Monthly Archives: September 2009

First Person Plural

Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

            The English Reformation, like all reformations, was imperfect in some significant ways. But there were many great gifts of the English Reformation, chief among them being the Book of Common Prayer. “Common” not in the sense of “ordinary,” but as in prayer that is shared, communal, held in common.

            Those of you who are familiar with the daily office in our prayer book know that we read through all the psalms in about seven weeks. Once this rhythm gets into your bones, you’ll know that every seven weeks we get a big clump of shorter psalms together in one day, Psalms 120 through 127. At the center of this group of psalms is Psalm 124, which happens to be the psalm appointed for this seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost.

Psalm 124 concludes: Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Where have we heard that before? This is how the Compline service begins: Our help is in the name of the Lord…..the maker of heaven and earth….

I would like to suggest this morning that these two lines are the glue that hold together all of our readings for today.

Our help is in the name of the Lord. Our help. Not my help, not your help, but our help. We are a people, a community, all of us who look beyond what we can see in the way of trouble and celebration. In today’s New Testament reading, James writes: are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. James’ call to prayer is infinitely linked to life lived, and life prayed, in community.

It is in community that the healing ministry of Jesus is most often made manifest. As happens so often in the Gospel, particularly in Mark’s version of the story, it is someone from Jesus’ inner circle who doesn’t quite get the radical inclusivity of Jesus’ message. John says: Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, but he’s not one of us, so we tried to stop him. The disciples have fallen into the club mentality that so many of us do in our churches. We have our way of doing things and talking about things, our favorite places to sit, and if you don’t do it our way, then you’re not one of us. This club mentality says: whoever is not for us—or like us—is against us. Jesus turns this on its head and says whoever is not against us is for us. Not only is whoever not against us for us, says Jesus, but people who are against us will become for us simply by using the name of Jesus.

When we gather in Jesus’ name, we have great power, and we can do powerful things on behalf of the God who made heaven and earth, the God who loves us. Jesus has told us that whenever two or more of us gather in his name, he is in the midst of us. The name of Jesus becomes strong in us in community. Our common life is the vessel for turning the strong name of Jesus into the saving actions that Christian communities can do when they practice their faith in the world around them.

This is why Jesus uses such strong language in the gospel about anyone who is destructive to the gathered community or to any part of that community. One of my Facebook friends wrote that this morning she was preaching about taking the bible seriously, but not literally. But if we’re good Episcopalians, we already know this, right? We do take the bible seriously but not literally.

Jesus’ language about drowning and amputation and being thrown into hell is the language that gives the church a bad name when we take it literally. Jesus uses that language to make a point: How seriously he takes the power of the gathered community, and how seriously we are to take this as well.

Another friend of mine talks about our worship as our training ground for ministry in the world. Our shared story, our music, the gifts we gather and offer at the altar, our recollection of God’s great gift to us—all of this is the way that we gather in the name of Jesus. And all of this is the context for our going forth in the name of Jesus. Our work in the world is to tell stories of what God has done for us, to act those stories out, to sing songs of praise, to give generously as God has given to us, and to walk in the way of the cross.

We do not have a bell calling us to prayer every morning and every evening. Instead, we have our altar call: the gifts of God for the people of God, which gathers us around a common table, in the name of Jesus. We have our dismissal—let us go forth in the name of Christ—sending us out into the world God loves, to carry on the ministry of Jesus in his name. How do we do all this? Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Amen.

Advertisements

P31 mom

Many thanks to Kerlin Richter who preached this sermon at St. David’s on September 20.2059laundry

A couple of months ago when Sara asked if I could preach a couple of Sundays this fall, we both pulled out our calendars and picked some days at random.

I got home and looked up the lectionary readings and thought oh no. surely I didn’t just agree to preach on Proverbs 31.

now Proverbs is full of good advice but it is also full of passages that can too easily be used as weapons. And as coming originally from the south I am aware of the cultural weight of passages like proverbs 31, for women who define an entire life on one scriptural passage.

So a few weeks later I was at a friends house and while the kids were playing and the moms were all just sitting there, she turned to me and said, “ I know you are into that churchy stuff do you know what would it mean if someone signs her e-mails

P. 31 mom?

I must admit there is a part of me that was hoping this unknown sister in faith was referring to herself as a psalm 31 mom, which I could relate to

My life is consumed by anguish
and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction,
and my bones grow weak.

“Because of all my enemies,
I am the utter contempt of my neighbors;
I am a dread to my friends—
those who see me on the street flee from me.
 I am forgotten by them as though I were dead;
 I have become like broken pottery.”

however..

I am pretty sure the room mother meant proverbs 31. the websites and books that trumpet this proverb above other scriptural ideals for living mostly focus on its wifely character who values homemaking above all things.

I tried to sit with this image of God-

I will confess a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that the creator of all things who loved all creation into being and longs to breath compassion into our every thought valuing even more good housekeeping skills.

That someday Jesus will say to me, “oh honey , welcome home- now we will see each other face  to face and live into an eternity of blinding love. But first we need to talk about the housework, it was pretty sloppy sometimes, and the laundry – what was that?

I told my friend that the new room mother would probably be a huge help when it came time to make and sell linen garments and plant the vineyard.

So if not an impeccably well groomed house  –what is it then that God desires from us?

in his letter James is pretty clear about his vision of the kingdom

For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. 

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

Easy enough right?

Also Jesus in speaking with the disciples in the gospel of Mark, wants to know what they were arguing about, you can almost imagine them shuffling around, not making eye contact “who was arguing? US?

no 

But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.

” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.

So it is our craving our desire to be first, our coveting of possessions, our unwillingness to welcome Christ in the form of children, our bitter envy and selfish ambition, that seem to be the problem here.

Neither mentions the laundry once.

We are called to become a totally different sort of people than is common to us. We are to unload and unpack all of our naturally self-serving way of being with others and turn them inside out. we are to seek to be last of all, and servant of all.

This is what being Church is all about.

How do we really come together and live in this crazy way that both Jesus and James talk about?

Well, there is a tradition that speaks of the Church being the bride of Christ, and an older tradition of Israel being the wife of God. So what would it look like for us if the good wife from Proverbs were the good wife of Christ?

She does him good, and not harm,
 all the days of her life.

lets start then by not doing harm-

Let us ask ourselves if Christ is harmed by our actions and let us see what sort of Choices that guides us to. keeping in mind that Christ is the child held up to the disciples. So after the church makes sure that none of its actions are harming Christ in the form of all the world’s wounded and fragile and frightened children, we could move on.

 she brings her food from far away.

lets nourish each other and not stay within our own mindset. lets look outside our own walls to see what will feed us. Lets not assume that only the traditions we already have are all that is needed.  lets learn form our brothers and sisters in far away places. both geographically and conceptually.

She rises while it is still night
and provides food for her household
and tasks for her servant girls.

This is a church that does not exist for its own comfort, this is a church that rises up and feeds her household. And lucky us, as soon as we are fed there is work for us to do. We are the servant girls.

She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She girds herself with strength,
and makes her arms strong.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
she supplies the merchant with sashes.

 So this is a busy and productive church. the world would most definitely notice a church buying fields and planting them, and the best reason I know of to plant a vineyard is to make wine.  this a strong church. the church is part of the world and if we are going to own land and collect money then we should enter into such work joyfully.

She opens her hand to the poor,
and reaches out her hands to the needy.

and she isn’t doing all of this for her own household, the needy don’t to reach out to this church, no she is reaching out to them. This is what she does with her wealth.

She is not afraid for her household when it snows,
for all her household are clothed in crimson.

I love this part, she is not afraid. In our church do we know that we need not be afraid because we are clothed in Crimson, or when the snow comes are shivering and ashamed? does our church take care of its household?

Her husband is known in the city gates, 
taking his seat among the elders of the land.

this is why we would do such things. not for our own glory , but just imagine if the church took deep care of those inside and outside what they might begin to think of our Lord.

Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

When we look at our newspapers and the despair for sale on every corner, leaking out of every radio do we know that our church is a refuge from the cynical darkness? is she laughing at the time to come? Is wisdom and kindness what you think of when you think of the church?

Her children rise up and call her happy;
her husband too, and he praises her:

What if we are called to be happy?

what if that is actually Jesus’ biggest hope for us?

we are her children, however, we are also the church

It is when we come together how we act and what we say and our every action is what determines what kind of wife we are being to Christ.

we are called to harm no one, take of each other, take care of the world, have kindness on our tongues, and be happy.

we cannot do any of this work if our primary goals are to get ahead and look good, to take care of ourselves first. and be the greatest.

 the good news is that we can do this, we can be this kind of Church,

the bad news is that We have to do this, it is up to us to be this kind of church. We cannot expect it from our clergy,  or wait for the diocese, or maybe find another denomination that is doing it better. We are the church. and this is hard stuff.

Sometimes it feels like a long distance relationship.

How can we ever hope to be this kind of wife, when our beloved sometimes seems so far away.

o Jesus-  we pray come back, we cant do it without you,

 

and Jesus says to us

here I am

take this bread, drink this cup, and when we do Christ is broken open and poured out and the only thing we can do is fall on our knees hold out our hands, receive the gift of God with us, and say

amen

Having a story

I had a conversation with a first-time visitor this morning which I’ve had before, with other people in various settings. It goes sort of like this: I say “So, this is your first time at an Episcopal Church?” or something inane like that. The other person says: “Yes.” I ask: “What’ya think?” Then the answer–only always more eloquent–is something like this: “I like that you have a story. We don’t have a story at my church.” That’s the clipped version of the conversation, which I’ve had during coffee hour or in a pub or at a wedding or whenever I tell someone I’m an Episcopalian. Our history means something. My church history professor at seminary used to cut through the argument about whether Anglicanism started with St. Alban in 200 or Hilda in 664 or Henry VIII in 15-whatever or with the Elizabethan Compromise. He’d say we all know that  Anglicanism was born just a few minutes before the Angel Gabriel gave Mary the good tidings of great joy. Actually, I think this is probably closer to the truth than any one date. Our story is the ancient story. It’s not that it’s ours more than anyone else’s, it’s just that we remember it and tell it, week after week, whether we gather for the Daily Office or for Eucharist.

The other thing this morning’s visitor said, which I also hear a lot, is something like this: “I like that your church is an outward-looking church.” Please God, let it ever be so. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the worries about building and budget, all of which feels hideously inward-looking, but the story we carry, the story to which we try to be faithful, is a story of looking outward, looking out to the margins, looking ahead to the future, looking around to ask: who’s hungry? who’s lonely? who’s afraid? I hope that’s always our story.

Divine Things

If any want to become my followers, let them take up their cross and follow me.”

Cross_116003085We have heard—and used—the phrase “Jesus Christ” so many times that we have probably lost sight of the power of this revelation. When we say this, we are saying “Jesus the unbelievable Messiah.” For Peter and his companions, it was a felt shock to say that this guy, this wandering Jewish teacher who looks and talks like one of them, is the One the prophets promised, the One for whom the Jewish people have been waiting. This is not what they expected from a Messiah.

Even more shocking is Jesus’ teaching that the Messiah must undergo great suffering, rejection, and death. Once again, this is not the kind of Messiah they heard about in the synagogue. Worse still is Jesus’ teaching that disciples must be willing to suffer and die in exactly the same way.

But today’s gospel asks us to take all of Jesus, not just the parts that we like. Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther articulated a distinction between a theology of glory and a theology of the cross. The theology of glory celebrates everything we like about Jesus: he’s a great healer and a good storyteller. He loves children, and he dances at weddings. What’s not to like? What’s not to follow?

In the theology of the cross, God comes to us as a God who suffers and dies a miserable death right in the middle of his ministry, before accomplishing all those things he promised. Today’s gospel tells us we have to pay attention to this prediction of suffering and death as much as in all the triumphant and glorious parts of the Christian story.

So where do we find the good news in today’s gospel? It’s not the most upbeat gospel for a September Sunday which so many churches call “Welcome Back Sunday” or “Start-up Sunday.” But really, this is a perfect challenge for us in this new season: How far are we willing to follow Jesus?

The author and teacher Brian McLaren makes an important distinction between being a fan of Jesus and being a follower. A fan of Jesus loves Jesus, claims Jesus as a friend or brother or even a savior. But Jesus doesn’t say much in his teachings about wanting to gather fans around him. He talks a lot about what it means to be a follower. Are you a fan or a follower?

Today’s gospel tells us that in order to follow Jesus we must pick up our cross and be willing to lose our lives for Jesus’ sake.

Jesus’ audience at the time would have had very specific associations with the cross. Many of them would have remembered a time 25 years earlier, when the Romans crucified 2000 Galilean revolutionaries, with crosses dotting the landscape like so many billboards advertising the power of the Roman regime. To pick up one’s cross meant to get right into the face of that power, as Jesus did. To willingly engage the cross is to say: that power has no power over Jesus and no power over us.

What is the line on which you are wiling to put your life?

The earliest Christians would have understood this gospel because they put their lives on the line every time they gathered together for what we call church. Theirs was an underground activity punishable by death. Imagine, for a moment, that you needed to break the law and risk your life in order to go to church. Imagine leaving through the back door of your house, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, so you’d be sure no one would see you. Imagine getting quickly into your car, or walking hurriedly to the nearest bus stop. Then when you arrive at your destination, looking around again to be sure there aren’t any authorities watching you go in. Imagine your relief once you get here, to find others here with you who have also risked their reputation and their safety to come and pray and break bread together. What would you hope to find here? What would make it worth risking your life to come to church?

The institutional church has gotten so fused, over the past 1700 years, with the surrounding culture that it is hard to recognize what is truly Jesus-led about what we do. Here are the opportunities that I see in this place, this fall, to pick up our collective cross and follow Jesus:

  1. We are carrying our cross and following Jesus when we give up any notion of preserving the institution of the church, and instead pay attention to what new things the Spirit may be birthing so that we can carry on the ministry of Jesus in this place.
  2. We are carrying our cross and following Jesus when we look into the dark places at the edges of our common life, and we go and seek out the last, the least, and the lost. Who’s hungry? Who’s alone? Who’s misunderstood and marginalized? We are carrying our cross and following Jesus when we are willing to make fools of ourselves by sharing God’s abundant love with them.
  3. We are carrying our cross and following Jesus when we aren’t afraid of death. Every Sunday when we break bread, we mark the brokenness of Christ’s body and the new life wrought by that death. There may be things in this place that need to die in order for this band of followers—you and me—to faithfully engage God’s mission in our neighborhood and in the world. There may be ways that we do things and ways that we think of ourselves that grew out of the institution that birthed St. David’s one hundred and forty years ago but which today do not leave room for the Spirit to birth new ways of following Jesus.

I’d like to ask you to sit with this for a moment and then, in place of the Nicene Creed, please join in singing “I have decided to follow Jesus.” Some of you know this old Sunday school tune; this morning I invite you to think of it as our creed, our statement of faith.