace of God. We must have faith in this vision of reality. We must hope that this vision is truthful. We must love with the love of God and that love will continue to enlarge our embrace of others.

As Christians, we are called to bring the divine message and reality of mercy, justice for the poor, forgiveness for us all in our failures and even in some of the ways we have thought of as our greatest successes. Actually some of our failures may lead us to God’s grace and the truth about ourselves faster than our successes.

Lord God of the Failing Church, increase in us your gifts of faith, hope, and charity.

Jesus tells us a parable in Sunday’s Gospel from Luke about two men. One is considered religious and the other a simple failure. The religious man begins his prayer to God thanking him for the fact that he is not like the sinners he sees about him each day on his way to pray. In fact, the tax collector who prays next to this man becomes an example of comparison. Next to this tax collector, the religious man looked good, he thought.

Jesus does not tell us this story to give a sense of superiority over this religious man. In fact, he actually wants us to identify with this man’s point of view. Maybe you and I do not base our value on tithing or fasting, but we surely have a list of people who represent the sort of folks we are glad we are not like. Maybe this religious man is one such person that we give thanks we are not like.

Lord God of the Superior, increase in us your gifts of faith, hope, and charity.

Jesus invites us to look at our superior, self-justifying thoughts and beliefs, even if we have more closely identified ourselves with the poor tax collector who stands condemned by the Pharisee. The tax collector is not justified because of his bad behavior of stealing from his own people, but from his refusal to respond to those who justified themselves by making him an example of what is “wrong with the world.” This sinner does not say, “Thank God I am not like this religious prig.” He says nothing. His focus is on his own sense of failure, not compared to others, but in his own sight. This is the humility fed by the gifts of faith, hope, and charity.

Lord God of the Outsiders, increase in us your gifts of faith, hope, and charity.

So, we are left with a story that really does not have a villain. We are called to self-examination which will take all of the gifts of God, but most especially the gifts of faith, hope, and charity for which we will fervently pray this Sunday.

Lord God of those who are called to your mercy, increase in us your gifts of faith, hope, and charity.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Have you ever just sat back and watched people argue over a particular issue or another? Certainly during this election season we are seeing a great deal of arguing and a lot of personal attacks directed against this candidate or another. What do you see and hear when you remain outside of the fight?

Does a pattern emerge that looks the same for both parties?

When people argue in a relationship, friendship or marriage, there are usually some restraints on the sorts of things that are said to each other. Sometimes these restraints come out of fear; other times we hold our punches out of love and respect for the other person.

The ideal in a relationship is to avoid what John Gottman calls the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (This link will take you to a good summary of Gottman's research): criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling or to have ways of quickly recovering from such episodes.

Gottman is a respected researcher in the field of what makes for happy and long lasting marriages. He and his wife, Julie were the two presenters at the recent two day workshop that Madelyn and I attended in Anaheim.

He says that a high ratio of positive comments to negative comments (John Gottman, in1994, found that in marriages which flourish (P/N ratio of 5.1) and those which end up in divorce (P/N ratio of 0.77)) during a disagreement is needed for a relationship to survive over time. I have watched many of our married couples who have been together for over 40 years and see exactly what Gottman has discovered in his research.

If these notorious horsemen have galloped through any of your own conversations, you know how devastating they can be to the overall health and sense of well being of your relationships.

So, I am wondering about how these equestrian signs of relationship disasters also may be true of our conversations with God. If these four relationship damaging tactics result in a loss of life giving human relationships, how might they also signal a similar outcome in our relationship with God?

All of us have different views of who God is and how God operates that may strongly influence your answer to such a question. Check out the link (USA TODAY) to a recent survey written and analyzed by sociologists from Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion, in Waco, Texas, and conducted by Gallup.

The survey asked 77 questions with nearly 400 answer choices that burrowed deeply into beliefs, practices and religious ties and turned up some surprising findings.

Check out the a summary of the research done at Baylor and to see how your view of God may influence the way you see God communicating with you and how you may be communicating with God. How does Jesus' parable on prayer which we will read on Sunday mesh with your view of God?

The four categories

Highlights of Baylor's analysis:

• The Authoritarian God (31.4% of Americans overall, 43.3% in the South) is angry at humanity's sins and engaged in every creature's life and world affairs. He is ready to throw the thunderbolt of judgment down on "the unfaithful or ungodly," Bader says.

Those who envision God this way "are religiously and politically conservative people, more often black Protestants and white evangelicals," Bader says.
"(They) want an active, Christian-values-based government with federal funding for faith-based social services and prayer in the schools."

They're also the most inclined to say God favors the USA in world affairs (32.1% vs. 18.6% overall).

•The Benevolent God (23% overall, 28.7% in the Midwest) still sets absolute standards for mankind in the Bible. More than half (54.8%) want the government to advocate Christian values.

But this group, which draws more from mainline Protestants, Catholics and Jews, sees primarily a forgiving God, more like the father who embraces his repentant prodigal son in the Bible, Froese says.

They're inclined (68.1%) to say caring for the sick and needy ranks highest on the list of what it means to be a good person.

This is the group in which the Rev. Jeremy Johnston, executive pastor and communications director for his father's 5,000-member Southern Baptist congregation in Overland Park, Kan., places himself.

"God is in control of everything. He's grieved by the sin of the world, by any created person who doesn't follow him. But I see (a) God ... who loves us, who sees us for who we really are. We serve a God of the second, third, fourth and fifth chance," Johnston says.

•The Critical God (16% overall, 21.3% in the East) has his judgmental eye on the world, but he's not going to intervene, either to punish or to comfort.

"This group is more paradoxical," Bader says. "They have very traditional beliefs, picturing God as the classic bearded old man on high. Yet they're less inclined to go to church or affiliate seriously with religious groups. They are less inclined to see God as active in the world. Their politics are definitely not liberal, but they're not quite conservative, either."

Those who picture a critical God are significantly less likely to draw absolute moral lines on hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage or embryonic stem cell research.

For example, 57% overall say gay marriage is always wrong compared with 80.6% for those who see an authoritarian God, and 65.8% for those who see God as benevolent. For those who believe in a critical God, it was 54.7%.

•The Distant God (24.4% overall, 30.3% in the West) is "no bearded old man in the sky raining down his opinions on us," Bader says. Followers of this God see a cosmic force that launched the world, then left it spinning on its own.

This has strongest appeal for Catholics, mainline Protestants and Jews. It's also strong among "moral relativists," those least likely to say any moral choice is always wrong, and among those who don't attend church, Bader says.

Only 3.8% of this group say embryonic stem cell research is always wrong, compared with 38.5% of those who see an authoritarian God, 22.7% for those who see God as benevolent and 13.2% who see God as critical but disengaged.

If you believe in an Authoritarian God, you might say that God has the right and the duty to be critical, contemptuous, defensive, and stonewalling in his relationship with a perceived less powerful and misguided bunch of humans such as ourselves. You might believe that when God uses the Four Horsemen, it is “for our own good.” The question is not whether God is right or wrong. God is always right and we are always wrong if we do not do what God tells us to do. God shows us when we are wrong by bringing disasters on people and nations that do not follow his ways.

If you believe in a God who is Benevolent, you might say that God is still always right, but that he is much more understanding and forgiving than the Authoritarian God. The Benevolent God would try to communicate to us in more loving ways while still letting us know how we are wrong and he is right. God being good all of the time to all people could only speak in ways that would encourage greater and greater communication in the name of helping us get our act together.

If you believe in a God who is Critical, you might say that God only speaks harshly against those whose behavior inflicts hardship and economic suffering on the poor in the world. God being the friend of the poor would only send the Four Horsemen off to deliver threatening messages of judgment against the rich while remaining loving and tender in his communication with the poor.

If you believe in a Distant God, you might say that God is not really communicating to us, but having made us as we are has left how we will be towards one another to our own judgment. God being distant and not really involved in the outcome of his creation doesn’t communicate at all, not as a form of stonewalling, but in keeping with his original design of creating, but not hovering over what he has created.

If you are an Atheist, you would probably not have any response to this question, but might suggest that the question has absolutely no meaning to you because there is no God with whom to have a relationship and therefore no communication possibilities exist.

Which view of God comes closest to your own? With that in mind, read this coming Sunday’s Gospel and see if you can identify elements of these views in how Jesus sees God?

Luke 18:1-8

Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, `Grant me justice against my opponent.' For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, `Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'" And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Religious Literacy & Healing Faith

Recently there was a story in the news that was based upon whether Americans were religiously literate. I took this 15 question quiz and offer you the opportunity to do the same by clicking on this link.

Once you have taken this survey and received your score, read the rest of this week's Gospel Reflection. I wonder if being religiously literate makes us better human beings, better people of faith, more Christ-like? In our Gospel Reflection I would like to have us take a look at the story of the 10 lepers who are healed by Jesus as a way of looking at what it means to be a literate person of faith. Join me.

So, how did you do on the quiz? Do you feel the quiz truly defined your religious literacy?

I believe that we should know as much about the details of the faith traditions of our world as we can, but I am much more concerned that we get the heart of those traditions.

Let’s see how our Gospel reading for this Sunday perhaps reveals the heart of God, that deeper knowledge that unites us rather than divides us.

Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"

When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.

He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."

It should be noted that the Samaritans and the Jews of that time viewed one another with great hostility and contempt. Among lepers, however, there seemed to be neither Jew nor Samaritan. They are simply the “unclean.” There unity was based upon a common affliction, a common rejection and marginalization by each of their respective communities.

There were ten of these lepers. Ten is a number of wholeness, completion. Do you recall the stories Jesus told about the good shepherd who left behind 99 sheep to go in search of the one sheep who had been separated from the group? Do you remember the story that followed that one about the old woman who had 10 coins, but had discovered one was missing and how she searched and searched until she found that one coin? These stories reveal God’s desire, God’s dream of his creation as being incomplete until all are found, all restored, all made alive.

Just so, this story of Jesus being approached by 10 lepers we see a certain sort of unity that is based upon those who are lost and marginalized seeking to form a community separate from the ones into which they were born, raised, and indoctrinated. Having been rejected and marginalized by their two communities, they formed their own community of the excluded.

This story is often seen as a miracle story because Jesus heals all ten of these lepers, but I would like for us to look at the outcome of this healing. After their healing did they continue together as they had before, a community of lepers now restored and healed? Or, did they return to the very communities that had rejected them?

Did the healed Jewish lepers return to their community less hostile to the Samaritans than they were before the spent time with him? Did they return to their community as ambassadors of a larger understanding of God’s dream of unity among all people or did they simply return to the old ways of exclusion, contempt, and rejection of those who were different than themselves?

Might they have scored high on a religious literacy test, but missed the heart of God’s dream and will for his creation?

Jesus sends them off to their respective religious leaders, the priests, to be examined for the purpose of being declared clean and to be reintegrated into their families and their communities. This sending back home took place between the land of the Samaritans and the land of the Jews. Nine went one way and the one went the other way.

What happens next reveals something we might miss if we only focus on the healing of ten lepers who then return to their normal lives in their families and communities of faith. It is as they are on their way home that these lepers are healed. Their healing is a result of following Jesus’ direct order to go and show themselves to their respective priests. Notice that the healing was not certified before the Samaritan returned to give thanks to God at Jesus’ feet.

Something inside of this man convinced him beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was clean, whole, restored. He did not wait for confirmation by a priest or the payoff of being “acceptable” in the eyes of his former Samaritan community. He experienced a knowing that he was acceptable and clean in the eyes of God even before he was healed that Jesus called, “your faith.”

Gratitude and praise directed towards God is the response to such an experience of knowing God’s love and acceptance that Jesus calls faith. Jesus sends this man off saying: "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."

Will this Samaritan return to his former community and tell with praise and gratitude how God loved him even when his own community had not? Will he return angry at the system that rejected and marginalized him? Or, will he return to support the system that rejected and marginalized him? When others are similarly cast out due to the curse of leprosy or other community assigned reasons for rejection, will this Samaritan testify to the faith that healed him or will he go back to the old ways of his community?

Consider the nine who returned home and the one. What would it take for the one and the nine to become ten again without leprosy or any other human designed reason for exclusion rather than compassion? If you have ever experienced rejection, but discovered the deep faith of the Samaritan, how is that faith changing the way you live your life as you “get up and go your way?”

Finally, a note on the impact Jesus had on a community of ten outcasts. He destroyed their unity that was based upon their common identity of being victims of their communities or of God by healing them. What this healing revealed was a new way of being that does not require community based upon victimization, but based upon faith that sees God as loving and compassionate, not as the divine condoner or participant in exclusion, sin, and death that marks us as certain as Cain bore this mark of unity.

The mark of the cross is new sign of unity, invisibly worn on every baptized Christian that reminds us of our Samaritan roots of faith in a God who heals, restores, and creates a community of forgiveness and compassion. I don’t have to know the meaning of the word, “transubstantiation” to be a person of faith, but I do need to know the heart of God by faith.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Light Along the Path

Luke 17:5-10

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.

"Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table'? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"

This is the Gospel passage for October 3rd that will be read in most, if not all, Episcopal Churches.

So, when asked by the "sent ones" (AKA apostles) to increase their faith, Jesus talks about faith the size of a mustard seed that allows such... a person of faith to uproot and send mulberry trees flying into the sea. But then, just as you may start to think of faith as a form of power over the physical universe, Jesus talks about slaves doing slave work and not expecting their master to cook them dinner at the end of their long day of hard labor.

Rather, the master tells the slaves to get his dinner ready and then serve him with aprons on.

The kicker is that Jesus says to his apostles that once they finish the work they have been ordered to do, they should say to themselves: "We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done."

So now I invite your reflection and response to this text. I am guessing that it will bring up some interesting, disturbing, confusing, and maybe even some brilliant flashes of insight. Stay with it. Let it speak to you.

A Few Days Have Passed since posting these initial comments.

On further consideration….

Perhaps Jesus is addressing our understanding of our relationship with God as being one of rule giver and rule followers. Following rules is very different that trusting someone, even the law giver, to direct your steps. When I was a public school administrator in California, my role and the rules for running a public high school were set out in several volumes of Education Codes. It was a permissive code in that I could only do what it allowed me to do. Rather than having a set of "Don'ts", I had a set of "Dos."

At the end of each day, it was clear to me that I had not done all of the "Dos" of my job, but had ended up focusing my limited time, talent, and space to fulfilling those "Dos" that resulted in building a community of teachers, staff, teens, and their parents that was respectful, focused on caring about the kids and their futures, and providing the best educational opportunities we could create together.

On any given day, I could easily have been fired for not doing a particular "Do" of my job. I knew that I was not doing all that the laws and codes required of me and of my school and so I did not tend to bet too full of myself.

Perhaps Jesus is addressing those who are bound to a set of laws, the fulfillment of which gave them a sense of being of greater value, goodness, or holiness than anyone else. It is this hubris, this pride that Jesus' story of slaves who expect to be served by their master at the end of their day of work seems to expose.

Those of us who are bound to the law as a way of being good rather than settling for God's love and grace have defined our relationship with God and others in a way that can only lead to disaster.

I appreciated having the California Education Code to help me do my job in accordance with the public will, but I never went home feeling that my work as a principal was limited to simply following the rules. I felt like those slaves who at the end of the day understood that by any measurement of the Education Code, I was a miserable failure and pretty much worthless.

So, here is the good news. When I saw kids being graduated from our little continuation high school who had been written off as failures and sometimes as impossible cases, I knew what grace was all about, not just for them, but for those of us who are slaves to rules.

Grace gives the rules we follow a context that moves us from slaves to a code book to slaves to a grace where we are utterly dependent upon the love of God. Jesus liberated the law as a source of self-congratulatory bragging and returned it to what the psalmist called a light along the path way. Notice that it is not the path way, only a light to help us see the path way.

Where does the path lead? I have found that the path of grace is where we meet other pilgrims and where love, grace, beauty, and remembering who we are and whose we are, is a place called home.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Dead and yet alive,
Bread and wine offered and shared.
Broken and gathered,
Outside our gate,
Seen and known
Around the rail,
the Table,
the Throne of God,
the Cross,
RWC+ (September 2010)

Luke 16:19-31

Jesus said, "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.

The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, `Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.

Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' He said, `Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house-- for I have five brothers-- that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' He said, `No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"

So often we fail to see things and people around us. By seeing, I guess I really mean knowing something deep down inside of our core. One way of coming to know someone, to really see them, is to love them against all odds.

This is not romantic love that comes and goes, but an abiding reverence for and faithfulness to someone who might be invisible to others. The Gospel for this Sunday presents two characters. The rich man and the poor man (Lazarus by name) live in the same world, yet the rich man never really comes to know, see, or love Lazarus.

Lazarus is invisible to the rich man. Lazarus was no more real to the rich man than Jesus was to those who either ignored him or accused him and sentenced him to death.

Sunday after Sunday and every time we come together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper we reenact this story of Lazarus and the rich man. When we hear the stories of scripture; pray for those in need; confess our sins; and identify Jesus as the one who allows himself to be rejected, unseen, and on the edge of death and obscurity, we are seeing the poor and rejected of our world, Lazarus by name.

In the story that Jesus tells about Lazarus, the rich man begs Father Abraham to send the now dead Lazarus back to his family to warn them that their future after death is determined by whether they can respond differently to the poor in their world.

Abraham says that if the rich man’s family did not believe in the law of Moses that called upon them to care for the poor then they would also not believe even if that poor man rose from the dead.

So, are the rich man’s family always destined to live without hope of seeing and knowing Lazarus in their midst? Jesus death and resurrection makes it harder and harder for the rich of the world to ignore the poor. He makes them visible to us and invites us to know them and to care about them.

As we worship God in Christ, we come around the Table of grace where Jesus is made visible and known to us in bread and wine, his body and blood. We see Lazarus, raised from the dead, not condemning the rich, but coming to us to offer us an opportunity to see and to know all of God’s children who sit outside the gates of our world.

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


1 Timothy 2:1-7

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Paul encourages those who follow the way of God as shown to us by Jesus to pray without prejudice and despite our personal negative feelings and opinions about others. Paul believes that praying for others will help us lead lives that are quiet, at peace with God and others, and filled to the brim with all of God that can fill a human life. Paul also uses the word, "dignity" to describe this praying-for-others kind of Jesus following life.

Dignity is often seen as a characteristic that is earned by reason of one's accomplishments, status among others, power, and/or wealth, but Paul sees dignity being inherent in every human being because we are all made in the image of the only true God and creator of all that is. So, whether we think someone has dignity or not, Paul says to pray for that person "as if" they did have dignity because to do so helps us to experience our own dignity seen in the ways we act like God is love, mercy, and concern for others irrespective of who they are in our opinion or the opinions of others.

Paul continued:

For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all -- this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Paul is saying that since there is but one God who calls all of us his children and only one God in whose image we are all made, we only need one mediator between God and ourselves. Why? Because Jesus does not take sides against any of his brothers and sisters who are all made in the image of God, the creator. Whenever Jesus looked at another person he saw God, not an enemy or a friend, but God and he loved that person with all of his heart, mind, and strength. It is this quality, particularly and uniquely in Jesus that identifies him as the only mediator and advocate for the whole human race.

It is Jesus' ability to see God in all of us that makes him our hero, our rescuer, our redeemer, our savior, our Lord. Other heros, political, spiritual, and religious have come along, but they tend to only see themselves as favoring one group over another. These heroes see only themselves and their own and not the rest of creation. It is this quality of heroes being over against those we might see as enemies or persecutors or evil that makes them incapable of saving all of God's children whom God has made. So when Paul claims exclusive status for Jesus as the only mediator between God and all of humanity, he is saying something rather simple, but ever so deep. Jesus is here to rescue us all and pours his life out for all people, not just some.

There are many who will reject such an exclusive claim for Jesus because it seems to exclude those who do not believe in him, but Paul is saying just the opposite, he is saying that no one else can rescue the lot of us without being willing to give himself up to our wrathful human ways of taking sides. Jesus becomes the ransom for all humanity in a world that is more than willing to play favorites and scapegoat the rest as being unworthy of continued existence.

Sunday's Gospel reading is about the unjust steward who gets busted by his master for misappropriating his master’s wealth and by doing so, he made the master look bad. Masters with great wealth were not well liked by those who owed them money, but dishonest stewards were held in even greater contempt. So, the borrowers go to the master and demonize the steward (yep, the word used to describe how these borrowers told on the steward comes from the Greek word, diabolos, devil, divider, demon) and the master's initial response is to rip the steward from his position in a violent and rather harsh way.

But the master gives the steward time to settle up the accounts. It is during this time that the steward offers deals to the borrowers that make not only the master look good (thus restoring his honor), but also gives this crafty and unjust steward “many friends” and “eternal homes” among those who will probably not soon forget the steward’s pardoning or forgiving whatever debt they said they owed the master.

Imagine being able to tell your creditors how much you owed them because the creditors really didn’t know or care what you owed? Would you tell the steward the truth when he asked you to write out your bill? Would you pay what you really owed? But that is not the main point of this story.

The honor, not the money, seems to matter most to the master. Creating good relationships with those in debt to the master seems to matter most to the steward. So the steward reduces debt in the name of the master and the master commends him this unjust steward (who is still misappropriating his master’s funds) for getting something right.

Jesus may be saying, “I don’t care why you forgive others, whether out of fear, or self-preservation, or greed, or to uphold your honor, just do it. Forgive now, not later. Forgive not just the ones who are easy to forgive, forgive them all. Forgive debts that are deep or shallow. Ultimately, the debt is owed to the master not the stewards.

Finally, the kingdom is about forgiving and those who can forgive in the name and power of God had best be at this work of forgiveness. Will we forgive to avoid punishment, to uphold God’s honor, or because we hope to forgiven ourselves? Motives seem not to matter at all.

Paul says to prayer for everyone—see them as owing you nothing, as debt-free. Uphold the honor and dignity of God captured in each living soul, rejoice and celebrate that God has come to free us all from the debts that are killing us. He comes to free us from demanding that others pay up more than they owe or can possibly pay us. The ransom God pays in Christ has us all covered. Will we share this good news with others by letting them know that our debts are forgiven?