Sunday, January 23, 2011
There is a saying that is currently floating about in cyberspace: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” The word “crisis” comes from the Greek word meaning judgment. The past two and one half years Christ Church has undergone a trial of sorts.
Our circumstances have given us a chance to see who we are as a community and as individuals. Our crisis did not go to waste. The fire allowed us to see what sort of community we are. Will we stick together and support one another when our circumstances are challenging and less than what we have had before the fire?
Will we continue to attend and support the work of the church and respond to appeals for helping others? Will we refrain from scapegoating one another by blaming or will we take responsibility for becoming part of the solution and not add to an already difficult situation?
This parish family has been judged by the challenges of the fire and the downturn of the global economy. How did we do? As your rector of almost 10 years, I think you did beautifully. The criteria of judgment is the faith we profess that is captured in our readings today and in the mission statement established by the parish before I was called to be the rector.
As we move forward into the coming year we will continue to be in crisis in a less obvious way. It is easy to see hardships and challenges as times of crisis, but less so when things are going well. We have an extraordinary opportunity in the year to come to become more and more like a community that is so in love with God and God’s ways that we want to share that love with others and build more and more upon the solid rock of God’s love and faithfulness to us.
Here is what I hope to see us doing a year from now:
1. I hope that whatever we do this year will depend upon more and more of us being involved in whatever we decide God is calling us to do. The vocation of this parish is a communal vocation. We are called to do what God calls us to do as a community. During the past two years I have seen individual members of this parish take on huge chunks of work that would have been difficult for a committee to do, but those individuals always acknowledged that they were doing this work in cooperation with and under the authority and direction of the Rector, Vestry, and Fire Recovery Team and of behalf of the community. The hard work of these individuals built community rather than tearing it down.
2. I hope that next year we will see more common meals shared together in our newly completed parish house and that these meals will allow parish families to use this space to build up the Body of Christ in this community. Our first event in the parish house was the St. Nicholas Day Feast and Spaghetti Feed and it was followed up by the Epiphany Feast and Soup/Pizza party on January 6th.
3. I hope that we will see more activities planned and implemented for our children by our wonderful group of parents and that these activities will be offered to other families who are looking for a community of faith that is inclusive and where their children will experience God’s love as it is expressed in the hospitality and acceptance of the community. All such activities need to help our children come to know God as the one who created them and all of creation, loves them each and every day of their lives and who loves all of the people of the world, and who will be with them as guide, comforter, and the one who knows them better than anyone else throughout their entire lives.
4. I hope to see our parish house being used by 12 step groups again and by other non-profit organizations. I would like for our parish house to once again be a place where citizens of this area can come and cast their ballots on election days.
5. I hope to see more young couples who are looking for a spiritual home and a place to be married or have their children baptized come to Christ Church and become part of our community.
6. I hope to see more people coming to Christ Church who are searching for a community that allows them to think about matters of faith in an honest, open, and accepting environment.
7. I hope to see more of our current members and their friends celebrate their important anniversaries by renewing their vows followed by a reception in the parish house.
8. I hope to see our junior and senior high school aged folks getting together for social, service, and times of asking questions and reflection about their faith and how it seems to fit or not fit into the world of their understanding.
9. I hope to see our Education for Ministry program continue and grow.
10. I hope to see our choir grow and continue to lead us in spirited worship under our wonderful minister of music, David Bradfield.
11. I hope to see both younger and older members of the congregation preparing to be confirmed on June 5, 2011 when Bishop Glasspool does her visitation of the parish.
12. I hope to see more of our members engaged in either our current or new Outreach opportunities. We live in a world of need and while we cannot meet the needs of everyone, we can meet the needs of some.
13. I hope to see more of our members considering what ministries they might be called to perform including Altar Guild, Acolytes, Lay Reading, Chalice bearing, Caring for the Kitchen, Parish House, and other building and grounds activities, Ushering and Greeting people in ways that are welcoming; Intercessory Prayer; and a host of other vital ministries still to be explored.
14. I hope to see all of our members doing the ministry of evangelism—sharing the Good News that God is love and that we are a community of faith that tries to live this Good News out in all that we do.
15. I hope to see a renewed commitment to worship by all of our members and to do alternative scheduling to include those whose Sundays are taken up by work, sports, and other commitments. Of course, this means that we, as a community, will need to find a way of making these alternative times work for the largest number of people.
16. Finally and foundational to all that I have written, I hope that our faith as individuals and as a community will grow deeper, richer, and more fully and bear fruit in our personal life and in the life of our community. Our Gospel for Epiphany IV sums up the life of God offered by Jesus to those who would follow him in the path of love. I pray that in the coming year, we will all know the blessings of this path.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Friday, January 21, 2011
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Did you ever receive a phone call out of the blue that resulted in a major change in your life? Perhaps a seemingly chance meeting with someone who ends up being a life-time friend started in a very ordinary and hardly spectacular way. That is the way that God begins a relationship with us. God reaches out to each one of us, calls us by name, and invites us to become part of the matrix of God, the net that supports, upholds and allows us to become friends of God and of all of God’s children.
The picture of part of our main window in the church expresses this reality. It shows the matrix, the net, in which the church building sits. The church building is where we gather to worship. It is the place where we celebrate God in our lives and in the life of the world. It is where we realize our community being upheld by God’s matrix of love and forgiveness. People who know they are loved and forgiven become more loving and forgiving people and as this happens the matrix of God grows beyond this community of faith and into the whole creation.
Many of us, who are part of this parish, came here because of this little white building. It called out to us as we passed by in our cars, bicycles, or as we walked or ran. You came inside and found the real treasure that this little bit of heaven holds—a community of people being loved and forgiven into the Kingdom of God.
Such a community is God’s “marvelous work” and the lives of those “caught” in this matrix of God’s love proclaim in word and deed the Good News of how God has brought wholeness of body, mind, and spirit to them. It is through the lives such every day saints who are well known and others who are less well known that the Good News is spreading.
The Good News we proclaim is about salvation. What is salvation? My understanding of salvation is that it is about living our lives as if death is not the final reality and it is this salvation reality which gives us the freedom to act in ways that can challenge and change the world.
If salvation is something sought as a way of cheating death and hell and gaining heaven by simply accepting Jesus as one’s personal Lord and Savior it is a gift that cannot bring salvation to the whole world. We are given the grace of salvation to be part of God’s vision of bringing heaven to earth and bringing us alive to love, serve, and live in God’s kingdom of justice and reconciliation. Receiving the gift of salvation is not just about a pass to heaven, it is about allowing what makes heaven worth desiring to enter into the world through our life as a community both large and small and sharing it with others.
On Sunday we will give thanks for how this matrix of God’s love that we have experienced during the past two and one half years. Ever since the fire hit the parish house this net of God's love has supported us, encouraged us, worked on our behalf, and loved us through the challenges of this time.
This matrix is not just at Christ Church, but is cast all over the earth. We will offer thanks for our brothers and sisters of this diocese beginning with Bishop Jon Bruno, David Tumilty, John Tucker, Richard Zevnik , Ted Forbath, the members of the Corporation of the Diocese, the other staff at the diocese who have played a greater or smaller part in helping Christ Church come to this day of celebration and the opportunities of proclaiming the Good News and spreading them the matrix of God’s Kingdom more and more in this community.
We will offer thanks for the fine fire fighters of the Redondo Beach Fire Department, our neighbor Alba Maza who alerted the fire department of the fire and probably saved us from greater loss, for Bob Nelson and Gail Connolly and the whole Fire Recovery Team, for the members of the vestry who have served during these past almost three years, our wonderful architect, Dan Young, the amazing Van Crest Construction team led by Jim Van Dyke and Kenny Sumner. Dan, Jim, and Kenny all see their work as ministry. They are part of the wide matrix of God’s love in which we have lived and moved and had our being these past few years. The subcontractors also seemed to work as if what they were doing was God’s work. They worked hard and competently to make this space of the parish house an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace that is the soul of this community of faith.
Finally, the community of Christ Church will be celebrated and given thanks for this Sunday because you have kept the faith and have shown yourselves to be the Body of Christ in this part of God’s growing matrix of love. When challenges in life hit a group of people it sometimes brings out the worst in individuals with blaming, shaming, and resentments mounting and destroying relationships. That this has not happened at Christ Church is a strong witness to the presence of God living in each of you and in this community of faith.
We have much for which to give thanks this Sunday and every day.
God’s Peace in the Matrix of God’s Love,
Thursday, January 13, 2011
John saw Jesus coming toward him
This is the first part of the first sentence in Sunday’s Gospel from John. Now substitute your name for John’s name in this phrase. “Bob saw Jesus coming toward him.”
Now imagine that this scene with you in it is not by the Jordan River, but in a court room where Jesus is on trial and you are sitting on the witness stand having just been asked this question: “Do you know this man and what have you got to say about him?”
What would any of us have to say upon seeing Jesus coming towards us as a man on trial for his life? As witnesses, what would we have to say about him? What first hand experiences of Jesus would you be able to offer to answer the question of who Jesus is?
This may be a tough question since none of us were alive and present during Jesus’ life and there are no living witnesses left from whom we might have gotten a second hand witness to share. Even so, such testimony would be considered “hearsay” and not be acceptable to the court.
But we do have witnesses who were present during Jesus’ life and who have offered us their testimony. John the Baptist is one such witness. He did not testify in a court of law, but his words surely did end up being entered into the record of human history. So, what did John say about Jesus? Here is the rest of that first sentence:
…and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
Notice that John does not say that Jesus is the scapegoat of humanity or even the lamb of humanity offered to God to appease his wrath and anger towards sinful humanity, but that Jesus is God’s offering of love and reconciliation to a wrathful and angry humanity.
Notice also that John does not say that Jesus takes away the “sins” of the world, but rather the “sin” of the world. Is there a difference?
Imagine a golfer who continually hits his or her drive to the left, to the right, or misses the ball altogether. Each of these failures to hit the ball towards the pin or even where the golfer intended to hit it could be called “sins.” Why? Because the word sin means to miss the mark and so many of us who have played golf know what it means to be a sinner who commits sins on the golf course.
This may seem silly and rather beside the point when it comes to the more serious and deadly outcomes of sins committed by each of us either knowingly or unknowingly, but it might just be a good way of getting the difference between “sins” and the “sin” that Johns says Jesus came to take away from the world.
If I focus on the sins of my attempts of hitting the mark rather than the cause for the sins I might say, “well, since I hit the ball to the right, I will turn my whole body to the left and hit the ball in that direction to correct the flight of the ball?” In so doing, I am making an assumption about this particular “sin” of going too far to the right that will only mean that I will commit the sin of hitting the ball too far to the left. And when I reposition my body again I may find that I swing over the ball and the wind from the club head blows the ball of f of the tee.
I have just described a typical day on the golf course for myself where my golf sins were many and the number of strokes to the pin were more than many. For that reason, I tend not to golf all that often, if at all and find the game maddening.
Just so, many of us discover our lives filled with sins in the way we live. The Ten Commandments are fine “guidelines” for behavior, but what these commandments really seek to do is to point not to just the sins, but to the greater sin that is the source of all sins. Jesus summed up the laws and the prophets with just two: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.
Do you wonder why people lie, steal, cheat, bear false witness against their neighbors, covet what others have, fail to honor and respect their parents, or murder one another? That is the sin which Jesus came to take away from us. The sin of not knowing that what we pretend to be justified behavior towards one another is not.
Jesus died upon the cross as God’s lamb to save us from our sin of not knowing when murdering our neighbor is a sin whether done in the name of God or of national security or for any other justification we might conjure up. As he died, Jesus said: “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
During the season of Epiphany this excuse of not knowing is taken away from us by the Lamb of God and we are offered forgiveness as the way we can hit the mark of loving God and our neighbor. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world grants us God’s peace which can only be purchased by the God giving the life that created us as a light to allow for the new creation to emerge.
So, I come back to the first words of the first sentence of our Gospel today: “Bob saw Jesus coming towards him.” Before I can bear witness as John bore witness that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, I must stop trying to wrestle with each and every sin or missed or even successful attempts at justifying myself and simply experience the Epiphany of not knowing and the forgiveness of my ignorance that leads to the new creation and the life of loving God and my neighbor.
Epiphany is the season of coming to know not the sins of others, but to understand the sin that blocks us from knowing our part in missing the mark by only seeing the sins of others.
As the Eucharistic prayer says:
In him(Christ), you have delivered us from evil, and made us worthy
to stand before you. In him, you have brought us out of error
into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.
When the light of Epiphany goes on we see the evil of seeing only the sins of others and we are delivered from the evil that enslaves us. We are able to stand up right and before God because prior to the light going on we would sooner crucify Christ than see God in him. In Christ we may still commit sins against others, but we are brought out of the error of believing that we are never wrong in any serious way. In Christ we are moved out of the sin of ignorance and brought into the world of living in love and peace with our neighbors and with God (righteousness) and that way of being human is called not death, but life.
Epiphany is here. It is a time to yell “Fore” for the times we miss the mark of living in the light of God’s love and forgiveness. It is a time to live with a new freedom and a new vision of God’s kingdom. It is the perfect way of preparing for the penitential season of Lent.
With John the Baptist I bear witness to Christ: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
Thursday, January 06, 2011
Epiphany is about God showing us who God is. Of course, over the centuries human beings have seen God in many different ways. So for us, whether or not the picture of God we accept is accurate and true is often a matter of heated debate. Do our disagreements mean that God has failed to communicate who God is in a clear and persuasive way? Do we all have to agree in order for the Kingdom of God to come on earth as it is in heaven?
We live in a time when the more we know the less we seem to have any degree of certainty about ourselves or our world, much less who or what God is. Some call these times “post-modern.” I would rather call this time of uncertainty and any time like this a time of faith.
Faith is what challenges all of our human certainties that are contrary to true scientific inquiry and spiritual growth and kindness lived out in our day to day lives. Jesus lived in such a time of human certainty and his whole life challenged ideas that were considered certain and true such as:
Might makes right therefore empire is always right.
Human illness is the result of sin;
Misfortune is God punishing an individual or a group or a nation for not following God’s will;
God loves us, but not our enemies;
Forgiveness is conditional;
Evil can only be defeated by a well-armed military;
Justice will come when the rich are dispossessed and the poor take their place;
God is patiently waiting for us to change, but will one day come down to avenge all wrongs;
The poor are poor because they are not part of God’s elect;
Material success is a sign that you are God's elect;
Being good stewards of creation means that a few reap the benefit of the natural resources of the world;
I am not my responsible for helping those in need: “God helps those who help themselves;”
Perhaps you could add more certainties that faith has made less certain. What might they be?
When God reveals himself/herself to us we may debate what we think we heard or saw of her/him, but if we live by faith we will not fear uncertainty, nor will we be paralyzed by it. We will search for God among all of the perceptions and beliefs that are offered from the past and today. The Christian Epiphany of Jesus as Christ is not just one more certainty that denies faith and renders God invisible, but an icon through whom we see the very heart of God by faith without human certitude.
So, let us look at Isaiah’s vision of God as a person whom many have labeled “the suffering servant.” Is this person an individual, a group, or a nation? Isaiah does not provide us with clarity on this question, but he does seem to suggest that this servant is engaged in doing the will of God. The servant is establishing justice, that is, the servant’s mission is to make the life of God our life. Isaiah calls this life, justice. Here is what Isaiah wrote about how God’s life of justice would come to earth:
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.”
The opening of our passage from Isaiah on this coming Sunday sounds very much like what Jesus is reported to have seen and heard when he came up from the waters of the Jordan after being baptized by John the Baptist.
“And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’" (Cf. Matthew 3:13-17)
The Christian faith makes it very clear that Jesus is the ultimate answer of who the God of our creation, redemption, and blessing is. This bold belief is not simply an attempt to claim superiority of the Christian way over all other religions, but a life and death reality check for those of us who are inclined to make god into the likeness and image of human notions of power, control, and violent retribution.
Jesus is the unexpected face of God whose life lived out Isaiah's vision of God's work of justice.
Hear then the prophet continue describing a view of God and how God will bring about justice for the poor and the rich. Notice how the language offers a gentle almost barely surviving servant whose efforts to bring justice to the earth do not destroy any of God’s children whether rich or poor, judged good or evil by any standard:
“He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.”
I notice that this servant of Isaiah is so gentle that his action to bring about justice, God’s life on earth, does not even break the most fragile reed or the barely flickering flame.'
Where might one find this bruised reed or flickering flame that the servant is so careful not to break or extinguish? I look in the mirror and ask God to show me how I am a like a bruised reed or flickering wick with whom God’s servant, Jesus, is gently working to bring God’s life and justice into this little bit of earth called Bob.
I ask God to deny me the certainty that only leads to death and answers that cut off others.
I ask God to lovingly share with me what makes me so vulnerable to breaking and losing the light within me.
I ask God to shine through the darkness of my fears of uncertainty and need to control every moment.
Epiphany is about discovering what has been hidden. Sometimes God is hidden in plain sight and it is only our certainties which obscure our vision. The suffering servant of Isaiah, the Christ of Bethlehem and Golgotha come to us to establish justice on the earth and say to us: Fear not for I am with you.