Friday, October 30, 2009

all saints struggle


The text for Sunday is John 11 - the great story of the raising of Lazarus. I'm struggling so that my sermon does not sound like a funeral sermon. This is the story I want read at my funeral, I know, but the day is a Sunday, is a day of celebration, a day of celebration of that which is yet unknown and a day of celebration for what is known.

So, for me, it's not just about what goes on after death. The gospel speaks to me of this life, this time, the work we are currently engaged in. I'm just having a hard time getting a handle on this point.

The work is: we bring a word of life. We say: Death is not the end. We say: transformation is possible - not by your own effort, but by living in the life of Christ. We say: this community is more than a human organization - it is the body of the Messiah, with the Messianic task to do.

So, we are saints through our participation - our attention to - the gifts of God. Gifts of sacrament, and word, and prayer, and shared work.

In this story Jesus does not raise Lazarus for the comfort of Mary and Martha (that's a tack I have taken in the past). When I look closely - Jesus is 'self-differentiated' from them and their grief. He is disturbed. He is not responding to their grief - he already knows what he is going to do. He weeps - but why? Are the on-lookers correct? He weeps, because he loved Lazarus? (But Jesus knows this grief is only for an few moments more) He weeps, because his friends Mary and Martha are weeping? He weeps, because no one believes in the glory he is about to reveal?

So this is for the glory of God. This is so that the crowd will believe that Jesus was sent by God.

Where does the speaker stand in this story? Am I presenting Mary or Martha's story - the grievers who become the incredible joyful (that is what my older sermon has done)? Shall I stand with the disciples, who have a little more, but not enough vision to comprehend what Jesus is going to do?

Or this time, let us stand with the crowd. The crowd has known sorrow, grief, death. The crowd has known life in all it's messy complications. Lets not diminish the spiritual need of the crowd. They are there, for the family, for tradition sake, for curiousity - it is, after all, 4 days after burial.

And Jesus is there for them. Jesus will do this thing for the sake of the crowd. That is exactly what he says. This is a public miracle.

And we are the crowd, who must struggle with the implications of this miracle. Some would have Jesus die. Some will follow. Some will always remember. And some will tell the story. So that all will know.

Tell the story.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

the path prayer

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. AMEN.

(Thomas Merton)

Merton's prayer without the I

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

the rich woman

preliminary thoughts.

I'm listening to 'Lady Rochfort" on CD in the car. It's another re-telling of the Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn saga, this time with the emphasis on Anne's sister-in-law. There is a lot of 'perhaps she saw', 'she may have known', and other evasions of the historical type - it's not really that good a history.

However, the author spends a great deal of time on lavish descriptions of the extremely lavish lifestyle of these royals. You want pearls, jewels and cloth of gold, it apparently was everywhere. Lady Rochfort and her husband, not even born royals, slept in a bed with gold statin and cloth of gold, under embroideried coverlets, etc.

Queen Anne had everything she desired. Food, music, dancing, clothes, jewels, deference.

And for such a short time.

I thought of using this as a story in the sermon - it could be Anne Boleyn, Napoleon's Josephine, Alexandra of Russia - all these women who felt the best was their due, and who fell because they did not see farther than their own comfort and imperial dignity. But their stories are not controlled by their own actions - in most cases they become pawns in a game played by men. Alexandra, the most tragic of all those names, is the one caught up in the most politically charged drama - the one who paid for her lifestyle with her life. (Anne paid with her life, but not for her wealth per se. Josephine 'retired' to a comfortable place, much reduced in circumstances, but not uncomfortable, until she died of cancer)

I'm fascinated and horrified in equal measures. How in smaller scale do we replicate those dynamics? Who, then, can be saved?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

from kathleen Norris

Monks have always insisted that we can in fact think about our thoughts and feelings, and consider how to act on them.

Acedia and Me, p. 151

Sounds obvious, doesn't it. But how often . . . And in our lectionary right now - we hear about the use of wealth, about adultery, marriage and sin, about welcoming or not welcoming the child, the stranger.

This may be one of the most difficult elements of maturity to appreciate. Growing up means not being at the mercy of one's thoughts and feelings.

Friday, October 2, 2009

blessings - a sermon

Proper 22B,

Our life is a little different now than in Jesus' day. We are moving at a faster pace, we are more likely to be dependent upon technology, and we seem to find it harder to be truly together - to connect with each other. We fear for our children at school, we wonder about the cruelty of circumstances, the awesome destruction of nature.

Our lives seem so far away from the time of Jesus that this Gospel lesson hits with a discordant clang - sounding out of tune and out of time. But let’s look at this lesson closer.

Jesus has been traveling, continuing to teach the growing crowds of people who followed him wherever he went spread. Jesus had healed the blind, deaf and lame; he had cast out demons and been transfigured in the presence of his disciples. And Jesus had taught and taught and taught some more. He had spoken with passion about the Kingdom of God, about the nature of sin, about the cost of discipleship.

He had spoken with love and joy and welcome to sinners, to all who recognized they had fallen short of their Creator’s ideals, with a message of hope, of repentance and new life. Again and again, Jesus had taught those who came to hear the lessons of God’s love for them, about God’s desire that men, women and children learn to live without fear, God’s desire that they become lamps through which divine love might shed light on all who knew them.

Over and over, as word of his teaching spread, the religious establishment stepped forward out of the crowds to trip Jesus up. “Teacher, is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Well, of course, they knew it was lawful - Moses had said it was. But they asked anyway.

Jesus turned the question back to them. “What did Moses command you?” “Well, Moses said it was okay, that a man could divorce his wife anytime he wanted to.” “Why?” asked Jesus “Why would Moses say that - knowing that in the creation stories God created Adam and Eve as equals, as partners and as the image of God in the world?” The religious authorities had no answer. Jesus refused to be tricked into betraying the will and desire of God in favor of the letter of the Law. “I’ll tell you why - because of your hardness of heart; because God knew that your sin would require this.” (Katherine Merrell Glenn)

The two parts of scripture - the story of Creation and the Law of Moses about divorce - are both from God - but they answer different questions about the relationship of humanity with God. God created Man and Woman to be together in harmony - and because of sin they often cannot stay together. Marriage and family life, like being a community of faith together - is hard work. And sometimes we fail.

That is reality - and that reality reminds us all - whatever our personal relationships - married or divorced, single or living in committed companionship - we are all sinful, all burdened with the hardness of heart that Jesus spoke of.

Remember the second part of the reading? Jesus is welcoming the children . There Jesus is reminding the disciples NOT to prevent those in need of healing from coming to him. AS we are all burdened with hardness of heart, all sinners in need of grace and mercy, all children dependent upon God's grace - this part of the passage should give us hope that in God - we, too, find the forgiveness and love that rebuilds us and makes us whole again.

For I believe it is in human relationships that we can discover God’s love (I stress this with the confirmation students as we study the 10 commandments – we are made to be in relationship) It is in the relationship between man and woman, yes, but also between father and son, mother and child, friend to friend, and yes, even pastor to people and fellow church member to stranger – that we discover ourselves, and that we uncover the will of God for his people.

A couple of years ago, you may remember the tragic shooting of the Amish children in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. Maybe like me, you too, were moved by the witness of the Amish who not only turned to care for each other of their community but who also spoke of the necessary care for the family of the criminal, of the murderer. A grandfather looks at the body of his granddaughter and says to his nephew - "we must not think evil of this man." (CNN)

They see that forgiveness - the acting out of forgiveness as an integral part of the Christian Discipleship, right up there with pacifism and simplicity. They say they will take food to the murderer's widow - knowing that the sharing of the table is a powerful symbol of forgiveness. They express, in community, the depth of the power to transform - that faith in God can bring.

Here, in our community, we symbolize that movement -
from hardness of heart, from the necessary reality of our human brokenness
- to forgiveness, to remake human bonds
- with the words and the bread and the wine. With the words of forgiveness and reconciliation - and with the action, of coming forward to receive this body, this blood, this holy presence of the One who forgives.

At almost all of our worship services we offer the “peace”- it most properly belongs after the confession and before the meal. It is in the action of saying "peace be with you" to your neighbor, to your family, to your enemy - that we enact the forgiveness God commands of us. Jesus asks us to reconcile with our brother or sisters before we come to give our gift, before we come to the table. (Matthew 5:23)

So when I say 'Peace be with you" and you reply - "also with you" - you acknowledge my humanity, and turn to your neighbor, and in Christ's name recognize and reconcile with that neighbor.

Our God knows us well, knows we have hard hearts, and offers us forgiveness and offers to teach us how to forgive.

In this way we remember that we pray to be forgiven our trespasses (sins) as we forgive those who trespass (sin) against us.

For we, too, are always invited back to the banquet at our father’s house, always offered the power of the washing of the water and the eating of the meal. We, too are the little ones, welcomed and blessed by the Son of God.