Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Change, an Invitation to Life: Slow Down, Take a Breath, Keep Awake: Slow Down, Take a Breath, Keep Awake Some Reflections on Advent One of my very favorite times of the year is the season of Advent: th...
Slow Down, Take a Breath, Keep Awake
Some Reflections on Advent
One of my very favorite times of the year is the season of Advent: the four weeks prior to the Nativity of our Lord (Christmas Day). It is so important and life giving to me because our lives have become so hectic. We are busy with family and friends and jobs and community responsibilities. The world tells us that we need to shop, shop, shop: it will be good for the economy and it will make is very, very happy. In fact, it just makes me very, very tired.
On the other hand, the Church in its wisdom has set aside this time of year as an opportunity to slow down, to breathe slowly, to prepare for God’s gifts of peace, joy and love, to be ready to receive the presence of God in Jesus.
During Advent we prepare for the coming of Jesus in so many ways. We, the people of God, usually think about the coming of Jesus as a baby to be born in a manger. Advent is that and so much more. The first coming we prepare for is the coming of Jesus at the end of time, to bring us all into that final and eternal relationship with God the creator and source of life. We are reminded by scripture that as we prepare for this second coming that we “do not know when that time will be. . .therefore, keep awake,” so that we might be ready when He comes suddenly.”(Mark 13:24-37)
As we move into the second and third weeks of Advent we are invited to prepare for the coming of Jesus as an adult, to prepare for his baptism in the wilderness by John the Baptist, when God proclaims Jesus as his beloved Son sent into the world to establish a path that will bring us back into a right relationship with God and all the human race. We are not yet ready for “Sweet Baby Jesus,” for the joyful songs and carols. We first are called to prepare for an Adult Christ sent by God to proclaim Good News to the poor, to heal the sick, to release humans from all the chains: physical, emotional and spiritual, which prevent us from receiving the blessings that God has in store for all of us. This adult Jesus, finally, is the one who reminds us that we will do all he has done and more, because God will send us the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us into all truth. He also reminds us “to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and with all our souls and with all our minds, and with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.” (Mark 13:29-31)
Finally, as we draw closer to the last Sunday before Christmas, we begin to get an inkling of the possibility of the birth of a baby. We run headlong into St. Luke’s story of God’s Shocking message given to a young, probably teenage, Mary by the Angel Gabriel that she was to become the Mother of our Lord. The Angel informs Mary that ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you and you shall conceive a child who* will be holy and he will be called Son of God. “(Mark 1:35)
The “Baby Jesus” still has not been born, but we, like his mother Mary, now have a few days to contemplate and meditate about the “marvelous acts of God:” time to reflect on all of God’s gifts of creation, of family, of communities to live in and love in and serve in. And as we prepare for the coming of the Lord into the world, our hearts are opened to receive God’s blessings and God’s invitation to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, striving for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 305)
“O come, o come Emmanuel!”
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
One Christian’s Reflections on The Election and Healing
This has been a stressful week for most Americans as well as many people from around the world. Many of us are devastated by the results of the election and others are overjoyed. This is true in our churches as well as in the community and nation as a whole. So how do we as Christians in a divided nation deal with our own emotions, how do we become part of the solution and not part of the problem? How do we become healers and not haters?
First we pray. We pray for our nation, we pray for our leaders, we pray for the guidance, wisdom, courage and peace of the Holy Spirit. We pray for our enemies and our opponents and we pray that God will help us to understand and listen to those with whom we disagree and will help them to listen to and understand us. I am convinced that every member of our congregation voted based on their faith in God and their comment to our baptismal vows to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being. And yet, and yet, we did not all vote for the same person. How do we make sense of this? We talk and we listen. We do not simply wait for our turn to speak, but we truly listen to one another.
Then we turn to The Bible for guidance, for the reminder that no earthly leader is our ultimate authority, that God is above all earthly leaders; that “our help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.”(Psalm 121)
(Isaiah 12:2-6) Surely, it is God who saves me; I will trust in him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and he will be my Savior. Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing from the springs of salvation. And on that day you shall say, Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name.
When Jesus spoke to his disciples about the destruction of the temple, they asked him: "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" and he responded, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, `I am he!' and, `The time is near!' Do not go after them.”(Luke 21:5-19)
History is a constant struggle between good and evil and sometimes it is difficult to know which is which. Things get better then worse, worse then better and God is with us through both the downs and the ups. Our task, our calling as Christians today, is to show patience and endurance. As Jesus tells us, “through endurance we will gain our lives.”(Luke 21:19)
We Christians are called today to reflect on this election and all that lead up to it, not in light of who won or who lost, of who is right and who is wrong, or even whether we have witnessed the new heaven and the new Earth, or the end times, but in light of our relationship to God and to each other, based on our prayer, scriptures, and baptismal vows. In how we treat one another, we as God’s people must be the leaders, not the followers. If we do not set the standard and commit to “Do to others as you would have them do to you"(Luke 6:31), no one else will.
So, let’s reflect on our neighbor’s feelings as well as our own feelings: feelings of joy, jubilation, depression, sadness, anger and loss. The President, President Elect and Secretary Clinton all showed tremendous class last Tuesday and Wednesday. Unfortunately some of their supporters did not. There was destruction of property and disruption of traffic, bulling in schools and “encouragement” for racial, ethnic and religious minorities to leave the country. Again, if God’s people do not set a healing tone for our conversation and common life, no one will.
How do we do this, how do we become the presence of God in the world? First, we respect the decisions of others, even if we do not understand why they made those decisions, and we ask them to respect our decisions even if they cannot understand why we made them. Next, we think before we speak and act: “will what I say and do build bridges that unite or walls that separate. And we especially think before we type or repost anything. And we fact check, fact check, fact check!
Going forward, we pray, we immerse ourselves in scripture and worship and we continue to be informed about our world and our leaders through a variety of sources, not just those that re-affirm our pre-conceived ideas.
Then we support our President-Elect and all our elected leaders, but we do not follow them blindly. Who the president is does not change what Christians do. We continue to work for justice, freedom and peace and against discrimination and oppression of all kinds. And above all we follow our Savior, Jesus Christ as we “love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
As a Christian and a Preacher called to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel in good times and bad, the past two weeks have been a challenge. Two Black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed by police officers, one in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and the other in a Minneapolis suburb. Then before we as a nation could come to grips with these tragedies, five police officers in Dallas, Texas, Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith and Lorne Ahrens, were killed by a sniper near the end of a peaceful demonstration by the group “Black Lives Matter.”
We also know that there were others in America who died violently last week in situations which did not make the national news and which were less politically charged. These losses of life were no less important to the loved ones of those who died or to we as a people.
How do we who are followers of Jesus, “the wonderful counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace,” respond to these actions and the divisions the either cause or point out in our nation?
I want to begin looking for an answer by looking at the Gospel which was read at Christ Episcopal Church in Albertville, Alabama, and many other churches this past Sunday.
We read in Luke 10:25-37, that a lawyer stood to test Jesus, and asked him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” We know the story, Jesus asks him what is written in the law, and he responds, “you shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your strength and all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” When the lawyer tries to justify himself by asking, “who is my neighbor,” Jesus tells him and the crowd the story of the ‘Good Samaritan.”
He then asks the man, “who then was the neighbor to the man who fell among thieves?” To this he responds, “the one who showed him mercy.” Jesus then challenges him to “Go and do likewise.” So this is my beginning: as Jesus People, as Christians, we begin with scripture and we open our hearts to that scripture together. This is not the starting place for all people today. Often we begin by choosing sides. We either choose the police, or we choose “Black Lives Matter.” I believe Jesus would choose both, just like he choose Samaritans lives matter and lawyers lives matter.
As many others are doing I have been watching Dallas, Texas to see if there are lessons we can learn from them. I have seen police and civilians of all races embracing one another and supporting one another. I have read of Sergeant Ed Trevino, a member of the “Heroes, Cops and Kids Community Campaign work to build better relationships between police and civilians by sharing concerns and listening to one another. His advice to all of us: “communicate and make sure you have all facts before deciding who is right and who is wrong.”
Dallas has strengthened my belief that we are all in this together: police and civilians, black, white, yellow, brown, Christian, Moslem and Jew. If not, we are in deep trouble. As Sergeant Trevino says, “the vast majority of people out there are good people and we have to band together rather than divide.
Our world is not simple, there are competing philosophies and ideas and it is important to hear the words of others and try to understand where they are coming from just as it is important for them to hear and try to understand us. Will this be easy? No. Can we with our human wisdom and knowledge alone solve the problems of violence and division? Probably not, but if we build our foundation on the solid rock that is our God and on the foundation of the Prince of Peace, than there is truly hope that we as human beings will find the “peace that passes all understanding.”
“Which one was neighbor to the man who fell among thieves?” “The one who showed him Mercy.”
“Go and do likewise!”
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
The week, beginning with Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday and culminating with the Sunday of the Resurrection, Easter Day, is for Christians the holiest week of the year. In fact, many Christian Denominations refer to this time as “Holy Week.” I see this week as “a time out of time,” as well as the nexus of “time and eternity” itself. The week is both historical and beyond history. It brings together the hopes and dreams, joys and sorrows of all humanity. In it we see the “good, the bad and the ugly” of what it means to be human. Holy Week is schizophrenic to the point of making our heads spin and yet through it and in it we get a glimpse of God’s presence in creation and in our lives.
Holy week begins with two powerful stories which are very much at odds with each other. First we see Jesus coming into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey with leafy branches being waved and being welcomed as the “one who comes in the name of the Lord.” We might also imagine Pontius Pilate coming into the city from the other side on his stallion, and in all his armor and glory as he enters in the name of the Emperor, the one who proclaimed himself the “Son of God.” As our worship continues on this day, we move very quickly to the betrayal, trial and crucifixion of Jesus. We experience both the glory of God and the sinfulness of the Children of God. In the Episcopal Church, our worship allows us, no, forces us, to remove our “rose colored glasses,” and see and experience the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. This day, and all of Holy Week, is truly an example of the Greek word, “anamnesis” which means “to remember,” in the sense of “participate in the experience.” We walk the journey with Jesus on this day and for the rest of the week.
Holy week builds toward what (Liturgical) Christians call the “Sacred Triduum,” or “Holy Three Days” of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. In the Episcopal Church worship on these three days is not considered to be three separate worship services, but 3 segments of one continuous worship experience or liturgy. On Maundy Thursday, we continue our walk with Jesus as we hear, “The Lord Jesus, after he had supped with his disciples and had washed their feet, said to them, ‘do you know what I, your Lord and Master, have done to you? I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done. I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.” In this experience we experience the beginning of the end, but perhaps a vision of a new beginning as well. We leave worship in the dark and in silence as we move toward day two of our Holy Three Day Journey.
Day two, Good Friday begins in silent prayer followed by the following prayer: “Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen” We then experience the depths of the Lord’s Passion as it is read out loud from the Gospel of John: the last supper, the betrayal, the trials before the High Priests and Pilate, Jesus’ brutal death on the cross, and his burial. Again, we leave in silence and sadness.
And finally at the Great Vigil of Easter or on Easter Day, our anamnesis, our participation in Jesus’ journey takes us back to the grave in sadness, only to be told that “he is not here for he is risen!” We celebrate the resurrection, the light of Christ coming back into the world: “Dear friends in Christ: on this most holy night, in which our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life, the Church invites her members, dispersed throughout the world, to gather in vigil and prayer. For this is the Passover of the Lord, in which by hearing his word and celebrating his Sacraments, we share in his victory over death. . . .for we are buried with Christ in his death, and raised with him to newness of life.”
What a blessing! But the blessing is not just in the resurrection and its celebration. The blessing is in the Anamnesis, in the remembering by participating in not only the resurrection, but in the birth, life and death of Jesus as well.
“Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.”
(We at Christ Church, 607 East Main St., Albertville, invite all to join us for Holy Week: Palm Sunday at 9:30 a.m.; Maundy Thursday at 6:00 p.m.; Good Friday at 6:00 p.m.; Easter Day at 9:30 a.m.)
Saturday, March 5, 2016
In Christ we are a New Creation, Great! And Ambassadors for Christ! Oh Man, Why! With a little help from Pat Conroy (RIP)
Spending some time in the fifth chapter of St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians I ran across some exciting as well as somewhat troubling news. “If anyone is in Christ he or she is a new creation: everything old has passed away, see, everything has become new. All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and he has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” This really is exciting, that no matter who we are or what we have done, the old can be put away and all, through the Grace of God, becomes new. It is also rather frightening that we, like Jesus are called to be reconcilers. Frightening because to be reconcilers we have to admit that we may be wrong as well as right, we must at times find the strength to apologize and to forgive. Jesus taught us how to do this, but it does not make it any easier in practice. I suspect this was the reason Paul wrote this letter to the church at Corinth. I suspect they were having “church squabbles” which may have been turning into church fights. Paul is reminding them of who they are and “whose they are.”
Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians (and by extension, us) that we are truly “Ambassadors for Christ, since God makes his appeal through us.” The best plan God has for reaching the world is through us. While some people may wander into a church or other “house of God,” most do not. Many people will, however, run into us: at the grocery store, at work, on the ball field or the gym. They will see how we act when things go our way and when they do not, and they “will know we are Christians (or not) by our love.”
Paul proclaims that because of Christ’s righteousness we can become the righteousness of God. Filled with the righteousness of God we can recognize that all of us have burdens which are unknown to those others, that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. This knowledge alone can help us find reconciliation with one another as well as with God.
The Church, the Body of Christ in the World provides space where this reconciliation can take place. The church is really a people joined together by our baptism: a people called to love not judge, to forgive not to hold on to a grudge, to apologize rather than encourage grudges in others, and to realize that relationships are more important than our human need to always be right. This is not easy since in addition to being Ambassadors for Christ, we also happen to be human. But, the community of the local church gives us a place of beginning.
As I write this I have just been made aware that Pat Conroy, one of my favorite writers, died last evening, may he rest in peace. Conroy’s writings were filled with relationships, “good, bad and ugly,” relationships with himself as with those around him. His books deal with relationships that can be mended and relationships that are beyond all hope of redemption. He also deals with that most important of all relationships, that with oneself. We learn from Conroy, just as we learn from Scripture, that “life is not always easy, that relationships can be difficult and tragic. Conroy’s works also show us that abuse, inequality, depression and addiction affect the way we treat others and our selves, sometimes tragically so.
In his writing, Pat Conroy allowed us, in fact, forced us to look at all of these issues as well as at the importance of good therapy and medication, and the hard work of building and rebuilding relationships. He shows us that it is not enough to ask God to release us, but that we must use the tools God has given to the world which can help us to be reconcilers and to be reconciled.
As Jesus and Pat Conroy and Jimmy Buffett say, “The God’s honest truth is it’s not that simple.” BUT, it is more than doable when we “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.”
Life can get complicated, relationships can get complicated and knowing that I am sometimes wrong is a concept with which I struggle every day. I believe this has been true as long as human beings have lived on Earth. It certainly appears that this was true in Jesus’ day and through his best known and longest parable He takes the opportunity to teach his followers (and us) a little bit about relationships with our neighbors and with God.
Most of us who are Christians, have been Christians, or know someone who is a Christian, know at least a little of the Story. The younger son believes he is ready to start out on his own, seeking his fame and fortune. He convinces Dad to give him his share of the inheritance and sets out footloose and fancy free to change the world, or at least his part of the world. After a period of time: weeks, months, years, he has exhausted his funds and lost his friends and ends up feeding the pigs, not a cool job for a young Jewish man. He decides (scripture says he “came to himself”) to go back to his father and beg to become one of his servants. As most of us know, the father runs to meet him, welcomes him home as a son and throws a big party to celebrate. The older, “responsible,” brother hears the noise, asks the reason and then becomes terribly jealous when he finds out what is going on. The older brother will not enter the party, the father comes out to him (sound familiar?) and reminds him that he loves him too and that he is his beloved son as well.
Obviously this is a story about God, a God who loves us all, even in the midst of our human propensity to make really bad decisions and mistakes, and very often to blame them on someone else. It is just as obvious that Jesus tells this story to teach us something about human relationships as well. Most of us believe that we are more often right than wrong, that we are smarter and more faithful than the next person and that if we do have problems they are caused by someone else.
In preparing to preach tomorrow at Christ Episcopal Church in Albertville, Alabama, I also read from St. Paul’s Second letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 5:16-21, which for me adds some light and even heat to Jesus’ Parable. I share a few of my insights from this epistle:
"If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation; everything old has passed away, see everything has become new. All of this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and God has given us the ministry of reconciliation."
"If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation; everything old has passed away, see everything has become new. All of this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and God has given us the ministry of reconciliation."
So God is not only reconciling us to Himself, but is giving us the ministry of reconciliation. We are called not only to be welcomed back by God as Sons and Daughters, but to see our brothers and sisters as sons and daughters of God as well. Easier to be welcomed by God than to welcome those who make us angry, receive more than they deserve, or drive us completely crazy.
But St. Paul continues: “and God has entrusted his message of reconciliation to us.” To us, why? “I am still angry, I don’t want to forgive, I want what is rightfully mine.” Back to Paul: “so, we are ambassadors for Christ since God makes his appeal through us.” If God makes his appeal through us, then he is calling us to be empathetic, to recognize that we may be wrong and others right, or vice-versa, but that no matter what, we are called to be “the righteousness of God,” we are called to stay connected to one another. We as Christians do this in many ways, but the most obvious and perhaps even most meaningful is when we go to the altar to receive the “real presence of Christ” in the Holy Communion and stand or kneel next to a person who has offended us, or a person who does not believe exactly the same as we do about Jesus, or a person who voted for a person we would not even speak to. At this moment, the Holy Spirit joins us together with the God of all Creation and with one another.
We are joined together because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and because of Him are truly “Ambassadors of Christ,” first to one another and then to the whole world.