Sunday, May 17, 2015

Texas Shootout

From the NYT this evening:

Nine people were killed Sunday and others injured after a shootout erupted among rival biker gangs at a Central Texas restaurant, sending patrons and bystanders fleeing for safety, a police spokesman said, according to The Associated Press.

How's that open carry working out for y'all?

Sermon; Easter 7B; John 17:6-19

Happy Easter!
Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

That seems just about right.  It has been six weeks and seven Sundays since Easter.  That is a long time to carry on a celebration.  That is a long time to carry on with Easter greetings.  But this is also part of the beauty of living a life with a liturgical calendar.  All of these seasons and holy days on our calendar remind us of how God acted in the past, how God acts in our present, and how God will act in our future.

Today is the Seventh Sunday of Easter.  Every year on this Sunday the Lectionary gives us a gospel reading from John 17.  Year A is roughly the first third of the chapter, Year B roughly the middle third, and Year C roughly the last third.  I bring this up because unlike the first three Sundays of Easter – Resurrection, or the last three Sundays of Easter – preparation, the message of Easter 7 is specifically focused on us.

Today's reading, as with the previous two weeks, comes from the Farewell Discourse – that part of John between Judas' departure and Jesus' move to Gethsemane.  Chapter 17, the final chapter of the Discourse, is what is known as the High Priestly Prayer, and is the prayer Jesus prays over his disciples.

Like most of John, it is theologically dense (as in, there's a lot to it, not that it's stupid).  So what I want to focus on is its focus on unity.

First, there is the unity between God the Father and Jesus, the Son.  Jesus and the Father are united in purpose – the words you gave me, I gave them; mine are yours and yours are mine; I protected them in your name that you have given me.  There's a clear sense here that the mission of Jesus is the mission of God and that the two of them are fully united.

This unity between Jesus and the Father is not exclusive to that relationship, though.  It now extends to include the apostles.  Note that the apostles belonged to God before they were given to Jesus.  Jesus is now praying for their protection because they belong to the Father.  And in the middle of this prayer, Jesus prays that they may be one as we are one.  To tie it all together, Jesus says that the disciples do not belong to the world, just as he doesn't belong to the world.

This sense of unity, besides flowing between Jesus and the Father and the apostles, also spans time itself.  They were yours.  They are mine.  As I am sanctified, may they be sanctified.  There is a sense that this prayer covers past, present and future.  This is typical John.  Think about his prologue which states that Jesus is present always.  Or his confrontation at the end of Chapter 8 when he says, “Before Abraham was, I am.”  In this prayer, not only are Jesus and the Father present in all times, but now so are the apostles and their community.

The Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father.  The Father and the Son are one.  Jesus is bringing this new community of apostles, which will eventually become the Church, into that same union.  All mine are yours and yours are mine.  The Father is in the Son is in the Church is in the Son is in the Father.  We are now part of that unity.  As the Father and the Son are united, so are we united.

If we are united to the Father and the Son in love as they are, then we are also united in their mission.  The mission of the Father and the Son is to bring all people into the love and knowledge of God's kingdom.  That is now our mission as well.  Jesus is no longer in the world to perform this mission, but we are.

In this prayer, Jesus is recognizing that we have been called by God to help fulfill God's purpose on Earth.  He is recognizing that we are called into dangerous (at worst) and unwelcoming (at best) circumstances, and is therefore praying for our safety and protection.  And he is asking that, like his life glorified God, our lives will also glorify God.

The future of the Church, and the future of God's mission, is now being entrusted to us.

But maybe it's best if we don't think about the future.  The future can be a large and daunting country.  Maybe instead we should think about the mission of God in the same way as God and Jesus think about themselves.

“Who should I say has sent me?”
“Say, I AM has sent me.”
“Jesus said, 'Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am'.”

For God, there is no past, present or future; there is only now.  There is only is.

Last Thursday Jesus ascended to the Father.  The onus is now on us to complete his mission in the world.  As we live through the seasons of the year, as we are reminded of how God acted in the past, how God acts in the present and how God will act in the future, let us remember that we are forever united with the Great I AM.

We have been called to be in union with God and we have been called to fulfill God's mission.  Let us remember that the mission of the God of past, present and future to which we are called can only take place in one time – now.

Amen.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sermon; Easter 6B; John 15:9-17

Happy Easter!

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Last week we heard Jesus talking about vines, branches and pruning.  Today we hear Jesus talking about loving each other.  Do you remember two weeks ago when I asked what you noticed about the gospel passage?  I asked if you noticed who it was addressed to, where it took place and when it took place.  Whereas that gospel was addressed to Pharisees in Jerusalem just before Jesus raised Lazarus, the gospel passages from last week and today are addressed to the disciples and take place at the Last Supper during what is known the Farewell Discourse – Jesus' speech to the eleven disciples after Judas left on his mission of betrayal.

As with the previous two weeks, we are once again being given a pre-Passion reading in this post-resurrection time.  Remember, the point of this isn't because there aren't enough post-resurrection stories to last through the Easter season, but because we are, liturgically speaking, being prepared for Jesus' final departure.  We are being prepared to live on our own as active apostles to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ.

Two weeks ago we learned how the role and traits of the good shepherd are reflected in the life of an active apostle.  Last week we learned that, as active disciples and apostles, we will be subject to pruning.  As active apostles who produce good things for the kingdom of God, we must know that some parts of us will be lopped off in order to make us grow bigger, stronger and more beautiful than we could ever imagine.

And today we are given another example of how to be active apostles: we are to love each other as Jesus loved us.  That's a tall order.  I don't need to mention all of the ills currently plaguing our society to show how love of others seems to have fallen by the wayside; but even in the best of times, whenever you put a bunch of people together conflict will arise.  Our constant goal, however, is to love each other as Christ loved us.

Caring for others, knowing others, sacrificing our wants for the needs of others, being pruned back by God to grow stronger and loving others are all aspects of being an active apostle.  But how do we get there?  How do we learn to care for others?  How do we not see pruning back as a threat, but as the first step to a change that brings new growth?  How do we love each other?

The answer is found in today's gospel.  We are being prepared for the departure of Jesus.  Over the last three weeks we have been given examples of how to live as active apostles.  If we follow those examples, if we keep those commandments, we will abide in Jesus' love.  And it is that abiding in Jesus that is the key to all of this.

How are we to abide in Jesus today?  We might have a tendency to think it was easy for those first disciples to do this.  After all, they had both Jesus in their midst and each other after he was gone.  We think it might be easier for those who had a direct experience with Jesus to abide in him.  But how are we to abide in him today?

Three words:  Scripture, Tradition and Reason.

First, Scripture.  We can abide in Christ by spending time immersed in Scripture.  Some of you may have taken up a Lenten discipline of Scripture reading.  That's one discipline that doesn't need to be discontinued after Lend ends.

Spending time with Scripture allows us to know God more deeply.  It brings us closer to Jesus.  And, more importantly, in this age of sound-byte religion and cherry-picked theology, the more we know about Scripture the better off we will be.  As one example, what does Scripture say about the treatment of aliens, and how does, or how should, that inform how we treat aliens today?

For us to abide in Christ, we need to make an effort to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” Holy Scripture on a regular basis.

Second, Tradition.  We can abide in Christ by spending time immersed in Tradition.  We need to be careful here, because tradition doesn't mean, “The way we've always done it.”  Instead, tradition is the accumulated wisdom of the past that helps give meaning to the present.

Our worship is one of the most traditional things we participate in.  Think back to Christmas services, or the worship of Palm Sunday, Holy Week and the Easter Vigil.  Think about baptisms and the service of baptismal renewal.  Think about Communion itself where we take, break, bless and give.  These are all ancient traditions of worship in which we participate that help give meaning to our lives today.

But tradition must not be static.  Think about who we allow to take on Holy Orders, who we allow to marry or the language of worship itself.  When we talk about tradition, we need to evaluate whether it is in accordance with Scripture and whether it can be justified by right reason.

For us to abide in Christ, we need to spend time immersed in the traditions of the Church.

Finally, Reason.  We can abide in Christ by using our reason on a regular basis.  What does Scripture say?  What does our tradition say?  Are either or both of those compatible with the mandate to love each other and our neighbors?

For instance, Scripture has lots to say about slavery, all of it positive and normative.  Our tradition accepted slavery as part of life.  But eventually people came to see slavery as unreasonable and incompatible with the mandate to love others.  So we modified how we read Scripture and changed our tradition to give meaning to the present.

As we move through these last days of Easter, we are being prepared for active apostleship following Jesus' departure.  Two weeks ago we were given the example of the good shepherd.  Last week we were told that, as active apostles, we could expect to be pruned back in order to grow stronger and more productive for the kingdom of God.  And today we are told to abide in Jesus.

Abide in the Scripture and gain a deeper knowledge of God.
Abide in Tradition and let the wisdom of ages past help define your present.
Abide in Reason and work to apply the previous two to contemporary life.
And finally, know that you are called by God to a life of active apostleship.
Abide in the love and calling of Christ, go forth and bear fruit.

Amen.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Sermon; Easter 5B; John 15:1-8

Happy Easter!

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

In this Easter season when we celebrate the risen Christ, we have heard our last post-resurrection gospel.  And why was it that in this season of the resurrection we no longer hear post-resurrection stories?  Because, as far as the lectionary is concerned, we are being prepared for Jesus' final departure; or, as Starr said, “It's time for us to get to work.”

Last week we heard Jesus talking to those around him about being the good shepherd and what that looked like.  For those who don't remember, the good shepherd cares for the sheep, knows them by name, will sacrifice himself for them, and calls to him sheep that we don't identify as belonging to us.

Last week we learned what it looked like to be a good shepherd.  This week we learn what it means to be part of the body of Christ through the imagery of vines and branches.

On the one hand, we can make sense of this.  We can easily envision a tree or vine with the various branches shooting off.  The healthy branches are receiving nourishment from the tree or vine and produce fruit.  Other branches that produce no fruit do not receive that nourishment and die.  Those dead branches are pruned off to keep the plant healthy, while the living branches will also be pruned back in order to produce more fruit.  It's pretty basic stuff.

The imagery is easy.  If we graft ourselves onto the vine of Christ we will be nourished and produce fruit.  As healthy branches, we will also be pruned back to some extent so that we will be able to produce more fruit.  Anyone who has plants, or has seen this done, knows that even healthy branches are cut back in order to produce the desired results.  God will prune us back so that we can produce more fruit and give God the desired results.  Overall this is a good thing.

But on the other hand, has anyone asked the branches if they approve of the pruning?  Has anyone asked the branches if they want parts of themselves lopped off?

The seminary I attended held an annual event called Prospective Student Days, as do most schools and universities.  Prospective students would come, check out the housing options, sit in on classes, visit the public schools if they had kids, and have time to meet with students in honest conversations.  As a prospective student, one of the things I liked about the students I met was that they were brutally honest about the school and faculty, both pros and cons.

When I was a senior I had a very brief conversation with a prospect student as I was passing through the main corridor.  I don't remember all of it, but I remember the core of that conversation.

“What is seminary really like?” he asked.  How do you sum up three years of seminary in 50 words or less?

“Imagine you are a rose bush,” I said.  “Seminary is like having all of your branches and flowers, which are your current thoughts, ideas and beliefs, hacked off, leaving you looking and feeling like a stump, and then growing back bigger, more robust and more changed than you could ever imagine.”

I imagine that's what Jesus is telling his disciples here.  Discipleship will tear you down, lop off parts of you, and cause you to grow bigger than you ever thought possible.  Discipleship will change you in ways you can't imagine, if you are willing to be pruned.

If we are active apostles caring for the sheep, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and producing fruit, then we must be prepared to have parts of ourselves lopped off.  We must be prepared and willing to be pruned.  That is not always easy.

It is not easy to believe we are doing good work only to see those efforts be lopped off.  It is not easy to have our beliefs and values challenged.  But if we are doing good work, if we are producing good fruit because of that work and because of those values and beliefs, then God will prune us.  God will lop off some of our branches in order to make us grow bigger and more robust than we could ever imagine.

Liturgically speaking, we are living in the 40 days of Jesus' post-resurrection life among the disciples. But rather than hearing post-resurrection stories throughout those 40 days, we are hearing pre-Passion stories in order to give us a better understanding of what active apostleship looks like.

From last week we learned that active apostleship involves caring, sacrifice, knowledge of others, and an understanding that the inclusiveness of God is much bigger than we could ever imagine.  This week we learn that active apostleship comes with a cost.  That cost may not be martyrdom, it may not be persecution of any kind, but it will always involve change.  Active apostleship will always involve a pruning of our values and beliefs; and that can sometimes be just as traumatic for people.

If we are active apostles, God will prune us.  God will change us.  And when that happens, we have two ways to experience that pruning.  The first is that we can focus on what we've lost.  We can look at all the beautiful things we had accomplish and be angry at God for pruning them away.  We can look at how we are being pruned and changed, decide we want no part of this process, and retreat into something that doesn't challenge us or change us, and where we can remain comfortably stunted.

The second way to experience our pruning is to understand that God both wants and expects more from us.  What we may have produced at one time was good, but God knows that we can produce greater things for the kingdom if we are given the chance.  And that chance comes in the change produced by our pruning.  We live in a changing world; what worked before may not work today or tomorrow.  For us to continue to be active and effective, we must change.  What that change looks like only God knows.  But when we are experiencing that change, when we are experiencing that pruning, it can be painful.  We just need to be willing to believe God is doing a good thing.

As we prepare for Jesus' final departure, and as we work for the coming kingdom of God as active apostles, remember that God will change us.  Remember that God will prune us.  Remember that God will lop off parts that we thought were important, only to have us grow more robust than we ever thought possible.

As active apostles, God will help us grow.  Just remember that growth requires change and God will leave no living branch untouched.

Amen.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Another Funeral

We had another funeral at the church today,  This was a woman who, besides the dementia/Alzheimer's, suffered from some other physical problems and died last Friday.

It was not as well attended as I was hoping for, but the service went well.  We didn't have a musician, so I picked out four hymns and waited to see if we would have enough choir members show up to lead/carry the congregation.  They did and it sounded lovely.

The four hymns I selected were:

376 - Joyful, joyful we adore thee
657 - Love divine
488 - Be thou my vision
671 - Amazing grace

I may not be able to sing em', but I certainly know how to pick 'em.

And the ladies from the D.O.K. did their usual excellent job, setting up, providing food and cleaning up.

And now I'm about ready to head home for a nap.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

On Marriage Equality

So Judge Scalia thinks that if the courts give assent to marriage equality clergy might be forced to officiate at weddings in which they disagree (i.e. a clergy person who is "one man/one woman only" advocate might be forced to officiate at a same sex wedding).

Question for Judge Scalia: What world are you living in?

No RC priest has ever been forced to officiate at a Baptist wedding. No Baptist pastor has ever been forced to officiate at a Jewish wedding. No Jewish rabbi has ever been forced to officiate at a RC wedding. No clergy person of any stripe has ever been forced to officiate at the wedding of two atheists.  And on and on and on.

This hand-wringing over "but clergy might be forced to officiate at gay weddings ... oh no ..." is one thing and one thing only: A bunch of paranoid bullshit by people used to having all the power in an attempt to keep their power out of fear that equality for others means oppression for me.

Equality never has and never will bring the end of the world. But equality will always cause those in power to live in fear simply because equality for all brings about the end of the world as those in power know it.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sermon; Easter 4B; John 10:11-18

Happy Easter!

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

We are just barely over halfway through the Easter season.  As I’ve said before, Easter is generally the second-longest season of the year.  It's a time of joyful celebration as we stand more often, forego the confession as a reminder of our walk with the resurrected Christ, and loudly proclaim Alleluia.  This is the season of celebration, the season where life and love win, the season where we are lifted up from our heavy burdens and sins, the season of the Resurrection.

But did you notice anything in particular about today's gospel reading?  This isn't a typical, “What did you hear,” Bible study question; but a, “What did you notice?”  That question, I think, opens us up to see and hear over a wider context.

So . . . what did you notice?  Did you notice who Jesus was talking to in this passage?  (The Pharisees following the healing of the blind man).  Did you notice where this story takes place?  (Jerusalem).  Did you notice when this story takes place?  (Before the raising of Lazarus).  What do you notice?

Did you notice that this is not a post-resurrection story?  In this Easter season when we celebrate the risen Christ, the lectionary does not give us seven weeks of post-resurrection stories.  We will not hear the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  We will not hear about Jesus cooking breakfast on the beach.  We will not hear Jesus ask Peter, “Do you love me?”  We will not hear the Great Commandment.  We will not hear another post-resurrection story for the rest of Easter.

Why is that?  Why, in this season of resurrection and new life, are we not given stories of resurrection and new life throughout the whole season?

I could be wrong, but I think the reason we only get three post-resurrection stories is because the next four Sundays, including today, are to be looked at liturgically as our preparation for Jesus' final departure.  Over the course of the Triduum we experienced the shock, sorrow and joy of Jesus' crucifixion, death and resurrection.  That Easter joy was expressed through the past three Sundays of resurrection stories: the day of Resurrection, the appearance of Jesus to the ten and eleven in the locked house, and Jesus asking for some fish.

Continual joy is hard to live into, though.  The joy of a new baby eventually gives way to every day living; as does the joy of a new love, a new marriage, a new call, a new whatever.  Eventually we need to get on with our lives.  So even though this Resurrection joy may not dominate our lives, one would hope that that Resurrection joy informs how we live our lives on a daily basis.

For the disciples, and us, we are living into the joy of the Resurrection.  But just as Jesus couldn't live on earth forever, neither can Jesus continually live in post-resurrection appearances.  At some point we need to move past the stages where we simply followed Jesus and where we stood around in joy, disbelief and wonder (as Luke described last week) and move into the stage of being active apostles.  These last four Sundays of Easter prepare us to be active apostles.

If we are to be active apostles, the first thing we need to know is who Jesus is.  Today we are told that Jesus is the good shepherd.

This good shepherd cares for the sheep.  This good shepherd is willing to die for the sheep.  This good shepherd knows his own sheep by name and by trait.

As active apostles, this is how we are to act.  We need to care for the sheep.  Who are those in our fold who need to be cared for?  Who are the sick, dying and home-bound who we need to remember, not forget and work to include in the life of our parish?  Active apostleship involves caring.

We certainly will not be put in a position requiring us to die, but we certainly will be in a position to offer our self-sacrifice of time and talent for the benefit of our parish.  Active apostleship involves a level of sacrifice.

As we look to help shepherd each other, do we know each other?  Dow we take the time to know each others name and traits?  Do we know who likes caramel but not chocolate?  Do we know what interests we all have?  Active apostleship involves knowing people intimately.

The other part of being an active apostle is noticing what Jesus says about sheep in general – “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold; I must bring them also.”

When we take on the role of an apostle, we are called to bring the good news of the kingdom of God to the world.  The world is a big place and has a lot of sheep.  Sometimes those sheep are us.  Sometimes they are in a different place than we are.  And sometimes they are those whom we wouldn't expect, or those whom we might be tempted to exclude.

We are living in the joy of the Resurrection, but it is not possible for us to sustain that joy indefinitely.  As a result, we are being given guidelines to effective apostleship over the next four Sundays.  We are being prepared for Jesus' final departure.

We can't live in a state of perpetual joy; but we can live our lives informed by the joy of the Resurrection.  Our joy comes from the knowledge that Jesus is the good shepherd.  Our joy comes from the knowledge that we are known and loved.  Our joy should come from the knowledge that the kingdom of God is much bigger, more inclusive and diverse than we could ever imagine.

We are being prepared to live into the joy of the resurrection without actually having Jesus present.  Over the next four Sundays, we will be given examples of what active apostleship looks like.

We are the apostles of the kingdom – go and preach the good news of the gospel to the sheep of the world.

Amen.