"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

11 November 2009

Wow. (moved)

Okay, as a parent, I admit I would be utterly livid if this were my child:

Parents' fury after two-year-old boy escapes first day of school and toddles home alone
A boy of two was left to walk home on his own after he sneaked out of nursery during a school induction day.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1221634/Parents-fury-year-old-boy-escapes-day-school-toddles-home-alone.html#ixzz0WaqvjBQW

But after I finished pulling my child out of the so-called "school" fast enough to cause whiplash in innocent bystanders, I think I'd have to be in awe of this kiddo. How many kids could, at the age of two, find their way home from a ways down the road. This is utterly impressive! Of course the little fellow got out of there... the school was clearly beneath his abilities. Lots of kids can sneak out; but it takes a pretty impressive litte man to navigate his way back home. If his parents don't school him to death, this boy will be one of the world's great leaders. Count on it.

07 November 2009

When peace like a river attendeth my way... (moved)

Peaceful. That was the tone of the 144th Annual Convention of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh today. Yes, we had some joyful moments, some classic Pittsburgh moments, those little gems that show the world that no matter what they can recognize our faith by our love (and our love by our laughter). I thrive on those moments; I suspect when the going gets tough, it is on those moments that most of us thrive. Those moments are also what makes the getting going even tougher, as some of the ones with whom we have shared our moments in the past are no longer among us. We still love them, and we look forward to the day when we can share laughter again... hopefully that will come before the Kingdom does, but resting in the promises of God, we gladly take what he gives us.

We passed a resolution on the Sanctity of Human Life today and I was truly touched by the stories shared at lunch, and the manner even in which we disagreed with one another. There is respect for one another. Even ruffled feathers had a gentled quality. And our militant moments had a quality of unity about them. This must be what it means to be one in Christ Jesus... not that we will always agree this side of perfection, but that we will work towards the one goal in tandem with one another, upbuilding.

We who just this week were "released" from TEC were also joyfully embraced by the Southern Cone and the Anglican Province in North America. As one home plays us false and casts us out, the other has already brought us in and built us up. Is that not how the Gospel works, when our fallen nature betrays us, when the crafts of the devil decieve, when excrement happens because thats the world we live in, our perfect Father does not leave us orphans, teaches us in all truth, and cleans us up for service in his throneroom.

One of the things we talked a lot about was leaving the patterns of "Egypt," of our old ways and former captivity, buried in the sea we've just crossed. Some of that we managed to do. When it was natural to speak to someone who asked a question about a resolution, to speak to her directly, instead of having to impose pro and con microphones and structure to keep things sane, instead of speaking to the resolution, we spoke to one another. That felt good. I doubt Arius and Athanasius spoke to resolutions at Nicea; even when it was dicey they surely spoke one to another. It feels good to have the leisure, even to be a bit dicey together.

And once again, I'm in awe of the clergy and lay leaders here. And the ones who have now joined us from outside the river valley. Its intense here. Its joyous. Its somehow right in a way that the world does not understand, that there is no word to describe. We work hard, we play hard, and we love one another. That's pretty great stuff.

Thanks Pittsburgh. Here's to another great year!

04 November 2009

Rumors of my ecclesiastical demise are greatly exaggerated. (moved)

Its been one of those days. You know, the kind mamma told you there'd be. The dog needs surgery, my dear friend's grandmother is dying, my kids have bats in their belfries (rather like unto a Bill Cosby routine, these boys) and The Episcopal Church sent me a letter. Its always amusing (at best) when TEC writes. Today they write to inform me that, along with about 100 of my closest friends and colleagues, I have renounced my orders.

Except I didn't renounce anything.

Then again, neither did Bishop Keith Ackerman, Bishop Henry Scriven, and a bunch of other good hearted bishops I know of. I guess if its good enough for Henry....

Nonetheless, having renounced nothing, I get a nice little letter from Kenneth L. Price, Jr. a TEC bishop whom I've never met nor communicated with in any way, informing me that "in my capacity as Bishop and Ecclesiastical authority of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh in the Episcopal Church, I am writing to inform you that in accordance with the pertinent canon (Canon III.9.8 in the case of priests and Canon III.7.8 in the case of deacons), I accept your renunciation of licensed ministry in the Episcopal Church." Except for two things... the canons cited aren't pertinent and I've renounced nothing. (The full text of the letter may be found here.)

Perhaps he and I can have a very friendly relationship... I can give him nothing and he accepts exactly what he wants. He can accept a very lavish Christmas gift from me in this way. He can also accept large cash donations, which will no doubt look nice on his annual reports. He can accept my compliments and affections and rare and precious gifts. And I don't have to do a thing. Hey, perhaps he can accept annual assessments from the dozens of contested parishes in this same way, and all the lawsuits can be dropped.

Likewise my so-called renunciation is said to be "for causes which do not affect your moral character." In fact, non-recognition of the TEC bishop has everything to do with my moral character. I may have renounced nothing, but most of TEC has renounced Jesus Christ, without having the actual courage to do so clearly. While I have some very good friends whose ministry in TEC does not affect their moral character, my exit certainly has all the affect in the world on my character. Thanks be to God!

So, my reply is this:

Dear TEC,
I renounce nothing. Do your own dirty work. If you don't like that I've followed Jesus into another part of the same communion, find some canons to charge me with, stand up and do it like a man. Just because you can't think what charges to trump up, doesn't mean you get an easy out. Do you think no one is going to notice over a hundred vanished clergy?

30 September 2009

Its a fake fake world.... (moved)

I just read a really solid WebMD article about how antibacterial soaps and such are probably making more "superbugs" out of our daily little virii. The article went on to say that the chemicals in them are staying around in our bodies, too, and probably aren't doing us much good, health wise, and may be doing us some long-term harm.

Then a friend forwarded me an article about how exposure to lawn chemicals has been shown to drastically increase the likelihood of childhood leukemia. Tell me something I don't know. Americans dump tons of chemicals on their yards each year, kids or no kids, and it runs off into our drinking water, too.

Then I got lectured by my mother about the dangers of raw milk, how it should be totally illegal because "somebody might" do whatever constructed paranoia she could come up with at the time.

And we all have heard that kids who live in super-tidy pet free homes have higher incidents of asthma and allergies.

Has it not occurred to anyone that the urge to create a pristine, clean, safe world could be part of what is slowly killing us? Perhaps a little dirt and clutter is good for the soul? Perhaps the unreality of Chlorox clean has robbed us of an appreciation of the raw, the gritty, and the beauty of the natural. Could it be that in our attempt to create unreality, we have forced ourselves do do exactly what we would rather die, as a society, than do; to face Genesis 3 and own up to the truth that nothing is safe, nothing is clean, nothing is pristine. Are we lying to ourselves? And in doing so, are we killing, hindering, laming, and robbing our children?

It's no longer about benefits and risks. There's more at stake here.

Let us not "regulate" our farmers' markets underground (as they are trying to do with supposed new FDA regulations).
Let us not be controlled by fear.
And let us not miss out on a few berries straight from the vine,
a farm fresh egg now and then,
a glass of unpasteurized cider,
a glass of milk from a cow we've met,
home made jam from an unregulated kitchen,
goodies from a church bake sale,
fresh bread from a neighbor's oven...
Let's not sacrifice these things on the altar of regulation, cleanliness.
Let us not sacrifice the feeling of cool grass under bare feet,
the beauty of a "native wild flower" that our neighbor thinks is a weed,
the natural balance of helpful insects,
the sweet product of a hive of honeybees
All lost for the sake of a lawn we grumble over mowing, a manicured lawn that is supposed to please the neighbors who neither live on the land, nor play on the land, nor so much as even glance at the property unless they would like to criticize.

Thanks, folks, but modern suburbia just isn't my scene.

29 July 2009

On Christian Unity, a sermon (moved)

Paul is writing to the church at Ephesus while he is being held prisoner in Rome. He opens this section of his letter with an appeal for unity in the church, and in making his appeal he penned those words that we have just declared to be true: “There is one body and one spirit—Just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.” (Ephesians 4: 4-5) This is the source for the opening words of our liturgy for baptisms because of the importance which the words lay on the unity of the household of the church.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the unity of the church, especially as some of us have decided that we can no longer remain in union with the Episcopal Church, our former ecclesiastical home. We’ve been called divisive and we’ve been accused of this command to unity and even to creating schism within the body of Christ. Certainly no one among this congregation would want to create divisions within Christ’s household or to skirt the commands of the Apostle Paul, so how do we handle those accusations?

The first question this should lead us to ask is how on earth unity is brought about? Jesus himself didn’t always keep his little band of twelve from disagreeing. If even a few disciples who lived together voluntarily for three years with Jesus right in their midst couldn’t refrain from petty squabbling, attempt to upstage one another, and self-focused interests, how can we expect the broader church to “walk in a manner worthy” of our calling? (Eph. 4:1)

You will be pleased to know the church was not simply expected to achieve unity on our own merits. This is not like keeping the peace at the family dinner table with all the rare and unusual specimens of extended family life are gathered about for a holiday meal. It’s not about smiling politely through gritted teeth or putting up with abrasive personalities. The unity to which we are called is not something we create, but a response to who God has created us to be. Our unity comes from our common history, our fellowship with one another in Christ Jesus, and our shared calling to continue to tell and retell the story and the work of Christ for the sake of future generations. In short, it’s about who we are, our identity.

Our common identity is shaped by our common history. Just as your family shares the common stories and your friends may all snicker at the same inside joke, the church is made up of people who share a history. Like small children who ask over and over for their parents to tell them again of when they were babies, the times that have slipped just beyond their conscious memories, we should be an eager people to hear and retell our own story in our churches and homes and especially with our children and grand children. In my reading this week, one commentator described Psalm 114 as “an invitation for each new generation to participate in [the exodus,] this world transforming memory, to be identified with the tradition and to be given life by it."

You know this story. Like all the best family stories it is familiar to you. You know how the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt. The bible tells us that they were forced to make bricks for Pharaoh’s building project and that Pharaoh was a cruel and totalitarian taskmaster who was unwilling to let go of a people who had had neither been captured in war nor held as a debtor. Is this not the ultimate injustice? But the Scriptures are clear that the rulers of this world are not interested in justice. At what point, it was that the people fell from being guests in his land to slaves is never told us, but we know they were indeed slaves in Egypt, with no hope and no future before them. But the Bible tells us that God had heard their cries and had sent Moses to lead them out of Egypt, to free them from slavery and bring them into a good land. No longer would they be strangers and slaves in the land, they would be settled in a good home and free from oppression.

But God’s way is to heap promises upon promises, mercy upon mercy. When Israel went out from Egypt, they were not merely turned free to wander about as they pleased. Instead, when Israel went out from Egypt, the Lord himself took up residence among them and ruled them as their king. He did not just remove the oppressing ruler, he replaced that dominion with his own kingship. They were not to wander in a desert, he was with them. In Exodus we learn that God called the people to be his treasured possession, that he was their light by night and their shade by day. God was present with the whole of the people, providing for them even when they were in rebellion against him, so that in forty years not even the shoes they wore through the wilderness would wear out.

These are God’s covenant people, and God’s covenant and faithfulness are the source of their unity and identity. God had made a promise with Abraham that this Abraham’s children would live in the rich land that God had shown Abraham. The time would come when they would no longer be strangers and slaves. Instead they would be God’s holy people, his treasured possession.

When all these things came to pass, as the children of Israel came out of Egypt, the sea, says the Psalmist, looked and fled. I love how the Psalm here uses human language to describe the waters and the hills. The way the Psalmist tells the story, when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, the water saw what Pharaoh had not seen in all the plagues and miracles that had come before: the might and power of God. Pharaoh the harsh taskmaster runs headlong into what even the waters seem to run from, and we know that this is what would become Pharaoh’s destruction. At God’s word the waters were separated, and Israel crossed the sea on dry land. But also at God’s command the waters returned to their places and the harsh taskmaster was destroyed.

Before the crossing of the Red Sea, God had made covenants with individuals like Abraham or Noah, but God had not yet made Israel into his own covenant nation. In crossing the waters, their identity changes and they are no longer a ragtag band of slaves but a nation with whom God dwells and has intimate relationship. They now have a common worship, a common identity, and a common story. These are the ones who were slaves in Egypt, who by the might and faithfulness of the Lord have been set free. This is the pivotal moment! And after they have passed from slavery to freedom through the waters of the Red Sea, they are commanded never to forget their history. It is on the basis of their redemption and new relationship to God that they are given commandments, they are told how to be pleasing to God, how to be holy. Now, through no merit of their own, but through the faithful nature of God, the Israelites are freed from slavery, so far from the grasp of Egypt that the people of Israel may as well be dead as far as Egypt is concerned. And they are given new life so that they can live as covenant people to a covenant God. They can never be the same again.

Like Israel, you too, are a covenant people. Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus can insist on the unity of the Church because we are one people, one family who share one common history. We also were slaves to a harsh taskmaster who was unwilling to let us go, who would pursue us to the very edge of the waters and beyond. Our pharaoh was death, the result of our sinful nature, which would likewise pursue us into the waters of baptism. As we go into the water, we are dying with Christ, and as we are raised on the other side, we find the sea has placed itself between us and the old land in which we dwelt as slaves, drowning our pursuers in the process.

God knew, from the foundations of the earth, that we would sell ourselves into slavery and require a savior. For this reason Jesus voluntarily descended from heaven to deliver us, to be our Moses. He walked among us as intimately as God went before the people of Israel in the desert. He gave us his law as the Father did at Sinai, teaching us how to be pleasing to him and to walk in his ways. He who knew no sin took our sin upon him and died on a cross. And so that we might emerge from the waters of death, he also emerged from the tomb and appeared to his disciples.

This is why Paul tells us that “When [Jesus] ascended on high he led a host of captives.” We are among those captives being led out of the land of Pharaoh and into a good land. He has called us to be his covenant people. Our identity is therefore forever changed. We are no longer slaves; we have been freed. We are no longer common people but a holy nation. We no longer live for our selves, we are a new creation. Death no longer can pursue us, for it has chased us far enough already and is drowned in the waters from which we emerge. This is our history, and it is what has transformed us from a ragtag group of slaves and sinners into a holy people, the one body of Christ. .

Our common story is why Paul can call us to a radical sense of unity. Because God has first acted on our behalf, redeemed us from slavery and offered us the covenant promises of salvation and mercy, we are asked on the basis of our relationship with our God to respond, to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called.” (Eph 4: 1) Like the Israelites at Sinai, who are told how to be pleasing to God, we should desire to do as God commands, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience,” and bearing one another in love.

Can we do this? Well, not by our own volition. But remember, your identity has been changed in the waters of baptism. Just like the ancient Israelites, before our very eyes, the unjust ruler of this world is being removed from lordship over us and a new Lord replaces him. Now our Lord is no longer an oppressor but it is very Spirit of God himself who dwells with us to guide us. No longer do you have to rely only on what seems like a good idea at the time, your own limited perspective, your own time and place and life experience. God has promised you the gift of the Holy Spirit to make you into the people he has declared you to be. Because you are a holy people, his Spirit can dwell in you, far more intimately than even the pillar of cloud and fire dwelt with the people at the Exodus. To you he has given a great cloud of witnesses, apostles and prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, saints and martyrs who instruct and encourage us and who lift us in prayer before the throne of God day and night.

For this reason, we no longer have to cast about in the dark for truth and unity. No longer are we to be like children who do not know how to question the ways of the world around us, tossed about by the waves and carried this way and that by every wind of doctrine that may happen to blow by. God has given us his Spirit and his church to instruct us in his truth, one truth, which is the source of our unity and our relationship to him.

I was discouraged a while back when I saw a note from an old friend who had posted on the internet that he was upset with the “schismatics” in Pittsburgh. This friend saw our faithfulness to that one truth, unchanging over generations as being the source of the disunity in the church. I was disheartened not because I disagreed with my friend, but because I was reminded of the words of my New Testament instructor who reminded his students that there is only one kind of schism, schism from the body of Christ. Either we are in Christ, who unifies us, or we set ourselves outside the faith and cannot be in unity at all. There is only one Lord who we are called to adore and obey. There is but one faith, unchanging, which we are called to follow. Just as there is but one baptism which binds us all to Christ and to one another.

Well, can we do this? Well, it is a tall order, somewhere along the lines of the command to be perfect as God is perfect. But to each of us God has given grace upon grace for the accomplishing of his will.

The book of Deuteronomy tells the people of Israel to “Take care and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget these things your eyes have seen and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.” Make them known to Simon and the children of this parish, lest the words of God’s mercy be lost in this place and depart from our hearts.

09 July 2009

Light bulbs...
I've been saying this all along... thank God an expert is getting some air time on this. Flourescent lightbulbs are nasty! No nuances, no natural feeling. What is this doing to our psyche? Another case of supposed efficiency over basic humanity.

21 June 2009

The Needs of The Preacher (moved)

Several weeks ago, I posted "A Sermon Listener's Bill of Rights" and promised, nay, more likely threatened, to post a Preacher's Bill of Rights shortly thereafter. Thankfully, I got busy and didn't get any such thing posted. In reality the preacher has no rights. Ministry is all about emptying ourselves of our rights in favor of our responsibilities. But the preacher does indeed have a responsibility to preach, and the congregation does have an impact on how well we are able to do our work. So, while the following are by no means rights, the road of responsibility goes both ways. As my responsibility is to preach, yours, o beloved congregation is to allow God to form you. What follows are helpful hints, perhaps, in how to be formed during sermon time... otherwise entitled:

How to Love a Preacher

1. A preacher must preach, but it is helpful if we do not feel that we are preaching to the walls around us. I described one former congregation as being "like preaching to a rock-pile." Preachers need feedback, either after the service or even during it. I said earlier that raising your hand and asking a question in the middle of my sermon is perfectly acceptable by my standards, but even with other preachers, asking questions afterwards or even showing discomfort is helpful. Granted, not all preachers like feedback, but we all do need it. And as much as we're supposed to make eye contact with you, be expressive, look alive; we kind of like it when you do the same for us.

2. A preacher must be heard. We really need to be freed from your preconceived notions and ideas. Let us challeng you with the Gospel. If I'm worried that you'll go off in a huff, if I think you'll be easily offended, I'm likely to hold back some truth that I have a duty to deliver to the congregation. Perhaps the hard words are not for you, but then again, maybe they are. If you are not willing to submit to the Gospel, why bother to show up on Sunday mornings?

3. Don't shoot the messenger. Do you think we like telling you that you need to change your lives? Do you think we like upsetting the apple-cart? Any of us who have had even a minute of pastoral care class will think twice before reminding you that God hates sin (including your sin no matter how harmless and perhaps even cute you think it is). We get taught NOT to step on toes, and if there's any doubt in what becomes of prophetic preachers, we have Scriptures to give us plenty of case studies. But sometimes we must step on toes indeed. It's because we love you that we do not withhold the truth, even when it hurts us to preach it.

4. Be willing to change. This is probably the twin brother of point two, but I can't state it firmly enough. People come to the church because they want to feel good. They say they want the church to grow, but they don't understand that even a little growth, be it personal or church-wide, means change. Sometimes a sermon's entire job is to root through our corporate or even personal lives and pull out what doesn't belong.

5. Recognize the preacher's authority. We speak in the name of God (which means we should be speaking the words of God, discerned through prayer and Bible Study and faithful service) and we stand under the authority of our bishops and the Holy Spirit. We have a duty under that authority to broach sensitive topics and you have a duty to respoind appropriately.

6. Read along in your books. Yes, just like when you were six and listened to books on tape. In this case, open up your Bible while I preach. If for some reason my own ability fails, the Scriptures can still get the point across, but if I'm preaching it right you'll want to look at the "real" words on which I'm basing the sermon. Ask yourself the questions I've asked all week: what is the context of this passage? what's going on? what cultural background can shed some light here? who are the major players? how does this fit in with the overall message of God to mankind? Then, if I don't answer one or more of those questions to your satisfaction, you can do a great job of living out point one by asking me those questions when the time is right.

7. While we're fallible, more often that we care to admit, we are supposed to be representing God when we preach. Would you put a stopwatch on the Almighty? 'Nuff said.

14 June 2009

Sermon, Sunday 6/14 (moved)

As I read through the Epistle for this Sunday, I was reminded of my friend Annie. Perhaps someday she will come for a visit and I can introduce you to her. I think you would like Annie. Annie is a tiny little southern woman with one of those smooth sweet southern accents that makes you instantly love her. When we were first getting to know one another, I learned that Annie was originally from south eastern Kentucky. Since part of my own family hails from the region I asked her if she was familiar with Breathitt County. In her sweet southern style Annie looks straight at me and without apology informs me that "some of the meanest people I ever met were from Breathitt County." To which, I could only reply, yup, I guess you met the kin.

It was a few years later, having Annie’s famous (and truly unparalleled) pecan pie in her dining room that she informed us that she and her husband Jeff were about to accept a call to serve as missionaries in Saudi Arabia. Someone asked her if she was afraid to go. It was with the same sweet southern type of reply, direct and without apology that Annie simply answered "Somebody’s gotta be willin’ to die for Jesus."

That’s why Annie comes to mind when I read Paul’s words to the church at Corinth. That’s exactly what Paul was telling the church.

I did some reading in church history this week. I wanted to share with you some of the stories of those who were willing to die for Jesus. People who came after Paul who understood his message, who refused to compromise the gospel even to save their own skins. There were thousands upon thousands of them. I thought of Polycarp bravely telling the Romans to "bring on their beasts" and Andrew who was crucified upside down because he declared the death his lord had died was too good for a sinner such as himself and even Paul himself, who was martyred in Rome not too many years after writing those words to the church in Corinth. But one story stood out from the rest. Richard Hannula tells the story well, so I am borrowing heavily from his words:

"The young slave woman, Blandina, gasped for air as she lay shaking on the damp stone floor... Suddenly the cell door creaked open and a Roman soldier shouted ‘get up, godless! Come with me.’ Blandina and the other prisoners were dragged out of their cells and into the arena. Shielding their eyes from the brilliant sunlight, Christian men, women, and children huddled together in the center of the arena. The spectators shouted curses at them. ‘Listen to me, you godless!’ the governor said. ‘You Christians offend our gods and bring down their wrath upon us. But if you will just swear by Caesar, I will release you.’… A few Christians stepped out of the huddle and with downcast faces swore the oath to Caesar. They were permitted to leave the arena, but most stood their ground. ‘Very well, then,’ the governor said, ‘you have chosen the beasts, the fire, and the sword.’… The crowd roared its approval… Blandina was returned to prison. From morning to night, jailers punished the frail Blandina…. ‘Curse Christ!’ they taunted… ‘I am a Christian,’ Blandina answered…. At the close of the day, the jailers could scarcely believe that she was still breathing; her body was so broken. ‘Who are these Christians?’ the jailers said to one another. ‘They go so willingly and cheerfully to their deaths.’

"The next day soldiers again brought Blandina and some other Christians into the arena. She was hung on a wooden post, intended as food for wild animals. Blandina lifted up her eyes to the lord and prayed aloud ‘O Father, strengthen us as we suffer for the glory of Christ." [As she suffered, one eyewitness described her as looking ] ‘as if she were invited to a wedding feast, not thrown to the

beasts.’… The pagans said they had never seen a woman suffer so much for so long…. [After she had died] guards stood watch, preventing [the friends of those who were martyred] from giving them a decent burial.

"’Why won’t you let them bury their dead?’ the guards were asked.

"’So they may have no hope in the resurrection.’ They answered. ‘It is that hope that gives them such courage.’"

It is that hope that gives them such courage. This is the whole point of St. Paul’s words in the letter to the Corinthians. Paul is writing to big beautiful comfortable Corinth. Corinth is a wealthy port city known for their trade, their lush living, and their immoral behaviors. These are people who have a lot of great earthly stuff to live for. They have literal treasure beyond most of the ancient world’s imagining. But Paul reminds them that their treasure is in jars of clay, their power belongs to God and not to them and that the whole point of the Gospel is that those things which seem to most real right now are really worthless in an eternal scheme. In other words, Hey Corinth, you may be living large now, but you are going to die. Your mortal bodies will grow old, and begin to fail before your very eyes. Death is doing its work on you, even now.

Paul knew Corinth well; he’d lived there for a year and a half working as a tent maker. And so he uses the language of tents and dwellings to drive his point home. It’s a great image. After all, a tent is a temporary home. In fact, the very first thing John’s gospel tells us about Jesus is that he ‘tented’ among us. That’s what those words mean when John says the word was made flesh and "dwelt" among us. The greek word really means he set up his tent among us. Paul carries on that image. Just as Jesus’ body was a temporary dwelling, so is yours.

But of course, Paul goes on about how we have a permanent dwelling, not made with human hands, which stands eternal. Our earthly home will be destroyed, but we have a far better place. In other words, it is the hope of the resurrection that should also encourage Corinth.

It is the hope of the resurrection that does indeed encourage Paul, too. He knows what he’s talking about. Paul, like Blandina, was a man who had suffered much. As he writes to Corinth, he’s just recently escaped a sentence of what seemed to be certain death. We read recently, and it is in this same letter to the church at Corinth, that Paul had been beaten, thrown in prision, and shipwrecked, all for preaching the Gospel of Jesus. I won’t share it here, but Acts 27 is the story of Paul’s shipwreck experience (during which time he was a prisoner being dragged to Rome for trial and possibly execution), his two weeks in the storm at sea, starved and expecting certain death, and the miraculous rescue of all 276 people on board. It is Paul’s credential to speak, knowingly, of the temporary nature of this earthly dwelling and the eternal dwelling not made with hands that awaits him. It is the resurrection that gives Paul courage.

Because Paul has this hope of resurrection and eternal dwellings, he has no need to fear any earthly enemy. "So," he says, "we are always of good courage." Even when "afflicted in every way… perplexed… persecuted and struck down." Never is Paul in despair or destroyed or forsaken or crushed, because he has this hope of the resurrection. "So," he says "we do not lose heart…. Knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us into his presence."

Paul faced pressures in his day. Pressures we can all understand and some we’ve never even come close to experiencing. There were those in Corinth who had publicly denounced Paul and the Gospel. There were those who would like to see Paul executed. And yet, Paul’s hope in the resurrection gave him the courage to continue to preach the Gospel and to "refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of truth…" to commend the full Gospel of God unashamedly to each man’s conscience. Because Paul hoped in the resurrection, because he understood all that he had, even his own body, to be nothing more than a temporary dwelling, Paul had no fear or temptation to step back from the truth of Christ Jesus.

We understand because in our culture we have a lot of the same pressures beginning to mount. It is no longer socially expected and eventually will no longer be socially acceptable to be a Christian. The world around us would rather we tampered with the Gospel, or better yet, sat down and shut up about this whole Jesus scandal. And here at St. Peter’s we are faced with a world that does not know Jesus. A town that is showing the signs of sub-urban decay, drugs and lost-ness. We are sometimes tempted to back down, turn away, or tamper with the Gospel.

But we can take courage in the resurrection just as Blandina, and Paul, and Annie. Our bodies, our buildings, our earthly wealth are all just treasures in jars of clay, temporary tents in which to dwell. These are not the things which give us hope. It is, after all, the resurrection which gives us courage, that we may go willingly, even to our own deaths, in order to give praise and glory to Jesus Christ, to commend the Gospel to one another, and so that the persecutors and the enemies might be truly afraid because of the hope that is in us.

28 May 2009

TEC, Bring us your tired, your poor, your sex scandals.... (moved)

Father Alberto Cutié To Join Episcopal Church
He Will Begin Process To Become Episcopalian Priest
CBS station WFOR-TV has learned that Father Alberto Cutié, who has been at the center of a major scandal over the breaking his vow of celibacy, is expected to leave the Catholic church and join the Episcopal church. Cutié is expected to begin the process of becoming an Episcopalian priest, which could take up to a year to complete.

The chain of events that led to Father Cutié leaving the Catholic church started when pictures were published of Cutié and Ruhama Canellis embraced in loving poses on the beach. One of the photos showed Cutie's hand inside of Canellis' swimsuit.

(The rest is here.)

He seems like a lovely person but clearly has no understanding of the Christian view of sexuality and did a foolish thing. But what is with TEC digging its grave deeper?

I find it offensive that we Anglicans are simply expected to marry those the Roman Church won't. That's the understanding in the world at large, that Anglicans don't have sexual standards so sure, they'll do anything. TEC has given us this image. If the Roman Church has already refused you, don't worry, TEC will take you in with no requirements.

Sex outside of marriage is wrong and makes a man unfit for the priesthood. I don't care if you're Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican or Baptist.

I'm sorry, but this Anglican stands in solidarity with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters... when we make an easy out for what they, knowing the situation, have disciplined, we turn our back on ecumenical relationships and the repair work that needs to be done in the body of Christ.

17 May 2009

Wait a Minute, Mister School Board Man (moved)

Today I met someone who is running as an incumbent for the local school board. My impression was not exactly favorable. The word "blowhard" comes to mind. Anyone who talks so loud his voice echoes, in normal conversation, is probably not going to get my vote. But he asked me something, not knowing my own educational decisions for my family. He asked, rhetorically, what it would take for all the cyber schoolers out there to get their kids back in the school system. He ought to be glad it was a rhetorical question. He wouldn't like my answer. Here is what it would take:

1. A parent controlled and child customizable education, solidly grounded in Scripture and a Biblical worldview.
2. Assurance that my children would never under any circumstances be indoctrinated into the secular humanist mythos, an agnostic worldview, or the socialist agenda.
3. An assurance that my child would not be the victim of peer to peer 'socialization' tactics including but not limited to peer pressure, bullying, name brand envy, ostracization, teasing, and a culture of antisocial and disrespectful behaviors.
4. Foreign languages taught at an early age, and for all children a grounding in at least one inflected classical language, Greek or Latin, according to the parents' choosing.
5. Mathematical education such that no child receives a high school diploma without a working knowledge of first year high school algebra (minimum) nor a diploma with honors without a grounding through Trigonometry.
6. The assurance that all children will read fluently by the end of the first grade, after which they will be exposed repeatedly to classical literature from many different cultures and over many different eras.
7. Instruction in history taught chronologically and systematically from ancient history to the modern era, cycled through at least three times through the course of the child's school years.
8. Instruction in grammar, usage and mechanics such that no child graduates without being a competent writer.
9. Classical method instruction using grammar, dialectic (Socratic) and rhetoric models and including training in logic and debate.
10. Instruction in the arts and music. Don't teach the kids to write without giving them something to write about. Sports are optional but I know some people disagree there.
11. A crime and drug free school and one in which my children's civil liberties would never be violated by illegal searches or seizures.
12. An education which takes no part in an unconstitutional federal department of education, teachers' unions using mafia-like political tactics, and bureaucratic red tape.
13. Safe and healthy facilities where healthy lunches are served (that my children like) and in a building free of asbestos, herbicides, pesticides and other hazardous chemicals.
14. An education that values the experiential and allows plenty of time for children to simply play and be children.
15. An education that allows plenty of time to encourage parent-child and sibling relationships free of age segregated classrooms.

And all of this for under $5000, per student. No, I'm not joking.

This is not a wish list. It's a minimum standard.

And the school board guy would tell me himself that it's impossible, no doubt. Which is why my children will be in those schools over my dead body. Actually, were I dead, they'd go to catholic school first. In fact, the catholic schools are doing a good deal of the things on this list and for half the price per capita of the government schools. Of course for thirteen thousand dollars per student each year (which I have to pay as a tax payer anyway) I get none of the things on this list.

Oh well, at least those kids won't be competing with mine for college placements and jobs.

06 May 2009

The Birth of a Sermon (moved)

How I write sermons, in ten, no fifteen, no several easy steps.
1. Pray
2. Read the assigned Scriptures.
3. Leave the scriptures on my desk for a day or two, perhaps to ferment a little?
4. Skim the scriptures. Make thoughtful facial expressions.
5. Ponder.
6. Scribble down thoughts. If no thoughts skip to #7.
7. Read the scripture and surrounding chapters. Let things sink in.
8. Read a commentary or two.
9. Putz around on Facebook, complain about being uninspired.
10. Repeat step 4.
11. Check sermon writing websites, discover that no one else has posted any thoughts either.
12. Play internet based video games or instant message a friend to complain that you're feeling uninspired.
13. Write something. Anything. It doesn't matter.
14. Delete anything written in step 13.
15. Sleep on it.
16. Repeat step 10.
17. Write something else. At least three paragraphs.
18. Paragraphs need to ferment too!!!
19. Write anything that comes to mind. Panic.
20. Complain that other people get to have fun on Saturday nights.
21. Panic some more. Pray some more if this is how you cope with panic.
22. Think of a cute illustration. Use it whether or not it fits.
23. Pull it all together and preach it!
24. Hide during coffee hour.

03 May 2009

A Sermon Listener's Bill of Rights (moved)

I don't listen to a lot of sermons these days. Mostly, I'm the one preaching. If I am listening, I'm quite often critiquing, my seminarian, a student in the deacon formation program. Sometimes I'm mentally critiquing even when I don't mean to. I'm almost always having a conversation in my head with the preacher, sort of in the same way that I write in the margins of my books.

On my way home from church today-- its a long drive-- I found myself thinking, wondering, what goes through other people's minds, what are they thinking when I'm the one in the pulpit. What ought they be thinking? How much do they really take home? What would make the whole sermon experience better, more useful to them? Is this just a weekly event they have to endure, rather like getting one's teeth cleaned on schedule, or is it something worth engaging. Is homiletics an art to be enjoyed? It should be.

But clearly it isn't. Most Anglicans seem to find sermons longer than 15 minutes to be onerous. Maybe they've not been taught to listen. Maybe they're used to sermons that aren't worth listening to. How many of them would be happy if they went to hear a lecture, went to all the trouble of making the time to go, and the speaker only gave them a fifteen minute lecture? If they went to a comedy routine and only got a fifteen minute effort they'd demand their money back. Even their television shows are expected to give them at least a half an hour's entertainment or information.

But sermons aren't for entertainment... unfortunately, they're not often for much at all. Hence:

A Sermon Listener's Bill of Rights
1. The sermon listener has a right to a well prepared sermon. The preacher has a responsibility to spend significant time in the Scriptures each week, show up with notes and a solid idea where the sermon is going. No lawyer goes into a courtroom without being prepared for any and all possibilities, but we face larger and more important juries every time we step into a pulpit. Many preachers prefer to rattle off stream of conciousness in what should be Christian Education's Prime Time. If you produce no other decent work all week, the sermon needs to be solid.
2. The sermon listener has a right to a biblical sermon. Stories from your childhood are nice, but they don't change lives, strengthen the weak or build on a foundation. Sermons should stick close to the text, make appropriate biblical connections, and apply to the culture only where the text leads to the application. Forced isogesis does no good to anyone.
3. The sermon listener has a right to ask questions. In most places it's not polite to raise a hand and question, that's a shame. Anyone in my congregation is welcome to do so at any time, though perhaps I should tell them that. If it's not polite to question on the spot, a preacher should still expect to hear questions as they file out, during coffee hour, adult education, or even weeks later. Be prepared. And if you don't know the answer, admit it and go find out.
4. The sermon listener has a right to a retraction if after preaching a sermon a serious theological error in the sermon later comes to light. If you were wrong, don't sweep it under the rug. People's spiritual lives depend on our good reporting. If you screw up, speak out of turn, utter bad theology, admit it at the next opportunity.
5. Sermon listeners have a right to a decent presentation. Ducking behind your notes, reading into the pulpit, never acknowledging their presence, these things may not harm your reputation as a theologian, but they won't do any favors for your relationships and pastoral care. A good sermon badly presented is a bad sermon.
6. Sermon listeners have a right to substance. Pithy statements, no matter how biblical they may be, are not helpful. Cliches, meandering, skimming the surface, sugary thoughts and watered down content do not help anyone. A bad sermon well presented is still a bad sermon. It doesn't matter how slick the packaging, junk food is junk food.
7. Sermon listeners have a right to hear and understand. Learn to use your voice. If you have people who are hard of hearing or if you just have a gentle voice, use a mike. You may hate the microphone (I do) and think you have a good solid speaking voice (I think I do), but if they tell you they can't hear you, use the boost. Sometimes they need a little extra help. And microphone or no microphone, learn to enunciate each word. Please.
8. Sermon listeners have a right to sermons that have purpose. Think about what you're trying to accomplish in the pulpit. Why are you there? What is the goal of your sermon? No secular writer writes without having a specific purpose, but most sermons are presented as "well we have to do this every week" which makes it feel very much like a dull duty to preach, and even more so to endure the resulting sermon. Don't preach because you have to. Don't preach out of habit. You'll produce Christians who only do their duty, and grudgingly at that.
9. Sermon listeners have a right to some joy. It's the word of God, how much more exciting can it get? Love what you do, or let someone else do the preaching. Have enthusiasm for the text and your people will too. But if your sermons are dry and dusty, they'll have a dry and dusty faith.
10. Sermon listeners have a right to be formed. Understand that they're not always going to be where you want them to be. It's a journey, make progress. Radical tranformation is the goal, but it often happens little by little over time. Understand that your words will be formative, one way or another. George Herbert once said, "sermons are dangerous things, that none goes out of church as he came in, but either better or worse." Your words hold power.
11. And finally, quite often your words are not your own. Sermon listeners have a right to hear the Holy Spirit preach from the pulpit. Sometimes all we can do is set our own agendas aside and get out of the way. Submit your will to the one who authored the text, call on his name. If you preach in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, know that you are claim God's authority and calling down his Spirit to make demands on you according to his will. Invoke his name with holy fear, willingness, and humility.
If you're good to me, maybe next week I'll write a preacher's bill of rights... hmmm... and if I have time.

02 May 2009

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself... (moved)

I think FDR gets credit for that one. Maybe. Actually, the one thing I fear most is my neighbors' fear. People do stupid things when they're afraid. They'll agree to anything when fear takes over. And one thing I've noticed in the past decade or maybe two is that Americans are pretty prone to jump and just about any kind of "boo" in the news headlines. And the boogyman sells newspapers, or so it seems, because the news people are shouting "boo" all the time.

The latest is of course, the swine flu. Never mind that the normal old run of the mill flu kills or sickens more people each and every year than this "swine flu." But the swine flu, or maybe we should call it 'whine flu' is all over the newspapers. Last night I went to a baseball game with 14,000+ other sports fans, at some point during the game, I thought to myself that if I sneezed I bet I could clear the section, get a better seat. "a-choo. Oink!"

But before that was terrorism. Our so-called excuse for signing over our freedoms to a president bent on spying on us. We accepted unconstitutional searches and seizures at our airports, ball parks, and national historic monuments without batting an eye. Then, like a society of lemmings, we turned on that president and elected an open socialist with the ethics of the Sopranos because he looked cute on the Tee-vee and we're afraid of the swine flu.

We Americans have been afraid of a lot of things, from Communism (ah Mr. McCarthy) to the environment (Mr. Gore, yet another alarmist with an agenda) and let's not neglect the Y2K insanity, and each time we hand over a little more personal freedom, a little more personal responsibility. So what will this Pig Flu Panic cost us? Our freedom to make decisions about our health care (ah, that indeed would play into the hands of the left, wouldn't it) or our freedom to freely assemble or perhaps our freedom to travel within or outside our national boarders.

Fear is the altar at which Americans are increasingly coming to worship and make sacrifice. Panic is an epidemic more deadly than any flu.

19 April 2009

A word to the airlines. (moved)

To whom it may concern (Airlines, this means you! Delta-Northwest, this especially means you!!):
We, the passengers who choose air travel, would like to remind the airline industry that we are not cattle. The nickname "cattle class" is only a joke and should not become a reality. We are human beings and we have a right to be treated like human beings. To that end, I would like to remind the airline industry that for the human being, parents and children are not interchangeable parts. I do not wish for strangers, who have no understanding of my children’s needs, to attempt to care for my children. I should not be forced to trust a random person who I have not met with the care of my most precious treasures. Your airports remind us often not to let strangers tend our luggage, but you expect us to let them tend our children? Likewise, my children are not comforted by strangers, and strangers are put out if they are placed next to unattended children.

To the rest of you... actually this is just an excerpt from my three page (and they deserved every syllable) letter to Delta-Northwest regarding my horrid flight experience from Honolulu to Pittsburgh. Granted, the most pleasant choice would have been to simply stay in Hawaii.

Mmmm... Hawaii.....

A word to the airlines:

But I'm nothing if not adventurous, so along with my family (one of whom is three years old) I decided to try to fly home. Big mistake. We left this:

in order to be treated like garbage by a rude and uncaring Delta-Northwest Gate agent, no correction, by three of them and then be herded onto cattle class (with Richard twenty rows away from the rest of us) with no room to stretch our legs and a hideous TV screen that I couldn't control flickering in my face ALL NIGHT LONG. I slept none at all, neither did Isaac. We landed in Atlanta at six in the morning, where we were again herded onto cattle class, this time spread over only five rows, where I had to take care of someone else's kid because her dad was five rows ahead of us. As if my three were not enough, somebody else's five year old is not my idea of flying fun.

Clearly the new Delta-Northwest has no concern for the family unit. It is no longer a family-friendly airline. Passengers beware.

As for me, I'm making sure they hear about it. I'm not interested in being treated like an animal. I am a human being, made in the image of God, and I am not going to sit back and take this sort of treatment.

But then, therein lies the problem. If you don't have a fundamental belief in a God who created mankind by hand, then we're all just over-exhalted monkeys. If we all evolved from the same goo, I suppose there's nothing wrong with treating people like animals packed into cattle class. If we're all just luck of the draw, then there is no human dignity, we're all animals after all.

Or maybe this lament is just an excuse to make you all have to look at my vacation pictures...

13 April 2009

Easter Sermonizing!!! CPISTOS ANESTH!! (moved)

The Gospels tell us that Mary Magdalene, and the other women, have gotten up early in the morning, while it is still dark. Slowly, still grieving their tremendous loss, their crucified Lord, they make their way to the tomb. Laden with burial spices to anoint the body of Jesus, they intend to anoint Jesus’ body. It was an act of love, though by Jewish ceremonial law it would render them temporarily unclean. Bodies were anointed with spices to lessen the effects of natural decay. These women are wandering out in the dark towards a scene which would be so utterly gruesome that few of us would ever even consider coming along with them on such an errand.

And they’re worried… they’re worried about the stone that stood between them and entrance into the tomb. How would they move such a heavy barrier? It is a legitimate worry, a logistical concern that gives a sense of reality to this otherwise rather surreal moment. But as I read in John’s telling of the events, I learned something more. I read this week about how the final chapters of John’s Gospel share Jesus’ resurrection appearances in such a way as to show him overcoming a number of our common obstacles to faith in him. It is as if the stone that blocked the women’s path to Jesus is a physical symbol of something more, our fears, ignorance, grief, and doubt. If you take your faith seriously, you will recognize that these are indeed barriers to our relationship with Jesus, but how do we remove such stones? Fear is too much for us to roll away on our own, our ignorance is too great, our grief and doubt threaten to overshadow us at times too.

But early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene and her companions come to the tomb of Jesus, and discover that the barrier is removed. It’s an unexpected thing. Who would be about so early in the day? Who would have moved the stone? What has become of Jesus’ body? In their alarm they run to Peter and to John and summon them to the tomb. Someone, perhaps grave robbers, for there were so many in that era that one of the Caesars made it a capital offence to disturb a tomb. Perhaps it was someone who wished to heap further insult on Jesus. Perhaps it was one of Joseph’s gardeners, but where would they have put Jesus? How could they care for him if they couldn’t find him?

The women are frantic. Peter and John are anxious also and they run to the tomb. Outside the tomb, each of the people you meet is full of fear, worry, anxiety. There is a lot of rushing about in the dark. But inside the tomb, there is a sense of perfect calm. No, there were no grave robbers here, for the linens and spices in which the body had been wrapped, these remain undisturbed. There was no rushing about here, the cloth for Jesus’ head was neatly folded in a place of its own. Why would anyone who had moved Jesus leave these things behind? Why would anyone who had robbed the tomb leave the only items of any value or use?

And the disciples believed, though they still did not understand. The barrier of ignorance is removed. Likewise as Mary remains, in her grief weeping outside the tomb, Jesus appears to hear. The barrier of grieving is removed as Jesus call’s Mary’s name and reveals to her that he is indeed alive. Fear is removed as the disciples, behind locked doors for fear of the Jews who had crucified Jesus, suddenly find the risen Lord in their midst. Doubt is removed as Thomas places his hands in Jesus wounds. Jesus systematically removes the barriers that stand between us and faith in him.

We modern people have a lot of barriers; sometimes we like even to try and set up our barriers ourselves. Some say that maybe Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, maybe he fainted. But the scriptures go to great lengths to assure us that indeed Jesus did die; "he breathed his last" "He gave up his spirit." The centurion saw that he was dead and did not break his legs, he was stabbed in the side and blood and water poured out. This was no living man, no mere faint. Some say that maybe the disciples made off with the body to try to fabricate a resurrection story, but the tomb was well guarded by Roman soldiers, and why would all of these disciples later prove so willing to die because they believe in the resurrected Jesus if this were all a hoax? The words we just read from the Gospel of John are an eye witness account, these are the observations of the beloved disciple himself, the beloved disciple who was the only one not martyred for his faith in Jesus and he lived out his final years in exile on the distant island of Patmos. How easy it would be to expose the hoax, recant, and go home free! If it were a hoax, if there were no truth in these words.

But Christ is indeed raised from the dead, the first fruits from the grave. The grave could not hold him, he has raised himself. By his death he destroyed death… or as John tells us outright in the beginning of his Gospel, Jesus was the light who shines in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome him.

The resurrection of Jesus gives us two paths from which we must choose. We can run around in the darkness, in anxiety, ignorance, fear and grief. Or we can let Jesus remove the barriers to our faith, let the light which cannot be overcome shine in our darkest corners. This side of paradise our belief will never be perfect. We will still have moments where we set up our barriers, wallow in our doubts, run frantically about in our anxieties. In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus insists that all things are possible to one who believes in him, to which the man with whom Jesus was speaking replied "I believe! Help my unbelief." This oft repeated prayer is what its all about! Jesus is willing and able to remove the barriers we’ve set up, to shine in our darkness, to help our unbelief.

Lord Jesus, we thank you and praise you that by your death you have destroyed death. By your rising to life again you have won for us eternal life. We ask you now to help our unbelief. We cast on your mercy all our barriers and obstacles, all our fears, anxieties, ignorance, doubt, and grief. Take these things from us, we pray, that we may be consecrated to you as a holy people, a living sacrifice, and a royal priesthood of those who believe.

11 April 2009

Maundy Thursday Sermon (moved)

Jesus, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The Gospel of John has a way with words. There in that tiny phrase, is the totality of the Gospel. Really, if you know nothing else, if you dig into no other words of Scripture, dig here. John himself says it would be impossible to write a complete biography of Jesus, that all the libraries of the world could not contain the volumes that could be written. Yet in those words, John writes the biography. Jesus, having loved his own who were in this world, he loved them to the end.

Let’s break down John’s statement. First Jesus loved his own. We use a similar term all the time, we say we look after our own. But the concept is a remarkable one here because Jesus is laying claim to the disciples. They’re not his biological family, they weren’t chosen based on any prior relationship. There really is nothing other than Jesus that would bring this ragtag band together from so many walks of life, from fishermen to a tax collector. What binds them together is only that they are no longer their own men, they are claimed by another, bought with a price. Jesus takes responsibility for this band of disciples, loves them with a sacrificial love.

Jesus does not wait until this band of followers is perfected in the kingdom, for he loves them while they were still in this world of sin and filth. Jesus loves a group of people who are essentially defined by their membership in a fallen world. But that phrase conveys more than just a definition of who these are who Jesus claims a his own. Jesus loves his own who are in this world at time when Jesus knows his hour is coming to depart out of this world. He returns to the father, to the glories of heaven. But he does not do so without looking back on those who remain in this world. These are men who are still grabbed at by sin, and a fallen nature. John tells us a few chapters later of Jesus’ prayer for these disciples, a passionate prayer that they may be guarded by God, bound together in God’s love, and be kept from evil.

And Jesus loved them to the end. There’s an ambiguity in the Greek text that is worth examining here. The words are "

eiV teloV agaphsen autouV ." To the end he loved them. In Greek, usually the first words in the sentence are where the emphasis is. The emphasis here is on "to the end." It’s not as important to know that Jesus loved the disciples. We know that, anyway. What is important is to know the extent of his love. Jesus loved them to the very end, not only of his life, but to the ends of the earth. He loved them to the cross. He loves them to the end of ages. He loves them to the end of everything. That sounds pretty clear, right? And I said there was an ambiguity. The ambiguity is this; "eiV teloV " not only means "to the end"… it has a secondary meaning of "to completion" or totally. Jesus loved the disciples with a perfect love. The writer of the gospel surely chose his words carefully, for Jesus does love the disciples with a perfect love which endures to the end. There is no conflict in the meanings, one adds to the other.
So what does that love look like? The remainder of the reading today is the description of how that love is put into action. The remainder of Holy Week is the description of that love at work, but we’re given one example today, the washing of the feet, so let us take a look in that direction.

First we see that Jesus loves them such that he casts off the glory of heaven to serve them. At the point of his incarnation, Jesus emptied himself of all the glories of heaven. No longer was he surrounded by angels and archangels, the glories of the infinite realm. Instead he was surrounded by sinners and sickness, taking on the limited nature of humanity. And he does not come even as a great and powerful human, for he does not choose to be incarnated as a king. Instead he is a seemingly common man. And yet, he comes to meet their needs, not to be served but to serve.

Jesus sees a need here. The disciples must learn to serve one another, even to die to themselves in order to serve the world. These men who so recently had argued with one another about which of them would take the places of honor in Jesus’ kingdom needed to learn to practice humility and service. They didn’t understand Jesus’ message to them when he said he the last would be first, and so Jesus demonstrated this in a powerful way.

As you know, the washing of feet was the work of the lowest slave in a household. And not Jewish slaves, but Gentile slaves were given this work. Jewish slaves were above footwashing. On a more intimate, familial level, a child might wash his father’s feet as a duty and token of intimate love and humility, or a wife might likewise wash her husband’s feet. The master, the father, the rabbi, would never wash the feet of the servants, the children and the disciples. And yet, Jesus loves them such that he casts off the titles of "Rabbi" and "Lord" as he casts off his outer garments to wash their feet.

Jesus has taught the disciples that they must be willing to die to themselves, to cast off their own needs and desires, in order to serve him. Here he begins to demonstrate for them what he means. They cannot fathom what it was for Jesus to abandon heaven for their salvation, but the can see him take on the humiliation of lowly service for their benefit. Later they will see him take on the humiliation of the cross and the agony of death for their benefit, but on this night, they are given only a glimpse of the whole.

There is another need here. They need to be washed. Jesus loves his own who are in the world, and those in the world are tainted by it. Jesus brings cleansing and healing. Yet one, despite physical washing, remains unclean. That brings us to what is for me, the most remarkable aspect of this passage: Jesus loves them such that serves his betrayer.

Betrayal is perhaps the worst thing a person can experience. Someone we love, someone who has shown love to us, turns against us and sets his heart on our destruction. How many of you have been betrayed? We all understand a little of this. And we all understand the struggle to forgive the ones who betray us. When someone has betrayed us, even on a small scale, it is almost impossible to be in a room with that person, to look at them and not be angry. And yet Jesus, in his perfect love, loves enough to kneel down in humility and take his betrayer’s feet lovingly in his hands, and wash him knowing that the washing still will not make Judas clean. Judas will not turn his heart from his plan and Jesus knows it. Yet he washes him anyway.

That’s a lot! And yet, there is more. This passage does not exist by itself; it points to the Crucifixion which would happen the following day. Jesus demonstrates that he loves them such that he follows through this course of events, not happily but nonetheless willingly, so that they may understand all mysteries and be brought at last into the Kingdom of God. He knows what events have been set in motion. He knows that Judas is to betray him. He knows that Peter, who he also washes, is to deny him. He knows that the others to whom he offers such intimate and humble service, will abandon him. He knows he will be tried, mocked, tortured, crucified and killed. He knows that he could call on legions of angels to stop these events, and yet, he sets his face towards the cross and proceeds forward. Greater love has no man than this.

This is an amazing love and an awesome service. But this is not a new thing. Jesus only does what he sees God the Father doing. The almighty creator of the universe, loves in this way. God, who is unchanging and holy, loves in this way now, as he did at the beginning of time and will forever more. Do you want evidence? Think of the Hebrews who railed against God in the wilderness, who denied God’s authority and holiness, "rebelling in the desert against the Most High." This is a betrayal, too. "They tested God in their hearts," says Psalm 78. They made demands. They railed against God. They doubted his ability to provide for them, though he had consistently filled their needs in miraculous ways. And in response? "He commanded the clouds above and opened the doors of heaven. He rained down manna upon them to eat and gave them grain from heaven. So mortals ate the bread of angels. He provided for them food enough."

Again, God is weaving a wonderful image here. Not only is Jesus providing the bread of heaven for his people in the Eucharist as God provided the manna in the wilderness, but he is providing for them in their sin and abandonment and betrayal, also as God did in the wilderness. Jesus is doing exactly as the Father does; he gives the bread of life (even eternal life) to those who are his own, though they continue to rebel against him.

And thus God loved the people of Israel. And thus Jesus loved the disciples. And God is unchanging, and Jesus does only as he sees God the Father doing. So it is clear that there is something in here for us. We who could never imagine forgiving a betrayer, see Jesus forgiving us for our betrayals and rebellion against him. Despite our sin and uncleanness, our broken-ness and rebellion, he takes us intimately in his hands and washes us. Then he sets us at his own table and offers us the bread of life. Yes, he makes a demand on us, that we should do as we see him doing; "If I, then, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet." But he also equips us for the task, prays for us, casts off heaven and glory and honor… for us. Jesus offers us cleansing and the bread of life, without regard to what our past looks like. He doesn’t offer to wash what is already clean. He comes to us, in our filth, to take us intimately in his hands and offer us cleansing so that we may have a part in him, a seat at his table, and a share in his kingdom. Will you, like Peter and the other disciples, submit to be washed?

08 April 2009

"Reproductive Choice" and Obamacare

The old argument promoting a woman’s supposed right to destroy her own vulnerable children while they remain in the womb is an interesting one in this modern age. Once upon a time frenetic pro-abortion women would rant that the government needed to keep its hands out of their wombs. The womb, they felt, was the ultimate privacy and the government should have no say over what procedures were inflicted upon their bodies. “My body, my choice” was a mantra, a rallying cry.

If there were no helpless human life at stake in this, I would agree with them. For that reason, I have to take note of a disturbing fallacy. For now, under the proposed government controlled health care plan, the state will have a right to refuse care to patients who they deem to be too expensive to treat. Mothers carrying Downs Syndrome children, those whose genetic risks are deemed too high, those who cannot sustain a pregnancy without medical intervention could be easily denied coverage or care. They would simply be denied their reproductive choice to continue a pregnancy. Why then, under a national health care plan, would a woman who has a correctable infertility problem believe that a country that thinks (wrongly) that the world is overpopulated already want to assist her? Would the government be as willing to provide care for a third pregnancy as for a first?

Already Americans are beginning to say that women don’t have the right to have as many children as they desire. People talk as if forced abortions and forced sterilizations China-style cannot happen in America. Forced abortions don’t have to happen. Already the government is attempting to gain control over every American woman’s womb, to place a dollar value on human life, and to take control of the most personal aspects of our daily living.

Liberals and conservatives alike should stand up against this invasion. If feminists mean what they say, stand shoulder to shoulder with conservatives and say no to government control over our reproductive care.

24 March 2009

Do I even need to make commentary?

22 March 2009

Nationalized Health Care in a Culture of Death (moved)

My husband, who I suspect is trying to use my blood pressure to subtly murder me, sent me this:
Baby's right to life appeal fails
Parents battling to keep their seriously ill baby alive have failed to overturn a ruling allowing him to die.

The nine-month-old boy has a rare metabolic disorder and has suffered brain damage and respiratory failure.

The couple had appealed against a judge's ruling on Thursday that it was in the boy's best interests to withdraw his "life sustaining treatment".

They said they were "deeply distressed" by the decision and the life of their "beautiful boy" was worth preserving.

The rest is here.

Think about this, America. Imagine that this is your child. You love this child and are utterly powerless in the court's decision to execute him. That's all this is, execution of the innocent. His only crime, which even the media doesn't have the courage to state, is being too costly on the socialized health care system. Just do the math:
A culture which believes in the equation: Abortion = taking innocent life is morally acceptable
A culture which believes in the equation: health care = price on human life
A culture which believes: taxpayer support = government authority to make decisions (consider the Nadya Suleman case in which the people of California were vehement that her children be taken from her, not because she was in any legitimate way declared an unfit parent, but because the taxpayer did not want to foot the bill for their care... Whatever you think of the mother, you should be outraged at the people of California trying to exert this authority.)

Now, let's add those variables together... Abortion+ taxpayer supported health care= taking innocent human life is morally acceptable if the price is one which the state considers too high to pay.

Jesus died for our sins. This little one has to die for all the wallets of England. Jesus died because human life is beyond price. This little one dies because there is a price on his living. And nobody has the courage to say it out loud.

If imagining this were your child is not sufficient, imagine this is you. You have been in an accident, you are elderly, you have a disease. You are too expensive for life, you have no say in your future. With no crime on your record, the state issues your death.

I blogged about this a while ago (The Perfect Storm) and will likely blog about this again. Does anyone listen? America is putting a price on your head, folks. Your price is calculated this way (while we're doing the math): AMOUNT PAID IN TAXES- AMOUNT OWED IN HEALTH CARE= NET VALUE OF HUMAN LIFE

Britain's word to needy babies... drop dead.

19 March 2009

A Sigh. (moved)

So, I noted today that the TEC bishops have put out a pastoral letter. It begins like this:

>>A Pastoral Letter from the Bishops of the Episcopal Church meeting in Hendersonville, North Carolina, March 13-18, 2009 to the Church and our partners in mission throughout the world.
I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

–Philippians 4:11b - 13<<

I couldn't help myself. My very first thought was "Oh, so that's why they're suing us." To my friends across the aisle, I'm sorry, but I'm about to snap! The blatant hubris and hypocritical thinking which is demonstrated when a church which is currently forging ahead with lawsuits and property grabs in every quadrant of the nation, with attorneys' fees in the millions of dollars, for the sole purpose of evicting faithful Christians from the properties where they've worshiped Jesus Christ for generations is overwhelming. The Episcopal Church has no idea what it means to have little, when their presiding bishop jets around the country blaming "global warming" on everything but her own emissions, when UN objectives and human efforts are the new gospel, and peace and perfection are believed to be accessible in our time if only man works hard enough; these things are antithetical to having little. TEC clergy don't go to bed hungry at night. These supposedly contented bishops have stipends and pensions and retreat centers in the mountains of North Carolina. They rest secure in the reasonable assumption that none of them will be gunned down, jailed, or otherwise persecuted for believing in Jesus. And yet they do not rest content, but call in the lawyers and sue, contrary to the command of Scripture, others who are faithful Christians.

The letter goes on to shake a finger at corporate greed, ignoring ecclesiastical greed. There is mention of wars and rumors of war, natural disaster and environmental scare mongering, but no peace which only Jesus can give, no Gospel. They even have the gall to compare our economic situation to the slavery of Israel in Egypt! (Oh for crying out loud! Pharoah is not murdering our children (at least not without parental consent to do so under the gentled term "abortion") or forcing our labor in the brickyards!)

To their credit, the letter ends well, but you have to cut through all the junk to get to the part about Jesus being the Incarnate Word. It fails to ring true; how can we comment on poverty when we have never really experienced it. Much like the bishops' march against hunger that ended in a sumptuous banquet at Lambeth last year, it is easy for us to say that God provides in tough times because we're still eating well, dressing well, and jetting around happily from place to place. How does that encourage hope, folks? I just don't get it.

I know some of my dear friends who read this blog are still in TEC. I know they are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ. My arguements are not with them. I just don't understand how what was once so great a church, connected to the faith in a way which drew me from the church of my birth, can, in so brief a time, become something so vapid, so empty, as this.

If you care to read the letter yourself, it's here: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/79901_106036_ENG_HTM.htm

17 March 2009

Another sermon (moved)

Another Sermon... I need to post something "real" soon, I know.

It’s a typical day in the Temple. Inside, priests and people are making sacrifices, celebrating their relationship with God, sharing a meal in the presence of the Almighty. Because the Passover was coming near, the Temple was especially busy. The population of Jerusalem doubled at Passover time as pilgrims came in from the countryside to celebrate the feast. During the rest of the year, they could worship in their synagogues, but the only place they could make their sacrifices was at the Temple, and Passover required a sacrifice, specifically a lamb, which was then the centerpiece of the Passover feast.

We think of the Temple as being like church, but it wasn’t. There were no pews, people didn’t sit in neat rows and hear one specific speaker. Synagogue was a little more like church, but in the Temple, there was wide open space, rabbis taught and disciples would gather around, there was the noise of animals being led to the sacrifice, sheep bleating, cows lowing. God’s temple had the sounds of an active barnyard.

And the animals themselves, God makes demands on what kind of animals they had to be. They had to be perfect, without blemish or defect. God didn’t want the second best, the leavings, the sheep not worth breeding, the cow with too little flesh on its bones to use for the next expected family celebration. It was understood that all things came from God and therefore it was fitting and right that we should return some of it to him. And it was understood that our God who gives us everything good and right, who is sovereign over all creation, deserved the very best of the flocks and herds and fields.

At times, in Israel’s history, though, people didn’t obey. They didn’t give their best to God. Instead, they reserved the best for themselves, offering to God sacrifices that were not sacrificial at all. Here, God, this lamb won’t live anyway, you can have it. This goat is diseased, this cow is lame, let us sacrifice what we won’t miss. The people seemed to believe that God wouldn’t notice, or maybe they believed that God wouldn’t provide for them the very best if they didn’t hoard these things for themselves in the first place. To them, their greed was larger than their god.

God has words with these people throughout the Old Testament. He is clear with the people, he’s not interested in their leftovers, he wants the first-fruits. Anything less is failing to live up to the standard which God called his people to uphold. Anything less is failing to give God what is rightfully his. Anything less is robbing God. In Malachi, God asks the people, especially the priests who are responsible for what is going on, "A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, 'How have we despised your name?' By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, 'How have we polluted you?' By saying that the LORD’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil?" God goes on to note that the people did a better job of paying their taxes faithfully than they did of sacrificing to God. What’s up with that?

In Jesus time, these things were still going on. Instead of offering the best of their own herds, travelers from scattered towns thought it would be easier to buy a new lamb for the sacrifice, and like kitschy gift shops at your local tourist trap, there were plenty of guys ready to make a shekel or two selling an over priced, often pitiful quality, lamb for the sacrifice and feast. And because money with Caesar’s image on it could not be used in the Temple, for the Jews believed the graven image of any man was an abomination to God, there were plenty of guys out there who would gladly change your Roman coins for Temple money, for a fee, of course. It was a Disney World meets Cathedral sort of affair, with plenty of scam artists ready to make a quick buck, plenty of needy greedy religious tourists ready to part with a dollar for convenience and ease of living.

And Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Suddenly the hero enters the scene. If your image of Jesus is "gentle Jesus meek and mild" forget it. Meek and mild wouldn’t have gotten anyone crucified. No, instead, Jesus is a fighter, and in this case he’s like a tornado through the Temple! Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" Matthew tells us that Jesus accused them of making the Temple a "den of thieves," an appropriate allusion to those Old Testament passage where these practices are exposed as robbing God.

Perhaps, if you were there that day, you would understand the Jews’ question. To put it in the vernacular, the Jews, Temple regulars, many of whom would never consider knowingly making any misstep in the obedience of the Law, they ask the natural question: "Hey! Who told you that you could come in here and make this mess? What do you think you’re doing??" The Jews wanted to know, by what authority Jesus was doing these things.

No matter how you slice it, Jesus’ reply is astonishing. He’s claiming to have some serious power. The Jews hear him as claiming to have the power to build an entire temple on his own in three days. This is the great architectural wonder of the ancient near East! Even with our modern machinery this is impossible. And of course, we know Jesus could do this, because he is the Word through which everything that is came into being. It wasn’t until later that the disciples realized that Jesus is telling them that his authority comes from himself because, first off, he is the Temple, he is where God uniquely resides, and two, he can’t even be held in the bonds of death. Jesus’ authority rests on the fact that he can even raise himself from the dead.

So what do I want you to take out of this? It’s a great story, right, but what does it mean? Well there are two things that I’d like you to take home today. The first is that everything hinges on whether or not Jesus really rose from the dead. It’s not a metaphor, it’s not a myth, it’s not a nice story to tell the kids. It’s real, historical fact, or its worthless. As St. Paul said, if Christ is not raised, then our hope is in vain. The difference between us and the rest of the world, what it is that makes Christianity unique, is that we know that Christ was raised. He was the perfect offering, fulfilling the requirements of the Law that the sacrifice be without blemish. He was without sin. He was the final sacrifice. He was truly crucified and buried. But if he was not also raised from the dead, what good is it all? If we worship a god who can be defeated and murdered, what strength do we have?

But Jesus also is the first-fruit. In the Old Testament that’s another fitting image of offering God the best in faith of his provision for our needs. Paul says Jesus is the first fruits of the dead, he is the first one raised so that we can have faith that God will raise us, will provide more fruit, you and me. If Christ is not raised, our hope is in vain.

But, and here is point number two, if Christ IS raised, he has authority. He comes into the temple like he owns the place because, if he is who he says he is, if he is the Lord, he DOES own it. He has the authority to call these greedy God-robbers to task because he is the one being robbed. And he has authority in our lives, also, to call us to task. By his sending his Holy Spirit, we become his Temple, and he has to have authority in our lives to do the necessary housekeeping, to call us to task.

It’s a difficult thing for Americans to place themselves under authority. In this world where we all are supposed to want to "be your own boss" and independence and even rebellion are virtues, we Christians have to come to terms with the fact that we are indeed under the authority of another. If Christ is raised from the dead (and he is!) then we must accept that he has authority over us, our lives are not our own.

Douglas Jones and Douglas Wilson, in their truly excellent book, Angels in the Architecture, put it this way: "in the modern world, authority of any kind is a dirty word. True authority is written off as arrogance, but this simply shows how the arrogance of individualism dislikes any organized competition. Authority is built into the world. In any given situation, someone is going to wield authority; someone is going to make the call. Our concern should be to place authority where Scripture places it." Jones and Wilson go on to say, in summary, that Jesus Christ is the ultimate authority. His will is given its most clear and authoritative form in the Scriptures. For your life, the Bible is your marching orders, and if you haven’t read the directions, you can’t follow them. Jones and Wilson go on to note that the Church also has authority, delegated by Jesus and passed down through the centuries, to help us order our lives. The creeds, the prayers, the faith, those who are in spiritual authority over you, none of these may claim any kind of authority over and above the Scriptures, but all of these have a delegated authority from the Scriptures.

This is a tough bite to swallow for us independent Americans, but in the end, we are being called to submit ourselves, to be placed under authority. If Christ is raised, he is King. Kings rule kingdoms, not democracies, their people are subject to him. If Christ is king, you are subjects.

Let us pray: O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed, and whose service is perfect freedom, give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give; that our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments, and also that by thee we being defended from the fear of our enemies may pass our time in rest and quietness. Amen

13 March 2009

h/t: Paul Hoemke
Image credit: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3657/3345146738_ba07f40645.jpg?v=0

02 March 2009

Sermon on the Baptism of Jesus (moved)

We often think of the Bible as being so very old that we could never really get a handle on the real dates or even places where the stories are set. Cities are lost or destroyed, records are lacking, things just seem to get fuzzy when you’re thinking about going back almost two thousand years or more in history. But the more you look into these things, the more you will realize that those dates can be put together, places can be found. There is a lot of evidence. Ancient near eastern history helps us put a pretty decent dating on Abraham. We can pretty much guess when the Exodus took place by the lists of Egyptian kings. Counting from there, the Bible gives us enough evidence to put David at 1000 BC or so. And the nearer things get to our own time the better we can put those dates to the events.

Luke gives us a lot of evidence for when Jesus was born, living in Nazareth, and when he began his public ministry. Once you add up all of that with Luke’s comment that Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his public ministry, you have a general date for the baptism at about 29 AD. It helps, I think, to put a date on it like that because it makes the events more real to us.

The way Mark tells the story seems far from real sometimes. Jesus appears out of nowhere. Mark has told us that Jesus is the son of God, but unlike Matthew and Luke he shows no interest in birth narratives or Jesus growing in wisdom and stature. First we meet John the Baptist, out preaching and baptizing by the Jordan, and then suddenly Jesus is on the scene. Only in Mark is there no sense of Jesus having a human origin, maybe because Mark understands that this one was from the beginning. All Mark tells us is that in the days of John, Jesus came from the place called Nazareth, which was a small town in the northern region of Galilee. He has a human home on one hand, but on the other hand he seems to appear out of nowhere.

Mark remains pretty matter-of-fact about it all. We don’t see the exchange between Jesus and John where John proclaims that he should be baptized by Jesus, not the other way around. John doesn’t tell us that he knows who Jesus is or that he’s unworthy to untie Jesus’ sandals. Jesus simply shows up and was baptized in the Jordan by John, just like any other guy.

In fact, the whole scene smacks of an eerie first century normalcy! Baptism was a pretty normal thing, believe it or not. When ever a good Jew found himself unclean and therefore unfit for Temple worship, it was custom to go wash in the ritual bath, called the mikveh, and after full (sevenfold) immersion, that person would be considered clean. John is offering nothing new, though it may be a little interesting that John’s preaching ties baptism to repenting of sin.

The only thing about the scene that is not really normal is John himself. He’s out there dressed up like Elijah dressed, in camel’s hair clothing, and he’s claiming to be the prophet that Isaiah predicted, the voice of one crying in the wilderness "make straight the path of the Lord." But we still have no sense as Jesus enters onto the scene that he is this Lord, that he is anyone different.

But we know the truth, we know better. Something strange is indeed happening, something which has puzzled the church for two millennia! Mark has made it clear that the purpose for John’s baptism is for those who are repenting of sins, and here is Jesus, who has no sin, being baptized. Mark doesn’t even record John’s objections to baptizing the one who should be baptizing him. Mark tells us nothing, he just brings Jesus in as if Jesus were some ordinary Joe-Sinner coming to repent.

Mark is setting the scene, of course. Our first vision of Jesus is to see him humbled, looking like a sinner. He seems to be just a guy, nobody special, coming out of podunk Galilee looking to be baptized as if he were repenting of sin. Nathanael was recorded as asking "can anything good come out of Nazareth." We have no clue (yet) that anything good has come.

If you think about it, what Mark is doing makes perfect sense. He wants us to see some of what it meant for Jesus to leave the glories of heaven, the place he really did come out from, and walk among us as nobody special. He wants us to see that for thirty years, Jesus didn’t stand out, he was fully human despite also being fully divine. There were no trumpets that sounded his arrival, he had made no name for himself, he was a man, having emptied himself of the power and glory of heaven, and nobody could see that he was also fully God. In short, he didn’t wear a halo.

But make no mistake, this one is not just Joe Sinner. Yes, we see him humbled in a sinner’s baptism, just as we would later see him humbled in a sinner’s death. But just as soon as he goes down (into the waters of baptism, into the grave) he is brought back up again glorious. Our English translations fail us, for they usually read "the heavens were opened." Come on how special is that? We even say that to describe a rain storm, don’t we? That’s not what it means. It’s not a normal feeling word. In fact the word means that the heavens were ripped apart, torn, schizo, from which our word schism is derived. It’s almost violent, the heavens were, like the curtain in the temple later, ripped in two. Access between earth and heaven seems to have come to a new level, and God’s voice is heard to proclaim the identity of this one who is at once humbled and also lifted up in glory. God speaks emphatically to Jesus, YOU, you are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.

I have to admit I took pleasure in reading the Greek text this week. How significant is it that God is emphatic that Jesus is the beloved son, how amazing is it that the words for being pleased are not tied to a single incident but are a state of being. God is continually pleased with Jesus, it’s not just about the baptism.

And immediately, the Spirit, which has descended on Jesus, casts Jesus out into the wilderness. Again our modern translations fail us, saying such things as "drove him out" or worse "sent him out". The Greek word is ek-ballw… THREW him out! It’s almost physical in its tone. The spirit casts him out into the wilderness (or as we commented around my dinner table this week "booted his butt to the boonies!") Here, Mark paints an even richer image, the wild animals were out there, the danger was great, and Jesus was tested by Satan.

Again, Mark spares us the details, except to say that angels waited on him. Moreover, there is no sense that Satan’s attacks ever cease. By not describing specific temptations or any victory over Satan Mark emphasizes the ongoing nature of Jesus ministry as a continuous encounter with the Devil, not limited to forty nights in the desert. Mark is painting a picture of a fierce struggle, in the wilderness, amid the wild beasts, confronting the Evil one, confronting evil itself.

And then just as quickly as the scene was set, Mark moves on to other things. Jesus demonstrates that authority over Satan by casting out demons, and his public ministry is begun in full force.

But in today’s reading, we have the first impression of Jesus as Mark would have us see him. He’s humble and raised, he’s the son of God with no real ties to a human origin and yet he is human in totality. He is real, from a real place and time, and yet bigger than life.

So what do we take out of all of this. I suppose the biggest hook on which to grab in this passage is how the heavens were torn in two. Suddenly mankind had a better access to God, who seemed until then to be so far off in heaven. Again when the temple curtain is torn at Jesus’ crucifixion, mankind would have access into the holy of holies, which was supposed to be God’s own ‘street address’ if you will. In these two pivotal events where Jesus is humbled to take on the role of a sinner when he himself has known no sin, we are given entry into the very presence of God.

So how then are we to live, as St. Paul would say. We are to live as a people who understand that we are sinners. We have not humbled ourselves in the least to accept baptism. It was a humbling for Jesus, but for us it was a step up. The ashes we placed on our heads marking us as sinners doomed to die, these are nothing more than the truth. We are to understand that we bear the marks of our doom, our dishonor, our destruction until by God’s grace they are taken from us by Jesus’ humiliation. We have no grounds to think ourselves great, for we are constantly trying to fill ourselves up with health and wealth and happiness while our Lord, the only begotten son of God, empties himself of the very glories of heaven and becomes sin so that we might become children of God an heirs with him of immortality and the riches of heaven.

Lent is about emptying ourselves, we who so usually have full bellies and all the riches this world can give. We empty ourselves, just a little, just a token, because Christ first emptied himself of that which was more real and good than anything we know. Lent is about understanding our humility, we who are so often arrogant, well educated and full of our own status, because our Lord left his glory aside to come to us in full humility. Lent is about setting aside the things we think we deserve because our Lord set aside all the things he really did deserve, that which he created and ruled, that which is truly perfect and glorious, to take on a humility and humanity that he didn’t deserve at all. Lent is about recalling that he will bear the brutal scars of his earthly walk and crucifixion into eternity so that we may be raised perfect and whole. Lent is about seeing ourselves for who we are, seeing Jesus for who he is, and giving glory to the one who deserves it.