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
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
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
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:
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:
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!