Thursday, August 26, 2010
When I became an Episcopalian, I did not know much about the larger church. I just knew that I liked how I felt sitting in the church as an 8 year old newly transplanted Kansas boy. I sure didn't know that there were several different orders of ministers. We had some terrific lay readers who led us in Morning and Evening Prayer on an almost weekly basis.
So, as we prepare to welcome The Rt. Reverend Diane Jardin Bruce, the first woman bishop elected in the Diocese of Los Angeles this coming Sunday, I would like to share some thoughts on the first bishop I came to know, The Rt. Reverend Francis Eric Bloy, and my thoughts about the elections of Diane and Mary Glasspool.
Bishop Bloy was elected the Diocesan bishop in Los Angeles in 1948, two years after I was born. He was the bishop when we arrived in Los Angeles and showed up one Sunday morning at St. Cross in Hermosa Beach.
He was the bishop who confirmed me and he was the bishop when I began the ordination process. During my first interview with Bishop Bloy, he told me of the difficulties he encountered when he opposed legislation to allow discrimination against African-Americans who wish to buy a home in a particular area.
Torrance was such an area. Because of his opposition to this sort of discrimination, Bishop Bloy received hate mail and threats and saw long time members of the diocese leave because he was mixing what they said was religion and politics.
He was a man of great moral authority to me and a man who seemed to bear a good deal of both emotional and spiritual pain. That first visit with Bishop Bloy, he shook my hand and wished me well, saying he would recommend I go to the Standing Committee for final consent to my being made a postulant for Holy Orders.
It was the early 1970s and Bishop Bloy was nearing the end of his service as our bishop. He seemed tired, but I left with the sense that I had been in the presence of a truly holy man.
Bishop Robert Rusack was my second bishop and he ordained me in 1982. I have since known several of our bishops and found them all to be people of integrity and great strength in faith. Bishop Carver, Borsch, and Jon Bruno have been my diocesan bishops and Chet Talton has been the only bishop suffragan I have really known and loved.
Now we have Diane Jarden Bruce and Mary Glasspool as bishop suffragans in this diocese. They bring gifts and a holiness of life that will touch us all. I have known Diane as a friend and colleague and I am delighted that she will be with us on Sunday.
Bishop Bloy was a complex and thoughtful man. I think he was a mostly introverted man who enjoyed an active life searching the night skies for stars and other heavenly bodies. Yes, he was an amateur astronomer and this avocation seemed to be a very important part of his spiritual life.
I remember one sermon that Bishop Bloy preached during my first year as a student at the seminary in Claremont that was bore his name, Bloy House. It was towards the end of his time as our bishop and it seemed to me that he was in a great deal of pain.
I was not sure if his pain was physical, spiritual, or emotional, but there was pain in the man. He preached on the text of the collect for the first Monday in Easter week:
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other that the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Bishop Bloy was a very private man, but as he preached this sermon I could tell that he had made the way of the cross the way of life for himself and that as he was ending his time of leadership, he was at a particular difficult time. His sermon was a great witness to a man whose courage and faith were tested by the historical and cultural circumstances of his life. The joy that this collect anticipated was also present in Francis Bloy’s life of the cross. He had become a witness to the cross and a follower of Jesus and his life inspired me to make this prayer and way of life, my prayer and my way of life.
Bishop Bruno, Bishop Bruce, and Bishop Glasspool have offered their lives in witness to the joy that walking in the way of the cross sustains, empowers, and forms them and us. Like Bishop Bloy and the rest of us, pain will be part of their lives. It may be personal or more openly visible to us. It means that they are called to be witnesses to the inclusive love and mercy and forgiveness and to be willing to suffer random rejection, threat, and disapproval by a world desperate to save itself by lashing out against this person and that person and blaming.
But bishops are chosen to lead us joyfully in a world that uses random threats, blame, shame, and exclusions, a world of pain and suffering. It is the joy that I saw even through the pain of Bishop Bloy that has strengthened me and made joy possible amidst the suffering and pain that has been part of my life of following Jesus.
This is the example of a faithful bishop that is present in Jon, Diane, and Mary. They lead us in living lives of holy living and holy dying—joy, joy, joy. Please welcome our newly elected bishop suffragan with the love and the hospitality that is Christ Church. For some of you, she may be the first bishop you have ever met.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
"Get off my back!" This command expresses the frustration of having the experience of someone constantly and annoyingly pushing our buttons or having something that is physically, emotionally, or spiritually heavy pressing down on us, weighing us down and making life difficult and joyless. In our day-to-day lives we sometimes just get to the point where we want to yell out at someone or something about how hard life has become.
Sometimes we direct our invectives at people we love or who are closest to us and sometimes we take out of our anger, resentments, and fears on those individuals or groups that have nothing at all to do with our fatigue and overload.
In this coming Sunday's Gospel reading from Luke, we find Jesus teaching in an unknown synagogue when suddenly his attention is drawn to a woman who for 18 years had been bent over with her eyes cast to the ground as if she were carrying a very heavy load. Normally women were allowed in the synagogue if they sat on benches provided on the far sides of the room. However, they were not participants in the reading and teaching of scripture.
I am not sure how she understood her condition. Most of us tend to either blame ourselves or others when bad things happen to us and when the burdens of life become overwhelming. Sometimes we speculate why someone else is suffering.
If it is someone we like, we tend to be more sympathetic and less blaming. If the person is someone we consider an enemy, we might entertain the possibility that God is punishing the person for their sins. In Jesus' day, it was commonly believed that such physical ailments were the result of the person's sins.
We may say that this is a rather primitive view of things and that modern science has liberated us from such ignorance, but before science was set free to explore the causes of our diseases, Jesus was already at work showing that disease was not punishment for sins. Rather he healed in the name of God to demonstrate that God was not about using disease to punish people.
Jesus saw our beliefs about sickness to be the real problem. And these commonly held beliefs said something about God that is untrue. It was the community pointing fingers at the infirm and claiming that their diseases were punishments for sin that Jesus took reversed. He labels such group think accusatory beliefs, Satan, which means the Accuser.
By rejecting this belief, science was set free to explore the biological and physiological nature of sickness and physical ailments. It is by faith that medical science developed and the reaction of the woman to her healing was transcendent joy and praise for the God who is out to untie us from living burdened and twisted lies that prevent us from seeking the truth.
As long as this woman's twisted back was seen as punishment for personal sin, she was not only condemned by her peers, but she was denied the possibility of discovering a treatment and relief through the healing arts. She is, in effect, "bound by Satan," by a belief that was so powerful that the whole community, even those who might have loved her, saw her condition as the just punishment for her sins.
This was the truly heavy load that this woman bore and that we impose on ourselves and others when our beliefs are twisted and keep us looking at the ground instead of towards the skies or into the eyes of a compassionate person who cares for us.
The issue of violating the Sabbath is an example of how a belief can be used to prevent us from doing the most loving and caring things for others. The issue is not that there are other days on which healing can take place or that we should never rest. The issue is that resting in God is only found when the burdens of belief are taken off of our backs so that we can love and serve God and one another.
The issue is that belief that disregards the love of neighbor is a belief that needs to be overturned. What beliefs do we have that cause us to make laws or develop attitudes that imprison and condemn others to carry a heavy burden? Which of our beliefs or practices are based upon the Accuser's way of blaming, shaming, and condemning.
Jesus sets this woman free. She straightens up and stretches towards the sky and praises God, not Jesus. She gives thanks that God has set her free from the disease, but even more from the ignorance and darkness of her community.
Consider the number of hospitals started by Christians and Jews. In Los Angeles, Good Samaritan Hospital, Little Company of Mary and St. John's Hospital continue to provide quality health care in response to Jesus' setting us free from the ignorance that would see sickness and disease as a punishment from God. We are also blessed by amazing medical centers like Cedars Sinai created by our Jewish brothers and sisters who have continued to find ways to love God and neighbor through medical care.
If Christians and others really believed that disease and all manner of misfortune was the result of a person's sinful life, why would we offer treatment without regard to a person's lifestyle or status as a sinner or a saint?
What other beliefs do Jesus' teaching, life, death and resurrection continue to confront and overturn? What beliefs do we hang onto that lead us to justify our evil actions towards others in the name of God, democracy, some economic system or pecking order in society? Perhaps it is not the woman alone who was bent over and twisted. Beliefs and communities which accept such beliefs as true can be bent over and twisted too. Jesus says: "Stand up! You are free!"
Here is the reading from The Message by Eugene Petersen:
Jesus was teaching in one of the meeting places on the Sabbath. There was a woman present, so twisted and bent over with arthritis that she couldn't even look up. She had been afflicted with this for eighteen years. When Jesus saw her, he called her over. "Woman, you're free!" He laid hands on her and suddenly she was standing straight and tall, giving glory to God.
14 The meeting-place president, furious because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the congregation, "Six days have been defined as work days. Come on one of the six if you want to be healed, but not on the seventh, the Sabbath."
15-16 But Jesus shot back, "You frauds! Each Sabbath every one of you regularly unties your cow or donkey from its stall, leads it out for water, and thinks nothing of it. So why isn't it all right for me to
untie this daughter of Abraham and lead her from the stall where Satan has had her tied these eighteen years?"
17 When he put it that way, his critics were left looking quite silly and redfaced. The congregation was delighted and cheered him on.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
I was ordained a priest in 1983. I was 37 years of age and by the standards of that year, I was considered an late bloomer for priesthood. My first year serving at St. Cross in Hermosa Beach my Rector, Jack Eales, went on vacation for the entire month of August through the first week in September, leaving me “in charge” and the preacher/celebrant every Sunday. That first year, I did 13 weddings during the month of August, more than most priests do in a year. It was a great time of learning for me.
As I was considering this coming week’s readings, I decided to take a look back and see how I preached this difficult passage from Luke. In my first years of ordained ministry, I preached from a script and so what follows is exactly what I preached on August 14, 1983. As you read what I wrote back then, see if you can tell how or if I have I changed my understanding of our shared faith.
God's Peace in the Gospel,
When I was a kid, I used to watch all of those old westerns that would start on Saturday morning and run into the afternoon. The plots were all pretty much the same, but when you are 8 you really aren’t much of a critic. Anyway, I did learn a few things from watching these movies. In addition, to the proper procedure for dealing with snakebites, I also learned how to sterilize a Bowie knife to do such simple surgical procedures as digging slugs or arrowheads out of arms, legs, or other parts of the human anatomy.
The older folks among us may recall watching Roy Rogers, Gene Audry, or John Wayne hold his trusty Bowie knife over a blazing hot flame to destroy all of the bacteria which collected on such knives. I was sure that the heating was needed, since the hero used his knife for killing bears, peeling pears and apples, and gutting fish. He usually only wiped his blade off on his pants before returning it to its case.
It’s funny how that picture of a cowboy holding his knife over an open flame to sterilize it, came to my mind when I read today’s Gospel lesson.
But Jesus’ use of the word “fire” brought to mind this one purpose of fire—to purify. In fact, the Greek word for fire found in our reading today is “Π Υ ρ,” from which we get our word, “pure” and its derivatives, “purify” and “pyre.”
For our Jewish brothers and sisters, fire became a powerful symbol. Fire purified.
Fire filled the darkness with light and allowed them to push back the effects of darkness. Fire cooked their food, heated their water, and warmed their bodies on a cold night.
Fire could also be used in warfare to punish one’s enemies. It was a terrifying instrument of destruction.
Fire could be used to purify, to light the darkness, to take care of bodily needs, or to punish.
Because fire was so important to our ancient ancestors, it was used to represent God’s presence. In the sacrificial system of Israel, fire was used to burn certain animals as sacrifices for the wrong doings of the people. By such sacrifices, it was believed that God forgave those offering the sacrifice and purified them.
Now this may sound somewhat primitive, but It was certainly a big step forward from the pagan practice of burning people as sacrifices. Notice how in this system the fire represented God’s presence and participation in the purification of the one offering the sacrifice.
God’s participation in the history of Israel is therefore represented by fire in one form or another.
When God made his covenant with Abram, a flaming torch passed by him.
When Moses received his Call to liberate his people from Egypt and again when he was given the Law by which they were to live, the presence of God was represented by a bush which was on fire, but which not burn up.
The Children of Israel were led by a pillar of fire by night as they fled from Egypt into the Wilderness.
Mount Sinai flamed and fumed and shook while the Children of Israel encamped below its summit, waiting for Moses to return from his meetings with God.
On Mount Carmel, Elijah called down fire from heaven to burn up slain sacrificial animals doused with water to authenticate his Call and Word as a prophet of God.
As you can see, fire is a powerful symbol for the presence of God as he lights the way for his people in times of darkness, cares for their needs, and seeks to purify them.
Jesus said: “I have come to cast fire upon the earth and would that it were already kindled.” What does he mean by this?
Is the fire he hope to kindle designed to provide light where there is darkness? Or to provide for our bodily needs? Or to somehow purify us? Or is the fire an act of divine warfare against mankind?
We may be tempted to believe that this last possibility is the correct understanding of Jesus’ words, especially when much of the rest of the passage seems to support this choice. Listen to his words: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
He then goes on to describe these divisions which even divide families. So what kind of fire is Jesus so anxious to kindle and cast on us? Why does he seem to reject the currently held title of “Peacemaker?” Why is he intent on bringing division?
Jesus is referring to his own death when he speaks of casting fire upon the earth.
The fire that he hopes to cast upon the earth is the purifying, guiding, revealing, creative Spirit of God which is released on earth by his sacrificial death on the cross. Remember that the fire of Jewish sacrifice and history represented the presence of God. By Jesus’ words, he means to say that God is in him as both the sacrifice and the sacrifice.
This sacrifice of God in Christ thereby puts an end to the need for further sacrifice. In Jesus’ death, God sets us free from our destructive, self-hating need to condemn and punish ourselves and others for the way things are. On the cross, God does something for us which we could never have done for ourselves—he offered his unconditional love and forgiveness.
He, through his death, demonstrated his unwillingness to leave us alone. His fire has been cast upon the earth to lead us, to purify us, and to care for us. He refuses to butt out, but instead keeps pushing and pushing closer and closer to us with his love and forgiveness and invitation to join him in his Kingdom of Giving.
And as this kingdom emerges, it will confront and challenge our kingdom of Taking in our individual lives and in our corporate life. God’s Kingdom of Giving cannot peacefully co-exist with a kingdom of self-contempt, self-hatred, and self-destruction.
As surely as Christ bore the Kingdom of God in his body, just as surely did he suffer death at the hands of the rulers of our kingdom of taking. His presence and giving of himself judged the values and the institutions of our world; we crucified him. And by our judgment of him, we judged ourselves as we always have and always will—harshly.
And by our punishment of him, we punished our selves and always have and always will—without mercy.
And as long as we insist upon such harshness; so long as we choose to live without forgiveness for ourselves or for others; so long as we continue to mercilessly sacrifice ourselves and others to our own self-hatred—we shall perish in a world of dark bitterness and pain.
But you don’t have to. Jesus came to cast fire on the earth—the fire of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. And we call this fire the Holy Spirit—that peculiar third person of the Trinity whose power to forgive was released on the cross of Christ and speaks to us of our own tragic death.
It is the Holy Spirit who glows with the fire of God’s love and forgiveness and new life. And it is the Holy Spirit who blazes forth from the pyre of our past and offers us a new future. And it is the Holy Spirit who will complete the work begun on the cross. The mysterious and joyful coming of God’s kingdom.
“Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly dove,
With all thy life-giving powers,
Come shed abroad a Savior’s love,
And that shall kindle ours.”
Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And blessed by God’s Kingdom, now and forever. Amen.
Sunday, August 01, 2010
As a small child, my Grandfather took a little block of wood and carved it so that it looked like me. He even colored in my flat-top hair cut with a pencil. I still have that small piece of wood. I have kept it for more than 57 years. The photo above shows that worn piece of wood so you will have an idea of what I am talking about.
No one else would see much value in the wooden head. I doubt if a thief would ever break into my home and steal it, but if I ever lost it, I would grieve deeply.
The value of that treasure is in the love that it represents and the love that moved my Grandfather to carefully carve it. When Jesus speaks of treasure in this week’s Gospel, his words remind me of God’s love for me in creating me, the whole human family, and this beautiful creation which we share. My value, our value, creation’s value comes from the love that called us and it into being.
And yet our human story speaks of how we have forgotten what gives us and creation value. We have forgotten the goodness and love that moves from God’s heart as a Word that creates, sustains, and constantly redeems and renews us. When we forget that it is God’s love for us that gives everything value, a sense of holiness, then we seek to replace this life-giving truth with our own limited tribal values and concerns.
The result of this substitution of our limited and very partial image of value and love is the creation of a world where thieves break through and steal and where moth and rust corrupt. It is a world of loss, death, and destruction driven by our fears.
For those who read or hear Jesus’ words about "treasure in heaven" as a green light to continue to live as if God is not the source of value and love (what and who God loves is valuable beyond measure), the world is divided into haves and have nots. The haves enjoy the treasures of God’s love and creation while the have nots suffer outside the gates.
In our forgetting God, we have even used religion to justify this division. And so, Jesus speaks to those who would follow him about rediscovering the true treasure that God gives to all of his children.
Jesus says: "Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Jesus offers us a vision of the truth (in Greek this word means “Not Forgetting). The truth is that God is the one who sells all that is God’s and gives alms (literally “Mercy”)to us. God does not have a purse that wears out because God is constantly giving rather than storing up in a possessive way.
The treasure in heaven is poured out on us every moment and every moment between moments. Thieves cannot steal the love of God that creates the treasure on earth. Even killing the One who “comes in the name of the Lord,” will not turn the treasures of creation into our possessions. The treasure of heaven continues to be God’s free gift of love that comes down like manna in our wilderness of want.
To follow Jesus is to follow the One who sent him. To be moved by a love that does not hoard and fearfully hold onto life is to live in the abundance of God's grace. God has no purse that wears out. God sells all that is God’s and gives us mercy. That is what I see in Jesus. That is what Jesus sees in God the Father. That is what I saw in my Grandfather's gift to me.
The love that spoke to me in a hand carved image made by my Grandfather was simply an old man trying to share what he knew to be true. God is love and we cannot possess it. We can only accept it and share it freely with others.
Jesus said: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”