Friday, April 30, 2010
Thursday, April 29, 2010, Roslyn Retreat Center (Richmond, Virginia)
This morning our group of 30 CREDO clergy participants and our clergy and lay faculty began the transition from classroom time to personal prayer and reflection time. The faculty did a great job of doing this transition with us.
On Wednesday evening after a pretty heavy few days of classroom instruction, we were asked to create a poster with things cut from magazines, pipe cleaners, colorful pop cycle sticks, and other kid’s art materials. During the making of these creations designed to show how we feel about the relationships in our lives, music from the 1960s and 1970s played loudly in the background reminding us of our earlier years of life when relationships were being formed and the nature of community was being learned.We shared our master pieces afterward with a real appreciation for each person in our group and the people to whom they were connected.
The next day we went back to work on learning about things of the spirit, our physical well-being, our finances, and our vocations as clergy, but then in the evening we were put on a bus and taken to a bowling alley in Richmond, Virginia. We had a great and fun meal, a glass or two of wine or beer, and then began to bowl in teams of four.
Each time we bowled we were challenged by a different way of delivering the ball down the alley. One time with our left hand or right hand, one time backwards, another time while holding the hand of a team mate, another while hopping on one foot, one time we had to bowl between the legs of all of our team mates and once with our eyes closed.
As you can imagine, watching a bunch of clergy over 55 and up to 71 years of age engaged in the enterprises is a sight to behold. We laughed and cheered one another on no matter whose team we were on because we were there to have fun together and we did. On the bus ride home we were quieter and some of us went to the beautiful Roslyn Chapel for Compline and then on to bed.
Friday, April 30, 2010
Today is Friday. We have been given the morning to pray, reflect, relax, write, or do whatever was needful, but we did so in silence. At 11:00 AM we met in the Chapel and celebrated the Holy Eucharist together. One of our clergy played the clarinet and led us in the singing of the hymns. The first one we sang together was “There is a Balm in Gilead.” The sound of over 30 clergy singing this hymn which has always moved me deeply was began a worship experience I shall not soon forget.
You see, this service was a Holy Eucharist with the Laying on of Hands for Healing and after preparing myself for whatever new challenges CREDO might inspire, I was very much open to my need for healing and my sense of the presence of God in that time and place and within that group of priests from all over the United States of America.
We heard the readings for the day and they were powerful. The theme for the service was “Where Am I?” The readings reminded us that we are in the loving hands and care of God and that we have been our whole lives long from conception to the present moment. One of our faculty leaders, a priest from Liberia and now resident in a parish in Washington DC, was our celebrant and his melodic and beautiful leading of worship made sure that there were spaces of time between our readings and within our prayers.
Our preacher was also a member of the faculty. She is a priest from North Dakota and the daughter of a bishop of the church. She preached the most wonderful sermon about healing and being open to the love and care of God in healing. I really wish that you could all have heard her.
When we were invited to come forward for the laying on hands for healing, I immediately went to our preacher. She asked me what I ask those who come up to me for healing prayers at Christ Church: “What do what me to pray for you?” I was feeling rather unprepared for the question, but the answer came out of me clearly even though I found my throat tightening with emotions and tears rolling down my old cheeks. “For peace,” I said and then again I said, “For peace.”
She put her hands on my head and began to call down the Holy Spirit on me in prayer while a lay member of the faculty named Louise stood behind me and put her hands on my shoulders. Healing is sometimes very hard to get our heads around, but in that moment of grace, I had no doubt that healing was taking place in me. I will be bringing that gift back with me when I return.
I sat back down on my chair after my prayer was finished and I wrote this note in my journal that I want to share with you. It represents my attempt to express the healing I received, but words often times can not fully express the reality of an encounter with God or God’s touch through another person.
“In peace we pray to you, Lord Christ.” The place of peace, Shalom, God’s peace is the place where God’s infinite love and mercy meets our finite and desperate need for such love and mercy. It is from that place of peace that we pray, pray individually and pray together in common.
In God’s peace, what divides us and separates us from within and outside ourselves is no longer present. To live in God’s peace beyond this moment is quite simply to make one’s whole life a prayer that echoes Jesus’ prayer, “Our Father…”
“In peace we pray to you, Lord Christ.” So when asked today what I needed, what healing I desired, I asked for God’s peace so that my whole life might be part of the prayer of Jesus. With Saint Francis, I wish to be “to be an instrument of God’s peace in the world. One of the lines in the Gilead hymn says that we may not be able to preach like Peter or to pray like Paul, but we can do one thing in our witnessing to God’s love.
The healing for which I asked and the healing I have received is God’s Peace. It is the breath of God that surrounds us and makes this healing something I did not earn nor did I master by any sort of study. It is and always has been a gift, sweet, pure, joyful, overflowing, lovely and loving.
God’s Peace in the Balm of Gilead,
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Why do people act so meanly towards one another?
I would imagine that this question has been asked for as many generations as human beings have engaged in asking questions that reflect on the human condition. There seems to me to be a distancing from such behavior in the asking of the question as if to say something about other people’s bad behavior and not our own. For me, that is the bigger and more important question.
So, why do I see the meanness or hateful and violent behavior and not my own such behavior? I would offer one possible answer. We are all operating under the influence of a social reality which the church calls, “original sin.” I would suggest that this sin is not only the first sin under which we interact with one another, it is the continuing organizing and systemic behavior by which we live.
What is the originating and original sin? Rene Girard makes the following observation: "..original sin is vengeance, never-ending vegeance. It begins with the murder of the rival. Religion is what enables us to live with original sin, which is why a society without religion will destroy itself. Vengeance does not exist among animals; they never place themselves in such danger.”
We only need to read or watch the daily news to see how powerfully and self-righteously original sin continues to dominate our relationships with one another. Girard believes that religion is “whatever enables us to live with original sin.” Why? Because religion from the beginning has attempted to focus human rivalry and rage onto a few select victims. Some sacrificial victims were women, children, people of other faiths, tribes, or life styles, or animals.
With the coming of Jesus, this sacrificial system was exposed as just another form of violence that was neither from God nor in response to God’s anger at us for our behavior. In fact, God’s response to our lost state in the original sin of vengeance was to enter into our world as one of our victims. In effect, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was not religion, but the death of religion as a way of living with human sin.
What remains after archaic religion is exposed as a human way of avoiding all out war and annihilation in the name of vengeance or some principle or god? The power of God is what remains and that power is not about vengeance, but about love that seeks the good of the other. Rather than seeing our neighbors as rivals, we are offered the alternative of seeing our neighbors as simply and completely children of the same God who creates us.
To be sure, the Christian way of love can be difficult and unpredictable and not always successful in the way we might measure success in other activities, but it is a vocation to which we have all been called.
Saul is the model for someone operating out of the vengeance controlling religion of his childhood. In his way of thinking and believing, he was doing God’s will by hunting down those who followed Jesus and persecuting them. He felt completely justified in acting out the vengeance of God against this cult of Christ that he saw as a threat to his religion that he believed held everything together against the influence of sin.
Saul sought authority for his vengeful actions in religion, but somewhere on the road to Damascus, he met Jesus, not as an avenging and wrathful God, but as a lover of his soul. Blinded by the experience, Saul was given a vision of Jesus and was told that he would no longer be part of the world’s vengeful ways, but would himself become a follower of the Way offered by Jesus and that his life would no longer be about making others suffer, but would mean that he would suffer.
If you think being a Christian is easy, consider how fearful and concerned Ananias was when he was told by God that he would go to Saul at the end of his 3 days of blindness and fasting to restore his sight. Ananias saw Saul as a rival and a murderous one at that. He saw him as having the authority of religion to attack the early members of the church and yet Ananias goes to Saul and does what he is commanded to do by God.
Imagine that moment when Saul’s eyes focused on the eyes of Ananias after his blindness was healed. Such moments of grace fill the history of our world. To be forgiven and loved so powerfully in the very moment that you are caught in the midst of the murderous rivalry driven originating sin is what it means to be converted to the new way of being. This way of Jesus is not about religion that simply binds vengeance through violence masquerading as god, but is the path into a world that has a future.
As Girard wrote in his book, Battling to the End, “Sooner or later, either humanity will renounce violence without sacrifice or it will destroy the planet. Humanity will be either in a state of grace or in mortal sin. Thus, we can say that religion may have invented sacrifice, but Christianity takes it away."
Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)
Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" He asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do." [The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." He answered, "Here I am, Lord." The Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight." But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God."]
Monday, April 05, 2010
THE EGG AND I
On Monday morning after our wonderful Easter Sunday celebration, I arrived at the church and out of the corner of my eye I saw a lime green plastic egg lying just beneath the downspout of the gutter that drains the water from the roof of the church. My first thought was that one of kids had eaten the candy from the egg and then accidentally dropped the egg right there. Having sworn off candy (most of the time) as part of my attempt to deal with diabetes, the thought that candy might be in that egg made me pause for a moment.
When I did pick it up, I shook it and heard the sound of something rattling around on the inside. Opening the egg, I saw the sweet chocolate treats. This egg was the only egg not found by our kids on Easter Sunday morning. Hmmm…. Perhaps one of the Easter Bunny’s assistants had placed it inside the drain spout and no one had bothered to look there. The rain Monday morning had simply washed the egg out onto the pavement.
This hidden egg with sweet chocolate treats inside caused me to pause. There was something about this egg that was somehow connected to the whole message of Easter. As I write, the lime colored egg sits next to me. How is this egg and the story about our life in Christ, his death on the cross, and his resurrection connected?
During Jesus’ life time there were many people who walked right past him without a second thought. He was not someone of high office and he had absolutely no power over anyone. He was not a priest of his faith and he did not exercise authority in the Roman Empire. He carried no weapon to defend himself or to attack anyone else. He did not have much in the way of wealth. He was, in short, one of those people least likely to be noticed based upon celebrity or power or wealth.
When Jesus was finally arrested and sentenced to death as a rebel against the Roman Empire, his death was only noted by those who had managed to become his friends and disciples. All of the people he had fed, healed or set free from the oppression of demons or raised from the dead were not forced or even encouraged to follow him. And so, on Jesus’ last day on earth, there were only a few to bear witness to his death on the Roman cross. In a sense, his life was hidden away from history.
The rules of death in human culture require that the dead must remain dead. If death were not final and irrevocable its power over us might not be as formidable. When Jesus was laid in the tomb the reasonable expectation was that he would forever be silenced and those who were close to him would eventually die themselves. Death would lay claim to any possible hint that Jesus’ life was anything, but terminal and meaningless.
Resurrection is more than a physical event, it is a reversal of the judgment of our human culture that uses death as a way of throwing God off of the planet and silencing God’s word of grace, mercy, forgiveness, life, and future.
The lime green egg was hidden from view. It took a rainy day to roll it out into the light of day. It contains the sweetness of wonderful chocolate which brings a smile to my face even though I can not eat it. It was the last egg left behind and finding it means so much more to me.
So maybe the connecting point of the egg and the resurrection for me is that, in the midst of feeling that death and despair will always be the final verdict over hope, it is out of such death and despair that God surprises us and brings us into life. That is the message of the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Our worst fears do not have to become our reality. Jesus said that those who believed without having seen him as a resurrected person were truly blessed. I believe that hope in God is what allows us to see God in life despite our training and belief system that would deny such a vision of hope and love.
Imagine seeing the message of hope in a lime green plastic Easter egg with chocolate pieces inside? Imagine hearing the story of Jesus and believing that God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, and life are pouring in through the darkest of our personal and corporate days?
Thursday, April 01, 2010
Have you ever looked into the eyes of someone you have betrayed or denied?
Perhaps you failed to speak up for someone at work who you knew was being blamed for something they did not do.
Maybe you stood silently by while others made fun at the expense of someone you called a friend or you were one of those who were convinced of someone's guilt based upon the word of people who were not telling the truth.
I am sure you could add other examples to this list. Since these have been sins of my own, I offer them as examples. Such behavior is driven by fear of what others might think or do to me and a need to go along to get along.
Peter had been with Jesus for three years and seen him bring life out of the deadliest of situations in peoples’ lives. Jesus was clearly someone who loved and trusted Peter and everyone else who came his way. Peter could see Jesus’ love even for those who opposed him and wished to kill him.
Luke, the gospel writer, tells the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus in the courtyard outside the home of the high priest. Those of you who were in church this past Passion Sunday witnessed this painful and shameful moment in Peter’s life. Faced with accusations that he was one of Jesus’ followers, he denied it, not once, but three times. Within minutes of his final denial, Peter had two experiences that would change his life forever.
First, Peter heard the sound of a cock crowing. As the story goes, Jesus told Peter that this would be a sign that would follow Peter’s betrayal. The cock is the Holy Spirit which comes to us at such times of our betraying and denying of Jesus in others. Perhaps you have not heard a cock crowing after you have betrayed someone or denied them, but simply felt the guilt and shame.
But there is another moment portrayed by Luke that comes immediately after the cock crowing. Luke simply says: “The Lord turned and looked at Peter.” It was Jesus looking at Peter that triggered Peter’s remembrance: ‘Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times."’
Peter had been prepared to be a follower of Jesus. It was his three years of following Jesus that allowed him to remember Jesus’ words and to see Jesus’ face in his time of denial. As Christians, Holy Week is our time of hearing the cock crow and experiencing Jesus looking at us. If we have no relationship with Jesus, we will feel no sense of guilt. Jesus will simply be an historical figure, a nice man who taught nice things, but who ran afoul of the authorities and was tragically put to death.
We will not see that in our world today Jesus is betrayed and denied in the many ways we judge the circumstances of others and in the ways we respond to those who are accused by the majority. We will neither hear the cock crowing nor remember anything that Jesus has taught us or said to us. When Jesus is present in our enemies we will not see him. When we deny our enemies even a prayer, we will not see him. When we cast our ballots, we will not see Jesus in the least of our brothers and sisters.
But if we hear the cock crow and if we experience Jesus looking at us in the eyes of those whom we betray and deny, our tears, like Peter’s bitter tears, will flow. We will no longer be able to look at other people the same way. We will begin to see Christ in every person we encounter and we will seek to serve that person as if we were serving Christ.
Do we all need to go through this shameful and painful and bitter experience that Peter went through? I cannot speak for you or for anyone else, but my own personal experiences have known such moments and there are many others who have reported such experiences including St. Paul.
We are not given such experiences to remain frozen in bitter grief. Our willingness and openness to God being one of us makes such experiences opportunities to be transformed. The resurrection of Jesus on the third day of his death comes to those who betrayed and denied him as forgiveness that can only give birth to forgiveness of others. Peter’s bitter tears were wiped away on the day of resurrection, the day of forgiveness. Paul’s blindness was removed and the first person he saw was one of those whom he had previously sought to kill for being a follower of Jesus. Their eyes met like Peter’s eyes met Jesus’ eyes and Saul of Tarsus became Paul, the apostle of hope and God’s grace.
I urge you to come to the services on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Let these times with Jesus prepare you for the cock crowing and the eyes of Jesus meeting your eyes. Let the tears of having denied or betrayed Jesus in others flow in preparation for the Third Day when God will wipe away all of our tears of guilt, shame, and bitterness as we receive his love and forgiveness and new life that springs fresh from the empty tomb. Amen.
A Portion of the Passion Story as told by Luke
Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, "This man also was with him." But he denied it, saying, "Woman, I do not know him." A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, "You also are one of them." But Peter said, "Man, I am not!" Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, "Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean." But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are talking about!" At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly.