a priest's musings on the journey

Friday, January 26, 2007

Sermonette: On the Vocation of Suffering

Luke 9:23-25 Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”

I am not exactly sure where the idea came from, but at least in the American Church, we have this idea that being a disciple of Jesus Christ will somehow cause our lives to be trouble-free. It is as if we expect the promise of the here-not-yet Kingdom of God to be manifest right now in our lives. Even though we may scoff at the so-called Prosperity Gospel, many of us still expect to live lives free of pain and suffering. It is as if we believe it is our birthright as sons and daughters of God to always live in a state of what we perceive as blessing. A casual look at what prayer life most of us have reveals this entitlement theology and a startling self-centered spirituality.

However, Jesus’ call to discipleship cuts at the root of this self-centeredness. Jesus said that if we wanted to be his follower, then we would have to deny ourselves and take up our cross. The metaphor may have lost some of its impact in its translation into our culture; but, the original audience knew exactly what Jesus was saying. They were used to seeing roads lined with crosses, filled with men who had been executed by the Roman State. They understood that to take up ones cross was to walk the road to death. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow Him, or it may be a death like Luther's, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world.”

For most of us, our death is a final denial to self, a death to this self-centeredness, and a rejection of the things of the world. Our death to self, and in turn to sin- which in its essence is any action that puts the self above others, becomes a conduit through which the Holy Spirit leads us to an experience of the resurrection in Christ. Moreover, it is this daily dying and rising to new life in Christ that keeps us immersed in the life of the Christ with whom and in whom we were united in our baptisms. Christ’s resurrection came through the way of suffering; Easter is inextricably bound to Good Friday. The disciple who has been raised to new life in Jesus Christ and experiences the life of God through communion with Christ, must also identify with the oppression and sorrow of the suffering Christ.

Bonhoeffer wrote:

Those who are not prepared to take up the cross, those who are not prepared to give their life to suffering and rejection by others, lose community with Christ, and are not disciples. Discipleship is commitment to the suffering Christ.
Whether we really have found God’s peace will be shown by how we deal with the sufferings that will come upon us. There are many Christians who do, indeed, kneel before the cross of Jesus Christ, and yet reject and struggle against every tribulation in their own lives. They believe they love the cross of Christ, and yet they hate that cross in their own lives. And so in truth they hate the cross of Jesus Christ as well, and in truth despise that cross and try by any means possible to escape it.

Those who acknowledge that they view suffering and tribulation in their own lives only as something hostile and evil can see from this very fact that they have not at all found peace with God. They have basically merely sought peace with the world, believing possibly that by means of the cross of Jesus Christ they might best come to terms with themselves and with all their questions, and thus find inner peace of the soul. They have used the cross, but not loved it. They have sought peace for their own sake. But when tribulation comes, that peace quickly flees them. It was not peace with God, for they hated the tribulation God sends.
Thus those who merely hate tribulation, renunciation, distress, defamation, imprisonment in their own lives, no matter how grandiosely they may otherwise speak about the cross, these people in reality hate the cross of Jesus and have not found peace with God. But those who love the cross of Jesus Christ, those who have genuinely found peace in it, now begin to love even the tribulations in their lives, and ultimately will be able to say with scripture, “We also boast in our sufferings.”(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Discipleship and the Cross,” from Meditations on the Cross, translated by Douglas W. Stott. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 1998).

Many of us eschew the oppression and pain that can come to our lives because of our commitment to Jesus Christ. O, we acknowledge that we are bearing our cross; but, at the same time we beseech God to deliver us. We fail to embrace our cross and its ability to connect us to the saving Tree of Life. We fail to understand our call to live a vocation of suffering; not merely suffering, but redemptive suffering that has been sanctified and united to the Suffering Christ.

This of course does not mean that we can not ask God to deliver us from evil and to give us the grace to endure what hardships afflict us, after all, our Lord Himself taught us to pray this way. Yet, somehow we must realize the way of life is through the way of the Cross. Jesus warned us that if we lived the life of discipleship we would be rejected and persecuted by the world. Our values would be so offensive and abrasive to those in the world, that they would only know how to react in defensive, self-preserving ways that pushed us away and even annihilated us. Jesus said that when we experienced oppression and rejection, we were blessed, because we were feeling the birth pangs of the coming Reign of God.

God calls us to deny ourselves and to live the vocation of suffering, not because God is a cruel, despotic deity who wants to punish us. On the contrary, this vocation is grounded in self-giving love and sacrifice. The vocation of suffering leads us away from our self-centeredness and towards the other. God is a God who suffers for and with us; God is a God who gives Himself totally and completely to us; God is a God who loves so much that He sacrifices His own life in order to enable us to have life. Our integration into the community of Christ and the life of God commits us to the same self-giving love that suffers so that others may find liberation and redemption. To be like Christ is to be a suffering servant; to be a child of God is to be on the side of the oppressed. Indeed, to be an icon of oppression and a window to liberation.

Such is the vocation of many who have experienced rejection from both the Church and the world; oppressed people like the homeless, the mentally ill, GLBT persons, and anyone who belongs to God, and yet, has no place to belong. They yearn for justice; they long for acceptance and inclusion into the Body of Christ to which they too have been united in baptism. Yet, they are well aware that our purpose, calling, and mission is not to receive justice for ourselves; but to liberate our oppressed brothers and sisters and to live justly for them. Jesus never taught us that we would receive justice in this life. Jesus taught us to seek justice for others. Those who suffer the most, have the most to give; those who are oppressed and rejected, know the way which leads to the liberation and acceptance of others. They understand the mystery of bearing the anguish and injustices of others and have learned that we bear this pain for others, because God bears we pain for us. The irony is the more they are oppressed by the world, the more they experience pain and sorrow, the nearer God comes to them; the longer the Institutional Church continues to reject and exclude these disciples of Christ, the more their share in the self-giving, suffering love of Christ conforms them to the life and image of Christ. The more fervently the religious zealots attempt to amputate these members from the Body of Christ, the closer to the heart of Christ they become.

This vocation of suffering and self-giving love is the foundation upon which the church continues to grow. It is the Way that God Himself experienced in order to overcome the powers of sin and evil. It is the Way that God continues to experience through us and with us in God’s work to transform the world. It is not that God causes suffering; but, God transforms suffering so that what was meant for evil, can produce good. The blood of the martyrs nourished the early church; the sufferings of these saints and their daily martyrdom to self sustains the Church today. These sufferings are agonizing and unjust; yet, God will create a new reality of justice and peace from this oppression. It may be Friday; but Sunday is coming. We may be walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but Resurrection is about to happen.


I HAVE no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numb'd too much for hopes or fears;
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimm'd with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.

My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall--the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.

My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perish'd thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.

"A Better Resurrection" is reprinted from Goblin Market and other Poems. Christina Rossetti. Cambridge: Macmillan, 1862
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 2:17 PM | link | 2 comments |

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Sermonette: Epiphany 3 C Day 4 Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity

This week the Church’s attention has been focused on prayer for Christian Unity. From the beginning it was our Lord’s prayer that we be One, even as the Father and the Son are One. This unity does not mean that we all have to be alike. God has gifted humanity with diverse experiences of God. We relate to God differently; we pray differently; we have different liturgies and hymnody; certain parts of the Gospel Story intersect with our personal stories in ways that they do not with others. And yet, in the midst of all of this wonderful diversity, the same Holy Spirit broods over us all, uniting us all to Christ, fashioning us all to be the Body of Christ, empowering us all for the same mission of reconciling all the world to God.

This years theme for this Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, taken from he Gospel of Mark, is Open our ear and loosen our tongues. Our prayer is that the Holy Spirit will open our ears to hear the stories of our brothers and sisters, especially those who are poor and oppressed. Likewise we pray that the Holy Spirit will empower those who have been silenced and unable to tell their stories of faith and their struggle to belong to Christ’s Body to speak the truth of their experience with God and the Church. We pray that the silence will be broken and the truth spoken, so that the Truth can set us all free. Our divisions are rooted in the denial of truth telling, in the fear of listening to a different experience of God, and in the unwillingness to accept those members of the Body of Christ that we feel are inferior, unnecessary or even diseased. Instead of seeking healing and wholeness, it seems easier to remove the perceived diseased members.

However, when even the most insignificant member of the Body is removed, the entire Body is unable to function. St Paul, in today’s Epistle reading, put it this way:

14Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. (1 Cor. 12)

It is difficult for me to understand how easily it is for some Christians to anathematize and refuse to be in communion with other members of Christ’s body because of disagreements on how to interpret certain areas of the faith. I do not seem to recall Jesus praying, “Father, make them all one so they will develop perfect theologies and be in agreement on what Christians must believe in order to be saved.” Instead, the Gospel seems to say that our unity is found in our common incorporation into Christ, and our common participation in His mission to liberate the oppressed, rescue the lost, restore the outcast, and reconcile the estranged. St Paul seems to teach that this mission can only be carried out if each of us is willing and permitted to participate in it. Once any member is excluded or dismembered, the work of bearing Christ in the world and making witness to God’s Reign is diminished and hampered.

Instead of scrutinizing each others theologies, we should be discerning how it is that we are called to carry out Christ’s mission in the world. We need to be asking ourselves what that mission looks like and how we are empowering each other to do the work of ministry. The core of Christ’s mission can be found in his inaugural sermon in his hometown synagogue, after he returned to Nazareth after having spent some time away in public ministry. He opened the scroll from Isaiah and read:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18-19).

Then he sat down to give his midrash on the text; and, he simply said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The first step in finding our unity in Christ is to pay attention to what has been fulfilled in our hearing. Who is it that Christ has come to save? Who is it that God favors? Who is it that receives the mercy and grace of God? Who are the ones that are honored by God? At the end of the day, it is all of us who are poor, and captive, and oppressed. It is each of us who has been favored by the Lord. It is each of us who have been made indispensable members of Christ’s body. God has entrusted the success of His mission in the world with each of us- and has given each of us gifts and abilities to use to bring it to pass.

If this is true, then our first call is to open our ears to hear God’s word, not only in the Bible, not even primarily in the Bible, but in the Logos, in Jesus the Word made flesh. And if we are all members of Christ’s body, then God’s word is to be found in each of us who are striving to live and love as Christ did. Our stories have been immersed into God’s Story, and through our lives, Christ is known and made known. As we listen to one another, and give voice to the voiceless ones, then Christ is manifested among us, and we see our common baptismal identity and can begin to discern our common mission. Then, instead of fighting and separating ourselves from the other members, we will begin to care for one another; we will begin to honor the weaker and smaller parts, and value them for the roles they play in the life of Christ’s Body.

As we listen to the Good News of Christ’s liberating ministry, and thereby allow God to liberate us, then we are able to share in that work of recovery of sight to the blind, setting the captives free, and liberating the oppressed. Then we are able to open the ears of the deaf and loosen the tongues of the mute, so that all may be able to tell the story of how they experience and know God. Then we will discover the unity that God has given us, as the one body of Christ- a union that is not merely metaphorical, but an ontological reality, birthed and formed by the Holy Spirit. A reality that is not dependent on “getting our theology right”, but rather is dependent on knowing Jesus, being united to Jesus, and living and loving as Jesus did.

Open our ears, O God, that we may be able to hear God’s word; Open our lips that we may proclaim the Lord’s favor and speak the liberating Gospel to every creature; Open our hearts to receive the love of Christ and to share it with the oppressed, the outcasts, and the poor.
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 2:31 PM | link | 3 comments |

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Persepctive: Bishop Ingam's Sermon fron the Jan 6 Ordination Service in the Diocese of Los Angeles

Epiphany Ordinations 2007
Diocese of Los Angeles
Sermon by Bishop Michael Ingham

What an awesome day to become a priest! Epiphany: the manifestation of Christ to the world. This is the day Jesus became known beyond his immediate family and people: the day you become his servants and apostles to continue that work.
And priesthood is an awesome calling. Despite all the negative publicity of the last few years, priests today still enjoy an extraordinary level of public respect. Priests have access to people's lives, to their homes, to their stories and confidences, in a way no one else in our society does. You will meet and get to know people at every level of your communities, from the poor to the rich, from the marginalized to the powerful, people of every language, race and nation. We are the profession that still makes house calls. We are welcome at births and deaths, marriages and times of sickness. We help people through deep moments of sorrow and high moments of joy.

This access to people's lives is not given because of us. It is given because of Christ. A priest is the servant of Christ, and when people invite us into their homes and lives it is Christ they are expecting to receive. Along with the office of a priest comes an authority we have not earned. It's an authority given to us by the people themselves because Christ has entrusted us with his ministry. An ordained person is therefore to be an icon of Christ, and this is a very sacred trust indeed, a trust being given to you today by the Church, a trust you must honour and preserve with dilligence. For when we fail in our office, as some of us do, it is Christ himself who suffers as well as those who have placed their trust in us in his name.

A priest is given authority upon ordination, but earns respect through being part of a local community. As you work among people, as you become involved in their lives, as you become the holders and keepers of their sacred stories, you will see the power of God come alive in new and astonishing ways in your community. The greatest reward you will ever receive as a priest is when someone says "you were there for me when I needed you. You helped me when I had nowhere to turn. You will never know how important you were in my life."

The rewards of priesthood are not material. They are certainly not financial. The deep satisfaction is to know that at a given moment, in the life of a particular person or community, you were the incarnation of Christ to them. You were the love of God made real. You changed their darkness into light through the grace of God working in you. There will be no rewards greater than these, at least not in this world.

This is an extraordinary privilege you are being given today. But it's a privilege given in uncertain times, in tumultuous times. We live in a polarized world, and a polarized Church. We are deeply divided over important matters – war and peace, poverty and wealth, justice and power, moral values, the sustainability of the planet on which we live. You are being ordained today into all the chaos and tumult of these divisions. And your job in this situation, as in every situation, is to be an icon of Christ in the midst of it all. In these deep discontents, you are to be the love of God. What does this actually mean?

When I became a bishop someone told me that the job of a bishop is to sit on the fence while keeping both ears to the ground. I tried this for a while, and found it rather painful. I asked myself, is this what it means to be an apostle of Christ in contentious times? Did Jesus look for any fence to sit on? Did Jesus make the mistake many of us do, which is to become managers instead of leaders, program directors instead of teachers, mediators instead of pastors, or even worse, avoiders of conflict for the sake of a spurious peace?

There are two temptations facing leaders in a time of crisis. One is to find where the nearest fence is and get on it as fast as possible. The other is to become one of the protagonists in the conflict, one of the poles in the polarity, pulling as hard as you can against the other side.

I remember one time I started a new job in a parish and one of the church wardens said to me, "In our church everyone is encouraged to join a group. There are two main groups, Group A and Group B. The purpose of Group A is to undermine Group B, and the purpose of Group B is to sabotage Group A." This was the parish in which I found myself back then, and I've seen many of them since as a diocesan bishop, and I am sad to say this is the Communion in which we find ourselves today.

What does God require of us in such a time, in such a Church. Fence sitting? Divisiveness? Are these the only options? It's important to ask, what does God require of us? It's not the same thing as asking what the Church might need, or even our local communities. Despite what some might think, you are not being ordained today to save the Church. That is God's responsibility. You are being ordained to be an icon of Christ and to further the Reign of God in people's lives and in this world.

What God needs, and has always needed, from us is faithfulness to the witness of Jesus Christ; the Jesus who came to serve and not to be served, the Jesus who said 'put away your sword: those who live by the sword will die by the sword', Jesus who had compassion upon the lepers and the widows and even unbelievers, Jesus who refused to condemn the sexual sins of his day but roundly condemned the spiritual ones, Jesus who created new kinds of community among people the world rejected, Jesus who loved at the cost of his own life, and died that we might live.

This is what God requires of us. But there is even more. Priests are not merely local. You will be priests of the whole Church, the whole family of God stretching throughout time and space. You will be priests of the Church visible and the Church invisible. We live in a time in which the pressures in our world are driving people apart and into separate camps, where it takes great courage to stand in the centre. We live in a time of extremism and rising fundamentalism. And there are different kinds of fundamentalisms we have to deal with, not just one. There are religious kinds, and secular kinds.

You know that religious fundamentalism is growing in every major faith tradition, including our own. Religious fundamentalism is based on fear – fear of change, fear of loss, fear of the future and what it means to personal or tribal identity. When people see all their anchors being pulled up, and the world they know set adrift upon uncertain seas, they re-assert old dogmas, old traditions, and insist that God demands all this to stem the tide of change.

In itself this is understandable. It is a natural human reaction. But it is a human reaction and should not be confused with God's action. And one of the jobs of a priest is to know the difference between God's action and human reaction, and to help people avoid the mistake of confusing one for the other.

Secular fundamentalism is quite different, but no less real. This is the distorted view that we are sufficient unto ourselves, that all we need is an effective marketplace where all our human problems can be resolved to everyone's mutual profit. It is the view that everything important in human life can be measured, that everything significant can be quantified - by economic indicators, for example, or the expanse of our lawns - that the purpose of human life is to maximize individual well-being, and that people are to be valued by their success in the market place as the principal indicators of their human worth.

I would say this is the dominant religion of the West today. It's the culture we live in, the air we breathe. So we have these two fundamentalisms – one religious, one secular; one based on fear, the other on pride: one that has tried to co-opt and capture God, and one that has tried to banish God – and in the midst of this our priests and leaders have to be not just pastors but also prophets, not just comforters but also sounders of the alarm. We need from our priests, and indeed from all the baptized and faithful members of our Church, the leadership and vision to set us free from captivity both to false religion and to false ideologies alike.

Fear and pride are the very opposite of biblical values. They are not what God wants nor what God offers us through Jesus Christ. Our Scriptures bear witness to a Son of God whose very incarnation sets us free from idolatry, free from false attachment to bad religion and to unsustainable economic systems. Genuine biblical spirituality opens us to truth from any source so long as it incarnates the compassionate grace and mercy of God who has created all people as inter-connected, members one of another; as St. Paul says, to be one with each other and with the earth that supports us.

Kenneth Leech, a great Anglican writer, says genuine Christian orthodoxy is subversive, not conformist, it overturns human convention in the name of divine wisdom, it is not dogmatic but transformative, it doesn't fit into patterns of domination and exclusion but stands against them for a radical inclusion. Christian orthodoxy is not a tribal theology, a God-on-my-side sectarianism. It's a global vision of a world united in its very plurality, a world at one in its respect for difference and its deep commitment to justice. This is not the narrow orthodoxy of fundamentalists and demagogues, nor even may we say of some archbishops and primates. It's the radical orthodoxy of Jesus, grounded in his incarnation as the Son of God, who also lived in dangerous and polarized times and who refused all its temptations of avoidance and power.

We celebrate today the visit of strangers from a far country to the manger in Bethlehem. They were not Jews, and certainly not Christians. They are called in Greek "Magi." This is wrongly translated as 'wise men' and even more wrongly translated as 'kings.' They may well have been wise, but they were not kings. We do not even know if there were three of them because we are not told that.

In the ancient world a magos was an astrologer, an observer of astral phenomena, and also a priest. So the strangers who came to visit Jesus were priests from a far country, priests from another religion, scientists of their day who had observed something quite unusual in the stars and decided to pursue it. They were scientists open to the religious meaning of the universe. There was space in their understanding for God. They did not function with a closed, mechanistic view of reality. They made no separation between the spiritual and material dimensions of existence. They were seekers of knowledge, both divine and earthly, and they were willing to pursue it wherever it might lead. That's what we need from you, the priests of our Church.

And they trusted their dreams. They were guided by their dreams. St. Matthew tells us their dreams were reliable guideposts that led them safely home. These were remarkable scientists, were they not? Attentive to the mysteries of the universe, alive to their own inner voices, to the whisperings of God in the non-rational world.

This is what God needs of our priests today: people who have a deep trust of God, people who have a deep hope despite all the evidence of tragedy, people whose spirituality has set them free not shut them down, people who are acquainted intimately with the mysteries of the inner life and can show others the way to the very heart of God, people of prayer, people of courage.

You are about to be given one of the greatest gifts of your lives. It's a gift that will test you to the very limits of your humanity. It's privilege few others in our society can understand. It's a sacred responsibility that – if you are truly called to it - will not burden you, but set you free in ways you cannot possibly imagine.

Take this gift and be an icon of Christ to us all. Be the love of God that people long to have in their lives. Be pastors and prophets not only to your local community, but to the world and all the people that still long for fulfilment, justice and peace.

Push the tradition forward if you must, but always stand within it. Remember it is not your authority you carry but that of Christ himself. Do no harm in his name. And above all else have courage: courage to build up, courage to draw the circle wide, courage to resist your own fears, courage to let the grace of God flow freely in you. My prayer is that your ministries may set you and all of us free, and that your dreams always lead you safely home.
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 4:38 PM | link | 0 comments |

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Perspective: I've Been Tagged. The 7 Things Meme

Hew tagged me with this meme (thanks, Hew!)

The Seven Things Meme

1. Name a book that you want to share so much that you keep giving away copies:

St John of the Cross' Dark Night of the Soul. That book saved me during one of my darkest spiritual depressions. I don't think I would ever have realized how close I was to God in the holy darkness and sacred silence of the Midnight of the soul.

2. Name a piece of music that changed the way you listen to music:

I was raised a Pentecostal, back in the day when all Pentecosals were also deeply rooted in the Holiness movement. So, I never really heard very many secular songs until I was a teen. After I left for college, I, like many of my Pentecostal peers, began to find my own path. I fairly quicly abandoned the strict holiness codes of my church. I began to go to movies, wear trendy clothes, listen to secular music, etc. I still remember the first time I heard U2's I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For. It was a spiritual experience. It was like a prayer. That was the first time I was able to experience God- and know that God could be experienced in "non-churchy" things.

3. Name a film you can watch again and again without fatigue:

Sordid Lives.. A closeted gay, Southern-Baptist, actor who horrifies his mother by performing nude on stage; a sad old drag queen who thinks he's Tammy Wynette; a holier-than-thou, God-fearing judging mother; and a white trash family full of secrets.... Southern Families at its best :)

4. Name a performer for whom you suspend all disbelief:

I'm not sure about this one. Well, I'm cheating here, see number 7, but I'd have to say Dawn French.

5. Name a work of art you’d like to live with:

I could name several. At the moment, Christ the Redeemer in Rio.

6. Name a work of fiction which has penetrated your real life:

Ok, no deep answer here. Star Wars, only because my son is obsessed with it. All Santa brought him for Christmas was Star Wars legos, Star Wars action figures, Star Wars ships, Star Wars PS2 games....

7. Name a punch line that always makes you laugh:

Those silly epilogues on the Vicar of Dibley. I don't know why, but they always make me smile. :) (especially the one about the Three Nuns at the gates of heaven


:: posted by Padre Rob+, 7:52 PM | link | 2 comments |

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sermonette: Epiphany 2 C The First Sign of the Christ: The God who Transforms

John 2:1-11 [ English Standard Version , © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers ]
“1On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." 4And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come." 5His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 6Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. 8And he said to them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast." So they took it. 9When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now." 11This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”

The story of the miracle at the wedding at Cana is the telling of Jesus’ first public miracle, presumably the third day after his Baptism. Of course the Evangelist does not see these events as “miracles” per se. That is to say, he is not so concerned with the fact that Jesus was a wonder-worker who performed mighty deeds of power. Rather, John is more concerned with the significance or meaning of these mighty deeds. He sees these acts as signs that point to who Jesus is and what he has come to accomplish. The miraculous change of water into wine is the first of seven signs in the Gospel of John. Unfortunately, unlike his treatment of the other signs, John does not explain the significance of this first sign. He merely notes that this was the first of Jesus’ signs, whereby he manifested his glory, enabling his disciples to believe in him.

So, we are left with a greater interpretive burden with this sign than we are with the others. Perhaps a key to its interpretation is in viewing the entire story as a sign, and not merely the moment of the miracle. This story, following the story of the Baptism of our Lord, continues to manifest Jesus as the Incarnate God, who is among us as one of us, not only uniting us to God in Himself, but also experiencing the human condition. What I am immediately struck with in this reading is how human Jesus is in this story. When Blessed Mary asks him to help their relative who is about to be humiliated because the wine is running out, Jesus acts as if he is being bothered. Perhaps as he was beginning his public ministry he was struggling with how to be an independent adult and how to separate himself from his mother, who was used to directing his life. The embarrassed Jesus coldly replies to his mother’s request to help, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Of course for John Jesus’ hour is the Passion; it is on the Cross that the reality to which these signs point is revealed. It is on the Cross that the Incarnate God is glorified and all creation is reconciled to God. Was, then, Jesus confused about his mission? Did he not realize the work God had called him to do among the people before the coming of that hour? Did he expect to be handed over to the death of the cross immediately? Of course we can not know; but, this entire episode reminds us that God in Christ truly is a human being- faced with the same emotions, concerns, fears and doubts that we face.

His Mother, Blessed Mary, is not dissuaded by his coldness and unwillingness to get involved. She goes to the servants and instructs them to do whatever her son instructs them to do. John does not tell us why Jesus changed his mind, but upon noticing the six empty water jugs which had been used for the Rites of Purification before the Feast, he asked the servants to fill the jars with water. Jesus then asked the servant to draw some of the water from the jars and take it to the Master of the Feast. When he tasted the water, which had now been transformed to wine, he commended the host for saving the best wine for last.

The disciples, knowing what Jesus had done, saw Jesus not merely as a human or even a great Prophet-Teacher. Now, he is revealed as one who can create and transform all things, even water into wine. His transformative powers point to his divinity and to his mission among us as the Savior-Redeemer-Reconciler who will also transform our hearts so that we may be one with God. The Eastern Church Fathers beautifully taught that God became a human being so that human beings would become God. That is to say, as the writer of the Second Epistle of Peter wrote, that we would be able “to become partakers of the divine nature” (1:4). In the West this same idea is expressed in the silent prayer the priest prays as water is mingled with wine in the Chalice: “Through the mingling of the water and the wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus’ actions point to his ultimate mission to reconcile us to God and to re-unite us to that union of love and one-ness with God that we lost from our rebellion against God. From the beginning the water transformed to wine point to the blood and water that would gush from his pierced side at the time of Christ‘s ultimate Glorification, opening up the fountain of life from which all are able to drink. From the beginning the water transformed into wine point to the sacramental signs of our salvation: the waters of baptism and the wine of the Eucharist, both transformed by the Holy Spirit to feed us with the very life of God and both becoming the conduits by which we are transformed to be the Body of Christ, united not only to God in heaven, but to the images of God on earth.

Consequently, this miraculous deed is also a sign of our own mission in the world as members of Christ’s Body, as the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. It is a witness to our call to work for unity and reconciliation, peace and justice, and freedom and dignity for every human being. It is a sign to our call to be participants in Christ’s ministry of transformation. Our union with God is not a reality merely meant to be known and enjoyed in the life to cone in eternity; we are united with God in order to welcome and embrace those estranged from God with the same arms of compassion that received us into the heart of God. We are called to be united heart to heart and soul to soul with the oppressed, the lonely, the unlovable, the destitute, and the miserable ones of the world. We are called to offer them the bread of life, the water of salvation and the wine of gladness; but more than taking them to the liberating Savior, our mission is to show them where Christ may be found in their (our) midst. And where Christ is found, hope and redemption is to be found. Where Christ is found, God’s mission of renewing the entire world is found to be in action. This first sign of Jesus’ manifestation as the Savior-God points to God’s continuing mission to change the world and to liberate all human beings from the oppression that enslaves them. Those of us who have put on Christ in Baptism have been commissioned with the same charge- to be agents in transforming the world as we bear witness to the in-breaking Kingdom of God. We participate in this mission by offering ourselves and our lives in self-giving love to others, following the way of the Cross by which our Lord was Glorified and through which the old order of the world, dominated by sin and death, was/is transformed to manifest God’s Reign of freedom and life- a world where every person in all conditions of life are valued, accepted, and loved with the dignity that is theirs as the sons and daughters of God.
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 12:04 PM | link | 2 comments |

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Sermonette: God is with us: The Baptism of Jesus- January 07, 07

Luke 3:15-22

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison. Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

The remembrance of the Manifestation of God in Christ to the Magi and the Manifestation of the divinity of Christ at His baptism brings to a close the Christmas Season (although the “Christmas Cycle” will conclude with Candlemas in Feb). Although we in the West separate out the various events in our celebration of the Incarnation (the birth of God as a human being) and the Epiphanies (manifestations) of God in Christ to human beings, in the East they have been observed as one great Feast, called the Theophany, or the “shining forth of God to the world,” celebrated on January6/7 when God was manifested in Christ to all the world.

We celebrate today as the Baptism of Jesus; but, as the Fathers in the East reminds us, this feast day is much more than a remembrance of Jesus’ submission to baptism as an example for us. This day is a Feast of the Most Holy and Blessed Trinity; it recalls the first clear appearance of the Holy Trinity to humankind- the Son, clothed in flesh as the Incarnate God, stands in the waters of the Jordan, the Father speaks in an audible voice from Heaven, affirming His Son, and the Holy Spirit descends upon the Son “in bodily form like a dove” empowering the Son for the mission of God that is being inaugurated in the world through the Incarnate Son.

God’s mission in the world is grounded in God’s willingness, no God’s desire to be with us- to be one with us. The babe in the manger was born Immanuel- God with us, not only in becoming human, but also by living and knowing the human experience. In the baptismal waters of the Jordan, the Incarnate Son stands not only as God, but as one of us. As God, Christ sanctifies water and makes it the fount of our salvation. He enters the waters that have been filled with the pollution of our sins, and fills them with Himself- with His own holiness. He restores its ability to give life and transforms the waters of baptism, making the baptismal font the womb of the Spirit. As a human being, Christ enters the waters of baptism with us, as one of us. Although he is sinless, he stands there in solidarity with us- with sinners who God and willfully abandoned Him. In our stead, the second Adam submits to God and God’s will in obedience, and in Christ, to whom we are united in our own baptisms, we are all affirmed and approved by the Father.
More than that, Christ brings God to us, where we are, even at our lowest point. He stands shoulder to shoulder with us in our brokenness and woundedness. He stands next to us in our fears and sorrows, our pains and sufferings; He identifies with the poor and oppressed, the needy and the powerless and he announces that God is on the side of the oppressed, that God hears the cries of the poor, that today is the day of salvation “for all the people.”

So, today is one of the principal feasts of our salvation- surely as important as the Nativity and the Passion;

For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all , training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:11-14).

Today the Morning Star has risen over all of us; the Eternal Light from Light has illuminated the entire universe, dispelling the darkness in our hearts and enabling us to see the very image of God right next to us, shoulder to shoulder with us, in the face of every person we see.
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 2:52 PM | link | 3 comments |