a priest's musings on the journey

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sermonette: Proper 20B - 24 September 2006

He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." {36} Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, {37} "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me." (Mark 9:35-37)

The disciples had been arguing among themselves concerning who among them would be the greatest in the Reign of God. What is so funny about this entire conversation to me is that neither of them deserved to presume either of them would be honored in heaven. After all, they had just failed at their mission. None of them could cast away the evil spirit that was afflicting a young boy, and Jesus had to come do it. Jesus was quick to set them straight, however. Jesus taught them that in God's Kingdom, the honored ones would not be the strongest ones or the most successful ones or even the most powerful ones. Instead, the places of honor would be given to the ones who preferred others and served them. To strengthen his point, Jesus placed a small child in their midst and said, "whoever welcomes a child, welcomes me and the One who sent me."

Matthew's telling of this story makes the connection between the status of the child and the status of the disciple who is called to be like the child. It was clear to the disciples that Jesus was calling them to be the lowliest of the low. In fact, there is an Aramaic word that Jesus might have used here, talya, which can mean either servant of child. Jesus was calling them to humility and utter trust in God. But. if we look at the status of children during the time of Christ, we can see that Jesus was asking them to commit to more than a life of humility. He was asking them to give up their rights, priviledges and preferences for the sake of others.

In that culture, children did not have the same rights and status that they enjoy in our culture. Minor children were equal to slaves, and only became freed persons with maturity. If there were a fire, the child would have been the last one saved; if there was a famine, the adults would be fed first, and then the children would be given what was left over.

The disciples must have been shocked (if not offended) at Jesus' rebuke and call. Indeed, it is a hard teaching for us. It goes against everything we are taught about how to be successful by the standard's of the world. The Church often functions with the same values of the world, favoring the powerful and priviledged. in spite of its reminder to God's values of humility and meekness sunf daily in the Magnificat. What is more shocking is that Jesus seems to say that the conduit to welcoming the divine presence among us is found in being a slave to all and welcoming the lowly, forgotten, outcast, and dispossessed in our midst. Imagine how tranformed our church and communities would be if we were more faithful to living out this Christ-value.

The Episcopal Church's adoption of the MDG's, and its committment to ending poverty in our generation is a giant step toward incorporating this kindgom value in our lives. We truly welcome the child as we work for peace and justice, for sustainable communities, for education for all, and a real and true equality for every person. When I think of such a ministry, I can not help but think of Mother Teresa. She reiterated Jesus' message like this :

"Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work...Our life of poverty is as necessary as the work itself. Only in heaven will we see how much we owe to the poor for helping us to love God better because of them."

:: posted by Padre Rob+, 8:28 AM | link | 0 comments |

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Sermonette: Proper 19B - 17 September 2006

Mark 8:27-38

34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life.

I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but the cross has become so romanticized and sanatized that this text has almost lost its meaning for us. I read it so glibly, without a second thought of what Jesus is asking of me. Would I be singing the Sequence Hymn, "Take up your cross, the Master said," with such enthusiasm if I understood that Jesus was aking me to follow him on his way to Calvary? Would I be so quick to acclaim Praise to Christ after the reading of this Gospel if I understood that Jesus was asking me to endure suffering and finally to die with him?

I have to admit that I have only recently understood what it meant for me to take up the cross and follow Jesus. I'm not sure what I thought it meant before. I am sure I never took it seriously. I never undertood that it would be burdensome and that I would stumble under its weight. I never understood that the cross would cause pain and suffering. I never understood that those in the world would ridicule me for carrying the cross and cause even more suffering. The mystery is that it has been through the suffering of the cross that I have come to understand why it must be borne and how becomes life giving.

Part of my revelation has been that I have been reading the text all wrong. I have been reading it as "TAKE UP YOUR CROSS and follow me", when it should be read, "take up your cross AND FOLLOW ME." The cross is there anyway. We all have one whether or not we acknowledge Jesus as the Christ. The world still groans in anticipation of its full redemption; it remains infected by sin; we remain, at least in the physical reality, submissive to death. Jesus knows that our cross can not be thrown aside. If we throw it down, someone else will pick it up and put it back on our shoulders. Jesus offers us a way to sanctify our cross. He offers a way for us to unite our cross to his cross, and to experience death in his death. In so doing, death loses its power over us and His cross tranforms ours to a conduit of life and salvation.

When our crosses are united to Christ's cross and we follow him to Calvary, then we become partakers in the triumph of His Cross. We share in his suffering as we share in the sufferings of every other person who bears a cross; we share in His triumph as the powers of evil are defeated by the love and compassion that sustains us and empowers us to continue to carry the cross with Jesus. Once we become self-centered in our own pain or once we begin to show partiality (as St James warned in today's Epistle) and only share in the suffering of the elite, then we are no longer following Jesus. Instead, we are following Gestas (the inpenitant thief who died with Jesus) and our cross will lead to death.

What are the crosses that those around you bear? Are they being crucified by injustice, oppression, or the partiality of the Church? Are the being abused by sickness, disease, or addiction? Are they being burdened down by poverty, classism, illiteracy, hunger, sexism, or a number of other -isms? How is Christ calling you to share in their sufferings? What must you do to deny yourself and to lose your life so that you may find it in them? What in you must be crucified so that your cross may become a life-giving tree for others?
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 8:24 AM | link | 0 comments |

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Perspective: On Being Invisible

Part of the salvation (wholeness) offered by Christ to us is the gift of knowing God and being known by God. Not just known, but truly known. When we are united with Christ in baptism, our sinnful, false identity dies. It is taken up into God in Jesus Christ; it is redeemed, transformed, sanctified and loved. It is given back to us, born anew by water and the Spirit, and our true self- the person God created us to be- is revealed. The problem is that many of us can not, for whatever reason, see or accept our true self in Christ; we miss the old self or we are afraid of our Christ-self ; so, it takes a lifetime (and more) for this true reality to be experienced in time and space.

Sometimes we are afraid to be who we really are (especially gays and lesbians and other oppressed peoples) because we believe the lie that because our self is different than the acceptable selves of the majority, then it must not be holy and Christ-like. We believe the lie that we are sinful, because some gay people pervert God's gift of sexuality (as if heterosexulas never do that ). We stuff that unacceptable person into a coffin, and create this false person to join to Christ; and yet, that false self never is able to unite to GOd. We cling to the masks for protection and desparately try to pull off our charade; but, our struggle against letting go of the masks and destroying the facades that project our false self does not nullify our true identity.

We can hide from who we truly are, as we have been doing since we first hid in Eden's garden. We can lie to ourselves and we can close the doors of our soul and shut out anyone that threatens us; but, we can not hide from God. It's not that we can not escape from the all-seeing eye of God, although I believe that is a true statement- it's more because we have become a part of God. All of who we are, the good, the bad, and the ugly, has been taken up into the humanity of Jesus and made whole. Through the sacraments and the life of prayer, study, and service, our union with God, indeed our life in GOd is nurtured as we learn how to be who we already are- little Christ's in the world. Through this strength- God's very strength manifested in our weakness, we are able to gain the courage to shed the false exteriors and let the Light of Christ illuminate who we truly are in God.

When I as a gay man hide my sexuality and implicitly pretend to be someone that I am not, I not only lose my integrity by dishonoring myself, but I also dishonor God, in whose image I have been created, from whom my gift of sexuality was given, and in whom I have my being. I don't think that I've ever said out loud until this moment that I, a gay man, am also a bearer of the imago Dei; I too reflect the image of God! I have been baptized too! I have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and made as Christ's own forever too! I have been joined to Christ and I am a member of Christ's Body too! When the Church asks me to be invisible- to hide my sexuality- to not rock the boat by telling the truth- they are asking me to hide my Christ-light under the bushel. They are asking me to hide myself, as if I should be ashamed for being the person God created me to be. They are telling me that my presence in Christ;s body embarrasses them.

Some days I don't think that I can bear the oppressive pain of exclusivity any longer. I question why I came out. I wonder if I should just go back in the closet and just be who I truly am in private. Life would be so easy that way. I wouldn't have to struggle to find affirming parishes; I wouldn't have to be so obsessively concerned about offending the blue haired ladies. But, just when I am about to turn out the light and shut the closet door, a get a note or a phone call from someone telling me how inspirational I am to them in living honestly as a gay member of the Bod of Christ. Then, the Holy Spirit reminds me, that my visibility not only honors God by celebrating God's good creation within me and the Spirit's re-creation that is forming me to be more like Christ, but my visibility makes those who are invisible visible. My voice gives voice to those who are too afraid to speak and to sorrowful to sing. My presence behind the altar and in the pulpit, in the hospital room and in the soup kitchen, makes visible the hidden members of God's family; it reveals the fullness and the richness of the diversity of members and gifts that make up the people of God. So, no, I won't hide to make you feel more comfortable; I won't lie about who I am so that you can maintain your white, straight, male, middle-upper class, Protestant image of God. I won't condone the Church's oppression of gays and lesbians. I won't hide my Christ-light: I will let it drive away the dark shadows of fear, injustice, oppression and hate. I have a responsibilty- indeed a sacred calling- to be who I am in Christ; to live a life worthy of Christ; to live as an example of what a gay member of Christ's Body looks like. I will be known as God knows me, redeems me, sanctifies me, and loves me so that you can be known as God knows, redeems, sanctifies and loves you!

pax- padrerob+
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 3:21 PM | link | 3 comments |

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sermonette: Proper 18B - 10 September 2006

Mark 7:24-37; James 1:17-27

27 He said to her, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." ?!? Everytime I read this I think that these can not possibly be authentic words of Jesus. Surely Mark has made a mistake. This is not the Jesus that I know. The Jesus I know doesn't call me a bitch when I ask for his help. I can't imagine him disrespecting anyone who is coming to him pleading for mercy; and yet, here he is quite clearly insulting this Gentile woman.

I am so put out by this portrayal of Jesus that I almost miss the reason that Mark includes this story. While it might be interesting and even fruitful to contemplate "this" very human Jesus, the richer contemplation comes from the Syrophoenecian woman's reply. Instead of being indignant and offended, as she certainly had every right to be, she, pleading from the heart of a desparate mother, replies, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."
Jesus was so touched by her persistant faith, that he came to his senses, remembered who he is and why he was there, and healed her daughter.

But, this story isn't really about the healing. It's about the abundant, lavish, banquet that God has prepared for all people. God's love and grace is not just for Jesus' Jewish brothers and sisters; it's for the Gentile dogs too. In fact, God's banquet is so abundant and God's love is so inclusive, that the dog is given a seat of honor at the Table with the children.

Surely, Jesus understood this! I remain puzzled at his exchange with this woman, but after she reminded him of the abundant Table prepared for everyone, he goes on to feed other Gentiles with God's heavenly food. Next in today's Gospel reading he heals a deaf man in Gentile territory, and in the next chapter Marks tells of a second miraculous Feeding Story of 4000 people in Gentile territory, on whom he had compassion.

Our Prayer of Humble Access is based partly on this Gentile woman's prayer:

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen. (1662 BCP)

I love this prayer. I wish it were at least optional in all of our Eucharists. I know that I only deserve the scraps. Yet, Christ offers me the same food he offers to the noble, beautiful, pure ones. God offers the love and life of God to an unworthy, sinful, broken creature like me- with the same reckless abandon with which it is offered to everyone else.


Other thoughts to contemplate:

Mark uses the healing of the Gentile girl as a symbol of what is happening to Jesus as he begins to take on a new understanding of his mission. He uses
the story of the deaf mute as a symbol of what is happening to the disciples. They do not hear him and can not yet proclaim that he is the Christ. Peter's confession is not far off, however. How has Jesus' own recognition and acceptance of his greater mission shaped the disciple's ability to hear and speak the Gospel message? What will happen in the chapters to come to enable Peter's ears to be opened and his tongue to be loosed? How can our own inability to hear Christ and proclaim Christ be healed?
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 8:22 AM | link | 0 comments |

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Sermonette: Proper 17B - 03 September 2006

Mark 7:1-23; Ephesians 6:10-20

There is so much in these few verses from Mark’s Gospel to talk about, and I can not possibly give it justice in a sermonette. What I can do is briefly comment on Mark’s main point here; but, before I do that I want to point out a few issues that are raised by this text for your own ruminations. First, there is a huge cultural chasm between the Jews of Jesus’ day and us in this passage. In order to fully appreciate this text, one needs to spend some time researching the historical and social background here. There are questions that need to be answered, such as, “Why were the Jews so upset that the disciples didn’t wash their hands before they ate?“ “How would that make them spiritually unclean?“ The heart of this passage is about what makes us pure or impure. I will assume that most of you have a basic understanding of the Jewish purity laws, and if you don’t maybe you can do some study on your own.

In addition to the interpretive challenge of the cultural chasm, this passage also challenges a view that certain of us might have about Jesus and his understanding of the authority of Scripture. Mark is very radical and controversial here; Jesus is differentiating between Scripture and deciding, based on the pastoral concerns that surround him, which parts need to be embraced, and which parts need to be reinterpreted and even abandoned. This suggestion is so radical and controversial that Luke does not even include this in his Gospel and Matthew presents this story as a disagreement between Jesus and Jewish scruples, instead of about how Jesus‘ interpreted Scripture.
In this text Mark, and Jesus, are saying that the purity laws are invalid. It’s not that they are now abolished, but that they were never valid to begin with. Mark is writing this during a period of great tension between the Jewish followers of Jesus and the Gentile followers. Mark is clear, that laws such as the purity code which make no sense, must be set aside for the sake of unity and the inclusion of all people. Our lectionary reading omit’s part of Jesus’ argument here. He says that unclean food does affect the state of one’s heart; it enters the mouth, passes through the digestive system and comes out again. It is ludicrous, Jesus argues, to think food can in any way defile one’s heart/soul. Mark expands this inclusive gospel by showing Jesus feeding the multitudes in both Jewish and Gentile territory. God’s grace and the message of salvation is offered to everyone: the food one eats, the rituals one performs have no bearing at all on the salvation offered by God. The food one eats can not defile a person or alienate them for God.

The heart of Jesus’ message is that it is the things within one’s own heart that makes a person impure. It is our thought-life that produces the seeds of what makes us acceptable or unacceptable to God (or better put, what unites us or alienates us from God). The vile behaviors we choose to enact in our lives do not come from outside sources. We can not blame the devil or our environment for the temptations that draw us away from God. It is our own sinful inclinations that threaten to defile us. According to the Eastern Church, this inclination to sin is like a virus that infects us once we are exposed to the world. It is through the sacramental life of the Church that we are cured and nourished from our sin-sickness and united to the life of God. The Holy Eucharist is the “medicine of immortality” which keeps us connected to the God. However, the remedy for our sin-sickness is not solely God’s doing; we have a role to play as well. We are responsible for nurturing our interior life- our thought-life- so that we are protected from the influences of the world which feed our sinful inclinations and tempt us to make alienating choices.

Nurturing our interior life and the wholeness given to us in our Baptisms is a responsibility that we must diligently pursue with the same care and commitment that we devote to nurturing our bodies. Sure, some of us need to be more diligent about making wiser choices concerning the foods we eat, from a health perspective, but very few of us intentionally starve ourselves and neglect the necessary self-care that keeps us alive. Are we as intentional about our inner life? The Pauline teaching is to defend our interior life against the sinful desires of the flesh by thinking on pure, lovely, virtuous things. The Spirit has given us the armor of truth, righteousness, peace, salvation and faith as a defense against the fiery arrows aimed at us by Satan. However, we are to bolster our defenses by the word of God and through constant prayer “in the spirit”. Our interior life is most sustained by the life-giving word of God and the life of prayer. In one sense it’s difficult to separate the two out, because it’s hard to interact with the word of God unless one also has a healthy prayer life. The Word of God is, of course, Jesus Christ- the logos, the Word incarnate. The revelation of God is known to us in its fullness in Christ. As we enter into the mystery of the revelation of God in Christ and follow His ways and values, we begin to develop His mind, His worldview, His values. We begin to think as He thinks and to see Reality as he does. The Holy Eucharist is our primary connection to this sacred mystery. It is there that we are most nurtured to become who we have been made a new to be in Baptism- it is there that we become the hands and feet of Jesus; it is from there that we are sent into the world as the transforming and reconciling presence of Christ. But, we can not depend upon the Blessed Sacrament alone to offer us the kind of connection to the life of God and to the mind of the Logos that keeps our minds renewed and our thoughts focused on the things of God. In every new moment, we must be diligent and intentional about being open to experiencing the transforming Word of God in our lives. The life of prayer is the conduit to the ever-abiding Christ presence. Prayer is so important to our spiritual life and such a critical way of keeping us connected to God’s life and God’s thoughts that the Pauline School admonishes us to pray without ceasing- that is to in every moment find ways to be aware of Christ’s presence and united to it. That is the only way to nurture our interior life and keep our sinful passions subordinated to Christ’s passions, which should be ours if we are members of His Body.

Praying without ceasing seems like an impossible task. Even those committed to the monastic life do not “pray” 24/7. How do we who live in the world, with all of the demands of living, have a chance to nurture our interior life? The solution to our problem might be found in a redefinition of what prayer actually is. Our idea of prayer as strictly verbal (or even mental) communication with God might need to be re-evaluated. Talking to God through communal liturgies and private intercessions and litanies are only one piece of what the life of prayer is meant to be. It certainly is important for us to talk to God- whether we choose the Daily Office, a Book of Hours, the Rosary, the Jesus Prayer-or some other formalized prayer-, or extemporaneous prayer. However, listening to God and just BEING with God is as important. Those are the pieces that are often missing from our prayer experience. We say our prayers (if we even do that) and then go on about our life, giving only occasional thought to God. We give little attention to what God might have to say back to us, and we pay even less attention to the notion that sometimes God might just want us to be aware that He’s there. Centering Prayer, Journaling, Eucharistic Adoration, and other forms of Contemplative Prayer help us practice listening to the Word of God and Being present with Him. Those practices are wonderfully nurturing; however, our interior life needs to be nurtured with regularity if we hope to develop the ability to be intentionally aware of where Christ is in the NOW moments of daily life. Where is Christ to be found in our environment? How is he speaking to us? Where is he present? How is he revealed in the people with whom we interact (or even ignore)?

I could spend several weeks preaching/teaching on cultivating the interior life and shoring up our passions so that what is within is pure, holy, and Christ-like. In a sermonette I can only raise the issue at best. I would like to offer a few links to some resources that might be useful for those of you who are interested in further reading and reflection. Joan Chittester offers some helpful insights in sermon she preached on 30 Good Minutes. You can find it here- http://www.csec.org/csec/sermon/chittester_4806htm. Other sermons of hers are archived there as well which are worth reading (or listening to). www.spiritualityandpractice.com offers reflections from saints, mystics and contemporary teachers, as well as spirituality exercises. It isn’t all Christian, but it is all useful and can be appropriated into Christian practice. www.centeringprayer.com is sponsored by Contemplative Outreach, Ltd, and offers reflections, articles and teaching on Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina and other contemplative practices by Thomas Keating. www.Practicegodspresence.com is a site dedicated to Brother Lawrence’s book. Practicing the Presence of God.

It would be great for those of you who are more progressed and practiced in nurturing the interior life to share the resources that have been helpful to you with those who are just beginning, or those who might want to try new approaches.
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 8:59 PM | link | 0 comments |